Origins, Naming and Prehistoric Legacy in Tanah Besemah - Indonesia is a country where quite a lot of prehistoric remains are found, one of which is in the highlands of Tanah Besemah (English: Besemah Land) or Tanah Basemah (English: Basemah Land).

Tanah Besemah --- as this area is called --- is located between the Bukit Barisan and the Gumay Mountains, on the slopes of Mount Dempo, Pagaralam City, South Sumatra Province.

JSG Grambreg, an employee of the Dutch East Indies government in his 1865 writing illustrated the location of the Basemah people.

“Whoever climbs Bukit Barisan from the direction of Bengkulu, then sets foot on the vast land of the Palembang kingdom, and whoever sets his foot from the northern direction of Ampat Lawang (the land of four gates) to the beautiful plains of Lintang, so that he reaches the foot of the West Mount Dempo, then of course he is in the land of the Pasemah people''.

"If he walks around the foot of the volcano, then he will come to the east side of a broad plateau that bends slightly to the southeast, and if from there he continues further eastwards until the plateau ends at a series of mountains where , from that point of view, formed a natural border between the independent country of Pasemah and the Dutch East Indies territory”.

From this quote it appears that at that time the Pasemah region was still not part of the Dutch East Indies colony.

Dutch military operations to conquer Pasemah itself lasted a long time, starting from 1821 to 1867.

As for the name Pasemah, which is now well-known, it is alleged that it was due to a mispronunciation by the Dutch at that time.

The correct pronunciation is Besemah, as it is still used by residents who live in Pagaralam.

The Origins of the Besemah Tribe

Regarding the origins of the Besemah Tribe, it is still not known with certainty where they came from, there are only stories of myths and legends.

One story says that the word "Besemah" is said to have come from the story of Atung Bungsu wife named Putri Senantan Buih.

When Putri Senantan Buih was washing rice in the river, a mahogany fish entered her basket of rice. From that story, this place was later called Besemah.

According to Pagaralamkota, Atung Bungsu was one of the 7 children of the Majapahit queen (king).

It is said that Atung Bungsu traveled along the Lematang River, finally choosing a place to live in Benua Keling Hamlet.

Atung Bungsu is married to the daughter of the Queen of Benua Keling named Senantan Buih (Kenantan Buih). Their marriage gave birth to Bujang Jawe (Puyang Diwate) and Puyang Mandulike.

Then, Puyang Sake Semenung, Puyang Sake Sepadi, Puyang Sake Ratus and Puyang Sake Seketi.

These descendants Atung Bungsu later became residents of Jagat Besemah, especially Pagaralam City.

According to local folklore, Atung Bungsu came to Besemah when this place was already inhabited by the Rejang and Berige tribes.

Atung Bungsu entered into a dialogue with one of the leaders of the Rejang Tribe named Ratu Rambut Selake from Lubuk Umbay, each of whom felt entitled to Besemah Land.

To determine who owned the Besemah Land, Atung Bungsu took an oath in the local language.

This is how the oath he uttered reads: "Jikalau bulak, jikalau buhung, tanah ini aku punye, binaselah anak cucungku." 

After the oath, Queen Hair Selake finally admitted that Atung Bungsu was the one who had more rights over the Besemah Land.

Ratu Rambut Selake acknowledged that Besemah Land belonged to Atung Bungsu, and they were then given the position of Sumbay in the Besemah Jagat.

However, they are not included in the government system of Lampik Empat Merdike Due. Their Sumbay is called Sumbay Lubuk Umbay.

Megalithic Relics in Tanah Besemah

Apart from the legends and myths regarding the origins of Tanah Besemah, various megalithic sites have been found in this area.

Prehistoric remains, in the form of megalithic sites in Tanah Besemah, are currently the largest on the island of Sumatra.

Megalithic findings in this area have been reported by Ullman in 1850, Tombrink in 1870, Engelhard in 1891, Krom in 1918, Westernenk in 1922 and Hoven in 1927.

Among the findings reported, almost all of them assumed the buildings were Hindu heritage.

In 1929, van Eerde visited the place. However, he differed from previous assumptions.

Van Eerde stated that the megalithic remains in Besemah were never influenced by Hindu culture, but were still within the reach of prehistoric times.

Megalithic forms are evident in these remains, such as menhirs, dolmens and other findings.

Then, van der Hoop conducted more in-depth research for about 7 months at Tanah Besemah.

He produced extensive publications on the megaliths in the area. This publication is still very valuable for research on megalith sites in Tanah Besemah.

Van Heerkeren has made an overview of megalithic discoveries in Indonesia, including in South Sumatra.

Meanwhile, Peacock tries to discuss the Besemah megalith from a historical perspective and its function in an effort to study past social life.

From findings to research, certainly in Tanah Besemah, South Sumatra, there was once a culture that lived and developed in a prehistoric trajectory.

This is proven by the many megalithic cultural remains scattered in several locations in the region.

Megalithic remains found in Besemah, mainly in the form of menhirs, dolmens, stone tomb coffins, mortars and stone statues in static and dynamic styles.

Among the many megalithic finds, the most interesting in Tanah Besemah are the stone statues which are described by von Heine Geldern as having a "dynamic" style.

Besides most of the statues depicting a man with several accessories, these statues also depict animal forms, such as elephants, tigers and monkeys.

In addition to the sites mentioned above, in 1999-2002 the Palembang Archeology Center conducted further research at the Muarapayang site.

The Muarapayang site is one of the prehistoric site complexes in Tanah Besemah. The findings obtained, in the form of pot shards, clay jugs and foreign ceramic fragments.

Later, burial jars, human skeletons, stone tools, megalithic buildings, earthen ramparts, puyang tombs and so on were found.

Regarding whether there is a relationship between the ancestors of the Besemah Tribe and the megalithic sites in Besemah Land, further in-depth research and study is needed. (*)

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