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The Jakarta Post

The Jakarta Post, September 29, 2006

Pelauw weaving rite retains modern-day relevance

M. Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon

Pelauw in Haruku island district, Central Maluku regency, is home to a cultural tradition practiced since the early 14th century.

As the capital of Haruku island district, which occupies a total 150 square kilometers, Pelauw is a place endowed with rich traditions that are still intact.

One of thes! e is the traditional weaving rite, which is held once every three years. The rite is a symbol of the traditional spirit of Pelauw, which is laden with supernatural, heroic and sacred elements.

The rite is divided into three parts, each with their own unique features: Ma'atenu, Ma'alawa Hinia Huai and Ma'amara Tenun. The three are inseparable from each other because they are historically related.

The two-day event, which often inspires far-flung Pelauw migrants to return home, is held only on a Thursday and Friday. This year, it was held in June.

Ma'atenu (the Cakalele dance) starts the entire ritual procession and is meant to serve as a physical tryout against sharp weapons. Held on the Thursday, the rite is participated in by all the males from Pelauw. Wearing white uniforms, the Cakalele dancers wear white headcoverings and carry sharp weapons.

At 6.30 a.m. the Cakalele participants leave for the Soa (family clan) house where they are seen off by the traditional head. On the way to the Soa house, they are in a trance (ka'a in the local language), demonstrating that they are immune to sharp weapons.

The Cakalele participants are divided into three groups that take three opposing routes. The Laturima or Matasiri group head to the west, the Waelurui to the south and the Waelapia to the east.

Each group is led by a Kapitan (war commander), assisted by several guards, known as Ma'ataru Amen. Each pays homage at the graves of their ancestors, known locally as the Sacred Graves, where they pray to the ancestors to bless them and give them strength.

Before that, a traditional elder leads a prayer and a chief provides water that the Cakalele participants should drink after a prayer and Salawat Nabi (a prayer for the Prophet) are offered.

From here, thousands of Cakalele participants pay homage to historical and holy places, praying and giving offerings there. The event ends at 3 p.m.

The Cakalele participants go to the river where each is bathed by Ma'ataru Amen; afterwards they are subjected to a test to prove they cannot be hurt by sharp weapons.


At about 3.30 p.m. the drum in the mosque was sounded to mark the return of each group to Pelauw. The first to return was the Patalima group, made up of Kian Laturima. The next was the Patasiwa, a combination of the Waelurui and Waelapia groups.

There, each group demonstrated their physical strength against sharp weapons. They cut their own bodies or let other participants do the cutting, a token demonstration of their great patriotism and heroism in defending their land against colonial powers.

After this the participants went into the Baileo traditional house.

To remove the influence of the Kapitan, the women from each Soa house wrapped Ma'alahe cloth (lahat cloth) around the neck of the men taking part in the Ma'atenu rite. This cloth was later given back to the Talaohu and Sahubawa clans to be returned to its original place.

Meanwhile, the Ma'alawa Hinia Huwai rite, in which superior seedlings are taken, was performed the next day. The rite began at 6 a.m. sharp and was performed by over 100 young housewives donning Kodarane (a blue kebaya, a long-sleeved blouse worn over the skirt/wrap) and matakupang (a red cloth).

They all carried tagalaya (baskets) containing superior plant seedlings. The rite is intended to show the struggle of the women in making food available for Pelauw.

At first, the young housewives got together in the Baileo traditional house. Carrying foodstuffs, they ran to the doors in Pelauw. Arriving there, they waved their hands, praying that they would be blessed and endowed with prosperity and fertility for their children and grandchildren.

The climax of the two-day rite was marked by Ma'amara Tenun, which was expressed through dances and songs accompanied by rebana (tambourine) music. Four girls danced while 99 housewives sang the songs. Meanwhile, the rebana music was played by the traditional elders. The rite began at 3 p.m. and the procession was led by a traditional chief of the Latupono or Tualepe clans.

The dancers came from the Latuconsina, Salambessy/Tuankotta/Angotasan, Tuasikal and Tualeka clans. The rebana music was played by the traditional elders of Soa Sahubawa and Talaohu. The rite went on for five hours continuously in a sacred and solemn atmosphere, symbolizing the spirit of togetherness.

The meaning behind the rite was depicted through the colors of the dancers' garb: blue, yellow and white. Blue is the symbol of a kingdom or a government so the dancer must come from the Latuconsina clan, which heads the traditional administration.

Yellos symbolizes prosperity and white is the symbol of holiness. Every time a dancer moved away, several housewives would sweep the ground on which the dancers had stepped.

Meanwhile, the 99 housewives singing songs in the Pelauw native language to accompany the dances linked arms with one another and went round the dancers, a symbol of inseparable unity.

The housewives would keep their arms linked until the dancing was over and a housewife of the Tualepe clan came to release the locked arms.


The staging of this traditional rite, Pelauw community figure Abduh Samad Salempessy told The Jakarta Post, bears a philosophical significance known as Ma'arutu Maningkamu -- the gathering of people in brotherhood.

Salempessy, chair of the communications studies school of Prof. Dr. Moestopo University, said the weaving rite has been practiced since about 1350, when intertribal fighting existed, and also in the late-14th century when fighting broke out against the colonial powers of the Portuguese, French and the Dutch.

"The Pelauw people, in the traditional community of Hatuhaha (the land on the stone) living on Haruku islands, later made a decision: Given that conflict broke out everywhere, they would build their strength in Hatuhaha. Therefore, they held Ma'atenu, a physical test against sharp weapons, to find out whether they were ready to fight or not," he said.

After carrying out Ma'atenu and obtaining physical strength, Salampessy added, their ancestors then thought of the need for economic resilience. Later they conducted the Ma'alawa Hinia Huwai rite, in which they prayed that Pelauw would be blessed with prosperity and fertility.

However, eventually, he went on to say, their ancestors believed that to win a war the entire people had to be united. Therefore, they conducted the Ma'amara Tenun, a symbol of the Pelauw people's unity.

"In this particular rite, a circle of housewives symbolizes Maningkamu (unity) with their arms firmly linked, one to another. Toward sundown, after the Tenun traditional procession is over, a housewife from the Tualepe clan comes to release the linked arms.

In the absence of this housewife, the arms will remain linked because an instruction binds them in a spiritual commitment," he said with great seriousness.

Every time the weaving rite is held, Pelauw people, wherever they are, will feel the call to go back home. "Take my wife and I, for example. We leave Jakarta and return home for three days.

"This costs us a lot but we don't care because we are responding to a spiritual call. Fellow Pelauw migrants will do likewise," he said.

This internalization of the values of local culture within families, in the Soa and in the land of Pelauw, has been going on for a very long time, he said.

"Wherever a Pelauw man lives or works -- no matter how modernized he may be -- he will be proud of this tradition because it is an integral part of his life," he stressed.

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