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Introduction to Sumbawa

In a certain way Sumbawa is the most western island of eastern Indonesia. It is -travelling from west to east- the first island that isn't directly influenced by the hinduist cultures from Jawa and Bali. On this mainly islamic island, adat still is an important factor.
Sumbawa consists of two different parts: Sumbawa Besar in the west and Bima in the east. In the western part most people speak a language which looks like the language of the Sasak from Lombok. The language, spoken on Bima, looks like the one on Flores and Sumba. In the past, Sumbawa Besar has been influenced from Bali and Bima from the Makasarese from Southern Sulawesi. The name Sumbawa, which is the name of the island for those who don't live there, is only used for the western part of the island by the population itself.
Sumbawa is three times the size of Lombok, while the number of people living there is far less, about one third of that of Lombok.The island is rough and mountainous and isn't blessed with a fertile area like on Lombok. The irregular coastline consists of capes, peninsulas and deep bays. The islands is 15.600 in size and stretches over 280 km from west to east; the width varies between 15 to 90 km.
About 85 per cent of Sumbawa is too mountainous for agriculture, but the valleys of the river which are filled with vulcanic materials bring in very wealthy harvests. These valleys used to be home to many small states.

Dramatic world record

Sumbawa is part of the northern vulcanic chain of Nusa Tenggara. The island has always known vulcanic activity, but not a single eruption was as dramatic as the one of the Tambora in 1815. The Guiness Book of Records says this was the biggest eruption ever. More than 36 cubib km rocks, debris and ashes were blown into the sky. The beheaded, 2851 meter high cone now houses a vast caldera.
By estimation 10,000 people were killed during the explosion and another 30 to 40,000 (some estimations say half the population) died of starvation. A vast area was covered under a 50 cm thick layer of ash, which killed all life. The mess was that big that parents sold their child for three kilos of rice - as the story goes.
In 1845 a Dutch geologist reported big areas that were still covered under a layer of 50 cm of debris and ashes. The explosion entirely destroyed the sultanated of Sangar and Pekat, which were located at the same peninsula as Gunung Tambora. The vulcano has been resting since that eruption, but the vulcanic tradition of the island is not a thing of the past. In 1985, Gunung Api (the 'firemountain') on the island of Sangeang became active and several thousand people had to be evacuated.

Early history

It is assumed that the first Austronesians reached Sumbawa around 2000 BC and they brought with them agriculture.
However there has never been an extended archeological survey, the decorated stone sarcofaguses connect the island with other megalyth cultures which are to be found all over Indonesia. A stone with characters on it was found along the Bay of Bima not too long ago, probably with an Pallava- or Sanskrite background. They probably date from the 7th century. Bronze drums in Dongson style which have been found on the island, among them a very nice one on the island of Sangeang which was really made my Dongson-crafstmen, confirm that the northern coast of Sumbawa was located along the trade route to the spice and sandelwood-islands.
The Eastjawanese principalty of Majapahit, which was the biggest principalty of Indonesia at it's biggest, was trading with Sumbawa and probably had some political and military power as well. After the fall of Malapahit West-Sumbawa cam under the rule of the Balinese principalty of Gelgel - because of maritial relations and military expeditions. In the 15th and 16th century the principalty claimed rule over Flores, Timor, Solor, Savu and Sumba, but it's still the question whether this was more than just a one time military expedition to get some slaved and to control the trade in the region.

The story of Sang Bima

Picture: Onion fields

The Bo says that mahajara Pandu Dewata had five sons, one of them Sang Bima. The traveller and charming guy met a very beautifull girl and did what gods usually do under such circumstances. The short living affair gave them a girl.
On a later journey he met the daughter without knowing it was her and fell in love with her. But even gods aren't allowed to commit incest. When he disclosed her identity, Sang Bima told her to lay the just born twin sons on the river bank. It probably was with the hand of god that the childness ncuhi, a clan leader, found them and took care of them. One of the boys, Indra Zamrud, founded the dynasty which he named after his father: Bima. The other boy, Indra Komala, founded the Dompu principalty west of Bima. The royal texts say that the dynasty already had 17 rulers before they addoptes islam in 1630.

Arrival of islam

In the 17th century a family dispute between the two brothers about the throne of Bima ended up to be a civil war. The conflict was won in the first place by Salisian, named 'the usurpator' by the royal messages. After his initial defeat the Ma Batawadu, the right one, went to Makassar in Southern Sulawesi to ask for help. He was told that he could get all military help he wanted - and a free princess if he wanted to - on the demand that he converted to islam.. Ma Batawadu agreed and returned with an army of tough Buginese and Makassarese warriors, which defeated the troops of his brother. In 1630 he became sultan under the name Abdul Kahid. Ever since the royal cronics tell about the 'connection of blood, religion and laws' with Southern Sulawesi.
The syara, the islamic book of law, was widely accepted until the Dutch rule forced the rules to be less important in 1908. However Bima is now strictly islamic, the government doesn't accept fundamentalism. (Inhabitants of Bima tried to kill President Soekarno because of his supposed anti-islamic ideas, but they only succeeded in killing several schoolgirls). To displeasure to the local population even a discotheque was opened, but just two kilometers outside the city limits.
The inheritance of the rule of the rulers of Sumbawa Besar has been less good than that of Bima. The royal line died in 1820 when an islamic adventurer from the sultanate Banjarmasin in Kalimantan got hand on the royal heirlooms and the throne. The dynasty which he founded lasted until the independence of Indonesia.

