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Sunday April 30th 2017

Return to ‘Udik’

Culture | Friday, July 5th, 2016 | sundanesecorner.org

Hawé Setiawan

A caricature by Agus Mulyana in latest issue of Sundanese 'Mangle' magazine, humorously portraying those who have not village anymore in the time of Lebaran.

A caricature by Agus Mulyana in latest issue of Sundanese ‘Mangle’ magazine, humorously portraying those who have no village anymore in the time of Lebaran.

Nowhere but in Indonesia massive exodus of people occurs annually without war or natural disaster. There is no military coup at the presidential palace, and there is no volcanic eruption in mountainous areas, and yet so many people pour into the street, causing traffic congestions in various regions. According to the government, some 18 million people are going mudik this year, some 2% higher than the previous year’s figure.

Compared to massive migration which is also routine in other hemispheres, for instance in Arabian Peninsula, regular migration in Indonesian archipelago is spreading, not concentrating. From urban areas, travellers spread to various homelands around the islands. The villages are possibly the places of birth, or the dwelling places of relatives, or both.

If hajj or umrah pilgrimage can only be performed by rich people, this massive exodus involves both the affluent and the needy. Both the rich and the poor are going mudik. All modes of transportation, from aeroplane to bicycle, are utilized in this tradition.

Going mudik is is sacred but also profane, religious but also worldly. It is sacred or religious for the momentum coincides with the completion of the Holly Month of Ramadan, a sort of post-fasting festivity, which is the celebration of Idul Fitri. It is worldly for it can’t be separated from shoping, eating, gathering, and vanity.

The general mood in basically happy, not sad at all. Even if tears drop at the square or at village elders’ living room following Idul Fitri communal prayer, it is actually a sign of happiness, in which everyone is deeply moved. It is undoubtedly different from the convoy of displaced people as dramatically described in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The route of mudik isn’t an evacuation route, nor a via dolorosa that was taken by Jesus Christ before crucifixion.

If you are infected by the plague of egotism, acute selfie addiction, not connected to anyone except to social media, just think about taking participation in mudik. Along the way, and in mudik destinations, you can feel the atmosphere of communality. Various forms of reunion, from family reunion to classmate reunion, are carried out in the atmosphere of Idul Fitri festivity, popularly known as lebaran.

In fact, the reunion at the time of lebaran involves not only those who are still alive, but also involves those who have passed away. Popularly known as nadran, nyekar, or whatever the words, people visit cemeteries in this special occasion. This is one of the magical things in Indonesian culture: dead ancestors are actually potent dead. They still intervene in worldly affairs. Just take a look at political posters in the times of general election: many candidates are willing to represent themselves with the background that shows dead public figures.

The Indonesian word of mudik is derived from udik, which refers to upstream or village. Going mudik means return to upstream, a kind of traveling against the flow. It is, precisely, a homecoming. It is, however, quite different from the way old salmons return to the upstream before dying. Lebaran travellers go home to celebrate the good life.

It is indeed difficult to explain the difference between rural and urban areas. In the development of culture, both are increasingly fused. In the minds of Indonesians, however, there is such an idea that distinguishes the village from the city. Village, kampong, udik, can be generally interpreted as a agrarian base, primordial site, or a sort of benchmark for measuring the progress or the setbacks of individual life.

Hence, in my myopic eyes, the Republic of Indonesia is a republic of udik, which is composed of udik networks that constantly need to be supported by the development of infrastructure, transportation services, security assurances, and smooth transfers of money and goods. At least, that’s what we try to encourage once a year, in the time of massive exodus. Happy Idul Fitri.***

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One Response to “Return to ‘Udik’”

  1. Bayu Pratama says:

    been a loooooong time.. finally here in this very blog and to be honest i miss reading your works mate. stumbled upon your articles in PR few times and good topics as always.

    to me personally, the deepest part of mudik is revisiting the ancestors. it’s a deep reminder to our sinful soul that we’ll be returning home someday.

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