WEST SUMATRA, the Land of the Matriarchaat

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Welcome today’s guest blogger, Liza Hadiz

West Sumatra is acknowledged for being culturally different from other parts of Indonesia, in fact, from most societies in the world. Many western anthropologists have come to West Sumatra to study the Minangkabau society and its social structure which differ from western societies. Some anthropologists have referred to West Sumatra as the largest existing matriarchal society. This is due to the important role the female members of the community play alongside their male peers.

Matriarchy: The Rule of Women?

The people of West Sumatra often use the term ‘matriarkat’ to describe their own society. The term most probably originated from the Dutch word matriarchaat, a term the colonial ruler used to describe West Sumatra’s distinct culture and social structure. Western scholars tend to interpret the term as meaning the opposite of patriarchy (the rule of the father), hence a society where women rule. However, this is not what was found in the Minangkabau society. Instead of domination over a group of people, the Minangkabau society was described by some researchers as a society founded on egalitarian social relations, especially between the sexes.

The above conclusion, however, may not be in accordance with conventional western perception of equality. The role of Minangkabau women is predominantly in the domestic domain, while the role of men mainly fall into the public domain. Women generally manage the household, prepare meals, and care for the children. Older men are involved in and lead public activities, such as religious gatherings and community decision-making; younger men leave the village to find new sources of livelihood.

However, inheritance is passed on through matrilineal lines. It is women who obtain ownership of the long houses, called the ‘rumah gadang’; they also own land and other assets. Traditionally, upon marriage, a man leaves his family’s house to live with his wife.

Besides attending to domestic affairs, senior women who are elected by community members to sit in the Bundo Kanduang (senior-women adat council) play an important role alongside the Ninik Mamak (the senior-men adat council) to make decisions which protect the well-being of the female descendants in terms of adat, including the maintenance of their wealth. These decisions aim to maintain the harmony within the community.

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Senior Women of West Sumatra play an important role in family and community decision-making

Because of the western bias surrounding the term matriarchaat or matriarchy in English, as meaning the rule of women, anthropologists today tend to opt for alternative terms to describe the Minangkabau society. The terms partnership, matrilineal, matrilocal, women-oriented, or women-centered society are among those which are now used.

The Influence of Islam

With the arrival of Islam in the 16th century in West Sumatra, Islamic law was widely adopted in the region, while the people still retained their ‘matriarkat’ social structure. The Minangkabau people are known to be devout Muslims. This may seem contradictory from an outsider’s view. For example, the way inheritance is arranged in Islam (ruling men with twice the amount given to women) conflicts with centuries-old matrilineal Minangkabau custom (adat). It was said that through their egalitarian way of community decision-making, religious and adat tensions were resolved. Inheritance from the matrilineal kin is passed on to women in accordance with tradition and economic sources gained independently is inherited in accordance with Islamic law.

Islam is said to have further contributed to the uniqueness of the Minangkabau society. This is reflected in the old saying: ‘adat basandi syara’, syara’ basandi Kitabullah’, which means that adat is implemented based on Islamic law, and Islamic law is implemented based on the Holy Koran.

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The Ninik Mamak shares its power with the Bundo Kanduang

Lessons-learned

There have long been concerns about the declining role of the Bundo Kanduang with the development of centralized governance. Despite the reintroduction of the nagari (the traditional administrative unit of West Sumatra) in 2001 under regional autonomy, these concerns still continue.

For the Minangkabau people of the older generation, the Islam and adat duality shows how their ancestors survived the test of time despite challenges to their cultural values and religious belief. They maintained their society by adapting to changes, resolving differences, and maintaining egalitarian forms of community life. Indeed a lesson the younger generation can learn from.

 

Source:
Sanday, Peggy. An excerpt from Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy
Cornell University Press, 2002. http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~psanday/sanday.htm (accessed 1 April 2016)
The Pennsylvania University. Indonesia’s Matriarchal Minangkabau offer an Alternative Social System. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-05/uop-imm050902.php (accessed 1 April 2016)
 
 Liza Hadiz is an editor in Jakarta.
 
