Ancient text: An 800-year-old Koran in Alor Besar, East Nusa Tenggara. The hand-written Koran, crafted from tree bark, is an historic part of the Islamic culture of Indonesia. (JP/Yemris Fointuna)
Alor Besar is a small village in Alor, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT).
It is nestled on the slopes of a hill facing the ocean. Most of its residents earn their livelihoods as farmers or fishermen.
The town is about 25 kilometers from the regency capital, Kalabahi. The local residents are predominately Muslim. A grand mosque stands in the middle of town. About a kilometer away lies another village, whose residents are predominately Christians.
However, not many people know about the presence of an 800-year-old Koran in Alor Besar, which residents claim was brought by five brothers who spread Islam to eastern Indonesia.
“The Koran was hand-written by the Prophet’s friends, and not printed by machine,” Nurdin Gogo, the guardian of the site where the old Koran is kept told The Jakarta Post in early June.
At a glimpse, the Koran looks like any other. The book contains 30 chapters and its letters have been handwritten in black and red ink.
Closer inspection reveals differences. It is bigger, measuring 30 by 20 centimeters and with a thickness of about 10 centimeters. Its paper has been crafted from tree bark that has yellowed over the centuries.
“None of the religious experts have yet been able to discern the type of tree bark used by the Prophet’s friends to inscribe the Koran,” Nurdin said.
According to the 39-year-old, the ancient Koran was brought by his ancestors to Alor Island from Ternate, North Maluku, during the time of the Baabullah Sultanate era, which ruled around 1500.
The Koran was transported on the ship Tuma Ninah, whose crew of five brothers was on a mission to propagate Islam to several kingdoms west of the sultanate.
The brothers who carried out the mission were Ilyas Gogo, Iang Gogo, Djou Gogo, Boi Gogo and Kimales Gogo.
During the voyage, the missionaries ran out of water and food and had to make a stopover on Alor Island.
More precisely, the ship stopped in Tanjung Bota, which is now the site of Alila village.
“As no water could be found, one of the missionaries named Iang Gogo stuck his stick in the sand, which oozed water to quench their thirst. The spring is currently known as the Banda Spring in Alila village,” Nurdin said.
After replenishing their provisions, the brothers resumed their journey and visited the court of the king of Bungabali, Baololong I, at the Tang Tang pavilion on Alor Island.
During the meeting, Baololong presented the brothers with a souvenir in the form of a circumcision knife, while the missionaries gave a nekara bronze gong to the king.
The king agreed to let one of the missionaries to settle on Alor Island to spread Islam to the people of the local community.
Of the five brothers, Iang Gogo was chosen to stay. He was equipped with the king’s circumcision knife and the Koran that the village has prized until this day.
“Before going their separate ways, the brothers decided to meet again at the Tang Tang pavilion, but, as things developed, they settled in different places after getting a good response from the members of the community they were able to convert to Islam,” Nurdin said.
Iang Gogo eventually married a Bungabali princesses named Bui Haki and settled in Alor Besar, while his brothers settled down in Tuabang, Baranusa (Pantar Island), Solor and Kui-Lerabaing in East Flores regency.
The descendants of Iang Gogo and Bui Haki continue to reside in Alor Besar, Alor Kecil, Aimoli, Alila, Ampera, Dulolong and a number of other villages in Alor regency,” Nurdin said.
“I am the 14th descendant, who later became heir and guardian to the ancient Koran site inherited from our ancestors,” Nurdin said.