Still Remembering the Origins: The Continuity of Non-standard Islam among the Gumay (Gumai) in South Sumatra

Minako Sakai (The University of New South Wales)


Over the last three decades Indonesian societies have experienced strong Islamisation. The use of Muslim clothing, Islamic expressions and commodities has become increasingly popular and dominant in  everyday life of Muslims in Indonesia. During this process localised forms of Islam have been gradually replaced by standard Islam. By asking ‘where have all the abangan gone’, Hefner (2011) has examined the causes of the decline of such nonstandard Islam in contemporary Java. Responding to this inquiry, I highlight that not all non-standard forms of Islam have been extinguished. Indeed, the Gumay (previously
spelled Gumai) and the majority of South Sumatran highlanders are quietly maintaining the practice of nonstandard Islam. Visits to places related to their ancestral origins and graveyards are called ziarah, and are an important aspect of their ritual. Their Islamic practice shares much with syncretism as practised by the Javanese abangan Muslims. Why the Gumay are able to maintain a localised form of Islam is an intriguing phenomenon that may assist in understanding the process of Islamisation in contemporary Indonesia.

This paper, drawing on alongitudinal ethnographic study of the Gumay people over the last 20 years(including my PhD ethnographic research under Prof. Fox) will first trace the predicaments faced by the Gumay people, and secondly identify the factors facilitating the continuity of their localised form of Islam in South Sumatra. The threat against the practice of Gumay rituals includes a 15-year-period of
absence of the Jurai Kebalian (the key Gumay ritual specialist), outmigration of the young generations, and penetration of the standard form of Islam against syncretism. Despite these developments the new Jurai Kebali’an was successfully inaugurated in late 2015, and Gumay ritual tradition is being strongly supported by the younger Gumay generations. I argue that the continuity of Gumay ritual traditions can
be attributed to political factors such as the implementation of regional autonomy, and the popular use of new media (phone, internet) in contemporary Indonesia because these have assisted the Gumay in keeping their ritual practice along with Islamising Indonesia.