Universitas Indonesia Conferences, 7th International Symposium of Journal Antropologi Indonesia

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Surfing the Ambivalences: Human-Waves Relationship in Mentawai’s Surf Tourism
Sarani Pitor Pakan

Building: Soegondo Building
Room: 524
Date: 2019-07-25 03:00 PM – 04:30 PM
Last modified: 2019-06-18


Studies about surfing and surf tourism in Mentawai Islands have been full of numbers, profiles, and conflicts. However, the most basic materiality of surfing itself, namely waves, is rarely emphasized. Besides, academic discourses have long portrayed Mentawai’s association with land and forest, while their relationship with the sea and waves has been overlooked. Thus, this paper explores the waves as the focus, aiming in understanding how Mentawaians relate with waves within the context of surf tourism.

Drawing on Tim Ingold (2000), dwelling perspective and engagement provide theoretical tools to situate the relationship between Mentawaians and the waves. Siberut is the case studied here; through field research and by employing classic qualitative methods of participant-observation, everyday conversation, and interviewing.

This paper explores the way Mentawaians relate with the(ir) waves through various ambivalences. Surf tourism mediates the processes of engagement with and perception of waves among Mentawaians. In Siberut, waves are engaged and perceived ambiguously through contradiction in ‘good waves’, contrasts of fearful/playful waves, and confusing association with (mis)fortune. All of those lead to the nature of Mentawai human-waves relationship. Both human and waves relate with such intimacy, but within the dilemma of avoidance/encounter. All in all, surf tourism has played its role in complicating and (re)producing ambivalent relationship between human and waves in Siberut.

This paper adds a new case to the body of research on the human-environment relationship, while offers a different point of view to understand surf tourism phenomenon in Mentawai Islands. Moreover, this paper intends to encourage scholarly quests on seemingly trivial nonhuman being, such as waves, and emphasis on local people’s voices, practices, and perceptions within ever-growing tourism settings.

Keywords: waves, surf tourism, human-environment relationship, engagement, perception