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Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun - Puyang Kerie Tingal , nenek moyang orang Gumai yang Pembentuk desa desa Gumai

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The Origin Structure of Kute Among the Gumai: An Analysis of an Indigenous Territorial Institution in the Highlands of South Sumatra



Present by Minako Sakai

This chapter examines indigenous territorial categories in the highlands of the Province of South Sumatra, by focusing on Gumai villages. While desa is the official term for villages, conceived as administrative units of the modern Indonesian State, and while most people will name their dusun or ‘hamlet’ when asked about their place of residence, local ritual specialists still use kute as the traditional term to refer to a residential territory (from Sanskrit and Old-Malay kuta, ‘fortified town’ or ‘palace’). They do so primarily in the context of the rituals to commemorate the origin of the kute.

The Gumai are a Malay-speaking people who reside in the highlands of South Sumatra (Jaspan 1976). Their population across three major residential areas in the Regency of Lahat is approximately 10,000 people, who derive their livelihood largely from the cultivation of rubber and coffee. In terms of language, appearance and customs, the Gumai have much in common with neighbouring Malay speakers. Historically, South Sumatran highland societies consisted of groups who defined themselves by descent from common ancestors and by reference to the specific area of land they inhabited (Andaya 1993: 17). The distinctive identity of the Gumai, for example, derives from the belief that their people are all the offspring of a magical founding ancestor, Diwe Gumai, who descended on Mt Segungtan in Palembang on the night of a full moon (Sakai 1997 and 1999). The descendants of Diwe Gumai then spread along the river system, known as Batang Hari Sembilan, which flows across the region and founded numerous villages. Relocation of some of these villages took place at the turn of the last century in accordance with the replacement of the river system as the main means of transportation by a network of roads.

Presently, most villages in the South Sumatran highlands are located neatly along the main roads. There are three main clusters of villages, all in the Regency of Lahat, namely Gumai Ulu, Gumai Lembak and Gumai Talang. Jurai Kebali’an is a title carried by a male heir who represents the most authentic successor of the founding ancestor in terms of genealogical connections. The house of the Jurai Kebali’an is located in the regency of Lahat of South Sumatra Province, and serves as a most important ritual place to commemorate the common origins of the Gumai in a ritual attracting hundreds of Diwe Gumai’s descendants every month (see Sakai 2003).

Map 1: Ethnic groups in South Sumatra province

Map 1: Ethnic groups in South Sumatra province

A knowledge of village origins is most important for understanding social structures and associated ritual practices among the Gumai, as well as other Malay-speaking highlanders in South Sumatra. I will therefore begin by examining some village origin stories, collected from settlements in the Gumai Talang region. Gumai Talang consists of 14 villages along the Trans-Sumatra Highway near the town of Lahat. I will show how the village origins are reflected in social and ritual structures. I will then show how Gumai ritual and social practices have contributed to the maintenance of links to a common origin. As a result, Gumai traditional villages, particularly a ritual unit known as kute, have maintained themselves as an indigenous territorial category, based on common origins, despite intervening government administrative policies and frequent relocations of villages.

Village Origin Structure

Many Gumai villages are thought to have been established by a single ancestor, the Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun (the Founding Ancestor of the Village), and have been inhabited by his descendants and their affines. Narratives I obtained about the origin of Mandi Angin village from the ritual specialist of Mandi Angin in 1994 are a good example to illustrate the importance of a single village founder as the ultimate origin point, and to show the subsequent process of subgroup formation in this village.


Figure 1: Genealogy of Mandi Angin village

Figure 1: Genealogy of Mandi Angin village

The founding ancestor of Mandi Angin village, Puyang Kerie Tingal, was the eldest son of Puyang Gune Raje, who was the Jurai Kebali’an in Lahat. Kerie Tingal had five sons, Raje Ringkeh, Raje Kuhus, Dali, Pengiran and Raje Bungkuk in that birth order. The youngest [child] was a daughter called Rebiah.

