The Role of Tegalgubug Women as A Symbol of Contemporary Khadijah

TEGALGUBUG is a village in Cirebon through which an inter-provincial transport flows; the Pantura (Pantai Utara Jawa – Java North Coast) route. Tegalgubug has been increasingly popular with its Pasar Sandang Murah (cheap clothing market) that contributes nicely to the dynamics of micro and macro economics.

Initially, Pasar Sandang Murah was integrated with pasar sembako (basic food supplies market) located next to the Village Office, Mosque and the Al-Hilal Madrasah Tsanawiyah (Islamic secondary school). A number of services for the community is located in one area; the market as a symbol of economic transaction and fulfilment of the people’s needs, the mosque as a symbol of religion and spirituality, the Village Office as a symbol of government, and the schools and the madrasah as a symbol of education. This strategic layout was said to have been created by the founder of the village, namely Ki Gede Suropati.

Previously, the Tegalgubug clothing market was only open on Saturdays, while the basic needs market are open every day of the week. The clothing and textile merchants would sell their products elsewhere; like in the Susukan sub-district market on Tuesdays, Jatibarang market of Indramayu on Sundays and Wednesdays, the Parapatan Penjalin Market of Majalengka on Mondays and Thursdays. Fridays are their day off, while Saturdays are used to shop for products in textile centers in Bandung, Tangerang, and Jakarta. Slowly but surely, the clothing market grew and the place it occupied could no longer hold it. The merchants then started to display their products around the designated market area, like in front of the Village Office, in front of the mosque, and on the sides of the streets. Consequently, the village officers in collaboration with local business owners finally built a 30 hectare market building located on the side of Pantura road, open on Saturdays and Tuesdays.

The market, is the beginning of all social changes that occurs.

Wadon Sing Ning Arep, Lanange Sing Ning Guri

There is a jargon circulating amongst the merchants in Tegalgubug which goes, “Kapa wong wadon sing ning arep dagangane payu/laris, tapi kapa lanang sing ning arep ora patian payu,” (If you put a woman at the shop front, you will sell more. But if you put a man, you will sell less). Sing ning arep or the one at the front means anyone who offers the products of the shop, bargains, and provide assistant with the customers. That girls should be sing ning arep (at the front), comes from the local people’s experience that the women are usually more efficient and capable in conducting a business. In fact, when purchasing products to re-sell (textile, clothes, etc.) from the factory or wholesale stores—although most would go as couples, the woman/wife with their man/husband—the women are usually more dominant in lobbying with the factory decision makers or wholesale traders. So, sing ning guri (the one at the back) are the men/husbands.This sing ning guri adage is also consistent with what is called konco wingking (sidekick).

The sing ning arep and sing ning guri relation is a true form of a parallel division of tasks, rather than a superior-inferior relationship. The image of women that are usually seen to only have duties in bed, kitchen and well, does not apply to women of Tegalgubug. The husband and wife relationship in Tegalgubug is a partnership between two subjects efficient in performing tasks; the women’s role is in bookeeping and regulating cashflow, diplomacy with customers and factory decision makers or wholesale traders, and analyzing what merchandise to sell in the market. While the husband’s task is to organize the products with the employees, prepare or assist customers in choosing and sorting, along with other manual work, in addition to assisting the wife. However, the distribution of these tasks are not steadfast, but only in general and does not apply to all people and circumstances. Because most of the times the women/wives also do what the husbands do. Especially for single parent women who certainly work on the job by themselves.

So why do the women have position of control? There are a few points of considerations; First, they are seen to be more frugal and careful in spending money. Second, they are considered as more meticulous, calculative and organized. Third, based on the experience, when the men are in charge of the finances, they would often spend it irresponsibly. More often than not, a hedonistic lifestyle, uncontrolled hobbies or succumbing to wayuan (polygamy temptations) results in the family’s bankruptcy. This very common bankruptcy story teach a valuable lesson for the merchants to withhold the wives’ position as the financial managers.

The women of Tegalgubug are taught business, entreneurship, and economic independence from the early age by their parents—in addition to supportive environment—they learn how to manage the finances, help their mothers at the market while observing how to properly do business, usually done during the school or madrasah holiday, they also learn various skills such as sewing, dressmaking, overlocking, button making, folding, etc.

To their sons, the mothers of Tegalgubug give advices on how to find the right wife; aja kang kaya pedaringan bolong (not those who are like a hollow rice basket). Pedaringan or rice basket is a symbol of woman who accomodate and manage the finances. So a hollow rice basket or pedaringan bolong is a metaphor for women who are excessive and unable to manage the finances, which in turn will be uncapable of creating a prosperous life. This kind of parent’s advice reflects the people of Tegalgubug’s awareness on economy and that an ideal wife is the one that can manage the money, rather than overspending it—of course in addition to other criteria like good background.

Interpreting Religion

The people of Tegalgubug are mostly Nahdiyyin Muslims. There are a number of pesantren (islamic boarding school) and the salaf pesantren (pesantren with traditional teachings) are considered as the favorite education institution. The santri (pesantren student) society can be identified by their daily clothing, the men usually wear sarong and black kopiah (hat), and the women wear a veil (instead of long hijab) and an outfit that would cover everything except their faces, hands, and feet.

written by by Mukti Ali el-Qum

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