This article is about the Indonesian island. For the village in the Faroe Islands, see Sumba, Faroe Islands.
Not to be confused with Vanua Levu, also known as Sandalwood Island.
Native name: <span class="nickname" ">Pulau Sumba
Location South East Asia
Coordinates 9°40′S 120°00′E / 9.667°S 120.000°E / -9.667; 120.000Coordinates: 9°40′S 120°00′E / 9.667°S 120.000°E / -9.667; 120.000
Archipelago Lesser Sunda Islands
Area 11,153 km2 (4,306 sq mi)
Area rank 73rd
Province East Nusa Tenggara
Largest settlement Waingapu (pop. 10,700)
Population 685,186 (2010 Census)
Pop. density 61.4 /km2 (159 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Sumba people, Austronesian and Melanesians ancestry

Sumba (Indonesian: Pulau Sumba) is an island in eastern Indonesia, is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands, and is in the province of East Nusa Tenggara. Sumba has an area of 11,153 square kilometres (4,306 square miles), and the population was 656,259 at the 2010 Census. To the northwest of Sumba is Sumbawa, to the northeast, across the Sumba Strait (Selat Sumba), is Flores, to the east, across the Savu Sea, is Timor, and to the south, across part of the Indian Ocean, is Australia.


Historically, this island exported sandalwood and was known as Sandalwood Island.[1]

Before colonization by western Europeans in the 1500s, Sumba was inhabited by Melanesian and Austronesian people. In 1522, through the Portuguese, the first ships from Europe arrived, and by 1866 Sumba belonged to the Dutch East Indies, although the island did not come under real Dutch administration until the twentieth century. Jesuits opened a mission in Laura, West Sumba in 1866.[2]

Despite contact with western cultures, Sumba is one of the few places in the world in which megalithic burials, are used as a 'living tradition' to inter prominent individuals when they die. Burial in megaliths is a practice that was used in many parts of the world during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, but has survived to this day in Sumba, and has raised significant interest from scholars.[3] At Anakalang, for instance, quadrangular adzes have been unearthed.[4] Another long-lasting tradition is the sometimes lethal game of pasola, in which teams of often several hundred horse-riders fight with spears.[5]

On August 19, 1977, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale occurred which also caused a tsunami.[6] 316 people were killed on the island and islands off the West coast.

Geography, climate and ecology

The Lesser Sunda Islands; Sumba is in the bottom centre

The largest town on the island is the main port of Waingapu, with a population of about 52,755. The landscape is low, limestone hills, rather than the steep volcanoes of many Indonesian islands. There is a dry season from May to November and a rainy season from December to April. The western side of the island is more fertile and more heavily populated than the east.

Due to its distinctive flora and fauna Sumba has been categorised by the World Wildlife Fund as the Sumba deciduous forests ecoregion. Although generally thought to be originally part of the Gondwana southern hemisphere supercontinent, recent research suggests that it might have detached from the South East Asia margin. Sumba is within the Wallacea ecozone, having a mixture of plants and animals of Asian and Australasian origin. Most of the island was originally covered in deciduous monsoon forest while the south-facing slopes, which remain moist during the dry season, were evergreen rainforest.[7]


A village in Sumba

There are a number of mammals but the island is particularly rich in birdlife with nearly 200 birds, of which seven endemic species and a number of others are found only here and on some nearby islands. The endemic birds include four vulnerable species: the secretive Sumba boobook owl, Sumba buttonquail, red-naped fruit-dove and Sumba hornbill as well as three more common species: the Sumba green pigeon, Sumba flycatcher, and apricot-breasted sunbird.[7] Saltwater crocodiles can still be found in some areas.

The Sumba hornbill or Julang Sumba (Rhyticeros undulatus) is under increasing threat of extinction. Indiscriminate deforestation is threatening their ability to survive. The population is estimated at less than 4,000 with an average density of six individuals per square kilometer. A hornbill can fly to and fro over an area of up to 100 square kilometers.[8]

Threats and preservation

Most of the original forest has been cleared for the planting of maize, cassava and other crops so only small isolated patches remain. Furthermore, this clearance is ongoing due to the growing population of the island and this represents a threat to the birdlife.[9]

In 1998 two national parks have been designated on the island for the protection of endangered species: the Laiwangi Wanggameti National Park and Manupeu Tanah Daru National Park.


Sumba is part of the East Nusa Tenggara province. The island and the very small islands administered along with it are split into four regencies (local government districts); these are: Sumba Barat (West Sumba), Sumba Barat Daya (Southwest Sumba), Sumba Tengah (Central Sumba) and Sumba Timur (East Sumba). The island accounts for some 14.6% of the provincial population in 2010. The provincial capital is not located on the island, but in Kupang, West Timor.

