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Islam, authority and leadership in the Priangan

In 1925, Adviser for Domestic Affairs (Inlandsche Zaken) R.A. Kern observed that the Dutch East India Company’s takeover in West Java had increased the religious authority of the bupati (regents), as they were called imam or khalifa and considered substitutes of the kings of Mataram, the sixteenth-century Islamic empire of Central Java.[1] More recently it has been suggested that in rural West Java the local aristocracy - the menak - had been transformed into a political elite by the Mataram Empire and kept as such by the Dutch East India Company and the colonial government. Herlina Lubis has argued that this phenomenon eventually resulted in the merging of the roles of bupati and ulama (religious scholar), as the menak succeeded in maintaining both the political power bestowed upon them by the Dutch and the people’s recognition as bearers of traditional authority.[2]

Ardiwisastra was not only a member of the menak aristocracy and a kiyai pesantren, but also the local PSII chairman, and the vice- bupati. By marrying his daughter, Kartosuwiryo strengthened his political standing in Sarekat Islam and gained a position within traditional patterns of authority. In the 1970s, Karl Jackson argued that Darul Islam followers joined in the rebellion because of networks of authority. However, he referred to individual village kiyai, while downplaying Kartosuwiryo’s role as the movement’s leader.[3] What

I am suggesting, instead, is that traditional networks of authority worked to the advantage of Kartosuwiryo’s career, allowing him to start creating a following well before the rebellion began.

Herlina Lubis develops her argument from the observation that Priangan society displayed several examples in which the link between local aristocracy and Islam is embodied in members of the menak group who were also ulama, as in the cases of Hadji Hasan Moestafa of Garut (1852-1930) and Raden Hadji Moehammad Moesa (1822-1886). While recognizing the exceptionalism of these figures, Lubis nonetheless concludes that ‘all kaum menak were required to make Islam a factor in their political thoughts and practices’. The kaum menak obtained religious legitimation by closely aligning their social and political life with Islamic values and institutions. For example, they often attended and sponsored the building of pesantren, thereby creating strong bonds with local ulama. A body of legends claiming that kaum menak families descended from the Sultan of Pajang - an extension of the Demak Sultanate in sixteenth-century Java - or from Prabu Siliwangi of Pajajaran - the pre-Islamic Sundanese Empire - also served to further strengthen their connections with traditional religious and political authority.

More relevant to Kartosuwiryo’s case, the political authority embodied by this elite was founded on local concepts of power, described as pulung in Javanese or wahyu in Arabic, a term that also indicates a ‘divine revelation’. These local ideologies tended to identify authority as something bestowed either from a previous king or a bupati, or directly through God’s blessing. When considered alongside the fact that a bupati who could display religious knowledge and understanding was held in higher regard than one who could not, it can be concluded that the adoption of Islamic values in kaum menak’s traditions was pursued in favour of their own political interests.[4]

Villagers often perceived these bupati as ‘holy people’, from whom blessings could be obtained because of their alleged supernatural abilities and connections with the world of magic. Nonetheless, among these ulama-bupati aristocrats there was still a strong tendency towards orthodoxy and towards the implementation of sharia law. Material testimony of Priangan menak’s syncretism can be found in the maintenance of their heirlooms, which usually consisted of keris (daggers with undulated blades deemed to possess spiritual essence), spears, swords, books, puppets, and the like. These were deemed to possess magical powers, but at the same time were considered religious symbols, as they often featured Qur’anic inscriptions, and were used in Islamic ceremonies, such as the Prophet’s birthday (Maulid Nabi).m This characterization of Sundanese menakas bridge between the supernatural world of magic and Islamic orthodoxy fits well with later tales of Kartosuwiryo’s charismatic leadership.

In his first biography, published in 1963, just one year after his capture and execution, Kartosuwiryo was presented as having a complex character. He was described as a mystic, believed by his followers to practice the ilmuJoyoboyo (‘science of prophecy’, see footnote) and to be the Imam Mahdi (Islamic messianic figure) or Ratu Adil (Just King).[5] [6] In this biography, much attention is dedicated to the accounts of Kartosuwiryo’s followers, some of whom maintained that God had chosen him as their leader through divine revelation. Others claimed that he had received the wahyu Cakraningrat Sadar, which among all the wahyu is the only one bestowed upon kings, and that he had been invested with the title of KalifatuUah seluruh ummat manusia, or representative of God to the entire Islamic community. It was said that he owned amulets (jimat) that protected him even from bullets, as well as a kens and a cundrik (a small kens with a straight blade). Put simply, his followers deemed him to have sakti (divine power) .[7]

This representation of Kartosuwiryo as both a fanatical Muslim and a mystic quickly became predominant in the literature, especially as writers made increasing use of tales recounted by Darul Islam/Tentara Islam Indonesia (DI-TII) members. Pinardi, the author of Kartosuwiryo’s other major biography, reports the comment of one TII militiaman, who recalled Kartosuwiryo as

a very fanatical religious man with strong mystical beliefs. To several of his followers he once admitted to be the reincarnation of Raden Patah, one of the most famous men of religion and the first sultan of Demak, the first Sultanate ofJava. He told his devotees that for long he had desired to establish the NII [Negara Islam Indonesia] and that only he could become the leader, or imam, because he had been predestined for that by God [...] Kartosuwiryo once said he had received the wahyu Cakraningrat Sadar from God, this was like a beam of bright light from the sky down onto him.[8]

