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Malay Culture

The Ritual of Tabot, Bengkulu.


1. The origin of Tabot

The ritual of Tabot is part of Bengkulu people tradition to memorize the tragical event of the death of the grandson of the prophet Muhammad PBUH, Husein bin Ali Bin Abi Thalib, in the battle versus the troop of ‘Ubaidillah bin Zain in Karbala, Iraq, on 10 Muharam 61 Hijriyah (681 C.E.). This ritual is held for about 10 days, every Muharram first to tenth. Therefore, at the beginning, the core of the ritual Tabot is to memorize the attempt of a Syi‘ah leader and his followers in collecting the part of Husein‘s cutting body, to accompany the procession and to burry him in savannah of Karbala.

The word of Tabot is derived from an Arabic word tabut, which literally means “wooden box” or “case”. In Quran the word of Tabot is known as a case containing the Book of Taurat. Israeli at that time believed that they would get the virtuous if the Tabot appeared in the hand of their leader. Contrarily, they would get disaster if the staff loosed.

There is no written proof since the ritual of Tabot began to be known in Bengkulu. However, it is strongly assumed that the tradition which start from the mourn ritual of Syi‘ism follower was brought by the skilled laborers building Marlborought Fort (1718-1719 C.E.) in Bengkulu. The skilled laborers were taken here by England from Madras and Bengali, south of India who were also the follower of Syi‘ah.

The workers, who are appropriate with Bengkulu People‘s way of life, led by Imam Senggolo (Syekh Burhanuddin), decided to live and build a new settlement called Berkas, currently known as Kelurahan Tengah Padang. The tradition coming from Madras and Bengali was bequeathed to their descendant who has made assimilation with original Bengkulu people and produce the descendant known as Sipai people.

The mourn tradition taken from the country made assimilation and acculturation with the Bengkulu people culture, and then was bequeathed and institutionalized become what then is known as Tabot ritual. This Tabot ritual is more and more extent from Bengkulu to Painan, Padang, Pariaman, Maninjau, Pidie, Banda Aceh, Meulaboh, and Singkil. But furtherly the Tabot ritual activities disappeared in many places. Finally, it was just remained in two places, in Bengkulu known as Tabot and in Pariaman Sumbar (coming into that place about 1831 C.E.) known as Tabuik. Both is similar, but the way of performing is rather different.

If Tabot ritual (Tabuik) is used by Syi‘ah people at the beginning to memorize the death of Husein bin Ali bin Abi Thalib, the ritual is performed only for the duty of family to fulfill the message of their forefathers since the people of Sipai free from the effect of the doctrines of Syi‘ah. Recently, since a recent decade, besides performing the message of forefathers, this ritual is also meant as the participation of Sipai people in forming and developing local culture of Bengkulu.

The Process of Throwing Tabot (Tabuik) To The Sea (Pariaman, West Sumatra)

The socio-cultural condition of people seem to be also the reason of appearing the difference in the way of performing the Tabot ritual. In Bengkulu, for instance, the number of Tabot is 17 which referes to the number of person in earlier family performing Tabot; but in Pariaman is only two sorts of Tabot (Tabuik), tabuik Subarang and Tabuik Pasa. The place of throwing Tabot (Tabuik) is different between both, Bengkulu and Pariaman. At the beginning, Tabot of Bengkulu is thrown in marsh located at around the place Imam Senggolo (Syekh Burhanuddin) is burried.

Recently, a lot of criticism from various society elements due to the implementation of the Tabot ceremony. The very basic criticism is the changing of the Tabot ceremony function from the ritual activity that has a religious nuance to become simply a cultural festival. This likely because of fact that people performing the Tabot ceremony are non-Syiah. The loss of the sacred values of the Tabot ceremony is worsened progressively by what is then known as Tabot development (Tabot which is created by government in big number).

2. The Equipments

To perform the Tabot ceremony, there are some equipments that have to be prepared :

- Making of Tabot

There are some equipments needed to make the Tabot: bamboo, rattan, pasteboard paper, paper of mar-mar, paper of grip, string, knife carve, picture appliances, flashlight, decorative lamp, bogainvillaea, flower of plastic and etc. If it is calculated from the number of the equipment needed, the expense required to make Tabot is around 5-15 million rupiah.

- Offerings and Kenduri.

Materials used to make offerings and kenduri are: sticky rice, gold banana, suggar cane, gingger, dadeh, palm sugar, sand sugar, coconut, chicken, flesh, ripe flavour, incense, and etc.

