Crawford House Publishing
The Nut Cannot Forget its Shell Ritual Practice and Negotiated Identities among the Gumai of South Sumatra

This is an ethnographic study of the Gumai of South Sumatra, Indonesia. The Gumai belong to a Malay-speaking ethnic group that inhabits the South Sumatran highlands. South Sumatra is known for its numerous ethnic groups, yet until now not much has been written about the Gumai, or about the Malay-speaking ethnic groups of the South Sumatran highlands in general.

This book utilises the concept of origin, locally known as asal, which is widely shared among Austronesian-speakers, to explore issues related to identity among the Gumai. The question of Gumai identity is not one raised only by anthropologists like the author. It has been raised by the Gumai in relation to their ethnicity, which lacks a clear cultural representation. The Gumai share much in common with other Malay-speakers, including the use of local Malay dialects and costumes. The question of Gumai identity derives from the New Order government cultural policy, which has promoted a showcase display of distinctive ethnic cultures across the archipelago. As a result, those who do not possess striking cultural representations have been left without an acceptable ethnic identity.

What differentiates the Gumai from other Malay-speaking South Sumatrans derives predominantly from their practice of origin rituals. Their concept of origin (asal ) consists of a place associated with a particular person who is regarded as their origin. A Gumai village constitutes an important place of origin. A typical village consists of members who are descendants of village founders. Such a village has its own burial site for its members, and a monument, which is associated with an original village location within its boundaries.

A Gumai has to visit a place of origin to hold a gathering known as sedekah. This visit affirms that he or she has not forgotten his or her asal. To assist them in the practice of remembering origins, the Gumai rely on ritual specialists, the Jurai Kebali‘an, who is the ritual specialist for the whole Gumai community, and the Jurai Tue, who is the ritual specialist for each village. Numerous rituals are regularly conducted by each of these ritual specialists to commemorate specific origins. It is through the practice of origin rituals that the Gumai can demonstrate their identity.

Despite the importance of origin ritual practices, the Gumai are under pressure to advocate their commitment to Islam, because conversion to a world religion is a political necessity in New Order Indonesia. In this light, Gumai origin rituals have been influenced by a process of progressive Islamisation. This book examines how Gumai indigenous origin rituals have now been incorporated into Islamic discourse.

In the final chapter, the author considers emergent aspirations among the Gumai to become middle class in urban areas. Through education, the younger generation seeks employment in the public and private sectors, and leaves its native villages for urban areas. The success and hardships in these places, however, brings the younger generation back to its villages of origin, because their success and hardships are regarded as messages from their ancestors. The rituals of remembering origins among the Gumai thus continue to dominate their way of life in changing social contexts.


Minako Sakai






45 colour and black-and-white


Portrait; softcover; c. 350 pages


204 x 135 mm



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