Hanung’s Movie and the End of Minangkabau Dialectics


By: Khairil Azhar

Adat basandi syara’, syara’ basandi kitabullah,” says an adage in the Minangkabau tradition. It means that tradition is based on sharia and sharia is based on the Book of Allah. The practical continuation of the adage says that “syara’ mangato, adat mamakai”, which means that traditions apply to what sharia dictates.

Before the endorsement of the above adage, which was decided on at a convention in Bukit Marapalam in the early 20th century, there had been an adage that was much more universal, “adat basandi alua jo patuik.” It means traditions are based on their appropriateness and fairness, which are decided through careful consideration.

One of the positive effects of the older adage can still be seen now even at the nagari level — a traditional area which is usually smaller than a sub-district. A nagari might have many differences from other nagaris because traditions are decided independently through a long and very often exhausting processes.

Most importantly, despite religious radicalization — especially of the Wahhabization of local communities in the 17th and 18th centuries — the older adage has played a pivotal role up to the present day. It can be seen, for instance, in the traditional events and daily lives of the Minang people, wherever they are.

The Minangkabau are Muslims, yet there is no law forbidding a Minangkabaun from converting to a different religion if he wishes.

Looking carefully at the Islamization of the Minangkabau, what has happened and is happening is called a dialectic, a dynamic process where old and new encounter each other and a synthesis appears. Yet, a synthesis will always be challenged by a new antithesis to form a newer synthesis. The dialectic keeps advancing to ensure a cultural dynamic.

In Minangkabau terminology, the old is represented by alam, or reality, and the new is represented by rantau, or any concepts originating from outside. To merantau, or to migrate either permanently or temporarily, is one of the most common choices to change one’s quality of life or to build up capacity.

Rantau and the act of merantau function as a way to change or to enrich alam.

There are many popular adages telling us about this dynamic. One of them says “alam takambang jadi guru” or the universe must be your teacher.

To further understand this dynamic in a modernizing world, A.A. Navis’ short story Robohnya Surau Kami might help. Surau means a small place for Islamic worship and traditional education. If a surau stops functioning and is abandoned or replaced, it is called a roboh.

At this point, the surau needs to be rebuilt or adjusted contextually or sasuai alua jo patuik. So, nowadays, a surau for the Minangkabau can be understood as a pesantren in Java or as a boarding school in the UK (United Kingdom).

The people must willingly change the way they understand and do things. This is one of the best examples of Minangkabau dialectics. Another adage beautifully tells us the natural law of possible changes: “Sakali aia gadang, sakali tapian barubah”, or once a torrent comes, the riverbank changes.

This dynamic has enabled the Minangkabau to produce qualified national and international figures in the past.

Since last week, reading and watching what is going on related to Hanung Bramantyo’s movie Cinta Tapi Beda, especially the reactionary comments taken by some figures claiming to be representatives of the Minangkabau, we must ask the big question: Do they really understand the Minangkabau?

We might also ask why reactionary Minangkabau, who are mostly live in Greater Jakarta, have not watched the movie.

Are not there churches or temples found in many places in West Sumatra? Is not there a “kampuang Cino” or Chinese Kampong in Bukittinggi? Are not there many Muslims studying at Catholic or Protestant schools? Are not there many of successful Minangkabau everywhere in Indonesia or the world who graduated from these non-Muslim schools?

As a Minangkabau, I remember what former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid said more than 20 years ago: Minangkabau culture has stagnated and is no longer successful in producing successful brilliant figures.

I want to know why the Minangkabau can currently only produce backward-looking figures who talk much and do less. I want to know why they harshly criticize a movie without even watching it and refuse to engage with the ideas proposed by the film.

It is because they have abandoned the essence of Minangkabau and can only grab the symbolic shallow outer-side of it.


Footnote: This opinion article was displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday, 11th January 2013; and in Paper Edition, it is available at page 6. Original and full text is also available at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/01/11/hanung-s-movie-and-end-minangkabau-dialectics.html [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 12th January 2013].

The author is a researcher and writer at Paramadina Foundation and the Ciputat School for Democratic Islam in Jakarta, Indonesia.



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