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Jakarta Post

Aceh Cultural Week keeps Aceh identity alive

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    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta, Indonesia   /   Fri, August 3, 2018   /   12:04 am
Aceh Cultural Week keeps Aceh identity alive . (./.)

Indonesia has tremendous cultural diversity across its many islands. Aceh, located on the island of Sumatra, is a part of this archipelagic heritage. Its cultural wealth comes from a rich natural environment and unique history that has helped shaped the area.

Aceh’s unique culture developed as a result of acculturation and integration of the province’s various ethnic elements. However, the passing of time has blurred the public's understanding of Aceh's cultural origins, while the amount of people working in traditional cultural fields has diminished over time. It is rare today to see an Acehnese youth pursuing a traditional career, which is a problem for the preservation of cultural wealth.

Aceh Cultural Week (PKA) was designed to respond to this pressing issue of cultural erasure. Since it was first held in 1958, the event has worked toward boosting the dignity of the Acehnese as a people that are independent and united through culture.

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It is through the PKA that artists and cultural enthusiasts work together to promote regional culture. Each PKA event, held every five years, features a number of attractions, seminars, bazaars, contests, forums, exhibitions and performances based on Acehnese culture. Visitors are sure to be amazed by the cultural diversity on display from participants of all districts and cities in Aceh.

Since its inception, the PKA has focused on reformulating the idea of development in Aceh by basing development firmly on cultural values. The goal of preserving traditions that are on the verge of being lost has always remained the same, while approaches have changed over time to adapt to each period.

The passing of time and advancements in technology, for example, have significantly affected Aceh's culture and shifted its traditional values.

"This phenomenon, if not anticipated quickly, will result in us and the next Acehnese generation getting carried away by globalization, and so Aceh would lose its true cultural identity," Aceh Vice Governor Nova Iriansyah said in July.

In an effort to preserve and reinforce elements of traditional Acehnese culture, the organizers of the PKA chose "Revitalizing an Islamic Aceh Culture" as the theme for this year's seventh and latest PKA. The theme is deemed important as Acehnese culture itself has always been synonymous with religious values.

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Islam, in particular, has had a tremendous influence on the development of Acehnese culture ever since the religion first entered the Indonesian archipelago through Aceh. Throughout the years, Islam has played a dominant role in shaping Aceh. It is understandable, then, that its influence is a draw for tourists, especially as the religion’s role in Aceh is unique to the country.

Set to be held from Aug. 5 to 15 throughout Banda Aceh City, this event will once again highlight the cultural heritage of Aceh's various ethnic groups. On display will be the customs, arts, artifacts, treasures and handicrafts of Aceh's people. The goal is for the community and, in particular, the younger generations of Aceh to better understand the richness and authenticity of their own culture, in addition to strengthening the status of Aceh as a cultural tourist destination for foreign visitors.

The cultural week itself will be divided into seven main activities.

Its official opening ceremony will be led by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and accompanied by a cultural parade. There will also be an exhibition section that will highlight the culture, history, food, creative products and tourist industry of Aceh. An arts and culture festival, as well as various competitions, will introduce visitors to Aceh's traditions.

A maritime and cultural seminar will also be held to study and discuss the potential of Aceh's culture and maritime affairs. The PKA will also feature an awards ceremony to show appreciation for people in Aceh who have contributed to the preservation of culture. The final event will be the PKA official closing ceremony.

The number seven was chosen in reference to the seven universal categories of culture outlined by anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, namely, religion, language and literature, knowledge systems, social systems, economic systems, equipment and technology, and art.

"In addition, the number seven contains a lot of tuah (meaning) in the daily lives of people in Aceh. The […] meaning is designed to restore the spirit from a loss of identity," said Nova, who is also the PKA committee chairman.

For example, if someone in Aceh feels defeated as a result of a negative incident, they often try to find meaning by counting from one to seven. This attempt at searching for meaning can be seen as a way to ask for help from God in order to reclaim one’s own identity. This ritual is also carried out to avoid misfortune.

"The celebration of the seventh PKA is a sempena (sacred ritual) to restore the Acehnese people's great cultural identity and fill it with syariat values. It is a distinctive culture that has played throughout Aceh's glorious centuries, but is not immune to adjusting to cultural dynamics of society that have continued to change with the times," Nova said.