WARNING: Viewer Discretion is Advised
We got out of bed to a breakfast of pancakes, which would soon become a very common theme and as hard as it is to say it: pancakes have become a bit of a hated food; you really can have too much of a good thing.
Today was the day of the party and Aman and his family had been up early in preparation.
Parties, or blessings for the Mentawai are important rituals, they have many acts that are celebrated to bring in good fortune and invite good spirits. Expected events such as births, birthdays and deaths are celebrated, as well as the creation or addition of the home and even the cleaning of the skulls.
Mentawai homes are adorned with various skulls from the killings they make. Although their main diet is sago, vegetables, rice and fruit they do eat meat on more special occasions. The meat being mainly pig, deer, chicken, monkey and duck. And to show respect for what they kill they hang the skull of the animal up in their homes.
The pigs heads are placed above the main entrance facing into the house, and the monkey heads are placed towards the rear of the house facing the front. These skulls not only mark the respect of the animal, but they also act as a status of power, the more the skulls, the more power you have.
So the act of cleaning these skulls isn’t a simple everyday task, it’s performed once in a while and is celebrated with a party. So try doing that one every time your Dyson comes out at home.
The night before they’d captured and tied up a pig ready for the party who’d spent a good while squealing and wriggling in attempt to break free of his leaf and vine prison without success. In addition to the pig there was also a chicken and a duck, all of which were to be killed as part of the blessing procedure for the party.
Aman and his wife began their rituals in the early afternoon, first by dressing their hair up with flowers, then walking round an placing flowers in the hair of all the guests, two for men, one for women. Aman then walked around the house singing Mentawai ritual songs, preparing the home for the upcoming event.
Once the preliminary procedures had finished things then moved on to the slaughtering of the animals.
First the chicken was brought out in to the front room of the house where its neck was broken during the low murmurs of song. Aman’s brother took the bird whilst it’s nervous system was still in full effect and held it over the cooking fire to singe off its feathers and prepare it for the feast.
Then the duck was brought out and held strong by one of the Mentawai whilst Nini began to pluck the feathers from its neck. Once cleaned up the man too a large blade and sliced through its neck, capturing the blood in a bowl held below. The duck fought back and had to be held tight, but the fighting clearly only helped draw the blood up through the neck and soon it was also ready to have its feathers removed.
Finally the pig was brought out, again to chants and song. Held in position with its neck on show one of the tribe lifted a knife and thrust it down through the neck of the pig cutting through it’s throat. The blood instantly began to push it’s way out of the exit hole into the bowl below as the pig wriggled and struggled to break free of the steady grip. It’s squealing soon changed to a loud and haunting gurgle as the blood flooded the throat.
Once the fight had lessoned with the pig it was placed down and sliced open, with its guts and organs being removed and placed in the bowl of blood. At the same time the duck and chicken were also receiving the same treatment, with their respective innards being placed into the bowl.
The pig was then taken out to the garden area where a fire of dried leaves had been prepared. It was placed onto a bamboo pole and held over the fire so that its hairs could be singed away.
Meanwhile Aman took the intestines of the chicken for an important part of the ritual. The Mentawai believe that the condition of the membrane that covers the chickens intestines can be read, much in the same way as palms and tea leaves. It tells them of future fortune and whether they’ll come into good or bad times ahead. During a chant, Aman held out the intestines and inspected it for any signs. After a minute or two he turned and said that the fortunes would be good for the future.
Once all the animals had been gutted and freed of their hair and feathers they were then taken into the first room of the house and placed in these large wooden plates. The men then began to cut up the meat using axe and knife to create chunks. There seemed little art to this act, and like much of Asia, the bone was all taken as part of the meal and never removed from the meat.
The resulting pile of meat chunks were then placed into a large wok like bowl with water and condiment, before being left to boil over a well stoked fire.
Over the duration of the morning a good number of people had arrived for the party, including a few children, so it was a good time to bring out the gifts we’d brought from the mainland. The sweets, chocolates and biscuits went down a storm, sugary sweet confectionery isn’t a common thing in the jungle so both the adults and children munched away with big smiles on their faces.
We also handed out the knives to Papa, Aman and his brother, which were also taken with great thanks. Papa spent the rest of the afternoon clutching on to his like a child with a security blanket. Safety pins were also given out amongst the people, which they all seemed to be so happy to receive. Finally the toys were given out to the children, although again, the adults seemed to find great pleasure in playing with them.
Time soon came to feast, and the meat was distributed onto a number of plates and placed on the floor along with bowls of rice, taro and coconut balls and bamboo strips of cooked sago. The broth of the meat was scooped into cups and supped down with great slurps as much as it was poured over the meat and rice.
The meat was a random mix of fatty chunks coupled with bone fragments and other random bits of gristle, Vicki certainly wasn’t happy eating this and I too tried but couldn’t quiet get enough good meat to enjoy a hearty meal. Aman noticed our lack of eating and was soon stood over the fire cooking noodles and vegetables to make sure we’d get our fill. I felt bad for him noticing but having been brought up with such fine butchered meat it’s almost impossible to ever get used to the random cuts of Asian road kill.
The evening was spent with the group enjoying a chat, drinking coffee and the Mentawai’s favourite pastime: smoking. It was soon dark and the end of another day celebrating jungle life.
The following day was the end of our adventure and we had to leave the jungle and the island to face life back in the real world. Or at least that was what we planned.