This article is part of the Eleven Stories from the Southeast written by Muhammad Sibawaihi, Otty Widasari and Manshur Zikri, published by Forum Lenteng in 2016. We re-upload it on the AKUMASSA website in the framework of the “Darivisual”.Merenten mempolong was the slogan of social harmony of North Lombok. Those two words had the same meaning, which was “brotherhood”. Renten was the word “brother” used by the community in the eastern part of North Lombok, while polong was the word “brother” used by the people in the western part of North Lombok. The residents of Pemenang strongly believed that they were all related. Merenten mempolong was a vocabulary used by North Lombok people to express respect and brotherhood for others. We would really feel this when we were there. Since a long time ago this region had been known for its religious harmony. There were three religions, which had been professed by the people in this region since the previous generations: Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
Stories of religious harmony in North Lombok had existed for a long time. When the Muslim residents had built a mosque, the Hindu and Buddhist residents had certainly helped that construction. They had always been involved in religious events. In the Nyepi Holiday rituals, for example, the Muslim residents had helped by becoming pecalang (traditional security men) so that the event had run smoothly. But they were only the stories of the past. Perhaps the mutually respecting kinship still remained to this day. But now it seemed to fade away. It seemed that the people were too busy working because the tourism sector in this region was arising. Once, when Nash Jau’na, the pantomime actor, was interacting with the porters and traders in Bangsal Port, some brokers of tourism travel agent felt annoyed, and insinuated him by saying something that meant: Okay, your show is funny, but please do not disturb the area where we earn a living, because it can disturb the foreign guests. Meanwhile, the foreign tourists in question gathered around Nash instead and made him the object of their cameras as an exoticism that could be found in tropical developing countries. The social situation in Pemenang now was indeed like that. The citizens stood between two life choices: being a worker in the field of tourism, which meant serving the needs of the guests who loved the exoticism of a tropical paradise, or becoming a passive spectator of the western-style parties which were strewn with English menus of food and drink which felt unfamiliar to the tongue.
Ismal Muntaha, a cross-media artist, whose work was always based on community empowerment, stood at the end of the Bangsal pier. That story of harmony, which was a collective memory, was always heard by him every time he met a lot of people in Pemenang. In the north of the pier there was a stretch of sea with the three Gili in the background, the bearer of hope of citizens. Ismal then turned around facing south. There was a row of green hills with Mount Rinjani in the background. He fell silent for a moment. As he looked straight towards the hill, he saw something that resembled a white building, which looked small among the greenness of the trees. If an imaginary straight line was drawn, that small building was indeed in a perpendicular position to the end of Bangsal Pier. Since that day, Ismal had been trying to find out about that building. It turned out that according to information that he got, the building was a vihara or a Buddhist monastery, which was located in Tebango Bolot Village, which indeed was the location of the residential area of the Buddhist natives of Sasak Lombok.
Ismal then went to that place. He met the residents of the Sasak Buddhist community of Pemenang. Next, Ismal also went to see the leaders of other religions. In addition, he also met a lot of public figures, whether the ones who served in the administration or the ones who led customarily. He also met the youth groups and all other elements of society in North Lombok. For Ismal, the religious harmony in Pemenang was a strong fortress, which made this area peaceful and had minimum conflict. But it could become a double-edged knife; given the present situation where the presence of tourism dominated people’s lives so much, and seemed to be able to loosen the kinship that had been maintained all this time. So Ismal offered a new mutual agreement to keep the treasure, which was in the form of harmony that had been the only society’s fortress all this time. That collective bond was made in the form of a will, which would be formulated together by all elements of society in North Lombok.
Ismal believed that social relation was an investment, considering the art phenomenon was now experiencing a shift from formalistic aesthetics to the social relations.
Dr. Lalu Muchsin, an inter-religion figure in Pemenang had once said that, rather than being an observer of history, it would be better to be the actor of it. Ismal supported the statement.
“We have arrived at the growing, changing, very fast moving time. The new one arrives, the old one slowly disappears. In this time movement, we, the owners of Pemenang culture, gather to create a will together, strengthening the bond as brothers, for the sake of our love for this land, the land of the winners, as a sign of timeless determination.
By the grace of God Almighty and respectful gratitude to the ancestors, we, the owners of Pemenang culture, are determined to: Maintain the harmony with the spirit of brotherhood, respect each other, based on compassion and diversity. Preserve the ancestral cultural roots courteously and very respectfully, continue to conserve the works of generation from one era to another era. Prepare ourselves as good as possible to face all the current development and challenges. With a spirit to create, make a new discovery, to be passed on to future generation. Process all resources and natural gifts creatively and with dignity, and respect the environmental norms. Build Pemenang with the spirit of togetherness and independence, without any gap, based on the cultural wisdom and diversity in the frame of mempolong merenten.”
Those were the contents of the will that were agreed by the residents of Pemenang. It would be engraved on a plaque of wood, and later was put together with the gate that was built by the residents. Ismal built two gates that would be placed in two places. One would be placed at the end of Bangsal pier, and the other in front of the vihara on the hill of Tebango Bolot Village: as two points which connected an imaginary straight line about the bond of friendship of the residents of Pemenang.
It was February 12, 2016 that day. Right after the will was agreed an earthquake that had a magnitude of 6.6 on the Richter scale shook the Lombok Island and was felt strongly in Pemenang. Ismal and all those present took it as a sign that the earth gave its signal to their will.
The idea of religious harmony in Pemenang that had been continuously verbalized since a long time ago eventually became a believable myth. A myth could become a lifeline and culture in the society. Indonesian people had patterns of mythology, loving the great stories that were spread by mouth continuously from generation to generation. An imaginary straight line created by the collaboration between Ismal and the residents of Pemenang was also like a myth. Ismal believed that the myth could be read as a communication strategy and an effective cultural strategy at the same time. A community could do its own cultural strategy by cooperating consistently. That mutual agreement would work automatically and would certainly make a change. It had been proven that a dictatorial regime could create a myth which had been believed by its citizens for decades, by penetrating it with strong intensity. People had been able to survive in the long term by believing the myth.
But in this case, Ismal did not necessarily perform a dictatorial action like a regime. Instead, he did the opposite, by meeting so many people from various backgrounds and elements in Pemenang, creating a new bond to strengthen the fortress of peace in their location. The myth here was none other than a common bond to promote the community’s social life with dignity. Ismal gave new meaning to the role of an artist as a composer who created social composition. Again, it was certainly a luxury of life for residents of any city when there was an event where residents excitedly lifted a very heavy gate together up the hill to be installed there and watched the women and small children excitedly carrying buckets of water and sand to build the foundations of the gate. A culture could certainly be built with consistency that contained a full awareness that the happy citizens are the winners. Indeed, the difference between the ‘accidental’ and ‘planned’ thing was very slight. Ismal had once traced the meaning of the word ‘Lombok’ (in Sasak language: lomboq). It turned out that the meaning of the word was: ‘straight’, which in the religious context was usually translated as istiqomah, or: CONSISTENCY.