weblogUpdates.ping Taneak Jang, Rejang Land, Tanah Rejang http://rejang-lebong.blogspot.com Taneak Jang, Rejang land, Tanah Rejang: Rejang and Besemah from PRECEDENCE IN SUMATRA; AN ANALYSIS OF THE CONSTRUCTION OF STATUS IN AFFINAL RELATIONS AND ORIGIN GROUPS






The Redjang of South Sumatra are of particular interest in this context due to their recent transition 'from patriliny to matriliny' (Jaspan 1964:title). Redjang social structure had always had an in-built flexibility with regard to the way of determining membership of an origin group. They had a form of marriage contract identical to the Batak ambil anak marriage, whichthey cal1 semendo an. As such uxorilocal marriages became more and more prevalent, the entire descent principle changed from patrifocal to matrifocal, with an accompanying change in the relationship terminology.

Jaspan links this change to economic factors such as the difficulty in raising funds for bridéwealth payments and to foreign cultural influences such as Islam and colonization (Jaspan 1964:357). He also points out that the Redjang case is not unique in South Sumatra. In view of such considerable flexibility, the 'patrifocality' of the former ideology seems unlikely to have been its most centra1 and defining feature, as a traditional approach to 'kinship structures' would suggest. When Jaspan's list of 'invariants in Redjang social structure' (Jaspan 1964:340) is examined, it becomes apparent that the defining feature of origin groups is a shared territory rather than any particular form of tracing ancestry. Nevertheless, some degree of insistence on ancestral linkages is necessary to maintain the characteristic exclusiveness of membership in topological origin groups among the Redjang.

The Redjang refer to themselves as kémé tun djang, the descendants of the Majapahit king Djang and his four sons (the Four Bikau) who are the apical ancestors of the 'Four Pillars'. These territorially localized clans settled in the highlands of Lebong, which is the starting-point in the topological order of precedence recorded in the myths of origin. The lateral 'hiving off from the senior line and subsequent migration into new territories is described in such accounts as kepetjua'sumbing, the 'scattering of fragments': 'The remnants of the cloth, the distant trail of smoke. The end of the rope, these are the scattered fragments. The Land of Medicine [Tubeui clan territory], the remnants of the cloth of the Land of Learning [Djikalong clan territory]. This is the origin and the cause, this was the start of their path' (Jaspan 1964:27). Jaspan notes that foundation events are encoded in narratives: 'the ké$é [tales] symbolise both the common [genealogical] origin of al1 Redjang subclans and the derivative character of the peripheral regions from the land of the original four pillar clans [Lebong]. Implicit
is the politica1 and ritual pre-eminence of Lebong' (Jaspan 1964:28). Such origin narratives were recorded in the indigenous ka-ga-nga script on bark cloth or bamboo as a kind of clan history, which 'described its dispersion throughout Redjang country and neighbouring temtories' (Jaspan 1964:43). These are detailed lists of villages and their adjai (founding ancestors). Village histories in turn trace the senior line to this ancestor. Male primogeniture entails the selection of a single successor to the father's ritual status ('guardian of the old house'), so that the senior line has a special status in relation to junior lines. Precedence by place of origin is recognized even after such a seemingly independent order of genealogical precedence has been established at the village level. Graves of ancestors in 'senior' villages are frequently visited:
  • 'Each village in Lebong is conceived.as an interrelated segment in a "genealogy of villages"....the subclan and village founded by the eldest son is usually regarded as the senior or parent village of the clan. This is important in ritual ...though each village...has its own ritual shrine (keramat) the payment of the most important vows has to take place at one of the three keramats of Topos, the oldest Djikalong village' (Jaspan 1964:242).

Visitors to the village of origin are always asked 'when did you return', while a visitor in peripheral villages is questioned with 'when did you amve?' (Jaspan 1964:153). The individual life-cycle retraces the settlement pattern in a circular fashion. Newly-wed couples move out to swidden huts at the periphery of the social landscape, only to return to the talang (hamlet) once they have established themselves. Return to the village of origin is the final step and the achievement of mature age. The return to the source is thus part of each individual's life (compare with Lewis 1988:257).

Redjang society was structured by an order of precedence which combines topological and genealogical links. However, it should be noted that genealogy itself was largely a function of 'place', that is, of the post-marital residence of a couple and their children. Origin was thus primarily associated with a territoria1 unit and only secondarily with a common ancestral source.
In this they differ from the Batak, where different genealogical groups share a single territory, so that 'place' would be an insufficient definition for an origin group. It is too early to tell how the precedenceorder in Redjang society will be affected by the recent shift towards
matnfocality; but it seems likely that the place of origin will be emphasized
even more at the expense of genealogical origin and affinal precedence chains.


In his account of the neighbouring Besemah, Collins emphasizes that the pivot of their ethnic identity is their common origin in three divine ancestors (diwe tige). The Besemah thus construct an origin that is not of a singular and exclusive kind but the result of 'an original merging of peoples in ancestral times' (Collins 1979: 18). In an origin narrative of the descendants of Atong Bungsu, the youngest of the three gods, it is told how they were aras (of equal status) before they descended from heaven and how an order of precedence was established by their order of arrival. Gumai descends first;only to become entrapped in a gourd, from which he is rescued by Semidang. "'Now there you are, adik (younger sibling)", said Semidang. But Gumai, now released, said, "Oh? you should not call me adik! After all I was here first." And so the two of them began their interminable struggle over who between them was the elder' (Collins 1979:24). As this passage illustrates, precedence between Besemah clans
is a matter of debate, since an apical ancestor is absent and a precedence of arrival is more difficult to establish than one based on birth order. The solution is one. which recognizes a duality of criteria: 'They resolved their quarrel by agreeing that Gumai duru turun kedian nyate (came down earlier but appeared later)' (Collins 1979:24):

A further claim to precedence is made by Atong Bungsu, the last to descend. He outwits the others by obtaining land through the king of Majapahit. A list of villages founded by him on his journeys is recounted in the myth. From Majapahit he brings with him some old coconut trees,
which he buries in what was originally Redjang territory. With this trick he fabricates evidence indicating that he had arrived before them, and thus he acquires land at their expense (Collins 1979:45-47). Here the dispute is no longer about the elder-younger distinction, but is entirely concerned with topological precedence and the manipulation of this principle. Cleverness (calak) and magical powers (ilmu) are typically associated with the youngest brother or royal outsider, who must find territory elsewhere rather than inherit his father's position. These qualities are
also embodied in the head of a clan (teras). For example, the Gumai clan claims to be superior to the Semidang by virtue of still having such an elder imbued with ilmu, a village headman íjurai tue), 'descended from the single founding ancestor of the village, from the pangkal (beginning,
source, root) down a straight line from eldest son to eldest son' (Collins 1979:183). Within clans, debates about precedence are equally prevalent and lead to discrepancies between different interpretations of an origin narrative:

'Being able to tell the story of Atong Bungsu with some authority is a way people have of saying that they have some seniority or primacy among the many descendants ...'(Collins 1979:38). The tracing of genealogical origins leads back as far as the historica1 event of village foundation. Beyondthis time, founder-newcomer distinctions become the relevant information for claimants to authority.

The Besemah, like the Batak and Redjang, practise ambil anak marriage. This is an alternative to the dominant, genitor-focused line of ancestry, and is resorted to whenever a male heir or funds for bridewealth are lacking. Uxorilocal residence and affiliation of the offspring with the
maternal origin group are the consequence of such unions.



Rejang Land Pal

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