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three pairs of lovers with space



Aceh was a sultanate in the northernmost part of Sumatra, which the Dutch overcame fierce resistance to conquer in a devastating war that lasted from 1873 to 1903.

Snouck Hurgronje

Dr. Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936) was a Dutch scholar of Oriental languages and cultures who was able to pass himself off as a Muslim with such conviction that he was allowed on pilgrimage to Mecca. As Adviser for Native Affairs to the colonial government of the Netherlands East Indies from 1889 to 1905, and already fluent in Acehnese, he stayed in Aceh from 1891 to 1892 with a view to building relationships and gathering information to facilitate its real conquest about to begin.

His book De Atjehers was published in two volumes in Leyden in 1893-4. The edition quoted from here is the very slightly augmented English one, translated by A.W.S. O’Sullivan, Assistant Colonial Secretary, Colonial Settlements as The Achehnese, and published in two volumes in Leyden in 1906.

The following extracts about Greek love are scattered, but combine to show it was deeply embedded in the Acehnese way of life in the late 19th century.

Footnotes by the author are followed by the initials [CSH]



Chapter I. Distribution of the people, forms of government and administration of justice

2.Elements of Population

Describing the Niasese people:

In spite of all these sayings and stories (to which may be added the fact that kurab or ringworm is still very prevalent among the Niasese), the Achehnese set a high value on these people as slaves. They describe them as tractable, obedient, zealous and trustworthy. The women are more highly prized for their beauty than those of the dominant race, and many of the boys who as sadati (dancers) or otherwise are made to minister to the unnatural lusts of the Achehnese are of Niasese origin. [p. 21]


3. Dress, Food, Luxuries, Dwellings and Household equipment

The Achehnese colonists on the East and West Coasts who live there sometimes for years at a time in a society where there are no women, develop every vice of the nation to its highest pitch. The true highlanders are reputed not indeed more virtuous (for with them theft and robbery are the order of the day) but less weak and effeminate than the lowlanders. Among them opium, drink and unnatural crime exercise less influence than in the coast provinces. [p. 33]


5. The Gampong, its Government and Adats

Where the heads of the village are not both pious and watchful, the meunasah is apt to become the scene of all manner of Achehnese iniquities. In its courtyard fights of cocks and other fighting birds are held, while within the building gambling goes on and paederasty is shamelessly practised at night. [p. 63]


8. The Rajahs (Sultans) of Acheh

A footnote to the statement that during the reign of the then-present sultan, Muhamat Dawōt, “Keumala, the seat of the sultanate, had to be subdued by force in the first instance by the royal family”:

One of these small internal wars in which the Sultan was engaged some time since, originated in a quarrel about a sadati one of the dancing boys who appear at some of the ratébs (recitations) in female garb and excite the passions of the Achehnese paederasts. [p. 149]


9. Rivals of the Traditional Authorities: Political Adventurers and Representatives of Religion

On “Sayyid Abdurrahman Zahir”, a powerful religious leader and advisor to the sultan in the 1870s:

Imeum Luëng Bata, seated, on a delegation to Penang shortly before the Aceh war began

Under his leadership a crusade was quickly inaugurated against ram and cock fighting, gambling, opium smoking, paederasty and other illicit intercourse, while the people were strongly urged to the fulfilment of their principal religious duties, as for example the five daily seumayangs or services of prayer. [p. 161]


On the Imeum of Luëng Bata, an Achehnese leader in the war of resistance against the Dutch:

This Imeum [he died in the year 1901 during the military operations in Samalanga] was a rare phenomenon among the dealing with men. Like most of his fellows he sought to be foremost at fights of animals, gambling parties and sanguinary internal forays. At the same time he possessed those qualities whereby an Achehnese may rise to be an uleebalang though not entitled to such a position by his birth. Continually surrounded by boys, he complied with their demands for the repair of their kites and toys as generously as with those of his followers when they begged him to put the requisite fine edge or polish on their weapons. [p. 173]


Chapter II. Achehnese Calendars, festivals and seasons. Agriculture, navigation and fishery. Laws relating to land and water

2. Achehno-Mohammedan Feasts and appointed Times and Seasons

A footnote to the statement that “the young amuse themselves by letting off crackers at the annual festival called kanduri Teungku Anjōng:

The paederasts take an especial delight in making their favourites contend with each other at their expense in this noisy pastime. [p.236]


Chapter III. Domestic life and law

3. Early days of married life. Polygamy and Concubinage. Financial relations of Husband and Wife.

Explaining why “a great number of Achehnese are … practically monogamists” despite Islam permitting polygamy:

Finally the paederastic habits of the Achehnese, and (as many think) the use of opium, cause the majority of them to set a lower value on intercourse with the opposite sex than is usual among other native populations. [p.361]



Chapter II. Literature

2. The Hikayat Ruhé

Another very short story is the Hikayat ureuëng Jawa (III) which describes the crack-brained dream of a male favourite[1] of a Javanese (or Malay[2]) teungku. The hidden meaning seems to be that the latter had begun to neglect his favourite, who expresses his resentment of the wrong done him. [p. 79]


4. Original treatises

Describing the Hikayat rantò, an Achehnese treatise:

Gambling, opium-smoking and paederasty are the chief relaxations of a society composed exclusively of males.  [p. 120]


Chapter III. Games and Pastimes

3. Ratébs

Describing one particular ratéb (religious chanting):

Group of people from the Mukim of Luëng Bata

The ratéb sadati is the most characteristic and at the same time the most favourite caricature of the religious ratéb met with in Acheh. It is performed by companies of from 15 to 20 men accompanied by a pretty little boy in female dress who has been specially trained for the purpose. The men composing each company always come from the same gampōng; they are called the daléms, aduëns or abangs i. e. "elder brothers" of the boy, while the latter shares with the ratéb itself the name of sadati.

