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Acknowledgements vii
Note on spelling and the use of words ix

Introduction xi

1. The Rise of Contemporary Kebatinan Mysticism 1

2. The Mystical World View 13

3. The Practice of Kebatinan Mysticism 19

4. The Kebatinan Ethic and Attitude to Ufe 36

5. Everyday Llfe in a Changing Moral Order :

The Social Perspective 47

6. Everyday Llfe in a Changing Moral Order:

The Material Perspective 80

7. Conclusion and Perspective :

The Meaningful Structur e of Javanese Experience 99

Appe ndix : A Note on the Field Exp erience and Method of Work 115
Glossary 123
Bibliography 129
Index 139

Background of the Study

When I began my research in Yogyakarta , I was primarily .interested in a

study of modetnization along the lines of the :-iational . aliran (vertical
ideological organizations) that were thougnt to dominate social life in
post-Independence Java. According to Geertz, these aliran were streams
of ideological, mainly religious, orientations that were organized and
expressed in political parties at the national centre and .from there ,
spread to the towns ru1d villages of the hinterland. These parties were
each surrounded by a host of affiliated groupings, such as_trade unions,
youth groups , schools, women's clubs , and other associations (Geertz ,
1960; 1965]. .
Sub sequently, this idea of the structural ,expression of the
religious -cum -politi'cal orientations had been taken up by Gunawan and
VJn den Muijzenberg, who likened the phenomenon to verzuiling, or
the historical p_illarization of Dutch society, where religious differences
were expressed in political parties and their affiliated associations
[ 1967]. The resulting organization of society in vertical pillars cut
across class _difference.s, the principal function of these pillars being to
achieve political power in order to accomplish the social and political
emancipation of their members. In the etherlands, their mutual
competition was thought to have contributed to national integration ,
development, and modernization (Gou dsblom, I 967].
Whatever may have been true in the Netherlands , or in East
Central J ava in the mid-fifties, on which Geertz ' analysis was based, the
later sixties and early seventies revealed a very different picture in
Ind onesia. Politically, the main pillar of society had become the army.
Under these conditions, both religious differences and class struggle
were not encouraged their active expression in political parties and
consequently, the aliran pattern as a dominant political and structural
principle had been considerably weakened . Su ch at least was the
situation that I found in Yogyakar ta in the middle of 1969.
This did not mean that the cultural base of the aliran had dis-
appeared; it only meant that the ir struc tural expression in political
parties and affiliated assoc iations had eroded and lost its vitality.
Apparently, most aliran affiliated groupings that still persisted had
littl e sense of purpose and direction in the outside world. With the
partial exceptions of the Nahdatul Ulama Muslim party and the

My field-work in Indonesia was supported by a Fulbright-Hays

Research fellowship from the U.S. Department of Health, Education,
and Welfare and a Faculty Resea rch Grant from Northern Illinois
University. In Indonesia , my research was administratively supported
by the Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (Indonesian Institute of
Sciences) and the Dean of the Department of Letters and Culture of
Gadjah Mada University. I am grateful for this institutional assistance .
I arrived in Indonesia towards the end of March 1969; by the
time I left the country on the last day of August 1970, I had
accumulated a great debt of gratitude to its wonderful and hospitable
peop le. They had more than tolerated my inquisitive presence; virtually
all of them had been kind and patient with me , answering my questions,
informing me about their lives and thinking, inviting me to their cere -
monies and festivities, and doing their best to make me feel at home.
Many of them were interested in my research, and their active en-
couragement often greatly facilitat ed the gathering of data. Without
their co-operation and tolerance, I could never have completed this
study , and many hundreds of peopl e in Indonesia deserve my sincerest
If I yet want to mention a few people by name , it is because they
have been exceptionally helpful to me in acromplishing the field
research; they include lbu Sjamsiah Ahmad , Mukti Ali, Sri Llnangkun g
Deuste r , Bonokamsi Dipojono , Soeharto Djojosoempeno , Don
Emmerson, Fathers Balcker, de Blot, Heselaars and Huber , Richard
Franke, Dick Hartoko , P. Janssen , Agung Juwono , Klaas Kuijper ,
Tolchah Mansoer, Soetrisno Martoadmodjo , Aris Munandar, Soedaris-
man Poerwokoesomo, Rendra , Ibu Rukmini, the Imam Sajono family,
Masri Singarimbun, Soegondo , Soedjito Sosrodihardjo, Sediono
Tjondronegoro, and Adrie Zevenster.
For intellectual stimulation and criticizing the manuscript in its
various stages of completion, I thank Wirn van Binsbergen, Marcel
Bonneff, Marten Brouwer, Hans-Dieter Evers, Nico Frijda, Basuki
Gunawan , Clifford Geertz , D.J. de Levita, James Peacock, Derek
Phillips, Philip Quarles van Ufford, Soewito Santoso , Bram de Swaan ,
and Sediono Tjondronegoro . I should also remember my audiences at
various universities in Southeast Asia and Europe, and especially my
students at the University of Bielefeld for their critical contribution in
clarifying my thinking and analysis. While working on the manuscript,
it was rewarding to experience the spirit of academic community .


Despite the intere st of many , writing remains an intensely lonely

discipline. I should therefore profot ndly remember the good care and

interest of my dear companio ns at the time that I was absorbed in

preparing the manus cript. During the winter of 1970- 71 and later in
1973- 75, when I prepared the first draft of this study in Amsterdam,
Fon Zwart 's hospitality, superb cuisine , and patience stimulated me and
kept me going. In preparing this final draft in Chiangmai , I sho uld
similarly acknowledge Malai Tongsu for her self-effacing patience and
tolerance for my 'esoteric ' activities.

iels Mulder

Chiangmai, May 1977

Note on spelling and the use of words

Indonesian and Javanese words, and the names of organizations, have

been written according to the latest convention of Indonesian-
Malaysian spelling (1972). Personal names have been written according
to the preferences of the persons concerned . Since there is no plural for
Indonesian nouns (other than doubling them), such nouns may indicate
the singular or the plural, which is clear from the context. Verbs have
been given in their active form only.
In the text, I have not differentiated between Indonesian and
Javan ese words. While most words used are significant in both
languages, I have chosen the Indonesian equivalent if applicable. When
the Javanese was mandatory to give the right id ea, Javanese has been
used. In the Index these words are indicated by (J).

Bac kgro und of the Stud y

When I began my research in Yogyakarta, I was primarily interested in a

study of modernization along the lines of the national aliran (vertical
ideological organizations) that were thought to dominate social life in
post -Independence Java . According to Geertz, these aliran were streams
o f ideological , mainly religious, orientations thrt were organized and
expressed in political parties at the national centre and from there ,
spread to the towns and villages of the hinterland. These parties were
each surrounded by a host of affiliared groupings , such as aade unions,
yo uth gro ups , schools , wom en's clu bs. and other associati ons (Geertz,
196 0; 1965].
Subsequently , this idea of the structural expression of the
religious -cum -political orientations had been taken up by Gunawa n and
Van den Muijzenberg, who likened the phenomenon to verzuiling , or
the historical pillarization of Dutch society , where religious differences
were expressed in political parties and their affiliated associations
[1967]. The resulting organ ization of society in vertical pillars cut
across class differences, the principal funct ion of these pillars being to
achieve political power in order to accomplish the social and political
emancipation of their members. In the Netherlands, their mutual
competition was thought to have contributed to national integrat ion,
development , and modernization [Goudsblom , 1967].
Whatever ma y have been true in the Netherlands , or in East
Central Java in the mid -fifties , on which Geertz ' analysis was based, the
lat e r sixties and early seventies revealed a very different picture in
Indonesia. Politically , the main pillar of society had become the army.
Under these conditions , both religious differences and class struggle
were not encouraged their active expression in political parties and
consequentl y, the aliran pattern as a dominant political and structural
princ iple had been considerably weakened. Such at least was the
situation that I found in Yogyakarta in the middle of 1969.
This did not mean tha t the cultural base of the aliran had dis-
appeared; it only meant that their structural expression in polit ical
parties and affiliated associations had eroded and lost its vitality.
Apparently, most aliran affiliated groupings that still persisted had
little sense of purpose and direction in the outside world. With the
partial exceptions of the Nahdarul Ulama Muslim party and the

Catholics, most of the remainin g associations missed their vital link to

the political centre in Jakarta. Communication between their branches
tended to be poor and in Yogyakarta , the remnants of the various
aliran groupings mainly appeared to function as debating clubs and
status hierarchies for groups of like -minded people. The lack of pur -
pose and vision struck me as their most characteristic quality. As
pe rkumpulan (collective associations), they had lost their alleged
previous power and their capacity to extend massive patronage to their
members -.
I even suspected that the prominence of the a!iran phenomenon
in much of the Western lit erature about Ind onesia had been the result
of Western sociological and political scien ce interpretations, in which
soc ial organizational forms, such as political parties or trade unions , had
been attributed modern qualitative content and purpose that they did
not possess. This point seems to be indirectly supported by the ana lys es
of Ind ones ian scholars, who seldom mention the aliran phenomenon
as an outstanding social organizational feature. For example, in his
study of changing soda! structure in Yogyakarta from the late colon ial
per iod up to 1958, Selosoemardjan never considered a!iranisation as a
key structural process [ 1962] . Sosrodihardjo s analysis of changes in
the Javanese social structure was purely c,iass based ( 1968] , while
Koentjaraningrat stressed class and descent as the key elements to
explain the differences in mental factors affecting development (1969] .
But in some Western literature about Indonesia. the relevance of
an analysis along the lines of the aliran has been doubted. Wertheim
noted the emergence of class struggle in the Javanese countryside since
l 958. a class struggle in which clear class-lines were blurred, however ,
by the vertical cleavages originating from the age-old patronage system.
Consequently, he warned against the comparison of the social
organization of agricultural, pre -industrial societies with those of
modern, industrializ ed societies ( 1969]. Mc Vey emphasized the
absence of organic links between Jakarta politics , national ideologies,
and the population at large; she explicitly rejected the aliranisation, or
verzuiling hypothesis [ 1969: 18-26].
Other scholars took their point of departure in an analysis of the
cultural system in order to understand the social process that they
observed. Willner , for instance, dwelt on the necessity not to concen -
trate on the forms but on the ways in which o rganizations function,
and she advised that an analyst should farnilarize himself with the
traditional elements of thinking and perception in outwardly modern

organizations ( 1966] . This point has repeated ly been made by Re sink,

who sees clear parallels between the present po liti cs of patronage and
the palace politics of traditional J ava (1975; McVey, 1969 :8]. Also
And erson's analysis of th e idea of power in Javanese culture demon -
strated th e relevance of old J avanese political conceptions for the
understanding of the present situ at ion (I 972 ] .
In view of th e state of affairs that I found in Yogya karta, my
intended study of the st ructu ral dynamics of Javanese society as
expressed in the power struggle among the various aliran appeared to
be less promising so long after the decline of co ns ti tu tional democracy
[Feith, 1964] and the sub sequent emergence o f th e military dominated
Orde Baru (New Order). Durin g my early explo rat ions along the lines of
the national aliran, I noted of course interest ing differences in the
ideological orientations of the devout Muslim sanrri, the syncretist
abangan , and ot her religiously differentiated compone nt s of the
population. The element that struck me most, however , was a pervading
and intriguing quality of Javaneseness that all of them seemed to share.
Soo n I became fascinated by that 'q ualit y of Javaneseness '
while I began to understand that I would never be able tO place th e
dynamics of the Javanese social process in a proper perspective if I
were not able to understa nd the culture in which it unfolded itself.
What I needed to understand first of all was the logic that the Javanese
themselves imposed upon their lives. that is. the context of thinking ,
values. and expectations that guided their behaviour and that made
their life a normal coherent exper ience. What I needed was an inter-
pretation - not so much my interpretation, but the irs. To this end, it
soon became apparent that my misconception about aliran was to put
me on a promising course .
Almost from the day that I arrived in Yogyakana , I began to
develop contacts with representatives of what I thought to be the
various aliran. [ went to Salatiga to est ablish contac t with the Pro-
testan ts: I assisted at the Visakha Puca Buddhis t ceremo nies at the
Borob udur; I visited the l',Juhammadiyah office . talked to the Jesuits,
received hospitality from highly placed priyayi nob ility , and everytime
I mentioned the word aliran - that still meant national aliran to me - I
was directed to a person of whom I was told that he could help me in
gathering in formation . . aively I contacted these personalit ies, soon to
find that I was talking to representatives of various aliran keb arinan ,
or myst ical group s, such as the word aliran was more commonly un der-
stood in Yogyakarta. Six weeks after arrival, I had forgot ten about

1966]. I opte d to concen trat e on the pra ct ice of kebari nan mystic ism
as the most inclusive and vital ly outstand ing manifestation of the
Javanese world view and morality.
Th e analysis of cultu re should be relevant to the understanding of
everyday behaviour in its everchanging dimensions. Often, one is struck
by the persistence of ideas even in the face of change , where one would
expect new ideas to take over from the existing. Where id eas persist
to guide and interpret action in spite of structural change and modern
developments, they seem to identify certain sensitive and h ighly institu-
tionalized core areas of cu ltur e. An awareness of such core areas may
benefit our understanding of J a\/anese social dynamics , and even of th e
process of development in Indonesia . These persistent comp lexes of
ideas serve as the keystones for the construction of the Javanese soc ial
world , and may de lin eate the co re and th e limits of the meaningful
structure of the J avanese exper ience. In other words , these complexes
of ideas indicate the latitude within wh ich actions and phenomena,
old and new, are interpreted and understood.

Problem and Method

Formally, the research problem became the investigation of how

contemporary J avanese in Yogyakarta gave meaning to life and actual
experience. I expected that, once I understood their system of meaning,
I would be able to interpret Javanese social life as it unfolded it self
around me , and that I could probably make sense out of the way in
which the processes of deve lopment proceeded and their impact upon
Javanese society.
In view of the nature of th is problem, t h e method of verstehen
was indicated: I needed to understand Javanese understanding and t o
be very conscious about my own cultural and academic background . I
needed to d iscover a J avanese theory of culture as a framewo rk of
bound meanings (Cicourel. 1964 : I 4]. Concurring with Glaser and
Strauss. such a theory should be discovered from the integration of the
data themse lves. and should be understandable for the J avanese and
myself alike (1967:34-35].
My field strategy was simple and straightforward: partic ip ant
observation and documentary material would prompt questions; these
questions wou ld be 'question -marks' in my mind and relate to my
cultural and intellectual background , to my being astonished, amazed
and at times even in personal jeopardy. Yet , in order to avoid the
danger of wr iti ng aut ob iography instead of reporting about the social

na ti onal aliran and was deeply involved in th e aliran keb atinan. It was
then that I definitely decided on a cu ltu ral approach and the inves-
tigation of a mentality.

Cultural Analysis

A cult ural approach endeavo urs to gain access to the co nceptual

world in wh ich the peop le under in vest igati on live (Gee rtz, 1973 :20 ] ;
it in vestiga t es the values, conceptions, and ideas that in fo rm the ir
act ion and by w hich they confe r signi ficance to their ex perience and
surr oundings. Characteristicall y, a cu lt ural analyt ical approac h lo oks for
those areas of exp ressive behaviour that embody the deeper founda -
tio ns of meanin g in everyday life . T rained at th e macros oc iological
level , a cultural approach analyses those central institutions, or com -
ple xes of symbols, that express the basic world view, the design for
soc ial structure, and the moral texture of society (E vers, 1972: ix] .
Such comp lexes of symbo ls tend to be most fully developed in
religion and other bel ief systems . The y function to explain life as it is ,
and often to legi timiz e th e soc ial order . In doing so, these co mpl exes of
symbols become paradigmatic institutions. conta inin g be liefs 'that are
not regarded as being conc lusi ons from exper ience but thatare pr ior t o
experience' (Geertz, 1968 :98] . The behaviour towards such institu -
tions tends to be charac te rized by strong emotional comm itm ent .
Empirically, these complexes of symbols are most obse rvable in
their ritual enactmen t. There is n o shortage of ritual express ion of the
Javan ese belief sys tem . Th e selamatan (communal holy meal) regularly
enacts the unity among men, their ancestors and gods (Gee rtz , 1960 :
11- 8 5] ; the old k rato n (palace) ritual still periodically enacts the
institution of d ivine kingsh ip and the relat ions hip between th e cosmic
and the human cond ition ; the veneration of pusaka (sacred heirlooms)
and keramar (holy) places vivid ly enac1 th e in timate relation ship
between man and spiritual forces; while the very vital wayang mythol -
ogy contin u ousl y fu nc tions to explain the human condit ion b y cos mi c
analogy [Anders on , 196 5].
At a less exalted and more restricted level. symbo lic complex es
may exp ress themsel ves in bas ic texts about the Panca S ila national
id eo log y [1 oto negoro, I 971 ] , in the themes of the lud rnk pop ul ar
theatre (Peacock. 196 8 ] , in the comic strips in the ne ws paper s
[ Bonne ff, 1976a] , while cockfight ing may be analysed as the ritual
expression of aggress ion (Geer tz, 1972 a] in a world in which 'person ,
time an d cond u ct' appea red to be in perfect equilibrium (Geertz ,

Catholics, most of the remaining associations missed their vital link to

the political centre in Jakarta. Communication between their branches
tended to be poor and in Yogyakarta, the remnants of the various
aliran groupings mainly appeared to function as debating clubs and
status hierarchies for groups of like-minded people. The lack of pur-
pose and vision struck me as their most characteristic quality. As
pe rkumpulan (collective assoc iations). they had los t their alleged
previous power and their capacity to extend massive patronage to their
members .
I even suspected that the prominence of the aliran phenomenon
in much of the Western literature about Indonesia had been the result
of Western sociological and political science interpretation s, in which
social organizational forn1s, such as political parties or trade unions, had
been attributed modern qualitative content and purpose that the y did
not possess. This point seems to be indirectly supported by the analyses
of Indonesian scholars, who seldom mention the aliran phenomenon
as an outstanding social organizational feature. For example, in his
study of changing social structure in Yogyakarta from the late colonial
period up to I 9 58, Selosoemardjan never considered aliranisation as a
key structural process [1962]. Sosrodi h ardjos analysis of changes in
the Javanese social structure was purely class based [ 1968]. while
Koentjaraningrat stressed class and descent as the key elements to
explain the differences in mental factors affecting development [1969].
But in some Western literature about Ind ones ia . the relevance of
an analys is along the lines of the aliran has been doubted. Wertheim
noted the emergence of class struggle in the Javanese countryside since
1958. a class struggle in which clear class -lines were blurred, however.
by the vertical cleavages originating from the age-old patronage system .
Consequently, he warned against the comparison of the social
organization of agricultural, pre-industrial societies with those of
modern, industrialized societies [ 1969]. Mc Vey em phasized the
absence of organic links between Jakarta politics, national ideologies,
and the population at large; she explicitly rejected the a/i ranisat ion . or
rerzuiling hypothesis [ 1969: 18-26).
Other scholars took their point of departure in an analysis of the
cultural system in order to understand the social process that they
observed . Willner, for instance , dwelt on the necessit y not to concen -
trate on the forms but on the ways in which organjzations function,
and she advised that an analyst should familarize himself with the
traditional elements of trunkjng and perception in outwardly modern

organizat ions ( 1966] . This point has repeatedl y been made by Resink ,
who sees clear parallels between the present politics of patronage and
the palace politics of traditional Java (1975; McYey, 1969 :8] . Also
Andersons analysis of the idea of power in Javanese cultur e demon -
strated the relevance of old Javanese political conceptions for the
understanding of the present situation ( 1972].
In view of the state of affairs that I found in Yogyakarta, my
int ended study of the structural dynam ics of Javan ese society as
expressed in the power struggle among the various aliran appeared to
be less promising so long after the decline of constit uti ona l democracy
(Feith. 1964] and the subsequent emergence of the military dom inated
Orde Bani (. 1ew Ord er) . Durin g my early exp lorat ions along the lines of
the national aliran , I noted of course interesting differences in the
ideological orientations of the devout lvluslim sanrri, the syncretist
abangan, and other religiously differentiated componen ts of the
pop ulati on . The element that struck me most. how e,er, was a pervading
and intrigu ing quality of Javaneseness that all of them seemed to share.
Soon I became fascinated by that 'quality of Javaneseness
while I began to underst and that I would ne1er be able to place the
dynamics of the Javanese social process in a proper perspec tive if I
were not able to understand the cul ture in which it unfolded itself.
What I needed to understand first of all was the logic that the Javanese
themselves imposed upon their lives. that is. the context of thinking ,
values . and expectations that guided their behaviour and that made
their life a normal coherent exper ience . What l_ needed was an inter-
pretation - not so much my interpretation. but theirs. To this end. it
soon became apparent that my misconception about aliran was to put
me on a promising course.
Almost from the day that I arrived in Yogyakarta, l began to
develop co ntacts with representat ives of what I thought to be the
various alira11. I went to Salatiga to establish con tact with the Pro-
testants: I assisted at the Visakha Pu ca Buddhist ceremonies at the
Borobud ur ; I visited the Muhammadi y alz office, talked to the Jesuits,
received hospitality from highly pla ed priyayi nobility, and everytime
I mentioned the word a/iran - that still meant national aliran to me - I
was directed to a person of whom I was told that he ould help me in
gathering information. Naively l co nta cted these personalities . soon to
find that l was talking to representatives of various aliran kebarinan,
or mystical groups. such as the word alira11was more commonly under -
stood in Yogyakarta. Six weeks after arrival. I had forgo tten about

naiional aliran and was deeply involved in the aliran kebarinan. It was
then that I definitely decided on a cultural approach and the inves-
tigaiion of a mentality.

Cultural Analysis

A cult ural approach endeavours to gain access io th e concept ual

world in wh ich the people under investigation live [Ge ertz, 1973 :20] ;
it investigates the values, conceptions, and ideas that inform their
action and by which they confer significance to their experience and
surround in gs. Characteristicall y, a cultural analytical approach looks for
those areas of exp ressive behavi our thai embody the deeper founda -
ti ons of meaning in everyday life. Train ed at the macrosocio logical
level , a cultural approach analyses those central institutions. or com-
plexes of symbols. that express the basic world view, the des ign for
social struct ure , and the moral texture of society [E vers. 1972 :ix] .
Such comp lexes of symbols tend to be most full y deve loped in
religion and other belief systems. They function to explain l1fe as it is,
and often to legitimize th e social order. In doing so . these complexes of
symbo ls become paradigmatic institutions, co ntaining beliefs 'thai are
not regarded as being conclusions from experience but thatare prior to
expe rience' (Geertz , 1968:98]. The behaviour towards such institu -
tions tends to be characterized by strong emotional commitment.
Empiric ally. these complexes of symbols are most obse rvab le in
their ritu al enactment. Th ere is no shortage of ritual expression of th e
J avanese belief system . The selamaran (communal holy meal) regularly
enac ts the unity among men , their ancesiors and gods [Geertz, 1960:
11- 8 5]: the o ld k raton (palace) riiual siill periodically enacts ihe
institution of divine kingship and the relat io1.ship between the cosmic
and the human cond iti on; the veneration of pusaka (sacred he irl o0ms)
and ke ramar (holy) places vividly enac1 the intimate rela ti onship
between ma n and sp iritual fo rces; whi.le the very viial wayang mythol-
ogy conti nuousl y functions to exp lain the human co nditio n by cos mic
analogy [Anders on, I 965] .
At a less exalted and more restri cted level. symbo lic com plexe s
may express themselves in basic texis about ihe Panca Sita national
id eo logy [ otonegoro, 1971] , in the themes of the ludruk popular
theatre [Peacock , 1968 ] , in the comic strips in th e newspapers
[ Bonne ff , 1976a] , while cockfight ing may be analysed as the ritual
exp ression of aggression (Geertz, 1972a] in a world in which 'person ,
time and conduct' appeared to be in perfect equ ilibrium (Geertz ,

1966]. I opted to concentrate on the practice of kebatinan mysticism

as the most inclusive and vitally outs t and in g man ifestat ion of the
Javanese wo rld view and morality.
The anal ys is of culture shou ld be relevant to the und ersta nding of
everyday behaviour in its eve rch angi n g dimensions. Often , one is struck
by the persistence of ideas even in the face of change , where one wo uld
expect new ideas to take ove r from the ex isting . Where ideas persist
to guide and interpret action in spite of structura l change and modern
developments , the y seem to id ent ify certain sensitive and highly in st itu -
tionalized co re areas of culture. An awareness of such core areas may
benefit our understanding of Jav:anese soc ial dynamics , and eve n of th e
process of deve lopment in In dones ia . TI1ese persistent comp lexes o f
ideas serve as the keystones for the construction of the Ja van ese social
world, and may delineate th e core and the linuts of the mea nin gfu l
structure of the Javanese experience . In other words, these complexes
of idea s ind icate the latitude with in whic h act ions and phenome na ,
old and new , are in terpreted and understood .

