I visited the Mentawai tribe on Siberut Island for the first time in 1990, as an ordinary tourist in a small organized group tour. In the late 80s and early 90s West Sumatra was a booming tourist destination and dozens of freelance guides hung out in the tourist coffee shops of Bukittinggi, offering backpacking tourists a 7 or 10 day trip to Siberut Island, to stay with the Mentawai. The guides’ often spectacular photo albums and stories of other tourists that just came back from the island sold the tours like hotcakes! A 10 day trip costed only USD 100 at that time; great value for money…
So I joint one of the most senior and experienced guides, Ed, and together with 7 other tourists we spent 8 days canoeing and hiking around the island and stayed in 4 different traditional tribal houses, called uma. One of those houses was in Butui, where we stayed with Aman Patre, a proud Mentawai shaman living in a small traditional house on the banks of the Butui river, together with his wife and then 8 children. I instantly fell in love with this family and knew I wanted to spend more time with them and learn more about the Mentawai culture.
So a day after our tour ended back in Bukittinggi I turned around and took the first boat back to the island, alone. I joined in the canoe of another guide going upriver and hiked straight back to Butui.
I ended up staying a couple of weeks with Aman Patre and his family, an unbelievable and eventually life-changing experience. Little did I know that this life-changing experience was not only going to be for myself…
The first year
For more photos of the Mentawai on Siberut check out my GALLERY: