Indonesia Expat
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Enjoying the Passage of the Time at Sijunjung Customary Village

Sijunjung Village
Enjoying the Passage of the Time at Sijunjung Customary Village

Thanks to its authentic customs and retained cultural values, the Sijunjung customary village of West Sumatra is on the list of the country’s 75 villages competing for the Anugerah Desa Wisata Indonesia (Indonesian Tourism Village Award) in 2023.

The unique traditions and culture attracted Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno to pay the village a visit on 1st March 2023. During his visit, Uno claimed that he had been in an ancient Minangnese timeline.

On the occasion of his visit, Uno and his entourage paraded down the traditional village with antique scooters. He also witnessed the Silek Tuo (old silat) performance in the tourist village. Silat or silek, which essentially means killing swiftly, originated from someone’s need to avoid a flying broomstick launched by a mother’s anger. As time goes on, authentic silat is getting harder and harder to find. In addition, he eyed traditional musical performances whose instruments are made from buffalo horns.

The Sijunjung customary village represents the Minangnese matrilineal community. It is located in the Sijunjung regency between the two rivers, the Batang Sukam and Batang Kulampi. Covered with forests, hills, and paddy fields, the village is blessed with unique landscapes. This village comprises 76 Rumah Gadang (Minangnese traditional house) typifying the matrilineal clan system, which is still functioning and well-constructed in one place. This village has its own infrastructure such as paddy fields, a garden, cemeteries, mosques, markets, roads, and halls close to rivers.

As a customary village, this place is inhabited by native tribes consisting of parental clans and children’s clans totalling nine. They are still carrying out social organisational system based on matrilineal kinship system. This includes clan formation according to the mother’s line, exogamy (the custom of marrying outside the tribe, family, clan, or other social units), matrilocal marriage, and high inheritance (the property, including the home and land) pass among women.

The Sijunjung customary village is still undergoing customary and cultural activities. One of them is a collaborative work group, putting people united in various activities that require important day-to-day decision-making regarding social, political, and economic fields. In this group, all men have different stages of authority and obligation. The older and the more capable a man, the greater the authority he would have.

Batoboh: People work together on agricultural lands

The village has three major collaborative works. First, batoboh. People work together on agricultural lands, like creating and harvesting paddy fields or building up each clan’s traditional house. Each clan member would alternately give his or her extending hands to other clan groups. Second, bakaul. It is a cultural ceremony of expressing people’s gratitude to God for an abundant harvest. For this purpose, people are used to performing some traditional dances, such as randai dance, pencak silat (martial art), sword dance, plate dance, and horn dance accompanied by a set of talempong (small kettle gongs) and aguang (large gong), as well as some kitchen utensils like pans, glasses and plates. Third, mambantai. It is a cultural ceremony of slaughtering buffalo done on the 6th day of Eid al-Fitr’s celebration. Just like bakaul, it is about gratitude and giving thanks to God. At this time, people would gather to witness the event and end up having meals together.

The overall major collaborative works, actually, stands in the spirit of mutual participation called gotong royong (mutual help) to achieve a shared goal. The ancient tradition of gotong royong has for generations glued people in ethnically diverse Indonesia. The altruistic essence of gotong royong also embodies a universal idea of social harmony. Therefore, it’s no surprise that other cultures have similar thinking. In Japan, for example, there is a concept known as “Wa” which means “harmony,” and encourages communal action in which communities are expected to work together toward a common goal.

Any attempts to preserve Minangnese traditions run through wirid adat (literally meaning “customary recital”) in the village. On this occasion, traditional elders would disseminate Minangnese customary philosophies to the younger generation, held at a certain time and at the Rumah Gadang that has been previously disbursed. In addition, preservation efforts are also carried out by imposing social sanctions on community members who violate customary provisions. The model of sanctions must be carried out in stages, namely from the lightest to the most severe. The light one can be in the form of an apology based on awareness through the meetings. While the most severe sanction is to get someone ostracised.

Of the 76 existing Rumah Gadang, as many as 40 are made into homestays, equipped with beds and toilet facilities in both traditional and modern designs. It also provides souvenirs and culinary delights for visitors. There are also fashion and craft arts in this traditional village. Some of the houses have looms inside. This traditional village enjoys digital promotional activities through social media; Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Barcodes have been installed in each Rumah Gadang, making people easily access information about the village.

The existing Sijunjung customary village of West Sumatra is the way how local people held fast to customary values in the Sijunjung regency. Despite the coming of industrial development in Indonesia, the residents’ way of life in Sijunjung customary village has not been reduced due to economic and developmental pressure. For the locals, maintaining their cultural habits and residence is about “picking up sinking wood” to describe extraordinary efforts needed to restore something that has long faded.

The writer is a lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities at Andalas University

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