A Narrative Essay from Minangkabau land, “The Bright Sun in Ulak Karang”

This essay is completely personal in tone and is actually one of my assignments for the course Advanced Composition in SIUE. The name of the lecturer is Dr. Anushiya Ramaswamy. I had a great class with her. I guess that all students were happy to study with her, too. You may give respond to this essay and give your feedback about this post. Your feedback is very much needed for the improvement of my writing. Thank you.

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The Bright Sun

The Bright Sun in Ulak Karang

There was a time in my life when I saw the sun shined brightly in the morning. The sun looked beautiful because of the faint and mellow light. It was not too bright actually. It seemed like having the gold color in the sky, in which the light tenderly touched the earth. It felt like a gift from God to all the living creatures on earth. As usual, the sun had started the day and it looked as if it was saying, “Good morning” to everyone who realized that there was the sun, which always started the morning time. Moreover, the nature also started the morning with beautiful things to see and hear. The birds were singing, the air was fresh, the trees were green and calm as if they provided the peace and relax feeling, and the grass in the ground was wet by the fresh aqueous vapor left by the night. That was a perfect moment for me to see the beauty of nature in Ulak Karang, a small town in Padang city of West Sumatra, Indonesia. Not only the nature but the way people live and the culture that was alive in it were things that made me interested and fascinated with the place.

One time, I asked my mother the meaning of the words Ulak Karang. I lived in Ulak Karang since I was a little child. I was curious to know the meaning of the words because I thought that perhaps, someday, a friend of mine who came from other places in Indonesia and even from other countries in the world would ask a question about the name of the town where I had been growing. She said that the words were derived from Minangkabau language, one of ethnic languages used widely in West Sumatera, Indonesia. Minangkabau language was unique because it had no specific connection to Bahasa Indonesia, an official and a national language used by all people in Indonesia. However, there were not many Indonesian people who could use this language because each province had its own ethnic language. Even the greatest thing is that in one ethnic language, there would be more sub-ethnic languages that were diverse one another in terms of accent, dialect, and tone.

In spite of having these thousands forms of ethnic languages, Bahasa Indonesia was a language that helped many Indonesian people could be united and connected one another across the archipelago and the thousand islands. Nevertheless, the language of Bahasa Indonesia was not possessed fluently by old generation, such as grandfather and grandmother whose age was more than ninety years old. They knew ethnic language but they did not really know Bahasa Indonesia. This could happen because they had no education at the time when they were young people in their generation. The colonization performed by the Dutch, Japanese, and Portuguese, which were later called as the colonizers for more than ten centuries ago in Indonesia had influenced the education of the local people at that time. In spite of that, the old grandfather and grandmother could speak Dutch, Japanese, and Portuguese language although many of whom were passed away before 1990’s.

I assumed that they could speak the languages because they made an intense interaction with those people under depressed condition every day. In order to keep their life went on; they had to deal with the language used by the colonizers. Recently, there are not many of the Indonesian young generation could understand the languages of the colonizers because the colonization had been over but, somehow, as a way of the colonizers’ to “fix” the broken history, they provided scholarship for Indonesian students. No matter what, things that had happened years ago would last in history and what is happening now will be history in the future.

In relation to the Minangkabau language, one word could mean something else in a given context. This was one of the particularities that I understood well about this ethnic language. In this case, it was the meaning of the words Ulak Karang. Ulak meant strong waves and Karang meant corals that lay in the coastal area. Therefore, Ulak Karang meant, in epistemological perspective, coral that had always been hit by the strong waves. The adjective for the coral would be strong and tough although big and waves come to the coral and tried to break it into pieces.

I asked my mother this question, “So, what is the great thing of naming this area as such?”

She said, “Well, as you already know, coral is strong, isn’t it? Then, when it comes to understanding the words Ulak Karang, you should see that from the philosophical perspective. Can you try to get the meaning from that perspective?”

At that time, I was just a teenager so I had no idea what that meant with philosophical perspective.

I answered, “No, I don’t know. I know the words that but I just don’t know the meaning of it”.

After listening to my question, she began explaining it in longer sentences.

“Our ancestors were sailors and traders. Why? It is because we are living near the sea and the wide ocean. They like to go sailing and communicating with other people in overseas and go back home bringing a lot of good things, and, don’t forget one thing, a story. They have battled the waves in the sea. The waves are hard and strong, and sometimes, the wind blows so hard that it makes the ship hard to keep sailing. Then, because of facing the strong waves, they named their effort to live in the sea as Ulak Karang. Karang refers to them and Ulak refers to the strong waves.”