- Tabot Music

Castanetss which are usually used in ceremony of Tabot is dol and tessa. Dol is made of wood which is pierced in the middle and then covered with cow husk. Dol is like drum in form. Its diameter is about 70 - 125 cm, and its beater appliance  has 5 cm in diameter and 30 cm in length. The way of using it is by lapping it. The tessa is like rebana, made of copper, plate iron or alumunium, and also can be made of frying-pan that its surface is covered with dried goat husk.

- Other Equipments

Other equipments which must be prepared in each unit of Tabot is : red and white flag household size measure including its pillar, blue or green chromatic pennons flag which is bigger than flag of red-white, whiteflag which is equal to panil in its size (along with its pillar), lance which has double eye (sharp side) and in its back part is hung by a duplicate sword of zulfikar (sword of Rasulullah) in mini size.

3. The Way of Performing the Ceremony

Ritual of Tabot shall be drawn as following steps: taking land, sit penja, menjara, meradai, pageant of penja, turban pageant, Gam, huge pageant, and tebuang Tabot.

a. Mengambik Tanah (Taking Land)

Taken land has to contain magical element, therefore it has to be taken from sacred places. There‘s only two places assumed as the sacred places in Bengkulu, keramat tapak padri that is located in waterfront, nearby to the Marlborough fortress in the right corner of Bengkulu harbor, and Keramat Anggut which is located in public funeral of Pasar Tebek nearby monument of Hamilton, nearby to the coast of Nala. This ceremony takes place at night of 1 Muharam at around 22.00 p.m.

The taken land is stored in Gerga (center of activities/ group station of Tabot), formed like human being doll, and wrapped with white winding sheet, then put down in Gerga. The eldest Gerga in Bengkulu are only two, those are Gerga Berkas (Bind) and Gerga Bangsal (Barn). Both have been renovated and now they become a permanent building.

At both places, they put offering (sesajen) in the form of: red and white mushes, demerara, 7 sheets of sirih, 7 bars of smoke nipah, a cup of black coffee, a cup of irrigate serbat, a cup of curd (ox milk of murni raw), a cup of sandalwood water, a cup of sweet basil and water.

b. Duduk Penja (Cleaning Fingers)

Penja is an object made of cupreous, silver or copper in form of human being palm complete with its fingers. Hence this penja is referred also with fingers. According to family of Sipai, the penja is a sacred object containing magical element in it. It has to be cleaned by lemon water every year. Ceremony of cleaning the penja is called as duduk penja, which is conducted in 5 Muharram around 16.00 p.m.

In the penja ceremony, equipments required are: water mixed with certain flowers, water lime of nipis, sesajen (offering), and penja which will be cleaned. Offerings drawn up compose: 1 portion of kebuli rice, 1 saucer of rice chips emping, 1 comb of emas banana, 1 cutting of tebung, a glass of black coffee, a glass of serobat water, and a glass of curd.

c. Menjara (Mengandun)

Menjara is to pay a visit or visit other group for contesting dol, a kind of drum made of wood, which is made a hole in its middle and also closed over with cow husk.

This activity is performed in 6th and 7th of Muharram starting at 20.00 or 23.00 p.m. In Muharram 6th, the group of Tobat Bangsal visit group of Tobat Barkas, while in Muharram 7th the group of Tobat barkas visit the group of Tobat Bangsal. This activity take place at the open yard provided by each group.

d. Meradai (Collecting Fund)

The Meradai is taking fund by jola (a Malay word which means one who has responsible to take fund for the social activity) consisting of children in the age 10-12 year. This rite is conducted in Muharram 6th at about 07.00-17.00 p.m. The location of taking fund usually has been agreed by each group of Tabot.

The required equipments are: pennon flag, lance with double eye, bag or kambut, grist sack, and tessa.

e. Penja Procession (Arak Jari-Jari).

Penja procession or Arak Jari-Jari is a program of fingers procession put down in Tabot on every main roads of Bengkulu city. This rite is performed at the 8th night of Muharram, at around 19.00 p.m. and will end at about 21.00 p.m.

The required equipments used as offering materials are : 1 portion of kebuli rice, a glass of black coffee,  a glass of serobat water, an omellette, 7 types of lauk (side dishes especially meat or fish served with rice).

f. Turban Procession (Mengarak Sorban)

The turban procession is the event of Penja Procession added with white turban and put down at Coki Tabot (Small Tabot). This Coki Tabot is completed with flag/blue or green and white chromatic pennons which is written on it the name of “ Hasan and Husain” with beautiful Arabic calligraphy. This activity is performed at 9th night of Muharram around 19.00-21.00 p.m.

