The Ecological Implications of Ancestral Religion and Reciprocal Exchange in a Sacred Forest in Karendi

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1-1-2003


This article tells the story of the sacred place named Mata Loko ("River's Source") in Karendi on the western end of the island of Sumba. This ethnographic case of an eastern Indonesian society where the traditional religion of Marapu persists sheds light on questions of how local belief systems are part of environmental adaptations. The use of sacred resources is restricted by the belief that marapu, the ancestors, are guardians of the forest and is enforced by supernatural sanctions. The ecological and religious processes that are described in this article illustrate that interactions between indigenous and world religions impact local cultural ecologies. In experimenting with their indigenous religion, Karendi people are simultaneously experimenting with traditional resource management. The Mata Loko case illustrates that the ritual management of scarce resources such as water and culturally/historically valuable resources such as bamboo is a form of conservation planning. Together cultural history, reciprocal exchange, and ancestral religion provide a framework for protecting valuable natural resources.