I was still in doubt to make the relationship of the meaning into the identity of mine as a young man. If it would be so important for the young generation to understand the meaning then there had to be a certain connection within the words into current globalization situation.

I asked, “What is the relationship with today’s condition?”

She said, “It means that whenever the waves hit you as strong as they might be, you should be as strong as Karang in facing the waves. Your life, your principle, your self-esteem, your dream is symbolized as Karang and the waves are the obstacles that you were facing or will face in your world. Because of that powerful meaning, then, this is why this area is called as Ulak Karang.”

I nodded after knowing the meaning.

To my mind, that was the way for me to know that Minangkabau people were creative and they had a great way in symbolizing meanings through words that they used to illustrate specific event or values reflected in nature. The philosophy “Alam Takambang Jadi Guru” (Nature as the Teachers) had made me understood that all things in human’s life were connected to the nature. Human being was a central part of the nature and, in the excellent ways; the nature taught human how to live in the world through sciences, technologies, and knowledge. However, these three things could not be formed well if human did not make themselves to get involved in everlasting the nature so there would be no reason for human to say they were not a part of it.

This was the thing that could be seen in the big cities in Indonesia. There were many buildings with more than fifty floors built but the sanitation and the environment did not receive any attention from the authority. Trash could be found in canals and in some places like in Jakarta. The government had tried to clean it through the Department of Health but the main problem was in the mindset of the people. They were busy to collect money from their jobs and business but they forgot about the environment. Conversely, things were different in the rural areas of Indonesia, especially Padang, West Sumatera. This city was clean and the students were taught how to stay clean with the environment and pay attention to sanitation by not throwing trash everywhere but directly to the rubbish bin.

Actually, I was born in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia but I grew up in Padang, West Sumatera, Indonesia. Java was an island that had millions of people lived in it. Among the five big islands, Java was the most crowded island in terms of population. There were several provinces in Java island. One of the provinces was West Java, located in the western side of Java and it was close to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. In West Sumatera, there was an ethnic called Minangkabau; meanwhile, in West Java, there was an ethnic called Sunda. West Java had its capital city called Bandung. Bandung had many Sundanese people lived in it. Because I was born in Bandung; therefore, I thought that I was completely a Sundanese but then I realized that I was a Minangkabau person as well.

I realized that I was a Minangkabau person after my mother informed me about in which clan I would be associated. “What does it mean to me?” I asked my father.

My mother was a Minangkabau woman and my father was a Sundanese man. It meant that my mother was born in West Sumatera while my father was born in West Java. My father answered my question by relating his answers to the family system that was legally accepted in Indonesia.

In terms of family system, Minangkabau and Sundanese had differences. Minangkabau had matriarchal system, which meant mother was put as the central figure of the family system. In contrast, Sundanese had patriarchal system. This system made father as the central of the family system.

My father said, “If you are living in West Sumatera, you are a Minangkabau person and if you live in West Java, you are a Sundanese. You have two associated clans that are highly known and appreciated in Indonesia. It doesn’t matter, son, but, you just need to know your family root so that you know where you belong. However, wherever you go, you are an Indonesian. That is the most important thing”

I felt that I was fortunate to have these two amazing clans. Since I had spent my time in West Sumatera; consequently, I knew more about Minangkabau culture than Sunda.

To understand the Minangkabau culture as a whole was not an easy thing to do. For me, to understand a culture took times and a lot of effort. If someone wanted to understand culture; interacting with the people and having an open-minded way of thinking were a must. Although I had been growing up in a place where Minangkabau culture was practiced in every part, it did not mean that I understood it completely. I started to learn the place where I had lived and all of its uniqueness when I was in Junior High School.

Studying local culture in Junior High School was a great time for many Indonesian students because it was a perfect moment in their life to know where they lived and how they would see their own local culture as the young generation. There was a subject called BAM (Budaya Alam Minangkabau) – The Knowledge of Minangkabau Culture and Nature) that I had to learn at school. In that subject, I learnt that the basic thing about Ulak Karang was that it was one of the places of where Minangkabau people lived their life in the nature-based way of thinking. It meant that all aspects and cultures as well as habits of the people who lived in Ulak Karang were based on Minangkabau culture.

However, due to globalization and the influence of technology, some cultures of Minangkabau had been being improved into some degree. For instance, girls must be at home in the afternoon but now girls were allowed to go outside as long as their parents knew where they wanted to go and with whom they went. The time to go for them should be before nine at night. If the girls were out after that time, they should contact the parents immediately in case something bad happened and be ready to go home. However, when the girls had reached the age of twenty five, then, the parents would allow her to go outside. They should be responsible for what they did.

