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Pronunciation: SAH-sahk
LOCATION: Indonesia (island of Lombok)
POPULATION: 2.6 million (2000)
RELIGION: Native variations of Islam
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: Indonesians; Balinese


Until the recent boom in tourism, the Sasak people of Lombok have remained among Indonesia's least-known ethnic groups, even in comparison with some of their more "exotic" eastern neighbors in the Lesser Sundas, not to mention the Balinese. Nonetheless, Sasak culture is fascinating on its own terms, having developed along several cultural "fault lines," sharing much with the Sumbawans and Bimanese to the east but receiving strong influences from the Balinese, Javanese, Malays, and Makassarese as well.

The Sasak call their island Bumi Gora, or "Dry Farmland." Selaparang is another name, that of their earliest recorded kingdom, which lay on the eastern coast. In the early 17th century, the Balinese kingdom of Karangasem on the one hand, and the Makassarese kingdom of Gowa in alliance with the sultanate of Bima on Sumbawa on the other, established competing footholds on Lombok. The Balinese eventually prevailed, driving the Makassarese out in 1678 and completing the subjugation of the island by 1750. While the Sasak in the western half of the island lived harmoniously with the Balinese, sharing much of the same ritual life despite adhering to different religions, the Sasak aristocracy in the east resented this domination and led three peasant revolts under the banner of orthodox Islam against their "infidel" Balinese lords in the 19th century. The last of these rebellions invited the intervention of the heretofore distant Dutch colonial state. This ended in 1894 with the mass suicide of the Balinese Mataram court after heroic resistance. Although the Dutch built new dams for irrigation, the increased rice production could not sustain a rapidly growing peasant population in the face of an increased burden of taxes owed to the colonial government, in addition to obligations to traditional aristocrats. The average daily consumption of rice fell by 25% over the years 1900-1930, from 400 g to 300 g (14- 10.5 oz).

Lombok still suffers from one of the highest illiteracy and infant mortality rates in the country, although conditions have improved with the rapid national economic development beginning in the New Order regime (1966-1998), temporarily interrupted in the wake of the 1997-1998 Asian/global emerging markets financial crisis, and the local growth of international tourism, a spillover from Bali, which has experienced temporary downturns due to instability in Indonesia as a whole and due to local outbreaks of communal violence. During the period 1990-2004, West Nusa Tenggara suffered 198 incidents of communal violence, almost all of them on Lombok with the exception of the riots that destroyed much of Kota Bima on Sumbawa in 1998. This is a high level if one considers that West Java, with over nine times the population of West Nusa Tenggara, only had 4.4 times the number of incidents and 2.3 times the number of resulting deaths (256 vs. 109). However, the scale of the communal violence on Lombok was minis-cule compared to the conflicts in the Moluccas and Kalmantan and consisted mostly of vigilante groups exercising "popular justice" and intra-village brawling. A new type of communal violence has emerged since 2006. Members of the Sunni Muslim majority on Lombok (as in West Java) have launched mass demonstrations and attacks against members of the Ahmadi sect, including burning of mosques and houses. Ahmadis do not accept that Muhammad was the last prophet and recognize Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in Punjab in India in 1889, as the Mujaddid, the "reformer" prophesied to come during the end times. Many Ahmadis continue to live in a refugee camp on Mataram.


Lombok is about 80 km (50 mi) north to south and 70 km (44 mi) east to west, for a total of 5,600 sq km (1,815 sq mi). Gunung Rinjani, Indonesia's highest volcano and second-highest peak, dominates the north of the island. To its south is a rich agricultural plain, broadest along the western coast, which rolls up into hilly country in the south, which in turn breaks off abruptly in cliffs that fall down to the Indian Ocean. The rainy season runs from October to March.

The Sasak number around 2.6 million, forming 80% of Lombok's population (the rest being mostly Balinese in the extreme west) and 68% of the population of West Nusa Tenggara province as a whole. Overpopulation and rural poverty have included Lombok among the sources of transmigrants: Sasak transmigrants can be found on Sulawesi, and Sumbawa received its first Sasak transmigrants in 1930. In 2006, a total of 32,835 people from Lombok were registered with the Indonesian government as working in foreign countries (See below the section entitled "Work".).


Sasaks speak Western Malayo-Polynesian, an Austronesian language most closely related to the neighboring Balinese and Sumbawan languages. There are three caste-related language levels. Sanskrit vocabulary is prominent in the high level. Arabic words are more frequent in the speech of orthodox Muslim villagers.

