Aksara Incung—that is, “the Incung script”—is one of the Surat Ulu or up-river scripts of central and south Sumatra, used by the Kerinci people to write the Kerinci language, up in the Jambi highlands some 400 from the center of Jambi City.
Incung, pronounced “inchung,” literally means “beheaded.” It is written at roughly a 45-degree slant, and historically was used slated around 45 degrees to write history, literature, and incantations.
There’s no certainty about its origin. Some sources claim the 4th century CE, others the 10th century CE.
Its usage is extremely local. In Sungaipenuh and Kerinci, Incung has been used for street names and regional government office signage. According to Iskandar Zakaria, a cultural practitioner, the government of Jambi doesn’t see Incung script as a regional cultural property because areas outside Sungaipenuh and Kerinci still use the Jawi script to write signage at government offices.
People in almost every village in Sungaipenuh and Kerinci keep heirlooms that are decorated with Incung scripts, Iskander explained, but these are rarely made public. Traditional elders must first to deliberate whether the writing in the heirlooms can be exposed to outsiders. It is believed that if the elders don’t have a proper deliberation ceremony, the daughters of the heirloom owners will experience misfortunes.
Incung manuscripts are generally divided into two categories. Tembo consist of traditional historiography that contains stories and/or ancestries of a clan, and is most often written or incised in buffalo horn or goat horn. Karang mindu are prose lamentations, usually written in bamboo or on palm leaf. There were also Incung manuscripts that contained spells: idu, for ritual healing; cuco, to ward off evil spirits, and nyaho/nyaro/nyero, to summon ancestral spirits. These practices, though, were forbidden by the Dutch, and fell virtually into disuse.
Examples can also be found regularly on the Aksara di Nusantara Instagram feed.
–Research for this profile was conducted by Herdimas Anggara.
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