Name Capital Est. Statute Area (km2) Population
2010 Census
West Sumba Regency
(Sumba Barat)
Waikabubak 1958 UU 69/1958 737 111,023
East Sumba Regency
(Sumba Timur)
Waingapu 1958 UU 69/1958 7,000 227,835
Central Sumba Regency
(Sumba Tengah)
Waibakul 2007 UU 3/2007 1,869 62,510
Southwest Sumba Regency
(Sumba Barat Daya)
Tambolaka 2007 UU 16/2007 1,445 283,818
Sumba * 11,052 685,186


Traditional Sumbanese houses near Bondokodi, West-Sumba

Sumba has a highly stratified society based on castes.[10] This is especially true of East Sumba, whereas West Sumba is more ethnically and linguistically diverse.[5] The Sumbanese people speak a variety of closely related Austronesian languages, and have a mixture of Austronesian and Melanesian ancestry. The largest language group is the Kambera language, spoken by a quarter of a million people in the eastern half of Sumba. Twenty-five to thirty percent of the population practices the animist Marapu religion. The remainder are Christian, a majority being Dutch Calvinist, but a substantial minority being Roman Catholic. A small number of Sunni Muslims can be found along the coastal areas.

Sumba is famous for the ikat textiles, particularly very detailed hand-woven ikat, which is prepared on the island. The process of dying and weaving ikat is labor-intensive and one piece can take months to prepare.[11]

Development and living standards

Sumba is one of the poorer islands of Indonesia. A relatively high percentage of the population suffers from malaria, although the illness is almost totally eradicated in the west part of the island. Infant mortality is high.

Access to water is one of the major challenges in Sumba. During the dry season, many streams dry up and villagers must depend on wells for scarce supplies of water.[12] Many villagers on the island still have to travel several kilometres several times a day just to fetch water. It is mainly the women and children which are sent to fetch water, while the men are at work. The Sumba Foundation has been active in raising sponsorship to drill wells in villages across the island and attempting to reduce poverty on the island. As of February 2013, the Sumba Foundation were responsible for 48 wells and 191 water stations, a supplying 15 schools with water and sanitation on the island, and reducing malaria rates by some 85%.[13]


1 Some places to visit are:

The island's most popular resort is the Nihiwatu Resort, which has been ranked as one of the world's five best eco-hotels and got also the world’s best hotel of 2016 from Travel + Leisure for its native ambiance and authentic local experience.[15] Despite its expensive rates, the resort has always been fully booked.[16]


See also


  1. Goodall, George (Editor)(1943) Philips' International Atlas London, George Philip and Son map 'East Indies' pp.91-92
  2. Barker, Joshua (1 July 2009). State of Authority: The State in Society in Indonesia. SEAP Publications. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-87727-780-4. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  3. Richter, Anne; Carpenter, Bruce W.; Carpenter, Bruce; Sundermann, Jorg (16 May 2012). Gold Jewellery of the Indonesian Archipelago. Editions Didier Millet. p. 119. ISBN 978-981-4260-38-1. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  4. Simanjuntak, Truman (2006). Archaeology: Indonesian Perspective : R.P. Soejono's Festschrift. Yayasan Obor Indonesia. p. 288. ISBN 978-979-26-2499-1. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  5. 1 2 Müller, Kal (1997). East of Bali: From Lombok to Timor. Tuttle Publishing. p. 168. ISBN 978-962-593-178-4. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  6. Hall, Robert; Cottam, Michael A.; Wilson, M. E. J. (15 July 2011). The SE Asian Gateway: History and Tectonics of the Australia-Asia Collision. Geological Society. p. 136. ISBN 978-1-86239-329-5. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  7. 1 2 Wikramanayake, Eric D. (2002). Terrestrial Ecoregions of the Indo-Pacific: A Conservation Assessment. Island Press. p. 532. ISBN 978-1-55963-923-1. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  8. "Sumba Hornbills under increasing threat of extinction". Antara News. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  9. "Sumba deciduous forests". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
  10. Forshee, Jill (2006). Culture and Customs of Indonesia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-313-33339-2. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  11. Trisha Sertori, 'Sumba on show in Bali', The Jakarta Post, 30 August 2012.
  12. Maren Hoepfner, 'Taking Sumba by surprise', The Jakarta Post, 4 March 2010.
  13. "The Sumba Foundation". Sumba Foundation. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  14. Sylviana Hamdani (January 23, 2014). "In Sumba, a Beach Day All Year".
  15. Intan Tanjung, 2015 (July 12, 2016). "Indonesia home to 'world's best hotel' of 2016".
  16. Asti Atmodjo, 'Sumba will be the next Bali: Association', The Jakarta Post, 18 July 2012. Archived July 21, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.

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