The language has traditionally been written in the jejawan script derived from Java, which is virtually identical to Balinese letters. It is also written in Arabic script and increasingly in Latin script. Traditional writing was done on lontar palm leaves, though it is now also written on factory paper, and includes literature, records, chronicles, grants, wills, and village regulations.


Seen most strongly among Wetu Telu Muslims, belief in a wide array of supernatural beings continues. These beings include village founders; past rulers; ancestral spirits; spiritual doubles (jim); and personified spirits of forest, mountain, and water (samar, bakeq). In addition, witches (selaq) are believed to exist; balian can communicate with spirits and heal. Wetu Lima Muslims are also known to fear jim and bakeq. Illness can result from spirit possession, black magic, and breaching taboos. Mystical power is held to reside in heirlooms, such as old weapons.


Most Sasak adhere to Islam, introduced from Java (according to legend), by a Javanese holy man, either Sunan Giri or Pangeran Sangopati, in the late 15th century. It is claimed that Islam as initially introduced was already syncretic, as suggested by the fact that Pangeran Sangopati is also known in Bali as Pedanda (Priest) Bau Rau. There is a cleavage between syncretists who combine Islamic and pre-Islamic beliefs and practices, and purists who conform more strictly to Islamic orthodoxy. The former are referred to as Wetu Telu ("Three Time") Muslims and the latter as Wetu Lima ("Five Time") Muslims.

Because of persecution during the upheavals of 1965-66, exact figures for the Wetu Telu population are elusive; they may number as much as 30% of Lombok's inhabitants and are concentrated in the mountainous northern part of the island. The Wetu Telu religion stresses the veneration of ancestor and local spirits through village feasts. Wetu Telu observe only three days of Ramadan fasting, recognize three cardinal duties (to God, to the community elders, and to one's parents), and do not go on the Hajj pilgrimage, although they do bury their dead with the head towards Mecca. Many believe Gunung Rinjani to be the abode of ancestors and the supreme being and fast there for the three nights of the full moon. Religious specialists include village priests who perform rituals and fast at the beginning of Ramadan on behalf of the entire community, as well as pemangku, male or female spirit mediums and guardians of holy sites.

Wetu Lima Muslims, the majority, follow Islamic orthodoxy, such as the five daily prayers from which the label derives. Avoiding sinful acts (haram) that will be punished in the afterlife is the central concern of Weut Lima, whereas for Wetu Telu it is avoiding the breaching of taboos that will be punished in this life. The organization Nahdatul Wahtan has been active since independence in combating Wetu Telu.

Approximately 8000 Sasak adhere to indigenous non-Islamic beliefs, similar overall to those of the Wetu Lima Muslims; this community (going by the name "Boda") has succeeded in having its religious traditions officially recognized by the Indonesian government as a form of Buddhism. The Boda prefer to be classified as Buddhists rather than as Hindus (as, for instance, the animist Ngaju Dayak have done) in order to keep themselves separate from the Hindu Balinese, despite the fact that their own religion has very little in common with the Mahayana Buddhism of their only fellow Buddhists on Lombok, who are members of the Chinese community.


Once during the Wetu Telu ritual cycle of eight years, the Alip Festival is held to honor the supreme being. Among Sasak Muslims in general, Maulid, the birth of Muhammad, is a major celebration.

A major festival unique to Lombok is the Bau Nyale, which takes place at the February appearance of the sperm and ovum segments of a sea worm (nyale) on the beaches. Legend has it that the worms are the transformed hair of a beautiful princess, Putri Nyale or Putri Mandalika, who, beset by too many suitors, threw herself into the sea. Separate groups of young men and young women gather at the beach to collect the nyale, which are eaten raw with grated coconut, grilled, or partially fermented in bamboo tubes. This is a rare occasion for the young of both sexes to meet in groups unsupervised by their elders: flirtation takes the form of poetic songs and subtle word play (if a girl accepts a present from a boy on this occasion, she is obliged to marry him).


After birth, Wetu Telu fathers bury the placenta (thought to be the spiritual twin and guardian of the child) in a special place. A priest gives the child a name while scattering ash. The first haircut, 105 days after the birth, as well as tooth filing and, for girls, the first ear-piercing, are occasions for specific rituals and celebrations.

