While many visitors to Indonesia may miss out on Madura, those who make their way to the island can enjoy striking examples of regional heritage that have come to define this oft-neglected corner of East Java.
Madura juts out of the mainland like the incisor of an apex predator. This jagged appearance somewhat mirrors the perception of the Madurese as a hot-headed race: not so much quick to anger as imbued with an independent drive fired by bulwark strength and intense local pride. The symbolism of Madura, be it in the form of bull races, colourful batik clothing, music, thanksgiving or any number of cultural mores, runs deep and heats the islanders’ blood.
Similar to other communities in Indonesia, the Madurese have historically experienced their fair share of relocation: civic and economic circumstances–based partly on a lack of industry–have driven islanders to resettle in other places, and not always successfully. History tells of brutal conflict between Madurese settlers and their new communities in Kalimantan and Java, and suggests that no great amount of love exists between Madura and the rest of Indonesia.
As such, there remains an underlying disconnection that places Madura on the periphery of Indonesia: the nearby attractions of Bali and East Java ensure Madura is not a place encumbered by tourism, and on either side of the strait that divides the island from the mainland, a certain wariness, although not universal, exists as to the motivations of the other party. Were it not for the Suramadu Bridge, the longest such structure in Indonesia, the suspicion arises that Madura would happily become detached from its moorings and float free across the archipelago, beholden to none save Madura.
It is often said that Bali, the nearest landmass of comparable size to Madura, exists in of itself. Perhaps it is a question of mystique. Bali’s renown far exceeds its comparative stature and creates confusion in some visitors, unaware that the island forms part of a wider archipelago. On account of the distinct culture, landscape and atmosphere, the overwhelming feeling of being there fosters the sensation of existing a half-pace out of sync with the rest of its mother country, where subtle traits, even down to the food or type of regional costume, compound into significant cultural differences; Madura exists on similar latitudes, albeit from contrasting religious, traditional and civic perspectives. As Bali is to the Balinese, and vice versa, so too can the same be said for Madura and its native islanders.
Such distinct heritage reveals itself in Madura’s edifices; the principal mosques in Bangkalan and Sumenep point to the island’s Islamic heritage and constitute iconic sites due to their distinct architectural styles, while the bull racing stadia in Madura’s towns indicate the cultural importance attached to a pursuit that originated in the Sapudi Islands, a chain off the east coast of Sumenep.
And in Kota Pamekasan, the capital city of the regency that shares its name and lies to the island’s centre, resides a monument that, perhaps more than any, illustrates the characteristic vigour firing the Madurese: Monumen Arek Lancor, a structure created as a sign of appreciation to the freedom fighters, such as the figurehead Sakera, who defended and liberated their homeland from the grasp of the Dutch colonists.
Visitors to Pamekasan will find themselves drawn to the city’s alun, or square. There, overseeing the tennis courts, food sellers and playground, they will espy a striking, flame-like memorial writhing out of the ground as though charged by electric pulses. This is Arek Lancor, a metal construction, perhaps 20 or 25 feet high, bearing an attitude of supplication and devotion that befits its central position between two ornate places of worship: the Great Mosque of Asy Syuhada, identifiable by its bulbous green roof and flanked by a needle-thin minaret, and the Church of Mary Queen of the Apostles.
It’s fitting that a tribute to Madurese unity should sit between Islamic and Christian houses of worship, as though crossing a divide to integrate those who sit on either side. Arek Lancor’s design, topped by five curving heads, serves two purposes: it reflects the unceasing fire of the battle for independence and does so with an appearance that mimics the sickle and other traditional weaponry deployed by freedom fighters to defend Madura’s shores.
Sickle and fire
Thus does Arek Lancor symbolise the intrinsic traits of Madura: assertiveness, passion and strength. And given the monument’s central position, the message of Madurese togetherness it transmits flows around the island as if pumped forth by some great pulmonary system. This is a clear embodiment of the notion that self-respect needs not the trappings of statue-esque grandeur tens or even hundreds of feet high and coated in bronze; Madura is a practical, unpretentious place, and its iconography carries the same weight.
The flames of Arek Lancor convey a contemplative message, and they do so for all who come to bask in their glow. The essence is a simple and intrinsic truth; the freedom fought for and won by the Madurese flows from the same wellspring that created in them the readiness to fight for Madura and the people and values that comprise its unique spirit.