Problem and Method

Formally, the research problem became the investigation of how

contemporary J avanese in Yogyakarta gave meaning to life and actual
experience. I expected that , once I un de rstood their system of meaning,
I would be able to interpret J avanese social life as it unfolded itse l f
around me, and that I could probably make sense out of the way in
which the processes of development proceed ~d and their impact upon
J avanese society.
In view of the nature of this problem , the method of verstehen
was indicated: I needed to understand J avanese understanding and to
be very consc ious about my own cultural and academic backgrou nd . I
needed to d iscover a J avanese theory of culture as a framewo rk of
bound meanings [Cicourel. 1964: 14] . Concurring with Glaser and
Strauss, such a theory should be d iscovered from the integration of the
data themselves, and should be understandable for the Javanese and
myself alike [ 1967 :34-3 5] .
My field strategy was simple and st raightforward: participant
observat ion and documentary ma terial would prompt questions; these
questions would be 'question-marks ' in my m ind and relate to my
cultural and in tellectual background , to my being astonished, amazed
and at times even in personal jeopardy. Yet , in o rder t o avo id th e
danger of wr iting autobiography instead of report ing about the social

xvi '.'v!

field [La Barre . 1967 ] , I wou ld need to diligently pursue ope n-ended
and directed interviews about my exper ience as a part icipan t observer,
until I co uld imagine the meaning of my observations and the points of
my interviewees.
Intro spect ion became therefore an essent ial part of the field
method. I observed soni'ething; that something reacted in me and
made me ask questions : those questions wer e answered . but in a
particular fashion : I was asking questions of a polite host who wanted
both to explain and to see my po int of view. The only way to escape
this dilemma was to try to make sense out of unsolicited information,
such as offic ial document s. pre-war Dutch and recent scientific report -
ing, current and old mystical and ethical literature . and the occu rrences
around me . Could I read between the lines? Could I make Javanese
sense out of my confusion? How were the happen ings that occurred
around me construed in the Javanese mind? What was the meaning of a
docume nt , a newspaper, or a song?
Going back and forth between my questions and the occurre nces
around me, l relied very much on interviews with a selection of the
cultural elite and op inion lead ers to elaborate observa tions and to check
my interpretations. My interviewees represented most segments of the
urban pop ulation . but with a marked bent towards lit erate and con -
scious memb ers of th e urban middle class. such as civil servants ,
teachers, professors . mystics. anny officers , and also a few village
headmen . All of the m Jived in conscious contact with Javanese and
modem ideas. [See Appendix for elabora ti on .]

Resea rch Site

For my research site . I dec ided on the Central Javanese court

town of Yogyakarta, where I resided from the beginni11g of May 1969
until the end of August 1970. ln Yogya . things are more fully Javanese
than in other places . Yogya is historical; it is one of the successors of
the Mataram empire . and it is the only remaining functioning Sultanat e .
lt is near and around Yogya that we find the oldes t monuments
of Buddhist and Hindu civilization in Java. Being a Sultan ate
( Vars ten/and }, it has never been fully colonized . Yogyakarta was the
centre of many of the cultural m oveme nts of tl.e colonial days . such as
the Budi Utomo, the Muhanzmadiyah, and the Taman Siswa school
movement; it was later the centre of the st ruggle for national
independence and the temporary cap ital of the Indonesian republic .

Especially fo r these lat ter reasons, the province of Yogyakarta is

rightly cal led the D aerah Ist imewa Y ogyakarra (the Special Ter rit ory
of Yogyaka rt a) .
No wad ays , Yogyakarta is poli tically in the periphe ry of th e
na tion, al tho ugh its cultur al infl uen ce extends far beyond it s
bou ndaries . In 196 7 . the city boas ted ft fty-two insti tu tes of h ighe r
learning with approxima tely th irty -nin e thousand students, amo ng
which the nat ional Gadjah .1ada Universit y was by far the most
important. 1 Many of the internationally known Indones ian art ists live
and wo rk in Yogya , and this very J avanese town is the place of or igin
o r education of a significant part of the Indonesian in-crowd and
present political leadersh ip, including the Sul tan himself. 2 \Vith some
reservations, I therefore venture to state that to understand Indonesian
politics without und erstanding Yogy a is like understanding a person
without knowing his background.
In the opinion of most Indonesians, Yogyakarta is the centre of
Javanese culture, and the Yogya nese of ten proudly refer to their ci1y as
the kora kebudayaan (cultural city). Yogya, with its surrounding
territory , is the most import ant centre of mystical inspiration in
Indonesia . with a ruling Sultan and 1wo functioning kraron (palaces).
where Javanese ideas are probably most clearly expresse Apart from
small -scale industries (barik or wax -died cloth. and silver) there is
little eco nom ic activity beyond the regional market function. It is a
tow n of government. civil servants . educa1ion. art . tourism . and hote ls
and nowadays . a very important ce ntr e for the armed forces . The pace
of life is slow and subdued. and the standard of living low: in spit e of
this . Yogya is also an inspirin g city. unquestionably a great centre of
things Javanese.

Organiza tion of the Study

The study is organized in three descriptive parts . followed by a

conclusio n and an appendix about the field exp erience. The first part .
compr ising Chapter I. contains an introduction to the kebati 11a11
phenome non in its post -Independ ence historical and cult ural context.

I. Unp ublish ed data comp iled by th e Cat h olic Akactemi Kateche tik in
Yogyakana (1967) .

2. Presently Sultan Ham engku Buwono is Vice -President of Indonesia and th e

m:iin civili a n member of th e governme nt.

It is argued that the post-war development of kebarinan mysticism is

of prime soc io! ogical and cultural significance, and re fleets a cultural
reawakening that is stimulated by the experience of national indepen-
dence and modernity.
The second part comprises the next three chapters. and is a des -
crip ti on of th e integration of world view, ritual enactment, and ethic
as they are expressed in kebatinan mysticism . TI1is generalized pre -
sentation has been abstracted from my interviews with approximately
fifteen in dividual mystics and observat ion s in some fifteen aliran
kebatinan. Chapter 2 presents an analytical description of the Javanese
mystical world view, identif ying its key concepts and style of thinking .
Chapter 3 describes how the mystical world view is enacted in its
sustaining practice by individual mystics, mystical teachers, and
interested laymen. The chapter further contains an analysis of mystical
reasoning, and concludes with a note on the controversy about the
mystically admissible and its deviations.
A world view not only describes but also prescribes, and Chapter
4 investigates how the key concepts of the mystical world view are
translated into an ethics and _an attitude to life. It presents us with a
picture of how things should be in the best of o rd ers. Yet orders deviate
from the 'should' dimension in everyday life . and it is there that we
shall leave the description of culture proper to tum tc, the investigation
of aspects of everyday behaviour.
TI1e third descriptive part. that is, Chapters 5 and 6 . investigates
how the cultural conceptions and perceptions penetrate into everyday
life. In both chapters. those elements of order that are characterized by
congruence between ideal and practical behaviour are first de scribed .
Then. discussing the changing dimensions of order. we shall investigate
how old and deeply rooted ideas persist in novel situati-ons and are
defended in the face of structural change. In short . these chapters are
an attempt to interpret contemporary Javanese experience and action
within the framework of the Javanese world view. ethics. and attitude
to life. In the process, we shall be able to indicate areas of structural
change and modernization, where persistent Javanese conceptions lose
their validity in giving meaning to current experience This will be
especially apparent in our discussion of the meaningful relationship
between the individual and society on the one hand, and development
and the material environment on the other, in Chapter 6 .
In the concluding Chapter 7, I shall int egrate the various key
elements that have emerged from the descriptive chapters and evaluate
the cultural dynamics of the contemporary social process in Java , with

due regard for the function of kebatinan mysticism. In the second part
of the conclusion, I shall introduce the concept of the 'meaningful
structure of experience ' . There we shall endeavour to place the Javanese
experience in a comparative perspective by presenting it as a type. The
ensuing gross typology of cultures may possibly also contr ibute to an
insight into the general problem of development.
The main body of the study is followed by an appendix about the
field experience and method of work in order to shed some light on the
subjective elements of the field research and to provide some setting.

Java is the political centre of the Indonesian archipelago and the home
of the largest and cultural!y most sophisticated ethnic group in the
highly diversified Ind ones ian population . Ethnicall y, the Javanese con -
stitute a majority in Indonesia but among themselves. they are religious -
ly diversified in the sense that perhaps five to ten per cen t of them
adhere to a rather purist form of Islam. some thirty per cent to a
strongly syncretist and Javanized version of Islam. while most of the
remainder reckon themselves to be nominal Muslims. that is. adherents
to Islam by confession. whose practices and thin king are closest to the
old Javanese and Indic-J avanese traditions. 1 Th is latter group is known
as the abangan, and its recent cultural awakening forms the focus of
this study.
For virtually all the Javanese . mysticism and magical-mystical
practices have always been a most powerful undercurrent - if not the
essence - of their culture . The type of Islam that came to Java was of
the Sufi variety and was easily accepted and embedded in Javanese
syncretism [Peacock, 1973 :23-28]. For a few, this situation began
to alter under the influence of better commurucations with the Middle -
East in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. and especially under
the influence of the Muslim reformism oft.,,loh . Abduh in Egypt around
the turn of the century. In Java. this reformism found its foreman in
K.H .A. Dahlan. who founded theMuhammadiyah (1912) as the Muslim
cultural association that desired to bring modern relevance to Islam in
Indonesia [Wertheim , 1964 :210; Peacock, forthco min g] . Durin g the
same period, circa I 900 - 30, other Islamic associations were formed,
such as the Sareka t Islam (I 9 I 2) and the Nahdatul Ulama party ( I 926) .
These movements of cultural and polit ical awakening also found
their expone nts among the abangan Javanese. such as in the Budi
Uromo (I 908), the Taman Sisw a schools (1922), and in the establish -

l. These rough estimates are based on the outcome of the 1955 national and
the 1957-58 reonal elections in Central and East Java and the Yogya-
kart:i area.

ment of political parties , such as the communist PKI (1920) and the
nationalist PNI under Sukarno (1927). Sin ce much has been written
about these developments (fo r example, Van iel, 1960], I shall avoid
that subject and conce ntrat e on the post-Independence developments
that are most relevant to the understanding of the dynamics of the
abangan cultural awakening.
By the time of Indonesian Ind ependence, most foreign observers
and probably most Indonesians themselves regarded Indon esia as a
Muslim country, that is, a country in which the vast major ity of the
pop ula tion adhered t o Islam . Th e largely Ja vanese nationalists, the
Communists, and the Socialist intelle ctuals disagreed, however, with the
wish of the politically organized Muslims to esta blish Indone sia as a
Neg ara Islam (Islamic State) in which the followers of Islam would be
legally compelled to live according to the laws and traditions of Islam. 2
The first would rather build a nation on the motto Bhinneka Tunggal
fka (unity in diversity), respecting the cultures and customs of the
various population groups. To them, the Indonesian peop le should live
together on the commo n basis of the Panca Sita (the five principles of
Indonesian nationhood) , namely, belief in God , national consciousness,
humanism, social justice, and sovereignty of the people, while the con -
stitut ion would guarantee the freedom of religion.
In the yea rs before the first national elections (1955), politics
and religion tended to combine, and the struggle between Islam with its
major it y pretensions and the other political -cum -cultural groups
resulted in the po liticization of the population along the lines of the
aliran (streams) of religious comm itment, wh ile traditional tolerance
gave way to st rife (J ay, 1963]. At least part of the abangan cult ural
awakening has been stimulated by the militant pursuit of politicized
Islam to push its views and ways of life upon the syncretist majority of
the Javanese population. Whereas these latter have never refused to
acknow ledge themselves as Muslims , they wanted primaril y to pu rsue
their private ways inspired by their own rich culture. The result has
been a revitalization of abanganism as, for in stance, exemplified in the
rise of kebatinan mysticism.

2. During the 1945 preparations for In dependence , the Muslims drew up a

draft preamb le to ihe constitution according to which the state would be
based on belief in God 'with the obligation to carry out th e laws of Islam
for the adhe rents to Islam'. This unadopted draft preamble became known
as the Jakarta Charter. For discussion, see Emmers on (1976:56-59); for
full text, see Subagyo (1973).

Ther e is muc h more to the re-eme rgence of Javanes e kebatin an

myst icism than simply a react ion to politicized Islam. According to
Hadiwijono , mysticism surfaces especially in times of stress and soc ial
unrest. when people start seeking for new foundations upon wh ich to
build the structure of human ex istenc e (1967:3 ]. For the pre -
Independence period, this surfacing of mystical movements has been
amply docume nt ed by the historian Sartono Kart od irdj o, who ana lyse d
the many instances of peasant revolts under cha1is matic religio us-
mystical leadersh.ip as a reacti on to unbearable soc ial and economic
cond iti ons, gross injustice, and explo itation [ I 973] . Added to this are
the strife , re volts , social uphea val. moral decay , and inse curity of in-
dependent Indones ia. All of these cond it ions have clearly stim ulat ed a
general process of soul -sea and redefinition of ide nti ty .
When Geertz ctid field research in Pare in 1953-54. he still
described the practice of mysticism as a Javanese p riyayi (high class)
phenomenon, although he also noted the attraction that mysticism
exe rcised o n the abangan mass. Some of the mystical gro up s that he
described had 'a large abangan admixture', but these groups were 'based
on the teachings of high priyayi gums (teachers) in the court centres
and . modelled after the more elevated sects' (Ge ertz , 1960 :309] .
At the same time , however , h e no ted the emergence of a modern
abangan cu lt' , Pennai, that fu nct ioned both as a po lit ical party and a
mystical group [ l 12] .
According to Geertz , Penna i rep resented an attempt to lend co n- '
temporary relevan ce to traditional abangan beliefs. on the one hand '
relying on J avanese esoterism and curing techniques and on the other,
express ing a 'v igorousl y anti -Islamic soc ial organizat ion co mposed
ma.inly of town la boure rs, employed and unem p loyed, impoverished
rural radicals. and estate workers past and present' (113]. The member -
ship held Penn ai to be a 'pure native science' - characteristically
revealed in meditation - based on 'original'. that is, pre -Islam and even
pre -Hindu beliefs, which combined the modern na:ional ist Panca Sita
ideology with traditional Javanes e religious pmerns [ 115]. Comme n t -
ing on its function, Geertz observed that the Femwi movement was an
adjustme nt to a soc ial context whe re th.ings had changed : 'It is a
religious system designed for a peasant come to town.' (118]
In discussion of the Pennai cult, Geertz identified some
important reasons for the coming co nfr ontation between Islam and
abangan myst icism; he further recogn ized that the effort to o rgan ize
mysticism in sects was a new phenome non . These post -war sects struck
hin1 by their 'almost denominational form', which he interpreted as a

react ion against the congregat ional org anizat ion of the santri (faith full y
practisi n g Muslim s); he also no ted th at Pare sects we re form in g a feeb ly
organized group, loosely tied to similar ones in other tow ns, an d
seemingly gaining in strength . According to Geertz . several of these
sects were at that time request ing the Ministry of Religion to accord
them the recognition and status of the 'official religions such as Islam
and Ch ristiani ty ( 1960:349]. His stilt te ntat ive obse rvations abo u t a
poss ible eme rging trend appea r to have targety come true less tha n
twent y years later.
ll1e vital expansion of mystical movements during the ea rly
fifi ies soon drew the att ention of J avanese mystics themse lves and the
Ministry of Religion; it was only much later that the phenomeno n
became recogn ized as a fac t of prime socio logical, pol it ical , and cu lt ural
importance. 3 In 19 51, the mystic and pol itician Wongsonegoro was
already actively organizing kebarinan mystic ism in the Paniry a Penye -
lenggara Pertemuan Filsafar dan Kebatinan (Committee for the Or -
ganization of the Meet ing of Philosophy and Kebatinan). and h is
political party, Persatuan Indonesia Raya (P!R ), had already begu n to
canvass various myst ical sects while persuading them to organize under
his aegis. 4
In 1952, the Islam -dominated Ministry of Religion advanced a
minimum definition of religion containing the following necessary
elements: a prophet, a ho ly book . and international recognit ion . Su ch
a definition would exclude mysticism as a valid religious expression -and
even outlaw its pract ice because to the mystic , 'God' reveals h imse lf
directly in the heart of man and not through intermediaries such as
prophets or ho ly books. Because of the opposition from the Balin ese
Hindus , the de finition h ad to be repealed . In 1953, the Mini str y re-
ported the existence of three hundred and sixty new religions or
mystical groups and in 19 54 , the Ministr y established the Pengawasan
Aliran Kepe rcayaan Masyarakat (PAKEM - Supervision of the Belief
Movements in Society) as the authority to keep watch on new religio ns,
mystical groups, and their act ivitie s. Such an authority was nothing n ew
in Indonesia; the colonial authorities had also kept a close watch on
mystical and similar movements that could arouse the peasantry into

3. To my knowledge, the firs t foreign observer to draw atten tion to the

soc iologica l and cu ltural significance of the developmen t of mysticism in
Java and Indonesia in general is J.M. van der Kroef in his article ' ew
Religious Sect s in Java' (1961). See also van der Kro ef (1959).

4. For details and chronology up to 1965. I follow Subagyo (1973 :228-33).


revolt . In the hands of the Ministry of Religion, PAKEM became a kin d

of wa t chdog against too strongly anti -Islamic sp iritual move men ts.
The yea r 1955 was impo rtant in clarifying the Islam -J avanese
syncret ism cleavage. The result of the first general electio ns showed
that Indonesia was - at least in political affiliation - not a Muslim
country. Nationally, the Islamic parties polled only 42 per cent of the
votes, while sympath ies in Java were clea rly more unfavo urable towa rds
Islam: Central Java voted 30.3 per cent ]slam, and the Yogyakarta area,
where the resea rch was done, only 24.5 per cent. 1l1e myth that
Indonesia , and espec ially Java , was a Muslim cou ntry was undo ne. In
the same year , the Kongres Kebatinan selwuh Indones ia (BKKI
- Organ izin g Body for the Convention of Kebatinan thro u gho ut
Indones ia) was established under the leadership of Wongsonegoro, and
it convened its first conference in Semarang . The following year, the
BKKI held its second congress in Solo (Surakarta); it declared that
kebat inan mysticism did not function as a new religion but rather,
fostered the quality of religiou s life in general. This second congress was
attended by two thousand representatives of an estimated two mil lion
people throughout Indonesia.
Kebatinan mysticism was growing , and also spread beyond Java.
ln 19 - 7, the President of Ind ones ia was asked to recognize kebatinan
mysticism at the same level as the organized offic ial' religions, and to
see to it that kebatinan be represented in parliament. In 1958, however ,
President Sukarno warned the third BKKI congress to be careful about
the danger of klen ik or 'black magical ' expressions of mysticism; the
congress thereupon reiterated that kebatinan was no 'black magic ',
but supernatural power and 'white magic'. Meanwhile , the outcome of
the regional elections indicated an overall decline of identification
with politic ized Islam : in Central Java, the Muslim parties still polled
29.2 per cent of the vote; in the Yogyakarta area, only 22.6 pe r cent.
In 1960 , a congress was he ld- in Pekalongan, at which representa -
tives of the abangan lndic -Javanese mystical tradition and Sufi sant ri
mysticism met and de liberated to find their common gro und . At a
youth conference, the Minister of Education; Professor Priyono, pro -
posed that 'synthesism' and 'syncretism ' be recognized as the essence
of Indones ian culture, and that belief movements should be legally
protected. Meanwhile, the fourth congress of the BKKI in Malang
reso lved that there were no essential differences between religion and
mysticism: religion emphasized ritual , while mysticism stressed inner
experience and the perfection of man. On the instigation of the prime

minister , PAKEM was taken over from the Ministry of Religion and
became a body within the Ministry of Justice, which meant a lessening
:t of th e authority of the Ministry of Religion.
i In 1961 , the Minister of Religion again proposed a definition of
religion with the purpose of den ying mysticism it s place in the
Indonesian sun. Religion should be characterized by a holy scriptu re ,
a prophet , the absolute lordship of Tuhan Yang Maha Esa (God) , and
a system of law for its followers. Meanwhile , th e police had taken over
the supervision of the mystical groups in order to prevent social unrest.
The follow ing yea rs were characte rized by a rapid expansion of
myst ical movements, and communist infilt rat ion in many of them
became apparent. To brin g ord er to the emerging religious anarch y,
President Sukarno decreed that there were six offic ially and legally
recognize d religions - nam ely, Islam, Catholicism, Pro testantism ,
Hinduism , Buddhism , and Confucianism; gro ups tha t threatened these
'' estab lished religions or th e stability of soc iety should be prohibited and
..' dissolved at the recommendati on of the Minister of Religion, the
Public Prose cutor , o r the Minister of Interi or.
In the aftermath of the coup event s of Sep tembe r-October
1965 , Muslim youth groups , with the backing of the army , moved to
eradicate athe istic commu nism from Indonesia, resulting in the te rrible
slaughter of a quarter to half a million abangan cit izens [ Anderson and
McVey , 1971 :62-63). To some Muslim gro ups, it appeared that their
victory was near. People were forced t o recognize themselves as
followers of an established religion - this is marked on one's identit y
card - and to save one 's neck , it was good pol icy to look for protection
by having an official af filiati on with any of the six recogn ized religions.
Islamic da 'wah (missiona ry effons) in the villages were intensified and
everywhere, civil servan ts , students, and other citize ns had to attend
courses of teams for the development of a religious mentality . Mean -
while. the police and PAKEM were active in dissolv ing those mystical
gro ups that were suspect ed of being infiltrat ed by the Commun ist
Party .
The slaughter of suspected 'communist' abangan in 1965 - 66,
and the pressure to show that one had become an obe dient Muslim,
boomeranged on Islam. In their quest for protection, man y abangan
opted to seek membership of the Protestant and Catholic churches; in
Ja va, their membership incr eased very rapidl y in the two or thre e years
following the coup, and the churches had to cope with the problems of
ri, 'massive baptism' and a shortage of infrastructure and personnel to deal
with the flood of 'converts' .

