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SUMBAWA ISLAND

Sumbawa is located east of Lombok, and is larger than Bali and Lombok together. Area 15,448 sq km, population about 800.000, of which the majority are occupied with agriculture and fishing. The people here are, like on Lombok, mainly Muslims. Christian missionaries did not even bother to come here. Some old animistic traditions are also still alive. The soil is fertile, and the most important products are rice, maize, beans, timber, cattle and minerals. There is now a large mining industry on Sumbawa. Traditionally Sumbawa has been divided between two main groups of people, each with their own language; Sumbawanese in the west and Bimanese in the east. The western population are related to the Sasak people on Lombok, while in the east there is a clear relation to Flores. Sumbawa was like Sumba under control of the Majapahit kingdom in the 14th century.

The island was then split between a large number of small kingdoms, after the fall of Majapahit the western part was probably under influence from Bali, until early in the 17th century when the entire island was controlled by the Islamic Macassar (now Ujung Pandang) on south Sulawesi. The Dutch occupied Sumbawa in 1669, and established an agreement that gave the Dutch full control through local rulers. They did not however find any commercial interest in the island, and established a direct rule first in the 19th century. Nearby Lombok was controlled from west Sumbawa from about 1650 to 1750 when the Balinese took over, followed by 30 years of war between Sumbawa and Bali. This ended with the Balinese invasion and occupation of west Sumbawa, this was however not in the interest of the Dutch, who drove the Balinese forces away.


Map of Sumbawa

Several large mountain chains crosses the island, the northernmost of these is volcanic. The highest mountain here, the Tambora volcano, had in 1815 AD the until now largest volcanic eruption known in modern history. Before the eruption it had an elevation of 4.300 m, afterwards it was reduced to the present height, 2.851 m, with a crater that is 7 km wide and 1.000 m deep. About 10.000 people probably died immediately, while tens of thousands later died of famine. An area more than 500.000 sq. km were covered in ash. Dust particles in the atmosphere caused a global cooling, and the year 1816 was called "the year with no summer", were the crops in Europe and north America were reduced to a fraction. Today you can climb to the top of this mountain, and the view is supposedly very impressing.

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From the middle of the 19th century immigrants from other parts of Indonesia was brought here to help populate the coastal areas again, and this explains the mix of ethnic groups here; indigenous people, Javanese, Bugis an Sasak to mention a few. In 1908 there was three separate sultanates on west Sumbawa, and the Dutch had to intervene and establish a more direct control to avoid a war between the three. When Indonesia took control after WW2 the sultans lost their power and titles, but were granted jobs as government officials and kept some of their influence. Sumbawa in the wet season is mainly green and beautiful, with many villages scattered around the island. The interior however is in some areas dominated by dry, brown hills and mountains, in strong contrast to the more lush coastal landscape. The best time to visit Sumbawa is at the end of the wet season around April and May when the island is still green and fertile.

The two largest cities are Sumbawa Besar to the west and Bima to the east. Both cities contain an old sultan palace and also facilities for visitors. The mass tourism has not reached Sumbawa yet, but the island has a lot of lovely scenery and culture to offer and is absolutely worth a visit. There are connections by boat with Lombok, Komodo and other islands in the region.

The two main groups of westerners who visit Sumbawa are surfers, eager to surf the breaks at Scar Reef and Lakey Peak, and backpack travelers, who enjoy island hopping. From Bali its easy to ride your rented motorbike onto the ferry and off the other side, island to island.

Sumbawa itself is 15,600 sq km, making it as large as Bali and Lombok together. The scenery is mainly rolling hills, eroded foothills, volcanic ridges. Wildlife is an interesting mix of Asian and Australasian, with soiny bush, cactus, and grasslands along with flora more similar to the western islands. The further east you travel, the drier it gets.

Sumbawa is split in two, as far as population is concerned. In the west are the Sumbawans, a race of people descended from the Indianized ‘high-cultures’ of the islands to the west, Bali, Lombok, Sulawesi, etc. In the east of the island are the Biman’s, who are short, darker and who originate from a pagan culture, more in line with those found to the east, bordering the Pacific. Both groups are predominantly Muslim however and also speak Bahasa Indonesia.

In many respects Sumbawa can be considered remote. To get to Sumbawa from Bali most people take the ferry from Bali to Lombok, travel overland to the eastern seaport in Lombok and then take another ferry to Sumbawa, ending up in Poto Tano. From there transportation is somewhat problematic. There are buses that will take you on to Sumbawa Besar, the capital, or down the coast road to the south, but my experience has been that trying to get on a bus once you arrive in Sumbawa is somewhat difficult. If traveling from Lombok, it is best to board a bus there that will take you to your final destination in Sumbawa. It is also possible to fly into the city of Sumbawa Besar on the western side of the island, and Bima on the eastern side of the island.

Sumbawa is known for its great waves and sandy white beaches. Due to the somewhat trying process of getting there and the scarcity of cheap tourist facilities, the island is not visited much by non-surfing tourists which is unfortunate as the parts of the island are quite beautiful. During the dry season (April to November) a lot of dust is blown up and around. Strong winds blow in off the ocean, and the lush green hills, mountains and valleys turn a dusty brown. When the rainy season begins an amazing transformation takes place and the island becomes a lush jungle once again.

The pace of life on Sumbawa is definitely slower than that in Bali. As most of the island is still developing, there is a very rural feel to just about everywhere that you go, including Sumbawa Besar, the capital of the western side fo the island. The mining company, Newmont, has a gold and copper mine down in the southwestern corner of the island around the villages of Sekongkang, Maluk and Benete. Their presence has speeded up the development process on this side of the island.

Trekking in Sumbawa
A three day trekking adventure, starting from the small village of Pancasila near Calabai takes you through dense rain forest and on to huge and awesome crater. Mount Tambora, which is noted as being the center of the largest eruption in recorded history, dominates the northern peninsula of SUMBAWA. It is 2,851 meters high, heavily wooded, and surrounded by a thick belt of rain forest - a strange contrast to the aridity of remainder of peninsula.

Climbs up to the monstrous Tambora crater begin from, and can be arranged at the small village of Pancasila located at the based of the mountain, a short distance from Calabai. The Tambora trek necessities camping two nights in a rain forest and one night close to the summit. While the climb are never overly steep or risky, climbers have to be prepared for the minor discomfort of the rain forest walk that often includes leeches. The truly awesome crater is one of the most spectacular sight in Indonesia.
 

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