For his circumcision, a boy is first dressed in an elaborate costume and paraded on a wooden horse or lion with palm frond tails. No anesthetic is used for the actual operation, and the boy makes obeisance to an unsheathed kris (short dagger). As all life-passage rituals are held after the harvest, the party following often recycles glasses, chairs, and decorations from a previous wedding reception. The circumcision party is accompanied by bloody ritual fights.

For the wedding ceremony, which tends to be more complicated for aristocrats and Wetu Telu, the couple is carried on sedan chairs. The bride-price rises with the caste of the girl. The traditional inventory consists of strings of old Chinese coins; ceremonial gilt-tipped lances; rice bowls containing Chinese coins, covered by a large square of cloth with a small knife on it; and coconut milk and brown sugar.

Marriage by elopement is cheaper. The boy secretly takes the girl away to another village where he reports to the head-man, receives 44 lashes as punishment, and is required to wear a black string on his wrist as a public sign. The village head informs the girl's family through their village's headman. The boy sends a delegation to the bride's family to set the bride-price, which will be distributed among members of the bride's family.

The coordinated pounding of rice mortars announces a death and solicits contributions of rice and labor for the funeral from fellow villagers. In addition to the conventional Muslim funerary rites [SeeIndonesians .], Wetu Telu place offering trays of food and other goods on the grave. Hand carved pieces of wood for a man and decorative combs for a woman are also placed on the grave (after 1,000 days these are replaced with stones and a sprinkling of holy water). Wetu Telu hold a special feast at the graveside. At 3, 7, 10, 40, and 100 days after the death, ceremonies are held, which include Quran readings. Kinsfolk report to the ancestors before all important rituals. The bones are exhumed after 10 years and reburied elsewhere; the initial grave will be reused.


Traditional society recognized three castes: aristocrats (two grades: raden and lalu); commoners (bapa or buling); and, in pre-colonial times, serfs and slaves (jajar karang). One properly married within one's caste (and especially not below it). Aristocrats may well be poor. Wetu Telu villagers all own land and possess roughly equal amounts of other goods.

Village authorities include the village head (pemekel or pemusungan), neighborhood heads (keliang or jero), the irrigation official, the chief religious official (penghulu), the clerk, the village guard, messengers, and others knowledgeable in adat (custom). Traditional punishments include ostracism and lectures by village elders. Villagers join together to perform collective tasks.

Houses are owned individually, while the land under them is village property.

Titles change upon marriage or the birth of the first child, e.g., a lower-level male aristocrat is addressed as "Lalu" before the birth of the first child, and "Mami" thereafter. Older or higher-status people are addressed as "Side" or "Epe" and are spoken to in respectful language, e.g., for "Please eat," "Silaq medaran" or "Silaq ngelor" is used instead of "Ke mangan." Younger siblings, or cousins whose parents are younger than one's own, are addressed as "Ante" or "Diq."

When greeting an older person, the younger person takes the older one's right hand with both of his or her hands; one kisses the hand of parents, uncles, and aunts. Disrespectful speech to parents and other elders will earn a child misfortune or disaster.

If a young man wants to meet a girl, he must visit the girl at her house under the eye of her parents. He sits at the berugaq meeting hall or on the house porch, talking around the subject, often joining the girl in whatever work she happens to be doing. They may chat using a special love language, or the boy may announce his feelings through an adult woman acting as intermediary. Tradition stipulates heavy fines on a man and his family if the man touches a woman in the sight of others. Aside from the Bau Nyale, harvest time was traditionally an opportunity for village boys and girls to meet; they approached in same-sex groups from opposite ends of the paddy field, singing to each other and flirting.


The three regencies comprising Lombok, the home island of the Sasak, have an average Human Development Index, combining measures of income, health, and education, of 58.4 (2005 score), dramatically lower than that of West Nusa Tenggara province as a whole (62.4) and of Indonesia as a whole (69.6); though the HDI of Mataram, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara that is on Lombok, is only slightly under the national score. Lombok's GDP per capita is us$3,347.33, very low for Indonesia (cf. us$9,784 for West Sumatra, us$8,360 for North Sulawesi, us$6,293 for Central Java, and us$6,151 for West Nusa Tenggara as a whole). In 2000, the rate of infant mortality stood at 96.2 deaths per 1,000 live births on Lombok (minus Mataram), the highest in the country.
Traditional houses enclose a raised platform of clay, dung, and straw with walls of bamboo or palm leaf ribs and a thatch roof. There is an open veranda and two rooms, a lower one for cooking and receiving guests and a higher for sleeping and storage. Lumbung, rice barns with a horseshoe profile, have largely disappeared.

