Migration and Invation

from Madurese to Roman;
at the range of the Hillocks dan Alpine Mountains

Author: Abi Muhammad Latif

The Madurese Migration to Jember

Poverty in Java Island, particularly in Madura in the 19th century, has led to migration to other regions. The motive behind this was to improve their standard of living. The residents migrated to sparsely populated areas.

Madurese ethnic migration to East Java has been going on for a long time. The migration pattern of Madurese people began with migrants arriving at their desired destination in small groups of around 10-15 people, passing through Sumenep, Kalianget, and crossing the Madura Strait to stop at the port of Panarukan. Next, from Panarukan, they headed towards Bondowoso or Situbondo to settle temporarily in coastal areas, and then they went to North Jember. From North Jember, they continued to South Jember, where they cleared up trees of the forests and established Madurese villages such as Jenggawah, Cangkring, and others. It is known that in 1806 there were already Madurese villages, just like those established in Jenggawah, Cangkring, and Muktisari located in South Jember. There were 3 villages in Pasuruan and 22 villages in Probolinggo.

The 1870 Agrarian Law issued by the Dutch East Indies was happily welcomed by private entrepreneurs in Jember. Many tobacco and sugarcane plantations were opened and required a considerable number of workers. Due to the dry, barren, infertile, and lime-containing Madurese land, thousands of Madurese people come to East Java every year to work in plantations. The wave of Madurese migration to the Jember area began with the efforts of NV LMOD (NV Landbouw Maatscappij Oud Djember), which needed labor to be employed in its plantations. Most of the Madurese migrants settled in the northern part of Jember (Kalisat District, Jember District, and Mayang District).

The Hillock Cave: folding space and time

In an effort to settle in Jember, migrant workers cleared the forests and hills. Then they built living quarters for their small groups. Human civilization in the hills and forests gradually formed as they reproduced and brought in other migrants from their hometowns.

In the hillocks of Jember, there are many caves with spiritual myths. Some believe that these caves can open a pathway (folding space and time) to Madura. Jember and Madura are located on two different islands; Jember is on the eastern part of Java Island, while Madura is a separate island to the northeast of Java Island. They are separated by the sea. Some people believe that to make a metaphysical journey from Jember to Madura through the cave, one must practice the rituals of tirakat/lelaku, which involve controlling or restraining one’s desires. If this practice is successful, then it is believed that someone can make the journey to Madura in the blink of an eye.

On top of the hillock of Mandireh, in the hamlet of Cora Lembu,  Planangan Village, there is a cave that can lead a journey to Madura. Based on the memory of Abu Saini’s father’s testimony, he entered the cave through its mouth, which has 3 stages (spaces), if the first level of tirakat (spiritual practice of self-discipline) is accepted, then one can proceed to the second level/space, and so on. If one has successfully passed all the 3 stages of tirakat in the cave on Mandireh Hillock, then Gendik, a male horse with long hair and beard, and eyebrows used as a headband, will come and take the individual in the spiritual (and physical) journey to Payudan/Pajudan Cave, Sumenep, Madura.

People say that the journey to Madura is only a blink of an eye, but in reality, to make a spiritual (and physical) journey from Jember to Madura takes more than a decade. Abu Saini’s father made his spiritual journey from Mandilis Mountain (Meru Betiri National Park) after meditating in the river for 15 years. When he woke up, his pants were covered in moss, and when he wiped them, the fabric disintegrated. His hair had grown to waist-length. Fifteen years felt like a week, he reminisced.

Abu Saini’s father successfully came out of the Mandireh Hillock Cave after meditating for 20 years. He went out of the cave carrying a keris wrapped in cloth and tied with roots. He then received many visitors (patients) who asked for medications. When he had to search for medicine, he instantly entered a trance state, sometimes riding on fence plants or flowers without damaging them (spiritually riding a horse), sometimes climbing hillocks and disappearing. He succeeded in passing down the knowledge of medicine to Abu Saini, his third child. He died at the age of no less than 100 years old.

Romans and the “Wall of Italy”

The Middle-Republican perception of the Alpine mountains as the “Italian Wall” was one of the factors that allowed the Roman Empire to remain in power for a long time. The attempt to cross the Alps to attack Rome was a significant event that was sure to be discussed by many historians for a long time. One of the most famous examples of this is Hannibal Barca, the military commander of the Carthaginian Empire in the Second Punic War.

Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in 218 BC was one of the major events of the Second Punic War and one of the most celebrated achievements of any military force in ancient warfare. Hannibal led his Carthaginian army over the Alps and into Italy to take the war directly to the Roman Republic, bypassing Roman and allied land garrisons, and Roman naval dominance.

In addition to Hannibal, several individuals/groups also successfully crossed the Alps, such as the migration of the Gauls (189 BC), Charlemagne’s pursuit of the Lombards (772 AD), and (propaganda) Napoleon (1800). There is also the equally surprising story of Ötzi the Iceman, the well-preserved corpse of a mountaineer that was frozen in the Alpine climate for approximately 5000 years in the Ötztal valley. He was discovered by hikers in 1991, wearing only a loincloth and a grass cape, with bearskin (for the soles) and deer skin (for the upper part) shoes. He was also found with a copper-headed axe, a long bow, arrows, and a knife. The latest development (in 2016) is the Swiss achievement of constructing the longest train tunnel through the Alpine Mountain range, through Europe, from the west to the east.

The narrative of crossing the Alps has become so dominant, as if conquering an unbeatable part of nature. However, behind this “conquest” lies the consequences of the destruction and damage of the Alpine environment for human civilization. What if we reversed the subject-object perspective between the Roman Empire and the Alps? Instead of “Rome having a natural fortress,” it could be “The Alps have iron-clad foothills.” Or, the Alpine Mountains and the Roman Empire are on a picnic, discussing who is dominating whom.


