Ancient feast brings Acehnese together during Ramadan

A beloved tradition, dating back to the sixth century, unites Acehnese from all backgrounds in a spirit of gratitude.

By Nurdin Hasan for Khabar Southeast Asia in Banda Aceh

July 31, 2013
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Sticking to their long tradition, Achenese welcomed Ramadan this year in a big way. The tradition, passed on for generations, is called Makmeugang. It involves buying and cooking large quantities of meat, then eating together with the whole family.

  • Muhammad Ali, a butcher (left), serves a buyer in Ulee Kareng market, a suburb of Banda Aceh on July 8th. Makmeugang is an Acehnese tradition which will last for two days to welcome Ramadan, Idul Fitri, and Idul Adha. [Nurdin Hasan/Khabar]

    Muhammad Ali, a butcher (left), serves a buyer in Ulee Kareng market, a suburb of Banda Aceh on July 8th. Makmeugang is an Acehnese tradition which will last for two days to welcome Ramadan, Idul Fitri, and Idul Adha. [Nurdin Hasan/Khabar]

Makmeugang is held two days before the arrival of the holy month. For those two days, Acehnese flock to the market to buy beef or buffalo. Typically, meat prices spike significantly.

This year, the price of meat shot up to Rp. 130,000 ($13)/kg from the usual Rp 70,000 – 90,000 ($7-9)/kg.

On July 8th, the first day of Makmeugang, Eliana, a 42 year-old housewife in Banda Aceh, said she had been preparing for a week. She bought chilis, onions, and spices, as well as meat, despite the soaring cost of food due to a recent increase in fuel prices.

"But what can I do? I have to buy them to enjoy Makmeugang with the family before we start the Ramadan fast," the mother of five told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Eliana bought two kilos of beef for Rp 120,000 ($12)/kg in the Ulee Kareng Market, a suburb of Banda Aceh. "I came early because I am afraid the price will go up. Traders usually like to raise prices when stock is running low," she said.

Muhammad Ali, a butcher in the Ulee Kareng Market, slaughtered two cows this year. By noon, he was sold out.

"I only sell meat during Makmeugang. The price is a little expensive, because all Acehnese buy meat. Makmeugang is a tradition in Aceh, where all citizens buy meat, even poor families," said Muhammad.

Feast brings families together

Badruzzaman Ismail, chairman of the Aceh Indigenous Council, said Makmeugang was first performed in Aceh in the sixth century during the reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda.

In that period, the Sultan slaughtered animals in large quantities and distributed meat for free to people in need as a form of gratitude for the prosperity of the kingdom and to thank its citizens.

"After Aceh was defeated by the Dutch, Acehnese's sultanate went bankrupt. But Acehnese themselves have kept the tradition alive until now, " he said.

"Poor people in Aceh will eat meat at least three times in a year, during Makmeugang. If they cannot afford it, some richer Acehnese will buy meat for them," he added.

The Makmeugang tradition sparks social interaction among different levels of society, brings families together, and boosts the local economy, Badruzzaman said.

"Giving thanks to God"

Makmeugang also has a religious value and is a form of thanksgiving to God, who has given sustenance, said Ameer Hamzah, a community leader. "Acehnese are very keen in keeping Islamic values," he added.

During Makmeugang, the aroma of meat curry drifts through the air. Parents often allow their children to skip school so they can enjoy the family feast, Ameer said.

"For a newlywed, a man is required to purchase a minimum of three pounds of meat to take to his in-laws. If he doesn't, it will bring disgrace on the entire family," said Ameer, who is also a cleric in Aceh.

"In villages where customs are still strong, a groom can be rejected by his wife's family if he doesn't bring home meat," he added.

"But a groom who has extra money will take a cow head to his in-law's home. It is a symbol of pride in the eyes of the villagers," he said.


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    • Helena
      July 31, 2013 @ 12:07:21AM
    • Tradition was the glue that held a society together in the past. These days, society is being torn apart by political, economic, and other interests. We should be thankful if in this month of Ramadan, society bands together because they feel a unity of tradition and realize the importance and the meaning of brotherhood, peace, and solidarity. Hopefully this tradition fosters an attitude that is oriented towards common interests.

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