In this essay, I will examine the Gayo ethnic identity in Acehnese culture. First, around the 1980s, when I had a picnic with school friends at MIN Krueng Mane (North Aceh). At that time, I could not enjoy the beauty of this Gayo earth at all. The second time was when I had a picnic with my family in the 1990s. At that time, I enjoyed the trip to Gayo land, especially the beauty and deliciousness of the fruits.
In early 2010 I had the opportunity to travel to Bener Meriah. which is the third time I had visited the regional center of Aceh province.
The third time was in 2010. During this brief trip, I was impressed with Gayo culture. On this trip, I attended the party of one of the lecturers of IAIN Ar-Raniry. To the Lecturer, I repeatedly said that ‘if you want to see Aceh in the 1970s and 1980s, Bener Meriah is an interesting place to study.’ I forced myself to drive from Banda Aceh to the Tritit area and passed several village settlements that had just been split from the district of Central Aceh.
As a social science researcher familiar with social texts, I was quickly able to capture my sense of research. The Lecturer smiled and said that if I wanted to research Bener Meriah, he could help me find a place to live.
One of the reasons I say Aceh in the 1970s and 1980s is because of the structure of the building and the customary marriage procedures of the Bener Meriah community. This customary marriage model is rarely found in other parts of Aceh, especially in urban areas such as Banda Aceh.
All the dishes are laid out on the floor, and the guests and family members enjoy the food in a togetherness pattern. There is no ‘French style’ dish that is the image of today’s Aceh. It is just that I was a little lulled by the ‘keyboard’ event, which featured dangdut dance mothers. However, they still sing folk songs.
During the introduction of each of the bridal families, I was silent and listened to the structure of the language used; then, I concluded that the structure of the language of the Bener Meriah community was very original, even though it was mixed with the structure of the Malay language.
Even though I do not understand the language used, I can catch the meaning in each dialect that is conveyed.
During the event, I saw the Gayo regional clothes worn by the children. I pay attention to the color and color structure of the clothes. It is as if I am trying to guess where the clothes came from and why Gayo people like to wear black. This, of course, reminds me of the all-black Gayo traditional house, which is almost similar to the traditional Acehnese house.
To the Lecturer, I asked how the pattern of life of the people here. He explained that Coffee had brought more or less Gayo children to education, not only in Aceh but also in Java and abroad. Coffee gives a Gayo brand image on the national stage.
In Banda Aceh, I constantly criticize Kopi Ule Kareng because I have lived in Ule Kareng for almost two years, and I have never encountered a Coffee Tree. However, in Gayo Land, I found Coffee and Coffee Trees that have succeeded in making the life of the Gayo people a success.
Regarding the impression of the Gayo people, I know them more with mystical nuances than rational ones. Gayo is the same as a study of shamans or magic, as found on other islands in Indonesia.
In addition, the image of the Gayo people is that they prefer to be friends with their local friends and do not want to admit that they are part of the Acehnese tribe. This impression, of course, is not accurate. Nevertheless, this level of truth, of course, still needs further investigation.
Another impression is that the Gayo people are very skilled in the arts; therefore, from the Gayo land, various artists have emerged. It is not surprising that there are art events and dances from Gayo Land that is always eagerly awaited by the audience.
Even some national films have been decorated with panoramas and beautiful voices from Gayo. So, these positive and negative impressions have led me to want to learn more about Gayo society.
In May 2013, I left again for Tanah Gayo. This time, my journey is to understand why the Land of Gayo is turbulent. At least two things arise, namely Tanah Gayo wants to separate itself from Aceh.
In other words, Tanah Gayo wants to establish its province, namely ALA (Aceh Lauser Antara). The second problem is the dislike of some Gayo people towards the GAM elite who are currently in power in Aceh. The problem here is that GAM has offended the Gayo people through several controversial articles in preparing the Qanun Wali Nanggroe.
Once again, I drove from Banda Aceh to Tanah Gayo. During this trip, the roads are getting bigger, and the road entering the city of Takengen is also getting more beautiful. When entering the Bener Meriah area, a red and white flag appears in front of a house or shop.
Uniquely, every stone indicating the number of kilometers traveled to the city of Takengen has been removed. The slogan of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia has a fixed price. Long live ALA Province! The point is that when you enter Gayo Land, the atmosphere is really minus GAM and full of NKRI. In the evening arrived in the city of Takengen.
