Saturday, May 19, 2007

Aceh cultural revival called

Thursday, March 29, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Acehnese cultural experts are calling for the revival of traditional and religious culture in Aceh, saying that local customs were strong prior to their erosion by the region's long history of conflict.

The experts, speaking at a national seminar on rebuilding Aceh at the Sari Pan Pacific Hotel on Wednesday, said the traditional and religious cultures of the Acehnese people had proven to be effective in solving conflict and mediating other social issues.

"All of these good customs and habits, especially traditions concerning the resolution of conflict and retaining harmony within local communities, have been marginalized, especially since the enforcement of the 1979 law on local administration," they said.

Badruzzaman Ismail, the chief of the Indigenous Council of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, said Aceh had the cultural and religious base necessary to facilitate the development of democracy and harmony there.

He highlighted two institutions that were highly-functional in the past: the gampong and mukim. These were small community units led by a keuchik and an Imeum mukim. The gampong was based in a center called the Meunasah, or small-sized mosque, while a mukim was based in a larger mosque.

Decisions made by a keuchik were approved by a group of four councilors called the tuha peut, which included a religious representative, a traditional representative, an intellectual and a local government official.

Ismail, who also lectures on customary law, said a keuchik held executive, legislative and judicial functions simultaneously, but that there was little opportunity for authoritarianism because decisions were made in public and required the approval of the tuha peut council.

"These structures functioned to maintain social harmony, especially in solving conflict. In this system, all decisions will likely be executed because they are made with the public's knowledge," he said.

Ismail added that during past conflicts, development projects rarely gained full participation from the Acehnese people because the local governmental system had been imposed from above.

"Leave the people be and let them plan and decide and we will see how effective they are in carrying out development projects," he said.

Ismail said the period of the peace agreement was the right time to revive Aceh's traditional and religious institutions.

Rosmawardani Muhammad, a Sharia Court judge, also recognizes the importance of the revival of these institutions in protecting women and children from discrimination.

"During the conflict there was no protection at all for women and children. There must be some kind of law center where people can come and complain or disclose their problems," she said.

Meanwhile, Abdul Rahman Abbas, the chairman of the Rahmania Foundation, which facilitated the seminar, said there is no need to be skeptical of sharia law.

The seminar will continue Thursday with a workshop aimed at elaborating on the strengths and weaknesses of Acehnese culture and religion. (02)

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