Mentawai man in Sumatra

The Mentawai: Meet the Indigenous Island Tribe of Sumatra

Learn about sharpened teeth and poisoned arrow hunting

Where the Mentawai live

The Mentawai are the native people of the Mentawai islands in Sumatra, Indonesia. They mainly live on the island of Siberut which is located about 5 hours away by speedboat from Padang City, the capital of West Sumatra.

Usually, a few families from the Mentawai tribe live together in wooden houses standing on pillars, called Uma.

Today there are approximately 30,000 people of the Mentawai tribe on the island Siberut. They are living mostly isolated from modern society and in a semi-nomadic lifestyle.

Mentawai population and lifestyle

The tribe has its own language, culture, and customs. The Mentawai still maintain the lifestyle and traditions passed down from their ancestors from thousands of years ago.

Traditions and beliefs of the Mentawai

Not only are they one of the oldest tribes in Indonesia, but the Mentawai are also one of the few left, who still believes in animism. Where a shaman serves as the spiritual leader of the tribe.

They believe that all things in nature possess a spiritual essence, and they live in harmony and peace with the environment around them.

They are always asking for forgiveness to the spirits after taking the life of an animal or harvesting a plant.

Clothing, tattoos and sharpened teeth of the Mentawai

They also have a very humble and simple appearance, where the men wear only a loincloth made from the bark of the gum tree. The women wear only a simple skirt made of palm or banana leaves.

It is also very common to see Mentawai people covered from head to toe in tattoos, which is why they got the nickname “Flower People.”

Some of the Mentawai people sharpen their teeth to look more beautiful but also because the sharpened teeth are believed to last longer. Definitely a new way how to skip future dentist appointments.

Fishing and poisoned arrow hunting

Apart from eating Sago – a starch extracted from tropical palms – as their main diet, the men of the tribe also hunt monkeys with self-made poisoned arrows.

The women are responsible for fishing in the river and then preparing the food over a fire within a bamboo stick.

Moreover, the Mentawai raise pigs and chickens for daily food, with the livestock usually living right under their traditional houses.


If you want to meet the Mentawai people yourself and learn about their traditions, TripLegend invites you to sign-up for our Sumatra trip. By living several days among them, this trip will give you a once-in-a-lifetime-experience. Also, check our other unique adventures all around the world.

Check our responsible travel measures for sustainable tourism

Photo Credit: Zulfikar Efendi

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