After checking in, I and M. Hasbi Amiruddin, looked for a place to have dinner. At that time we were going to the Aceh Pidie restaurant. We ate “Acehnese” food in the “Gayo” country. They speak in the Aceh Pidie dialect, which is quite thick. His voice was unmistakable. No fear or concern indicated that the “Acehnese” were about to be expelled from Gayo Land.
The next day, we started looking for informants. The conditions I put forward are very old and senior informants. The aim is to understand the problems in Tanah Gayo from the perspective of parents. At that time, we met an “old man” in Takengen who had been a top bureaucrat in Central Aceh.
When we stayed in touch, this figure was appointed as an elder and became one of the heads of the Baitul Mal. When the discussion about the upheaval of the Gayo community was asked, this older man immediately burst into tears. Haltingly with tears, he said that Aceh could not be separated because there were only two keys to the Acehnese, Islam, and adat.
If there are no more of these two things, there will be no more Acehnese. So, today’s problem is not telling each other who the Acehnese are or not, but that the Acehnese do not return to religion and customs. These are the keywords we got. So he considered the turmoil in Gayo Land not to separate the concept of brother among Acehnese.
After our lengthy discussion, we conclude that the Acehnese are one and cannot be separated because Aceh’s identity is already attached to two things, namely sharia and adat. After that, the journey continued by meeting one of the elders of the Tanah Gayo community. This figure is the chairman of the Central Aceh Ulama Consultative Council. He told the story of the DI/TII struggle in Aceh. He said some DI/TII fighters used Gayo Land as a basis for their struggle. Because of that, he wondered why there was GAM’s behavior that did not respect people in Gayo Land.
They used to fight together. Why are they now excluded from the development process in Aceh? Story after story of how the war in the DI/TII era showed that the unity of Aceh at that time was due to the ideological similarities instilled by the Acehnese ideologue, namely Abu Daud Beureueh. This then became why in Takengen, some DI/TII fighters could still be found. However, the older generation seems to have disappeared due to the behavior of the GAM elite, who “abandoned” them in developing Aceh.
Several discussions with the elders above show that the Gayo people have been “wounded” by their identity. This is what it says that the “heartache” has clouded the atmosphere of unity and integrity of the Acehnese people.
Therefore, the phase after the protest continued with “silence.” the same thing was found when we kept in touch with one of the leading clerics and traditional elders in Bener Meriah. To continue my field research in Gayo Land, the next day, I traveled together to the tomb of King Lingge. It took us almost 4 hours to reach the tomb of Raja Lingge, which is located on one of the hills in the Isak area.
This is where the axis of the Gayo identity emerges. Various legends and stories about Gayo began. All stories about Lingge’s relationship and contribution to Aceh are told from generation to generation to the younger generation in Gayo Land.
One of the mukims who guarded the tomb of King Lingge also told the sad story of his village. During the conflict, his village was often visited by GAM people. Security forces often visit his village. Uniquely, after peace, their village was never noticed. King Lingge’s grave is indeed very simple. The area is still full of weeds.
There is no impression that here is the axis of one of Aceh’s historical identities. The guards of the cemetery and the area of the palace house of King Linga were also left alone. This trip left a profound impression when understanding Gayo’s identity in the Acehnese construction.
In Gayo Land, three ethnic groups play an active role: Gayo, Acehnese, and Javanese. Their lives are bound by one concept: the Javanese cut down, the Gayo people jelbang (cleaning the land) and the Acehnese stand at the intersection. The concept of unity has been in effect for decades. They live side by side. There was never a conflict or mutual suspicion with each other.
After this trip, in July 2013, Aceh was struck by an earthquake in Benar Meriah. At that time, Acehnese solidarity emerged. All the people of Aceh work together to help the Earth of the Highlands. Here there are no more common enemies. This cohesiveness in helping each other seems to drown out the nature and attitude of mutual suspicion built up after the conflict. Aid that was raised from Banda Aceh no longer questioned ethnic background.
This moment shows that the theory of traditional elders and religious leaders in Gayo Land is true that the Acehnese are only bound by two things, namely religion and custom. The earthquake was viewed from a religious perspective, where there was no longer any ethnic barrier. This is one of the moments where the concept of the unity of Aceh was proven through the earthquake in July 2013.