Tracing the Discontinuity in Indonesian History Through Seismic Events

“There were many unreported huge seismic events in Sumatera,” said Anthony Reid in his public lecture ‘Rewriting (Sumatran) History in the Light of Seismology’ held by CRCS-ICRS GMU on Wednesday, 13 July 2011. This special event was held in the room 306 CRCS-ICRS UGM and attended by both Indonesian and foreign academics.


According to Reid, tsunami had depopulated western coastal area of Sumatra over many times. Statistical reports of decreasing population support this assumption. Unfortunately the Islamic maritime kingdoms in Sumatra such as Samudera Pasai and Perlak had no historic report on the previous Hindu-Buddhist reign around the area.


Here Reid encouraged archaeologists studying Sumatran inland area to make excavate the Hindu-Buddhist site in coastal areas since such a project would help historians in reconstructing missing links in Sumatran historical accounts prior to Dutch colonialism.


Java is of no exception. Reid, a professor of history from Cambridge University, argued that there were no settlements around southern coastal area of Java prior to Dutch colonialism. However, while the Sumatran history has been inseparable from tsunami events, the depopulation of Javanese southern coastal area has always narrated with the story of contract between Panembahan Senopati of the New Mataram Kingdom with Nyai Roro Kidul, the mythological ruler of southern ocean.


During the discussion, one of the audiences argued that the oceanic-seismic factor is not the only factor causing the very depopulation. The higher plane was at that time cooler and more fertile that the people with agricultural interests tended to moved to the drier coastal area. Commenting on this, Reid confirmed that the oceanic-seismic event was not the only factor; political and developmental infrastructure had contributed to it too.


The discussion veered into some topics of theological and ethical consequences of disaster. For some people, disasters are man-made. However, the founder of Asia Research Institute preferred to view it in a more positive light. Disasters are part of natural mechanism and geological construction by which nature put into balance. It is only ethical that people should be more concerned with the planet and stop exploiting nature.


Sitting among the audiences, Dr. Nasir Tamara made a comment on the importance of treating Syair Lampung Karam (sinking Lampung poem) and the chant about smong (tsunami) as sources of data of Sumateran history. Tamara who received his doctorate from University of Paris said “The old manuscripts should have been of great research interest”. In his closing statement, Reid told his hope that the Indonesian academics would in the future engage in in-depth research on the seismic events and its effect on social change. [MoU]

This post is also available in: Indonesian


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