Aceh has invited the world to come explore its arts, scenery, cuisine and history during the sixth Aceh Culture Week (Pekan Kebudayaan Aceh/PKA) in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh on September 20th- 29th.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono opened the festival Friday (September 20th) at Sulthanah Ratu Safiatuddin Park by striking a traditional Acehnese tambo drum. Dozens of drummers took up the rhythm on the rapa'i, a tambourine. In all, close to 400 dancers performed traditional dances from all over the province during the opening ceremony.
Held every five years – and coinciding this year with "Visit Aceh Year" – the festival, featuring folk games, parades, performances and exhibitions, was expected to attract many domestic and foreign tourists.
Events and exhibits are being staged at various venues in Banda Aceh, which was severely damaged in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster but is now largely rebuilt and home to a handsome Aceh Tsunami Museum visited by hundreds of people each day.
Twenty-three districts and cities have set up exhibits of local arts, culture and traditions in the Sulthanah Ratu Safiatuddin Park, named after a 16th century Acehnese queen.
Unity and peace
In his remarks, Yudhoyono said one goal of the festival was to safeguard Aceh's diverse cultural treasures and its hard-won peace, sealed in an August 2005 peace deal between the central government and the rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) after decades of conflict that killed some 25,000 people, most of them civilians.
"It was not easy to reach peace in Aceh. There were too many victims. Let us take care of it and safeguard it together. We have a responsibility to maintain peace forever," he said.
"Amid the fading of cultural values due to globalisation, we need PKA to preserve the culture that exists in every regency and city of Aceh," said Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah, one of several former GAM leaders who have since held political power in the province.
Adami Umar, head of Aceh Culture and Tourism, said the theme of the festival this year was "One Aceh Together" to encourage different ethnic groups to work together for a better future.
"In recent months, there has been more demand for creation of new provinces, Leuser Antara Province in the centre and South West Aceh Province in the western and southern coastal areas," he told Khabar Southeast Asia in late August.
"We hope, through these cultural events, we will encourage Acehnese to unite and express mutual trust."
He said his department had invited ambassadors from other countries and governors of other provinces in Indonesia to attend the festival.
"We invite domestic and foreign tourists to come to this cultural event, so they can enjoy all of Aceh's beautiful culture, nature, and its history," Adami added. He said many Malaysians would be attending the event.
Toward the future
The Chairman of the Aceh Traditions Council, Badruzzaman Ismail, said that the event is an effort to maintain indigenous Acehnese culture and arts for the next generation.
"We need to pay attention to our culture and its values. Many countries are developed because they promote the values of culture [while undergoing] development," he told Khabar. "We hope that the younger generation will use Aceh's culture as guidance, and carry forward the values and wisdom that have been passed down for generations in Aceh society."
Barlian AW, an activist, said he hoped the PKA would remind people, especially policy makers, that culture and local wisdom should be an important part of Aceh's development.
"We shouldn't be fixated on the glories of the past," he told Khabar. "It's like a person in a car. You can occasionally look back, but if you do it too often, there'll be an accident. I hope the PKA will help people reflect on how to develop Aceh for the better."
For Evawani Elina, a housewife in Banda Aceh, PKA will be an opportunity to educate her five children about Aceh's cultural riches.
"That way, they will not forget the legacy of their ancestors," Evawani said.