vrijdag 25 augustus 2017

Sexual liberty? Margareth Mead on Samoa and LWC van den Berg on Aceh and Serpong

In 1928 the young anthropologist Margareth Mead defended her PhD dissertation on Growing up in Samoa, telling about free sexual relations before marriage among Samoa youngsters. This was still in the time of Victorian restrictions in Western countries. The book tells about lack of inhibition, absence of guilt related to sex. Only in 1983 it was proven that Margareth Mead was absolutely wrong in her belief of strong and spicy stories by Samoa youngsters and that the island, like all human cultures knows rules about sexual behaviour, also in that period and that they were generally followed by the younger generation.
I remembered this case while reading the article of 1883 written by colonial consultant on Islamic Affairs, Lodewijk (L.W.C.) van den Berg, writing on the Naqshbandi sessions in Aceh (and elsewhere in the archipelago). Van den Berg describes first a session he attended himself in 1881 in Lambaru, in 'Great Aceh', capital of 22 mukim, where the Dutch official, controleur, had invited a group of people to sing zikr accompanied by two young boys who from time to time as sedati were performing dances amidst a larger group of chanting men who sung sections from the Qur'an and short lines like la ilaha illah Allah, while vehemently moving with the upper parts of their body. Van den Berg made comparisons to Javanese dancers, women, who performed the dances 'more elegant' than their Acehnese male counterparts. Van den Berg describes it as partly religious in content, but partly entertainment. He does not elaborate the idea that religion can be entertaining at the same time! In fact, many religious talks by  Javanese popular preachers contain jokes, popular songs and in this way preachers can entertain large audiences for two hours or even longer. Pak A.R. Fachruddin, the Muhammadiyah leader, was famous in this double role. Even the Dutch born Jesuit priest Tom Jacobs was known for his entertaining sections during sermons in the church of Kota Baru, Yogyakarta.

The session, described by Van den Berg, started at 19.00 and at 23.00 the controleur (who had given drinks, lemonade, during the hefty performance) ordered that it shoud stop 'because they can go on chanting and dancing until sunrise'.
Van den Berg suggest that the sedati boys offer sexual services, but this is not elaborated in his article in the Journal of the Batavia Society of Science and Arts (TBG). He mentions also that respected religious leaders are outspoken opponents of this popular religious practice.
At the end of his article he moves to Serpong, near Batavia, where he heard from an esteemed landlord that the sessions of the Naqshbandi brotherhood are also held in his region with a mixed group of men and women in a mosque and here the lights are put off during the zikir, with people sitting not in rows but in a square formation 'while all touching the pudenda (kemaluan, sexual parts) of their neighbour'. Van den Berg asserts that the standing of his informant assured him that this was the truth. He added that we find here 'how the Polynesian phallus-cult continues appearing in the midst of Muslim practices. You may chase nature away with a pitch-fork, but it will always return!' [hoe de Polynesische phallus-dienst telkens tusschen de vormen van den Islām voor den dag komt. Naturam furca expellas, tamen usque recurret.]
Van den Berg is an early supporter of Islam Nusantara, of a local appearance of Islam, but he always likes to give foreign labels to local traditions: either Chinese, Hindu or even Polynesian. Or is this originating from a naive or even a dirty mind of a landlord without personal connections to the Muslim practice?
Martin Van Bruinessen, Tarekat Naqsyabandiyah di Indonesia, Bandung, Mizan: 1992,32-3 has already some comments on this remarks by Lodewijk van den berg

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