Field Trip to Kendheng: The Resistance of Samin People

Anang G. Alfian | CRCS | Article

CRCS Field Trip to Kendheng

The national news was shocked by a presence of nine middle-aged women pouring cement on their feet. It was on 13th April 2016, and the ‘Nine Kartini’ had made a long march from their villages in central Java to Jakarta to protest in front of Presidential Palace against a plan to build a cement company in Kendheng Mountain near Rembang, Pati, Grobogan.

Wanting to know more and study the problems faced by those women as well as the Samin indigenous culture, CRCS and ICRS students and lecturers traveled to Kendheng on Thursday-Friday, 24-25 November. This trip was aimed to give students an understanding of the real problems faced by the minority in preserving their lands and the place of religion and spirituality in their struggles.

Samin people have been famous recently for their resistance to cement production in Kendheng. Naming their community after their charismatic leader of the past, Samin Surosentiko, they have adopted his values of non-violence, reverence for life, resistance to injustice, bravery, and honesty.

In this trip, we were going to reflect what we had studied in the class involving subjects like religion and ecology, academic study of religion, and religion and conflict. Accompanied by Dewi Candraningrum, a feminist scholar and guest lecturer in our religion and ecology class, we were guided to reach their place in Sukolilo, Pati.

It took a five-hour journey by car to get there. As we arrived at Omah Kendheng, the place where Samin people gather, we were welcomed with warm hospitality. In the house with a wall made of woods and decorated with jugs attached around the wall, we catch an impression of a traditional Javanese nuance. There was also a gamelan in the right corner of the hall used by Samin people to preserve Javanese music and educate teenagers of their inheritance. Pak Gunretno, the leader, greeted us and served us lunch before we had discussion as planned.

Soon after that, we introduced ourselves and began the discussion. Started from Pak Gunretno, some important figures shared their explanation that the resistance to the cement company was because they want to preserve Kendheng Mountain. They proclaimed that it was their duty to preserve what they inherit from their ancestors. For them, nature is like a mother because it gives birth to natural resources for humans to consume. Therefore, exploiting it will only make the nature imbalanced and suffering from severe damage. Moreover, they argued that Central Java is supposed to be the source of rice fields and not exploited for underground materials.

Group Picture: CRCS Field Trip to Kendheng.

Moreover, they explained about their refusal to receive a formal education. For them, the goal of education is to teach how to behave in a good way and live with wisdom. They are also famous for not taking any profession or occupation besides farming because they believe that the farm itself is enough to give them life. Other questions about their resistance and history were also asked by the students. Finally, the discussion ended in the early evening and we continued watching movie made by them as their resistance to the cement company. The next day, we visited some places like the forest where the source of water used for the field irrigation and we ended up in the sacred tomb of spiritual figure. The forest has been preserved and it is forbidden for anyone, including locals, to exploit it. The sacred tomb is the place where people sometimes gather to pray and have rituals.

Finally, before we had to go back to Jogjakarta, we discussed with the lecturers about what we had learned from this community. Zainal Abidin Bagir, the head of CRCS and the lecturer of Religion, Science, and Ecology, argued that the mountain is their identity and they cannot live without it. That is why they struggle so hard for preserving the mountain from mining production. They were really dependent on water and land. Moreover, he said that we can also articulate the interdependency of knowledge and authority. In this case, Samin people has been much influenced by their charismatic leader, Pak Gunretno, who leads the movement. However, this kind of knowledge-authority relationship is also there within academic life like the production of science that inevitably has to bow to certain authority.

Nevertheless, this trip opened our minds to the problems of minorities and modern life. It is interesting how indigenous religion has to struggle for preserving the mountain but, on the other hand, modern world demands more natural resources for consumption. In religion and conflict perspectives, for instance, we can observe this soft resistance of Samin people and what possible ways there are to reach for a solution.  Many perspectives and experiences are as well needed to contribute and get involved in the academic study of religion.

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