A Pedacito Of The Meugang Tradition In Indonesia
Updated: Jun 19
Winter at the end of the year. A little girl walked down the dark alleys while selling matches. She was barefoot. The snowflakes fell on her hair. She looked shivering with cold and hunger in the picture.
Meanwhile, the light shined from the windows of several houses she had passed. There was a yummy image of a roasted goose.
Oh! What a wonderful picture of New Year's Eve, I thought. However, after that, I was crying while reading the rest of the story. The children's story written by Hans Christian Andersen had made my imaginary world collapse.
Since childhood, I have loved reading fairy tales and watching cartoons. As a child born and raised in a tropical country, I had always dreamed of the beauty of winter; white snow, sleds, royal princesses dancing in beautiful castles. However, the story of a girl who suffered cold and hunger on a celebration day?
I had no room in my imagination at the time. Hence, the tail of A Little Match Girl hurt my heart deeply.
My childhood experience increased my awareness of how essential food equality and welfare support is. As a country with various customs and cultures, Indonesian people can tolerate differences. But that tolerance does not apply to suffering from hunger, especially in welcoming religious holidays.
One of the most famous religious events held in Aceh, the farthest province of Nusantara, is known Makmeugang.
Gang, in the Acehnese language, means market. Usually, the market isn't crowded with people. However, before the month of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha, people will flock to shop for groceries to welcome religious holidays. This condition has made the economic cycle in the market prosperous (makmeu). So, this tradition is known as Makmeugang or Meugang.
Meugang is a tradition of welcoming religious holidays by cooking side dishes and eating them with family, relatives, orphans, and the poor. For daily meals, the people of Aceh usually enjoy seafood.
But on the special day of Meugang, the Acehnese cook the best dishes made from meat. Although the main ingredient is beef, some people cook mutton, chicken, and duck.
Acehnese people usually cook meat into curries and meat soup. Curry in Aceh, Kuwah Beulangöng, is different from Indian curry, although it tastes equally good. Several different dishes are often served, such as Masak Mirah, Masak Puteh, and Rendang.
Apart from meat, some foods are often served specially on Meugang days such as Tape (fermented glutinous rice), Leumang (glutinous food baked in bamboo using high heat), and Timphan (authentic Acehnese snacks made from rice flour filled with srikaya jam, wrapped in banana leaves, and steamed).
In addition, Meugang is a moment to give alms to the poor, widows, and orphans, as well as the elderly. The charities are performed in the act of giving half to one kilogram of raw meat or inviting the people to the houses or mosques to enjoy cooked dishes.
Meugang is a tradition preserved by the Acehnese to this day. Most of the Acehnese population are Muslim. The tradition is related to Islamic values. Meugang is a manifestation of a religious ritual.
This tradition has become a means of practicing Islamic teachings. It's recommended to share fortune among humans and prohibit being stingy, for example. As a part of a country that recognizes six religions; Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, culture in Aceh can be appropriate for all levels of society.
Meugang tradition is so inherent in the Acehnese community. This tradition seems to be a highly recommended religious teaching.
Indeed, the Meugang tradition is hundreds of years old. This tradition has emerged along with the spread of Islam in Aceh, around the 14th century AD. It started at the time of the Kingdom of Aceh Darussalam; the manifestation of the Sultan's concern for the people. The Kingdom wrote it in the rule of law.
In Aceh's history, Meugang started when Sultan Iskandar Muda led the Aceh Sultanate in 1607-1636. Meugang is regulated in the Royal Law, called Qanun Meukuta Alam Al-Asyi. Meugang is a form of gratitude for the king in welcoming the coming of the big days of Islam.
In those days, the king ordered the Balai Fakir—the agency that handles the poor and needy— to distribute meat, clothes, and rice to the poor and needy. The Silatu Rahim covered all costs. It was the institution that handled the relationship between the state and the people in the Kingdom of Aceh Darussalam.
The habit continues to touch the hearts of dignitaries and the rich people to share welfare with the community on Meugang days. The amount of meat for the poor is increasing. The concern for fellow human beings is also maintained.
The Meugang celebration is also a moment for the whole family to gather. Children and relatives who wander will come back home on Meugang day. Togetherness is the value our ancestors wanted to instill through the Meugang tradition.
Makmeugang reflects the social warmth built from sharing activities with others and people in need. This activity is carried out so that all people together can welcome the big days of Islam with joy.
This sharing makes people feel equal as human beings. With the distribution of clothing and food throughout the community, they can enjoy and welcome the days of religious celebrations happily.
Indonesian cultures are well-known for their cooperation and mutual help. Meugang tradition has mirrored these values. The cultural heritage of food equality presents extraordinary social value to all its people. Truly, no human being deserves to suffer from hunger, especially in moments of religious celebrations.
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