Across Madura Strait: The Dynamics of an Insular Society

Journal article by Laurence Husson; Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 30, 1999

Edited by KEES VAN DIJK, HUUB DE JONGE and ELLY TOUWEN-BOUWSMA. Leiden: KITLV Press, 1995. Pp. 237. Glossary, Index.

This collection of articles about the society of the Madura Islands is the product of the symposium organized in Leiden by the KITLV, October 7-11, 1991, attesting to the rising interest in Madura on the part of the scientific community in the past ten years. Indeed, it is important to note that too often, no distinction has been made between Madurese and Javanese society and culture, despite their strong particularities. Recent studies have tended to correct this error by considering such diverse themes as the special way Madurese infants are weaned, certain linguistic specificities, the concept of sovereignty, and the impact of colonial administrative reforms, etc. Several village monographs also discuss fishing, herding, the arts, or tobacco growing. However, in our estimation, this research, although quite valuable, yields a segmentary and fragmented vision of the island. Synthesis and comparatism are still lacking, an observation which the collection of articles under review unfortunately tends to confirm.

It begins with an article by anthropologist H. de Jonge on the stereotypes which plague the Madurese. Next, the reader is projected into the nineteenth century, as Islamologist Iik A. Mansurnoor, author of the excellent Islam in an Indonesian World: Ulama of Madura (Yogyakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press, 1990), explains how the religious elite, the Kyai, succeeding in superseding the secular elite, the rato. Historian L. Nagtegaal goes back in time to analyze the legitimacy of power in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, supplying a certain response to Mansurnoor’s remarks by providing evidence of how princely power crumbled. The following article, by anthropologist E. Touwen-Bouwsma, sheds light on a little-known period in contemporary history: the creation of the Federal State of Madura (1945-50); once again, the island served as the toy of Javanese political leaders. The order in which the articles are arranged, a subject which undeniably merits discussion, re-immerses the reader in Islam, as M. van Bruinessen describes the regional variants of the main Muslim brotherhoods, the tarekat, present in Eastern Java. In doing so, the Dutch Islamologist confirms that the power of the clergy established in the nineteenth century is still preponderant today.

Two ethnomusicological studies then present the broad variety of acting, singing, and dancing performances on Madura. H. Bouvier catalogues musical and dramatic genres of the island’s east, weighing their social and cultural significance in the context of modernization, national integration, and Islamization. The essay by L. Burman-Hall reveals a thrilling episode from the 1941 Fahnestock expedition to the South Seas.

With the arts taken care of, G. Smith and botanist Mien A. Rifai lead us to village ecology: the first discusses cattle herding in Eastern Madura, whereas the second describes in detail the way in which farmers manage to subsist on their land, although their livelihood is frequently compromised by foreign intervention.

The work concludes with two articles – one by a historian, the other by an economist – which discuss changes currently under way on the island, notably the henceforward rather unlikely construction of a bridge linking Madura to Java.

This collection of articles enables us to point out certain flaws to which collective works are often prone. The editors would have gained by organizing the contributions in a more coherent way under clearly defined chapter headings such as “Islam and Power”, “Islam and the Arts”, “Ecology and Modernization” and so on. Important themes like Madurese migration, the Madurese informal sector, navigation and naval construction, architecture, and Madurese folk crafts, are absent. Another theme which is missing, the adat, would probably have contributed to the coherence of the whole.

Regardless of this criticism of the book’s form, the essays gathered are generally well documented. Despite its fragmentary character, the book is definitely a step forward in improving our knowledge of the island and our recognition of its specificities. And this is important, because no one can deny that Madura is a prime example of cultural particularity, as well as a laboratory in which to study social trends currently affecting contemporary Southeast Asia.

Laurence Husson


Explore posts in the same categories: Buku, Madura

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