Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sketches of Minangkabau. Part 1: Childhood memories

Kampuang nan jauh di mato (oh my home town far away)
Gunuang Sansai Baku Liliang (where the mountains surround it)
Takana Jo Kawan, Kawan Nan Lamo (I remember my old, old friends)
Sangkek Basu Liang Suliang (that flute just keeps singing)

Panduduknya nan elok nan (the good people)
Suko Bagotong Royong (who like to work hand in hand together)
Kok susah samo samo diraso (who will carry the burden together)
Den Takana Jo Kampuang (I remember my home town)

Takana Jo Kampuang (I remember my home town)
Induk Ayah Adik Sadonyo (my mother, father, brother, every single one of them)
Raso Mangimbau Ngimbau Den Pulang (this longing to go home)
Den Takana Jo Kampuang (I remember my home town)

That song, I guess, is very familiar to every urang awak - how we call people originated from Minangkabau. My mother, is one of them. Whenever she sings this song - longing for her native land, remembering its beauties, friends and families, there is always a sweetness in her voice.

I don’t really call myself urang awak, because only half of my blood is Minang (if that counts at all!). But my mother, has introduced us to her native land through stories ever since we were kids. When I was a teen, I suspected she did so because she missed the land that she knew very well.

She always described Minangkabau as a very fertile land, beautifully crafted by God to be surrounded by Bukit Barisan, with a view to kill at every corner. She also told us stories of Suliki, the village where she was born (which she said is also a place where many great names were born in: Tan Malaka, A. Natsir, to name a few), as a place filled with cocoa trees, layers of padi fields, and a lot of fruit trees. 

She described her life as a village kid with pride: of living in a beautiful Rumah Gadang (or if literally translated is a Big House – a traditional house of Minang which is owned and passed down to the daughters in the family; and this house should consist of odd number of rooms, between three to eleven), of picking and eating ripe cocoa beans right from its trees, of going to padi fields, of seeing her grandfather teaching silek to village youngsters (or silat, a traditional martial art of Indonesia. Silat has many versions according to from which part of Indonesia it is originated from), of enjoying her mother playing talempong so skillfully in village festivals (talempong is a traditional music instrument specific to Minangkabau), of her dancing traditional dances of Minang, of listening behind closed doors the discussions her father had with the patriots during the war. 

So ever since I was a little kid, my mother has planted a beautiful picture of Minangkabau in my mind. And to her, it is one of her most important duties as a Minang female who has two daughters: to make sure that we know where our family came from because in Minang’s matrilineal family tree we are an important part of the clan who has to carry forward the tradition (though, let me tell you, I still don’t understand what it is all about!), what kind of life the family had and hence how we should keep its pride intact. 

But what’s stuck in my mind the most has always been my mother’s descriptions of the land of Minangkabau. Of course she told me of how things were. Still it intrigued me a lot of how it actually is. 

My first visit to Ranah Minang (I’m always annoyed when people always generalise Padang to the whole of Minang. Padang is only a city in Minangkabau. So am a bit pedantic when it comes to how people should call this whole place!), was not until I was about 10 years old, I think. 

My first memories of Minang: playing in the same river where someone was actually washing his buffaloes right upper the stream - don't ask me if the buffaloes peed in the water or not which I sure hoped not!, walking and getting stuck in the mud in the padi fields, being awed at Harau Valley and all its water falls, getting dizzy at Kelok 44 towards Danau Maninjau. Overall, a beautiful picture. 

After that, I went to Minangkabau a few times as an adult. I once dived about 40 minutes from the shore of one of the beaches in Padang, still remember being surrounded by sea turtles which was really the highlight of the whole dive!. 

My last visit was in 97 or 98, I think. And ever since, I never came back.  But memories, linger.

After all those years, the idea of traveling around Minang came from Cip, who from his first visit was awed by its beauty. But the earthquake stopped us several times from traveling there. I was not comfortable especially because we would have Tara traveling with us and I didn’t want to scare her.

Until, finally, in 2012, we decided we should make it happen the next year. 

So a decision was made – latching on the idea of 2013 as the #visitSumatra2013, after we did the Palembang trip earlier in the year, next was West Sumatra. 6 days spread into 2 nights of stop over in Bukittinggi, 2 nights in Harau Valley, and 2 nights in Sungai Pinang. As always, we combined the trip over mountainous areas and the beach. 

I will share my impression of my mother's native land, having been to several parts of it in that trip, in another writing. I need the pauses to make sure I don't betray her memory of a land so close to her heart, a land that was never really part of my life directly, but somehow has always been there lingering in my mind. 

Taken somewhere by the road from Padang Panjang to Bukittinggi
(R I R I)

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