Villages are laid out in a rough grid with a berugaq (meeting hall), family houses, rice barns, a mosque or a few prayer houses, a cemetery, and sometimes a playing field. Larger villages are marked off into neighborhoods (gubug); aristocrats sometimes live in a separate compound.

Cidomo, hand-drawn or horse-drawn carts that carry goods and passengers, are a common sight on Lombok's roads.


Kinship is bilateral, although the paternal line is emphasized, particularly as concerns the inheritance of noble rank or other offices. Most privileges and obligations derive from the wirang kadang, comprised of the paternal grandfather, father, paternal uncles, and paternal cousins. The basic household unit is the nuclear family, sometimes including a widowed parent, a divorced child, and adopted children. Aristocratic brothers and their families often remain in the same compound after their parents' death.

The preferred marriage is between cousins, but marriage is taboo between uncles and nieces or aunts and nephews. Newlyweds live with either the bride's or the groom's family or establish their own separate house, though aristocratic couples stay with the man's side as a rule. Three divorces per lifetime is average. For Wetu Lima, children stay with the father after divorce; for Wetu Telu, they stay with either parent. One means of divorce is for the wife to leave her husband's house and return to her parents as a sign of dissatisfaction with a husband who is an adulterer or a deficient provider. She may refuse to talk to the husband when he comes looking for her, thus frustrating him and making his family lose face, such that a divorce becomes inevitable.


For everyday wear, Sasak men traditionally wear a batik sarong in blackish colors, whose longer front-hanging edge is held up while walking. To this is added a breast cloth of white or gold thread and an open short-sleeved shirt. Above a sarong and a sash for the waist, women wear a black baju lambung, a shirt with wide sleeves that is cut short in the back. Old people and big smokers carry around containers for cigarettes and tobacco, while many women carry holders for betel-nut chew.

Ceremonial clothing for men adds a sapu', a head wrap of batik cloth, which is white down the middle. Women wear a batik sarong, a long-sleeved kebaya shirt, and a belt of gold thread. A kris sword tucked into the belt often completes the ensemble.


Rice is the central item of the Sasak diet, supplemented by boiled cassava and sweet potatoes. The main meals are lunch between 12:00 and 2:00 pm and dinner from 7:00 to 8:00 pm. For those who can afford to have it, breakfast consists of rice, maize, or boiled bananas with coffee. A warming food for the rainy season is fried maize with coffee. Fruits are not yet a regular part of the peasants' diet, being sold in town instead.

For celebrating Muslim festivals, reket rasul, yellowed glutinous rice with chicken, is prepared, as are jaja tuja', steamed glutinous rice cakes with grated coconut. Berem, a kind of rice wine, is still consumed by Wetu Telu villagers.


In 2005, the level of literacy stood at 74.65% on Lombok (average of the three regencies, not including the city of Mataram), which is very low for Indonesia, significantly below that for West Nusa Tenggara as a whole (78.79%), and dramatically below that for other densely populated provinces with large numbers of poor such as East Java and Bali (See also the article entitled Indonesians .)


Indigenous performing arts are encouraged in "traditional" villages and by tourism-promoting government policy but are discouraged in "modern," orthodox Muslim villages. The Sasak gamelan (metallophone) orchestras resemble their Balinese counterparts from the scales down to players' costumes. Processional gamelans similar to the Balinese beleganjur accompany many dances. The gamelan gong Sasak combines the modern Balinese gong kebyar with a native oncer ensemble. Another orchestra is the gamelan grantang of bamboo xylo-phones. An Islamic taboo on bronze instruments (which represent the voices of ancestors in pre-Islamic belief) has yielded both iron ensembles as well as an ensemble of rebana (Middle Eastern flat drums) that can play the gamelan repertoire.

Various types of sung poetry are performed: cepuk, the recitation and singing of the Panji legend to suling flute, rebab fiddle, and a chorus imitating the sounds of the gamelan; tembang Sasak and Malay hikayat (verse), the latter simultaneously translated into Sasak; readings of the Barzanji (lives of Muhammad and Islamic saints) in a call-and-response format; and popular Sasak poetry accompanied by a cilokaq (or kecimol) ensemble of a piercing preret oboe, plucked lutes, and rebana. Finally, the Jew's harp, played in duets, is a popular instrument.

