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The Meaning of the New Year in the Perspective of Indigenous Religions

  September 3rd 2020

(Photo Illustration By: Amritanshu Sikdar on

On August 20, 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) held the 15th Forum Kamisan Daring, an online seminar in cooperation with CRCS and other organizations such as Komnas Perempuan, Pusad Paramadina, LIPI, and Satunama. The discussion of the 15th edition of this forum was the meaning of the New Year from the perspective of indigenous religion spirituality. There were two speakers and one respondent for this online seminar. The first speaker was Yoyo Yogasmana, representing Jembatan Kasepuhan Ciptagelar; the second speaker was Ginomgom Simanjuntak, chairman of the regional council of Parmalim in Riau. The respondent was Premana W. Premadi, an astrophysicist from ITB, Bandung. The moderator of the discussion was Laela Fitriani Sahroni from CRCS UGM.

Yoyo Yogasmana, as the first speaker, explained that Kasepuhan Ciptagelar began in 1386, 652 years ago. Ciptagelar, itself, is the name of a large village that has only been occupied since April 2001 as the center of government for the Banten Kidul Customary Union. Previously, the Banten Kidul customary government was in Ciptarasa Village, Samarasa Village, Cikakak District, and Sukabumi district. The life of the Ciptagelar community is centered on agricultural activities, rice farming in particular. Therefore, the life cycle and time markers are also closely related to the cycle of rice farming activities. The series of rice planting activities until harvest time is divided into 5 stages. The first is Ngaseuk, which means the planting process is divided into two systems, namely human and rice fields; The second is Mipit, or harvesting. Rice is harvested by plucking one stalk of the rice, one by one, not by sickling it with a sickle. Third, Nganyaran, or tasting and enjoying the new harvest through thanksgiving and shared meal. The fourth is called Ponggokan/Balik Taun where the ground rests for some time. And, the fifth is Saren Taun, which means closing the agricultural year and opening new agricultural land or tripe, as a marker of the new year and the process of planting new rice.

Yoyo Yogasmana shared that the above processes are determined based on knowledge of stellar constellations, namely Waluku, Kidang, and Bintang Kerti/Kartika. The Ciptagelar community also pays attention and divides their time between their agricultural activities with animals and other creatures draw life from nature. Therefore, the time for planting rice is determined with the animals’ needs in mind as well. Due to this concern for animal welfare and periods of rest for the land, the Ciptagelar people have never experienced crop failure. Currently, the community has 11,000 lewits or granaries with sufficient rice supplies for the next 95 years.

The second speaker, Ginomgom Simanjuntak, explained that the calendar in Parmalim is based on the Batak calendar drawn from the knowledge of the Batak people concerning nature, observations of the position of the moon, and the position of the stars. All of this knowledge and dating is contained in an ancient manuscript known as the Parhalaan, which is in the form of writing in books or carvings. The Parhalaan serves to guide and regulate all aspects of people's lives. It relates to what to do in daily life and determines good days for various activities. Parhalaan, not only regulates agricultural activities, but also other social activities such as parties, weddings, and building houses.

In the Batak calendar, which is written in Parhalaan, a year consists of 12 months. The first to the tenth month are called the Li months and the eleventh and twelfth months are called Hurung months. Even months consist of 29 days and odd months consist of 30 days, therefore the number of days in a year according to the Batak calendar in Parhalaan only consists of 354 days, and every three years there is a fulfillment month called the thirteenth month, or in Batak language it is called Lamadu. The start of the year can be determined when the constellation Scorpio, known as Siola Portama, rises in the East and the constellation Orion, which is known as Siola Sungsang, sets in the West.

Each day in the Batak calendar contains advice and a series of events described in the holy book Parmalim which is called 'Pustaka Habonoron'. The advice is known as Poda which is relevant for all people of various professions, be it farmers, employees, entrepreneurs, etc. Parmalim New Year falls on Artia Day, in the month of Sipaha Sada which on the Gregorian calendar falls on March 14, 2021. Artia Sipaha Sada, itself means a day of calm or a period of self-purification. Therefore, on the 29th and 30th day of the twelfth month, before the new year of Artia Sipaha Sada, Parmalim followers will fast which ends with the Napaet tau ceremony. The ceremony consists of eating bitter foods consisting of papaya leaves, ingir-ingir, young jackfruit, cayenne pepper, tamarind and salt, all of which symbolize penance, so that you are ready to enter the New Year with a better attitude and spirituality. The new year of Parmalim is also a moment to commemorate the birth of Simarimbulu Bosi, the son of God Debata Mula Jadi Nabolon who was sent to organize human life.

The last speaker was Premana W. Premadi. She argued it is remarkably interesting to learn how local wisdom in the calendars of indigenous religions is closely related to their locality and the things that are at the center of the community's activities. For example, the indigenous community of Ciptagelar, whose lives are centered around rice farming, will divide their life cycles in relation to the cycle of planting and harvesting rice, so that the New Year is also determined as the initial period of planting rice, known as Saren Taun. Knowledge and wisdom to live side by side with nature combined with astronomical knowledge or astrology also becomes something interesting and makes the dating and time divisions between one indigenous community and other indigenous communities different. This also shows how the understanding of time and calendars is relative and related to the consensus of the local community based on their knowledge, culture, and social system. It is also interesting to see that indigenous peoples pay special attention to the balance of nature as shown by the Ciptagelar community that time and nature do not only belong to humans but also belong to all other creatures besides humans, so that time and nature must be lived together with attitudes of mutual respect and love. In this way a balanced life occurs and agricultural activities undisturbed. However, Premadi remarked that indigenous people, with all their local wisdom as it concerns dating and time division, are currently facing extraordinary challenges from global climate change. Often various natural events that could be predicted in the past, for example, the rainy and dry seasons, can no longer be accurately forecasted due to the rapidly changing and unpredictable climate.