As it is reflected from its name, the required equipments in this event are the Tabot and Seroban. In addition, it is also needed a special fabric and Coki Tabot (monarchic chair/ throne).

g. Gam (Calm/ Mourning)

One of the steps in ceremony of  Tabot which must be adhered is “ gam”. Gam is time which is free from any activity. Gam is derived from word “ghum” which means closed or blocked. On 9 Muharram is the period of this gam, from at 07.00 to 16.00 p.m. that all of the activities related to the ceremony of Tabot including sounding dol and tessa are not allowed to be conducted at that time. Therefore, a period of Gam is also named as a period of calm/ peace.

h. Gedang Procession (Taptu of Akbar)

At 9th night of Muharram around 19.00 p.m., it is performed a discharge ritual of Besanding Tabot in each Gergas (station). Then, it is continued with procession of Gedang, that the groups of Tabot parade from each stations through determined route. Later, they will meet and form a gedang parade (huge parade). This procession becomes multitude because of uniting groups of Tabot, groups of entertainment, all of their supporters and also society. This event will end at around 20.00 p.m. The end of this huge procession rite is marked by gathering of all Tabots and groups of entertainer in the field of Merdeka Bengkulu (now is Province Monument Field). Tabots are lined up side by side, which is called disandingkan (being sat side by side) in local term. Side by side, hence this event is named by Tabot Besanding.

The required equipment in this rite is a wagon, which is used to transport the Tabot to an appointed place of Tabot.

i.      Tabot Tebuang (Tabot Terbuang)

The last event of ceremony series of Tabot is event of Tabot Tebuang performed on 10 Muharram. At 09.00 p.m. all Tabots are gathered in Merdeka field and have sat side by side as night of Tabot Besanding. At that time, the groups of entertainment will gather in the place and then entertain all visitors. At about 11.00 a.m., procession of Tabot will be moved to Teak Field (Padang Jati) and will end in complex of public funeral of Karabela. This place becomes the rite location of ritual tebuang Tabot because Imam Senggolo (Sheikh Burhanuddin), exponent of ceremony of Tabot in Bengkulu is buried here.

At about 12.30 a.m, the rite of Tabot Tebuang in grave of Senggolo is done. Because it is considered as a magical loaded rite, this rite can only be led by the eldest Shaman of Tabot. After finishing the rituals above, then structure of Tabots are thrown to the marsh beside mausoleum complex. By casting away Tabot at about 13.30 p.m., so the entire of the ceremony steps of Tabot is completed.

War of Tabot (Tabuik) in Pariaman, West Sumatera

4. The Prayers and Mantras

Every step in the Tabot ceremony is always started by reading Basmalah and prayers. These prayers are :

  • Grave prayer.
  • Prayer to ask His salvation and forgiveness to the soul of moslem people in the world
  • Reciting Tasbih
  • Reciting Shalawat Ulul ‘Azmi
  • Reciting Sholawat Wasilah
  • etc.

5. The Cultural Values

In general, the performance of Tabot ceremony has two values: religious values (sacred), and historical and social values. There are religious values (sacred) in Tabot ceremony that can be taken : first, a process of taking land, it can remind human being about the origin of their creation; second, regardless the opinion that Tabot ritual contains many deviant beliefs of Moslem, such as use of Qur‘anic verses and reciting mantera-mantera in process of taking land (mengambik tanah), but the essence is to awake us that religiousity or spirituality cannot be separated from cultural values; and third, the performing of Tabot ceremony represents the celebration of people to greet Islamic New Year.

Historical value implied in tradition of Tabot is as a love manifestation and memorizing the passing away of Prophet Muhammad PBUH‘s grandson, Husein bin Abi Thalib. He had been killed in Field of Karbela. The value is also as an expression of hostility to family of Bani Umayyah in general, and especially Yazid bin Muawiyah as the ruler (chalipate) at that time, together with Governor of Ubaidillah bin Ziyad commanding in attacking to Husain bin Ali bin Abi Thalib together with their soldiers. Social values consisted in it, for example: reminding human being about legalizing practice with any ways in order to get the top position, and symbolizing the social concern.

A lot of wisdom values can be dug and made to be a base to ford a life, but if it is not received prudently, the ceremony of Tabot will become simply cultural festival losing its base meaning. This rite is hilarious in performance (festival) but losing its spirit. (TN/TRJ/13/09-07)

References :

  • Bambang Indarto, Ritual Budaya Tabot Sebagai Media Penyiaran Dakwah Islam Di Bengkulu, skripsi fakultas dakwah UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, 2006
  • Direktorat Sejarah dan Nilai Tradisional Depdikbud, “Upacara Tabot: Upacara Tradisional Daerah Bengkulu di Kotamadya Bengkulu”, 1991/1992.
  • Kompas, “Dan, Tabot Sacral Itu Pun Patah…” from, retrieved at August 28, 2007.
  • Harian Rakyat Bengkulu, “Tugu Tabot Tak Boleh Dibongkar!”  from , retrieved at August 28, 2007.

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