Javanese - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Virtually all Javanese are Muslims. In reality, the religion of the Javanese is syncretic, with Islam being laid over spiritual and mystical beliefs of Hindu-Buddhist and indigenous origins. The difference in degree of adherence to the doctrines of Islam constitutes a dichotomy that pervades Javanese culture. The santri are strict in their adherence to Islam while the abangan are not. This dichotomy has class and political-party implications.

The peasant abangan knows the general structure of Islam but does not follow it to the letter. The abangan religion is a blend of indigenous beliefs, Hinduism-Buddhism, and Islam. In addition to Allah, abangan believe in several Hindu deities and numerous spirits that inhabit the environment. Abangan also believe in a form of magical power that is possessed by the dukun, who is a specialist in magical practices, a curer, and/or a sorcerer.

The prijaji abangan religious practice is similar to that of the peasant abangan but it is somewhat more sophisticated. It has an elaborate philosophy of fate and is quite mystical. Asceticism and the practice of meditation are characteristic of prijaji abangan religion. Sects under the leadership of gurus are typical.

The santri are present among all social levels but they predominate in the commercial classes. The santri diligently comply with Islamic doctrine. They perform the required prayers five times a day, attend communal prayers at the mosque every Friday, fast during the month of Ramadan (Pasa), do not eat pork, and make every effort to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once.

Religious Practitioners. There are several types of religious practitioner in Islam. There are sects consisting of a guru or kijaji (teacher) and murid (disciple) dyads that are hierarchically organized. Individual kijaji attract students to their pondoks or pesantren (monasterylike schools) to teach Muslim doctrines and laws. In addition to the dominance of Islam, magic and sorcery are widely practiced among the Javanese. There are many varieties of dukun, each one dealing with specialized kinds of ritual such as agricultural rituals, fertility rituals, etc. Dukun also perform divination and curing.

Ceremonies. The communal meal, the slametan, is central to abangan practice and is sometimes also performed by santri. The function of the slametan is to promote slamet, a state of calmness and serenity. The slametan is performed within a household and it is usually attended by one's closest neighbors. Occasions for a slametan include important lifecycle events and certain points in the Muslim ceremonial calendar; otherwise it is performed for the well-being of the village.

Arts. Geertz (1964) describes three art "complexes," each involving different forms of music, drama, dance, and literature. The Javanese shadow play, the wajang, is known worldwide and is central to the alus (refined) art complex. The wajang uses puppets to dramatize stories from the Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, or from Java's precolonial past. Wajang performances are accompanied by gamelan (percussion orchestras), which also have achieved worldwide fame. Another art form associated with the alus complex is batik textile dyeing. The alus art complex is classical and traditional and is largely the domain of the prijaji. The other two art complexes are more popular, nationally shared, and Western-influenced.

Medicine. Doctors practicing scientific medicine are present and are consulted in Java, especially in urban areas, but curers and diviners continue to be important in all of Javanese culture. In addition to the dukun who perform magic rites, there are many dukun who cure illnesses. These latter dukun include curers who use magic spells, herbalists, midwives, and masseurs. It is said that even urban prijaji who regularly consult medical doctors may also consult dukun for particular illnesses and psychosomatic complaints.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals are held within hours of death and they are attended by neighbors and close relatives who are able to arrive in time. A coffin is built and a grave is dug quickly while a village official performs rituals. A simple ceremony is held at the home of the deceased followed by a procession to the graveyard and burial. A slametan is held with food provided by neighbors. Javanese funerals are marked with the same emotional restraint that characterizes other social interactions. Graves are visited regularly, espedaily at the beginning and end of the fasting month, and they are tended by relatives. The Javanese believe in continuing ties with the dead and especially ties between parents and children. Children hold a number of slametans at intervals after death with the last held 1,000 days after the death. There are varying beliefs about life after death, including the standard Islamic concepts of eternal retribution, beliefs in spirits or ghosts who continue to influence events, and belief in reincarnation, the last sternly condemned by the orthodox Muslims.


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