More interesting is the phenomenal and sustained growth of

Hinduism [Polak , 1973] and Buddhism in the years since 1967. Both
these religions had experienced the beginn in gs of a revival during th e
fifties and the early sixties. Like J avanese mystic ism, they regard them -
selves as the living embodiment of th e religion and culture of the
glorious days of Majapahit, befo re the advent of Islam and th e humil -
iatin g days of co lonization. TI1eir rapid emergence, durin g the late
sixt ies from virtual obscurity to several hundred th ousand registered
members today , and the increasing popularit y of organized kebatinan
mysticism are indicative of a growing cultural and historical co nscious -
ness among the abangan and , espec ially aft er the outburst of 1965-66 ,
of a refusal to regard themselves even formally as Muslims of the
statisiical category (Geertz, 1972b]. TI1ey point to the Borobudur, the
greatest single Buddhist monument on earth, or to the many exq uisit e
Hindu temp les that can be found all over the island; they fondly relate
the Sabdo Paton prophecy , in which it was foreto ld that the Hindu -
Buddhist Javanese culture would revive five hu ndred years afte r the
defeat of Majapahit at the hands of Islam ( circa 1478). Apart from thi s
historical legitimation , Javane se Hindu , Buddhist , and myst ical thinking
are nourished by the wayang mythology ('the bible of Java') that
elaborates the great In dian epics of Rama yana and Mahabharata and the
indigenous Panji and Menak cycles that relate the times when ancestors
and gods we re stil l on earth and institut ed the great rules of life and
tradit ion .
Politically , mystic ism appears to advance steadily with much of
the current military and administrative leadership firmly rooted in an
abangan Javanese background . Soon after the Anny 's rise to power, it
proved to be as susp icious of the power of politicized Islam as the pr e-
ceding Sukarno government [Polomka, 1971: l 87-88] . In the pre -
parations of the I 971 general elect ions , the military governme nt has
persistently outmanoeuvred both the Islamic parties and ihe remnants
of Sukarno's Partai Nasional Indonesia (PN!) (Emmerson, 1976:59-
61 ] . Meanwhile, the position of myst icism as a valid fonn of religious
expression was strengthened. In February-Ma rch 1970, mystical
leaders were informally asked to join the government party, Golkar, at
the level of local representation. 1n November 1970, the attem pt to
unify kebatina n mystic ism in a broad single movement striving fo r legal
recogn iti on culn1inated in the convention of the Panitya Nas ional
Symposium Kepercayaan - Kebatinan, Keijiwan dan Kerochanian

Indonesia (Nat ional Committee for the Sympos iu m on Belief -

Kebatinan mystic ism, Science of the Soul and Science of the Spiri t in
Indonesia) at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, again under the
titular leadership of Wongsonegoro and with the obvio us blessing of the
government. In Decembe r of the same year, mysticism rece ived a
form of official recognition by its incorporation into the Golka r, the
governme nt-dominated political organization of th e functional groups,
with Golkar establishing a co-ord inatin g body of spiritual and myst ical
leaders at the same level with a similar co -ordinating body of Muslim
ulama (scho lars) .
The po lit ical posit ion and the national support fo r mystic ism
further improve d after the 197 1 gene ral elections and th e co nsequent
defeat of politicized Islam. Presentl y, the Sekret ariat Kerjasama
anta r Kepercayaan - Kebatinan, Kejiwaan dan Kerochanian (SKK -
Coordinating Secretariat of Belief Moveme nts ) is attempting to sys-
te matize and to formalize the mystical teachings in order to arrive at
some sort of greatest common denominator , and to be subsequently
legally recognized and repr esented by a director -general in the Minstry
of Religion. It remains to be seen wh et her de ju re recognition will soon
be forthcom in g. Most kebatinan adepts are alread y more than sat isfied
that kepe rcay aan (belief) has now de facto been recognized to equal
agama (religio n), as is obv ious from the first two paragraphs abo ut
Agama dan K epe rcayaan terhadap Tuhan Yang Maha Esa (Religio n
and Belief in God) in the Garis-garis Besar Haluan Ne gara (Perspectives
of the Course of the . ation) th at we re formulated by the Majelis
Permusyawa ratan Rakyat (MPR - In donesian Parliament) in 1973 and
that read as follows:

1. On the basis of the belief of the Indonesian people in

the Oneness of God , religious Iife and the life based on the
belief in the Oneness of God will be founded on the free -
dom to live and to practise the Onenes s of God according
to the Panca Sila philosophy .

2. The development of religion and belief in the On eness

of God has as its purpose to build a harmonious atmos-
phe re of life betwee n neighbourin g religious communities
and various followe rs of beiiefs in the Oneness of God and
between all the religio us communities and all be lievers in

the Oneness of God while rem embering to p ractise good

deeds while building soc iety together [MPR, 1973: 73 ] .5

A slight further advance towa rds de facto recognition of Ja vanese

myst icism and abangan customs and ritual was realized in the new
marriage law of Indonesia (Law No. 1, 1974] , in which the possibil ity
for valid marriage 'acco rding to the laws of the respe cti ve religio ns and
beliefs of the parties concerned' (followed by 'registration according to
the regula tions of the legislation in force') was opened [articles I and
2] . The wording of the law is vague, however, and a far cry from the
original Go!kar proposal , in which civil registration would be the
necessary and su fficient cond ition for a valid marr iage . The proposal
ran into very strong Muslim opposition, and it seems that nothing much
has changed (Emm erso n, 1976: 229 -4 5] . Depending on the place of
marriage and the attitude of the registering civil or religious func -
tionaries, a marriage according to the ritual of a mystical group may
now be recognized but I suspect that in most of the cases, marriage will
still be concluded according to Islami c law , which entails the pro-
nouncement of the syahadat (Muslim confession of faith), wh ich is the
necessary and sufficient cond ition to be counted as a Muslim, irrespec -
tive of one's personal int entions.
The position of mysticism seems to be secure and strengthening
itself, so long as the country is ruled by the present government of
mystically inclined abangan military. This national support of
mysticism arises from a dislike of politicized Islam and the strong
influence of Indic -J avanese culture in the thinking of this ruling group.
It would seem that they have a clea r interest in the official recognition
of some forms of m yst icism , to the exclusion of o thers that are
suspected of subversion, black magic , and causing soc ial unrest. At
present, such de ju re recogni ti on still runs into too stron g an op position

5. 1. A ras dasar Kepercayaan Bangsa Indone sia rerhadap Tuhan Yang

Maha Esa maka p erikehidupan beragama dan pe rikehidupan berkepe r-
cay aan rerhadap Tuhan Yang Maha Esa didasarkan atas kebebasa n meng -
hayari dan mengamalkan Keruhanan Yang Maha Esa sesuai dengan Falsafah
2. Pembangunan Agama dan Kepercayaan rerhadap Tuhan Yang Maha
Esa dirujukan untuk pemb inaan suasana hidup rukun dianrara sesama
ummar beragama sesama pen ganur Kep ercayaan rerhadap Tuhan Yang
Maha Esa dan anrara semua u mmar beragama dan semua penganur Keper-
cayaan rerhadap Tuhan Yang Maha Esa serra mengingarkan amal dalam
bersama-sama membangun masya rakar.

by the forces of Islam , and In dones ians are still supposed to recognize
one of th e six 'o fficial' religions as a bow to the first clause of the
Panca Sila (belief in God). To many abangan J avanese, it is disappoint-
in g that the fruit of their own soil, that is, mysticism, is not a recog-
nized form of religious expression equal to the six imported religions.
But meanwhile, modern mysticism has come of age and become in-
st itutionalized in such organizations as the BKKI and SKK, and in
several prestigious sects such as the sophisticated Pangestu movement 6
and the internationally known Subud sect. 7
Th e phenomenal rise of Ja vanese mysticism in the years since
Independence cannot be explained by any single simp le reason. Most
apologists of the official Middle -Eastern religions in In donesia em-
phasize that the rapid growth of the number of mystical groups in-
dicates dissatisfaction with the established religions (for example ,
Rasjidi , 196 7 (Islam); Subagyo, 1973 (Catholic); Hadiwijono, 1967 ,
and de Jong , 1973 (Protestant)]. In their view, th e popularity of
mysticism can, to a large extent, be exp laine d as a reaction to the
dogmatism and ritualism of the established monotheistic religions that
neglect the Javanese ne ed for mystical expression and inn er expe rien ce.
If these religions were bett er equippe d to cater to these needs , the
J avanese would readily fill the mosques and churches, and th e mystical
sec ts wo uld simp ly become superfluous.
In my op ini on, this explanat ion totally misses the point. These
apologists see the Javanese as Muslims, or pote n tial Christians, who can
be brought back in to the fold, wh ile they fail to see tha t the y them-
I selves are newcomers who are felt to be foreign to Java . lrnplicitly, they
i- think that th e advent of modernity and the loss of certai n tradi tional _
,:' forms entail the need to embrace a 'modem' monotheistic religion .
I.l They fail to recog nize the force of Javanese cultur e, its integrit y and
geniu s in findin g its ow n ways to adapt to a modern wo rld and social
change . Yet basic Javanese culture and iden tit y hav e not changed much

6. For documentat ion, see Hardjo pra koso (I 956); Paguyuba n gesti Tun ggal,
True Light (Jak arta , 1971);deJong (1973) .

7. Several Western au th ors have published works on Subud an d their per sona l
expe rien ces with it, e.g. , H. Rofe , Reflections on Su bud (Ams terdam ,
Humanit y Pu b lishin g C0 ., I 959); H. Rofe , The Path of Su bud (Lo nd on,
Rider and Co., I 959); Eva Bart6k, Worth Living For (Lo ndon , Putnam ,
195 9) ; Go rd on van Hien , What is Subud? (London, Rider and Co., 1963 ) ;
Warindra Yit tach~ Ass ignment in Subud (New Yor k , Dharma Books Co.,
196 5).

with the change of times, and the Javanese are very conscio us and
proud of their cultural continuity. 8
The mystical adepts seldom find fault with the diverse religious
teachings , although they may find certain express ions of religious
behaviour thoroughly distasteful. To them, 'God ' is in th e heart of
man and life should be a continuous prayer to the Almighty .9 They
do not see why one sho uld pray to God five times a day, o r in a church,
or why such prayers should be blared from loudspeakers in mosques.
To the Javanese abangan, Go d is not an unapproachable distant judge;
on the contrary, 'God ' is closer to man than anything else , beca use man
is fundamen tall y part of the Divine Essence. They will recognize the
ritual express ions of the Middle -Eastern religions as useful, as elemen -
tary steps on one's way to 'God ', and while Islamic and even Christian
doctrines have influenced Ja vanese mystical thinkin g and terminology ,
they can neither accept Mohammed as the ultimate prophet nor Christ
as the ultimate saviour. Because of their intimacy with ultimate realit y,
they recognize that revelations may descend eve ry day. Yet their
mystical message does not so much promise salvation or heaven, as it is
directed towards interpreting worldly existence in a cosmological
A second widespread interpretation views the rise of mysticism as
a reaction against the ons laught of modern ity and the relate d moral
decay of the nation (Hadiwijon o, 1967] . Such unsettled co nditions
may cause, much like the former Western domination , 'a persistent
sense of dysfunction' and 'a sense of cultural deprivation' (K arto dirdjo ,
1973 :5]. Ko entjaran ingrat int erprets the practice of mysticism pri-
marily as a withdrawal from the difficulties of daily life in to a world of
dreams and inner experiences and a yearning for the past [ 1969 :39].
Subagyo seems to agree with this argument, and adds that 'all
myst icism develops as a sign of protest and criticism again st present
times ' [ 1973: 126] . The psychiatrist Bonokamsi Dipojono sees membe r-

8. Anderson was also struck by ' the immen se strength of J avanese cu ltural
self-consciousness'. According to him , it is ' this proud self-confidence
wh ich forms the emotional and psycholog ical underpinning for the ' real '
Ja vanese tolerance . So deeply ingrained is this pride th at almos t anything is
tolerated, provided that it can be adapted to or explained in terms of the
Javanese way of life' [ 1965 :5] .

9. 'God' refers to the 'immane nt' Javanese conception of God. Without

quotation marks, the word God refers to the more ' tran scendental' concep -
tions of the Middle-Eastern monotheistic religions.

ship in mystical groups primarily as a search for individual equilibrium

and the fulfilment of dependency needs that is espec ially popular in
times of social stress and turmoil (1969 :43] .
Thi s second type of exp lanation hol Js better than the first .
Ja vanese myst icism does not fail to provide meaning for suffering , and
the present social and economic conditions affirm the wisdom that is
contained in mysticism and its prac tic e. Everyday, the individual ex -
perience of powerlessness seems to confirm the wisdom that it is better
not to hope for anything, to be conten t with little , to make a virtue
out of sufferi n g, and to tum to religious , mystical , and supe rnatural
practices. It is gradually becoming impo ssible t o m aintain th e old norms
of mutual assist ance; and while tradi ti onal respect for hierarc hy is
slow ly making place fo r fea r, the mystical prac tice gains in popularity .
With the present disin tegrati ng system of norms and expectat ions in
society, where the connect ion between the common man and his ruling
elites has become vague, supernatural practices and mysticism may
compensate feelings of insecurity.
For these reas ons, there is much truth in the above 'escape and
compensat ion' hypotheses. Th ere is an element of withdrawal in th e
mystical prac ti ce, and there are also ele ment s of protest and sear ch
for individual securit y . Yet the phenomen on of actively o rgani zed
mysticism seems to indicate a mult ifarious movement of a people
th at tries to find truth and identit y in its own cultural heritage in order
to cope with changing times , and not to escape from it. The practice of
mysticism is not restricted to the poor and the powerless , but is also
highly popular among the military leadership and other elite groups .
TI1ese facts - that myst icism is both an elite and an organized phenom -
enon, and tha t it is soc iety -wide - suggest that the Javanese case of
emerging kebatinan mysticism can best be analysed as a search for
cultural expression and identity in a time of transition and change. This
further suggests that 'escape and compensation' hypotheses are not
adequate . Emerging kebatinan is not merely a reaction, escape, or com-
pensation, not merely a reaction against modernization: it is primarily
a viable search for cultural identity that colours the Javane se quest t o
deal with the present. It is from th is latter persp ect ive that the present
study has been written.

In the Javanese mythology derived from the Indian epi..:s of Ramayana

and Mahabharata , life is seen as a battle between the forces of chaos
and the forces of order. In the Mahabharata cycle, the forces of chaos
are the Kurawa; the y represent the forces of arrogance and self -
glo rific a ti on , of lust , passion, and desire , of egotism and vanity. They
are the forces that are out -of -step with the cosmic purpose of harmony,
justice, and order. When they are in the ascendency, life in the cosmos
and on earth is characterized by diso rder, uncertainty, and injustice .
The Kurawa are opposed by the Pendawa, the five brothers that stand
for piety, justice , selflessness, and trust in the cosmic purpose. When
they prevail, the cosmos and life on earth are characterized by quiet,
har'l1ony, justice , and prosperity . In the Bharata Yuddha , their last
great war , the Pendawa overcome the Kurawa and order prevails ove r
chaos (Mangkunagara , 1957; Anderson, 1965].
To the Javanese mystic , th is model of the jagad gede (cosmos)
stands as a paradigm for man as a jagad cilik (microcosmos). The forces
of chaos are symbolized by his lahir (outward and corporeal aspect)
that ties him to the phenomenal world, while h is batin (inner aspect)
relates him to ultimate cosmic meaning and morality. In the mystical
endeavour , man should overcome his corporeal aspect , such as his
emotions and dr ives , his passions and his worldly rationality, in order to
free his inner-self in its quest for reunification w ith his origin and to
experience the o nen ess of being in h is h ea rt .
Order is the condition that should prevail. Order means harmony
with the cosmic purpose, and in its deepest sen se it means unity , the
oneness of the all , of creator and created , of servant and master, of
sangkan -paran (origin -and-destiny). Javanese mystics refer to this
principle of ultimate unity as 'G od', or Sang Hyang (The One), Sang
Hyang Kesakti an (Th e Sacre d), Yang Maha Kuasa (Th at -Which-Is-
Almighty) and Yang Maha Esa (The Ultimate Oneness). Harmony with
this ultimate principle of existence is the moral task of all t hat exi st s
and the very purpose of the practice of mysticism.

At the ultimate point of the mystical journey, the world becomes

inc onsequent ial , but since the practice of mysticism result s in the
accumulation of great moral power, an advanced myst ic will still shine
like a beacon in the wo rld, to the moral and material benefit of society.
Th e practice of mysticism is therefore tho u ght to be a co ndition for
the right life on earth, and for the achievement of cosmic orde r.
In former times, this concept ion of the benefit of mysticism for
the world was highl y institutionalized in the person of the king. The
king~ were thought to be among th e most po werfu l mystical elements
on earth, to be receptacles of cosmic powe r. Their worldly powers were
the sign of their wahyu, that is, th eir revelation and supernatural
blessing, and their close assoc iat ion with the sources of ul timate power
was thought to radiate as a beneficial magical force from their persons
to the populace , ensuring the latter 's prosperity . Their k raton (palaces)
were constructed as a model image of the cosmos, symbolizi ng thei r
posit ion as centre of the universe in this world [Hein e Geldern, 196 5 ;
Coedes, 196 8]. The names of two of the remaining sultans in Java,
namely, Paku Buw ono of Solo and Paku Alam of Yogya, that both
translate as ' of the world', are still reminiscent of thinking.
From the above , it may be clea,- that there is thought to exist a
close relationship between cosmic conditions and conditions on ea rth.
Because of man 's mystical potential, he can penetrate supernature and
this has consequences for life on earth and in soc iety. If men submit to
~ 'God' and steadfastly practise mysticism, or faithfully fulfil thei r
.i religious obligations for that matter, harmony and unity with the
cosmic purpose will result in beneficial moral and material conditions
in this world. An orderly soc iety with justice and prosperity indicates a
harmonious relationship with supemature; it also indicates that the pre -
vailing harmonious cond itions in the cosmos are reflected in society.
The human and the cosmic orders are co-ordinated , are part of a
whole , and if they strive for unity and equilibrium, life will be quiet
and good. Such periods are known as zaman mas (golden pe riods),
whe n just kings reign and people share in general prosperity. On the
il other hand, if people , and espec ially the world ly powerful , are guided
by their hawa nepsu (pass ions) and by egoistic purposes of pamrih
(self -inte rest), they will invoke the upsetti ng forces of chaos . Su ch
behaviour will cause unsettl ed conditions are chara cterized by

injustice and insecurity , poverty and hardships . Such pe riods are known
as zaman edan (crazy periods) , in wh ich people will wait for a Ratu
A di! (Just King) to redress the soc ial and cos mic balance of power.


Although cosmic conditions may explain the current situation

in the here -and-now , it is ultimatel y man himself who has the power to
influence these by his spiritual behaviour, and this results in a rather
anthropocentric view of world and cosmos . The cakra manggilingan
(wheel of history) appears to be oscillating between periods of mystical
and religious enthusiasm and its ensuing prosperity, and periods of
moral decay and unsettled conditions. Similarly, the cakravartin (wheel -
turning king) does not so much project the cosmic conditions on earth
as his own mystical-religious behaviour: if he is a pandita ratu (wise
king) , his realm will enjoy peace , justice, and prosperity - it will be like
an ordered and quiet microcosmos that reflects its unity and harmony
with the ultimate cosm ic purpose; if he is a weak or power-hungry
king, the unsettled conditions of his realm will reflect his lack of
Whichever way things are viewed and rationalized , it is clea r that
worldly and cosmic conditions arise because of co -ordination . Events
are caused by their co-ordinated structure: a palace built according to
the order of the cosmos and a king who seriously practises myst icism
must bring about a just and prosperous society. Sirnilarly, a king in
search of wahyu by way of mystical concentration must bring about
improved conditions in his -worldly power. Likewise , this is so for the
personal mystical endeavour in which the outward lahir aspects should
be conditioned by the inner batin. Spiritualit y and the inner relation -
ships that momentarily prevail between cosmos and society explain ,
and cause, the current human cond ition.
In the final analysis, kenyaraan (realit y) is a spiritual affair and
not a matter of the visible and material; it is a matter of the batin that
contains a spark from the all-encompassing cosmic essence or Urip
(Life ). Material reality is but a part and a reflection of a higher system
of causes and effects. The Javanese-Indonesian notion of kenyataan
(reality) encompasses both the gross kasar conditions (realitas) and the
refined halus realms of trut h and essence ('ultimate reality'), and corres -
ponds to the German Wirklichkeit , that is, the working of the all.
Kenya taan is true reality, clear and self-evident , being its own cause and
The Javanese high road to insight in reality is the train ed and
sensitive rasa (intuitive inner feeling). In mysticism, the essence of
reality is grasped by the rasa and revealed in the quiet batin. By over-
coming the fetters of everyday existence and the phenomenal world,


man may free h imself to really understand and to achieve direct knowl -
edge of the mystery of existence. 1
Th e order of life and cosmos is seen as a sp iritual hierarchy that
runs from the lowliest animals and material kasar conditions . through
the soc ial hjerarchy . into the realms of invisible forces and up to the
highest realm of truth and cosmic essence (the ha/us condit ions). The
worldly powerful and the nobility are literally seen to be more ha/us,
that is, closer to the truth and in a more favourable position to
mysticaUy communicate with the forces of the cosmos than the lowly
kasar man who depends on his relationship with the earth for his living .
Because of this thin.king, most nob ilit y and kraw11-oriented mystical
teachings stress the respect for the hierarchical order of th e state as the
first step on one's way to God : ]f one honours one s elder brother.
one s parents. one s guru (teacher). and one s king. one thus honours
--co d ...
This emphasis on the hierarchical aspect of the social order is
much less developed in the mystical teachings of the common people,
who often see in mysticism a way to bypass the social hierarchy . But
the common man is also reminded to respect his social o rder , that is,
the h3rmony of living within his community. and he should respect his
elders an teachers. Men are morally and mystically unequal. Thi~ is
because some are entirely worldly . attached to matter and the
emotional conditions of life . while others strive for the develo pment
of their spiritual powers. Moreove r. hierarchy is demonstrated by
unequal capacities and unequal birth . Finally. everybod\ has to climb a
spiritual ladder if he wan ts to achieve mystical kn ow ledge.
The notion of the essential one ness of existence carries ove r into
the material world . the Ja1anese 11orld view be ing essentially animistic.
Objects are possessed by the spirituality of their O\rner or maker. and
mav contain a power or their own. ' farural happenings - be they
droughts. volcanic erupt;ons. or pests - have supematur3.l significanc e
and siand as signs for the workings of the cosmos. Almost every

\!Jn, Ja13nese tntellecrnals and mystics are quite emphatic in pom tmg
c' Ut that \\estern (scicntiiie) kn01'"1edge only deals "ith realiws by use of
the ;c1io (capacit, for rational understanding) : contraril1, Javanese under-
standmg grasps the essence oi" realrty directly th rough the rasa. In their
view . the rational scien tific way o f understanding demonst rat es its im-
potence by the tac t th at yesterda, s theories are reJccteJ today and that
todav's kno11ledge will be in1alidated tomorrow: rasa understanding.
however. penetrates direct!, into the heart of the mauer and reveals
the truth [BonnetT l 976b :223-2-l ] .

Javanese household possesses pusaka (holy heirlooms) that should be

revered and ritually respected. These objects possess sacred power that
can be used for pro tective. magical. and myst ical purposes. Similarly,
the graves of ancestors . kings, and mystical teachers are thought to be
kermnar (holy) places that serve as sites for meditation in order to
acquire mystical insight and spiritual powers . The relationsh ip between
nature and supernature is so int imate that it is impossible to draw a
line: both participate in the oneness of existence . and ordinary objects
may contain the signs and powers of the all-encompassing cosmic
process .
The licence plate of a general. the dress of a gu111, the date of a
ceremony. etc. - all may contain signs that are relevant for a future
act ion. Similarly . signs and manifestations that come ones way through
chance are rather underst ood to be coincid ences th at reveal the cosm ic
co-ordina tes of current conditions and events to come. The cosmos .
including life. things. and events on earth. is a co-ordinated and ranked
whole. a oneness of existence in which every phenomenon . material or
spiritual. has a significance far beyond its face ,alue. \1ystically. how -
ever . the world and its tangible manifestations are of little interest.
i\lans sojourn on earth is seen t0 be a rather unimportant stop along
the road where he pauses to have a drink (urip iku mung mampir
11go111be) while on his way t0 reun ification ,,ith his origin.

