Sakai People In Brief




Once, I had a social activity in the rural area of Duri, it is in Riau province.That place is about 122 kms from Pekanbaru - the capital of Riau province. I spent two months living togeth­er with its native people called "Sakai". I could communicate well with them, because I had studied their language several years before.


The Sakais live in an area named Pematang - Desa Petani. They build their cottages walled by trees; skins and the roofs made from a kind of palm leaves. Those have no bedrooms but look like a hall. A cottage can be occupied by one or two families. The cottages' floor made from wood and the height is one or two metres from the ground.


Their specific food is yam which is made by grinding till it looks like powder or corn, they call it in two names; some call it "Menggalo" and others call it "Ontam". Before the yam is processed to be stuff, naturally it is poisonous. Boar itself doesn't eat this kind of yam. Its leaves are green and the sprouts are black. Actually, I myself had eaten meng­galo over and over when I was there. It tastes sour, moreover it is watery by sauce. At first I got a stomachache after I had eaten it, but later that's okay.


The writer and the Sakais in the Bathin's house.


The Sakais is led by a person who is called "Bathin". Every Sakai obeys him faithfully. Bathin is the highest rank and it is hereditary, not everybody can become a Bathin. At that time their Bathin's name was Atuk Yasin, and he was very kind to me. He treated me as if I had been his own son.




When I asked the Bathin why they were named Sakai, he explained it thor­oughly to me, "I don't know. This name was given by the Japanese colonial. Before they came to our land, there wasn't any special name for us. The Japanese gave this name because we were supposed to be obstinate and we disobeyed them. The name of Sakai became more popular in 1950's up to now."


Then I wanted to know where they came from, and he told me that their tribe came from Luhak nan Salapan - West Sumatera but it happened long time ago. They fled because they didn't want to obey the Dutch colonizer. Therefore, they escaped into the jungles and went through till they reached Riau.


I asked him why their language is dif­ferent from Minang Kabau's, he replied simply, "I don't know exactly why it is so."


Later I begged him to tell me if the Sakai had had a special belief or religion before they received Islam and Christianity. He told me that  they had had the special belief, such as; believe in the Supreme Ghost; The power of The mag­ics and the existence of gods. And then some of them embraced Islam, a few more were Christians and others main­tained ancient beliefs.


As a matter of fact, although they have embraced some religions, apparent­ly they still practice their ancient beliefs and mix them to their new religion. I did prove it in the way of their worship.




The term of Badewo comes from the word: "Berdewa". It is used to doing in adoring the gods. They hold this ceremo­ny if they want to cure the sick person.


When I was there, I attended this cer­emony. It was held in the midnight at their cottage around or near the jungle. They didn't use the lamps but torches which had been made from resin. In this way the room became dim and terrifying, full of smoke of incense and very cold indeed. The ceremony began with a drum beating, all members sat down to form a circle. The magician took a seat in the middle of us and he was covered by red cloth. The singer sang but I didn't under­stand any word of it. The song was a charm to gods and not all of Sakai people understand and can do it.


After a few seconds then, the magi­cian was shaking and stood to dance in front of the sick person that lay down there. The magician acted as if he hadn't been a real human but acted like a tiger. His voice was roaring, his eyes opened widely and sharply. Something I never forget is I was almost killed then because I had done something forbidden. I intend­ed to have a memory by taking a picture but because of my camera's light, the magician, all of a sudden, fell down unconscious on the floor. It is still fresh in my mind up to now when the Sakais were angry and screamed hysterically by utter­ing, "Siapo kodak! Siapo..?! (who takes the picture..?!). To save my soul, I knelt and told them frankly that I had done it and I told a lie by saying that our govern­ment ordered me to have pictures because the Sakais would have been helped about their living as soon as I would back to Pekanbaru. Fortunately, they were calm down but one of them reminded me not to take any picture as long as the ceremony was going down. If it was needed, I could take it at the recon­struction after the real ceremony.


Nearly an hour the ceremony got stuck, then the magician got up and acted again. Suddenly, he snarled at a chicken and he bit its neck in two then ate some. So his mouth reddened by the chicken blood, then someone took the blood then put it to the sick person's forehead, cheeks and chin. Surprisingly, the sick person screamed bitterly and made the situation more terrifying. After the sick person was calmed down, the magician took an arrow which had been prepared before, then he aimed at a human statue made from rice powder. Then he shot at the statue's chest and abdomen then pulled it out. According to their belief, as the arrows were being pulled out, the dis­ease would disappear. If that disease had been made by someone's magic, as the arrows were shot at the statue, the dis­ease maker would die instantly. I don't know if it is true or not. But something that impressed me, was the fact, as the arrows were pulled out, the sick person recovered at once. She looked like being woken from a devil dream.


The following attraction was dance. A rather old man stood up and danced on the red-hot-shoot (bara api) which had been prepared before, spreading on two meters square width. It was an amazing dance, his feet looked smoky and smelt as the roasted flesh. Everyone laughed happily except I myself. I couldn't believe what I was looking at it. As he finished dancing, I had a check on the dancer's sole but nothing burnt surprisingly.


It was the end of the badewo ceremo­ny. It took three or four hours. All were held in the night time.




Our government always holds many efforts to help the Sakai people, such as preparing accommodation as we can find at the suburbs of Duri town now. But many of the Sakais can't stand living there. They prefer living in the jungles to living there as the suburban. In addition, our government prepared schools and sup­ported them with plantation seed, hospi­tals, the clothes and many other things. A few of them only live there up to now, so the other houses are occupied by non Sakai tribe, such as the Javanese.


The Sakais that have maintained liv­ing there, their living standard is better. Their children go to school and some have got scholarship from universities in Pekanbaru. These Sakais have been educated persons. They participated at some offices, companies and some have become teachers. Only some are like those who choose to live in the jungles, eating menggalo, fishing, hunting and stay in the cottages.


Those are the situations of the Riau primitive people and not so far different from today. Now, who have to be respon­sible for their future? Government only? So what about our young generation who have graduated from universities why they maintain to look for or just wait for the job only in the towns and cities. Do we think that activities for our primitive peo­ple worse than becoming a big jobless in our home? Nothing can answer all of those questions by a pile of words, only by our attention and real action.


By Arifin S