Subgroups in Mandi Angin village are known as jungkuk (‘subgroup’) and derive from each of these six children. Each jungkuk is responsible for passing on the title Jungkuk to one of its members. The appointee needs to reside in his/her villages, to maintain the genealogical knowledge about the ancestors of his/her jungkuk and to undertake rituals to remember those ancestors. Jungkuk refers to a subgroup formed by the children of the founding ancestor and the family or the person who inherits this role. To differentiate these two, I will refer to the subgroup as jungkuk and the title as the Jungkuk title. [1]

Each jungkuk of Mandi Angin village takes its derivation from the ultimate origin point of the village, Puyang Kerie Tingal, the Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun. Figure 1 shows the succession of the jungkuk of the Jurai Tue of Mandi Angin village. The main task of the person with the title of Jungkuk is to reside in his or her native village and to have offspring to continue the genealogical linkage to the village founder. The office needs to be carried on by a successor, who remains in his or her natal village. The succession of this title is through a daughter or a son, and birth order is irrelevant. Currently there are six people, each of whom represents a jungkuk in Mandi Angin village. The successor to the Jungkuk title is assumed to be the closest living descendant of the founding jungkuk ancestor. All the Jungkuk titleholders and other jungkuk members are expected to undertake a series of rituals to commemorate its origins. [2]

Precedence and Village Ritual Specialists

Despite the fact that each jungkuk has derived from a common ancestor, the status of jungkuk is not equal. One of the jungkuk carries the title of Tue Jurai (elderly subgroup) and another holds the title of Jurai Tue. The notion of jurai is elusive and hazy; it refers to a particular person as a holder of such titles as Jurai Tue, Tue Jurai and Jurai Kebali’an. On the other hand, jurai refers to any number of people who trace their origin to particular ancestors who in turn share a common ancestry in the distant mythological past. The idiom putus jurai means the ‘severing or disappearance of legitimate successors’; it does not mean the extinction of an ethnic group. [3]

The following account from Mandi Angin village, which I obtained during my fieldwork in the mid-1990s, will illustrate how jungkuk are differentiated based on birth order and ritual seniority.

The jungkuk of Raje Ringkeh, the eldest son of the founding ancestor, is paid homage. It is because he is the eldest child of the family and his jungkuk is called Tue Jurai. After growing up, all the male children of Kerie Tingal wanted to leave their natal village and to go to new places. Therefore, Rebiah, the youngest daughter, was asked to remain in the village permanently and took over the house of her parents as the place to which other descendants could return. She was given the title of Jurai Tue, which enabled her to become the village ritual specialist. At the time of the village ritual known as Sedekah Rame, the Jurai Tue invokes ancestral spirits including the Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun. This duty of the Jurai Tue includes keeping the knowledge about genealogies traced to the founding ancestor and having offspring in order to transmit this knowledge. Her husband acted as the caretaker of the village and was called Jurai Tue, as women were not allowed to perform this role. Since then, the title of Jurai Tue has also been inherited among the members of the jungkuk of Rebiah, and the current Jurai Tue remains in Mandi Angin village.

This account explains the way some jungkuk are ranked higher than others. Based on his position as the firstborn, the jungkuk which was headed by Raje Ringkeh is ranked higher than the others and is called Tue Jurai or ‘elder descendant group’. The eldest child is seen as temporally closer to the village founding ancestor and is therefore paid homage by the other jungkuk members.[4] People express respect to the descendants of Tue Jurai. In the past, at the ritual to commemorate the village origins known as Sedekah Rame, the seating arrangements and the nature of the offerings to be prepared were determined by the status and titles of each jungkuk. [5] Traditionally, however, no political or economic prerogative is given to the Tue Jurai or Jurai Tue. [6]

The account also shows how the jungkuk of Rebiah was chosen as the successor line of the village ritual specialist, Jurai Tue. Since none of the male children stayed permanently within their natal village, the last-born daughter was asked to remain there and to attend to the Gumai customs. In the past, it was customary to allow a daughter to inherit the office of the Jurai Tue and let her husband perform the role. [7]

The Jurai Tue is to reside in the village and to keep knowledge of genealogies that connect the Jurai Tue with the Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun. If there are any regalia handed down from the Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun, the Jurai Tue is responsible for looking after them. [8] The Jurai Tue is regarded as the most direct descendant of the village founder, and his or her jungkuk as a group is believed to be the closest to the Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun as the ultimate origin point.

The title of Jurai Tue is associated not only with the person who inherits the title, but with the village location in which he or she is designated to live. Outside the boundaries of that village, that person can no longer act as the Jurai Tue or bear the office of the Jurai Tue, but is considered an ordinary individual.