Summa ry

In sumn1ar, . we can state that man a.::ti1ely and willy -nilly

participates in the all-encompassing unity of material and spiritual
existence. The spiritu al aspect is supetior . more true as it were . and
in its highest quality . it constitutes the origin and destinv of man.
Harmony and unity with the ultimate essence is the purpose of all life.
and fosters a de1aluation of the material aspects of existence. i\lan can
potentially panicipate in supernature in all its aspects. with the forces
of chaos as well as ,,ith the forces of order : it all depends on how he
co -ordinates his spiritual behaviour. '.'-lature and supernature mutually
influence each other. and causality is implied in their co-ordination .
\\l1en co-ordination happens or is brought about. events and cond itions
have t0 folio,, . 1l1is thinking is valid both for pure mysticism and for
magic : moreover. it is valid for one s personal life. for the condition of
society. and the perception of historv.
1l1e principles on which the Javanese mystical world vie1-vis built
appear to be the following: the order of existence is oneness . composed

of two distinct yet fused characteristics, namel y, a phenome nal kasar

quality and an essential ha/us quality. This order of existence is
symbo lized by man as a mi crocos mos , hi s lahir representing the kasar,
and his batin the halus qualities of existence . In this symbo lic view, it is
man himself who contains the Universe .
The kasar aspects of existence are seen as a mere reflection of the
ha/us essential reality; the relationship between these two is therefore
hierarchical and co -ordinated , and should be harmonious. This harmony
can be brought about if man purifies his batin by maintaining distance
from the kasar world and his own lahir aspe cts; by leadi ng a moral life
and by training his rasa, he may then acquire inner serenity and
essential },,.nowledge. By moving away from the material and kasar, and
by maximizing his ha/us capacities, man c~n reaiize both a moral and an
enlightened existence.
These various principles, such as the kasar-halus and the lahir-
batin continua, the quest for harmonious , co-ordinated, hierarchical
unity, and the notion of the superiorit y of rasa knowledge as against
rational understanding will permeate this study as the powerful
cultural themes that characterize Ja vanese reasoning and cultural style.

Contemporary Javanese mysticism is gener icall y known as kebarinan.

The word kebatinan derives from the Arabic stem barin which means
inner , internal , in the heart , hidden and mysterious. According to
Geertz, batin .iieans th e 'inner realm of human experience' (1960:232 ].
Analysing Javanese mysticism as an exponent of the priyayi style of
life. that is, the sty le of the refined man, Geertz was struck by its
empirical nature:

The final appeal is always to (emot ional) experience which

carries its own meaning. God , forms of worsh.ip, and views
of the nature of man, are always valida te d on these grounds
- never on grounds of logic or essential rat ionality, . ..
never on pure belief, . . never in terms of social conse -
quences, . . but always on the quality of experience wh ich
is self -validating and empirical [ I 960: 318] .

At the level of priyayi mysticism, Ge ertz' analysis holds well and

seems to validly describe the experience of advanced mystics and
guru (masters). But whereas to Geertz. kebari11a11is a pure development
of the rasa, other Javanese are not so sure. In the wider and more
popular practice of kebatinan mysticism, one is struck by the absence
of a commun is op inio among the J avanese about the exact meaning ,
location, and potential of the batin, and many kebarinan adepts even
prefer to avoid the word altogether , substitu ting it by j iwa (soul, rn.ind)
or rah (sp irit) . I Whatever the se ind.ividual inclinations may be,
kebarinan can be safely translated as the 'science of the barin ,

I. Stange plausibly interpret s this proliferation of terms as an indicati o n of

' the changes going on within Javanese mysticism', where 'many groups
refuse to call themselves keba1inan because th ey feel the term too bound
up in popular associat ions with the occult practice s of power implic it in
kejawen (pr imordial Ja vanese) mysticism' [ I 97 5 :2 7, fn. ] .

mysticism , or as Javanese science and the essence of J avaneseness

(Said, 1972 : 152]. ln the words ofSumantri Mertodipuro:

Kebarinan is the Indonesian way to happiness. In Indonesia,

kebatinan, whatever it may be called, tasawuf (Islamic
mysticism, NM), the science of perfect ion, theosophy , or
myst icism, is a general phenomenon . K ebatinan deve lops
the inner reality, the spiritua l reality. Therefore, as long as
the Indonesian people remain really Indonesian , possessed
by their original identity , kebatinan will also certa inly
remain in Indonesia, whe t her within the offic ial religions or
outs ide of them (quoted in Subagyo, 1973 : 133 ] . 2

The practice of kebarinan is the quest for communicat ion with

ultimate reality; as a branch of knowledge, it studies man's place on
earth and in the cosmos. It is based on the conviction of the essent ial
oneness of all existence. The position of kebarinan is therefore more
encompassing than the positions of Islam or Christianity , that differen -
tiate between the realms of God and of man . Kebatinan mysticism
views human existence in a cosmological context. making life itself a
religious experience. In this view, it is not possible to separate the
sacred from the profane: they all participate in the unity of existence.
The very notion of kebarinan implies that man has outward
qualities and an inner potential - these two aspects are related . It is the
moral task of all that exists to establish harmony between the outward
lahir and inner barin aspects of life , in the sens e that the batin masters
and guides the lahir; then earthly life may harmonize and be co -
ordinated with the principle of ultimate oneness. For this reason ,
human society is carefully regulated to be in c state of inner harmon y
itself: the ratakrama (etiquette) regul ate; interpersonal behav iour ; the
adar (tradition) regulates communal behaviour: the ritual religious and
animistic practices regulate the formal relationship between super'nature
and human society; while the moral rules of personal conduc t that
emphasize narima (acceptance), sabar (patience), waspada -eling (self-

2. K ebacinan adalah cara ala Indonesia mendapackan kebahagiaan. Di

Indonesia, kebacinan, apapun namanya: rasawwu[, ilmu kesem purnaan,
cheosofi dan mistik, adalah geja/a umum. Kebarinan memperkembangkan
inner realicy, kenyaraan rohan i. Maka iculah selama bangsa Indonesia rerap
bemujud Indonesia, beridenriras asli, maka kebacinan akan rerap di
Indonesia, baik didalam agama arau diluarnya.

knowledge and self-control), andap -asor (humbleness), and p rasaja

(modesty), regulate the human drives and emotions. All these rules are
fundamentally important for the inner harmony of human existence
and the maintenance of its harmony with Existence or Life. Whoever
lives in harmony with nature , with society, and with himself , lives in
harmon y with Existence and lives the right life. The breach of that
harmony, the disturbance of th at order, is humanly wrong because
socially dangerous and ultimately sinful.
In terms of worldly action, kebannan therefore emphas izes the
exercise of right behaviour as a conscious endeavour. Ethically,
kebatinan is neither this-worldly nor other -worldly, but directed
towards harmonious perfection in the consciousness of the unity of all
exis tence. In this spirit, the second BKKI congress (Solo , 1956] defined
kebatinan as 'the basic source and the principle of Ke-Tuhanan Yang
Maha Esa (The Highest Godly Onen ess) in order to achieve an ethical
way of life for the sake of the perfection of life' (Sosrosudigdo , 1965:
52] .3 Life on earth has alread y been charted and laid down in the rules
of etiquette and tradition, of formal religion and moral behaviour. All
these regulate the known conditions and leave little room for adventure
and further exploration; they are horizontal, known, clear, and fixed.
The vertical relationships that are not of this world - th at reveal 'the
basic source and the principle of K e-Tuhanan Yang Maha Esa', or the
Truth behind the obvious - are the really inter esting field of activity
and the essence of kebatinan.

The Advanced Mystics

Basically, the practice of mysticism is an individual endeavour. It
is the lone search of man desiring reunification with his origin , aspiring

3. 'Kebarinan ialah sumber azas dan sila Ke -Tu hanan Yang Maha Esa unruk
mencapai b~di /uhur gu11akesempurnaan hidup.' This definition is neither
very clear in Indonesian nor in its English translati on. Yet it contains some
very essential thinking about kebarinan. The barin of man is the pro of of
the unity of existence and the source of its knowledge; this knowledge can
be grasped by the rasa, but cann ot be rationally unders tood.
In his dissertation, Hadiwijono translated the defmit ion as 'Keba rinan
is the basic source of the principle of Absolute Lordship to achieve n ob le
character for the sake of the perfection of life.' By leaving out the word
dan (and), and by substituting 'A b solut e Lordship' for Ke-Tuhanan Yang
Maha Esa, he made a better sent ence, but missed the point [ 1967 :2].
The Muslim apologist Ra sjidi we nt further: he concluded that the
definition does not make sen se and sh ould read the oth er way round -
that it is God who is the source of k eba rinan [ 1967 :75] .

to experience the revelation of the myste ry of existence, o r ul t ima te

de livera n ce from all earthly attachments . Many of th e st or ies of th e
wayang mythology have this lonely quest as their subject. For insta n ce,
in the we ll-known lakon (story, play) , Bima Suci, or Dewa Ru ci, t h e
q uest of Bima (one of the Pendawa brothe rs) to d iscover th e wa t er,
that is, the essence oflife , is vivid ly desc ribed (Mangk u nagara , 1957 ] .
Similarly, the myst ic is thought t o t read a lone and dangero us pa th tha t
may bring him to the understanding and revelation of 'The Highest
The mystical journey is most often thought to be perfom1ed in
four stages, moving from the outside to the inside . Depending on whom
one talks to, these stages may be described in various tem1s, Islamic or
Javanese , but their meaning is the same. The lowest stage of myst icism
is to respect and live according to the rel igious rules . For the
mystically inclined Muslim , this especially implies the faithful pe rform-
ance of the five daily prayers that serve to remind him of God, in the
consciousness that all is in God's hands . Th: syncretist priyayi will also
refer to this stage as the faithful performance of duties, especial ly in the
sense of respecting and honouring one's elders , one 's gun,, and one's
king, in the consciousness that to behave lik e that is to honour 'God ' .
The non-pnyayi abangan will also stress the respect for the social rules ,
but will not particularl y emphas ize the social hierarchy but rather the
hierarchy of ancestors, spirits, the powerful dewa (lower gods), and
wayang heroes as the sources of power that need t o be respected, again
in the consciousness of respecting the great order.
Over the next thr ee stages, the road narrows while moving away
from the outward to the more inward and mystical. The second stage is
often called the stage of tarekat, in which the consciousness of the
essence of the behaviour described in the first stage should be enhanced
and reflected upon. For instance , the ritual prayer is not just a move -
ment of the body and the recitation of a formula, but a high and holy
endeavour and a basic preparation to meet 'God' in one's innermost
being. The abangan maxim is ' God is not to be met in Mecca but in
one's heart.
The third stage, hakekat, is a confrontation with the truth. It is
the fully developed consciousness of the essence of prayer and service
to 'God' , the deep und erstanding that the only possible way of being is
to be a servant of 'God', to be a dependent part in the great cosm ic
scheme. Regular prayer begins to lose its significance because life and
behaviour become a permanent prayer to 'God'. Diff erences in religious

ritual have lost their meaning, and laku (r ight eth ical behav iou r) tends
to become automatic.
Th e last and highest stage is mah rifar, when the go al of
jumbuh ing kawula Ian Gusti (eterna l unity of servant and Master) h as
been reached. At this stage, the individual sou l has blended with the
universal soul and one's act ions have become pure laku, one's life a
permanent prayer to 'God', irre spect ive of what one does - wo rk,
meditate, sleep. or eat. At this point, one w ill sh in e like the full moon
over the earth, beautifying the world and being a source of in sp iration
for others by one's very presence; one has become a representat ive of
God ' on earth [de Jong, 1973 59].
To go mystical way is strenuous, and req uir es a strong sense
o f purpose. One has to exerc ise in orde r to overcome one's lahir aspects
by means of rapa (ascet ism), which may consist of fast in g, praying,
sexual abs tinence, meditation, keeping awake through the night,
kungkum (sitting for hours immersed in rivers during the ni ght at
aus picious places), or retreating to the mountains and int o caves. Th e
purpose o f tapa is purification to reach samad i, which is a state of mind
that can be described as a world -detached concentration in wh ich o ne is
open to rece ive d ivine gu idance and ultinrntel y the revelation of the
mystery of life. of origin and destiny.
Most often , the practice of rapa is equated with samad i as the
preparation of th e self by way of purification exerc ises to become
sensitive to commun icatio n from higher forces. Only the advanced
mystics make clear distinctions between rapa and samadi; they further
recognize a whole ser ies of mystical st eps during the state of samadi
proper. The y will warn. however. against the dangers of penetra ting
supernature with its multitudes of awesome forces that one has to
experience and conquer on one's way to ultimate knowledge and
Th e sign ifi ca n ce of the se mystical processes has been described by
Man gkunagara V II of Surakart a [1957: 13-1 8), and translated and
annotated by Claire Holt. In her annotat ion . she summarized the four
types of samadi meditation th at the author d istin guished as:

1. For temporary achievement of a destructive aim by

means of magic;
2. For the atta inment of a spec ific positive goal for
wh ich greatly enhanced power is needed;

3. For experiencing revelation of the mystery of

4. For ultimate deliverance from all earthly desires (32).

These four types of mystical concentration illustrate the wide

range of mystical possibilities. The exercise of rapa and meditation are
possible means to achieve purely worldly and magical purposes that
may even be destructive to others. and that are clearly guided by
pmnrih (ego motives). This type of mysticism is generally rated as
sinfu l, as an atiempt to interfere with the prevailing cosmic order or the
divine will in order to achieve a temporary result, It is 'black magic.
and its practice will certainly meet with kannatic retribution (kanna -
the impersonal cosmic principle of justice).
The second type of meditation. for the anainrnen t of a positive
;- goal, is also guided by the human will and thus not free of pamrih . The
opinions about its permissibility vary: formerly, this type of 'wh ite
magical mysticism belonged to the tasks of the king, and in the hands
of the politically powerful and of concerned mystics. it is generally still
thought to be a good thing.
The third and the fourth types constitute the very purpose of
mysticism, and correspond to the stages of hakekat and mahnfar
I' respectively. It is meditation that is guided by the ideal 'to hear the
" divine voice', or 'the voice in the quiet'. seeking for the highest reve -
lation which requires a cons tant purity in thought and deeds. Its
successful practice is thought to be beneficial to society because it
destroys the forces of evil and egoism while spreading justice and
Because of these various potentials. it is hard to draw the line
between magical mysticism and the practice of pure kebarinan. By way
of tapa and samadi, man can penetrate the cosmos and acquire power
and inspiration from higher forces; he may also consciously relate to
any of the lower cosmic beings, such as the 's ouls of ancestors. the
various heroes of the wayang, devils and angels. dewa. ghosts and spirits.
Even while striving for a pure mystical experience. he may be led astray
on his mystical journey because he mav be guided by unconscious
impure motives, or because his /aku is still wanting. or his tapa for self -
purification insufficient.
In order to have a chance to advance on ones way to unio
mysrica, the mystic should bear in mind two basic mystical injunctions.
The first. ojok daku, is the caution ag?inst ego motives; it means that
he should be conscious that man is nothing. that he is powerless, and

that his life is only an exponent of the Life that encompasses all.
Because he will nevertheless find that his mystical advance increases his
powe rs and understanding , the seco nd prohibition, ojok kong as,
becomes the warning against pride in ach ievement and in proclaimi ng
that one knows . The pract ice of mysticism should be a secret between
the mystical slave and his Master.
Sociall y, the mystic should faithfully fulfil his damw (duty, task) ,
and accept his station in life and his fate with the attitude of narima
(equanimity) . By faithfully fulfilling his task in this world, he honou rs
'God' and advances towa rds the myst ical goal. To live acc orq ing to
one s duty and the rules of the social order is w fulfil kod rar (the will
of 'God'); it is an essential form of service to the divine order and the
essence of the ethical behav iour that is known as /aku. It is the enact -
ment of the nothingness of man, of his being in the hands of 'God' .

The Gum Kebatinan

To tread the mystical path is a dangerous and difficult endeavour.
One may become possessed by evil forces, turn mad, be led astray. and
people should certainly not engage in it at too young an age when one
is thought to be unable to muster the necessary discipline over body
and spirii. People are therefore well advised to associate themselves
with a guru, a master who is thought to have advanced along the path
and who is willing to initiate other people in his ngelmu (science).
Most accomplished individual mystics do not aspire lO become
guru, and the second mystical injunction, against pride in achievement,
strongly counteracts aspirations for that role . At best, they will initiate
their sons to whom they may pass on their ngelmu, but they will avoid
the limelight . Research among the individual mystics was therefo re
fairly difficult; they tended to avoid publicity, to view their practice as
a purely individual affair, and they considered their ngelmu as a sec ret
science. The guru kebatinan, or mystical teachers, were by definition
easier to get at, although it generally took some and a good
introd uctio n before they were con vince d of the sincerity of the non -
initiated researcher. If the lat te r was take n seriously, having shown his
mystical inclin ati ons by his willingness to learn and to participate in
the myst ical exerc ises, the doors swung open to the obse rvat ion of
keba tinan mysticism.
The heart of the Javanese be lief system lies in the pra_ctice of
kebarinan in general ;4 it can best be observed through participat ion in

4. The idea of 'the practice of kebarinan' is far more inclusive than the

the aliran kebarinan (mystical groups or sects), in which an estimated

three to ten per cen t of the adult Javanese regularl y o r some time s
participate .5 Th ese groups invariabl y grow around the person of a guru.
His scien ce, or ngelmu, may have been taught to him by ~i s fat her or
anothe r guru , or may der ive from the study of J avanese ethical and
mystical lit erature, but the real source of his knowledge sho uld derive his wahyu, from the personal revelation that he has received
because of his successful and conscientious practice of the mystical
Becaus e of lat ter characterist ic, Java nese mysticism lacks a
systemat ic theology, and the th eories . pract ices, and methods to
advance o n the mystical path vary co nsiderably among the sects . Most
guru stress the orig inalit y of their revelations or intuiti ve insights while
denying knowledge from books o r the influence of tradition . Th ey fee l
that they start anew, and mos t aliran kebar inan do not survive the
death of their originators for long. It foUows that p resent kebarinan
mysticism is characterized by an absence of uniform rules, a pauc it y of
systemat ic conceptualization, and a proliferation of t erm s and concepts.
Yet there is a marked tendency towards institutionalization or
'denominationalism' [Geertz, 1972b], beca use some mystical guru
have recorded their revelations and ngelmu in writing, enabling their
foUowers to organize, t rain, and perpetuate their teachings after their
death . Myst ical movements of a national scope, such as Pangest u,
Sap ta Darma , and Sumarah are ca ses in point and are all in their second
or third generation now. Some mystical movements eve n survive in
spite of their o ral tradition. Cases in point are the Islamic tarekat, or
mystical brotherhoods, in which the ho ly formulae and methods are
transmitted from the kiai (Islamic guru) to his favour ite pu pil ; there are

prac tice of kebarinan mys ticism . K eba rinan is a st yle of life that is n o t
~ necessarily mystically ex pressed; it en tails the development of o ne's inner
r be ing and o n e's rasa, aiming at kehidupan yang murni (pe r so nal and social
harmony) ; this m ay be an entirely secular endeavour, that is , w it ho ut
I cosm ic referen ts.
A n oiher way in which kebarinan is someti!Tles underst oo d lies in th e
glor ific atio n of , and the beli ef in. the 'a vanese cultural her it age . Thi s
kejawen (primordial Javanese) expression of keb arinan , in wh ich i he
cu lti vation of ih e J avanese cultu ral heritage in all it s ha/us aspects becomes
Ii,,,. a q u as i-religion. falls outside of the scope of this srudy that rather
cons iders the more timely expressions of l avaneseness.
ii 5. Thi s es timate is co nfirmed by Peacock's survey of 401 Yogyakarta hous e-
I hold heads in the spring of 197 0 .


also abangan groups that have surv ived in spite of their oral trad ition ,
such as the Samin movement (Benda and Castles, 1969; Mulder , 1974].
Whatever the case may be , a gum should posses certain qual iti es
if he wants to attract followers:

He should possess a wahyu , have achieved a high stage of

mysticism , possess my sterious qualities and knowledge,
lead a responsible way of life , be able to stand world ly
suffering, possess equanimity of spirit, and possess the
qual ities of a Bapak (trusted leader) (Martoadmodjo ,

As lon g as a gum possesses all these qualiti es, he will be believed ,

honoured , and obeyed . by his followers and pupils; his ad vice will be
understood as sabda pandita ratu (words of a wise king). On the other
hand , a gum who does not live up to his teachings , or who abuses his
position of trust , may easily lose his followers.
According to Sutrisno Martoadmodjo, who is himself an estab -
lished gum , a gum should be a real Bapak , a p erson filled with the
qualities that his anak buah (followers) do not possess. 6 He sho ul d
advise them , cure their illnesses , make calculations, and give predictions
and abo ve all, he should function as an intermediary between his
followers and the mysterious forces of spirits , ancestors , and 'God ' . In
spite of all these services , h e should not expect material rewards. He
should be without pam r ih (self -interest) , and he sh ould care for his
own livelihood. F ollowers may bring food , cigarettes , some money,
p usaka, and other useful things to show their respect and to honour
their gu m , but the gum may never ask and should always be availab le
to tend to the needs and sufferings of his followers [ 1970 :6-8] .
In ord ina ry life , these gum may perform all kinds of professio ns
and funct ions . The y ma y be aut omobile mechanics , farmers , univers ity
professors, members of the armed forces, phys icians, judges, poli tician s,
enginee rs, or teachers. Often they are markedly ex tro verte d , and
virtually all of them show the self-confidence of persons who are in
close contact with higher reality. Most are convinced of their mission
and the uniqueness of their teachings; in spite of their secular act ivities,
they tend to explain worldly event s, especially politics and personal
experiences, in a cosmolog ical and symbo lic perspective.

