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Coffee and comedy: An alternate model of piety in Aceh

By: Daniel Birchok


Legal reforms in the Indonesian province of Aceh over the last decade have emphasised the importance of highly visible Islamic objects and practices for transforming the province into a more properly Islamic society. These range from the adoption and legal enforcement of dress codes to strict laws governing the practice of the fasting month and architectural styles of newly constructed government buildings that resemble those used in the building of mosques. In general, these public displays of piety have been widely embraced. Large numbers of men and women have chosen to alter their comportment or clothing styles, assist raids by vice police or neighbourhood vigilante groups patrolling public morality or have committed themselves to the building of an ever increasing number of village mosques.

But Acehnese also have alternate ways to understand Islam’s proper place in their society.

Aceh’s thousands of neighbourhood coffee houses serve as dominant centres of male sociability. They frequently have television sets and feature an entertainment line-up of Indonesian soap operas, feature films from Hollywood and Bollywood and international football matches.

One of the most popular programs in recent years, both in these shops and among private viewers at home, has been the comedy, Eumpang Breuh (Rice Basket), which focuses on Acehnese village life. For the crowds of men who patronise the coffee houses, watching Eumpang Breuh offers an opportunity

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