Follow the main road south from Melolo for seven kilometres, and you’ll either pass by Rende (also called Rindi), or if you’re on a public bus, you’ll make a sharp turn and enter the small village. Rende is a village of kings — kings and their slaves.
Whenever we asked questions about slavery, all over Sumba the village of Rende would come up in conversation. In the town itself however, little was mentioned. Being a slave or a king is a matter of birth, something decided by the Marapu long before you are born.
n modern times it seems more akin to class or caste — the kings and their families are better educated, and hold positions of power and are richer, whereas the slaves still live a subsistence life, farming the land of the kings. However as ritual and sacrifice are still extremely important, with the high cost of livestock required to make the appropriate ceremonies, many of the kings may be royal in title, but impoverished by circumstance.
One of the contributing factors is the erecting of massive and expensive stone tombs, many the centrepiece of this royal village. Here the large stone and cement tombs are topped with detailed carvings of stacked animal totems, resembling the Brothers Grimm fairytale “The Musicians of Bremen”. The houses, although mostly with modern corrugated iron roofs, are larger than others we’ve seen. They are divided into two rows each on either side of the graves, with one large double-storey building in a state of disrepair.