Taking in Pariaman's Unique
seaside culture

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb., The Jakarta Post, Pariaman, W. Sumatra

Pariaman, or ""Piaman"", as West Sumatran people often call it, is a small town on the western coast of West Sumatra of only 73.36 square kilometers and a population of 72,089.

Situated some 70 kilometers from Padang, Pariaman was a thriving merchant town in the 16th century. When the Kingdom of Aceh reigned over Sumatra's western coast, Pariaman was frequented by foreign ships from China, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands.

This town later became an arena of conflict between nations, which ended with the victory of the Dutch East Indies Trading Company (VOC) in the 1670s. Pariaman was then a major trading town -- before Padang was conquered and developed by the Dutch.

As Padang made headway with its large port of Teluk Bayur, Pariaman was outpaced. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the town has seen no more merchant ships for the absence of a suitable port. With its port and commerce now only a nostalgic history, the municipal administration has turned to tourism.

Tourism highlights

The Pariaman railway station and its surrounding buildings, as well as the structures close to the traditional market nearby, are part of the town's landscape of Dutch colonial heritage. Pariaman station continues to provide services for tourists along the Padang-Pariaman route on Sundays.

Tabuik, bersyafar, Naras embroidery and sala lauak are the cultural icons of Pariaman widely known across Indonesia. They represent not only the unique cultural features of West Sumatra's the western coastal townspeople, but also the town's major tourist attractions.

The Tabuik festival -- the core event of West Sumatra's tourism calendar -- celebrates the Muslim Asyura on the 10th of Muharam (first month in Islamic calendar), and has been held annually since 1831. Though the Pariaman people do not follow the Shia school of Islam, this celebration commemorates the death of Shia hero Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Shia rite of Asyura was brought to Pariaman in 1818 by the school's followers from Sepoy, India. They were ex-British soldiers who were disbanded after the western coast of Sumatra was handed over to the Netherlands by the British.

Tabuik, or casket, is the effigy of a burak, a mystical creature that has the body of a horse, a woman's head, wings and a broad tail. On its back is a box with a paper umbrella, filled with beautiful ornaments. The box frame is made of bamboo, rattan and wood, covered with colorful decorative sheets of paper.

Every year, two such effigies 12 meters tall are taken to the center of town on the 10th day of Muharam, and is witnessed by hundreds of thousands of citizens. The two statues are paraded to the accompaniment of traditional tasa drums down to Gandoriah beach where the ceremony climaxes at sunset, when the images are thrown into the sea, symbolizing Imam Hussein's coffin being flown by the burak to Heaven.

Another ritual is required to build a tabuik, which involves seven stages from Muharam 1st to 10th. The seven phases of the statues' construction and their respective ceremonies are open to the public in two places: on the beach and near the town's intercity bus terminal.

Bersyafar (locally called basyafa) is a pilgrimage to the tomb of Syekh Burhanuddin (1646-1704) in Ulakan. Though Ulakan belongs to the regency of Padang Pariaman, it is only 12 kilometers south of Pariaman. Syekh Burhanuddin was the first propagator of Islam in Minangkabau and lived in the 17th century. He died on June 20, 1704.

On the 15th day of Syafar, the death anniversary of Syekh Burhanuddin, thousands of admirers from throughout West Sumatra and neighboring provinces visit the tomb of this Islamic icon. The pilgrimage lasts from Syafar 10th to 15th, during which they recite and chant Koranic verses and pray for 24 hours. Ulakan, a small coastal village, is steeped in a spiritual atmosphere as the event is underway.

Syekh Burhanuddin was a member of the Syattariyah order following the Shafi'i school, which is persuasive in spreading Islam. He propagated Islam by a cultural approach highly tolerant of local customs. While proceeding with religious teachings, he refrained from hastily banning traditional practices.

Pariaman's indang (small tambourines) and selawat dulang (Koranic recital accompanied by tapping pans) were created by Syekh Burhanuddin, who taught Islam after meals by tapping a pan. Today, indang and selawat dulang are art forms in Pariaman.

A Minangkabau saying, ""Agama mendaki, adat menurun"" (when religion rises, custom falls), is linked to the mission of Syekh Burhanuddin. The local custom originated in Pagaruyung, Tanah Datar, of the West Sumatran highlands, and spread to the coastal area. Meanwhile, the religion came from coastal Ulakan and expanded to Tanah Datar.

