A water buffalo fallows alongside some stone tables on a Sumba field.
A horse following alongside modern stone tables on another Sumba field. Many horses are also found in Sumba and are a part of the social symbol of wealth. The modern graves next to it are common in some villages. They are devoid of the elaborately carved upright standing monuments (see later figures).
Instead the decorations are seen on the front side of the tomb.
A modern megalith syncretized into an altar dedicated to Christ.
Megaliths stand amidst modern-day houses in Sumba.
A view of water buffalo carvings on the sides of the older smaller and larger megaliths.
A modern megalith syncretized into an altar dedicated to Christ
Megaliths sit along a hillside leading to a Sumbanese village. Many such stone tombs abound some Sumba hills.
Close up of the hillside megaliths. Most are simple undecorated dolmen structures with sarcophagus type chamber where the dead are buried.
A Sumbanese church sits in the background fronted by megaliths.†
(With church in background) A close up of a dolmen with a stone cist underneath used as a container for the body. The dolmen, weighing tons is supported by vertical stones functioning as its legs.
Side view of a megalith with a step-stone leading to the dolmen.
Indonesia and East Timor Megaliths
Customs or traditions that produce large stone artifacts or structures related to ceremonies or funerals are megalithic traditions. These artifacts are related to attempts by the leaders, chiefs, kings, or heads of clans to maintain their reputation and prestige. Societies that uphold megalithic traditions believe that the souls of their dead ancestors still live in the world of the spirits. They also believe that their lives are influenced by the spirits of those dead ancestors as health, safety, fertility, and prosperity of the people are decided by their attitudes towards the dead. Good treatment of their ancestral spirits therefore protects them against all and any kind of danger.
Almost all Indonesian and East Timor megaliths are used to maintain closer relationships with the spirit of dead ancestors. Marupu, or worship, of the powerful invisible forces is a prevalent element in a megalithic culture and inseparable in the daily life of many such societies . Megaliths not only fulfill sacral needs but also everyday needs such as boundary markers for village lines or rice paddies, stone mortars to grind seeds, etc.
The megalithic tradition has been developing for a long time, since 6500 years ago to the present day. There are two kinds of megalithic traditions:
It is typified by menhirs (standing stone), dolmen, stone terraces and flat stones. For prehistoric stones, these megaliths are no longer used. They are typically found in South Sumatera, Jogya, Surakarta and East Java.
It is typified by the arda form, sarcophagus and stone cists. For the living megalithic traditions where they continue to be used are places like Nias, Torajau, Sumba, Sabu, Flores and Timor.
Megalithic tradition artifacts have various shapes and sizes. Some are short while others are high (up to 7-8 meters or 23-26 feet). Some dolmen shape tombs are often embellished with decorative motifs showing symbolic objects of the marupu, anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and geometric designs. Designs depicting the rank of the dead are normally seen decorating the sides of horizontal stones. They are represented by horizontal bands of geometric patterns. Artifacts of the megalithic traditions and their motifs and symbolic meaning in Indonesia consists of the types in the tables 1 and 2 below :
Table 1: Megalithic type and their description
Megalith artifact type
Terrace usually used in settling down a
dispute or case or to legalizing customary
law in Nias.
Set of stones usually used for ceremonies.
Also found in West Timor.
||Slab of stone supported by smaller ones
functioning as its legs.
Stone slab with holes on its surface.
Usually used in rituals.
Stone vat shaped like a cylinder. Usually
found in Central Sulawesi.
Rounded enclosure, bordered by a set of
head, neck and body. The feet are not
Carving of head of an imaginary animal
considered as protective animal.
||A large stone.
||Sculpture in the form of a human or animal
linked to megalithic belief.
||May be man-made or natural. Used for
worshipping or grave marker.
||Anthropomorphic sculpture consisting of
head, neck and body. The feet are not
Sculpture in the form of a rounded stone
table usually used to dance on in ceremonies
Stone grave supported by other stones
functioning as walls. Usually found in
||Stone grave consisting of a container and
lid which has knob on its end. Usually found
Stone slab with scratch marks on its
surface. Used in rituals.
Ceremonial chair in the form of animal with
flat-horizontal shaped which is usually used
in wedding ceremonies in the Nias area.
||Containers for remains of deceased. Often
found as stone cists, dolmen, sarcophagus,
kalamba, waruga and pandusa.
Stone slab with a hole in the center used to
grind nuts, seeds or items needing grinding.
Terraced set of stone blocks or river
boulders. Also used for ceremonies.
||Stone grave shaped like a house, found in
Royal symbol of courage and bravery of kings
Moon or stars
||Refined character of king
Dignity and wisdom of king
Power, virility (?)
The Megalithic Tradition in Nias
The Nias megaliths are found in the hilly and coastal (or lowland areas). Nias megaliths show a mixture of old and new megaliths. Old megaliths, such as menhir, terrace, and flat stones, and new elements (which also may be classified as megaliths), such as human statues and animals, are found there. New megaliths consist of neogadi, sitilubagi, neobehe, and lawolo.
Menhirs symbolize the male while flat stones are usually female. Vertical standing stones and imposing stone statues are set up to achieve and maintain the honor, prestige and popularity of a leader. A large number of kerbau (water buffaloes) are sacrificed as hundreds of people come from other places to actively participate in the ceremony. A communal spirit of the megalithic society is not only shown in the way they build megaliths or ceremonial houses but also in their way of deciding on questions of customary law or cases. Such a place to settle and reach consensus between leaders and people are found in the areosali.
The Megalithic Tradition in Sumba
megaliths are classified in the living tradition.
Almost all of the Sumba artifacts consist of dolmen
type burial structures. Their forms range from the
simple to the advanced. The practice of ancestral
veneration is closely related to the megalithic
tradition. In spite of the spread of Christianity
since the late nineteenth century, the belief in the
marupu is still strongly felt in the western part of
the island. Erecting stone tombs accompanied by
sacrifices continued to be carried out until
recently. In the modern day, the Sumbanese still
bury their dead in dolmen-like tombs with modern
decorations and structures. Sometimes elaborate
forms and styles reveal a blend of Christianity and
The largest dolmen measures 500 cm (16.5 feet) in length
and 55-70 cm (21-28 in) thick. On the dolmen, a
menhir called penji was set up, sculpted with
various decorations. These dolmen decorative
patterns show human figures, fauna, flora, man-made
and natural items and geometric patterns. According
to local traditional chiefs, dolmens with statues
especially are considered as bodyguards of the dead
personís soul or his own soul personification.
The stones used in constructing a dolmen might weigh
tens of thousands of tons so that hundreds or even
thousands of men were needed to move the stones from
its source to the location where it was to be
constructed. Great ceremonies were carried out
needing a lot of money. Graves of kings from west
and east Sumba are usually very large with a rich