At the Gawai Dayak 2012 (Dayak Culture Week) last month in Pontianak, capital of West Kalimantan province, one unique attraction was the sumpit tournament. The sumpit was once the Dayak's most trusted and reliable hunting weapon, whether at war or at peace. Today, though the sumpit has lost its luster, the Dayak people of West Kalimantan have found a unique way to preserve this cherished family heritage handed down from their forefathers. They have transformed it from a warring weapon into a competitive sporting tool. In 2011, the province hosted the first international sumpit tournament. Tempo English looks at the challenges of reviving an age-old tradition and turning it into a worthwhile cause.
Abon put a damak (dart) into a blowpipe or sumpit, a Da-yak ethnic group's weapon for hunting. The sun was shining with intense heat in the yard of Rumah Betang, a traditional long house, in Pontianak, West Kalimantan. Abon's upper body was clad in a bark vest. His head was decorated with bird plumes. He remained silent for a few seconds, inhaling deeply looking at his aim. He stood upright, his hands raising a 2-meter-long pipe to his lips. Then he blew the long sumpit and the damak was released.
The 20-year-old was competing in a sumpit tournament as part of Pekan Gawai Dayak 2012, a Dayak cultural festival held at the end of last month. When his dart hit the target accurately, spectators cheered.
Today, blowpipes are not used much for hunting. The traditional weapon is even more popularly used for sports. Nearly three hundred people participated in the blowpipe contest this year. "I'm not joining this event for its prize but I'm eager to promote this blowpipe tradition," said Paskasius Rono, 29, a participant from Banua Martinus, Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan's easternmost regency.
Contestants not only come from the Dayak ethnic community. Bambang Widyabudi, 49, a social activist from Java, has been interested in sumpit since 1994. He was first attracted to the weapon after chatting with local intellectuals and communal figures in Dayak interior regions. "When I heard their stories, I felt I'd been taken to the period centuries years earlier, when the Dayak tribe was still hunting."
Knowledge of blowpipes has only grown recently. "Because sumpit, traditionally used at war or for hunting, has not been used for a while," said Yacobus Kumis, a member of the Dayak Communcal Council.
Subagyo, 27, another participant, said only a few people still use blowpipes for hunting. "Hunters in my village have made use of the lantak," said the man from Banua Martinus, Kapuas Hulu. A lantak is a locally assembled rifle with tin pellets as bullets.
Since 1994, cultural festival organizers have included sumpit as a branch of sports in the program. West Kalimantan's blowpipe athletes initiated the Sumpit Sport Association (POS) in 2006. It was pioneered by the Andjioe family members as sumpit "lovers" from Pontianak. "Sumpit has been deep-rooted in our family," said Dedy Andjioe, 31.
They were at first hesitant to observe the further development of blowpipes. However, Dedy expressed optimism that sumpit would receive more of a boost in Andijioe family's region. "There are more Dayak subethnic groups in Kalimantan. The opportunity for advancement is thus greater," he said.
Before the 1990s, there was no tournament and the game was rare.
Among the few skilled players at the time was Ana Budi Andjioe. The woman born in 1948 was active in church and youth organizations in her youth. Then she became interested in sumpit. "I was just curious because not many people were familiar with the weapon," she said.
Nobody taught her how to use it. She only watched people playing blowpipes and imitated them. When women of other Dayak groups were farming, preparing food and weaving, Ana joined those playing blowpipes in villages. Her love for sumpit was later shared by her first child, Beny Andjioe. He began to join his mother training on a vacant plot in her home in Pontianak in 1994 when he was 20.
In the same year, she had the chance to play sumpit on a larger scale. The West Kalimantan custom community association organized Pekan Gawai Dayak for the first time in Pontianak as part of a harvest festival.
Sumpit was chosen as an attraction there. "The organizing committee noticed at the time that all cultures with blowpipes hold tournaments except West Kalimantan," said Beny, now chairman of the Sumpit Sports Association (POS), Pontianak. A meeting of custom figures carried out the sumpit contest as part of Pekan Gawai.
Ana said not many participants joined the first tournament. "There were only around 20 men and ten women," she noted. Beny recalled the community was not that interested in it. "The old ones were reluctant to play. Younger people were shy," he added. But visitors' interest was high with a large number of spectators participating in every contest.
