High on a mountain, three shamans sit cross-legged on a great burial stone, gazing out across a moonlit valley. They are singing, a slow ululation that fades into the predawn silence. This is the annual summons for the nyale, ancient spirits that manifest as sea worms, briefly swarming the shores of Sumba, a tiny island in eastern Indonesia. For the shamans, the nyale are augurs, telling them what the year ahead will hold. This is the central moment in a ritual cycle that will culminate in a few hours when hundreds of warriors do battle, hurling spears in a bloody war known as the Pasola.
Even as the Sumbanese enact their millennia old rituals, the world is changing around them. Sumba is being touted as the next big thing in island tourism and a real estate gold rush has begun. Many are predicting that this tiny island no one has heard of will soon emerge as the next Bali. Perhaps the shamans have already seen the omens. It remains to be seen whether they will be for good or for ill.
Video shot by James Morgan.