The story goes that whilst Kartosuwiryo was in the jungle, a ray of light appeared in front of him and an ‘essence’ (zat) drew the kali- mat shahadat (Islamic profession of faith) on his forehead. Pinardi concluded that this aura of mystery, mysticism and fanaticism was Kartosuwiryo’s key ‘leadership skill’, or seni kepemimpinan[9]

In the mid 1970s, the idea of mysticism as an aspect of Kartosuwiryo’s leadership was reaffirmed in the pages of his psychological evaluation:[10]

Kartosuwiryo’s intelligence is great, [...] Intuition has empowered him as a leader, [.] and has also induced his interest in mysticism and metaphysics. At the same time, his rationality was so developed that his objective critical capacity was dominant, and it has become representative of his thinking and actions. His mystical activities were neither essential nor fundamental to him, and he approached them in a critical way. So the mystical path that he might have experienced was maybe something meaningful on a personal level. His mystical activities - the little available news on these - were used as a tool to strengthen the implementation of his ideas. Thus, he used mysticism as a tool neither essential nor crucial to him, but rather as an element of authority in the face of the masses he led.[11]

Hiroko Horikoshi, in her study of Darul Islam’s following, takes a similar approach. In explaining the initial success of the Darul Islam, she places the appeal of Kartosuwiryo’s charisma on the same level as the failure of national Islamic parties, and the parallel military and historical circumstances. Horikoshi ultimately concludes that Kartosuwiryo succeeded in gathering support as a result of the combination of military-political circumstances, Islamic politics, and personal characteristics:

He evidently possessed the invaluable quality, typical among Java’s jago (champions) of being gagah (translated in a colloquial sense as ‘having guts’) [...] Men who are gagah fear nothing but God and are strongly convinced of their cause (yakin). They tell the truth even to the authorities without any fear of the consequences. Such a charismatic man inspires awe (segan) in his followers. [...] Where gagah behavior is associated with a high cause, it commands great respect and obedience. In rural Java high causes have traditionally been based on the values of communal peace, prosperity, and social justice, and expressed either in indigenous (Ratu Adit) or Islamic (Imam Mahdi) idioms.[12]

Mysticism and ‘uncompromising advocacy of Islamic ideals’ are the markers of Kartosuwiryo’s success, an ideal combination for being recognized as a leader in Java.[13] It is surprising that subsequent scholars have not taken this suggestion more seriously, focusing instead on either belittling Kartosuwiryo’s commitment to the establishment of an Islamic state or sanctifying his endeavours while erasing his charisma and mysticism. I further address this point in the concluding chapter of this book. To Horikoshi’s analysis, I would add that Kartosuwiryo’s becoming part of a menak bupati-ulama family in the early stages of his career in West Java further enhanced his appeal as a successful leader in the Priangan.

  • [1] Letter from R.A. Kern, 9June 1925, p. 12, in Mohammad Iskandar, Parapengemban amanah:Pergulatan pemikiran kiai dan ulama di Jawa Barat, 1900-1950 (Yogyakarta: MataBangsa, 2001), p. 66.
  • [2] Nina Herlina Lubis, ‘Religious thoughts and practices of the kaum menak: Strengtheningtraditional power’, Studia Islamika 10-2 (2003): pp. 5-7.
  • [3] Karl D. Jackson, Traditional authority and national integration: A study of Indonesian politicalbehaviour (Berkeley/London: University of California Press, 1980 [1971]). His argument is further analysed in the concluding chapter to this book.
  • [4] Lubis, ‘Religious thoughts’: pp. 10-8.
  • [5] Lubis, ‘Religious thoughts’: pp. 18-20, 26.
  • [6] Joyoboyo (or Jayabaya) is, generally speaking, a mystical foretelling (ramalan). Nancy Floridadescribes Joyoboyo texts as follows: ‘texts of this genre turn on historical periodization, political symbology, and, especially, prophecy.’ Florida, Writing the past, inscribing the future: History asprophecy in colonial Java (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), p. 273.
  • [7] Amak Sjariffudin, Kisah Kartosuwirjo dan menjerahnja, 3rd ed. (Surabaya: Grip, 1963), pp. 7,20-1. This text contains several biographical mistakes; nonetheless, it is still worth discussing itsapproach to the character of Kartosuwiryo.
  • [8] Pinardi, Sekarmadji Maridjan, p. 41.
  • [9] Pinardi, Sekarmadji Maridjan, p. 45.
  • [10] This investigation examined intelligence, emotional behaviour, motivation, personal development since 1950 and prognoses for the future. It is interesting to note that the doctors explicitly stated that Kartosuwiryo’s motivation for pursuing the rebellion was rooted in childhooddevelopments and therefore impossible to assess at that point in time.
  • [11] Dinas Sedjarah TNI, Penumpasan pemberontakan D.I./T.I.I., S.M. Kartosuwiryo di Jawa Barat(Bandung: Dinas Sejarah Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Darat, 1982 [1974]), p. 35,quote p. 33.
  • [12] Hiroko Horikoshi, ‘The Dar-ul-Islam movement in West Java (1942-62): An experience inthe historical process’, Indonesia 20 (1975): p. 73.
  • [13] Hiroko Horikoshi, ‘The Dar-ul-Islam movement’, p. 73.
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