|Pak Sofia, Shire President at work at the Indian Ocean Group Training Association (IOGTA).|
Many societies recognise leaders. Such leaders typically possess culturally specific roles and attributes. In this blog, I look at a young leader on Home Island in relation to contemporary Cocos Malay culture.
This variety of cultural influences equates to different leadership roles. One person who has taken on several of these is shire president, Pak Sofia (Aindil Minkom). Shire president is an elected role, as head of the local council. So, basically, Pak Sofia is Mayor of the Cocos Islands. But he is also recognised as a religious leader.
|At the local school on Parent Teacher night.|
During the day, he works at a not-for-profit organisation that helps train unemployed people on Christmas Island and Cocos Islands. The Indian Ocean Group Training Association (IOGTA) as it is called, provides many services, but the core business is making "apprenticeships, traineeships and training happen". With unemployment levels sometimes reaching 65% this is an important organisation. Specifically, Pak Sofia's job is helping people who are out of work find a job.
Additionally, Pak Sofia often gives the sermon at Friday prayers--the most important prayers of the week. If someone has the skills and experience, they might also be called upon to give the Friday sermon (khotbah); it is not solely the role of the Imam. The photo portrays Pak Sofia, staff in one hand, and about to give the Friday sermon. On the right, you can see the bilal; he is giving the second azan (call to prayer) which precedes the sermon.This sermon was about the balance between our efforts for this life and the life hereafter (such as good deeds and following what the Koran tells us to do).
|At home after Friday prayers. This is the rest time before the mengaji starts at 3.30.|
|Afternoon lessons in reading Arabic script.|
Teaching them at a young age will prepare them for this. As they reach maturity, they are obligated to perform the prayers which require them to recite the Quran. "In an Islamic setting there is no one who is higher or lower. The fact that we are sitting on the same level as the student gives them an understanding that we are not better than them," explains Pak Sofia. The stick he's holding is not for whacking the kids; it's just a pointer.
|At the gym. Packing up after a work out.|
Pak Sofia, as his name implies (see Blog "Naming and Family), is also a father. I ran into him on Sunday fishing by the foreshore with his wife Mak Sofia, and daughter Sofia. "Sunday is family time for us. We try to go out and do things together on the weekend especially Sunday. That's my time off from mengaji [teaching Arabic script] and work. So I dedicate that time as family time".
|At the beach. Relaxing on Sunday.|
Ritual life also makes demands on community leaders. Throughout the year, various ceremonies enliven community life. These include Hari Raya celebrations, marking the end of the fasting month. Pak Sofia is photographed in white, standing with his friends.
|At the front in Malay attire.|
|Next to the main imam at ritual called kenduri arwoh|
Anthropologists tend to be interested in leadership in general, rather than a specific leader. Nevertheless, it is always useful to look at one leader in order to see what can be gleaned about leadership. So what can be gleaned?
The very fact that there is a leader tells us something. Some societies recognize very little leadership. Hunter-gatherer societies, for example, are largely egalitarian. In many aspects of life, decisions are made and executed through consensus rather than the authority of one person or a few.
|With family at Cyclone Shelter|
|With wife Cyclone Shelter|
When we look at a single leader, we can also reflect on larger cultural influences. All Malay societies I have read about have leaders. Ideally, such leaders emerge through consensus, maintain their status through being generous, and (especially in Javanese cultures) 'lead from behind'. That is, leaders should enact their authority subtly and slowly and with widespread support. It will be relevant to see, as our research progresses, if similar ideals are held on Home Island. Certainly, it appears to be the case.
But I think the roles of Pak Sofia indicate that there is much more to be said on the issue. My colleague, Sven Schottmann studies Malay people and their ideas of masculinity, government, and religion. He is the author of profound studies of Malaysia's former PM, Mahathir Mohamad. Hearing about my research here, Sven thought it provided insight into changing ideas of what it is to be a man. Guys like Pak Sofia are very close to the Malay Muslim ideal of a young man.
Thank you to Pak Sofia for his patience and generosity!