Palembang is the home to a society of diverse ethnicities. There are Chinese descendants, Indian, Arabs and many other races. Each ethnic group has their own community, whether it be a dwelling, organization or congregation. A residence or dwelling that accomodates a certain ethnic group, mostly houses people of that same ethnic background. An example of this is the Kampung Arab, where residents of Arab heritage mostly dwell in this particular area.
The Kampung Arab of Palembang is located both upstream and downstream along the Musi River. The other day we visited one of the Kampung Arabs of Palembang, which was the Kampung Arab of Lorong Almunawar, Kelurahan 13 Ulu, Palembang.
The houses in Kampung Arab Lorong Al-Munawar, is generally no different than any other house in Palembang. According to their history, the first Arab immigrants to Palembang came all the way from the Middle East to spread the religion of Islam. Only bringing with them the Holy Quran and a tombstone, the Holy Quran was brought to spread the teaching of Islam, while the tombstone was brought to mark their burial site if they were to die in a foreign land.
The houses of the respected elders in each Kampung Arab are situated to face the Musi River. This segmentation is based on the level of religious seniority among them. Each house usually consists of a few head of families, as several generations will occupy each dwelling.
The Matrimonial Culture of the Kampung Arab Society
Despite their seamless asimilation to native Palembang society, the Kampung Arab communities possess a distinct cutural difference in regards to matrimonial matters. According to their culture, a woman of Arab heritage can not marry a man of non Arab heritage. However, an Arab man can freely be married to a non Arab woman. A marriage between an Arab woman and a non Arab man will be considered as a disgrace by their society, as according to their belief, it is only the male who can carry the bloodline of Rasulullah and not the women. Therefore, if an Arab woman marries outside of their race, the bloodlines of Rasulullah will be stopped at these women.
We were so lucky to have met some children of the Kampung Arab during our travels. At first they were shy and reluctant to take pictures, often running away to hide behind the walls of their house. However, after some time they slowly warmed up and became friendlier, even asking Nabila and Malikal to join them and play.None of the children I saw played games on a cellphone. They would play traditional games, such as skip rope, shadow puppets and football. When I was a small child, shadow puppets were called ‘ambulan’. Ambulan is derived from the word ”to ambul”, which means to throw pieces of paper in the air. I let my children enjoy the games with them. I wanted my children to experience traditional games, get acquainted with their fellow compatriots, know about their motherland and be aware of their historical roots.
Written by Ivone Suryani