Mentawai men in a traditional greeting, 1895.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Christianity, Islam, Animism, Shamanism|
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Mentawai (also known as Mentawei and Mentawi) people are the native people of the Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra province, Indonesia. They live a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the coastal and rainforest environments of the islands. The Mentawai population is estimated to be about 64,000. The Mentawai language belongs to the Austronesian language family. The people are characterised by their heavy spirituality, body art and their tendency to sharpen their teeth, a practice they feel makes one beautiful.
The Mentawai live in the traditional dwelling called the uma which is a longhouse and is made by weaving bamboo strips together to make walls and thatching the roofs with grass, the floor is raised on stilts and is made of wood planks.
The main clothing for men is a loin cloth and they are adorned with necklaces and flowers in their hair and ears. Women wear the same thing except they wear a piece of cloth wound around the waist. Women wear small sleeveless vests and they sharpen their teeth with a chisel for aesthetic reasons to make their teeth look like a shark's.
Tattooing is done with a needle and wood which is hammered on the needle by a shaman called sikerei. Tattooing on the island was an identity and a personal or communal reflection of the people's relationship to nature, called arat subulungan, although there are motivational and design differences from region to region and among clans. During the pre-independance era, cultural influence of foreign colonials and other islanders had systematically displaced or obliterated indigenous customs and religions. In postcolonial times, the Indonesian government supported this process of deletion with a decress in 1954 that prohibited indigenous religions, effectively abolishing tattooing and other customs.
Men hunt wild pigs, deer and primates. Women and children gather wild yams and other wild food. Small animals are hunted by women. The Mentawai people keep pigs, dogs, monkeys and sometimes chickens as pets.
Surfaid is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of Mentawain people.
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