Visit the Sage II Vacation Home in Sawahlunto
Contact:
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MUSEUM GOEDANG RANSOEM

The Goedang Ransom Museum located in West Sumatra presents a snapshot of an important period in the history of a small town which would later be known as Sawahlunto. The public kitchen—which is now the museum—played an important role in a period that had a significant impact on the future of Sawahlunto. The images, artifacts, and building of the museum capture the life once lived by a community which developed under colonial rule.

The Goedang Ransoem Museum was established in 1918 under the Dutch colonial government but was not inaugurated until 17 December 2005 by the Indonesian government. Fortunately, despite a few issues, the museum has been well taken care of throughout the years.

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The  picture gallery in the museum shows historical photographs, such as of WH de Greeve, a Dutch geologist who discovered coal in Sawahlunto in 1868. He claimed that there were over 200 million metric tons of ‘black pearls’, the term for coal, in Sawahlunto. The Dutch invested 5.5 million guilders to build housings for workers and the Sawahlunto Emma Haven (Teluk Bayur) train track for the Ombilin coal mine enterprise, as well as for traditional and modern coal mine equipment. Other photos include the Ombilin coal mine map, the uniforms of foremen and the coal miners, as well as of community leaders of the era.

Visitors can particularly see photos of coal mine laborers at work using dynamite and laborers which were brought from all over the provinces and forced to work at the coal mine with their feet chained, popularly known as “Orang Rantai” .

The main building of the museum holds a collection of cooking utilities which was once used to cook food for coal mine workers and Sawahlunto residents. Large-sized woks used to boil water, cook rice and vegetables are still in good condition. Old giant crocks made of iron and nickle with a diameter of 132 and 62 cm in length are also stored in this building. Visitors can see the uniform used by the cook and examples of the food cooked for the coal miners from a glass case.

People used to cook in this building by using the steam produced by two stoves at the back of the main kitchen, which was provided by underground gas pipes using compressors. The main stove which function to supply steam is located in the back area of the main kitchen. This old  coal stove is as tall as a tower. A reserved stove and a tank have also been kept in good condition. The roof top of the main building of the museum is made of zinc and a concrete chimney can be viewed from a far.

Besides the main kitchen and the stoves, there is an area for storing vegetables, dried spices, meat, and also an ice factory. This ice factory is said to be one of the oldest ice factory in Sumatra.

Beside the front entrance of the building, visitors can see the collection of the trains used to transport coal. On the right side of the building there are audio visuals of Sawahlunto’s coal mine history. The area is air conditioned and has comfortable seats for visitors. Next to this area is a hall way with the photo panels showcasing the history of the public kitchen and the building.

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The museum also showcases historical artifacts such as a wooden foot rice pounder. People pound unhulled paddy, spice, and traditional medicine only by using their feet and weight to move the pestle, while the mortar is attached to a large wood.

During the struggle for independence in 1945 and on to 1950 the Goedang Ransoem Museum was used to cook food for Indonesian soldiers. In 1950 to 1960 the museum was used as the office of the Ombilin coal mine enterprise. From 1960 to 1970, the building became the Ombilin Junior High School and it afterwards became a residence for the Ombilin workers until 1980.

What remains as a strong reminder of Sawahlunto’s colonial history is the unnamed and numbered tomb stones of workers who had died while working at the mine, which are found at the back of the museum building. These workers are part of what would later bring about Sawahlunto’s present rich cultural diversity and establish the town’s unique place in the history of West Sumatra.

 

The Goedang Ransoem Museum is in Jl. Abdurrahman Hakim, Lembah Segar, West Sumatra 27422, Indonesia

The museum is 94 km or about a two-hour drive from Kota Padang

Ticket price is Rp4,000 for adults and Rp2,000 for children.

 

Visit the Sage II Vacation Home of Sawahlunto.