Apart from the ritual days of Syafar 10-15, visitors can stop by the tomb of Syekh Burhannudin at any time. Non-Muslims will have to be satisfied with taking a peek from outside the tomb compound. The Pariaman people welcome visitors of all nationalities -- the place is indeed teeming with tourists, particularly from Malaysia.

Culture and food

Naras embroidery is a typical craft of Naras village, about 5 kilometers north of Pariaman, and comes in different styles of clothing, particularly wedding dresses and mukena (women's white prayer dress). More than 10 embroidery houses can be found in Naras.

Naras is the embroidery center of West Sumatra, an art believed to have emerged along with the importation of Tabuik. Naras handicraft are famous for their gold-embroidered textiles and wedding accessories. Many of its products are exported to Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. Various pieces of Naras embroidery are also sold in this village's roadside gallery.

Sala lauak, or sala ikan, is a seafood specialty so typical of Pariaman that the town has been dubbed Sala Town.

Sala lauak can be with jellyfish, shrimp, crab or saltwater eels, which are mixed with turmeric-flavored rice flour and fried. Costing Rp 1,000-2,500 a piece, sala lauak is sold along a shady stretch of Gandoriah beach behind Pariaman market, only 100 meters from the railway station.

Seafood and other Pariaman favorites can be savored in comfortable, popular, beachside stalls called pondok nasi sek. The name is an acronym for nasi seratus kenyang, meaning ""100 rupiah will make you full"".

In the late 1980s, a food stall made a unique offer by serving rice the size of a child's fist, wrapped in banana leaves, for Rp 100. Targeting high school students, the rice is now Rp 500 and a single person can eat five to eight ""fistfuls"".

More than 10 nasi sek stalls can be found along a 250-meter stretch of Gandoriah tourist beach. Built under shady gazebos with customers sitting on the floor and facing the sea, the stalls serve similar dishes to accompany the wrapped rice, the four most common being: fish sala, jellyfish sala, urap (blanched vegetables with spiced grated coconuts) and tomato relish.

Young coconuts and fruit juices are the choice drinks for nasi sek, but beer has been added to the menu to accommodate foreigners.

""Foreign tourists who dine here mostly order beer -- and they drink a lot,"" said Hasnierti Jamal, 45, the owner of Nasi Sek Pondok Salero, one of the best known nasi sek stalls.

At Pondok Salero, customers need not worry about price, as they are listed clearly on a sheet of plywood. Eating to one's fill will cost a guest Rp 20,000 at most. The relaxed atmosphere, delicious food and affordable prices have made this beachfront stall a favorite haunt of visitors to Pariaman.

The sea

Pariaman's scenic and cool seaside can be seen for 1,500 meters, from Gandoriah southward to Cermin beach. Those who cannot make the trek on foot can hire a horse-drawn cart that rolls down an asphalt road.

Just off the coast, four matchbox-like islands are visible: Angso Duo, Tangah, Kasiak and Ujuang. A traditional Minangkabau love poem uses the islands in a rhyming scheme:

Pulau Pandan jauah di tangah

di baliak Pulau Angso Duo

hancua badan di kanduang tanah

namun adiak takana juo.

(Pandan Island lies afar amid high seas, behind it is Angso Duo, although my remains perish, your memories won't go.)

During the first week of Idul Fitri, a cheerful beach festival takes place at Gandoriah with a live band. Tens of thousands of visitors usually pack the beach, where motorboats are ready to ferry those wishing to explore Angso Duo and Tangah islands.

Travel tips

Getting there

*By rail

Once in West Sumatra, going by tourist train is the best choice. The train only operates on Sundays at a round-trip fare of Rp 20,000 for executive class and Rp 15,000 for the economy class.

It departs at 8 a.m. from Simpang Haru station, Padang, and leaves Pariaman at 4 p.m. Traveling at a speed of only 20 kilometers per hour, a one-way journey takes about 2.5 hours -- but the expanse of rice fields and coconut plantations is worth the leisurely trip.

*By road

Pariaman can also be reached by taxi or intercity bus from Minangkabau international airport. A chartered taxi costs around Rp 100,000; the cheapest mode of transportation is by bus at Rp 4,000.


In Pariaman, jasmine-class Hotel Nan Tongga on Gandoriah beach is the most convenient for reaching tourist destinations. (For a sightseeing tour of Pariaman, a horse-drawn cart is available at Rp 20,000 per trip.)

When to go * Muharam 1st-10th for the Tabuik festival * Syafar 10th-15th for the bersyafar pilgrimage

-- Translated by Aris Prawira

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