Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Sunatan (circumcision) parade

It was totally unexpected. I was in a day trip to Lombok last week on business in the southeastern part of the island. We were in the town of Mujur when suddenly our car was blocked by a slumbering parade. The sound of men chanting over some drum and woodwind orchestra signaled a ceremony of some kind. I craned my neck and as slowly overtook a party of some 20 men and boys. There were two open palanquins, each borne on the shoulders of four men. The carts are ornate, deeply carved and polychromatically painted as horses. Each carried two young boys, who were no more than 6 years old and were wearing traditional jackets and sarung in woven sasak ikat or songket brocade. More curiously, the men bearing the cart would regularly stop in the middle of the road to perform a dance.

My companions, who are all too aware of my photography habit, hastily explained that this was a ritual for a sunatan or Muslim circumcision! We asked the driver to drive a few meters so that I could get off and shoot them passing us by. The parade was moving fast and I had little time to frame pictures. Fortunately, the cart bearers, who were in front of the parade, saw me, a tourist to their eyes, and obliged with a dance. They squatted in place, bent their knees simultaneously to keep the litter level, and danced with their hands. There was cheering and laughter. The crowd was animated. All these to the live accompaniment of a traditional wind and percussion orchestra that were at the tailend of the parade. The Sasak gamelan featured musical instruments constituted antique looking wooden flutes (bamboo?), drums with stretched cowhide, and brass cymbals.

We stopped just at the right spot as when the parade moved ahead, they shortly turned at a corner just a few meters from where our vehicle was. Too bad, I only got a few frames as the procession moved fast.

Unfortunately, I could not get much of the sasak circumcision ceremony. A search in the internet provided me with a few clues. One, circumcision is a must to Muslims so Indonesian Muslim males undergo this rite as do other Indonesian non-Muslims. Traditionally, the Javanese boys undergo circumcision when they are 11-12 years old. Sundanese boys are circumcised at a younger age, at about 5-6 years old. Obviously, the Lombok Sasak boys follow the Sundanese lead. As a coming-of-age ritual, the circumcision is a joyous affair celebrated by relatives, friends and neighbors replete with gifts for the boy. There is even a community circumcision for poorer neighborhoods but still, a scaled-down party is expected.

Definitely, there is that pervasive feeling that traditions like this are going by the wayside of modernization. Already, not all the participants wear the customary finery reserved for grand celebrations. Convenience and practicality are prevailing over custom. How long will those old gamelan instruments last too? They appear ancient and would they be replaced soon with modern pipes and drums, and more ominously, be supplanted with piped in recordings?

As the tailend of the procession disappeared down the dusty lane in Mujur, I could only hope that the local Sasak people would continue to find meaning in age-old traditions. To the unordained, they may look exotic but to the very folks who persist pursuing this vanishing custom, the sunatan parade is only part of a precious culture that defines their society.

Mujur crowd


Sunatan Mujur


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1 comment:

saira said...

woh great khitanan in indonesia.in pakistan same as khatana.