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Islamic New Year in West Sumatra

Muharram celebrations in coastal West Sumatra have shaped a tradition that transcends religious borders

Paul H. Mason

   A tabuik cenotaph in the centre of Pariaman city
   Paul H. Mason

People from the hinterland region of West Sumatra say that the coastal region is rich with legends, mystical beliefs and Sufi traditions. These traditions are indigenous creations blended with adaptations of performances from neighbouring regions and abroad. The yearly festival of Tabuik in the coastal city of Padang Pariaman is a popular example of such a blend. It is a fascinating religious festival with local and foreign elements that reflect the diverse influences brought by the region’s history.

Tabuik is the remembrance of the martyrdom of the grandchild of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussein, who died in the battle of Karbala in 680 CE. Around the world, Hussein’s ordeal is remembered through theatrical re-enactments, processions, public self-flagellation and religious rites. In Indonesia, however, Hussein’s struggle is recalled through diverse performance and ritual traditions, including dance and body percussion.

In Padang Pariaman, the re-enactment of the suffering of Hussein at Karbala has become an annual cultural event. On the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, the anniversary of Hussein’s death is commemorated. The resulting celebration promotes social cohesion and regional identity, as well as tourism and trade.

Procession, submersion and destruction

Two of Padang Pariaman’s communities actively participate in the Tabuik procession. The Pasar and Subarang

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