Not every traveler coming to Indonesia is only looking for a good time, nice weather, or cheap beers. Many come here for more specific purpose, namely ripping surfs and to be inked. Inked! As in get a new exotic tattoo that instantly gives you a bragging right to your homies back home.
You see, Indonesia is home to many ethnic groups. Some of which have a very intimate cultural, spiritual and aesthetics relations with tattoo culture. To put it simply, Indonesia is like an anthropological heaven for tattoos. From all the ethnic groups of Indonesia, Dayak and Mentawai tribes, are most well-known for their traditional tattoo-making technique and aesthetic.
And not just that… Indonesia is also an archipelago with no less than 17,000 islands (!). One of which, and one of the most remote, happens to have both beautiful, challenging waves and exotic tattoo culture.
Welcome to Mentawai Islands.
It’s said, tattoo culture started in Mentawai as early as 53 BC. Tattoo, or titi, as it is locally known, is an inseparable part of Mentawaian culture (as is the loin cloth). The Mentawai shamans or sikerei don it for spiritual purposes. Tattoo represents their identity, their spirituality and beliefs. It’s believed that only through their tattoos that their ancestors will be able to recognize them in the afterlife.
Titi is a dying culture in a modern world. Not so many sikerei, with sipatiti skill, remains in Siberut, the main island of Mentawai. Sipatiti is Mentawaian word for tattoo maker.
In 2009, with the objective of saving Mentawai tattoo culture from becoming extinct, several tattoo artists embarked on the same mission. They established Mentawai Tattoo Revival to preserve this dying culture. The most prominent among whom is Durga, a well-sought tattoo artist and a DJ from Yogyakarta. As part of the program, with the help of local people, he even set up “shop” in the middle of Siberut jungle where he used his skills to tattoo the sikereis and other community members, a deed that earned him a title of sipatiti, on his own right, among the locals.
Hand-Tapping Tattoo Technique
Mentawai-style tattoo is made with handtapping technique. It hurts like a motherfather…
Seriously. You don’t know pain until you experience this tattoo-making method (unless you’ve experienced giving birth in natural way). It hurts. And it hurts badly. Not only that. Due to the time needed to finish even the simplest tattoo, this technique tends to drain your stamina quicker than the conventional one.
But as you know, pain won’t deter any real tattoo aficionados all over the world to get inked. For some, the more painful, the better.
Hand-tapping technique goes like this. The tattoo artist uses two sticks…usually made from hard woods, one with a needle(s), and the second acts as the tapper…and then, whether you’re ready or not, pain-induced tapping begins. Pain…more pain…even more pain…and, several hours later, when the pain has become too overwhelming your skins go numb, voila! A new tattoo, laden with spiritual meaning, is carved on your skin.
The Mentawai Islands are one of the most consistent surf destinations in the entire world.
Siberut Island is located 10 hours ferry-ride due west of the city of Padang in Sumatra. Its part of ribbons of small islands consist of dense tropical forests known as Mentawai Islands.
It’s remote, under-developed but crazily beautiful. The last good wave of Indonesia, some said about the waves of Siberut.
Surfing in Mentawai
Mentawai has no less than sixteen world-class surfspots. Kandui and E-Bay being the two of them.
Everything comes with a price. The waves, which are perfect from late May to early November, are not that easy to reach. First you need to fly to Padang in Sumatra Island, the closest major city from Mentawai and then continue aboard a ferry for 10 hours to Siberut.
Once you there. It’s heaven. Beautiful beaches, rippable surfs, nice tropical weather and whatnot for you to enjoy. Check this link to book your stay in Mentawai with Bedforest. As always. You book, we donate.
Aloita, Mentawai! (Good day, Mentawai!)
Images courtesy of Durga Tattoo, Maptia and Kandui Resort.