Colonial period

On the whole, the Dutch weren't very interested in Sumbawa. They tried to monopolize trade, especially the trade in sappanwood, but they didn't succeed in that. Only in the start of the 20th century the Dutch had a firm rule over the area. There was some heavy resistance, but the Dutch won the battle due to their superior weapons and organisation.
The influence of the Dutch lasted two years, when the Japanese entered. The Dutch only left behind the Dutch speaking aristocrats, the eldest still speak Dutch. The local aristocracy had the right to visit Dutch schools.

The Japanese were welcomed to the island in the first place, but they soon got hated when they killed, looted and raped people on the island. After the war, Sumbawa became a part of the Dutch instated United States of Indonesia for a short time, before being integrated in the Republic of Indonesia. The three districts of the island (Sumbawa Besar, Dompu and Bima) are related to the sultanates which had exsisted until the colonial time. In 1951, the third sultan of Bima, Salamuddin, which reigned from 1913, gave away power to the central government. Hir heirs were placed at high governmental positions in Bima and Jakarta.

Two ethnical groups

The Tua Samawa (Orang Sumbawa) in the west and Dou Mbojo (Orang Bima) in the east are the two main ethnical groups on Sumbawa. The Samawa ('Sumbawa' in fact is a deformation of this name) are related to the Sasak on Lombok and the Balinese through language. The language which is spoken in Bima - nggahi Mbojo - is closely related to the language spoken on the eastern islands. Several thousand Balinese live in the west, a few hundred in the east. Because of the contacts with Sulawesi there are also Buginese, Makasarese and Bajau colonists to be found. Some of the original inhabitants retreated in the mountains to cling to their traditions, mainly because of the arrival of the islam. In West-Sumbawa traditional communities (the Tau Tepal) can be found in the area of Tepal and Ropang. In the east you can find a traditional population, the Dou Donggo, which live on the southern flanks of Gunung Soromandi and in the region of Wavo, east of the highway between Bima and Sape.
The Dou Donggo still follow the leadership of their clan leader (the ncuhi) and maintain traditional rites which are related to the spirits of ancestors with agrarian- and live-cycles. Their 'holy three' consists of heaven, the water and the wind. Their religion is named Marafu, and looks like the Marapu religion on Sumba. The Donggo sacrifice water buffalo's, goats and chicken (depending on their social status) to favour the gods and spirits and to beg for good harvests and a good health. Around the time that planting starts, in the month November, a fertility ceremony is held in which all Bou Donggo participate.
The Donggo are separated into two groups. The Donggo Ipa ('far mountain population') consists of a few thousand people and still live the traditional way in the mountains of the peninsula west of the Bay of Bima. The Donggo Ele ('eastern mountain population') have been influenced more by islam and live in the highlands east of the airport and the bay, in the subdistrict Wavo Tengah.

Ua pua

However the cultural life of the Dou Donggo has been preserved, the royal court of Bima doesn't support the earlier spectacular parties anymore. Economical obstructions and pressure of orthodox muslems stopped the spectacles like Ua Upa, which lasted for a week day and night. This yearly event in the islamic month of Rabi'ul Awal, following Maulid, was first organisted in the 17th century by one of the teachers of the second sultan.

This sultan, Abdul Khair Sirajuddin, alias Lambila, was not really clinging to one religion. He spent his time to arts. To get his attention for religious matters his islamic master organised a spectaculair celebration of the birthday of Muhammad. Climax of the event was the showing of a beautifull pavilion with 99 arrangements of flowers and eggs (symbolising the 99 names of Allah). The procession was enlightened by dancers and an orchestra. The fest convinced the sultan that islam didn't have to be boring at all.
Lambila ordered the fest to be held anually. This succeeded in 1950, when the influence of the strict islamic reformers was strong enough to stop the normal traditions. Since 1950, the event has been held a single time, in 1981. The high cost made it impossible to hold it again. Maybe a financial impuls from the Department of Tourism can help it to be organised again in the future.
The royal dances which were held in the 17th century are also being revived. The dances were developped under sultan Sirajuddin. The former palace of Bima - nowadays district museum - is the place where the dances are practiced. Sometimes they hold a public performance at sunrise.
The traditional time spending in the villages has suffered less. On the occasion of local festivities like weddings, fake fights are held, with or without weapons, based on pencak silat, and Indonesian martial art. Other events conclude fights with whips, named parise (taken from western Flores) and the most branding fight in Bimanese style, ntumbu, in which men attack eachother and hit their heads.

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