Siberut Island, Mentawai, Indonesia. Aman Masit Dere, is a medicine man or Sikerei of the indigenous tribal community that inhabit the inland jungles and mountains of the Mentawai islands west of Sumatra, Indonesia. His leathery skin is covered in tattoos and his lean muscular physique is emblematic of an uncompromising jungle life. Until now he has managed to reject modern influence and instead continues to capitalize on an in-depth knowledge of the jungles foods, medicines and building resources.
Mentawai tribesman and Sikerei (medicine man), Aman Masit Dere soothes his 12 month old daughter Renti from an unknown illness with a lullaby. Traditional methods using natural medicine inherited from ancestors are preferred by the Sikerei, meaning all ailments are treated gravely. Infant death is often a sudden and common occurrence creating anxiety amongst the household.
Nine year old Jumer listens and observes the actions of his grandfather Masit Dere whilst hunting and location scouting in the jungled region of Sarareiket. Like those before him, he learns all he can and all the Mentawai have ever needed to know from observing his elders and listening to the lessons of the Sikerei. Jumer will not be educated at a traditional school like some of his brothers and sisters
A village woman writhes in agony as Aman Masit Dere sharpens her teeth. No anaesthetic is administered and depending upon the sharpness of the machete or chisel, the length of the procedure is undetermined. The procedure is performed less and less as Mentawai women continually look to the western world for what is deemed to be 'beautiful'. The ritual has different purposes dependent upon which region it is performed. Some say it is a practical tool so that a new mother can break down solid foods to feed her babies with greater ease. Others, like in the Sarereiket region (pictured here) say it is a beautification technique.
At a 24 hour long ceremony, Aman Tawqi Kunen and Aman Dussa Kunen dance to welcome the spirits into Aman Masit Dere's Uma (house). As animists and the conduit between their people and the afterlife, the Sikerei dance until they can no longer stand, showing reverence to the spirits. The performance will end dramatically with one feigning death to appease those in the afterlife.
A pigs heart is inspected by the Sikerei and their sons, after it was sacrificed to appease the spirits and provide food for those at a ceremony. The Sikerei will read the veins in the heart to determine the immediate fate of their clan in the future.
Masit Dere's wife Godai Manai blesses the new boat with the articles of the jungle collected by her husband a day earlier. The duty of the Sikerei wife is not only to tend to the children and the affairs of the home, but also to actively take part in ceremonies with the Sikerei.
Aman Dussa Kunen is watched by local children as he is tattooed under torch light using the traditional Mentawai hand-tapping technique. A practise that is becoming less common as their culture fades, the identity shaping markings, or Titi, are worryingly seen by younger generations as a curiosity rather than a symbol of cultural importance.
Masit Dere is seen watching local village girls in Matatonan play games on a mobile phone, while Ukan eats sweets from a local store. Residents of the settlements struggle to earn an income and the small stores that sell treats, dotted throughout these villages, are seen as a gateway to all things 'western' and 'new'.
Masit Dere's daughter Ukan (6) stares through the window at the Islamic government school she attends with her brother Pandin in Matatonan. Her parents receive financial benefits for sending the two children to school and it is illegal for children to not attend. The school she attends is run with military precision, teaching reading, writing, arithmetic and religious studies, skills that, while of great benefit on mainland Indonesia, will offer only a slim chance of employment on the islands. This place is one of poverty, and has an unhealthy dependence on outsiders for support.
Teubarat (centre) views an image of his recently deceased brother on a laptop computer, surrounded by his extended family. This is the first time he has seen a likeness of his brother since his death from an unknown illness. Traditionally death is seen as part of life for the Mentawai and the grieving process is short, but time disconnected from their culture see's those from the settlements adopt a Christian approach to their grief, further conflicting any connection to the Mentawai heritage.
Muara Port Siberut is the only town of note on the main island of Siberut, and also a drop off point for surfers looking to ride the world-famous surf breaks surrounding the islands. A seeming oasis for young Mentawai with dreams of working on the chartered boats and surf resorts, the settlement town is in fact a mirage, with little to no opportunity for employment and a lack of infrastructure to sustain growth. The residents are Mentawai but the culture here is non-existent, extinct.
Under a likeness of Jesus, Maher, the son of local school teacher Herman, swings while watching television in his family home. Seen as relatively wealthy in the settlement of Port Siberut, Herman and his family are Mentawai people but have no connection to their heritage. Like most residents in the settlements, their wealth is material and could be described as rudimentary at best.
A healthy Renti (l) stares outside the Uma as Ukan and Pandin play after school. As Masit Dere's youngest son, Pandin (r) is the next in line to be Sikerei due to Kacau's (Masit Dere's eldest son) move to Matatonan. Pandin does not share the same love of Arat Sabulangan as Jumer does and as he attends the village school it would seem that Masit Dere is the last in his lineage to be Sikerei. “The future of Mentawai culture survives with our children and our role is to teach them this knowledge.” says Masit Dere.
Mentawai tribesman and Sikerei (Shaman) Aman Masit Dere oversees his lands amid the tropical rainforest deep in the Sarereiket regions of Siberut Island.