For more information contact:

gidien.ryaan@gmail.com | +6281296144491

amri.djamiun@gmail.com | +628128111305

SAWAHLUNTO INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL

Music, art, and culture have always been an important part of the Sawahlunto community of West Sumatra. Every year in Sawahlunto, a music festival which presents music from all over the region and world is held to promote cultural diversity and exchange.

The Sawahlunto International Music Festival, or popularly known as Simfes, is a music festival for ethnic, modern, and contemporary music which is held annually in Sawahlunto. The Simfes, opens the way to discourses of unlimited creative ideas in the music world for artists and musicians. The festival showcases the musical diversity and dynamics of various ethnic groups around the world, aiming to facilitate cultural dialogues between nations based on the spirit of idealism.

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The opening of Simfes 2015

 

This idea of this event emerged in 2009. A year later it was realized through the Simfes premiere on 3–5 December 2010. This international event was held the second time on December 2–4 2011. In previous years, Simfes has also helped celebrate Sawahlunto’s commemoration day.

The Simfes appointed two curators to select musicians who will appear in upcoming events. They are Edy Utama, a humanist, observer, and practitioner of arts and culture, and Dr.Hiltrud Cordes from Germany who is also the founder of Kultur Kontakt, an organization which develops cultural cooperation between Indonesia and Germany as well as raise funds for musicians to perform in Europe. In addition to selecting and searching for musicians, the two curators also develop concepts for musical performances with a different theme for every year.

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Stierwascher performing at the Simfes 2015

Musical performances organized by Simfes were held for the sixth time in Sawahlunto on 18–20 September 2015. Aside from Indonesian musicians, a number of musicians from various countries also performed at the event. Indonesian musicians include Gilang Ramadhan, while musicians from other countries are the Hereford Hoppers from England and Steev Kindwald from Thailand. Every year, different international musicians perform in the Simfes.

The festival also promotes local musical groups, such as the Forum Kompang of Riau Islands, Arastra of Bengkulu, as well as various musicians from Sawahlunto.

Don’t miss next year’s Simfes to get the ultimate music experience of Sawahlunto.

Visit the Sage II Vacation Home of Sawahlunto.

For more information contact:

gidien.ryaan@gmail.com | +6281296144491

amri.djamiun@gmail.com | +6281281113052

 

Sources:

http://sawahluntoSimfes.com/index.php/ABOUT-SIMFES

http://cendanahomestay.blogspot.co.id/2010/12/Simfest-kota-sawahlunto-2010-digelar.html

http://www.infosumbar.net/event/jadwal-lengkap-sawahlunto-international-music-festival-Simfes-2015/

http://silatindonesia.com/2012/01/dr-hiltrud-cordes-peneliti-silek-minangkabau

First photo: http://alvinthyo.blogspot.co.id/2015/09/sawahlunto-internasional-musik-festival.html

Second photo: http://www.online-instagram.com/tag/SIMFES/1078324930504910007

 

SAWAHLUNTO CELEBRATES 127 YEARS OF DIVERSITY AND HISTORY

Sawahlunto, the historic coal mining town of West Sumatra, celebrated its 127th anniversary on December 1st 2015. Last Tuesday, which was the peak of celebrations beginning last month, a community dine-out or makan bajamba with the people of the town was held in the Sawahlunto Triangle Park, better known by the local name Lapangan Segitga Sawahlunto.

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Happy 127th Anniversary, Sawahlunto!

Makan bajamba is a Minangkabau tradition of dining conducted at traditional ceremonies and festivals, or important events. Women carry food trays on top of their heads and serve them to the people who are sitting cross-legged on the floor dining. Before the feast begins, community leaders take turns reciting a four-line verse (pantun). The philosophy behind this dining tradition is to bring a sense of togetherness among the people of the community, regardless of social status. The makan bajamba ceremony is conducted every year in Sawahlunto to commemorate the birth of this historical and multicultural town.

Prior to this ceremony, a range of activities had been held since the 24th of November which will continue until the turn of the year. These activities include a multicultural festival, a Tarung Derajat martial art attraction (originating from West Java), a Sawahlunto night run with over a hundred participants, a paragliding festival and fun fly, a body building contest, a book launch and photo display, a derby with 61 race horses, a dog race, and a bird-singing contest. The commemoration ends with the New Year’s Eve celebration.

