Pasola: a guide to Indonesia's bloody harvest festival


This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.

Location: Sumba, Indonesia

Dates: during February and March; the timing is determined by the arrival of a type of sea worm called nyale.

Level of participation: 1 – this is a blood sport so sit back and let others do the hurting.

A riotous tournament between two teams of spear-wielding, ikat-clad horsemen, the Pasola has to be one of Asia’s most extravagant, and bloodiest, harvest festivals. Taking the form of a ritual battle, it represents not so much a quarrel between opposing forces as a need for human blood to be spilled to keep the spirits happy and bring a good harvest. Despite the blunt spears used by combatants, and the efforts of Indonesian authorities to supervise events, few holds are barred. Blood is spilled and sometimes deaths occur.

Before the Pasola can begin, priests in full ceremonial dress must first wade into the ocean to examine the nyale worms at dawn; they’re usually found on the eighth or ninth day after a full moon. From the numbers and appearance of the nyale, a prediction is made as to how good the year’s harvest will be. Fighting then begins on the beach and continues inland.

Essentials: Pasola takes place in four areas: Kodi and Lamboya (February) and Wanokaka and Gaura (March). Call hotels in Waingapu or Waikabubak to find out the dates before travelling to Sumba, or contact a travel agent in Bali, Flores or Timor.

Local attractions: Sumba has one of Indonesia’s richest tribal traditions, from its wonderful ikat to timeless traditional villages only now opening up to tourism.

More info: Tourism Indonesia (

See more festivals in February here.

This article was first published in December 2010 and was republished in January 2013.