Tobacco workers and tobacco pressing machines at Soekowono’s company at Besoeki’s residence. Documentation: KITLV (1910).

Sorting warehouse of Soemberbahroe tobacco company, Djatiroto – Djember. Documentation: KITLV (1920).

A cave on top of the Mandireh Hillock. Documentation: Abi Muhammad Latif.

“The second door” of the cave. Documentation: Studio Klampisan.

Hannibal Barca. Mommsen’s “Römische Geschichte”.

Hannibal and His Army crossing the Alps, Heinrich Leutemann.

The Community of Graveyards and the Goddess of the Alps as Guardians of Nature

Author Abi Muhammad Latif

It is unknown why many land-clearing figures chose to be buried at the top of the hillocks, but the phenomenon of the community of graveyards has a great influence on the existence of the hillocks. Before discussing the guarding of the hillocks, I would like to describe a few possible references to the graveyard at the top of the hillocks.

The first reference comes from a spiritual perspective: the height is an effort to be close to the Creator. This is quite related to the stories of the spiritual journey of the prophets and the gods, where the redundant narrative is always talking about what is up high, going to the up high, the high throne, the 7th heaven. Statues that are used as a medium for praying are also positioned higher than the one praying. Perhaps by burying them at the top of the hillocks, they will be closer to the One Up High.

The second reference comes from identity politics and belonging. The title of “community leader” is attached to the land clearers, making their final resting place a special one. In terms of materiality, this makes it easier for people who miss, idolize, and want to pray for them to be able to know about and visit their graves.

They are acknowledged as people of importance, even spiritually, so that new rites are born which are carried out by the people for this community of graveyards. This further strengthens the identity politics of the land-clearers as the dominant entities that give birth to myths, energies, and imaginary spaces outside of themselves.

The main actors in the history of civilization often mark their areas of authority or track traces. If drawn to the concept of power, this practice of marking, materially, is a form of self-accomplishment of what they are trying to achieve. The community of graveyards immediately marked what the land-clearers had accomplished, and those that became theirs. This is also good in terms of ownership conflicts (in this case land) after they die: the hillock that has been divided among the descendants of the one buried on its top is difficult to be sold and dredged. Objections will arise on ethical grounds and fear of disaster. If the hillocks are dredged, then automatically the signs of “authentic” historical material will also disappear. Community of graveyards in the hillock area as the dominant entity, is quite strong and still relevant as one of the last strongholds to protect the existence of the hillocks from mining activities. Even though several hillocks that have burial complexes are also being dredged, the rites and pilgrimages to the graves of the land clearers are still going on. As collaborative work, there needs to be cultural regulations that also contribute to maintaining this community, so that the hillocks will keep their existence, and complexity – between the materialized and the imaginary.

Goddess Raetia, The Guardian of the Alpine Meadows

Sontga Margriata ei stada siat stads ad alp
Mai quendisch dis meins
In di eis ella ida dal stavel giu
Dada giu sin ina nauscha platta
Ch’igl ei scurclau siu bi sein alv
Paster petschen ha quei ad aguri cattau
«Quei sto nies signun ir a saver
Tgeinina zezna purschala nus havein»

The text above is the first stanza of Canzun de la Songta Margriata, an old Swiss folk song recorded by Caminada. The song tells of a woman named Margriata who was found in the Alm of the Alps – a summer meadow for the milking of cows, goats, and sheep, as well as cheese production. According to ancient rules, Alm is forbidden for women.

Margriata worked in the Alps for 7 summers, and to work there, she had to cover her chest. In her 7th year, Paster Petschen (the shepherd’s son) realized Margriata was a woman. Margriata offered 3 sheep that could be sheared 3 times a year to Paster Petschen, as a bribe so he would not report what he saw to Senn, the Chief Shepherd. Paster Petschen ignored Margriata’s offer and told the Head Shepherd. Senn has absolute authority over humans and animals, so Margriata must leave Alm. She left behind a dried spring, withered meadows, and weeping cows.

Santa Margaret (Margriata)—a name that may come from Raetia, Reita, or Risa. Her name bears a phonetic resemblance to Raetia. Like the Goddess Raetia in ancient times, Songta Margriata is the invisible protector of the Alpine meadows. She had her main temple at Este in the River Po valley.

Through phonetic changes, especially in the Swiss regions of Tessin and Grison, the name Goddess Raetia or Reisa changed to Risa, Madrisa/Matreia, or Mother Risa. Many place names throughout the Alps are composed with the names Reita, Risa or similar forms.

Eduard Renner, in his book “Golden Ring above Urion Raeto-Romanche folklore” (1991), cites an ancient Alpine hymn or blessing, which Senn had to sing every night for the protection of Alm, the shepherds and their livestock. Using a large milk funnel as a megaphone, he sings a long prayer in the meadow, ending each stanza with a refrain:

All around this meadow is a golden ring,

And there sits Maria with her dearest little child…






The Community of Graveyards in the hillock area, in Sumbersari. Documentation: Studio Klampisan.

The Community of Graveyards on top of Bujuk Mareh hillock. Documentation: Studio Klampisan.

Bujuk Mareh graveyard on the top of hillock, Jenggawah. Documentation: Studio Klampisan.

The national hero’s grave on the excavated hillock. Documentation: Studio Klampisan.

Chapel in Tamsweg, Salzburg Lungau. Documentation: Studio Klampisan.

St Peter Cemetery in Salzburg. Documentation: Studio Klampisan.

St Peter Cemetery in Salzburg. Documentation: Studio Klampisan.