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Tuesday March 28th 2017

‘Mudik’ Matters

Culture | Wednesday, August 29, 2012 | sundanesecorner.org

Hawé Setiawan

My little old jeep resting on a street in West Javanese town of Sumedang (Photograph: Hawe Setiawan)

It is hard to find an English equivalent of the Indonesian word mudik, which is also known in the country’s regional languages. Alan M. Stevens and A. Ed. Schmidgall-Tellings, compilers of A Comprehensive Indonesian-English Dictionary (2010), merely translate it as ‘go back to one’s native village at Lebaran’. In this case, the bilingual dictionary (that looks for equivalent words) resembles a monolingual dictionary (that explains the meaning of words).

Lebaran is the moment that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. As the month of Ramadan comes to an end, millions of Indonesians, mainly those that live in urban areas, go to their native villages to meet their parents and other family members, share gifts, and visit family graveyards. Following the Eid al-Fitri, all transportation arrangements are terribly busy for about two weeks.

The usage of the term is quite unique. Derived from the word udik, it is actually an informal term. Formally speaking, the agreeable form should be mengudik, but such a form has never been used. For better or worse, this informal term is commonly used in government’s statements, and in news media as well. It reflects how an informal activity interfere in formal sectors.

It is this singularity that makes us difficult to find a similar circumstance outside of Indonesia. Perhaps, in its magnitude, the Eid caravan could only be compared to the collective migration described in John Steinback’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath. Sure, the American story is different relation, namely the expulsion of the villagers by the industrialization of agriculture, so that they move on the road looking for a new place. In other words, the Steinbeck’s people left a country, while Indonesians go back to country sides after being involved in the industrialization of urban life.

It is also interesting that the word udik itself is rarely used in today’s daily conversation. According to Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia ‘Main Indonesian Dictionary’ (2008), one of its meaning is ‘upstream area’ or ‘village.’ Yesterday’s river is today’s highway. In the times when rivers were major transportation routes, people throughout the Archipelago used to go downstream and upstream. It is from the very word the expression of hilir-mudik ‘coming and going’, which is commonly used to describe traffic, is derived. It is likely that people don’t use the word udik any more for they have long overlooked rivers.

Present day Indonesians direct their attentions to roads, not to rivers. Houses on riverbanks generally turn their front side from the rivers. Rivers have eventually been a back room where a lot of people throw trash, dirt, and so on. Highways have long been become the front room where many trace their careers and dignities. The traces of river civilization in this country can only be felt in the routine of mudik. Indonesians go to their native homelands during Lebaran like salmons returning upstream at certain times.

For salmon fishes, upstream is a good place to die and build regeneration. For millions of Indonesian, hamlet or village is a good place to demonstrate once a year their daredevil courage. The travellers’ lives could possibly end up in the dangerous highways along the northern coast of Java or other areas in the country. Motorcycle is a prominent symbol. It seems that any cavalry can’t compete these moving patriots in terms of courage, speed, carrying capacity, and mileage.***

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