When no member of the jungkuk of the Jurai Tue is considered suitable for the office, it can be transferred temporarily to a member of another jungkuk. Since jungkuk titleholders are considered close to the village founder, temporary transfer of the title of Jurai Tue to another jungkuk titleholder is considered appropriate. This custom of temporary transfer is known as menyandung (temporary transfer), and whenever there is an appropriate successor among the members of the jungkuk of the Jurai Tue, the office should be returned.

Figure 2 presents the genealogy of the two Jungkuk of Tanjung Karangan village, who share in rotation the office of Jurai Tue. When Puyang Pageran died, Senang Irah succeeded to the office of the Jurai Tue, and her husband, Setiarap, performed the role. The title of Jungkuk was then transferred (menyandung) to Lamit, a nephew of Senang Irah. [9] Since Lamit was busy with gardening, the office was transferred to Resek, Lamit’s sister. Thereafter, the office was transferred to a daughter of Lamit, Sari, and performed by her husband, Dahlan. Since Dahlan often left the village for work, the office was eventually returned to a grandchild of Senang Irah, Bidin. [10] Bidin is a son of Ren Tasim, who is a son of Senang Irah.

Figure 2: Genealogy of two Jungkuk of Tanjung Karangan village

Figure 2: Genealogy of two Jungkuk of Tanjung Karangan village

The Division of a Village

While the jungkuk is a subgroup within a village, which maintains its relations with the Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun, it can also become a point of division at the time of the establishment of a new village. The following example of the bifurcation of Mandi Angin village and the creation of Batay village will illustrate this process.

Initially the name of Mandi Angin was Cugong Berangin and it was located at Muara Ayer Batay when it was founded by the founding ancestor, Kerie Tingal. Relocation of the site of this village took place several times and its name was changed to Cugong Keramai and eventually to Mandi Angin. When Mandi Angin village was relocated in 1925, it split into two parts. Some jungkuk members of Raje Ringkeh, Tue Jurai, created talang or a temporary residence near their gardens. It was named Talang Batay. The rest of the village moved to a new location and was named Mandi Angin village. When the Japanese army came to Lahat in 1942, Talang Batay was asked to move to a site along the Kikim Raya road. Since new Mandi Angin village was not spacious enough to accommodate the residents of Talang Batay, the residents bought some of the rubber garden areas of Tanjung Beringin and converted them into a village. Since 1944, this new village is known as Batay village. One person from the jungkuk of Raje Ringkeh who lives in Batay now assumes the role of the Jurai Tue in Batay village.

The jungkuk is a good example of what Fox (1988, 1996a) calls an origin group. Origin groups share and celebrate some form of common derivation including a common ancestor, a common cult and a collection of regalia (Fox 1996a: 132). The morpheme pu in the word puyang could be a reflex of puqun, which is a Proto-Malayo-Polynesian reconstruction meaning tree, trunk, base or source (Fox 1995: 36). Yang, in turn, may be related to words such as eyang (Java), meaning grandparent, or hyang (Bali), meaning ancestor/deity. As a subgroup within a village, each jungkuk traces a chain of linkages to the village founder as source. Jungkuk are not ‘lineages’ in the classical sense because the succession of the Jungkuk titleholder is neither patrilineal nor matrilineal, but is comprised of any descendants as long as they continue to reside within the village of origin.

Multiple Village Origins and Subgroups

Most Gumai villagers can trace genealogical or affinal relations to the Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun. In the past, those who did not have genealogical connections to the Puyang Ketunggalan Dusun were allowed to reside in a village by forming a separate subgroup (sungut jurai) apart from the village’s jungkuk groups. [11]

It is said that it was common to have sungut jurai composed of Semidang descendants. Based on the origin narratives in which Diwe Gumai and Diwe Semidang cooperated with each other to let Diwe Gumai emerge from the shell of a fruit on the Bukit Siguntang, descendants of Diwe Semidang were asked to be members of Gumai villages. Despite the explanations by the Jurai Tue and other elders about the existence of sungut, I was not able to identify who formed the sungut of the Semidang in any Gumai village. This is partially because the status of those who were initially accommodated as strangers and allowed to form a subgroup is not differentiated after three generations of continuous residence in that locality. [12] Furthermore, younger generations, in general, do not pay much attention to the sungut or jungkut, and the transmission of knowledge related to village origins is difficult to discover. [13]