Sasak dance includes the tari oncer, where two drummers play interlocking rhythms and strike dramatic poses; the batek baris, which imitates a Dutch military parade coupled with female telek dancers who play the roles of kings, ministers, and soldiers; the barong tengkok, where men inside a mythical lion play kettle gongs; the pepakon, a trance dance meant to cure the ill; and the gandrung, where a single female dancer invites men from the audience to dance with her.

Theater forms include the kemidi rudat, which depicts tales from the "1,001 Nights," resurgent despite strong orthodox Muslim disapproval; the teater kayak masked dramas (Cupak Grantang, kayak sando, and other forms); and Wayang Sasak, the shadow puppet play introduced from the western Javanese city of Cirebon in the 17th century.


Wet-rice is the primary crop, now grown in rotation with soybeans. Tobacco is an important export as are betel nuts, cinnamon, chilies, coffee, medicinal plants, and more recently pepper, vanilla, cloves, pumice, pearls, carrageenan algae, and sea cucumber. Most fish is obtained by trade as the Sasak are not seafarers. Fruit, honey, edible leaves, and bamboo shoots are gathered from the wild. Chickens, ducks, and goats are raised; water buffalo are reserved for feasts. Wetu Lima villages have formal marketplaces, and itinerant peddlers are Wetu Lima Muslims because the Wetu Telu Muslims look down on trade. The recent growth of international tourism on Lombok has provided altogether novel opportunities for work.

In 2006, a total of 32,835 people from Lombok were registered with the Indonesian government as working in foreign countries. The largest number was found in Malaysia, where the overwhelming majority were men (26,142 compared to 690 women). Very few men, however, were working in the Middle East: 5,610 women (domestic servants) in Saudi Arabia (only 84 men), 108 in Kuwait, and 55 in Jordan (no men in the latter two countries). The gender ratio was more even in South Korea: the 108 Lombok workers there (all from Mataram city) numbered 64 men and 44 women.


One traditional children's game still commonly played is bawi ketik ("kicking pig"). This game imitates a wild sow protecting her piglets from hunters. It is played in the daytime after chores are done. On all fours in the middle of a circle, the designated "pig" bends over a number of stones representing the "piglets," one for each of the "hunters." From five to eleven "hunters" attempt to grab their respective stones from under the "pig" who, remaining on all fours, can only ward them off with kicks to their calves. A "hunter" who gets kicked in the calf becomes the "pig." This continues until all "piglets" have been captured whereupon the "hunters" hide their "piglets" while the "pig" closes his or her eyes. The "pig" must then search for the "pig-lets," the owner of the first one that he or she finds becoming the next "pig." Thus, it continues until the children become bored or tired.

The Sasak are particularly fond of competitive sports, such as soccer and volleyball. Lanca is a type of boxing originating in Sumbawa in which two men use their knees to strike one another. The peresehan is a ritual fight that accompanies wedding celebrations and the rain ceremony. It commences with two men, finely attired in turbans and sashes, feigning combat with rattan sticks and buffalo skin shields to the accompaniment of a gamelan. The two then invite members of the crowd to fight, taking care to match them well. It is permissible to refuse, but winning brings great honor. The matches can get very bloody.


See the article entitled Indonesians .


The Sasak are famous for their ikat (tie-dyed) textiles, basket-ry, and pottery. Women weave cloth and sleeping mats. Men make baskets, traps, hide containers, tools, painted house posts and doors, as well as the wooden horses used as ceremonial mounts.


See the article entitled Indonesians .


The Gender-Related Development Index (combining measures of women's health, education, and income relative to men's) for Lombok (average of the three regencies, not including Mataram city) is 44.7, dramatically below Indonesia's national GDI of 59.2 (Mataram's HDI is slightly higher, 60.2). The Sasak regencies' average Gender Empowerment Measure (reflecting women's participation and power in political and economic life relative to men's) is 37.33, also far lower than the national GEM of 54.6 (Mataram's GEM is only slightly lower at 52.3).

In some villages, women cannot inherit land; in others, they inherit it only at the ratio of one to three with men. Inheritance may include land, houses, and heirlooms, such as cloth, jewelry, and kris or daggers. Jewelry is the common property of the women of a family (See also"Family Life".).


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—revised by A. J. Abalahin