The sport is expensive. The price of one blowpipe in West Kalimantan now reaches an average Rp2 million. This excludes a set of blowpipe darts costing as high as hundreds of thousands of rupiah. Ana frequently had to strive hard to find donors. But sumpit activists including the Andjioe family refused to give up. Every year they invited more people to join, though still informally.
They were backed by custom elders, who explained the importance of preserving sumpit. "By popularizing blowpipes as a sport game, the Dayak younger generation will know their own culture," said Yacobus. Their efforts were fruitful. The number of blowpipe contestants gradually rose. Beny's younger siblings, Dedy, Charly and Elsi, also joined sumpit exercises.
In the 2000s, Beny recalls, there were already about two hundred blowpipe competitors at Gawai Dayak. With greater zeal, the Andjioe family and cousins later resolved to handle this sport more seriously. They established the POS of West Kalimantan in 2006. They also registered the sumpit Indonesian Public Recreation Sports Federation (FORMI).
After POS was formed, blowpipe sport standardization ensued. The dart shooting aim, originally a fruit or a tree, was replaced by a target board like that of archery. For athletes' better concentration, spectators are forbidden to cheer while the players are aiming at the target.
The POS also consolidated its regional forces: The West Kalimantan POS, the POS of Pontianak, the provincial capital, followed with Beny as chairman. In the subsequent year, Dedy initiated the Singkawang POS. "I requested my father-in-law, Patricius Leo, a local custom leader, to become chairman of the POS," he said. The Singkawang community, with the local figure active in the POS, more readily accepted sumpit. The POS was thus formed in eleven regencies and towns.
Since POS was created, blowpipe players have been training more intensively. Every afternoon the circuit beside Beny's house is used. "Now I foster almost one hundred athletes," he said. Dedy promotes a lot more players. "Today around two hundred athletes are trained under the Singkawang POS, divided into several exercise studios," he said. Some of them are drilled in the narrow alley adjacent to his home.
As the number of blowpipe players increases, more cultural festivals are featuring this sport. Beside the annual event at Pekan Gawai Dayak, blowpipe contests also appear at regional celebrations like the Equatorial Land Cultural Festival (FBBK), Grogot Sumpit Festival and Singkawang Festival.
With the rising popularity of sumpit, the regional administrations of Sambas, Singkawang, Bengkayang and Landak support the tournaments by providing accommodation and transportation facilities. "But we always try to seek sponsors from private companies," said Beny.
At that time, West Kalimantan had not yet organized an official tournament. In 2008, POS held a regional competition. However, owing to minimum funds, this event was discontinued in the following years.
In June 2011, Ana saw an opportunity. The Domestic Promotion director of the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Muhammad Faried, visited Singkawang to prepare the Borneo Extravaganza, a Dayak cultural promotion event arranged by the central government.
By penetrating the protocol, Ana approached Faried. When they met, Ana disclosed that a private community had initiated the formation of sumpit associations. However no professional tournament was held in West Kalimantan.
"We need your support," said Ana. Listening to Ana's explanation, Faried stated his readiness to assist. Ana and her peers were asked to draw up an activity proposal. Then they designed the International Borneo Sumpit Tournament (IBOST), an international-scale blowpipe competition.
Without hitting a significant snag, the first IBOST took place in Singkawang in December 2011. Its promotion and implementation enjoyed the support of the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy. Tournament participants totaled 217, from Kalimantan and Sarawak, Malaysia.
The success of IBOST in Singkawang will result in the next IBOST this October in Pontianak. "I hope with the more frequent tournaments ahead, the prestige of the sumpit game in West Kalimantan will also be higher," said Beny.
Still sumpit activists are not satisfied yet. They expect to have a special blowpipe circuit in West Kalimantan.
"In Malaysia, the circuit is as luxurious as a golf course," said Beny. Blowpipes are also produced by small-scale and exclusive industries.
More than that, athletes also hope sumpit will belong to the category of achievement sports. "Sumpit should be able to develop like pencak silat (Indonesian martial arts), which is based on national culture and has been featured in overseas contests," said Bambang. If recognized as a game of achievement, sumpit can join such competitions as the National Sports Festival (PON).
Sumpit contests in West Kalimantan continue to rekindle public interest in the weapon and its history. This growing interest is expected to prompt the government and Dayak intellectual society to delve further into the cultural treasure of the Dayak ethnic community in West Kalimantan including sumpit.
"It, indeed, requires large funds for research. But its historical significance is priceless," said Beny.
No. 43/12, June 20, 2012