6. According to Dipojono, 'Th e spiri tual leade r is act uall y the bindin g force
of the group . He is the representation of the omnip oten t father figure.'
[ 1969:42]

The Prac ti ce in th e A /iran Kebatinan

Durin g the period of post -war florescence , several of the aliran
kebatinan have expanded to become national associations that claim
many hundred thousand members ; others are of strict ly local signifi.
cance and may be as small as several tens of members. Local kebatinan
meetings tend to be held in small groups (five to fifty participa nts)
around the person of a guru or his deputy. These groups tend to be
rather homogeneous in status, although many a/iran draw their
members from ail strata of society.
Basically, the aliran kebarinan serve as sch oo ls for the individual
to learn to tread the path of myst icism ; this individual goal is clearly
recogn ized . K ebatinan, in all its variations, is a culture of the inner man,
deve loping inner tranquility and the rasa (intuitive inner feeling). The
common mystical method to reach th is is generally known as sujud o r
self -su rrende r. 7 It is durin g this self-surrender that one's ba tin (inner
self) may int uiti vely experience the presence of 'God. Th e qual ity of
this mystical communion is essent ially a free-floating, undirected
co nt act , in which the initiativ e to make itself felt lies with the other
side, depending on the sta t e o f preparation and purification of the
mystical adept.
It is recognizably difficult to establish communion with the
sphe re of 'God'. The kebatinan adept has to bring his self-surrender to
perfec tion by training and exercising his rasa. The training in the aliran
and by extension. the kebarinan meetings th emse lves are therefore
called latihan (exercise) o r olah rasa (training of the rasa). Basicall y,
these are exercises in sujud; the content and form of these exercises
vary widely among th e different aliran and guru. 1l1ey may be patterned
on Islamic ritual. such as prostrating oneself before God while concen-
trating on the rasa; or zikir. the Islamic mystical practice of repeated
religious recitation. Other a!iran may practise silent prayer , or sh ort
concentration exercises, while for others still, the sujud cons ists of an
ecstatic shaking session that may last for almost half an hour. Generally,
the main sujud exercise will last from five to ten minutes. Whatever
form the sufud may take, it is the enactment of surrendering onese lf
to 'God', often accompanied by the formula: I am not capable of any-
thing: I do not pretend to be anything .'
The mystic ism that is practised in the aliran does not foster th e
strong mental discipline that is required of the individual mystic who

7. Stange defines sujud as ' to surrende r every aspect of the personal being so
that the self func tions as no more than a channel for God's will' [ 197 5 :9] .

exercises tapa and who may pursue his lonely meditation throughout
the n.ight. The guru will generally acknowledge the value of rn.inor
forms of tapa as a good preparation for sujud, but he will ca ut ion his
pupils against the exerc ise of samadi proper, because its practice is
intrinsicall y dangerous and requires lengthy mystical preparation and
experience. Moreover , the ordinary members of the aliran do not aspire
to reach high levels of mysticism. To them, the exercise of kebatinan
is a noble purpose in itself: it is already highly satisfying to sit at the
feet of their charismatic guru and to 'bathe' as it were in his wahyu,
to listen to his inspired words, and to communally assoc iate with the
fascinating realm of supe rnature in an esoteric rn.ilieu of initiated
friends .
Generally, kebatinan meetings take place in the home of the
guru. Both men and women may gather together, and people of all ages
may participate; typically, members of the various official religions,
such as Islam , Christianity, Buddh ism, etc. , combine. When everybody
is present, the meeting opens with a sujud pengheningan, that is, a
sujud exercise to establish clarity of mind and concentration. After this
preparation , the guru speaks about the meaning of life accor ding to his
insights. Then those present may be invited to question the guru .
The formal part of the meeting is the latihan or olah rasa. Led by
their guru, the people will sujud and surrender themselves to higher
reality . Thereafter , those present are invited to talk about their inner
experiences during the sujud and to ask questions about it - what they
have heard, felt , seen, and experienced . One by one, the guru will
answer the questions and explain the experie nces. Subsequently , the
guru will relate his personal experiences , exp lain kebatinan and sujud,
and give adv ice on questions of everyday life. After all this , the formal
meeting is closed with a short sujud, in order to reassert the conscious-
ness that man is nothing in the eyes of 'God', and that he should be
well aware of himself and his doings. Subsequentl y, the gathe ring may
remain toge ther and chat about mystical experiences, mysterious
happenings, the national lottery, and other things that are beyond
common sense.
The atmosphere of kebatinan gatherings tends to be cosy,
intimate, and spontaneous. The mood is one of fellowship and brother-
hood, easing over status differences and fostering oneness of feeling.
The guru often forms the marked except ion and holds a position of
reverence . During the formal latihan, there is a strong emphasis on
overcoming the power of conscious thought, because rationality and

thought consciousness belong to the lahir (body). and tie one to the
physical world. It is only by training the rasa that man can bridge the
distance to God and acknowledge His presence in his barin.
Whatever the g11ni says during the lariha11 is considered to be
inspired. The mood is essentially one of non-rationaliry and fantasy.
and that mood is refreshing. It is living in 1:1c all-possible. where one
h3s been freed from the ordinary laws of gravity and from a sorrowful.
weary existence. The world of everyday life becomes a reflection, a
mere shadow of higher truth. Symbols become real. and words create
reality wh.i1e the objective world of sense perception becomes illusory
and inconsequential. Kebarinan is surrender IO non-objective reality
and intuition.
Next to the intimacy and the non -rationality of kebatinan
meetings . the high emotional tension of the participants is noteworthy.
This is. for instance, apparent from the uncontrolled volume of voice
during zikir exercises. from the loud and spontaneous laughter as a
reaction to absurdities. from uncontrolled movements of the body,
from the crying, or from the intense relaxation after the latihan. The
entering into a new reality by way of kebatinan may transform the
~ '
entire personality. Another striking characteristic is the commitment to
the charismatic guru and the emotional ties an1ong members . Often,
~ : ' the loyalty IO the guni becomes more important than the loyalty to
parents or family and consequently, some guru may wield much in-

E.,' fluence over their followers.

t Because of these various characteristics. such as release of tension.
the temporary escape from oppressive social ties, the esoteric
tt, : community. the cultivation of inner tranquillity. and the trust in one's
~ guru, the psychiatrist Bonokamsi Dipojono finds kebarinan beneficial

to Javanese men ta! heal th [ 1969] while his late colleague. Sumantri
Hardjoprakoso. even based his psychotherapy on the kebarinan teach-
r ings of Pangestu (1956].

Mystical Reasoning

Javanese mystical reasoning often draws parallels with the wayang

mythology to explain events and conditions in the here -and -now.
When the forces of chaos are in ascendency, life on earth is in disorder;
contrarily. peace and happiness will prevail when the forces of order
reign. Life on earth is co-Ordinated with cosmic happenings (much
in the sense of horoscopy). and man is only a pawn in the hands of


these forces. Ultimately, life on earth is but a mirror image of the pre-
vailing order of the cosmos.
Upon deeper reOection. however . this relationship is two -sided.
When the spiritual condition of man is orderly and quiet. when he is
not guided by his haHa 11epS11(passions) and pamrih (personal desires).
life on earth will be JUSl and prosperous. which in its turn reOects an
orderl y cosmos and harmony between God' and men.
Upon deeper reOection still. it is man himself who holds the key
10 his condition. In mysticism and magic. he may relate to the forces of
order or those of chaos. Basically, th e cosm os is morally neutral and
man is the cause of his own condition .. Although most abangan vaguely
believe in the law of kanna and reincarnati on. these beliefs do not
stron gly inOuence their temporary aspirations. Life is in the here -and-
now. and there is little aspiration toward s salvation and liberation
beyo nd. The important thin gs are the moral and spiritual co nditions of
persons and societ y, which in their turn cause the stat e of affairs,
worldly and cosmologically. to assume the form they have.
These three levels of rational ization are variousl y used to explain
conditions on earth: yet it is clear in all three that the cause of events
lies in their structure. The simplest examples of the first line of reason-
ing - that the supernatural situation conditi ons events on earth - lie in
the use of the primbo11 (magical almanacs) and perungan (calcu lations).
For instance, if a man wants to steal a cow. he consults the p rimb on; he
may read that on SeLasa-Kliwon (a combination of the seven and five
days week - such days occur once every thirty -five days), it is right to
move in a northeasterly direction. for a djstance of five miles or two
villages. where he should take a black cow (perhaps he needs a full
moon in addition. the company of a friend . etc.) . If he acts acco rding
to the primbo11, he will know or feel that the mission will be completed
successfully. If the police know the primbon as well. the y may trace the
thief by interpreting it in reverse.
The perungan are used like the primb o n, but may consist of fresh
calculations in order to find the right marriage partner, the date, and
the hou r of a ceremony , or when to start building a town -hall . They
are. like the primbon, means io co -ordinate earthly events with cosmic
conditions. A perfect example lie_s in the construction of the first
eight -year development plan of Indon~sia ( 1960) which was construed
after the auspicious formu la 17-8 -1945 (the date of the declaration of

8. For a comparative discu ssio n o f th e Javan ese and Thai notion s of karma,
see \-lulder [ 197 4].

Independence) in seventeen chapters, eight volum es, and one thous and ,
nine hundred and forty -five clauses. 9 Such an act of co -o rdination
sho uld not fail to bring ab out justice and prosperity on earth and the
success of the plan. latter exa mple is already partly illustrative of the second way
of reasoning, namel y, that the co ndition s of man and supernature are
interdependent, without any poss ibilit y of establishing the p rimac y of
causes . This type of reasonin g comes most clearly to th e fore in the
wayang performances . Wayang is seen as the pro ject ion of cosmic
co nditions on earth, yet the choice of a certain /akan is in the hands of
man. For instance, a comm itte e of Yogyanese notables had dec ided
th at they wo uld for once take the risk of staging the full performance
of th e Bha rata Yuddha , the Great War of the Mahabha rata cycle. The
/akon were performed once every thr ee weeks . On the evening of
Saturday, 30 November 1957, the lakan wa s performed in which the
hero Karna dies; the same even ing, Dani/ Islam fanatics th rew five
grenades at Pre side nt Su ka rno, who was popularly known as Bung
(Brothe r) Karn o. To thes e Yogyanese n otab les, this event demo nstrated
the da nger of proj ectin g this violent wcryang mythology int o this
t ': world, beca use it might release the un tamed great cosmic fo rces wit h
unknown but perilous conseq u ences into this world (Resink, 1_975:215 ;
i . Hood, 1963 :444-45].
In a simil ar vein is th e story of the conjuring of a mice pest in the
Yogyakarta area in 1962 . At that time . President Sukarno had already
: ..
launched his campaign for the recovery of then Dutch New Guinea, in
l (\
I ,: Yogyakarta. He decided on Yogya because he needed the help of the
j _-,
i spirit arn1y of Nyai L aro K idul, the powerful queen of the South Sea,
and because of her help, he was succe ssful. However, afte r Iriarr Barat
(Western New Guinea) had become part of the Indonesian territory ,
Sukarno failed to pay tribute to Ny ai Laro Kidul, and the spirits tha t
had assisted in the recovery of Jrian Barat consequently could not find
their way back to their realm in the South ern Ocean. Therefore , the y
caused havoc to the rice harvest in the Yogya area . Because of this , the
then lord mayor of Yogyaka rt a had the powerful lakan Semar Bayang
perform on th e mysticall y auspicious beach of Parangt ritis , near
Yogya, in o rder to guide the spirit army back to its aquat ic origi n. After
the performance, the pest disappeared and equ ilibrium was resto red

9. Despite the Sumat ran ethnicity of the author of the plan (Moh. Yamin),
it expressed th e Javanese culture of the nati onal polity ai th e apex of
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.~ h.

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(Bach t, 1939 ] . Similarly, the politically powerful may still orde r per-
formances of energy-lade n wayang plays to achieve the ir pol it ic al
The practice of myst icism itself provid es the best illustration of
the third form of reasonin g, nam ely, that man himself causes condi t ions
on earth by his moral and spiritual behaviour. By performing tapa, one
prepares to enter into contact with supernatural forces. These fo rces are
liable both to the consc ious will and to the subconscious inten ti ons of
the mystical practitioner , whil e the very penetrat ion of supe rn at u re
results in power. Consequently , a mystic or a magicia n can in fluence
events in the here-and -now by the imposition of his will and the
assistance of supernatural forces . In this way , a person can even
temporarily suspend his karma (cosmologically conditioned fate) and
influence kod rat or the will of 'God'. Such practices are thought to be
a grave sin, but neve rtheless well within human possibility.

The Kebat inan- K len ik Controversy

If man is the ultimate cause of his co ndition, his moral and
spiritual behav iour should be watched. The control of spiritual
behaviour belongs to the tasks of PA KEM and the Ministry of Religion ;
th e Ministry should also foster the conscientious practice of the
recognized religions. because when all men faithfully follow th eir re-
ligious injun ctions. earthly conditions should be good . It is th is very
thinking about the importance of moral and spir itu al behaviour that
causes most of the controversies between religion and mysticism, and
also between kebatinan and its klenik expressions.
The theory of mysticism is a theory of magic. and it is difficult to
draw a clear line between th e mystically pennissible and th e sinful. We
have seen that the practice of tapa and samadi for the purpose of
bringing about a good result in soc ie ty is generally thought to be per-
missible and even among the task of the worldly powerful. But the
question is whether it is permissible among ordinary persons. May one,
for instance, use the power that one derives from myst icism to cure
people? Among the bigger nat ional aliran, Sap ta Darma and Susi/a Budi
Dhanna (Subud) hold it to be an obligat ion for the ir advanced members
to cure people through the practice of myst ical surrender and prayer.
To others, curing practices are totally taboo, not because they are
impossible, but because they will ca use a feeling of pride. The purist
and intellectual Paguy uban Nges ti Tunggal (Pangestu) very strongly


warns against the dangers of interfering in the 'Godly' ordained orde r

of events . and has even outlawed trust in the power of pusaka and
Another controversial issue concerns the permissibility of giving
predictions. especially the prediction of lottery numbers. The general
opin ion is that lottery prediction constitutes an abuse of mystical
power because the lottery very clearly relates to greed and money. This
relationship to lowly passions and the world of matter is thought to
indicate the practice of klenik mysticism or black magic . Still, some
gum reason that the exploitation of their mystical powers helps their
followers to survive. while they themselves are withou t self-interest in
I. the outcome of the lotter y . Whether defending prediction or objecting
I . to the practice. nobod y will deny the possibility of predict ion; by
practising tapa and samadi, a person may acqu ire insight into future
:' events, but the mystical prohibition of ojok kongas warns against the
dissemination of these insights. If one still proclaims such knowledge,
! .. , ones behaviour is mystically sinful and bordering on its klenik practice .
r .;
I , ,
' Semi-officially, the practice of klenik mysticism has been
'.' defined as th ose devious practices that are inspired by the lowly
:: ;
i ,: passions for earthly goods and devilish powers [Sosrosudigdo, 1965:
' , 90] . 1 O Such practices are thought to be harmful to the nation and to
i ;' cause social instability; therefore they are illegal. It is the task of
I ~ I

I , "
PAKE/ii! to see to it that aliran or persons that engage in klenik
I :.: practices are prosecuted and cease their harmful activitie s. Yet it is
t t "'
I.; difficult to separate the pure kebarinan from the klenik. Orthodox
I ;,
Islam may see all kebatinan as heresy and call it klenik. Some purist
keba tinan groups are quick to denounce others as deviants. The
dec ision to disband aliran kebarinan and to prosec ut e its members lies
with PAKEM. Generally PAKEM tah:es action only when certain
aliran are suspected of being infiltrated by communists . when their
practices result in bodily harm or death. or when they engage in too
strongly anti -Islamic activitie s. In PAKEM's view. practices are klenik
when they threaten to upset the soc ial order.


In summary . the practice of kebarinan is an enactment of the

Javanese mystical world view. in which the structural co -ord ination of

I 0. Klenik adalah prak1ek-prak1ek sesa1 yang d1jiwai oleh nafsu-nafsu rendah ,

daya-daya kebendaan dan da_va-daya syai1ani.

events 'causes' eve nts to happen. Man should pla y the role of a sub -
ordina ted entity; on deeper analysis, however , he appea rs to hold the
key to his own liberation. Depending on his motives , th e various
pract ices are ra ted as kebatinan mysticism o r klenik.
Th e practice of mysticism reveals a style of reasoning which
emphasizes the use of the rasa or intuitive feeling that reveals knowl -
edge directly, an d in wh ich events and expe rien ces are exp lain ed by the
principles of harmony and co -ord inat ion wi thin the oneness of life. This
oneness is conce ived as a structured hierarchy between the outward and
the innermost aspects of existence, in wh ich the o ut wa rd re lat es to
matter, passions , drives , and the forces o_f chaos , and the inner to
intuition, self -mastery, quiet, and o rd er. The cult ivation of the inner
aspects is the p urp ose of kebatinan mysticism.


At the first congress of the Kongres Kebatinan seluruh In donesia

(BKKI ) in Semarang in 1955, th e kebat inan eth ic has been described as
'Sepi ing pamrih, rame ing gawe; Mamayu hayuning Buwon o. ' This
:~: formula, that approximate ly translates as 'Not to be self-interested , to
be active in the world; To beautify the World ,' was given in J avanese,
whereas the rest of the minutes of the congress was in Indonesian.
This was not because the formula cannot be 'translated', but because
virtually all literal translations have to fail since they wiU miss the
Javanese point.
, The first element, sepi ing pamrih, which means 'not to be self-
:~. ; interested', or not to sacrifice oneself to self -interest. reveals the key
.~ . t o the kebatinan style of life. It stands for the co nsciou s endeavour of
t .~
fighting one 's hawa nepsu, o r one 's pass ions , that stand in th e way of
~ :: achieving a quiet heart and wisdom. In Indonesian translation, pamrih is
~ :~
often rendered as kepentingan diri, or self -interest and self- imp ortance.
;p . ~ The self , the lahir, and personal ambitions should be overcome . Accord-
!< ' .
ing to Djojodigoeno's interpretat ion of the Wedatama, a J avanese

.:11 moralistic and ethical work of the nineteenth century [Atmosaputro
. and Hatch, 1972], this will result in a benevolent attitude toward
others and to mankind in general (Sosrosudigdo , 1965:14-15].
:~ To Djojodigoeno and other indi vidual mystics whom I inter -
viewed , this latter attitude is only a consequence of the pract ice of sepi
ft. ing pam rih, and not a purpose in itse lf. Kebatinan fights self-interest;
f when self -int erest has been overcome and a pure mind established , the
conditions in this world would be good because men would have the
correct att itu des . It is pamnh that stands in the way of a good world
and a pure life. When people strive to better themselves , they improve
worldly cond iti ons as a result , but the purpose of kebatinan rem ains the
I harmonious individual relati onsh ip with 'God ', irrespective of mundane
I consequences.
i For this reason, it is questionable to interpret the seco nd element,
:j rame ing gawe as giat beramal (beke rja) untuk umum (Sosrosudigdo,
I 965: 1O] , or 'to actively perform good deeds (to work) for the benefit

of all'. Rame may doubtlessly be translated as 'active', but th

ing gawe rather refer to ca ,ma. that is. sta tion in life , to be
servant, to faithfully and actively perform one's task in the hi
this task is a god-given place rather than a personal endeavou !
fore , I prefer to interpret rame ing gawe as 'the faithful pre
ILJFE one's duty in the place where one has to perform - be it asap(
a servant , a funct ionary or a king - not emphasizing personal j
or responsibility but the faithful acceptance of one's task and c
h In donesia fulfilment of the place in life where one has been born an,
ies cribed as perform according to the law of kamw , the law of "God" , anc
vono.' This of men.
ter ested, to The third element of the formula . mamayu havuning J
n J avanese, has been beautifully translated by de Jong as 'to adorn th
Indones ian. ( 1973: 16] . This translation renders its meaning in a much mor
bu t because way than Sosrosudigdo s mengusahakan keselamaran dur,
ill miss the umumnya ( 1965: 52] . or 'to str ive after the well-being of the
general ' . TI1ere is no activity implied in the idea mamayu i
t to be self- Buw ono; when this is still done . it means a bow to modern
~als the key about progress and development that misses the kebatinan poin
ndeavour of Fighting pamrih is beneficial. and the thought that the k
the way of style of Iife will result in better condit ions in this world is
,n, pam rih is abangan and sant ri alike; 1 but the idea that one would be a r
imp ortance. better the world is entirely fallacious . Cause and effect fol
me. Accord- other. but are not equ ivalent to purpose . The purpose i~
a Javane se personal relationship with cosm ic truth, the abolition of
,t mosapuuo suffering. unification with 'God. etc .. and the worldly benef
ude toward sequences are en ti rely secondary, mere consequences. and irre
15]. the mystical endeavour per se.
om I inter - The core element of the kebatinan philosophy of life is t
.ctice of sepi nity with the cosmic purpose by overcom ing the self. and
self-interest; act denies worldly purpose. It is personal liberation and not
iblished, the tion of the world that is important. although the way to that I
1ld have the may begin with the worldly steps of honouring parents and
good world respecting the social o rde r. These latter are the first steps in th
hey improve of a certain selflessness. The mystical practice aims at givin
remain s the worldly self. We know that the worldly consequences are thou
of mundane beneficial, bu t if the y were not. the mystical ethic woul,

md element, l. Thus. the sepi i11g pamrih. rome ing gawe formula is also ,
Muhammad iyah biography to evaluate the life of its founde
osros udigdo, Dahlan [Peacock, forthcoming:ch.2].
r the benefit

rufferent. The good person is somebody who is in step with 'God' and
the god-given order of society.
The dominant idea in mysticism as practised in Yogyakarta is to
'i be sepi ing pamrih. I agree with de Jong that kebatinan's core values are
rila (to give oneself up) , narima (to accept life as it comes), and sabar
(trustful patience), and that the road to achieve these may lie in rapa
(ascesis) and the faithful accomplishment of one's kewajiban, or du ty
[ 1973 :20-52], but I doubt that the Javane se ethic is characterized by
the purposeful element of rame ing gawe as the conscious endeavour to
better the world [ I 973: 53-61] . Perha ps the low-brow and more
common teachings of the ordinary aliran kebatinan stress this thinking
) ' more than the teachings of Pangestu that were the object of de Jon g's
r '
2: investigation. These former emphasize the formula saya tidak bisa
l. : '
apa-apa; saya tidak punya apa-apa ('I am not capable of anything; I
do not possess anything') in the spirit of surrendering everything to
'God. TI1eir worldly ethic is simply formulated as jangan merugikan
o rang lain, that is, not to harm th e other person'; people should have a
good attitude towards one another , make each other happy, and
especially refrain from bothering each other. Javanese etiquette and
behaviour attempt to accomplish this.

Unity and Harmony

In the kebatinan ethic , the mystical ideal of unity and harmony

between man and 'God' stands as the model for the relationship
between man and society. TI1e quest for unit y and the maintenance of
order are the predominant elements . To the Javanese. unity means
order - that is , quietness, equilibrium, predictability, appropriateness,
and harmony between parts - all these at both the individual and social
levels of existence. It means the appropriate ceremon ies at the right
times, the right co -ordination of behaviour, the maintenance of har-
monious form, and the avoidance of all overt conflict. Personal desires,
ambitions. and passions are thought to endanger the soc ial harmony;
a person should give himself up to the community rather than try to
impose his will. In the words of Selosoemardjan, to sacrifice for social
hannony will lead to the highest rewards ' [ 1962: 19 I] .
It is just this that Javanese educa tion tries to instil in children.
lij! In J avanese eyes. to be a Javanese is to be a cultured person - a person
who is civilized, who knows his manners and his place: in short , a
I person who knows order. The child is considered to be du rung Jawa,

that is, not yet Jav anese, not yet cultured and civilized - a per'son who
does not yet know his manners and place in the order. To the Javanese,
budaya (culture) is not a vague anthropological notion but the essence
of his social being, and very consciously so . Th e right way of being is
to be J avanese, to know and to show appropriate manners, t0 speak
the appropriate words, to maintain an orderly and orde red existence in
which persons and things are in their place, regular, predictable, and
without disturbance.
The cond iti on that is most abhorred is disorder, disharmony, t h e
upsetting of the quiet condit ion of harmony and equilibrium . Accord-
ing to the no tions of kebat inan, th is order is upset by the pamnh and
the hawa nepsu of the individual; accord in g t o the not ions of society,
by personal interests and ambitions.
Society should be shielded from the drives and passions of the
individual. As long as that individual is dunmg Jawa, he gets his way,
and is nursed and nurtu red with indul gence to avo id his be ing kaget
(startled, upset), while the same indulgence safeguards his surrou n din gs
from being upset by the yet uncivilized tempers of the child . Thi s
changes around the age of six, when th e child sh ou ld become 'human',
that is, J avanese. 1l1en the child has to learn to distinguish be tween
itself, its drives and emotions, and the interests of its family and
wider commun it y. Ind ividual and society will subsequently be shielded
from each ot h er by the in temalization of th e tata-krama (Ja vanese
etiquette) and the adar (customs), both aiming at the maintenance of
the correct soc ial form, irrespective of personal wishes .
Li fe in society should be characterized by rukun (harmonious
unity). Th e term rukun may be interpreted as 'to be in h armony'
(Echols and Shad ily, I 962 :305] , or as 'q uiet and peaceful', 'like the
ideal relat ionsh ip of friendship', 'without quarrel and strife', 'friendly',
and 'u nited in purpose while mutual ly helping each other' (Iskandar,
1970:981] . These very qualities of rukun are ideally expressed at the
communal level , in the ideal of quiet harmony as thf! desired style of
life. Rukun is soothing over differences , co-Opc!ration , mutual accep -
tance. quietness of heart , and harmonious exi stence. Th e whole of
soc iet y should be characterized by the spirit of rukun, but whereas its
behaviou ral expression in relation t o supernature and superiors is
respectful, polite , obedient, and distant , its express ion in the
commun ity and among one's peers should be akrab (intimate) as in a
fami ly, cosy, and kangen (full of the feeling of belonging).
The value of rukun is most salientl y exp ressed in the ideal of
go tong royo ng (mutual assistance and the sharing of burdens) and

probably best enacted in the musyawa rah, or the process of decision

making by mutual consultat ion. Ideally , musyawarah is a procedure in
wh ich all voices and op inion s are heard. A.JIthese are considered to be
equa.lly true and to contribute to the solution sought. Musy{l\,varah
tries to establish the kebularan kehendak, or keb11lara11fiki ran . that can
rougl1ly be translated as the totality and comp leteness of the wishes and
opinions of rhe part icipants . Thi s completeness is a guarantee for truth
and decision making. because the rruth is contained in the
harmonious unity of the deliberating group. The truth should nor be
sought outside of it. or with those who hold most power : the right
decis ion is a soc ial fact that reflects the totality of the participants .
There is no voti ng in the mus_v{l\varah: it is a process of deliberat ion. of
a give-and -take and compromise . in which all opi nion s should be
respected. The mufakar (final decision) should reflect unanimitv . and is
formulated by the eldest or 111ostprestigious participant.


