Welcome to another edition of Around The World.  I wanted to avoid doing a post about Valentine’s Day because there are so many conflicting opinions about the holiday and everyone is pretty much aware of what it is. So instead we’re going to take a look at a festival that takes place in Indonesia called Pasola, the Bloody Harvest Festival. Romantic right?

Welcome to Sumba, Indonesia. Pasola takes place sometime between February and March, it’s all dependent on the arrival of a sea worm called Bau Nyale.


Ew! Gnarly little things, huh?

The Bau Nyale worm only surfaces around Lombok’s beaches between February and March, which aligns with Pasola. Locals believe the worms are sacred and bring prosperity to those who honor them. Misfortune befalls those who do not.

Pasola is considered to be one of Asia’s most extravagant and bloodiest harvest festivals. The festival is a tournament style battle between two teams of horsemen. The horsemen are dressed in ikat fabric, which is yarn that was pre-dyed before weaving.  Their horses are also decorated with fanciful garbs in preparation for the battle.

I bet that’s pretty to knit with!

And here is how they look completely tricked out in their fine clothings:

Pasola garb

Image courtesy of Indonesia Travel Forum.

At the start of the festival priests dawn full ceremonial garbs and sacrifice a black cock to gauge the moods of the gods. Then they wade into the ocean at dawn and examine the nyale worms which show up around the 9th day after the full moon. The priests can predict the year’s harvest based on these little sea worms. Once the priests have completed their ritual of divination, they gather the multi-colored worms and bring them to the area where the Pasola is held. Then the game can begin.


The two clans ride on horseback and throw the blunted spears in an attempt to knock one another off the horse. The competitors wield wooden spears (sola means long wooden stick which how the ritual got its name) as they engage in a form of ritual battle that represents the need for human blood to spill in order to please the spirits so that they will grant a good harvest. The belief is that blood will fertilize the land which will in turn lead to a bountiful harvest. To try to minimize injury, the spears are blunted and the event is supervised but despite precautions the event is essentially no holds bar. It’s not uncommon for blood to be spilt during the event but again the belief is that blood will fertilize the land.  Once a rider is down, he and his horse are out of the game and may not be attacked by other players.

The Pasola and Bau Nyale festivals have become a huge tourist attraction for those wishing to engage in this ancient practice. Many people visit Indonesia to see the event live and the people of Indonesia have done their best to preserve the spirit of the original Pasola traditions.

That’s it for this month’s Around the World. Got something you want us to look into? Leave a comment!

Around the World is a feature about global geekery, exploring other cultures, and much more. To submit a post idea, simply leave a comment!