Abai, that was the name of the area that I had to visit to help the master’s degree final assignment of one of the students of the Master Program at ISI (Institut Seni Indonesia – Institute of the Arts of Indonesia) Padangpanjang. To arrive in Abai, it took about six hours from my rented place in Padangpanjang.
I passed the Danau Atas (Upper Lake) and Danau Bawah (Lower Lake). They were known as the Danau Kembar (Twin Lakes) and were located in Solok, West Sumatra. I left from Padangpanjang with my friend at 5 PM, after waiting for the car that would pick us up.
A week before our departure, I had looked for information about that area, but the results were nil. Some even said that Abai was in Pasaman region, on the coast of Sumatra Island. That meant I was on a journey to a place that I had never set foot on.
With a high curiosity about that place, I started enjoying the trip by watching the tea plantation in Solok area. When I got in Danau Kembar area, it was already 7 o’clock. It meant that I had traveled for about two hours.
During the journey I chatted with a friend who had already been there before. The myth was that Abai’s women were very pretty, but it was only when you saw them in their village. When they went outside, they would look ordinary. That was why that place was called Nagari Badewa (Village with God). The people there still believed in divinity even though most of them were Muslims.
Our car started entering the West Solok Regency. However, the conversation and my curiosity still continued. Abai was also known as a village that had three kings which were called Rajo Nan Tigo Selo and one of them was given the title Tuanku Rajo Putiah. He was the second level king out of three levels of king in that area.
It was already 11 PM, but my curiosity about this place in Sangir District, Batang Hari had not been fulfilled yet. Abai had been a kingdom once, but because of some reason, that kingdom had been divided into three parts which had been called Tiga Jorong (Three Jorongs). Jorong was the smallest area in a nagari (village). It was ruled by a king.
Abai Nagari (village) was located 400-1200 meters above sea level and had an area of about 10 hectares. What unique about this place was, everybody who would enter it with malice wouldn’t find it.
Praakk….. Suddenly our car stopped because its right front tire went into a big hole.
“Relax, that means we are already almost near Abai,” said a friend beside me.
We had to travel two more hours to pass the road with the holes. The road was surrounded by rubber tree plantation. The natives of Abai made a living of oil palm and natural rubber.
As our car rocked to the left and right every time it met a hole, and moved at a speed of 20-40 km/hour, we started again the conversation about this area which was located in Sangir District, Batang Hari, West Solok Regency.
Nagari Abai was a place which had a very strong common law. This law played a more major role than the government law. The residents only followed the traditional rules instead of the local government rules. People said that this area had never been able being conquered by the Pagaruyuang Kingdom which had been ruled by the famous king, Aditiawarman.
On the halfway there, our car ran into a truck bringing the oil palms. That meant one of us had to give way to another, because the road we were on, besides full of holes, was only enough for one car. To the left of the road, there was a canyon and the Batang Hari River below, while to the right of the road there was a high cliff.
This village that had a temperature of 20-30 °C had many cultures which I had never found before. One of them was Batombe.
Batombe was an art of berbalas pantun which was born in this place. Batombe ritual might be held only at big events and the weddings of popular people’s in that area.
People said that the Batombe had become a tradition before Islam had arrived. Before doing the Batombe, people had to slaughter a buffalo first. And, the people there believed that when the Batombe was held, their gods descended to the earth and protected them during the event. It was usually held for two until four weeks in a Rumah Gadang (Minangkabau traditional custom house).
There was something interesting about Batombe, it was that many young people found their marriage partners from this event because in Batombe two people sang back and forth to each other. It could be between boy and girl, and that was the time when they could express their intention with Batombe. They sang and bantered to each other in a melody similar to the recitation of the Qur’an, accompanied by an instrument which was called Rabab (an instrument similar to the violin, having three to four strings).
However, my friend reminded me not to take pictures of the roof of Rumah Gadang before that roof was decorated because it was believed that the roof was inhabited by various creatures that protected the house.
We arrived and successfully entered the Nagari Abai eventually. From a distance we barely heard a sound as if some people were reciting the Qur’an. According to my wristwatch, it was already 2 AM. I wondered why there were people still reciting the Qur’an at this hour.
“Those are the people doing the Batombe,” said my friend.
Finally, we arrived at our destination place. We were greeted by the Abai residents’ hospitality, and when I set my foot on the Abai land I felt a familiarity with this place and all its myths.
We were served dinner in one of residents’ houses. Well, let’s just say it was dinner, because we actually had not stopped by a food stall during our trip from Padangpanjang to Abai. While we ate, we were accompanied by the voice of people’s who were doing the Batombe.
While we were enjoying the meal, two men came, one of them had a height of about 180 cm. Suddenly all people around me stood up, stopped their eating, and immediately shook hands with that man. Apparently we were introduced to Tuanku Rajo Putiah.
Wow, it meant that I shook hands with a king. Then the king joined the meal with us. In my mind, I said that apparently a king liked Jengkol Balado too, like me. After enjoying the food, we started to chat to increase the familiarity with this place.
In my opinion, the king had a big authority. He wore a shirt with batik pattern and a black peci on his head. That night we started to mingle with the residents. It was already 4 AM when we were welcomed to take a rest in a living room of one of the residents’ houses.
That night I smiled a lot more because I just had had dinner with a king in Nagari Badewa.