Smong, Local Wisdom that Saved the Life of Simeulue’ People

Painting of tsunami Aceh from Tsunami Musium Aceh

Painting of tsunami Aceh from Tsunami Musium Aceh

Engel mon sao surito/Inang maso semona/Manoknop sao fano/Uwilah da sesewan/Unen ne alek linon/Fesang bakat ne mali/Manoknop sao hampung/Tibo-tibo maawi/Angolinon nek malo/Oek suruk sauli Maheya mihawali/Fano me senga tenggi/Ede Smong kahane/Turiang da nenekta/Miredem teher ere/Fesan navi-navi da/Smong rumek-rumek mo/Linon uwak-uwak mo/Elaik kedang-kedang mo/Kilek suluh-suluh mo.

(Listen to this story/Once upon a time/A village was drown/That was spoken/It started with an earthquake/Followed by the receding water/Suddenly, the whole country sunk/If the earthquake was strong/And the water receded/Hurry to find a place/Go to highland to save your life/That’s what you called smong/The history of our ancestors/Please remember this/The message and the advice/Smong (tsunami) is your water bath/Earthquake is your swing/Lightning is your drum/Lightning is your drum/Lightning is your lamps) – (Yoppie Andri, Smong-The Tempest in the Island of Simeulue 1833, 1907, 2004 and story of the writer (2008))

The parents in Simeulue, Aceh, usually told the above story to their children and grand children, to take caution for the coming of tsunami waves or smong (its local name).

The story does not have to be exact like the one mentioned above or there is strict rule about the rhyme; the storytelling simply flew from parents to their children and grand children, from generation to generation, until it became oral tradition. Some of the younger generation may never experienced smong, still they kept passing the local wisdom through this oral tradition. If strong earthquake struck, then the water receded, hurry to run to the hill, and leave every thing behind.

“I heard the story from my grand father during meal times, or during our spare times when we mingled with our family. I was very young that time. But the story often told by other elderlies when we got together,” explained Arsin, a fishermen lived in Bunon, Simeulue Timur.

“Then I repeat the story to my children. I know nothing about tsunami; I never experienced such disaster until 2004. But I believed that my father had told me the truth,” he further added.

New settlers that now resided in Simeulue also heard the story. Maryam, 47 years old, for example, she heard the story from the elderlies. Her children heard the story from her husband who originated from Simeulue.

“I came from Meulaboh. But I believed the story, because the elderlies had shown the evidence. There was a rock mountain that now located in the middle of the ocean; smong took it. Then we had big coral in the paddy field that was far away from the ocean. It’s impossible that human did these; it must be something else. That’s why we believed the story,” she explained.

She told about what happened when earthquake struck Simeulue five years ago, she was inside the house with the children. Their house was not far from the beach. After a strong earthquake, they went outside right away and saw the water had receded and fish floundered. Soon, she heard her neighbors, especially the elderlies shouted, “Smong! Smong! Every one ran to the hill, quickly!”

“I did not have time to think; we just followed my neighbors to the mountain together. It was scary. A giant wave as high as coconut tree swept away our houses. I now believed that Smong had happened before,” added Maryam, whose husband was fisherman.

At the event of disaster, several people led the evacuation to the mountain. No one had the intention to go back to the house, trying to save the belongings. People were aware that after a strong earthquake at the sea, smong would come within 5 to 10 minutes. The people of Simeulue were lucky; because their area was surrounded by mountain chain only 300 – 500 meters from the coastline. So, it did not take long to be at a higher place.

The story of smong would be repeatedly told if small-scale earthquake struck their region, located at the South Coast of Aceh and neighbored with Indian Ocean. The people believed tsunami had happened because the graveyard of the victims from the event in 1907 was still there. Current generation of parents, children and youth put the importance on the story, which had saved their lives. 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake that triggered giant tsunami waves only claimed the life of 7 people out of 82,555 total inhabitants; most of the victims were the elderlies that trapped inside the wreckage of the buildings.

Thanks to the wisdom shared by the story, some of the people from Simeulue that now lived in Aceh mainland were safe from the tsunami that devastated the West and East Coast of Aceh, including the capital of the province, Banda Aceh.

“In Meulaboh, we heard some of them were safe. Soon after strong earthquake struck, they ran away to the higher place and shouted: Smong! Smong! Run to the hill! People looked at them and call them, “People from the island, they’re crazy,” While the people started to collect the floundered fish from the beach,” told Joni N.

The story of smong stays with the younger generation of Simeulue deep in their heart. Their parents repeatedly told the story during meals time or when they spent time together.

“Our father told us, if strong earthquake struck, then the water receded, ran to the hill right away, because smong would come. Therefore we ran to the hill right away when earthquake struck,” explained Nurul, 9 years old, who often collected fish at the beach.

No one knows for sure when the story of smong started being told. People often thought that it might start by the survivors of 1907’s tsunami. The first tsunami in Simeulue was recorded in 1833. Unfortunately, the local wisdom was failed to be shared among the inhabitants so when tsunami struck again in 1907, it was resulted in many casualties. The huge numbers of deaths and missing people had shocked the people of Simeulue and later realized that tsunami could be a repeated event, thus they ought to learn the lesson.

In the aftermath of 1907’s tsunami, the elderlies started the oral tradition of telling smog from one generation to other generation. Thanks to the cultural practice, current generation now could live a better life and know how to take precautions in the event of tsunami. The story had claimed its important share in the life of people of Simeulue nowadays. Even the world has started to learn about the wisdom of smong from Simeulue, a place that was unknown to the world prior to 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake. UNESCO has determined that the wisdom of smong ought to be shared to the world. Today, the story of smong is widely told not only in Simeulue, but also in other part of the world. (Musfarayani)

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