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Makan Bajamba ceremony on 1st December

Multicultural festivals which have marked celebrations each year reflect Sawalunto’s changing history from the ‘Kuali Town’ to the ‘Coal Mining Town’, and now  the ‘Tourism Town’. Sawahlunto used to be coined as the Kuali (wok) Town because of it’s inward shape that is surrounded by hills, resembling a wok.  During the coal hey day, Sawahlunto was a gem for the Dutch government who had built a successful coal industry in this town by bringing in workers from provinces around  the country, notably Java (read more on this in our previous post). Thus, the town was known as the Coal Mining Town.

This historical past has set Sawahlunto apart from other cities in West Sumatra in terms of cultural diversity, characterizing Sawahlunto with a mix and merge of different cultural influences. In this annual celebration, this is reflected in festive activities, such as the Kuda Lumping dance, which has its roots from the Javanese culture.

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Kuda Lumping dance in Multicultural Festival

Some activities, however, are carried out with no relation to culture or tradition. The paragliding competition in Batu Tanjung is an example. As many as 70 paragliders entered the competition as well as seven Japanese paragliders. Paragliding competitions have been held as part of the government’s effort to boost the tourism sector through what is called ‘Sports Tourism’ events. Puncak Polan—which allows paragliders to enjoy a full view of the town from the skies—is also a landmark for paragliding activities which have attracted tourists from around the world. Since 2004, the Sawahlunto government has officially announced that the tourism sector will be the main driver of the economy and development of the town which over a decade ago had experienced a decline.

Besides sports events that are of international interest (read previous post on bicycle tournament), Sawahlunto is a town of historical heritage where old buildings and monuments of the colonial past are found. The government is currently making efforts to establish Sawahlunto as one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage City.

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Paragliding competition

Indeed Sawahlunto has come a long a way from being an abandoned town after its coal mine glory days. Now it is a vibrant town where cultural diversity meets historical heritage. Hence, the town’s anniversary is a celebration of cultural diversity and historical identity. Join the celebration, visit Sawahlunto and participate in upcoming events.

 

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Sawahlunto Derby

Visit the Sage II Vacation Home of Sawahlunto.

For more information contact:

gidien.ryaan@gmail.com | +6281296144491

amri.djamiun@gmail.com | +6281281113052

 

Sources:

http://www.sawahluntokota.go.id

Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

TOUR DE SINGKARAK: Cycling through the Amazing Sceneries of Sawahlunto and Other Districts

The Seventh Tour de Singkarak, one of the biggest international events that took place in West Sumatra, ended on October 11 2015. Having nine stages, this bicycle tour which began on October 3 toured through 18 districts with a total distance of 1,341 km. The tour passed the largest lake in West Sumatra, Danau Singkarak, and various districts and towns such as Tanah Datar, Payahkumbuh, Agam, Bukittinggi, Sawahlunto, Solok, and Pasaman.

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The first of such tours took place in 2009 starting in Kota Pandang, the capitol city of West Sumatra, and ending in Danau Singkarak, hence the name Tour de Singkarak. In 2012, Sawahlunto was chosen to start the tour which ended in Kota Padang. This year, the Tour de Singkarak started in Pantai Carocok, Kabupaten Pesisir Selatan and ended in Kota Padang, with stage four beginning in Sawahlunto.  The tour’s chairperson, Sapta Nirwandar, stated that Tour de Singkarak 2015 has reached the fifth position of the world’s cycling event.

The 2015 tour involved a lot of difficult courses such as Kelok 44 and Kelok 9, as well as Bukit Sileh, and not to mention the climb toward the rute to Muaro Kalaban Silungkang Sawahlunto.  However, this year’s participants also cycled through the most beautiful countrysides and well-known places around West Sumatra, such as Danau Kembar, Lembah Harau, Danau Maninjau, Puncak Lawang, and Jam Gadang. Besides amazing sceneries, they also passed through cultural icons such as the Istano Basa Pagaruyung and Sawahlunto’s historical mining town.