Each company has its chèh (Arab, shaich) who is also called ulèë ratèb (chief of the ratéb) or pangkay or ba' (director or foreman) and one or two persons called radat, skilled in the melody of the chant (lagèë) and the recitation of nasib or kisahs.

The boys who are trained for these performances, are some of them the best-looking children of Nias slaves, while others are the offspring of poor Achehnese in the highlands. It is said that these last used sometimes to be stolen by the daléms, but they were more generally obtained by a transaction with the parents, not far removed from an actual purchase. The latter were induced by the payment of a sum of money to hand over to his intended "elder brethren" the most promising of their boys as regards voice and personal beauty. The parents satisfy their consciences with the reflection that the boy will be always finely dressed and tended with the utmost care, and that as he grows up he will learn how to provide for himself in the future.

… A considerable portion of the poetry recited by the sadatis and daléms is erotic and even paederastic in character ; while the sadati himself in his female garb forms a special centre of attraction to the onlookers. But it is a mistake to suppose that the profession of sadati implies his being devoted to immoral purposes.

The view taken by the daléms is that both the voice and the personal charms of their charge would quickly deteriorate if he were given over to vicious life. They have devoted much time to his training and much money to his wardrobe, and they take good care that they are not deprived prematurely of the interest on that capital, in the shape of the remuneration they receive from those who employ them as players.

… The passion of the Achehnese for these exhibitions may be judged from the fact that a single performance lasts from about eight p. m. till noon of the following day, and is followed with unflagging interest by a great crowd of spectators. [pp. 221-2]


4. Music

Describing hareubab orchestras:

In the neighbourhood of the capital these performances are only known by the rare visits of travelling companies. They are also to be met with in certain other parts, especially in the coast districts of the XXV Mukims, but with this modification, that the place of the singing woman is taken by a young boy in female attire.

Hareubab-Orchestra with a dancing boy. The illustration on p. 261 referred to by Hurgonje in the text

It so chanced that during my residence in Acheh such a company came from the XXV Mukims to the capital. In the illustration on p. 261 will be a representation of such an orchestra with a boy in dancing posture. I took down from the lips of the dirty, opium-smoking musicians a great portion of their repertoire of pantōns. These people were less concerned for the voice of their adōë ("younger brother") than the sadati players. I attended a performance one night, and found that as a matter of fact the task of the boy was principally limited to dancing. He joined to some extent in the choruses but the recitation was mainly performed by the four musicians, and especially the violinist, who officiated as conductor of the orchestra. This appears to be frequently the case, and sometimes they dispense with the boy altogether, whereby a great "rock of offence" is removed.

The pantōns are in the form of dialogues between an older and a younger brother; the first represents the lover, the second his beloved.

In many of these pantōns it is not clear whether the object of the love is male or female, or whether the passion is lawful or unchaste; the expressions used are metaphorical or general, so that the hearer can apply them as suits his fancy. Occasionally however the language used is characteristic of a shameless intrigue.

… Achehnese pantōns are always recited to hareubab music, but the violin-orchestra is used to accompany Malay pantōns also. As a rule these last are sung by the musicians while two dancing boys hum the tune while they display their grace and skill in the meunari. [pp. 262 & 265]


Chapter IV. Religion

4. Domestic Law

A teacher of Kuru'an-recital with his pupils. An illustration accompanying the original text.

Thus most sins against the ritual law consist in neglect to do what is bidden, but those who transgress the laws governing domestic life do so rather by doing what is forbidden. Unchastity of every kind is the order of the day in Acheh.

The practice of paederasty is very widespread[3]. This vice is however by no means confined to the Achehnese. It is far from rare in the ancient strongholds of Mohammedanism; we find unblushing references to it in Arabic literature and the Mekka of to day is no less notorious in this respect than Cairo or Constantinople. The practice is also endemic in Java, especially in the Native States, and the same may be said of Menangkabau in Sumatra[4]. [pp. 317-8]


[1] The favourite is assumed here to be a boy and so this passage included on the grounds that every other reference by the author to homosexual dalliance is explicitly pederastic.

[2] The Achehnese sometimes follow the Arabs in applying the name "Jawa" to the Malays as well as the Javanese. This name is especially used in a contemptuous sense; for instance an Achehnese abusing a Padang man will call him '^Jawa paléh'' = "miserable Malay!" [CSH]

[3] In Acheh proper a certain amount of decorum is observed in regard to this practice, and the paederasts do not openly recognize the objects of their unlawful passion, even though their neighbours may be well aware of it; but in Pidië and on the East and West Coast men often shamelessly exhibit themselves in public in the company of their amasii. Achehnese are often jeered at in Penang when seen with young boys in the streets, and the innocent are sometimes confounded with the guilty, as for instance when they areaccompanied on their travels by their sons or younger brothers. [CSH]

[4] To Acheh, however, alone belongs the unenviable distinction of interpreting the European maxim of practical morality as to the "sowing of wild oats" in this sense, that a certain amount of unnatural vice forms a necessary stage in the development of every young man. A highly civilized Achehnese, whose moral standard was much superior to that of the great majority, told me in plain terms that his countrymen held this view. [CSH]




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