The holy month of Ramadhan will leave us soon and Muslims will celebrate a day of triumph, Idul Fitri, after having completed the fasting period. Indonesia has a unique annual tradition of Idul Fitri, locally known as Lebaran, by making their traditional homecoming, or mudik, to spend this special day with their families.
To Indonesian Muslims, “going home”, or returning to one’s place of origin, is a cultural occasion closely loaded with symbols. Despite the difficulties for most people of returning to their hometowns for the annual holiday because of traffic and poor infrastructure, Indonesians look forward to being united with their families, friends and relatives to celebrate a joyous Idul Fitri.
They are homo semioticus, humans with the desire to make meaning in regard to the homecoming custom. The annual exodus of millions of urban people to their hometowns during Idul Fitri signifies primordial pride. Heedless of one’s financial security, fame, rank or status in the city, people consider themselves successful people of Padang, Medan or Makassar who have made it in Jakarta, rather than wealthy Jakartans.
For them, material triumph does not obscure cultural roots. Mudik, therefore, offers Muslims a golden moment of self-evaluation and self-assessment. They are supposed to be proud of their origins, hometown and cultural distinctiveness despite their distant residence and occupation.
Mudik actually reminds us of the subtle distinction between happiness and comfort. While the former is inseparably associated with the life of the village, the latter is linked to that of the city. Some believe that their village needs to be original, leaving no room for modernization such as investment in the village, which is believed detrimental to the natural atmosphere. Not many city dwellers would want their village to develop at the expense of its natural beauty and wilderness like their surroundings in the metropolis. The pride in primordial matters — origin, hometown and custom — should not be a mere catchword. Rather it is a pride that calls for active and dynamic contribution to the villagers’ prosperity. For that purpose, the city dwellers help their families and friends in rural areas with financial support and training in agriculture, plantation and fisheries. Furthermore, mudik also underlines the symbol of diversity.
With many coming home prior to or during Lebaran, one would see that pride in his or her roots should lead to mutual understanding of diverse identities. Arrogance and claims of truth must be cast away. Along with mudik comes the respect for different ways to celebrate Idul Fitri across the archipelago. A unique celebration, for instance, occurs in North Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. The Wetu Telu community usually holds Lebaran adat (customary Lebaran). Whereas the regular Lebaran morning prayers are attended by young and old, men and women alike, only the Wetu Telu’s most respected male elders are privy to the Lebaran adat prayers. Another key difference from the Lebaran prayers elsewhere in the country is that the Lebaran adat prayers are held simultaneously at the six ancient mosques in Wetu Telu’s six villages in Bayan subdistrict. Lebaran adat is not more important to the community than the regular Lebaran, but rather is intended to complement it. It is always celebrated three days after Idul Fitri because of a local belief that it takes that long to translate divine will into earthly actions — one day each for the actions of conception, birth and growth. Muslims’ love for returning to their identity through primordial power and respect for diversity constitutes the country’s social capital necessary to develop this nation. I wish all of you and your loved ones a very happy Eid Mubarak during this blessed time!... pride in his or her roots should lead to mutual understanding of diverse identities.
The writer Donny Syofyan is a lecturer at the faculty of cultural sciences at Andalas University in Padang, West Sumatra.