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No doubt this major event also benefited West Sumatra’s tourism industry by increasing the number of tourists visiting West Sumatra, opening avenues for investments in tourism, and reviving local creative industries. Athletes and organizers of the tour also spent a few nights in Sawahlunto, raising the profile of the city.

This annual event is held by the Ministry of Tourism, provincial, and local governments in collaboration with the Union Cycliste International and the Amaury Sport Organization, which organizes the Tour de France. However, this year’s host district team,  Binong Baru Club Pesisir Selatan, failed to take part in this tour, as reported by the media, due to lack of funds.

Another issue of concern was the visible smoke haze from Kalimantan. However, despite the smoke, the media reported that the fourth stage of the tour which began at Lapangan Segitiga Sawahlunto and finished at the Regent’s Office of Solok Selatan, was not affected. Iranian cyclist Amir Kolahdozhagh of the Tabriz Petrochemical Team ruled the fourth stage from Sawahlunto to Solok.

Iranian cyclist Arvin Moazemi of the Pishgaman Giant Team won the competition, while Indonesia’s Pegasus Continental Cycling Team was in sixth place. The 2015 tour included 31 participants, 22 teams, and 35 countries, and a total prize of Rp1.4 billion. The government plans to double the prize for the 2016 event. We look forward to next year’s tour.

Visit the Sage II Vacation Home of Sawahlunto.

For more information contact:

gidien.ryaan@gmail.com | +6281296144491

amri.djamiun@gmail.com | +6281281113052

 

Sources

CNNIndonesia.com. Arvin Moazemi Goudarzi Juara Tour de Singkarak 2015 http://www.cnnindonesia.com/olahraga/20151011204709-178-84281/arvin-moazemi-goudarzi-juara-tour-de-singkarak-2015/. Accessed 25 October 2015.

CNNIndonesia.com. Kabut Asap Tak Hentikan Tour de Singkarak 2015 http://www.cnnindonesia.com/olahraga/20151007090835-178-83332/kabut-asap-tak-hentikan-tour-de-singkarak-2015/. Accessed 23 October 2015.

Detik Sport. Tour de Singkarak 2015: 9 Etape, 18 Kota & Kabupaten, 1.341 Km http://sport.detik.com/read/2015/09/30/130601/3031849/82/tour-de-singkarak-2015-9-etape-18-kota–kabupaten-1341-km. Accessed 23 October 2015.

Pemerintah Kota Sawahlunto. Peserta TdS Nilai Sawahlunto Paling Sukses http://www.sawahluntokota.go.id/berita/arsip-berita/1308-peserta-tds-nilai-sawahlunto-paling-sukses.html.  Accessed 23 October 2015.

Sindonews.com. Wow, Hadiah Tour de Singkarak 2016 Menjadi Rp3 M http://sports.sindonews.com/read/1052444/51/wow-hadiah-tour-de-singkarak-2016-menjadi-rp3-m-1444640149. Accessed 25 October 2015.

Sports.sindonews.com. Gagal Berlomba di Tour De Singkarak 2015, Tim Tuan Rumah Kecewa Berat http://sports.sindonews.com/read/1049833/51/gagal-berlomba-di-tour-de-singkarak-2015-tim-tuan-rumah-kecewa-berat-1443767730. Accessed 23 October 2015.

Tour  de SIngkarak  https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tour_de_Singkarak. Accessed 23 October 2015.

Wonderful Indonesia. Indonesia’s Exciting Tour De Singkarak Today Rated Fifth Best in the World 3 Oct 2015 – 11 Oct 2015  http://www.indonesia.travel/events/detail/1155/tour-de-singkarak-2015. Accessed 23 October 2015.

