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Sistem marga dan perpecahan (suku Gumai)

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The Marga System and its Impact

Let me finally examine the impact of an external administrative unit, the marga system, on the succession and continuity of a Gumai village. The marga system was used originally by the Sultanate of Palembang, and then was made into a rigid administrative unit by the Dutch Administration in the highlands of South Sumatra in the 19th century.


In order to rule indirectly in an efficient manner, the Dutch concentrated administrative power in a single person, the head of a marga, a territorial unit, and appointed him as pasirah (Galizia 1996: 136-8). A pasirah was a representative of the people of a marga and important decisions were always made through discussions among elders within his marga unit. In contrast, the Dutch-appointed pasirah was made to assume the role of the centralised ruler of a marga, with more power in his hands. Only his family members were allowed opportunities for Western education, which provided close connections with the Dutch Colonial Government. [39] A marga, in turn, consisted of several villages (dusun), each of which was headed by a local Proatin with the title of Krie, Lurah or Ginda. Through this indirect control and manipulation of their power at the marga level, the Dutch succeeded in directing their administrative power into the lower levels of political organisation in the highlands. [40]

A consequence of the implementation of the marga system was that, by 1930, the Gumai were divided into several marga located in various parts of Southern Sumatra. According to Wellan’s report (1932: 194-8), Marga Gumai Talang and Marga Gumai Lembak were located in Lematang Ulu Subdistrict, while Gumai Ulu and Pagar Gunung were located in the Pasemahlanden Subdistrict. These four marga were located in the Palembang Highlands. Other marga in which the Gumai were the main population group included Marga Rambang Ampatsuku in the Ogan Ilir Subdistrict, and two marga in the Bengkulu Residency: Marga Anak Gumai in the Manna Subdistrict and Marga Semidang Gumai in the Kaur Subdistrict.

In this process of institutionalising the marga system, non-Gumai villages were also incorporated into Gumai marga. For instance, the people of Jati village in Marga Gumai Lembak claim descent from Suku Lima, who were descendants of the legendary Javanese Kingdom of Majapahit, but Jati village became a part of Marga Gumai Lembak. The creation of Marga Semidang Gumai in South Bengkulu was the result of combining Gumai villages and Semidang villages into one marga.

The marga and pasirah system continued after the independence of Indonesia until the implementation of the Law on Village Administration No. 5 of 1979 (Undang-Undang 5/1979) under which each marga was divided into various villages known as desa.

Despite the implementation of the marga system, the aim of which was primarily for administration by the outer authorities, it did little to interfere with the social structure and ritual practice of each village. For example, the Gumai did not consider marga as a unit sharing origins nor did they develop rituals for the marga. Marga was perceived as a unit of political administration and knowledge about each village was transmitted by a ritual specialist from each village. There were some discussions on the revival of the marga system as a result of regional autonomy in 2000-01, but the idea did not gain any political momentum.

[39] Only the Pasirah was allowed to use stamps for documents to show his authority.

[40] Local administrative officers such as pasirah, proatin and penggawa were nominated by people in the marga and then appointed by Dutch authority. The Dutch exerted influence and manipulated nominees in their favour. In order to represent the administrative hierarchy among native administrators, the Dutch granted distinctive titles such as Depati and Pangeran upon appointment, and demonstrated these titles by providing distinctive caps and buttons (Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch Indië 1919: 267-8). Extensive marga were divided into smaller units to decrease their power, and a non-cooperative marga was joined with another marga, which was close to the Dutch authority. For a case study of the pasirah system in Bengkulu Residency, see Galizia (1995).

Conclusion

I have examined origin structures and the related roles of ritual specialists among the Gumai of South Sumatra. I have noted that a majority of Gumai villages have to date maintained their distinctive nature as territorial units and maintain a range of rituals to commemorate the origins of their villages. As I have described elsewhere (Sakai 1999, 2002, 2003), they also undertake rituals commemorating their family origins and the origin of the founding ancestor through a monthly ritual, despite the penetrating influence of Islam.

This does not mean Gumai tradition has remained intact and free from challenges. Outside the three settlements of the Gumai there are in fact many villages where a large number of newcomers have settled, which is blurring the definition of village membership. In the case of the neighbouring Besemah people, the influence of reformist Islam has been such that rituals associated with origins have been abandoned. Along with the abandoning of knowledge and rituals, definitions of village membership are no longer as restricted and outsiders are increasingly accepted. Other challenges arise from the migration of younger residents to big cities such as Palembang and Jakarta, which can leave their villages depopulated. People can no longer guarantee a member of the family to serve as petunggu dusun. A critical situation arises when there is no one who is prepared to reside in a designated village and act as the Jurai Tue or even the Jurai Kebali’an. Knowledge about the origins of the Gumai is no longer considered particularly important by many younger Gumai. Since the death of the previous Jurai Kebali’an in November 1999, the successor to the office has not been properly appointed. An elder brother of the deceased is assuming a role temporarily. Whether this is merely an example of traditional menyandung or another indication of a demise of Gumai tradition remains to be seen.

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