The Life of the Nomadic Tattooed Mentawai Tribe of Indonesia

Xavier in Stories

A photographer captures the nomadic Mentawai tribes men and women adorned in traditional native tattoos, residing in West Sumatra.

In 2014, Muhamad Saleh Dollah took home priceless photos from his trip to Indonesia. Armed with a camera and an aim, the Malaysian photographer found himself in the Mentawai Islands in West Sumatra with the nomadic Mentawai tribe. The Indonesian tribe are also known for the tattoos that adorn their skin, carrying on the traditional way of tattooing.

Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media

‘I was very lucky to receive the opportunity to take these photos when I was helping out a friend who actually ones lived with the Mentawai people for a period of time,’ the Malaysian photographer shared. ‘Most of the men in the tribe are regarded as heroes, everyone on the island is very happy. They love it when people from the outside world come to visit because they like to show their way of living and their island.’

Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media

During his trip deep into the island, Muhamad had the opportunity to learn about their habits and way of life. It was but a glimpse, but the 42-year-old photographer felt very fortunate to land a chance to spend a few days with the semi-nomadic tribe.

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‘They all live completely in land and secluded from the modern world,’ he observed. ‘The woman walk around with no clothes on and their lives depend entirely on natural resources. I wanted to go to the island to showcase the everyday lives of the tribe.’

Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media

During his trip, Muhamad learned that the tribe was then made up of roughly 64,000 people who live in homes made of bamboo, wood, and grass. They adorn their abodes with the skulls of their hunted pray. The tribe clans ranges from 30 to 80 members each.

He also learned that the community turn to the medicine man for most of their needs, who specialized in communicating with souls and spirits, healing illnesses, and restoring harmony within the tribe.

Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media
Photo by Muhamad Saleh Dollah/Barcroft Media

You may see the rest of Muhamad's portfolio here.

Xavier

@Xavier

When she's not writing for Tattoodo, Xavier likes experimenting with art and organizing local music shows. We're kidding, she's probably asleep. Follow her on Instagram @claudia_strife

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