For the last phase of my PhD data collection, I travel around the country (Denpasar, Banda Aceh, Jayapura, Makassar, Jayapura, Banjarmasin, and, err, Jakarta) to explore the dynamics between Islam, national identity, and television culture among young Indonesians. I have completed my Denpasar and Banda Aceh visits and, as usual, what I've learned so far - although far from finished - has made me felt just about the size of a pebble.
I met with a former student of mine, a local Acehnese, and one of the most intelligent human beings I've had in my class. Overlooking Lampuuk beach, she told me about her childhood, the long history of violence in Aceh, and how, during dinner with family, they overhear gunshots and continue eating. "When a relative has gone missing, it means they're not coming back," she told me.
Lampuuk Beach, Aceh.
Exploring the thoughts of my Acehnese respondents, the local customs, the food, the panoramic view, and reading about its political history - it is difficult not to realise the uniqueness of this region. I believe if it were not for the acculturation between traditional Acehnese culture and Islam, the socio-cultural practices would not be as peaceful, particularly after three decades of military occupation.* I found instances that prove the implementation of Islamic law in Banda Aceh a result of consensus, far more consciously formed than most of Javanese Muslims I have come to know all my life.
I cannot help but fall in love a bit with Serambi Mekkah, where the women I meet veil their heads and not their minds.
* For those interested to read more about the history and culture of Aceh, I recommend Aceh: History, Politics and Culture by Arndt Graf, Susanne Schroter, Edwin Wieringa (Eds).