The values of uniry and harmony Jre complemented bY the value

of hierarchy. In the mystica.l world view . men are seen robe naturally
unequal. In some. the lahir predominates while in others . the forces of
the barin. In Javanese thinking - mysti al or social - men Jre unequa.l
by definition . It is this essentia.l inequality of men that is expressed in
the value of hierarchy. All social relationships are hierarchically ordered
in fine nuances of relative status. The very use of the Ja1anese language
Jnd its concomitant manners clearly express relaiive staws positions. lt
is impossible to speak Javanese without reference to the position of the
person spoken to in relation to the posit ion of the speaker. In its many
compl icated and formal gradations. the choice of words reflects
position. intimacy or fom1ality . age. social distJnce and rank. together
with all the nuances of relative expectations. obligatio ns. and rights.
TI1e cho ice of words and language are expressive of the prevai.ling order
(Poedjosoedarmo, 1968].
l anguage and manners serve to express h ormar, the respect and
honour to which the other person is entitled. Ir is rhis show of respect .
this recognition of relative rank thar is imp ortant . whereas authority,
pri1ilege. and power do not necessarily follow from the recognition of
superior staws . At best . the claim for respect is counterba.lanced by the
claim for patronage and protection . What really is expressed is the ideal
of maintaining the correct and pol ite social for111that is considered to
be essentia.l for the maintenance of quiet and ordered relati onships : it is

the enactme nt of the values of hierarchy and the h annoniou s oneness

of the various component pan s that const itut e soc iety .
Further. the quest for order is best served if people adapt to the
prevail ing circu mstances . People shou ld know their place and task.
should honour and respect those who are in higher positi ons. while
being benevole nt towa rds and responsible for those who are in lower
positions. The social order should be ma intained and respected by ful-
fiJling status and position in the ha rmo nious co-operation that st rength -
ens social solidarity. The lowly peop le should live according to their
station and task in life. and so should those who are higher placed. A
harmonious hierarchical society is bulal (com plete in itself), and its
hannony expresses the favour of the gods and its being in step with the
cosm ic principles of order. Ther efore, people should be carefu l n ot to
upset that order: they should not be amb iti ous or competi tive bu t
should accep t their station in life and simply make the best of it.
Ambition. competition . impoliteness, and personal wishes for material
gain and power are sources of disruption . dishannony . and contra -
diction that should be avoided and repressed.
Ideally. people should surrender to higher forces . and accept their
fate in the consciousness that their lives are part of a wider society and
a universal scheme in which the life that one leads is an inevitable one,
a consequence of kamza or the will of God that justifies one's actual
existence. By knowing one s place and by behaving accordingly, one
lives in step with nature and supernature - life is a religious act.
i\!an depe nds upon higher social and cosmic forces. Individually.
he is not capable of achieving much; he is part of a group from which
he derives his moral. social. and psychological rewards. TI1ere is no dis-
honour in being low or weak; dishonour lies in not fulfilling one s duty
and in non -acceptance of the orde r. One should be patient, acceptan t ,
co-operative. obed ient to those in power. and willing to sacrifice for the
common good .

ln mysticism, one learns th at it is good to honour one ' s
superiors . By honouring ones parents, teachers. and king . one honours
God. and the same values should p revail socially. A person who is
higl1er in the hierarchy is closer to 'G od - closer to the truth - and
should therefore be respec ted. 1l1e social hierarchy is part of the cosmic
hierarchy, and leadership therefore has str ong char ismati c qual ities.

Leadership , o r a high position in the hierarchy , is not without
,I. obligations. It is the task of a leader, an elder. or a parent to protect
ii those whom he is higher in stams. Expe c tations within the hierar -
I chical system focus upwards to the sources of protection, security, and
material rewards. Th e persons who have higher st at u s also have a moral

ij ob ligation to protect their followers, and to extend patronage and

leadership. The relatively weak ind ividual sea rches for such leadership
and accepts its commands; he should hon ou r his superiors and leade rs
to whom he m ay delegate responsibility for his actions. Justice and
well -being are ex pected to flow from above, to originate from a
Bapak, who in his turn derives his power from a high er Bapak , and so
on, until one reaches the realm of supernature and th e leader 'by the
grace of God ' . In th is conception of the social order as a moral order of
derived patrimonial leadership , all leadershi p tends to obtain what
Weber would have termed charismatic qualities, even within the bu rea u-
cratic framework . The ba sis of this order is located over and above any
single ind ividual and ult imat ely derives from insight in the cosmic
order, from super ior b lessing, from ilham (inspiration) and wahy u
Leadership and order belong together: good and strong leadership
means the maint enance of order and quiet. and reveal s that the leade r
has a wahyu, which in turn means that his leade rship derives from a
higher so urce of protection , a sour ce that is cons ider ed to be ultimatel y
responsib le. In exchange for the acceptance of command. the leader
is to extend protection to his followers while these follow ers feel
assured that if they press the ir wishes strongly enough. their Bapak
cannot but grant the favour. In as much as the higher . more powerful
person has to extend benevolent patrona 6e. the group is expec ted to
protect its individual members.

Maintenance of Order: Hierarchy and Harmony

Acco rdin g to Hildred Geenz. the preservatio n of the forms of
hi era rch ic al etiquette stabil izes and solidifies social relationships, and
functio n s as a strong in tegrat ive social force [ 1961 : I 48] . Et iquette
is complemented by the rukun value wh ich aims at the maintenance of
social solidari ty and harmony; both rukun and etiquette prevent the
overt expression of divisive opinions and tendencies . It is the social
forn1 that shou ld be maintained at all cost by the demo nstrat ion of
good manners, politeness , and the avoidance of all overt conflict. Such
a highly equilibrated state of affairs is m ost valued, and ex presses the

, ..

righi style of life - quiet and subdued . without startling expe riences,
predictable, and well ordered . The care for the social order and the
avoidance of conflicts and divisive tendencies also mean that the
individual may lead a quiet Iife.
ll1e order is a formal order which is expr essed by ceremony and
ritual. by bureaucratic pract ice . the elaboration of poli te fom1s, and the
power of the group over its individual members. An important threat to
quietness and order is recognized in the disturbing influence of the
human emotions and drives thai should be controlled and watched. ll1e
individual sho uld give himself up to the community such as he should
surrender himself to 'God ; he should be an i1~'.imatel y connecied part
that conforms to norms and customs. In short. he should be Javanese,
that is. he should control and behave himself. If he does . ht! will find
security in his collective life, while his group will embody his con-
science; while being watched. he is also kept in place by the inter-
nalization of his group 's norms and the security that he der ives from his
in-group feeling .

Individual and Society

1l1e Javanese value system does not leave much room for in-
dividual expression. Javanese society somehow isolates the individual
while expecting sungkem, or the graceful constraint of the own per -
sonal ity out of deference to oth ers (Geertz . 1961: 152]. Socially, the
individual is not allowed the free expression of his feelings, will, and
emot ions. Whatever his character , he should not impose himself. If he
enjoys good fortune, he should share; if he works harder than others,
he will be loathed because he is ambitio us. He should not pride himself
in personal accomplishments; he should not achieve materially. and he
should not make himself extraordinary or important. unless he is able
to establish himself as a leader and patron.
Individual expression - especially the show of emot ions - is
impol ite, embarrassing. and an intrusion upon the order and the privacy
of others . The realms of social and individual expression are shielded
from each othe r by the maintenance of polite form, hierarchy, and
nikun that serve as an elaborate shock abso rber between the individual
and society. Th e individual may - and should - hide behind formal it y
and politeness. He should avoid the overt expression of emotions and
the intrusion upon the privacy of others. Good manners are evasive
manners ; one should say yes because agreement is polite. One
should not involve the self. but maintain the form and suppress one's

For the people who cannot conform to this behavioural style,

society has reserved an assortment of odd roles. such as artist and
beggar . transvestite and prostitute, dukun (nat ive healer), guru
kebarinan, and lottery predict0r, acto r and clow n. etc. ; and nowadays,
also th e lonely social c riii c, political prisoner. or wes ternized intellec-
tual. All these people constitute examples that o ne sh ou ld not follow;
the y are accepted o utsid ers, wi th co unt erpoint status. whose influence
is very small indeed.
These deviant styles of life may be a reaction against the
oppression by society and co mmunit y . The psychiatrist Dipoj o no
described such loners as persons who wam to be left alone 'because
they are busy listenin g tO their pe rku tut' (int e rview , 1973] .2 Th e
a ttention to the pe rkutur or the suara batin (inner voice), the pre -
occupa tion with mys ticism , rapa, and other practice s that separate man
from soc iety may be indicative of this indivi d ual loneli ness and need
for self -expre ssion. A good deal of the popularit y of kebatinan lies in
the fac t that mysticism opens a way out of social co n stra ints , and frees
ihe ind ividual t o pursue his own course of aciion, individually or in the
a!iran keba tinan.
Soc ially. the indivi dual is considered t o be a body that is guided
by his pam rih and hawa nepsu, and whos e mo ti ves a re suspect. He
sho ul d be controlled by th e customs and culture that his comm unit y
represents and guards. People shou ld live publicly and visibly . The
individual is not to bear in dividual responsibil it y for his
actions, or to be able to do so . Ultimately . it is the group, ihe leader.
sup ernature. etc .. that is responsible because the in divid ual is con -
sidered weak and unable to stand on his own fee t. \Viihin his com -
munity . he can be morally secur e but when alone. he is ihought t0 be
full of emotions. self -inierest. and passions . For example, a girl and a
b o y out of sigh means sex: il is incomp r~hensible. because unnarnral.
thai they would be togeiher for any other purposes. 1l1erefore . the
sexes should not freely assoc iat e and should always be watched : with-
ou t supe rvision. the y will break the norms of good conduct . Thus, it
would appear that they might as well have sex as everybody wo uld
assume so, and ther e is no means of preventing goss ip.
Soc ially, wrong behaviour causes shame and loss of face because
othe r people know about it: th erefo re, one should be carefu l n ot to

II 2. Th e pe r k uru 1 is literalJy the turtle-dove that is kep t in high suspended

cages in many Javanese house-yards . They are often qu ietl y listened
to: many people think th eir cooing to be indicative of future events .

di -

reveal oneself. Co rr uptio n is not int rins ically bad - the exposu re of it is .
As long as nobody in the relevant group knows, one is free to do wha t -
ever one likes. On e's nom1S and behaviour in J akarta are ctifferent in
Yogyakarta , and th is is expected (Peacock, 1968 :95-96 ] . An act ion is
wro n g when it has bee n noted and altho ugh many people m aintain
more 'u nivers alistic' standards, on e is bas ical ly free to do wh ateve r one
likes when out of sight. The re is even some pressu re to do so beca use it
is expected - a n ega ti ve form of soc ial co n tro l indeed 1

Summ ary: The Moral Structure of Action

The ideals of J avanese society lie in the harmonious order of
society. Individually, people do not appear lO be very important;
together. they form a community and the ham10nious order of that
community guarantees the right and quiet life of its members. If
necessary , the ind ividual should sacr ifice himself for the common good .
T11e moral task of the ind ividual members lies in the safeguarding of the
ham10nious order by faithfully carrying out their social obligations.
These obligations relate to the system of social relationships; these
relationships are unequal and build a hierarchical system. Obl igat ions
are therefore never alike, and differ between persons and situat ions .
T11e moral task of a husband differs from the moral task of his wife;
there are older and younger brothers; there are leaders and followers .
The h.igher placed and socially important persons possess different
authority. responsibility, and obligations than do the ordi nar y co mmon
men. T11e various social positions are bound wgether within a society
that should practise n;kun and musyawa rah, and that should function
as a big, intimate family in which people help one another and co -
operate. The h igher one should protect the lower one ; the lower should
respect and honour the h.igher one and should accept his leadership .
People who are more or less equal should maintain h.igh standa rds of
group solidarity .
Because personal rights and obligations vary between individuals,
the ir moral tasks also vary . What is acceptable behaviour to one pa rty
may be utterly condemnable to the other. TI1e final test of right
behaviour lies in the harmonious order of society and the feeling of
well-being and quietness of heart of its members: the test the refo re
lies in the social process itself. This is a nom1 that can be felt, but which
escapes object ive formulation. TI1e measure for morality, truth, and
justice is society itse lf - its equilibrium and peacefu l atmosphe re . This
normative concep ti on, in which the state of soc iety is he ld to ind icate
the moral worth and well -be ing of it s me m bers , gives society control
over its members.
l, ;1,


The moral autonomy of the i 1dividual is minimal, and the in -
dividual is considered to be morally weak. He is thought to have strong
tendencies to follow drives and emotions, and he should be rigidly
controlled by fellow members who judge behaviour and who
I will eventually exercise pressure to make confom1. An individual's
I life should be public and controllable.
t' The double values of hierarchy and mku n, together with the low
moral status of the individual, make for a moral system that is perfectly
I suited to a small society . In such a society, direct social control can be

I exercised - a society in wh.ich people 'know' each other and can have
a fitting system of mutual obligations and expectations, because the
effective system of socially integrated relationships is also the effective
"2 :' system of morality, mutual obligations , and social control.
-~: Con forming to the mystical idea that life on earth is only a way -
station on one's journe y to release, the non -social aspects of life on
earth receive little and only negative attention in the kebatinan ethic.
The earth on which one lives , the things that one uses, and manual
labour are never cons idered worthy of pursuit, but rather they are
thought to constitute a material world from which one should move
away. Man should of course accept his obligat ion to fulfil his station in
life faithfully, but he is discouraged from striving for material improve-
ment and amassing rich es . The real riches in life are to be found in
soc ial harmony and spiritual development:
Mystically and practically , the social hierarchy is seen as a part of
the total cosmic h.ierarchy; in both, ii only makes sense to look for
inspiration, protection , and material advance in the more refined realms
of existence. Man alone is a nobody, weak and vulnerable . He should
therefore surrender to higher forces and superior power, adap t h.imself
to c ircumstan ces rather than fight them . It is better not to act than to
stir trouble; it is better to be con tent with little and a low standard of
living than to strive for more and to be ambitious. One may trust in
the benevolence of higher forces, and one should safeguard the social
orde r. The same attitudes of acceptance, patience , humility, seJf.
knowledge, and modesty that serve as the ideal attitudes for mysticism
are also the qualities that one should strive for in social life. The result-
ing quiet, harmonious, h.ierarchical order is the proof of wisdom,
and stands as a sign of the blessingof'God ' .


Many of the follow in g observations ca n be made in numerous othe r

'develo ping count ries' as well as in some 'developed' ones; the instances
of behaviour described are by no means u nique to Ja va . Yet their
amalgam ma y be characteristically J avane se . For instance, the obser -
vati on that Ja vane se u nivers it y students ten d t o see their studi es as an
avenu e to a d ipl oma or a degree that entitl es th em to status and a
'right' to burea ucrat ic employment is an observat ion that can be ma d e
in most deve loping countr ies . Yet such an observation would b e
entirely relevant if the observation is congruent with the values of
society that are embodied in its ethic . In J ava, a univ ers it y diploma and
an academic degree are primarily means to move up in the highl y-
valued hierarchy and away from the negat ive-valued world of matter. thinking co n curs w ith perceptions of higher reality and the ideal
style of life. Consequently , this moral ancho ring of behaviour in higher
truth identifies cultural persistence in everyday life , a possible co re
area of c ultu re, and a po t ential obstacle to cha n ge . In that sen;e, it
belongs to the ser ies of observat ions th at will be presented in the
follow ing two chap ters, not merely beca use it is typically J avanese but
because it indicates behav iour that co nforms to Jav anese perceptions
of reality .
On the other hand. there are no strong cultural reasons why
J avanese peasants wou ld not strive to improve their yields and material
conditions . The J ava n ese peasant knows about his lowly stat u s and he
knows that he ca nnot escape from his intim ate relationship with the
earth; yet this is no reason why he should not try t o improve upon
his material cond ition . In everyday life, his actions are guided by h is
understanding of situat ions and plain common sense. When he partic -
ipates in the programmes of agricultural development, he will take
risks , wo rk harder, and hope for results . If these results are not forth -
coming because of ill -guided advice, because the authorities seize a
part of his harvest, because of the struct ur e of landowne rship or the
prices that he receives for his produc ts, he will become a realist with a

deep understanding of 'world ly realities ' . He will reali ze that h e is a

small man in a big world, and he will readily turn to Marxist o r ot h er
ways of thinking that exp lain why h is labours are in vain . U1tim ate ly,
he may rationalize his condition in the terms that his world view
prov ide s, and he will kn ow that he depends on higher fo rces that he
can n ot manipulate.
In this latter case, the co nnection between world view and
everyday expe rience is weak; if given the chance and the profit, a
J avanese peasant is willing lO change his practices - his impediments
lie in condit ions , not in cult u re. There may be cultural rationalizations,
however , expla inin g that the kasar real ity of the peasant sho uld follow
from ha/us insi ghts into the course of the nati on and its insp ired model s
of development .

The Maintenance of Order

Co-o rd ination and Fonnal ity

J avanese life is rituali stic : new events and changes need to be

formally encompassed in the existing structure of realit y - they must
be ritually acknowledged before they can be acce pt ed . Old eve nt s and
exist ing conrut ions ne e d to be re-established and repeated to m ain tain
their meaning and validit y . Both old and new have to be made t o fit
the overall structu re of recognized reality. This mastery of reality by
formalizat ion and ceremony red uces events to static form ula e; when
that has been accomplished , the situation is quiet, orde rly and nyata
(tra nsFa rent). Event s need to be co-ordinated in a system and to be
ack now ledged before they exist (Pigeaud, I 938 :389 ] .
Everyday as I left my gate, the neighb ouri ng ch ildren wou ld pro -
nounce 'Mulder ', not by way o f greeting , bu t acknow ledging that th e
b ig white man was there; whenever I parked my vehicle, they would
acknowledge ' Honda ', and the thing was there. To be 'ther e' , in
Ind onesia. required an in credible lot of surat kere rangan (exp lanatory
papers), permits, and ot h er doc um en ts from all kinds of authoritie s.
I must have been finger -printed at least five times . Apart from a
d river's lice nce , I needed seven other documents before I was legally
on the road. Thi s is more than bureaucracy or lack of efficiency; it is
a kind o f bu ilt-in need to maste r the everchangin g conilitions by sup er-
imposing the co -ordinates.
Social cond iti ons can be handled by fo rmaliz ation, by cere -
monies , by the reductio n to a form ula. by freezing them, beca use once

the o rder has been established, conditions become clear and lose their
threat of be ing alien . Once they have been made to fit the scheme, one
can live with them; the very act of co -ordination 1.1eans that harmony
has been achieved. In a simila r vein, the difference between the roaming
hantu (haunting spirits) and the domesticated 'frozen' ones can be
understood: the han tu are threatening and cause havoc because they are
not inc orporated in the formal schem e of life; the domesticated ones
inhabit the ke ramat (ho ly) places , such as graves, pusaka, village shri nes,
etc., and can be dealt with through regular ritual [Mulder, 1977] -
they may even serve as sources of su perna tural , magical , or mystical
inspiration .
Events need to be estab lished, to be frozen ' by ce remony before
they are acknowledged to exis t. Th e essence of life cycle rituals - such
as birth, circumc ision, and espec ially marriage - lies in the ceremony .
Before a marriage , calc ulati ons will have been made to cert ify that the
partner s cocok (fit), and that the ceremony fits 'the times'. Th e
elaboration and the perfection of the ceremony are of supreme soc ial
and symbolic imp ortance . It is more than the fulfilment of status and
social requireme n ts; it is the social and cosmic co -ordination of an
event, the fitting in of a new condit ion within the ove rall structure of
existe nce.
An innate difficulty with this formalist ic conception of life lies
in life's liability t o chan ge. For that reason, estab lished institutions
need t o be re-established time and again by the elaborate celebration
of their founding days. The anniversaries of ministries and divisions o f
the armed forces, the police , or the inauguration of the five-year plan,
etc. , are all compulsively celebrated , not to evaluate prog ress bu t to
reaffmn their o riginal and auspicious founding principles. The prin cip les
are good and need not be rediscussed; they are like holy formu lae that
desce nded to remain perfect in themselves but in const an t need to be
mengisi (fulfilled). To remind people of their presence and importance,
certain kebupaten (administ rati ve districts) even celebrate the seven-
teenth day of every month, because Ind ependence and its symbols of
freedom and fulfilment of destiny 'desce nded ' on 17 Augu st I 94 5 .
Ther e is also the need to live 'according to the times'. Present
days are 'modern times ' to which people shou ld adjust themselves. A
five-year plan belon gs to 'modern times', and so do big hotels and
university diplomas. The y are produced accordingly to me ngisi (fill in )
the co-ordinates of modernity. Stu dents espec ially want to be 'm od ern'

people: they get together and organize themselves into pop-groups;

they let their hair grow, buy beautiful clothes , a few thousand dollars
worth of electronic instruments, and start producing sound. They seem
to have little understanding about the music that they imitate, but find
great satisfaction in the fact that they are 'modem', because of their
handling of the symbols of modernity. They are even invited to
perform for audiences that obviously do not appreciate their 'music',
but who also find satisfaction in their association with this noisy
utterance of modernity : I even witnessed the venerable ladies of the
'Aisyiah (female branch of the purist and conservative Muslim cultural
organization Muhammadiyah) listening to such music while watching a
'fashion show' that was organized along the forms of a Western show, as
another symbol of 'modern times'.
The same students who produce 'modem ' music are also asso-
ciated with the modern institution of a university, but their quest for
,: education is very much like the quest for knowledge in a traditional
i Islamic school where the murid (pupils) commit the Koran to memory
I in an esoteric language that they do not understand. The equivalent of
the Koran in Arabic has now become the English textbooks that they
memorize. They are further presented with dictations and standard
answers to standard questions. For them, that knowledge suffices:
wisdom is holy wisdom that does not change; the knowledge of the
form is mastery over the content - and all this serves its purpose when
it leads to a respected position in society. The diploma and academic
title indicate just that - the right to rank and status. The student has
been prepared for social life, not for mastery over material content or
insight in to objective causes and effects. His challenge lies in the social
structure and not in the material world.
In terms of everyday life, this means that a person who knows his
manners and who rasa malu (feels shame) is a good person, because he
will be living according to the rules and he will feel ashamed when
others note his transgressions. The rules are assumed to be good, and
one should live according to them. Deviation - for whatevei:. purpose or
reason - is bad and endangers social harmony. One should be conser-
vative and live according to the principles of mechanical solidarity. A
superior position warrants respect; whoever possesses the symbols of
superior position should be respected. The symbols of reality create
the content of reality; it is the formal organization that counts and that
should be maintained, such as in polite interaction where mannerisms
and smiles should hide intentions and emotions.

