Barking dogs, mangled wild boars, and excited hunters: Manyalak (Barking) depicts the tradition of boar hunting among the Minangkabau people. The documentary film by Riri and Reza depicts a unique culture in the Islam-dominated region of Padang Panjang and shows what conflict lies behind it. Focusing on the polemic that emerges from the tradition due to its contrast with Islamic values, the documentary offers a different perspective and thereby shows that religion is not a fixed entity.
The custom of boar hunting is a long-lasting tradition of the Minangkabau people, passed down from generation to generation from the ancestors. During the hunt, the participants bring their dogs to a designated location, releasing them when sighting a wild boar to hunt them down. Instead of bringing the hunted boar to their homes, they are eaten by the dogs or taken away. Similarly, the dogs are not kept in the owner’s home, but stay outside in cages.
Manyalak is part of this year’s Indonesia Raja 2022 program’s selection for the region Aceh and Padang Panjang. For the first time, the two regions, located on the island of Sumatra, have been fused into one program. Under the title of “Culture, religion and women”, this year’s selection offers different interpretations on often discussed topics in the areas. According to the program directors Akbar and Wahdyudha, the focal points of the films reflect the similarities between Aceh and Padang Panjang, especially regarding the strong presence of Islam in both regions. While Aceh has its autonomy status with the sharia (the Islamic law) as the only province in Indonesia, this is not the case for Padang Panjang. However, in this area, there is also a strong presence of the sharia, manifested through a social law. This is also reflected in Manyalak.
The documentary retraces the cultural, social, and economical value of boar hunting for the Minangkabau people. But it also explores the contrast between this culture and religion. As Akbar explains, “with Manyalak, it becomes obvious why we chose this film. Due to its discussion on religion about a ritual that people from outside the area would not expect of a region that lives under the Islamic law”. Introducing the film with the quote “Customs are based on the Islamic law. The Islamic law is based on the book of Allah (Al-Quran). What the religion says, the customs apply it” and the sound of Islamic prayers resounding in the background, the filmmakers place the narrative into the context of religion from the beginning on. As Reza explains, “the region of West-Sumatra is known to have a strong position of Islam: This is also manifested through the prevalence of Islamic educational residences, called pesantren, and religious leaders coming from the region”.
According to the hadith, which represent the transmitted reports of the prophet Muhammad’s doctrines, dogs and pigs are considered as impure: it is forbidden to consume or keep them as animals without any further need. The impurity of the latter is also present in the Koran. So why do the Minangkabau people, who adhere to the Islamic law, preserve the tradition of pig hunting?
As the filmmakers describe, there is a lot of resentment against the ritual. Showing footage from a speech of an Islamic preacher on social media, the documentary depicts how the pig hunting is afflicted with negative reactions, deeming the custom as forbidden according to Islam. The issue around boar hunting has been developing for a long time, without any clear specification on its allowance or prohibition. Also, the local religious leaders do not offer clear indications on this matter. This is something that Riri and Reza also encountered during the filming process. As Reza describes, “the preachers are supposed to give guidance, but they don’t have the courage to say that it’s an unacceptable culture. In the interviews, they always keep it in the grey area. People that are considered as leaders don’t express their own opinion. And that’s a typical thing, also happening regarding other issues”.
By alternating shots depicting the hunters during their prayers with shots showing them while taking care of their dogs, the filmmakers emphasize the strict adherence of the hunters to their religious duties, but also to their dogs. In doing so, the documentary shows that religion and the tradition of boar hunting do necessarily exclude each other. In doing so, the filmmakers are trying to show that religion is not straight but can be adopted properly in different ways. As they explain, the pig hunters adhere to strict rules and boundaries such as washing their bodies when finishing the hunting. In addition, they never pet their dogs or get too close with them. This also means that the dogs are not allowed to enter the house, always staying outside. According to Reza, “most people are seeing dogs as friends, but for the Minangkabau people there are clear limits in their connection”.
Instead of merely looking at religion and culture as separate aspects excluding one another, Manyalak shows how the pig hunters integrate Islam as a part of their tradition. To quote one of the hunters in the film: “The problem is that people will choose between the two. Should it be hunting or worship? In fact, both can be done at the same time. There is no ban”. With their film, Riri and Reza offer a new perspective on this region known for their strong adherence to Islam and their unique tradition to an outside audience. In doing so, they show how religious matters can be seen from different perceptions and interpreted in individual ways. As Akbar adds at the end of the interview: “Religion doesn’t have to be only black or white, or a choice of what you can or cannot do. In fact, it is quite flexible”.