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'Tabuik' festival: From a religious event to tourism
[March 01, 2006]

'Tabuik' festival: From a religious event to tourism

(The Jakarta Post Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)from THE JAKARTA POST -- MONDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2006 -- PAGE 19 Each of the two 12-meter-high tabuik was rocked, turned round and carried in a procession from the city center to the beach by some 20 men. Every movement of the two tabuik was accompanied by 12 tasa kettledrums beaten in a spirit-rousing rhythm. At times the words Angkat Hussein (Lift Hussein) were shouted

That was a scene during the Asyura (10 Muharram) commemoration in Kota Pariaman, West Sumatra, on Feb. 12. The two tabuik, Tabuik Pasa, the tabuik from the market, and Tabuik Subarang, the tabuik from the "other side", were made in different subdistricts 12 days earlier

A tabuik is a statue of a bouraq, or a steed with broad wings and a human head, with the heads of smiling girls, wings and broad tails. On their backs are coffins with beautiful decorations and umbrellas on top

On both sides, the statues are decorated with eight paper flowers

Accompanied by the sound of the kettledrums, each of the tabuik was paraded in a procession to the center of the town, where the opening ceremony of the 2006 Tabuik Festival was taking place

The festival was officially opened later in the morning with Pariaman traditional art performances, including the indang, or wave dance, a local martial art and a Malay dance. After the chief of West Sumatra tourism service, Yulizar Baharin, acting on behalf of the West Sumatra governor, officially opened the festival, the Hoyak Tabuik, or the procession of the tabuik, began

An estimated 100,000 people attended the event, which was financed by the local community. They came not only from Pariaman but also from other regencies and towns in West Sumatra. Some foreign tourists also were in attendance

Slowly the two tabuik were carried to the beach, which is about 300 meters away. Sometimes they had to be laid on the ground and dragged to avoid electric and telephone wires. The event culminated with the two tabuik being thrown into the sea as the sun set. This symbolized the coffin of Imam Hussein being carried to heaven by the bouraq

A tabuik is not just a decorative statue. A rite must be performed when it is made. There are seven processes involved in the making of a tabuik, starting from Muharram 1st up to 10th

On Muharram 1st, which marks the first process in the making of a tabuik, mud is collected from the river. This mud, wrapped in a white cloth, is placed into an earthenware pot and the pot is kept in a lalaga, a place measuring three meters by three meters fenced all around with parupuk (small bamboo pieces)

The mud wrapped in a white cloth symbolizes the grave of Hussein. The lalaga is provided with a dome-shaped roof made of a white cloth. This mud will be left there until it is put into the tabuik on Muharram 10th. Then skilled craftsmen make the tabuik not far from the lalaga

On Muharram 5th, the second process starts. In this process, which takes place at night, the stem of a banana tree is cut in one blow. This is the symbol of the courage of Abi Kasim, the son of Imam Hussein, in avenging the death of his father

On Muharram 7th and 8th, there are two other processes, namely Maatam and Maarak Sorban. Maatam symbolizes the act of collecting Imam Hussein's fingers, which were scattered after they had been cut off by the soldiers of King Yazid, while Maarak Sorban symbolizes the act of parading Imam Hussein's turban around the town to remind everyone of the courage that Imam Hussein showed when fighting his enemies

Then on Muharram 10th, the upper part of the tabuik is put in place. Then the tabuik is paraded until it is thrown into the sea. A tabuik-making procession like this takes place every year

Throwing a tabuik into the sea is an annual event that has been taking place every Muharram 10th in Pariaman since 1831. This Asyura rite, which is performed by Shiite Muslims, was introduced to the people of Pariaman by Shiite Muslim migrants from Sepoy, India

In those days, Pariaman was a leading port town on the west coast of Sumatra. Different racial and ethnic groups lived there, including Acehnese and Arabs, who were Muslims. The migrants from Sepoy were former British troops under the command of Thomas Stamford Raffles, who was originally headquartered in Bengkulu

Following the signing of the Treaty of London on March 17, 1829, between Britain and Holland, the western coastal area of Sumatra, formerly controlled by Britain, was handed over to the Dutch and following this transfer, some Sepoy soldiers opted to remain in Pariaman. It was these Sepoy migrants that encouraged the locals to hold the Asyura rite by making a tabuik to commemorate the death of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad SAW

The Pariaman residents themselves were followers of the Syafi'i School, the brand of Islam introduced to them by Syech Burhanuddin, the first ulema to spread Islam in West Sumatra. The tabuik rite easily gained acceptance in Pariaman because Syech Burhanuddin introduced Islam in Pariaman through a cultural approach and with great tolerance for local customs

A tabuik rite is performed to commemorate the passing away of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad SAW in the seventh century. Hussein was killed in the Battle of Karbala in what is now Iraq, when leading Muslim troops against the troops of Bani Umaiyah from Syria led by King Yazid

The followers of Imam Hussein believe that broken parts of Hussein' dead body, which were scattered on the ground, were collected by an angel riding a bouraq and the reunited dead body was taken to heaven

Stories have it that when this bouraq was about to fly off with the body of Imam Hussein, one of Hussein's followers saw it and asked that he be taken along with the body. The angel refused this request and told him to make an imitation bouraq and a tabuik (coffin) every Muharram 10th to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein. It is this story that has led to the annual tabuik rite

In the past 25 years, a tabuik rite has become not simply a religious ceremony but also Pariaman's main tourist attraction

Pariaman, a small town with a population of 72,399, is now associated with tabuik-related tourism

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post, Padang Copyright 2006 The Jakarta Post

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