A person who still claimed foreign descent and was able to tell me an account of his foreign origin was the Mimbar of Mandi Angin village, Pak Amat Solek. Mimbar is another village ritual specialist who, in times of crises, must support and protect the Jurai Kebali’an. Solek owns coffee gardens near Pagaralam and looks after them diligently, and is a relatively wealthy coffee farmer residing in Mandi Angin village. In 1995, he told me the following story, which explains how his ancestor was accepted in Mandi Angin village:

Siatong Ali was a descendant of Bengkulu, who was at that time living in Rebakau. He held a wedding reception for his child and invited Puyang Gune Raje and his son, Kerie Tingal, went as his father’s representative. At the wedding ceremony, Kerie Tingal was not offered food, rather he was ridiculed. So he went home and reported this incident to his father. Gune Raje then advised Kerie Tingal to return to the reception and to carry a dagger named Santan Tekuku with him and advised him to kill all the people with the dagger if he was ridiculed again. Kerie Tingal returned to Rebakau, and Siatong Ali noticed the dagger and asked its name. Upon learning that the dagger called Santan Tekuku was named after a bird, Siatong Ali said, ‘So we shall give your bird some food.’ [14] This time Kerie Tingal killed all the guests and all the inhabitants of the Rebakau with the dagger. After this incident, Siatong Ali and Kerie Tingal compromised and the former offered his daughter as evidence of submission. She became a wife of Gune Raje and gave birth to a son called Sialam. The family of Siatong Ali was allowed to live in Mandi Angin village as Mimbar of Mandi Angin village, whose duty is to fight at the front line in a war and help the five grandchildren of the Jurai Kebali’an in Mandi Angin village. Siatong Ali made a vow that he and his descendants would accept this duty and the title of Mimbar was inherited by his son, Puyang Demang. Sialam is believed not to be dead, but to have ever-lasting life in the mountain. He said, ‘My children, if you are facing difficulty, just burn benzoin resin and bring a goat and call me.’ Usually those who ask for assistance are able to achieve their wishes.

The narratives explain that the descendants of Siatong Ali did not share a common ancestry with the rest of the jungkuk members in Mandi Angin, who were descendants of Puyang Kerie Tingal. Siatong Ali was a stranger accepted into Mandi Angin village. Since he was trusted by Gune Raje, the title of Mimbar was given to Siatong Ali and has been inherited by one of his descendants ever since (see Figure 3). [15]

Figure 3: Genealogy of the origin of the Mimbar of Mandi Angin village

Figure 3: Genealogy of the origin of the Mimbar of Mandi Angin village

The Merging of Two Villages

Some villages in Gumai Talang were created by more than two founding ancestors who had no genealogical connections or whose genealogical connections were not known or remembered. For instance, Tanjung Baru village has three Jurai Tue, a result of acknowledging three village founders. However, details about how the three ancestors collaborated in establishing one village were not known to any of the current Jurai Tue.

Sugih Waras village has two Jurai Tue, Jurai Tue palak tanah and Jurai Tue ujung tanjung. The latter, Pak Zainal Kisam, a driver in his fifties operating in Lahat, was able to give me an explanation. [16] Consulting some notes he had kept to refresh his memory, he explained to me that the current Sugih Waras village was a result of two villages that had merged into one.

Puyang Kebah, whose ancestry was traced back to an ancestor in Gumai Ulu, had three sons, Pati Kelam, Pati Tua and Pate Langit. Pati Kelam, the eldest son, was given the title of Jurai Tue. At that time, they were living in a place called Talang Kapuk along the Kikim Kecik River. But there never was peace in this village. Fighting among the villagers was a regular feature. So the Jurai Tue of Talang Kapuk, Puyang Pati Kelam, consulted Puyang Tuan Raje, the Jurai Kebali’an, who advised that Puyang Pati Kelam should ask a descendant of Puyang Pangeran Raje Depati in Lubuk Sele village, in Gumai Ulu, to establish a new village together.

