King of the Batin 5

C. With Datuk Rio Kasim.
Pak (Mr.) Kasim is a very friendly man and enjoys conversations with visitors.

In the village of Rantau Panjang there lives an 87 year old man who holds tremendous influence, and the man’s name is Pak (Mr.) Kasim. Pak Kasim was given the title of Datuk Rio Kasim over 25 years ago. Through a community election process, Pak Kasim was elected Rio during 5 successive elections, with each duration in office lasting 5 years. The position of Rio is held by people who have the ability to lead the community in custom and cultural laws and regulations.

The word Datuk means grandfather, and is also a title given to the oldest man in a family clan, as well as to men who hold a high social position. In previous ages the title Rio was given to men who held the position as a raja kecil (small king) over a village.

Method for Selecting a Rio and the Prerequisites

Before an election for a Rio is conducted, the Islamic teachers, and other educated and wise men in a community, assemble a committee to oversee the election. The committee is made up of approximately 15 people. The people in the community are permitted to submit the name of a candidate, and a person can also present themselves individually as a candidate. The main prerequisite for every candidate is that they must have tremendous influence so that the people would consider him as being like a raja kecil (small king). After this man’s election, during his inauguration, he would be handed a keris (knife which was empowered with magic by a local shaman) to be maintained and held as a symbol of his authority.

If a Rio has retired and is no longer functioning in his position, his title and influence in the community remains. For example, if a Rio is retired he will still be invited to participate in community meetings to give his advice and insight into cultural laws.

In previous ages when Jambi was governed by one king, every Batin had 5 Rio’s. A Batin was an association of villages or people living in a small region. These Batin all had a person over them who held the title of Pesira. The Pesira’s role was the intermediate government position between the one Jambi king (or sultan) and the Batin Rio’s. Every Batin had one Pesira.  Each Rio had the obligation to gather their produce and bring it to the Pesira, and the Pesira would then deliver it to the king, as a form of taxation.

The Rio’s Influence Today

With the independence of Indonesian on August 17, 1945, there have been many structural changes in the government, and one of them is that the Rio is no longer an official position, though they are still an honored and revered member of certain communities that maintain their traditional customs and cultures. If difficulties arise in a given community, the government authorities will invite the Rio to assist with negotiations or to give advice on how to solve the problems. Today the Rio would be better understood as being the head of a village (kepala desa).

For an example to the community, the Rio must live an exemplary life; in his speech, who he associates with, the clothing he wears, etc., etc. If a Rio is found to be guilty of breaking a cultural law he will be judged more severely, and punishment will be 2x as severe than what a normal person in the community would receive.

Rules, Customs, and Laws of the Batin V

   The rules and cultural laws of the Batin V are still in effect, even with the independence of Indonesia. These rules are not Indonesian laws and regulations, they are local cultural laws, which every region of Indonesia has been free to maintain. To give an example of one of these cultural laws, we can look at the ethics involved with the association between the sexes: if there are two men walking together with two women, and they are not married, it is considered wrong. If there are four unmarried women that are walking together with two unmarried men, that would be acceptable. The ethics of association like this was created because of a situation in the past in which a massive uproar took place among the people in the village.

Another unique custom the Batin V have is that the women propose to the men for marriage. The reason for this comes from the history of the prophet Muhammad, who was to have been proposed to by his first wife, Siti Hadijah (Kahdijah).

The position of women among the Batin V is equal to men as it pertains to the distribution of  inheritance. Their philosophy of: “samo-samo naik, samo-samo turun” guides them in this custom (translated: together go up, together go down). The elderly women are also held up as being a role model for all, and are valuable when giving advice and for making decisions.

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Source: Interview with Mr. Datuk Rio Kasim

Location: The home of Mr. Datuk Rio Kasim on Thursday, July 4, 2013

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