Introduction / History
The Simeulue people live on Simeulue Island located 200 kilometers off the western coast of Aceh Province. The major port city for Simeulue is Sinabang (SE coast). The other large ports are Sibigo (NE coast) and Kampung Air (West Coast). Awareness of this small island has heightened in the past few years due to the Tsunami and frequent earthquakes that have directly impacted life there. In light of this, improvements are being made on the island because of several Tsunami/Earthquake relief organizations and their partnership with Simeulue Island. This once almost inaccessible island now has an airport with regular, almost daily flights from twin engine planes, roads stretching across much of the island, a hospital in the port city of Sinabang with several Indonesian doctors, relatively frequent electricity throughout 2/3 or the island, as well as many new small, more modern houses given by these organizations to replace the ones destroyed by the earthquake or tsunami. Simeulue's true heritage and history is very difficult to know, because their folk traditions and their legends are only as old as the memories of the oldest people remaining on the island. There is no written history. The Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, and Acehnese have all, at some point co-habited the island with the Simeulue, and each has left their significant impacts on the culture and economy here. Folk traditions have it that the island was first inhabited by three giants, and they each made their way to settle in different areas of the island, leaving their land-marks along the way. It is also rumored that Simeulue was once ruled by a King and was in itself, a kingdom. This was before the Dutch came onto the scene. To date, Acehnese influence is the most visible on the culture as they have assimilated to their religion and come under the syariah law of Aceh. Many of the Acehnese descendants in Simeulue came to the island during the clove boom in the 70s and 80s.
What are Their Lives Like?
Generally, the Simeulue make a living from fishing (lobster and fish), farming (rice, red peppers, tomatoes, peanuts, and green vegetables), harvesting cloves, palm trees, fruit trees and coconuts, as well as owning small kedai (small store operated from within the home selling food, drink, and cigarettes among other daily need items). Each village usually has one mesjid (mosque) or musholla (prayer-house). Besides using it for prayer, the mesjid is also used for discussing religious issues, holding social functions, providing information from the government, and encouraging the community to work together on community projects. The political system stems from the most basic village leader (pak kecik), to the leader of several villages (kepala mukim), on to the district area leader (kepala kecamatan), then to the parliament, and finally the leader of the island and his staff (bupati). The Simeulue house is now generally constructed with a concrete foundation to about 1 meter high, and above that they will use all wood and use a roof of tin or thatch. They like to use wood more than concrete because of the frequent seismic activity. Many still sleep on mats on the floor and leave the lights on, and anytime there is an earthquake they get out of the house as quick as possible. Typically, the parents live in a descent sized house with their unmarried children and sometimes grandparents (usually parents of wife). Living arrangements after marriage are generally this: the son 'n law has an obligation to live with the family of his wife for the first year of marriage and then another year after their first child is born, after that he is free to take his new family wherever he chooses (which is generally not far). The Simeulue typically live a sehari-hari (day-to-day) lifestyle. Very few have a 9-5 job. If they make enough profit from the harvest or from fishing, they will break from work and just hang out for awhile until the money runs out, and then they will go back to work. This is okay for some, others don't like their way of life because the lack of profit. With the recent entrance of banks and loans and motorcycles and new style houses, as well as many other materialistic things, many of the Simeulue are not as content living simple as they once were. The Simeulue are very family oriented and find there sense of self according to their community's perception of them. Also the religion of Islam has complete dominance on the island and the average Simeulue can also find status according to their "religious devotion."
What are Their Beliefs?
The Simeulue people are virtually all Muslim. They are very proud that there are no churches, temples or any other religions present among them. Despite their exclusive Islamic status, many are still influenced by animistic beliefs and various folk beliefs. These beliefs are focused upon seeking protection through magic or concoctions to appease or control both good spirits and mmot or roh Setan (ghosts and evil spirits). For this, the use of a dukun (spirit doctor) is still in use widespread throughout the island to cast out demons or perform a ceremony which will provide safety and protection, or to help give safe passage to the newly deceased. This is still very animistic, although guised with a touch of Islam as he/she will often bring the Al-Quran and offer a prayer before beginning. The average penduduk (resident) will know little depth of Islam, and far less of any other religion, only that which they have heard. Many of the young believe that once they get married and berkeluarga (have a family) will be the time for them to get serious about their religion. Their level of education is still fairly low, with the average person only making it through middle school. Because of lack of education, heavy influence of tradition, and an oppressive and restrictive religion, the Simeulue still very much have to rely on their community's knowledge and the faith of those respected in their community's and family's to tell them what they're suppose to believe and what they shouldn't believe. This is a fear-based culture, and they are very afraid of being shamed or being outcasted from family or community, so generally they will just follow what everyone else believes to meet that need for security. However, their knowledge of right and wrong is increasing as they attempt to address issues of corruption and scandal within their communities and especially within their own government.
What are Their Needs?
The cost of living in Simeulue is still relatively low, but because they have to import so much generally the cost of those items is greatly increased, especially the cost of gas and foods and other electronic and clothing goods, etc. Since the way of life in Simeulue is becoming more sophisticated, they steadily find themselves in need of more of these imported goods as well as a higher income. There is a devastating paradigm that affects the economy of the island: in an economic sense, the Simeulue need a plan of action from their community and government leaders, stretching from how they should use their land to how they can improve methods of farming and fishing. But these very people whom they need to help show them "how to" are the very people they don't trust because of corruption and bad direction over the years. The sumbur daya (natural resources) of Simeulue would make any region envious, from their potentially thriving economy from the sea to the coconut and palm tree covered coastline, on toward the inlands and mountains where about anything you would want to plant would grow because of the rich soil.
In spite of the many good things that have sprung out of help from NGOs across the island, there has been a negative affect in a sense that the people have become dependant on them, and have developed a mentality of "why work when you can get it for free?" So this has created a sort of false economy on the island that could be devastating in five or so years when all the NGOs have left.
The health care and education system is still fairly primitive. One of the issues affecting the people of Simeulue is that all the government employees (police, health care, education, etc.) feel that they are underpaid and in return tend to not have any passion or goals concerning their job/department, creating a real lack of vision for the island. In essence, the island needs community developers and those who have knowledge of farming , fishing, health care, education, etc. who can help them improve their methods and cast a reproducible vision that can be adopted by residents all over the island.
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