Puyang Raje Depati was the Jurai Tue in Lubuk Sele village, who had two sons, Mas Agung and Kebile Agung. Mas Agung succeeded to the office of the Jurai Tue. This office was then inherited by his son, Cahaya Raden, and by his grandson, Puyang Tudakan Dalam. When Puyang Pati Kelam came to Lubuk Sele village, the Jurai Tue was Puyang Jikmat, who was a son of Tudakan Dalam. Upon consultation, Puyang Jikmat agreed to establish a new village in Tanah Kemiling with Puyang Pati Kelam. After establishing the new village in Tanah Kemiling, Puyang Pati Kelam, Jurai Tue of Talang Kapuk, became the Jurai Tue palak tanah and Puyang Jikmat became the Jurai Tue ujung tanjung in order to represent each origin. Palak tanah literally means ‘the top of the land’ and refers to ‘upstream’, while ujung tanjung literally means ‘the tip of a cape’ and refers to ‘downstream’. Since then, Tanah Kemiling has become prosperous and peaceful. When this village was moved to another location, both Jurai Tue held discussions and created a new name, Sugih Waras. In the local language, sugih means rich and abundant, and waras is healthy. As this name suggests, residents of Sugih Waras village were rich and healthy by that time. After World War II, Sugih Waras village was moved again to its present location.

Figure 4: Genealogy of Sugih Waras village

Figure 4: Genealogy of Sugih Waras village

Until the present, Sugih Waras village has retained two Jurai Tue, to represent the two founding ancestors, each of whom is replaced from within his own jungkuk line. Despite the ritual titles, there is no spatial division for residence among the descendants of the two jungkuk within the village. The existence of their two Jurai Tue illustrates that descendants of Sugih Waras village remember the two ancestors, Puyang Jikmat and Puyang Pati Kelam, as village founders, each represented by a Jurai Tue.



[1] Sometimes the title is known as pejungkuk, but in many cases people just used the word jungkuk to refer to the social unit and the title.

[2] See Chapter Five of Sakai (2000) for rituals related to village origins.

[3] The Gumai often comment on the Besemah, a neighbouring ethnic group, saying that the Besemah have severed their descendants (putus jurai). It does not mean that the Besemah have become extinct; in fact, the number of the Besemah population is far larger than that of the Gumai. Putus jurai refers to their view that the succession of legitimate descendants among the Besemah has been broken. Collins (1998: 487) translates it as ‘to have one’s line extinct’.

[4] Lewis (1996: 155) provides a similar interpretation of older houses in Tana ’Ai of Flores. Older houses exert more social and ceremonial precedence due to their temporal proximity to the source.

[5] The manifestation of this precedence system is said to have been abolished in 1944 during the Japanese military occupation, which forbade differentiation of the people based on rank and encouraged cooperation among the villagers.

[6] Bellwood (1996: 24) states that ‘high rank derived from genealogical closeness to an important founder would give access to the economic rights usually associated with chiefs.’ However, the ranking of jungkuk does not involve any economic prerogatives.

[7] As women are responsible for the organising of an elaborate set of offerings at times of rituals to commemorate origins, it is reasonable to allow a daughter to succeed to the title of Jurai Tue, and let her husband perform the role. Women were and still are not allowed to perform the role of the Jurai Tue.

[8] Regalia include weapons such as kris and tombak. Some of the regalia were said to have been taken by the Dutch at the time of the Fort Jati War.

[9] The reason for this transfer was not remembered. Ren Tasim, who was expected to assume this role, might have been too young to carry out the task.

[10] I came to know some cases of disputes over the succession of the Jurai Tue. For an example of contestation of precedence see Sakai (2000, Chapter Five).

[11] The residential rule still operates in the 14 villages in Gumai Talang but is no longer observed in villages located in the lowland area of South Sumatra.

[12] After three generations, distinctions are no longer made. In fact, I did not encounter any person who claimed his or her origin from Diwe Semidang in villages in Gumai Talang during my fieldwork.

[13] The Besemah consist of six subgroups called sumbai, but Hayatuddin (1992: 19) reports that the significance of the sumbai was so minimal that its meaning was not known to his Besemah informant.

[14] Not offering food to guests is considered rude among the Gumai. The fact that Kerie Tingal was not offered food indicates that he was not treated as a guest.

[15] The acceptance of Siatong Ali and his descendants is still remembered and their status as a part of the origins of Mandi Angin village is expressed at Sedekah Rame ceremonies in the village.

[16] The Jurai Tue palak tanah, Pak Hasan Basri, had lived for a long time in Palembang and had hardly any knowledge about the village origins of Sugih Waras.



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