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Society on Savu & Rai Jua

Although the number of Savunese is estimated to be over a million across the globe (through genealogy), the population on Rai Hawu (Savu) and Rai Djua is only about 30 000. The modern census system cannot deliver accurate information about the number of Savunese in total, since the Savunese culture only recognises Savunese through genealogy rather than the total population on the islands of Savu.

The isles of Savu has strong historical ties with Hindu-Java and the people consider themselves of Indian (Hindi) origin. The society is barely influenced by modern living, and is known for a culture which still performs old traditions.


The islands are split into five traditional domains, the largest is Rai Djua (Djua/Jua Island) follwed by Heb'a (Seba) as the second largest on the northwest coast. Society is divided into clans named after their male founders. The Savunese are also divided into their "Big" and "Small" hubis, which are determined by the mother's lineage. The "big" hubi is called "hubi ae" (big spadix) and the "small" hubi is called "hubi iki" (small spadix). Their secular tradition is known as "Jingi tii Eu" (Jingitiu) and have survived the first Portuguese missionaries who came here before 1600, later followed by the Japanese invasion, Dutch missionaries, who introduced Protestantism, which remains on the islands today. The Savu islands are currently under Indonesian occupation.

Hubi (spadix) and Udu (clan)

The translation of the term "hubi" by Western researchers as “flower stalk” is incorrect. Stalk is different to spadix. Hubi means spadix not flower stalk. The terms "ae" and "'iki" have also been misinterpreted by foreigners. Ae means "big" not greater. Iki means "small" not lesser.

There exist no such thing as noble and common fabric in Savunese textiles as Western researchers have time and again claimed. The distinction is between two matriarchal lines, which have no association with status, despite being called hubi ae (big spadix) and hubi iki (small spadix). A commoner can belong to the hubi ae while a noble can belong to hubi iki. Textiles have no association with nobility. The confusion stems from Western researchers, who have misinterpreted the Savunese terms, which do not carry the sense of opposition resulting from the comparative inflection: -er. It is just “big” and “small” spadix. Otherwise it would be hubi rihi iki (lesser spadix) and hubi rihi ae (greater spadix). It is just hubi iki and hubi ae. So, it is more of an attributive form of adjective than a comparative or superlative.

Seba's main street

Junior High School

Traditionally, Savunese are divided into clans, called udu, according to their patriarchal lineage (a domestic/localised patrilinial party/group). The matriarchal line is called wini or hubi (a non-localised matrineal party/group).

There are only two hubis, but many winis, since wini concerns the individual’s personal genealogy. Wini means relative, seed, species, as in the same species. So, Savunese can identify themselves (both male and female) in more detail than hubi by specifying the wini to which she/he belongs. For example, one can be called hubi ae wini Wara Tada meaning a hubi ae descendant of Wara Tada (Wara Tada is a female Savunese legend).

In Savunese culture, both sexes are equal and from this understanding, the matriarchal line is also recognised. So, if one talks about which udu one belongs to, this refers to one's patriarchal lineage. But, if one is asked about which wini/hubi one belongs to, it refers to one’s matriarchal lineage.

The matriarchal lineage (wini/hubi) identification has no association with location or property, where udu (patriarchal lineage) identifies where a clan (udu) or a clan member’s land is), in relation to property / land / location. Every Savunese must know the name of her/his udu, as this helps a person to be identified by others, in terms of where they are from and who's descendants she/he might be. Even though the wini or hubi has no association with location, each individual is aware of their own membership in both udu and wini/hubi. This Savunese tradition is the Savunese way of citizenship registry.

Copyright © 2007 Ina Tali/Francesca Von Reinhaart

© Raijua.com


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