LL_ _ ______ _ __ ______________ _ ____ ______ _


Similarl y, the status of a person defines the person . He is

identified by his rank , by the stars on his uniform, by the title of his
nobility , by his pedigree or his academic symbols. In this sense, the
symbols of status become very concrete and tangible . A red theatre
mask means - and is - a bad and angry character ; the show of emotion
means - and is - a disturbed batin; lon g hair for males means - and is
- mischief; the symbol of the nation, the Panca Sila, means - and is -
its asal dan tujuan (origin and destiny) which is the Indon esian variation
of the mystical sangkan-paran concept. The organization of form and
outward appearances functions as a mantra, or sacred formula, that
conjures the situation; while new situations have to be formalized as
they arise, to co-ordinate them in the existing order.
Although the right forms and formulae are given, the problem
remains that material conditions do not immediately follow. The form
has to be fulfilled , although its concrete content remains characteris-
tically vague. Justi ce and prosperit y mean that people live according to
the Panca Sila, or according to their religious injunctions. The very act
of mengisi (fulfilling) will solve the contemporary problems and bring
paradise to earth. The form is perfect and sure , and the country is only
masih terbelakang dan belum sempuma (still backward and not yet
perfect) such as we can read in the daily newspapers. Perfection has
already been given in the 'holy formula' , and will come about when 'its
time has arrived'.
This style of thinking - which is expressed everyday at cere-
monies and meetin gs, in newspapers and in the passive future ex-
pectations - indicates that perfection only neeJs to arise, or rather , to
descend . These notions about given perfection and ' the right time' are
essentially static . Time is an element of structure. One follows, suits
oneself to the 'times', and waits for a perfect reality to come about.
The fascination with prophecies and predictions entirely suits this
frame of mind that is based on the conception that the ideal structure is
already there and only needs to descend to be fulfilled .
LOTTERY PREDICTION . A fascinating enactment of these perceptions
lies in the intriguing popularity of lottery prediction. Its practice reveals
the conceptions about an ordered cosmos in which some people are
c!oser to the truth than others. It clearly establishes the idea of a co-
ordinated order, comprising both nature and supernature that is pre-
dictable because of insight and magical -mystical inspiration. It tells
us something about the nature of leadership, the power of irrational'
hopes in a destitute society, and the idea that the co-ordination of

symbolic forms reveals 'reality'. Lottery prediction is a salient illus-

tration of the Javanese th eory o f order, and may serve as 'a charac -
teristic example of the data ' [Glaser and Strau ss, 1967 :26 ] .
When Pak Amat (Bapak Amat) finally remarried, he wrote me a
letter in which the following paragraph is of interest: 'Say, I married on
25 February 197 1, and it is strange but nyata (clear) that in the week
following my marriage the number that came out of the tail of the
lottery was 19, because at the marriage ceremony we had ten cand les,
but only nine of them were lighted . Con sequently our guests guessed
that 19 or 9 1 wou ld be the outcome of the lottery and it is clear that
that number came out. Isn 't it strange? Yet, do not laugh at it ... .'
When I was in Yogyakarta, the Ja vanese were under th e spell of
th e Nalo (national lottery). A full ticket cons isted of six or seven
digits, and could be bought offic ially; unofficially gamb ling on the
bunrut (tail) , o r the last two digits of the outcome, was far mo re
popu la r however. The streets were lined with the small stands of the
bandar (petty lottery banker s) who sold the numbers 00 to 99; they
paid seventy times the upset price if the outcome of the tail of the
national lottery coincided with the number bought. Basically, they did
very good business but their risks were considerable. The main risk was
arrest at the hands of the police or the army , whose act ions were
entirely unpr edictable. Generally , the latter tolerated this for m of
gamblin g but somet imes, towards the end of the week, they suddenly
had an urg e to maintain law and order , and arrested bandar at will. By
that time, the bandar had collec ted a considerable amount of money,
so that their arrest meant a good income for the autho riti es; othe r
bandar had themselves arrested by Thursday , and shared their income
with the police while being unabl e to reimburse potential winn ers on
Sun day because they had been 'arrested'. The buntut Nalo, the
gambling on the tail, was big business for the authorities, the bandar,
the people, and the lotter y predictors.
I witnessed how Pak Amat became one of the most prominent
lottery predictors in Central Java. Pak Amat was an abangan Javanese
of Christian origins , a graduate of Gadjah Mada University, an impor-
tant leade r in his kampun g (t own qua rt er), a leader of a small
kebatinan group, and an amate u r student of Ja vanese psychology . He
became a lottery predict o r because his pupils and followers began to
ask for numbers, and he himself thought that his contact with super -
nature was 'sure' and 'pur e' eno ugh to warrant a try in that direction. It
was a matt er of con trovers y among kebatinan leaders in Yogya whether
he should provide his followers with numbers , but he began to give

pred ictions anyway . His first p redictions were 'sure' numbe rs, which
meant th at if he said tha t the out come wou ld be 15, he meant 15
indeed . At that t ime his predict ions were based on simple symbols that
he received as ilham (inspiration) during med itatio n. His following,
consisting of a few Javanese families and Chinese shopkeepers, lost
some money but the matter was not taken too seriously; it was fun -
part ly serious, pa rtly playful. On a ce rtain day, howeve r. Pak Amat
received a symbol abo ut which he was part icularly sure. It looked like

With the partic ipation of his following . he interpreted the symbol to

mean 15 or 34. Fift een, because the symbol could be read as
2 + 1 + 2 = 5. with 1 in the central axis. and 34. because 2 - 1 + 2
makes 3, and 4 was considered to be strong because of th e two 2s.
Everybody was very much convinced by these interpretations. and all
concerned played very high stakes in the lottery - the Chinese
gambling as much as 100.000 rupiah (USS240) on each of the numbers .
the Javanese much less but more than they could afford to lose. TI1e
out come was 9 5, and this spelled a crisis. Some body in one of the
Javanese farnilies was ill. and there was no money left to buy medicine .
Pak Amat felt miserable. The only solution was to re-establish order
and unity by conducting a selamaran in the house of the family that
had been most hurt by the gambling .
The selamatan was to begin at 9 p.m. Everybody was present
with the exception of Pak A.mat. It was the week before the first
Apollo mission to the moon. and all were talking about its poss ible
success or failure while evalua ting its significance for the outcome of
the lottery. At that time. I ventured to predict the outcome of next
week s lottery by an esoteric int erpretation of the word 'Apollo . Later
I was shocked to find that a few of those present had in fact bought the
number that I predicted .
Pak Amat arrived around I I p .m., and played it masterfully .
Apo!Jo was forgotten and we began the selamatan proper. Dur ing his
prayer and his speech. Pak Amat became very emotio nal. He confessed
to be a sinner, a conceited creature of God , who had had the vanity of
interpreting God 's will by giving sure predict ions where his inspirat ion
only ind icated a petunjuk (indicat ion, hint) . He repented, he cried,
condemned himself for his vanity , and then . at the end of al.most an
hour. he admonished his flock, in a sub lime counterclimax, that they
I l' I



sho uld not doubt the authenticity of his inspir ation . On the co ntrary ,
his symbol contained the truth and if peo ple still doubted , they should
tum the symbol against th e light where, in mirror-writing , they could
read 9 5 indeed:

I Everybody present, includin g myself, was shaken and deeply impre ssed.

I It was clear that Pak Amat did rece ive very superior inspiration.
Obviousl y, he had access to high kn ow ledge, to th e kind of knowledge
that was hidden from his followe rs. As the st ory spread, his follow ing
grew by leaps and bounds in th e following weeks and al though Pak
:I Amat st ill tried to satisfy his visitor s with kebatinan spe eches , it became
1 increasingly clear that the people who gathered around him were
primarily interest ed in his abil ity to predict the lotte ry. Consequently,
a few of his more serious Javanese followers became dissatisfied and
d isap peared.
Within a few weeks, Pak Amat became the most influential
lottery predictor in Yogya. Hundreds of people visited him every day
and at all hours, some comi ng from places as far away as Semarang
or Solo . These visitors appeared to cons titut e a cross -section of the
slightly more well-to -do urban popula1;on , representatives of all walks
of life, from small traders in the market to Chinese shopkeepers,
teachers, civil servants , students and graduates, soldiers and officers,
male and female, young and old - and virtually all of them literate.
With so many people to interpret his symbolic predictions, there
were always winners who cred it ed Pak Amat fo r their lucky number.
Consequently, his fame continued to spread and after a month or two,
Pak Amat had to begin to regulate th e flow of visitors. On Sunda ys. he
would interpret the Saturday's outcome of the lottery on the basis
of predictions; later in the week, on Wednesdays and Tirnrsdays , he
would speak to the crowds that gathered in his yard , to reveal the
symbols that would contain th e clues for the drawing on Saturday
night. At that time he also began to distribute stencils that conta ined a
drawing, a cluster of ciphers , a text from the bible , and the hour at
which all of these .had been received in meditation. But the people were
pr imarily interested in his speeches, from which they took notes,
and which some even recorded on tapes.
Pak Amat used these speeches to tell his audience about
kebatinan, about right and wrong behaviour. and often that J esus saves
if the sinner repents. His speeches were fun to listen to; generally , they

were in an odd mixt u re of Javanese, Indonesian, and Dutch . His

delivery was one from a full -blooded teacher and so n of a Prote sta nt
minister, asking quest ions, getting answers and the laughter of the
audience that partic ipated intensively.
Pak Amat enjoyed all th is very much . He reasoned that h is lottery
predict ions gave h im the opportunity to 'save' people by way of mo ral
lectures - much like his father had done in ch u rch, that the lottery
might relieve the poverty of his pub lic, and that he was doing good
work because the gove rnmen t had organized the lottery to obtain fund s
for its deve lopment programmes . Whatever his personal ju st ifica ti ons
and defence agains t the severe crit icism from the ch u rch and t he
majority of kebatinan leaders in Yogya, people gathered around him to
get an idea about next week 's lottery, and were obv iously not
interested in the other aspects of his message .
These people we re particularly interested in the reveal ing
behav iour of Pak Amat who, as a gu,u, was tho ught to have access to
high knowledge and ins igh t , and to be so much in step with supe m at u re
that his behaviour would not be chance behaviour, but behaviour co-
ordinated with higher tru th and thus revealing of the future. This idea
of the reveal ing nature of things and persons high and holy is known as
sasmito a/am, and it was this latter aspect of Pak Amat's behav iour that
was thought to be most telling about the outcome of the lottery.
When he was dressed in shorts, people would expect a low number;
when he had gone to the movies, they wanted to know the number of
the row and the chair where he had been seated . etc. By reinterpreting
his 'symbolic' behaviour, people were led to a number , while Pak Amat
used the same technique to explain why he was always right. An
example of his explanat ions runs as follows:

The outcome of the tail o f last week was 21. Why? Last
Thursday , when I delivered my definitive speech about
yesterday's outcome, my daughter was selling small rolls of
sweets ; I admonished you to buy them, because we should
practise gotong royong and help each other. It was on and
in that roll of sweets that the outcome was revealed . On
the roll you could read 'Fruit Drops ' and 'Fruit Norton'; I
told you not to mystify but to use the straight numbers
while adding and substracting. You should have reasoned as
follows: you read 'Fruit Drops'; F means 7 if you read it in
mirror -writ ing; then you have D, maki ng 7D . D is the
fourth letter of the alphabet. You add the numbers, which


makes 11, which you add again , making 2. 'Fruit Norton'

is 76, because F is 7 and 'Norton' is composed of 6 letters .
You substract and find 1. The outcome must be 12 or 21,
because there is left and right, hand and foot, male and
Moreover , there were 12 sweets to the roll, again
indicating 12 or 21. Besides this, the outcome of the
week before was 87 for the 87th round of the national
lottery . Last week was the 88th round, which was a clear
indication , because 100 minus 88 makes 12. Of course I do
regret that I may not reveal the outcome itself. The army
would come to arrest me if I did , I would bankrupt the
bandar, and it is not within the purposes of our government
that I give straight numbers, because our government wants
to stimulate its development efforts by way of the lottery .
Yet, whoever- has ears to hear , hear , and whoever has eyes
to see, see.

The people who gathered around Pak Amat would acknowledge his
unfathomable wisdom and hope that they would understand too, when
'their time had come' .
Having learned the tricks of the trade from Pak Amat , I decided
that I would experiment with this thinking and act as a lottery pre-
dictor. Ever since I had interpreted the word ' Apollo', people would
occasionally ask me for numbers , which I had so far refused. This
experience was not unique: Catholic missionaries also complained that
they were asked for numbers and that their behaviour was a source of
inspiration for lottery prediction. Everything and everybody that is
considered high , exalted , odd, peculiar , uncommon , etc. , may be
regarded as an omen . In that sense I certainly qualified. My credibility
as a predictor was further enhanced by a reputation for mysticism and
a strange way of life.
I acted on the following assumptions: I was peculiar and there-
fore revealing; things that were associated with me shared this revealing
quality; such association was not a chance occurrence but a cosmolog-
ically co-ordinated event or a real coincidence; because things that
were associated with me must have more revealing power than common
things, they might be interpreted as meaningful signs for the outcome
of the lottery; consequently , people would be willing to sacrifice to
obtain such meaningful signs from me. Subsequently, if asked for a
number, I would offer such people a one-rupiah note (on which there is

a number) for the sum of one hundrnd rupiahs . On a modest scale, this
appeared to work indeed. After a few weeks, I stopped this practice,
being satisfied with having tested a way of thinking.
These ideas of co-ordination, revealing form, and the absence of
pure chance reappear in all areas of Javanese life; the careful study of
the structure of an event reveals its conditioning elements that are
interpreted by way of classification , co-ordination, and intuitive
reasoning. For instance , the holy date of Independence, 17-8 - 1945 ,
was no chance occurrence but a compelling coincidence, because it was
already written in the geographical co-ordinates of the country - in the
way that Sukarno spelled his name, in the structure of the Borobudur
and in the old prophecies. Such at least was the interpretation of
Setiadidjaja [ 1965] when he analysed the significance of the holy
number 17-8-1945. Similarly there are the numbers 1 to 9, because
there were nine Islamic prophets in Java and becaus e the human body
has nine openings; or, gu,u Sumono's principal disciple is called
Herman, because together they are Hermono , her meaning air (water)
and mono meaning man or 'Life' . Hennono thus meaning 'the water of
Life' or Life's essence . The fact that gu,u Sumono and dalang Herman
met each other cannot be a chance occurrence, but is the result of
co-ordination. It was a real coincidence, and therefore cause and fact.

Ru/am and Hann ony

The value of ,ukun is primarily expressed at the levels of the

family and the community, where life should be intimate and close.
The Javanese seem to derive much of their psychological security from
this intimacy and oneness of feeling. Man is not alone but an intimate
part of a group in which he is accepted, and where he plays his role;
such groups may be his family, his ummat (relighus community), or
aliran kebatinan, and his territorial group such as his neighbourhood or
village. To be accepted in these groups , one needs to conform to
expectations, to co-operate, to share, and to be respectable . Knowing
the rules, being polite, paying respect to those who are higher, and
being benevolent to those who are inferior in the hierarchy, etc., are
necessary to maintain one's position, and to enjoy social recognition.
The withdrawal of that recognition is one of the most effective
sanctions against the deviant, such as for instance expressed in the
practice of jo takan.
Jotakan is the withdrawal of attention as a punishment, to behave
as if the other person does not exist, and to (temporarily) declare him -

,, socially dead. This non-acceptance appears to be a particularly harsh

i punishment and a potential source of trauma; in its satru form (mutual
1. avoidance), it also functions as an effecti "e means of confl ict regulation
ii [Geertz , 196 I: 136] . To be an accepted member of the group means
I' security; alone, one is in the wilderness, insecure, and horrified.
11 Predominant Javan ese values are the conscious quest for harmony
and the avoidance of conflict, both in the hierarchical and communal
dimensions. A primary means to achieve this state of affairs lies in a
passive tolerance of the other - be it one's neighbour , co-villager, or
other near-equal. When the moment arrives that somebody or a group
deviates too much, fairly effec tive and harsh measures may be taken to
enforce conformity and to restore order. Ja vanese communities possess
strong mechanisms for social control of slander and backbiting, of
jealousy, and even physical sanctions to keep persons in line within the
common order; it takes quite a character to stick one's neck out,
because one 's head may easily be chopped off.
Conformity and obedience are high virtues ; if one enjo ys a
success, a stroke of luck , a good result from one's own endeavours, or
a winning ticket in the lottery, one is expected to share and to be
hospitable. If not , people would withdraw support and acknowledge-
ment, unless one is able to establish oneself in another , higher social
category and can command respect. This latter step is very difficult to
accomplish, since one's fellows and community will try to prevent it.
The notion is that, within hierarchical layers , man should be sharing
and should place the community before th e self; people shou ld content
themselves with cuk up (enough), and should not have exaggerated
The margin of tolerance for deviant behaviour is narrow when it
conce rns the group members. Th e village and the urban neighbourhood
aspire to be respectable and solidary , and do not tolerate liberties of its
individual members. People live - and should live - und er the eyes of
their neighbours , the community serving as a watchdog against non-
conformist behaviour in order to maintain its decency and good
reputation. People should live publicly and visibly. When everybody
knows everything about each other , people can sleep peacefully and
assume that there is no threat to their well-being and ketentreman
( quietness ). 1

1. The pressure to live publicly is balanced by institutionaliz ed and expected

circuitousness in the revealing of personal wishe s and motives. Such behav-
iour is called etok-etok , the dissemblance of motives, which is considered

"- -- ---- -- ----


Tow ards outsiders and foreigners, people are tolerant per se,
as long as they do not interfere with the life of the commu nit y, do not
violate its respe ctabilit y, or as long as they repres ent supe rior power.
A community may neverth eless react violent ly when it feels extremely
provoked. Therefore , tolerance is often comb ined wit h suspicion which
may be exp ressed by the repetit ious and elabora te investigation of an
outs ider 's mot ives. This practice of asking many quest ions is also in ter -
preted as sheer polit eness, a show of int erest versus the impoli te neglect
of the other's existence. Both interpr etations are co rrect and com ple-
ment each other: the outsider is a potential threat to the harmony of
the co mmunit y, whil e he should also be given his place in the prevailing
orde r. Mutual questioning is a poli te social ritual and a quest for
secu rit y by ascertaini ng the other's motives , status , and po sition of
power. When all th at is tho ught to be known, the outsider can be
encompassed in the pre vailing order.
Rukun , the harmonious and peaceful unit y of the group, is
generally thought to be indicated by the effectiveness of the go tong
royo ng system ; this is consciously so at the levels of the neighbourhood
and the village, and ideologically and much less tangibly so at the level
of the national community . It is a show of harm onious goodwill, a
sense of community, and the willingn ess to share each othe r's burdens .
In o rder to be helped and assisted , people should help each other when
the need arises; thi s attitude of mutuality is part of the prevailing
customs and no rms. It is therefore normal that one is regularly asked to
make contribut ions to ease the calamities tha t have befallen othe rs, or
to sha re in the cost of a selematan , a celebrat ion, a bir th , a circum -
cision , or a marriage ceremony. In a comm unity , there never seems to
be an end to this asking for cont ributions; the bes t thing to do is to
cont ribute and not to ask too man y quest ions if one wants to avoid the
risk of social isolation.
In self-contained and uni te d communities , the system tends t o
operate well enough and people make their mutual co ntributions in
money, in kind , or labour to selcnnatan, village celebrations , death,
marriage and othe r ritual, sometimes in the undertaking of common
projects, such as the improvement of a village road, or in mutuall y

to be goo d form. It is never polite to be just straightforward , and it is

never expected that one is, especially among th e better educated [Geertz ,
1960 : 245-48]. Hiding b ehin d polite form and circuitousness of behaviour
are essential t o maintain oneself as an individual against the pressures of


' cont ributin g labour at the peaks of the agricultural cycle. Often a
., house is built in gotong royo ng fashion fo r a newly-wed couple,
!, a publ ic building erected , and n owadays, often other projects in the
name of national development. Thou gh far less in te nsive than in
I villages, the system of mutual assistance also ope rates in urban neigh-
! bourho ods and in places of work, such as offices, schoo ls, and work-
shops , when a co lleague ne eds help in important ceremonies , or in a
disaster, or for the purposes of national celebrati ons . In offices and
similar places of work wher e salaries are very low , the co ntributions
that one has to make are ofte n felt to be a burden; yet few people dare
to protest because of mutual soc ial control or because the boss ha s
declared himsel f in favour of the project in question.
Defiance and expressio ns of private will are unco mm on.
Hap piness is the company of, and the acceptance by , one's fellows:
happiness is secu rit y. Th e comm unit y is the ultima te judge, and the
criteria for good behaviour are solidarit y and conformity as the p rime
express ions of rukun and harmony. The individual is ofno impor tan ce
per se: he is a depende nt part of his group that also functions as the
affirmation of his consc ience. Th e continuit y o f the group , expressed
in the com pulsive desire for offspring, is [he primary accomplishment
in life and the sou rce of the greatest satisfaction. Bany ak anak, banyak
rejeki ('many children means much happiness ') is the maxim.
PSYCHOLOGICAL DI MENSIONS.The value of dependency from, and
security in, the group are strongly supported by early soc ialization
experiences. Durin g most of its first year , and generally extending well
into the second and even later, the Javanese child is always close to its
mother. It sleeps next t o her , is cuddled asleep in her arms and during
the day , it is carried around in her selendang (sling); if not ca rried
arou nd by its mother , it will be ca rried by older siblin gs, servants,
relatives, its father, etc. It is never left alone and at any minor signs of
discomfort or frustratiC?n, it is dandled and cuddled, given the breast ,
made comfortable and silen t. It simply seems as if the Ja vanes e cannot
bear t o hear the sound of crying without doing something about it -
which the y explain by saying that the y cannot see a ch ild feeling
unh appy.
The child is not encouraged to move around freely; it sits in a
sling, literally depending on its human en vironm ent for co mfort and
locomotion. Before the child is seven months old , it is not supposed to
have set foot on the earth , and it is only afte r a selamatan pit onan
ceremony , that it ma y be allowed to do so [ Geertz , 1961 : 107] . It gets

practically no opportunity to crawl and will be carried around until it

can walk ; animals crawl , so crawling is lowly and dirt y . Moreover, the
child 's guardians seem to enjoy carrying it around; after it can walk
(a movement that is trained on the lap), it will still be carried around
most of the time until the age of two. The child is the preferred toy of
adults and older children, and in a very literal way , the child is made to
feel that it depends on other people.
The child is breastfed whenever it desires. Weaning takes place
rather late, and even children of three and more years may be seen
suck.ling at their mothers ' breasts. Throughout childhood, there is
traditionally little attempt or desire to let the child develop initiative or
independence [Geertz, 1961: 115] . The adults and older siblings see
to it that the child feels contented, which they interpret as the instant
care for the wishes of the child in terms of keeping it quiet and close to
its human sources of comfort. It is offered little or no opportunity for
individual activity in terms of toys or locomotion.
Competition among children is discouraged. Even small children
are taught to give in to the wishes of their younger siblings, to share and
to give (Geertz , 1961: 107] . Children are not supposed to quarrel; if
they do, both, or at least the older one, will be punished and blamed.
Physical punishment as a corrective measure is seldom practised, but
when the child is old enough to understand, it will be goaded and
punished with mysterious threats , such as: 'If you do that, you will
fall ill ,' 'your chicken will die ,' 'the drunken Dutchman will come and
fetch you ,' 'a tiger will come and eat you ' and most modem of all,
' th e doctor will come and give you an injection.'
Threats of bogeyman, spook and spirit , and later , the threat of
kuwalat, a sort of cosmic force that seeks retribution for disrespectful
behaviour toward elders , will be systematically invoked. Such threaten-
ing is so consistent and continuous that Javanese village children are
terrified of all strangers [Geertz, 1961: 108]. They always live under
the pressure to conform rather than risk the fear of mysterious
retribution. When the child is older , strong mechanisms of shame will
be invoked to steer it along the path of conformity. Training is there-
fore aimed not so much at the building of individual character, but
rather at the creation of socially acceptable and conformable persons.
The foundation for submissive behaviour has already been laid
before the age of six but thereafter, a real attempt is made to make the
child a full Javanese who knows its 1 manners. By that time, the father
becomes a distant person who should be addressed in krama (high

