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The Mentawai Future: Change or Vanish

Jungle inhabitants who have their own culture and tribal spirituality are not conventional, law-abiding taxpayers. When the Indonesian military failed to subdue the Mentawai, Christian missionaries and Islamic leaders soon tried. Despite their efforts, no one made “progress” with the jungle clans, and the government, still determined to assimilate all indigenous cultures within its borders, initiated a major Mentawai relocation plan. People were lured to government villages by empty promises of access to "free" education for their children, medical care, “civilized” clothing and a church of their “choice.” The temptation was strong and many clans left their traditional long houses, umas, where entire clans lived beneath one roof, to settle in small, single-family houses that looked modern but were poorly designed and built.

Now, living where sanitation was not thought out is forcing the Mentawai to break their own taboo and use the river as a latrine. As a result, cholera and hepatitis epidemics are frequent and the mainland doctors supposed to provide care are long gone. Sedentary people exploiting the nearest natural resources threaten local wildlife, and for the first time in their history, the Mentawai are suffering protein and vitamin deficiencies. These “villages” represent the failure of modernization. The relocated Mentawai enjoy none of the advantages of city life, yet suffer many of its disadvantages.



Challenges the Mentawai face:
Introduction: Change or Vanish
Social Structure
Modern Clothing
Costs of Relocation
Inappropriate Housing
Malnutrition & Epidemics
Fighting Back


Mentawai Cultural Photo Documentary

View our breathtaking documentary slideshow and discover more about Mentawai shamanism, rituals and daily life.

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