Indonesia Expat
History/Culture

Looking into the Minangkabau Press

Minangkabau Press
Minang Press Cover

The crucial role of the press in shaping the history of Minangkabau is undeniable.

Appearing on the historical stage in response to the change of time, the Minangkabau press featured the social, political, economic, and cultural life of the Minang people. Though the Minangkabau press is considered one of the oldest ones in Indonesia, it has not been much written when it comes to its historical setting. This book takes its role in exploring the Minangkabau press from 1859-1950.

A History of Minangkabau Press (1859-1945)—which was initially a PhD dissertation of Yuliandre Darwis, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) commissioner—attempts to study the movement of modern Islam as the triggers to the press development in Minangkabau, the press development in Minangkabau per period and its contribution to the Indonesian nationalism and the Islamic press in Minangkabau as the most influential press and the comparison to other press as well as their contribution to the Indonesian nationalism. It comprises four chapters as follows.

Chapter I, “The History and Culture of Minangkabau”, deals with the background of the Minangkabau region, Minangkabau culture, the crisis of Minangkabau in the 19th century and the role of rantau (wandering). In this chapter, the author excels in exploring the point of wandering, marked by the tradition of sending Minang men abroad, to acquire wisdom, learn practical skills and gain life experiences. He further elucidates that the crisis of Minangkabau in the 19th century is closely linked to a conflict between the guardians of local customs and traditions and Islamic hard-liners.

Moving to Chapter II, “The History of The Modern Islamic Movement in Minangkabau”, Yuliandre explores the history of the Islamic reform movement in Minangkabau. Taking historical data, the writer emphasises that the idea of progress in Minangkabau could not be separated from the coming of hard-line Muslims from Arabia pushing people to return Islam to the true syariat (Islamic jurisprudence). What is interesting in this chapter is that the author exposes the development of the press in response to religious tension between the two groups; the guardians of local customs (Kaum Tua) and Islamic hard-liners (Kaum Muda) in the region.

Chapter III, “The History of Press Development In Minangkabau”, is about the historical development of the press in Minangkabau from the presence of the Dutch-language newspaper in the 1850s until 1945, when Indonesia gained independence. In this chapter, readers will be exposed to the use of the Arabic-Malay alphabet and language up to the era that the Malay language was used fully by the media in the Minangkabau press.

Chapter IV, “The History of Islamic Press In Minangkabau”, focuses on Islam in Minangkabau press. Yuliandre discusses the individuation of the Islamic press and its founders such as Hamka, Abdullah Ahmad, Zainuddin Labay El-Yunusi, etc. This chapter also discusses the social and educational institutions founded by the pioneers of the Islamic press, like Adabiyah School, Sumatra Thawalib and Al-Madrasah Al-Diniyah. Still in this chapter, the author further analyses the debates in the Islamic press, especially between Soeloeh Melajoe and Al-Munir and Al-Akhbar. While the former represented the voices of Kaum Tua, the latter propagated Kaum Muda’s notions. The discussion in this chapter concludes discourse analysis in Soeloeh Melajoe.

Despite its great contribution to the historical profile of the Minangkabau press, the book is worth receiving some critical notes. The author does not examine distinctive and unique press products—writings, newspapers and magazines—the Minangkabau writers and journalists possessed and produced. It is very important considering West Sumatra’s historical setting as the first modernised region in terms of education under the Dutch administration. Education and press growth are certainly interrelated.

Granted the author depicted similarities and differences between the Islamic press and other kinds of press, yet it gives no clear profile of Minangkabau’s typical writing pieces. The author would be better off making a content analysis of writing pieces written by Minangkabau writers and journalists so that their characteristics are identifiable.

When it comes to the Islamic press in Minangkabau, the author fails to come out with strong reasons for sifting through nine Islamic figures and five educational institutions as the precursors of the Minangkabau press. How about other figures bolstering the Islamic press in Minangkabau with their own printers and publishers, like Zamzam, Tjerdas, Tsamaratoel Ichwan, Kahamij, Drukkerij Tandikat and Poestaka Sa’adijah in Bukittinggi and Padang Panjang? Did they play a less significant role in establishing Islamic press in the region?

The discourse and debate in the Islamic press—Soeloeh Melajoe versus Al-Munir and Al-Akhbar magazines—could be considered distinctiveness of the book compared to other books and studies devoted to the history of the press in Minangkabau. Yuliandre’s book seriously reminds people of the greatness of people in Minangkabau during the colonial period. At that time, scholars, thinkers, and ulema wrote. Unlike the colonial period, things get worse as people are now more attracted to becoming officials rather than writers.

Despite the book’s drawback, which is published by LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, is efficacious in revealing the role of the Minangkabau press in pushing a sense of nationalism leading to the independence of Indonesia. Amidst the country’s widespread focus on press dynamics in Java and Jakarta, Yuliandre’s book paves the way for readers to attract their attention to valuable local motion laden with its cultural diversity.

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

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