Meanwhile, Minangkabau people had culture called as “merantau” for boys. “Merantau” had a meaning that was, going far away from home to gain some experience and learn how to make life in a foreign land. For boys whose ages were more than 20 could go wherever they wanted in Indonesia. Recently, there were many of them went to countries in the world, like the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, India, China, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries. They build the interpersonal and intrapersonal relationship with people in those countries. When they become someone in that country, or, being successful people, they would eventually help their family, brothers and sisters to develop their homeland.

The good thing in this aspect was that they had been taught how to obey the rules and discipline. The principle of “Dima bumi dipijak, di situ langik dijunjuang” was widely known by all Minangkabau youth. In English version, it gave a sense as in “wherever you go and wherever you are, you have to understand local culture and respect the people there. They are your family when you are not at home”.

This principle had changed the mindset of many young men in Indonesia, particularly those who were from West Sumatera. They wanted to go abroad to study or to work everywhere in the world. They never cared too much for what they did to earn something for living but they knew very well in what way they should work. On the other words, they wanted to work in “hallal” jobs instead of working in clubs, bars, or hotels where they served people who had a lot of money but treated others as they wanted promiscuously. However, when I thought over this principle, it was as a good one since mutual understanding and respect of different cultures of the world could happen and be realized when this principle was taken into account. People were so different in some ways, but in so many ways, people were the same in the world.

In terms of the matriarchal system applied through motherhood and sisterhood, it made me amazed. In West Java and some parts and provinces in Indonesia, the system was patriarchal, which fatherhood was the role but in Minangkabau, women and sisterhood took the role. As it was in my family and generally in Minangkabau families in Ulak Karang, a mother had always been respected. People knew that mother was the person who had given birth in such a hard and difficult way.

A mother in a big family was called as “Bundo Kanduang”. Bundo Kanduang was a respected mother in a big house of Minangkabau. The big house itself was called as Rumah Gadang. Bundo Kanduang and the rest of the family lived in the big house. Nowadays, this house was only used in village; and in the cities, this kind of house was used for official administration buildings like governor office or legislative office only. The unique thing from this house was the roof. It looked like two sharp things that were in the same form as in the horn of the beef and cow, and they were put by pointing the sharp flank into the sky. There were some places where people could find house like this in Ulak Karang. One of them was in Lamun Ombak, a well-known restaurant in Padang city.

Although this traditional house was traditional in its form and use, the cost to build this house was higher compared to the cost spent for building a common house; therefore, traditional house was no longer used in big cities except in villages where old traditional houses were still standing and being used by the villagers. People who lived in big cities would prefer to live in an apartment instead of in traditional house but when there was time for holiday, they usually spent their holiday times in such house.

Bundo Kanduang played a significant role in the big house. Her husband was categorized into Niniak Mamak – people who played role as the executive in the Nagari, a term used to refer to the Minangkabau region in West Sumatra and this group consisted of males in the big house. When Bundo Kanduang passed away, the big house would automatically belong to the first daughter of Bundo Kanduang, together with all wealth that was possessed by Bundo Kanduang.

Then, the daughter would continue the role of her mother until she died. Unfortunately, this system had no longer been applied since modernization and national Indonesian law influenced many aspects of the way how Minangkabau people lived. Some people might stand on and followed the rules applied in Minangkabau system of law and some people might refer to the national law applied in Indonesia. In general, Indonesian people would refer to the national law since it was applicable to a large number of Indonesian civilians. Therefore, local law would take place only in the local level while national law would be applied in the national scale.

Although I was born in Bandung, West Java, another big island in Indonesia, I loved to live in Ulak Karang, Padang. It was actually a city with many cultural aspects and things to see and look. However, if it was compared to Bandung, Padang was, in some ways, more traditional than Bandung. This could happen because Padang people loved their culture and they wanted to maintain it until the next generation. Meanwhile, the influence of Jakarta to Bandung had made Bandung to be one of the dense cities in Indonesia in terms of population. That was why I did not really enjoy myself when I went to Jakarta and Bandung.

In spite of having less advanced way of life in terms of technology and current fashion, Padang had become the second better place in Indonesia to study and live. There was no traffic jam and the food was widely known as the delicious one in the world. One of the most favorite food which was in the good graces by western people who came to Padang was Rendang, a food that had meat and coconut flavor with spicy taste. International people might never know this food in their countries but once they tasted it, they would love the food. For the most part, that was what I had seen from a large number of people from overseas who visited Padang city.

