Nias world-famous stone-jumpers

Nias's stone-jumpers
A young Nias man performing stone-jumping. Photo: Nurvita Indarini/ website Museum Pusaka Nias

IO – What is the first thing crossing your mind when you hear the word “Nias”? Most people would probably answer “Stone-jumping”, as the island
off the west coast of Sumatra is famed for its athletic historical tradition.

“Ya’ahowu!” is the greeting uttered by friendly locals visiting Bawomataluo, a traditional village in South Nias. The warm greeting attracts curious tourists to come and watch the worldwide-famous ancient Stone-jumping.

Bawomataluo means “sun hill”; the name suits Bawomataluo Village, lying 324 meters above sea level. To get to Bawomataluo, tourists must climb over seventy steps made of natural stones, similar to stacks of small megaliths. The smooth steps have withstood the ravages of nature for centuries.

Reaching the highest step, the sight of omo hada—the traditional houses of the South Nias villagers will captivate the guests, in awe. The wooden houses face one another, about four meters apart. A field paved with a rock bed lies in the middle of the housing complex, with the stone tower standing tall in the middle of the field.

Nias's stone-jumpers
Teens of Nias young men prepared to entertain the visitors of Bawomataluo Village. Photo: Nurvita Indarini/ website Museum Pusaka Nias

The stone-jumping, known as fahombo, is a jaw-dropping spectacle for wide-eyed tourists, involving Nias men who have been trained to leap the seven-foot-tall stone tower. The feat is impossible to accomplish without remarkable skill; thus, failed attempts resulted in severe injuries or even death in ancient times.

Stone-jumping then and now
Stone-jumping was born out of fighting and defending their territory, during ritual tribal wars. Warriors needed to climb over a two-meterhigh stone barrier to breach an opponent’s fort. Without the skill to leap, invading and defeating an enemy was hopeless for tribesmen.

In the past, sharpened bamboo spikes and nails were placed atop the surface of the stone tower, to exhibit the level of Nias’ stone-jumping ritual urgency. Young soldiers were vigorously trained to vault over enemy walls while carrying torches at night. The Fahombo reveals the Nias men’s agility.

As time passed, with no more war permitted, the two-meter-high and 40centimeter-wide stone-jumping display became a significant moment for boys to leap into their adulthood and accept responsibility.

A steep stone staircase rises to the traditional village of Bawomataluo. Photo: Nurvita Indarini/ website Museum Pusaka Nias

Being able to jump over the stone barrier is a point of pride; Nias boys practice hard to conquer piles of rocks quickly. The first training step would be jumping over a low rope and pedestal; then, the pedestal is slowly raised, to a certain height. Finally, jumping over a two-meterhigh stone tower will no longer be excruciating.

Quoting, families whose boys jump over the stone for the first time will celebrate by sacrificing cattle as their gratitude and expression of pride.

Nowadays, stone jumping exists as a local sports activity; at traditional villages, it is a central tourist attraction. For an entry fee of IDR 150,000, two local men will each perform two jumps.

Aside from being a rich local heritage and a symbol of the Nias people, Stone jumping is a long-preserved ritual and tradition, fascinating both domestic and foreign tourists. Traveling to Nias means enjoying the wonder of stone jumping.