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The Wewewa of Indonesia

[IMAGE] The 96,000 Wewewa live on the western part of Sumba (formerly Sandlewood Island). Sumba, one of the Lesser Sunda Islands, is located in eastern Indonesia, northwest of Australia.

Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation and has one of the most ethnically diverse cultures in the world. The Wewewa are one of over 300 distinct people groups living there. The Indonesian islands act as vital sea routes between Asia, Europe, and Australia. They are also the principle link between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The Wewewa are distinguished from the people on the eastern part of the island (the Kambera) primarily by language, although there are some cultural differences as well.

Sumba's mainland consists of plateaus with scattered, irregular hills. Since the climate is hot and dry, most people live on the plateaus, where extensive grasslands support grazing and small scale agriculture.

What Are Their Lives Like?
Sacred myths that describe the origin of the Wewewa mention ancient places such as "Mecca" and "Djawa." However, documented records of their history only go back as far as the fourteenth century. By the seventeenth century, the island of Sumba was well known for its sandlewood and horses. Even today large herds of wild horses are used for export as well as for riding.

Most of the Wewewa are small scale farmers. Income is also generated by the raising of animals and bartering of goods. Rice and maize are grown in season, in addition to year-round gardens and tree crops. Water buffalo are eaten as ceremonial food on very special occasions.

Fine fabrics that have been woven from locally grown cotton are famous throughout Sumba. This also plays an important role in the economy of the people.

A large bartering system exists on island of Sumba. Labor, services, ceremonial foods, and goods are all commonly traded among groups of relatives and friends.

Marriages are arranged by the Wewewa elders. In the case of first marriages of aristocrats, considerable negotiations are commonly made prior to the wedding. Cross cousin marriages are preferred.

Indonesia was formerly governed by princes and local rulers. Nobility consisted of those whose family lines were closest in decent to the founding ancestors. Today, however, the authority of these rulers is not recognized.

Traditionally, the Wewewa culture recognized two classes of people: the tau kabihu (humans), and the tauata (slaves). The tau ata were either prisoners of war or law breakers. Class distinctions are still recognized today, and are heredity, based on the status of both parents.

What Are Their Beliefs?
While nearly 10% of the Wewewa are practicing Muslims, the remaining 90% worship a variety of gods and "animistic spirits." (Animism is the belief that non-human objects have spirits.) Their legends tell of the creation of the world, of man's descent from the upper world to the mythical mountain top, and of the origin of man. These stories also include details about the adventures and travels of their ancestors. Such tales have become, over time, a sacred oral tradition of the Wewewa.

The Wewewa regularly hold religious ceremonies in hopes of maintaining harmony between man and the spirit world. Local priests officiate at all religious ceremonies and funerals of clan members.

Communication with the spirit world is primarily done through blood sacrifices, food offerings, and prayers to the spirits. Sacred altars are a common sight, and are located in houses, villages, fields, and even in the bush.

What Are Their Needs?
There are only 19 known Christians among the Wewewa. Currently, there are no Christian radio or television broadcasts available in their native language, and only portions of the New Testament have been translated.

Prayer Points

  • Pray against the spirit of animism and ethnic religions that have blinded the eyes of the Wewewa and kept them bound for many generations.
  • Pray that Christian literature, radio broadcasts, and television programs will soon be made available in their language.
  • Ask God to provide contacts, strategies, and wisdom for the mission agencies that are trying to reach the Wewewa.
  • Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to complete translation of the Bible into the Wewewa language.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Wewewa towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Pray that God will open the hearts of Wewewa's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Wewewa.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Wewewa
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Their language: Weyewa
  • Population: (1990) 89,000
    (1995) 96,200
    (2000) 103,600
  • Largest religion: Ethnic religionist 90%
    Muslim (Sunni) 9.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 19
  • Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 2
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 22,100 (13%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 2,900 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 19,200 (20%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 74,100 (77%)
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Population: (1990) 182,811,600
    (1995) 197,587,700
    (2000) 212,730,600
  • Major peoples in size order: Javanese 26.2%
    Javanese Indonesian 10.7%
    Sudanese 10.6%
    Madurese 5.7%
    Sudanese Indonesian 3.1%
  • Major religions: Muslim 43.7%
    New religionist 35%
    Christian 13%
  • Number of denominations: 113

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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