Mentawai people

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Mentawai men in a traditional greeting (1895)

Mentawai (also known as Mentawei and Mentawi) are the native people of the Mentawai Islands, province West Sumatra, 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.

Culture/Living style[edit]

An Uma, the traditional communal house of the Mentawai
A Mentawai man seen with a traditional knife, Palitai at the waist.

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.

The traditional knife of the Mentawai people is called Palitai, while their traditional shield is called Kurabit.[1]

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 keep pigs, dogs,monkeys and sometimes chickens as pets.

Surfaid is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the lives of Mentawain people.


  1. ^ Albert G Van Zonneveld (2002). Traditional Weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago. Koninklyk Instituut Voor Taal Land. ASIN 9054500042. ISBN 9-0545-0004-2. 

External links[edit]