The Philosophy Behind the Songket of Minangkabau

For the people of Minangkabau in West Sumatra, the tradition of the Minang community is based on Islam (“adat basandi syarak, syarak basandi kitabullah”). This philosophy has a great effect on the culture of the Minang people which is reflected in their appearance and in how they dress. The songket, a woven cloth used as traditional garment that embraces the body from the waist down, has an important role in promoting and sustaining West Sumatra’s cultural identity.

A gold thread Silungkang songket
A gold thread Silungkang songket

The Songket of West Sumatra
The Minang community of West Sumatra has a weaving tradition which had existed since the golden age of the Hindu kingdom. During this period, songkets with gold threads represent the royal garments worn by the King and Queen and the aristocrats. What makes the songket special is the golden thread that is made of expensive metal.
In general, songket is a piece of woven garment with gold or silver threads (Kartiwa, 2012). The word originates from the verb sungkit which means thrusting a thread. Sungkit or bersungkit means embroidered with gold or silver threads. As a noun the word sungkit refers to a kind of a tool in the form of needles made of bones which are useful for lifting threads when weaving (DKND Sumbar, 2012).

After the arrival of Islam, woven garments are used by traditional leaders and used in traditional ceremonies as well as other important events. The symbolic meaning is revealed in the decoration of the songket which reflects the custom of the community as well as women’s self identity through their role as crafter and wearer. Songket plays a role in maintaining the continuity of life and customs throughout the age. This role is also reflected in the motifs of the songket, which patterns are generally geometric, curved stripes, and plant-shaped. Sometimes the design bears the shapes of animals, but only in the form of arches, broken lines, as well as a variety of lines.

Pandai Sikek and Silungkang Songkets

Songets which are very well known in West Sumatra are Pandai Sikek and Silungkang songkets. Pandai Sikek songkets orignate from a village located in Subdistrict Sepuluh Koto in the District of Tanah Datar, while Silungkang songkets are made in Silungkang village which is part of the District of Sawahlunto/Sijunjung (since 1988). In the west, Silungkang is bordered by the villages of Kubang and Lunto and in the east by the villages of Batu Manjulur and Tarung-Tarung. In the north, it is bordered by the Village of Pianggu and in the south by the Village of Padang Sibusuk.

Although both songkets derive from one culture, there are some distinguishable differences. Pandai Sikek songkets—which the weaver is printed on a five thousand rupiah banknote—has a denser, thicker, and stiffer texture. This is due to a greater use of gold thread. In contrast, the Silungkang songket highlights the regular thread and turns the gold threads into the center of attention.

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A red and blue geometric Silungkang songket

Amran Nur, the former mayor of Sawahlunto (2003-2013) recalled that between the year 1997 and 2008 there were only 377 Silungkang songket craftswomen. In the year 2012, there was an increase of songket craftswomen, which reached the number of 678 women (kaintenusilungkang.blogspot.com). In 2015, it increased to 980 craftswomen (kompas.com). This shows the love of the people for the their culture.

Songket is Queen
Songket is regarded as the “queen” for its pivotal cultural role. Songket is always worn gracefully, both in traditional ceremonies and in everyday life. The songket is referred to as the “queen” because the term symbolizes the songket’s role as the guardian of tradition and the supporter of the traditional, religious, and female leaders who represent West Sumatra’s cultural identity. The tradition of wearing songket is a visualization of culture, a reflection of the philosophy of life held by the people who are living the culture of West Sumatra.

Sources:

Dewan Kerajinan Daerah Provinsi Sumatera Barat (2012) Mengenal Tenun Songket Ratu Kain Sumatera Barat.

Kartiwa, Suwati (2012) ‘Songket Khasanah Budaya Indonesia.’ In Dewan Kerajinan Daerah Provinsi Sumatera Barat (2012) Mengenal Tenun Songket Ratu Kain Sumatera Barat .

Songket Silungkang: Warisan Budaya Kota Tua Sawahlunto (2014) kaintenusilungkang.blogspot.com accessed 12 August 2015.

Pemerintah Kota Sawahlunto Kembangkan Tenun Songket (2015) print.kompas.com/baca/2015/05/25/Pemerintah-Kota-Sawahlunto-Kembangkang-Tenun-Songket accessed 12 August 2015.

