Thursday, November 17, 2011

SEA Games: Welcome to Palembang, 'homestate' of the Malays

************************ In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. ************************ Reflection ************************** "O ye who believe! Retalation is prescribed for you in the matter of the murdered; the freeman for the freeman, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. And for him who is forgiven somewhat by his (injured) brother, prosecution according to usage and payment unto him in kindness. This is an alleviation and a mercy from your Lord. He who transgresseth after this will have a painfull doom." (Al-Baqarah, 178) ************************** PALEMBANG, the co-host of the 2011 SEA Games this month along with Jakarta, is the provincial capital of South Sumatra (Sumatera Selatan or in short Sumsel). It was once the centre of Malay civilization during the Sriwijaya Kingdom in the 7th century and the Sultanate of Palembang Darussalam beginning from 1659 until the 19th century when the state fell into the hands of the Dutch. *********************** I was fortunate to be in Palembang some time ago; thus I have some interesting notes to share with first time visitors to this second largest city in Sumatra after Medan. ************************** During my stay there, I gathered this information on Palembang: "The city was traditionally a trade center, and, for about 500 years up to the 13th century, Palembang was one of the principal ports of the world, meaning a central point for the bulk of the Indonesian islands trade. ********************************** "Mahayana Buddhism came here around the 7th century. A Chinese-Buddhist pilgrim, I-Tsing, who was going to India, arrived at Sriwijaya University in 671AD, and spent six months studying Sanskrit. He stayed here for four years writing his memoirs and giving a valuable description of the city. ***************************** "Palembang was believed to be the predatory power, and was once the capital of Sriwijaya Empire. There were regular ships that laid anchor here and it sent its mercenaries as far as Mesopotamia. There were many scholars and monks, and perhaps thousands of them, who learned Buddhist teaching and translated Sanskrit texts here. ****************************** "At the end of the 13th century, Sriwijaya had splintered into eight small kingdoms, the largest of which, MALAYU, was centered on Jambi and became a strong power. But finally, with the rise of Melaka, in the 14th century, Sriwijaya became a remote backwater. The region around Palembang still produces fine woven fabrics and performs unique Hindu-like dances. ****************************** "The population of Palembang is estimated at 1.4 million and they came from all ethnics in Indonesia, especially from South Sumatera and original inhabitant called ‘Wong Palembang’." ************************ Palembang was one of the ‘kampung asal’ (roots) of the Malays; their language included. To know more about Palembang and its history, one of the right places, was of course the museum. There I was fortunate to have visited the Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Museum near the banks of the Musi River (the longest and largest river in Sumatra that divides Palembang into two parts – Ulu and Ilir). *************************** The museum was also not far away from the famous Jambatan (Bridge) Ampera that was built by the Japanese as a compensation for its invasion in Indonesia. At the museum I was one lucky guy (in Malay it is call ‘langkah kanan’ (right step) to meet Abi Sofian, an administer at the museum, who showed enthusiasm and was very energetic as he took the writer almost two hours touring and explaining the artifacts there. ************************** As we walked along the many artifacts displayed, he told me the earliest Malay/Sanskrit inscription (writing) was traced on the Prasasti Kedukan Bukit (683 AD) and Prasasti Talang Tuwo (684 AD or 608 Saka Year of the Sriwijayan calendar). ******************************** "The writing on the stone, proved the Sriwijayan had a great civilization," said Abi Sofian. "The Malay world covers a vast area. Even though the Sriwijayan empire during its peak covers almost the areas in Sumatera and the Malay Peninsula; its sailors and travelers went as far as Madagasdar and Polynesia," he said. ******************************** Abi Sofian said, although one of the Palembang king, Ariodamar who ruled from 1455-1486 converted to Islam and used the name of ArioAbdillah or Aridillah, the majority of his people were not Muslims, not until the formation of the state of Palembang Darussalam in 1659 headed by its Sultan, the famous of them was Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II who ruled from 1803 to 1821. ********************************* "This great Sultan choose not to be cooperative with the Dutch by accepting its adviser (the same status as the British Resident in the Malay states), but he was determined to push out the invader. War broke out, and at last the great city of Palembang fell in the hands of the Dutch. Today Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II had been declared as a national hero," said Abi Sofian. Palembang international airport was also named after him. *********************************** "Bahasa Melayu is a great language. When the kingdom (for example Sriwijaya and the Sultanate of Palembang) was strong, that language had become lingua franca of the people in vast parts of Asia. Bahasa Melayu is great, for example to describe various types of cannons, the Malays used different words such as ‘lela’, ‘rentaka’ and ‘meriam’ proved that it could be easily cushioned and adapted itself to changes including in scientific world of today," he said. ***************************** In a lighter note, Abi Sofian pointed out that the word ‘meriam’ derived from the word ‘maria’ (Santa Maria), the prayers offered by the Dutch soldiers every time they took a shoot from their cannons. ********************************** Regarding the ‘baju Melayu’ (traditional Malay dress), Abi Sofian surprised me by saying it was actually derived from the traditional Chinese two piece outfit; the only difference was that the Malays added ‘sampin’ (a piece of short sarong wrapped at the waist) to refine the dress. ****************************** But to historians and scholars that information was nothing strange as Palembang had witness close relations with the Chinese, the visit of Admiral Cheng Ho and his entourage in the 15th century was a testimony of the relationship. Nowadays when one visits the historical site at Bukit Siguntang, one would have the chance to see a craved replica that explicitly shows the visit of the entourage. *********************************** Another place to visit in Palembang is the Masjid Agung (Great Mosque) built by Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin I in 1738. Sermons and lectures in this masjid use the standard Malay language, the same language at home. ************************************* Palembang was also said to be the ‘homestate’ of some of the Malay rulers of the Peninsula and across the Malay Archipelago according to several manuscripts such as the ‘Sejarah Melayu’ (Malay Annals). In the second topic (Alkisah Cetera Yang Kedua) of the ‘Sejarah Melayu’, it was mentioned the origin of many of the Malay Sultanates; Melaka included. The offspring of the Malay king of Palembang then went and explored various parts of the Malay world such as Melaka and Johor-Riau. In ‘Sejarah Melayu’, Singapore (Singapura) was said to be found by Sang Nila Utama, also a prince from Palembang after he had seen sight of a lion. ********************* So this month SEA Games would help transformed Palembang into a tourist destination. Thousands of people would flock this city to watch the sport events at the main venue of Jakabaring Sports Complex and during their free time, they should not waste opportunity to visit some of its mystic sites such as Bukit Siguntang Historical Site, Archaeological Park of Sriwijaya and Pulau Kemaro. ********************* And don’t forget to sample some of its delicious and exotic food such as ‘empek-empek’ or 'pempek' (to me it is like yong tau fu) and don’t forget to buy ‘songket’ and ‘sarung’ as souvenirs for Palembang is a legacy city of the Malays of more than a thousand years!

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