Pulau Sabu and Raijua

Colours visits Pulau Sabu and Raijua to explore pink soil, blue waters and white sandy beaches as well as the historic sites and culture that have stood the test of time.

In the year 1770, returning from an exploration around the southern continent (Terra Australis), James Cook anchored his ship at Pulau Sabu. Legend has it that he stayed a few nights on the island, trading his rifle for food from Lomi Djara, the local leader in Sabu at the time.

Over two centuries have passed since his ship HMS Endeavour went down in the waters of Rhode Island, USA. I followed his path without much expectation; doing it simply for the sake of walking in the footsteps of the famed British captain.

A calm sunset on Seba Bay welcomed me upon my arrival in Sabu. Its coast curves and stretches all the way to Napae beach, its ripples a tangerine reflection of the sunset and wooden boats piling up between the sand and the water. “Seba Bay is where HMS Endeavour once set down its anchor,” said Jurgen, my travel companion. There was no monument to mark this historic moment, yet amidst the calmness of the beach I could imagine stories of James Cook the adventurer.

Sabu is home to dozens of soft, white-sand beaches. Apart from Seba Bay and Napae beach, to the north one will find Kolouju beach in Menia, Wuihebo beach in Raemedi and Hai Rawu beach in Raedawa. On the southern part of the island, I visited Ege beach, located at the foot of a cliff, Wadumeddi beach and Gelanalalu beach. To the west, Lobo Hede beach is a sight to behold as it glows and sparkles under the sun.

Marine tourism has yet to become a mainstay for locals, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t beauty to explore underwater. Jurgen and I proved this theory by taking a snorkelling trip just off Boddo beach, where we encountered a stretch of healthy brush coral (Acropora hyacinthus). Not a lot of people are aware that Sabu Raijua has been part of the main zone of the Sawu Sea Marine National Park since 2014.

Sabu Raijua comprises two islands around the southern part of East Nusa Tenggara that are united by their rich history. To locals, the two are siblings, each taking care of the other. It’s funny to note that despite being 10 times bigger, Pulau Sabu is recognised as the younger sibling. “Pulau Raijua is believed to be the source of the soil that shaped Pulau Sabu,” anthropologist Nico L. Kana wrote in his book Dunia Orang Sawu (World of the People of Sawu).

Smaller hills and stretches of savannah dominate the islands’ landscapes. Here the rainy season lasts no more than three months, and the lack of higher mountains or hills that reach 1,000m above sea level allows the wind to blow freely, sending salty air across the island. While traversing past the Ledepemulu hill towards the island’s southern region, I noticed dozens of horses racing each other against the wind from the Indian Ocean.

Life in Pulau Sabu moves at a slow pace, and one can still feel the aura of the past in every corner of the island. To produce salt, locals use an archaic technique of collecting sea water in oyster shells and letting it sit for weeks until it evaporates naturally. I found plenty of gigantic oyster shells along Cemara beach left out to dry to serve this very purpose.

Traditional villages remain well preserved and respected, with rocks being stacked together and arranged in a circle as a gate, as though creating a fort around them. It is in these villages that the communal tribes have lived for generations. In East Sabu, I visited the Kuji Ratu traditional village, which was relatively large with over a dozen traditional houses. Not too far from there was Ba Kota Ida village, where one finds tombstones written in Dutch, remains of the king’s family.

These traditional villages are typically located on the hills, which formerly served as a way to track enemies from a higher vantage point. Of the traditional villages that I had the chance to visit, I found Namata the most enigmatic. It did not have the gates of rock that surrounded most of the other villages. Instead, it was the oval megaliths spread across their yard that made it stand out from the rest. I have never seen megalith formations this odd, as though they were giant eggs. Locals believe these stones hold magical powers.

Elisabeth, a Namata resident, said the oval shape of the rocks had formed naturally. “All we did was strengthen the foundations of these rocks to make sure they do not roll over from their places,” she said. During important events, members of this village gather at this very spot and their leaders, known as Deo Rai, sit atop one of the stones to lead the event.

The stones on Pulau Sabu have become something of a geological phenomenon, which has attracted many foreign researchers to the island. Ron Harris from Brigham Young University, for example, spent years studying them and concluded that the stones in Namata are hardened sand that has taken this form as a result of over 250 years of cementation.

Our journey along the southern part of the island offered views of rocky hills that varied with shades of turquoise to pink, thanks to this hundred-year process. We arrived at Kelebba Maja, a small canyon that displays just how this cementation process has taken place, shaping sand into stones and leaving behind wavy lines along the slopes and sharp-edged cliffs. This place changes colour depending on the intensity of the sun.

A little further away from Kelebba Maja is Ladeae Hill, distinct with its pink valleys that fade into chalk-white – also a result of centuries of erosion. On the weekends, the area becomes a hangout spot for the island’s younger residents.

There’s no avoiding the temptations of ikat fabric in Sabu Raijua. I have long had an interest in these beautiful fabrics, and at the Teni Hawu Palace, I was able to see for myself a few sacred pieces that locals had inherited from the king of Sabu. I later discovered that local residents shared a special connection with lontar (palm trees), the easiest type of tree to grow in Sabu Raijua. Patterns of these trees could be seen on every piece of fabric I was able to get my hands on. Locals refer to Sabu Raijua’s ikat as hubi (palm blossoms).

There are no arts and crafts shops or special markets from which one can buy these ikat fabrics. Locals typically bring their fabric to sell when ships begin to dock at Dermaga Biu (Biu Port) or Dermaga Seba (Seba Port).

The woven cloth is believed to have a soul, and each of its parts is created to symbolise parts of the human body. Men typically wear the cloth in pairs: one around their waist and another piece as a scarf around their neck. I acquired a pair for myself, and headed home feeling like I had been a part of Sabu Raijua, taking with me a piece of this island’s mystical soul and crumbs from the very soil James Cook had once set foot on.


Flight Time  4 hours, 20 mins

Frequency  7 flights per week

Book Now

From Colours January 2018


5 Senses – Touch SURFING RAIJUA

For the past decade, Pulau Raijua has become a dream destination of sorts for surfers around the world, following Nemberala (Pulau Rote) in the western part of Sumba, which gained earlier popularity. The southern part of this island is known as ‘The Wedge’ amongst surfers, in reference to the coral reefs that stretch beneath the water and the ideal waves that can be enjoyed from May to October of every year.