Visit the Sage II Vacation Home of Sawahlunto.

For more information contact:

gidien.ryaan@gmail.com | +6281296144491

amri.djamiun@gmail.com | +6281281113052

Sawahlunto: From Mining Town to Ghost Town

What makes Sawahlunto different from all the other cities in West Sumatra? The answer lies in its unique historical legacy. After being a profit generating mining town for the Dutch Indies for centuries, in less than three decades, Sawahlunto turned from mining town to ghost town.

GPK Cultural Building, once the town hall of Sawahlunto
GPK Cultural Building, once the town hall of Sawahlunto

Sawahlunto had a long history of coal mining under the Dutch Indies government. It was Dutch researcher C. De Groot van Embden who first started the coal hunt in this region in 1858. Another research was undertaken in 1867 by Willem Hendrik de Greve which led to the discovery of around 200 million tons of coal hidden underneath a town which would be officially called Sawahlunto in 1888. The Dutch Indies government invested 5.5 million gulden in 1888 to build various facilities to manage the coal mining industry Ombilin.

To begin developing coal mining activities, in 1892 the Dutch sent people to Sawahlunto—most of them prisoners from all over Indonesia—to work as laborers for coal production. Residences for miners were established, making Sawahlunto highly diverse in ethnicity and culture compared to other cities in West Sumatra.

At first, prisoners from Sawahlunto prison were forced to work in the mines. When local resources were no longer sufficient, especially when many prisoners were sent to carry logistics to Pidie during the Aceh War, criminals and political prisoners from the Dutch-Indies prison cells from various islands—Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Java, Bali, and Papua—were forced to work in chains in the mines.

In 1894 train tracks were opened and in 1898 the first coal mining tunnel was built at Air Dingin, Lembah Segar. The Dutch built a train system to transport coal out from Sawahlunto through Padang. Sawahlunto residential area continued to expand to become a small town which consisted mainly of officers and coal miners from other islands.

The old railway station that once carried coal
The old railway station that once carried coal

Until 1898, the coal mining business still used forced labor, sometimes called the “chain people” or “orang rantai” because they worked while their legs were in chains. Forced laborers were paid very low and physical punishment (whipping) awaited those who disobeyed. Contract workers were also hired to work in the mines. On top of better pay, they were entitled to housing facilities and healthcare facilities.

During its peak mining period in the 1930s the town had around 45,000 residents. However, mining started to significantly decline in the 1940s and with it, Sawahlunto faced a continuing decline in population, where in the 1980s they were only 13,561 inhabitants. With the sudden halt in mining, as many as 7,000 families left Sawahlunto and the town quickly turned into a ghost town. Although with the use of new mining technology, coal production started to increase in the 1990s, it was not able to redeem the town.

Since 2004, the Sawahlunto government had relied on tourism to revive the town. In 2007 the local government reopened the famous Lubang Mbah Soero, one of the remains of the coal mines which is located in Tangsi Baru Kelurahan Tanah Lapang at Kecamatan Lembah Segar, for tourism. The site is currently 30 meters deep and was originally hundreds of meters long. Also at the site is a hole where they used to leave workers who were dying.

The old Suro coal mine tunnel, now just for the tourist to visit the past
The old Suro coal mine tunnel, now just for the tourist to visit the past

It is because of Sawahlunto’s long mining history that, in contrast to other places in West Sumatra, remains of historical objects such as the traditional rumah gadang are not found in in the old center of town. Instead, remains of old historical Dutch buildings cast the scenery of what was once the ghost town of West Sumatra.

The Sage II vacation home in Sawahlunto envisages the cultural richness of the traditional big house or rumah gadang of West Sumatra. To relive Sawahlunto’s unique history, visit the Sage II vacation home.

For more information contact:

gidien.ryaan@gmail.com | +6281296144491

amri.djamiun@gmail.com | +6281281113052

 

Sources:

Sawahlunto, Wikipedia

http://www.sawahluntokota.go.id/sejarah-sawahlunto.html