Mentawai Demographic Transition: From Upstream "Uma" to Settlement and Sago to Rice Consumption

By Maskota Delfi and Johan Weintré.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: April 24, 2014 $US5.00

A study was undertaken in several coastal Mentawai communities on Siberut Island located off the west cost of Sumatra. The main purpose was to make an inquiry of the gradual social changes in the community as a result of a government initiated housing relocation which subsequently stimulated a new pattern of staple food consumption. In order to document the change an observation of several households was arranged across several villages to obtain a greater understanding from a household’s perspective. In addition, to clarify the food security of the family unit, the harvest process of sago was investigated to understand the food provision in the village environment. It was noted that from a perspective of food starch intake, the traditional sago emerged to be the most attractive staple food. Soil conditions, available technology and supplementary requirements appeared to be crucial in the decision pertaining to staple food provision. Nonetheless, as a result of external influence on food values, significant government initiatives and social status preference, a gradual shift of food consumption is detected in the community. The change has been in parallel with the demographic shift and increased of cash income derived from the islands agricultural endeavors as well as an increased natural resource collection from the remaining forests. Community dependence on fluctuation of cash crops market prices such as cocoa and coffee has added an inherent risk to community food sustainability. In this study a pattern of Mentawaian increased interdependence with external markets is expected in an environment of increased acculturation. A safeguarding mechanism of imposed multiple sustainable choices would advance the communities’ social and economic security.

Keywords: Indonesia, Mentawai, Social Change, Sago Staple Food

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp.37-52. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: April 24, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 922.407KB)).

Maskota Delfi

Candidate PhD, Faculty of Social Sciences, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Ms. Maskota Delfi is a staff member of the faculty of Social and Political Sciences at Andalas University while pursuing her doctorate in anthropology at Gadjah Mada University. In 2011 she published her first international paper at Inside Indonesia. Her second international publication, “Mentawai and the Challenge of Regional Autonomy: Ancestral Identity in a New Model”, is forthcoming as a book chapter in the Yale sponsored, Between the Mountain and the Sea: Positioning Indonesia, 2012 conference. Her particular interests are in ethno-medicine and the study of food and flavours of minority groups in Indonesia.

Mr Johan Weintré

PhD Candidate, School of International Studies, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

I am a former guest lecturer at Universitas Negeri Semarang in Indonesia and a current PhD candidate of international studies at Flinders University in Australia. A recent paper was a chapter in an edited publication: Social Justice and Rule of Law: Addressing the Growth of a Pluralist Indonesian Democracy, with the title “Lifting the Veil on Social Justice in the West Kalimantan Border Region of Borneo”, published by Diponogoro University Press in 2011. Also a recent electronic article was published online in My main interests are in current southeast Asian dynamics of political and social awareness among indigenous groups living in peripheral locations of the state.