I loved looking at the sunrise and the sunset in Ulak Karang,. If I wanted to see the sunrise, I did not have to go anywhere. I would just sit in front of the door of my home because the sun shine is directly showing up in front of me while standing at the door. When I had a spare time in the afternoon and wanted to see the sunset, I usually went to Bung Hatta beach. The location of the beach was in the southern part of Ulak Karang. Ulak Karang itself was similar in comparison with Edwardsville. However, the difference was that Edwardsville had a Cougar lake while Ulak Karang had a beach because it was located near the coastal area. When the sunset was set, the beauty of the sun was felt as if it was like a lady who was smiling in the golden dress, dancing in the open sea and her dress was shining, glittering, and sparkling.

The light of the sun in that late afternoon was beautifully reflected in the surface of the sea. The reflection of the sun light became beautiful scenery to be seen. The surface of the water was sparkling as if they were the stars that swam in the open sea. They seemed like dancing in the blue sea far away from the shore. That kind of scenery had always been lasting on my mind since then. I still remembered the time when my father, mother, brother, and I went to the beach. I was looking for starfish and dead coral as well as beautiful green or brown stones; my father and mother were sitting in the rocks, not too far from the place where my brother and I were playing. I had made a castle and my brother made a small car with a picture in it by using the grounds in the area where we were standing. In a few seconds, the waves came and they destroyed all the things we had created. We were all happy and laughing at that time. I could see that my father kept watching us carefully from afar because he did not want something bad happened to us.

The beach itself was named as Bung Hatta because it was located next to Bung Hatta University. The campus of the university was beautiful because it had green garden around the beach. While I was watching for the sunset, I usually spent my afternoon hours in that place to read a book or just to write anything on my diary. Looking at the open sea and enjoying the sound as well as the way the waves moved in the beach made me wondering about the world and all the beautiful things that it might and always had inside. In that moment, I wrote a poem that was reflected in my mind. Writing a poem had always been a way for me to let go all complex and abstract things that I had in my mind. It would be a long writing if all that things were written. After I wrote the poem, I usually published it in my blog, entitiled The Silent Corner.

One of the poems that I had written was this:

As I opened these eyes to see the darkness
I barely couldn’t sleep well that night
I was trying to look out from the window
to see the silent of the night

That moment,

the stars were standing prettily above
smiling and dancing one another
beautifully…

On the left side of the stars

there was the moon
standing lonely surrounded by the stars
on the dark night in the sky
his face was so pale and blue
as the king of all dreams of all nights

And then,

I was searching for the warm side of the night
it was barely nowhere, but…
ever since I put these hands on this chest
there was a melody,
of the every beat of this heart
it speaks as the calm and peace sound of a lake
saying, “I am the moon”

It was such a pain to love

for never expecting to be loved
It shines lonely in the night
as the moon that hides in the dark cloud
feeling so shy…

When all the stars and the sky were silent

there was only a smile
smiling in the morning whisper
to welcome the sun,
restoring all the pain and sorrow
oh, morning whisper
and
I am smiling into the sun…

(Syayid Sandi Sukandi, March 6, 2011, 19.30 WIB, after having dinner with my family)

I published the above poem in https://syayidss.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/smiling-in-the-morning-whisper-a-poem/. I wrote the above poem to reflect feeling and emotional background about Ulak Karang beach and the sun. However, the beach was so simple in nature, with some coconut trees in the shore, white sand, waves, and sea birds that were flying, and some of them were catching up some fishes for their food. Sometimes, I threw a stone to the beach and it sank in the strong wave as if it was eaten by a monster. The same thing happened over and over again when someone threw a stone to the beach.

Slowly but sure, the sun went down as if it was saying “good bye” to all people who saw it and it was disappear deep down into the golden-orange sea. In its climax, the sunset turned to be glowing in the orange color and the sky turned to be reddish. In that way, the feeling would be so peaceful and relax because it felt like bringing your mind to welcome the night time. As I walked step by step to go back home, I could still hear the sound of the waves from a distance. They felt like singing from far away. Slowly, the sound was disappearing when I reached home and got inside. At last, I said to myself, “That was really a bright sun in Ulak Karang and I love it untill now”.

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This narrative essay was inspired by my family and all positive friends in Minangkabau. Finally, I could get good grade for this essay. However, the good grade is not the only thing I want to achieve but more on how I could improve myself.

8 thoughts on “A Narrative Essay from Minangkabau land, “The Bright Sun in Ulak Karang”

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