Ramadan, Tradition, & Indonesians : The Fear & The Hope

The Fear

A year ago, me and my team went on an assignment to shoot a film for short documentary in South Sulawesi. We stayed there for two weeks, trying to interview people and find out more about their culture and current socio-politic issues in South Sulawesi in general. One day we went to different areas, even villages, to interact with the locals, but we were having a difficult time to communicate since most of them speak in local language. People in different suburbs speak different vocabularies even though they are neighbour.

At that very moment I felt uneasy with the language barrier, because even in a big city like Makassar, people were not welcoming and they hesitated to even reply to our friendly greetings. We also had our own driver, he is also local and his name is Pak Idris. He was really quiet and reserved during our trip, so we thought, it was just the way majority of the people are. I was kind of worried because I couldn’t see myself learning anything from the people in two weeks time if this is how they react to strangers.

Of course it was kind of expected since the majority of the areas in South Sulawesi are not tourist cities, but honestly I was quite disappointed with the unfriendliness, I felt like we were treated as if we are not from the same country. I do realise that our physical features are evidently different with them and we had that touristy look, which was probably the reason they were pretty hesitated to interact with us. So later that day, I did some research about their culture/local wisdom to find out why, and here’s what I found out :

‘The life philosophy of Buginese-Makassarese people is called Siri ‘na pacce.

The core culture of siri ‘na pacce cover all aspects of community life for Buginese-Makassarese. Siri ‘teaches morality in the form of advice decency, prohibition, the rights and obligations that dominate human action to keep and defend himself and his honor. Siri ‘is a shame that decomposes in the dimensions of human dignity. Meanwhile, pacce teaches solidarity and social care unselfishly and this is one of the concepts that make the Bugis-Makassar able to survive and respected overseas, pacce is a compassionate nature, the empathised feeling of burdens and suffering of others.

With the philosophy and ideology siri ‘na pacce, the attachment between people and solidarity should become stronger, especially that the concept of the siri’ na pacce is not only embraced by these two tribes (Bugis and Makassar), but also embraced by other ethnic groups who inhabit such Sulawesi mainland, Mandar tribe and Tator.

After reading this, I realised that the same pattern was also found when I went to different areas in Indonesia. The local wisdom and their ancestor’s stories & philosophies are no longer implemented in their daily life. It has been buried by the promise of globalisation and politicised media. This country has failed to pass on the most important aspects of one society, their stories and values. Since our generation is not built with a strong foundation of nation’s identity (Pancasila), they have to build their own identity using technologies and information provided post-globalisation and as the result their sense of belonging as one nation is hardly recognisable, societies nowadays become more inclusive and not as welcoming to strangers, even neighbours.

The Hope

The good news is, that was just the one side of the story, often the more heralded side. Refusing to give up on the situation, we tried different approaches (we stopped bringing all our cameras around and try to smile more during most of our interactions), we tried to be more proactive to ask about their culture and their life rather than just urgently pushing our agenda to interview them. And you know what? The next day, and for the rest of our trip, people started to talk to us, even Pak Idris tried to talk and initiates conversation. We found out later that he’s actually such a loyal and funny guy (we love you Pak Idris). We finally understand that openness and acceptance starts with a simple act of friendliness, sincerity and humility.

It’s so amazing how one simple act of kindness can really change the way people react and ultimately the way we look at other people collectively. There was one day we went to an abandoned traditional market in Pangkep. We were walking around and taking footages when suddenly someone called us out. We thought that we were gonna be scolded for filming in their territory, but turned out that they invited us to come to their house to eat together with them.



with all of their families & neighbours.

Apparently, it was the beginning of Ramadan, and Buginese/Makassarese people have this tradition called Suru Maca. a collective praying event to commemorate their ancestors. This ritual happens during the month of Ramadan, usually a week before Ramadan and has been passed through generations until today. In addition to sending prayers, the tradition of Suru Maca also becomes a tribute to the ancestors who have died and as a way to cleanse the soul and the spirit before fasting. They served a variety of traditional Buginese-Makassarese food, which was placed on a tarp or on the bed to be enjoyed together with family members, relatives and neighbours.

It was such a heart-warming moment when they invited us, strangers-with-intimidating-cameras, to sit and eat together with them. The language barrier was obviously still there, but I felt that our experience goes beyond that and they made us feel very much welcomed. The cameras suddenly ignite their curiosity & engagement, it helped us to interact with them and no longer threaten them as it was before.

During times like this I’m very grateful to be born in such a diverse & complex yet beautiful society, where opportunity to learn is just a domestic-trip away, or even one neighbourhood away. I’m assured that this Ramadan, which comes right after the-awful-rally-of-terrorism in our country, is a good chance for us to once again practice our own act of kindness to the people around us. Kindness, I believe is our true colour, true colour of all Indonesians, true colour of all human kind.

“Perhaps, travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people eat, laugh, cry, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try to understand each other, we may even become friends.”

Pangkep, 24/05/2017

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