J avanese), and the lifelong pattern of avoidance and lack of intimacy

with the father begins to build up. The child is taught to feel honnat
(respect) and isin (fearfu l shame) that belong to polite and app ropriate
behavio ur. As it grows older, the ch ild learn s to repress its own desires
so as to avoid confli ct with the wishes of others and to avoid acut e
disappointment (Geertz , 196 1: 109] . Th ere is no ,shame in dependency;
on the contrary , one is vulnerable when one stand s out. One shou ld rely
on one's human environment while adjusting passively to tens ions and

Hi erarchy and L eade rship

For the indi vidual , it is good t o attach himself to a leader or a

B (I{Jak (' Fath er'); it is wise to commit oneself to the patronage of a
powerful person, and to submit to him and his wisdom . Th e Bapak
enjoys having a retinue and followers; they reflect h is stat us and
acknow ledge his power, while his anak b uah (followers) derive securit y
from their belonging to his group.
I often had the feeling that there is a crav ing for leadership in
Javan ese societ y, that people do not like to mak e their own decision s,
and that they are in search of a leader, a Bapa k, whom they can follow,
and who m they feel they can trust. A leade r is a person who deals
effect ively with the awe-inspiring forces of wid er society or super-
natur e, and who knows his way around in the field of power. A leader
is a person who wields power in the unknown, who serves as an int er-
lI mediary , and who derives hi s power from still higher forces. Th ese
cha racterist ics give Javanese leadersh ip a charismatic and unquestioned
qual ity and contribute to the organizat ion of society in vertical pa tron-
age groups.
A leader is a pe rson on whom on e can , and does , depend. This
craving for, and the commitment to, ch arismatic leadership as a social
characteristic may be sustained by the instability of Ja vanese nuclear
family relations. Because of the very high divorce rate and also the
practice of pindah tangan ('to change hands') in which the child is given
to the care of foster parents, it seems to be the exception rather than
the rule that the child spends its enti re childhood with both its ph ysical
parents. 2 Th e child is essentially a part of a kins hip network, oriented

2. According to the sta ti stics of the Ministry of Religion which registers the
marriages that are concluded along Islam ic rite s (probab ly 90 per cent of
the marria ges in Java), the percentages of divorce as ex pressed in new

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THE SOCIAL PERSP ECTIVE "'11')- 0 01 ~i.),i.-V- $ 63
44 10 9~
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around the mother and her relatives lPeacock, 1968:74- 76]. Even 1f
the child's phys ical father is aro un d, the sudden b reac h of intimac y
around the age of six may cause a sense of deep traum a and preve nt the
formation of a single, consistent father image to follow and to identify
with. A compensation perhaps is the quest for a father to be found lat er
in li fe, and who may be found in the person of a Bapak, a patron, or a
guru kebatinan on whom one can depend. T o have such a leade r seems
to fulfil a deeply-felt psychological need and to give a sense of
Another, and comparable, source of p erso nal security lies in
group membership . Alone and unaccepted , one feels threatened
and insecure. One follows a leader or a group; leader and group provide
identity and security. The absence of these means insecurity, and is a
fearful expe rience in which one fee ls b ingung, that is, without order or
a compass to sail with, nervous , restless, one's world shaken. The inner
harmony of the individual derives to a la rge exte nt from his integration
with his group and from the trust that he has in the wisdom and the
power of its le'lder; the appearance of harmony w ithin the group serves
his own inne r equilibrium. The outs id er, the loner, the social criti c, may
be interesting but they are not reassuring . Su ch peop le will hardl y
attract a following, in spite of their ideas. They are too strongly ex -
pressive of individualit y and socially unaccepted; they may be deemed
courageous, but are also disturbing and frightening. The y are outsiders
who ca nnot provide protection. The wise man attaches himself to a
leader who w ields leverage in the es tablished polity, not to someone
who opposes .
Of course, not all peop le are part of powe rful groups o r have a
powe r ful Bapak . Th eir hopes may centre on a R atu Adil, a just king to
come. Their way of getting th eir wishes granted lies in the rea lm of
supernature where they seek protection. Their means are praying,
fasting, offer ing, vows, the lo tt ery, and right insight into the wo rkin gs
of the cosmos; they practise rit ual and magic. When an earthly Bapak is
out of reach, it is only sensible t o try to bypass the hierarch y by a
direct appeal to still higher forces that ultimately are the source of all
human power. Th e underlying co n vict ion is always the same: higher

marriages for Java in 1968 were: Jakarta 27.5 per cent; West J ava 45 per
cen t ; Ce ntr al J ava 44 per ce nt; D.I. Yogyakarta 32 per cent; East Java
48 per ce nt The national average was 4 3.5 pe r cen t. The highest divorce
rates are found among the fust three years of marriage, and percentages
gradually decline when marriage las ts longer; st ill 12 per ce n t of the
marriages that have last ed fro m six to twelve years appear to fail.

I. I
I '
forces do not have the right to neglect the pleading of their underlings
and should help and protect them if pleaded intensely enough (Geertz,
1960:322]. Concerning this latter trait , with respect to the weaning of
the child , Hildred Geertz observed that the ambiguity of mothers
denying the child its demands may instil the deep conviction that if one
cries long enough, one will get what one wants [ 1961 :97, 151] .
A way of evoking the values of protection lies in the use of the
J avanese language itself and its concomitant behaviour. Th e national
Gadjah Mada University in Yogya is fundamentally a Javanese
university where all leading positions , such as professorships, are in the
hands of ethnic Javanese (Bonneff , 197 l ] . Approximate ly eighty per
cent of the student body is also Javan ese. Thus Javanese is the native
language of the majority of faculty and students. Yet, often I wit nessed
the reluctance , or even the straight refusal of staff members to speak
Javanese to their students when they were addressed by them in that
language , especially when they suspected the students to have come
., to ask a favour. By maintain ing the Javanese form, it becomes almost
;! impossible for the professor to refuse; the very use of the language
places the superior in the position of a benevolent Bapak, and staff

members would rather avoid this position and its inherent ,obligations
by insisting on the use of Indonesian that is more neutral and less
,. obliging.


In Javanese society , the individual is supposed to maintain a low

profile , not to compete but to share , to be obedient , dependent , and
co-operative. His voice may be heard in the musyawarah, but he should
not press his point to the extent that others will fmd him an o.bstacle
to decision making. As long as he knows shame and conforms to
expectations and norms, he will be respected ; he should give way to
superior power, circumstances, or the will of his community; he should
ngeli, that is, flow with the stream. He should not upset the delicate
social balance by his private wishes or ambitions; in short, he should be
a loyal part of his relevant groups without causing unrest or stir. The re-
fore, he should master his personal emotions, maintain a front of polite -
ness , and enjoy the serenity of his community and his inner being.
Yet the need to express personal feelings and emotions does exist.
At ludrnk (popular theatre), the movies, wayang performances, and in
some types of mystical expression , peop le may show enthusiasm and
empathic participation. People may even get violently excited at the

experience of gross injustice, in situations of mob action, by an insult

to religion, or a violation of the norms of justice. Such expressions of
emotions are occasional, however, and the preferred tone of life - or
its ethos - is subdued and quiet, with most people reacting in a very
restrained and secondary manner.
In terms of the individual, this means the cultivation of a graceful
restraint of emotions and the acceptance of life as it comes. The in-
dividual may, and should, hide behind formality and politeness and
should not involve himself unnecessarily. However much polite
suppress ion of personal emotional needs for commun icati on may
dominate the social scene, some emotion is often shown, and even
minor emotions are never entirely hidden. This may embarrass other
people, and it is embarrass ing in view of the Javanese ethos and style.
Perhaps I, as an outsider , have experienced more of it than is usual in
Java because of the research situation and the emotion -laden object of
my research , namely, religion and mysticism. Whatever the case may be,
I have been impressed at how often people vented their emotions,
criticisms, and frustrations in my company.
Among the Javanese themselves, there are standard means of
communicating personal emotions as in the extreme circumspection
with wh ich peop1e approach their subject, in the show of embarrass-
ment itself, or in the excessive demonstrat ions of modesty. These
emot ions generally arise from the difficulty that an individual feels in
approaching another person to whom he is not intimately related,
which include most people beyond the mother and other immediate
kin (such as older sisters, or siblings and friends to whom one feels
espec ially close). Toward s strangers and those with higher status, a
person feels shame , anxiety , fear, and insecurit y that are demonstrated
by language, inaction, mannerisms such as excessive smiling, shying
away, and giggling. These are shows of 'stage -fright' in dealing with
other persons [Geertz, 1966] , and that show is evident enough.
The excessive show of modesty can well be obse rved at public or
semi -public gatherings. In a hierarchical society, everybody is fairly
much aware of the honours that he deserves because of his position.
For instance, on arriving at a function, one will be directed by the
master of ceremonies to one's appropriate place - the best or most
forward places being reserved for the highest persons in attendance.
Yet, upon entering, people will often insist upon sitting in a place
somewhat far removed from the places where they should sit. The
shows of competition in modesty are intriguing, take a lot of and

giggling, until finally everybody is seat ed exac tly according to rank and
The higher the persons, the longer the preliminaries. Although it
is never good manners to come to the point immediately, I found it
most fascinating to see two highly ed uc ated priyayi enact the longest
preliminaries that I have witnessed . It took them fully fifty minutes of
giggling, smiling, showing modesty, laughing, making exc uses, refusing
to sit on certain chairs, etc., before finally tea was offered and they
could come to the point , which was no more embarrassing than a talk
about mysticism in which these two venerable gentlemen knew each
other to be interested. It takes a long time before the feeling of
intrusion upon the other is overcome; it is a barrier that separates
individuals from each other, and individuals from their society.
And yet , sometimes, one may need the sympathy of others and
be strongly pushed by the desire to communica te. A person with whom
I was fairly well acquainted wanted to convey an important message.
He entered my room , giggling and smiling . I invited him to sit , and he
accepted the ritual tea that is served soon after a guest arrives . He
kept giggling and talking about the weather and other topics that were
obviously irrelevant to his message. He excused himself for intruding
up on me, and continued to talk about trivial things, yet his excess ive
smiling and giggling demonstrated that he had more on his mind, and
that he was under stress - he was obviously trying to overcome the
intimidating barrier that separates man from man in Java. Smiling and
giggling , he finally came to his point - 'my father has died ' - and
immediatel y he made his excuses and wanted to leave. He had over -
come the barrier and apologized for having done so. He was
embarrassed , and so was I, because his father had died.
The extremely higl1 divorce rate in Java may also be indicative of
this failure to achieve personal communication. According to Hildred
Geertz , the withholding of emotional commitment is apparently typical
o f most Javanese marriages [ 1961: 134] . The extreme pressures
generated by the suppression of individual emotions may sometimes be
released by the person who goes amok (berserk), or may be vented at
th e communal level when order and quietness have been too much
provoked. The level of potential frustration may then be indicated by
the ease in which communal demonstrations arise against outsiders -
Chinese , religious conve rt s, people who have violated the order , etc .,
and against whom physical violence and mob action may consequently
be directed .

The Changing Dimension s of Order

Especially since the destruct ion of the stable order by the
Japanese invasion in 1942, Java has been sizzling with unrest, rumou rs,
political agitation, frustration, irritatio n , and religio us controve rsies .
Revolution , clashes betwee n religious groups, class struggle , the cou p
event of 1965-66, etc. , have all been too real and too violent, leav in g a
toll of several hundred thousand dead. Within communit ies, orde r an d
solidarity have been disrupted by religious contrad ictions that have
often led to the burning of houses or buildings of other denominations,
the disruption of funerals (Geertz, 1960 : 117- 18] , and phys ical
violence; econom ic frustration has led to the rampage and burn in g of
Chinese -owned sto res; mea nwh ile, in the villages, econom ic reso urces
have become scarce, and classes of h aves and have -nots have
crystallized; the increas ing inequalities led to the one -sided actions of
the Communist Party and the mass murders of 1965- 66 (Mortimer,
1972] . With frustration and insecurity so high, very little was needed to
cause an uproar and mob violence. 3
Because of all these violent experiences, one may be led to expect
a breakdown of the moral order of society, and a subsequent change in
the values that are incorporated in world view and ethic. Yet this does
not appear to be the case: values and nonns have shifted only in thei r
centre of gravity, in their emphasis and relevance; seemingly, the
Javanese co ncep tions of order and right life have so far been little
affec ted by these rapid structural changes and the political experiments
of the Independence period. The worl d view still prov ides meaning for
suffering - and there is plenty of suffering tu be explained - or for
success and power. The rise of kebacinan mysticism and the soul-
searching to found the kepribadian nasional (national personality) on
old indigenous values stand as a witness for the vitality and the persist-
ence of Javanese abangan thinking. 4
From their prophecies and their conception of history, the
Javanese are familiar with the zaman edan which literally means the

3. In his co nclusi on, Emmerson [ 1976] lists some recent instance s of frus-
tration and cleavage that resu lted in violence; this list of recent incidences
can be expanded ad libirum.

4. There is a vast literature on the problem of the foundation of the

kepribadian nasional and th e interpretation of th e Panca Si/a . For the
Sukarno per iod, see Weatherbee ( 1966] ; for the present, see Ken Ward
[ 1974] . Of special interes t are the writings of Notonagoro.

'crazy times', when order, securiry, norm s, and expectations are upset
and at least temporarily suspended. The characte ristic s of such times
have been liste d by Tjantrik Mararam. in his analysis of the role of the
Dyoyoboyo prophec y in the national revoluti on against the Dutch
( 1966 :29-9 ) . The forty-eight signs of the times that he liste d state ,
among other s. that deserving people will suffer. that there is a loss of
good mann ers . that people do not know shame any longer. that the y
forget rheir religion. rhat the lazy ones get rich, that the liar gets
prosperous . that normality declines . that ha rd work is not rewarded.
thar the law is unjust, that people cann ot trust each other. that th e
marriage contract is not honoured, etc . : in short. an age in which foo ls
profit from their folly and the wise suffer for their wisdom (Anderson,
1971:15]. At the end of such a period, 'God will send a Raru Adil
(just king) who will restore order . justice. and prosperity.
Nowadays . many people seem to have reached the conc lusion
that they experience such a zaman edan: the social order has been
upset : there is a decline in justice and securit y that is reinforced by the
increasing maldistribution of income and the very insecure econo mic
position of most of th e populati on. In economic tem1s, life has been
marginal for most of the Javanes e most of the time (Geertz, 1963), but
their situat ion has markedly deteriorated in recent yea rs, while
strengthening the feelings of resignation that traditionally colour life in
Java. Frustration and the conviction that the present is a zaman edan
may perhaps partly explain the extremely violent behaviour in 1965-6 6
against those who were in disharmony with the order: it may also
exp ress the desire for the restoration of a quiet and harmonious order
by cutt ing out the evil sore in a minor enactment of the Bharara
Yuddha my th as it were .

Change of Nom1s and Expectations wirhin the Old Value System

The values of hierarchy and ni kun as the princ iples of an

int egrated moral comm unit y are still going strong: these same values
have been much promoted and explo ited by past and present pol itical
leadership in their quest for a nat ional idenrity and ideology . The se
values are reflec ted in the ideas about strong. wise. and benevolent
leadership - be it under Guided Democracy or und '!r the Army as the
guiding social force ; they are further exp. esscd in the ideals of
decisio n making by musyawarah and national development th rough
go tong royo ng.

In spite of the emphasis on these values as the supreme expression

of Indonesia 's national identity , the p rin cip les of hierarch y and ruku n
- that so beau tifull y comp lem ent each othe r in small comm unities -
lose the ir m utual balance in the national arena . While hierarchy has
expan ded to include the whole of national society, the rukun valu e has
not expanded with the growth of national hierarchy and pow .er
relationships. Rukun has rather diminished its scope, tend ing t o become
more particularistic an d limited in its effective reach. Both values
remain in force, but they do not cover the same soc ial unive rse any
longer : hierarchy, with its att ributes of power and privilege, has grown
wh ile rukun, with its attributes of trust and int imacy, has decreased in
its effect ive extension.
In the tumul tu ous process of decolonization and nation-building,
l1ierarchies have formed and extended upwards, incorporating groups
that were formerly self-con tain ed and of local sign ificance onl y . The
centre of powe r became Jak arta, ruled by a national - th ough largel y
J avanese - elit e that commands the so urc es of power and protection .
Jakarta's role as national ce ntr e is still growing in importance, and so
is the power co ncentrated there - most of the rest of the country
becoming more and more per ipheral to, and dependent on, the
decisions made in the national capi tal.
In this process, the distance to relevan t sources of powe r and
protection has increased . Groups of local significance have become
weaker and do not prov ide a self -contained univers e for the ir members
any longer. With the extens ion of the relevant structures, the feeling of
participation has dec reased, leading to a dim inishing effect ive reach of
social contro l , lo yalty, and ruk un relationships; nowadays, there is a
clear shift of foc us from the original ter rit orial community to the
family and patronage groups. The value of ruku n has not changed as
such, but it now covers the more 'particularistic ' an d less inclusive
structures in which one immediately participates. Although some
territor ial commu niti es, espec ially in the countrys id e, st ill remain well -
integrated en titi es, the most tangib le rukun ob ligations and feelings of
secur it y are inc reasin gly located in the more pe rsonal groups of relatives
and friends, and in groups of active patronage, such as the army, the
civil service , veteran groups, religious communities, and aliran
kebannan .
Communal st rife , class formation and class struggle, geog raphical
and social mobility, political awareness , and religious cleavages have
tended to break up the solidari ty conta in ed in the territorial
commun ities. To maintain oneself, it has beco ;:-ie increas ingly necessary
' l


to solidif y the bonds of kin , and to seek membership in vertical

patronage groups that are often likened to families. Both kin and
patronage groups show a greater degree of .tolerance for individual
deviation , such as social mobilit y, than the territorial communities .
Responsibility for the welfare , peace, and rnkun in these latter
communities has diminished accordingly .
Meanwhile some influence of modern, secular , and more 'univer-
salistic' values that insist on equality among persons and the process of
law ha ve also come to the fore. These modem values tend to counte r
the claim for mutual protection by their emphasis that a person should
rely on his own resources. The changing forces of hierarchy and rnkun,
with their inherent ethic of individual submission to society, and a
weak influence of the new and extraneous conceptions about individual
responsibility and activity provide the moral dimensions of the con -
temporary social process in Java .
In everyday practice , th is roughly means the following: in former ,
.,, more stable days , most individuals participated in a limited social life
that was confined by a territory and a community . The relevant
hierarchical and rukun relat ionships covered the same social unive rse,
and the individual was secure in his rights and obligations as long as he
lived according to the prevailing adat (customs). He knew his place in
the order , appreciated its relative quietness and peace , and had a stable
system of expectations; his social order coincided with his moral orde r,
h is communit y serving as his moral backbon e and the keeper of his
cons cience.
Nowadays, the individual operates relatively soon outside the
lirruts o f traditional control and in the area of imt)ersonal power and
relative privilege. This latter area lacks the effrctive control mechanisms
that characterized the old 'stable' order of participation. Given the
negative social control mechanism [see page 45 above] , the weak
development of more abstract modern norms of legality and individ-
ualit y and the virtual absence of moral constraints on the use of power
[Anderson, 1972] , there can be little wonde r that co rrupt ion and
social irresponsibility are rampant in Indonesia today [Soedarso , 1969;
Polomka , 1971 :ch. 6] . As soon as one is outside one's relevant network
of rukun relat ionships , one is beyond solidarity and in the domain of
sheer power.
In this morally vague field of power , corruption has even acquired
a certain respectability. Responsibility for one's rukun group justifies
co rruption in the wilde rn ess outside , while the modern not ion of
individual self-reliance - that is most often understood as individualism

without soc ial co nstra in ts - even lends the flavour of be ing 'in step
with the times' to th e pract ice of corruption. According to Takdir
Alisjahbana, corruption is the ha/us way to get rich ; it is the way of the
refined man who does n ot want to trouble himself with kasar realiti es.
For th is reason, he maintained that corruption is an essential eleme nt of
Indonesian culture (interview, 1969].
Whether Alisjahbana 's sweeping conclusion is valid for the whole
of Indonesian or Javanese society may hopefully be doubted. There can
be little doubt, however , that his view is largely valid for the new elite
of 'bu reauc ratic cap ita lists ' or kabi r as the PKJ liked to call them .
These 'bureaucratic capitalists' constitute the class of military and
civilian officials that, because of th eir key positions in the politico-
bureaucratic apparatus , was able to obtai n a purchase on the state -run
modem sector of the economy ; under the present New Order , these
'bureaucratic cap italis ts' have evolved in to the serva nts of foreign
cap it al with pronounced 'comp rad ore ' characte ristics . The y are
notorious for their co rru ption and luxurious life styles (Mo rtim er ,
1974b :5 7].

lllusrrations of the Change of Norms and Expectatio ns

The ideal of ,ukun implies the pract ice of go tong royong, that is,
to sh are each othe r's burdens and to make voluntary contribut ion s to
those in need . owadays , such contributi ons are ofte n asked for the
celebra ti ons of o rganizat ion s that one ha rdly knows to exist, or with
wh ich one has no direct relationship at all. Especial ly when people in
uniform invoke the norms of rukun , it is advisable to smile and to
quietly practise gotong royong. Sometimes such organizations do not
bother to go from door to door, but pre -select their dono rs from
among those who drive along the roads . One day, wh ile travelling
through Brebes on the orth coast of Central Java, I was stopped by
the police who demanded to see my pape rs. They took my papers to
the other side of the road where the police station was located, and I
was invited to follow. Nobody cared to in spect the papers , but inst ead I
was handed a w ritte n invitation to make a contr ibu tion to the cele-
b ration of the n ational police day. Som etimes one may be stoppe d
along the road for similar requests , and be invit ed to demonstrate one's
national enthusiasm by buying a portrait of the president of the
republic. The traveller is advised to make his 'voluntary' cont ribution
and thus to practise go tong royo ng.
Sometimes I wondered about the quantities that my reliable and
': ,. honest housekeeper bought in the market. She would buy a pound of
. ; meat or a hundred grammes of tea , but gene rally the quant ities she
took home did not match the declarations in the housekeeping account.
When I asked her about this, she exp lained that the people in the
market were hard pressed and needed to be helped. These people wo uld
put some coins und er th eir scales , so that a hundred grammes became
., I eighty, or half a kilogramme four hundred grammes . This was done
because the prices were officially frozen at a low level that had become
unrealistic; she explained the practice as goto ng r oyong. In a similar
manner, teachers needed to supplement their extremely low salaries
(US$5- l O a month). To earn some extra income , som e of them
doubled as becak (pedicab) drivers at night but more commonly, they
would sell schoolbooks 31nd writing materials at prices slightly above
the market value, and insist that their pupils buy from them. Th ey
would also charge money for passing , admission , examinations, etc. -
basically illegal pract ices , but accepted by the community as go tong
royong. Simil arly, civil servants would charge money for their services
- small amounts when they were lowly placed , more when they had
high rank. Everywhere, one needed to make contributions , to help each
other , and to grease the system . One wonde red where the border lay
between mutual help , exploitation of the nom1, and corruption.
Rukun and mutual aid were sometimes grossly overstretched in
planned or ad hoc development activities . Local military commanders
had a tendency to show the ir superiors that they accomplished their
civic mission. I witnessed how , in the impoverished Gunun g K.idul area
near Yogyakarta, a big 'gotong royong' project was carried out in the
name of development. Undernourished villagers had to 'vol unt eer' to
build fifteen kilometres of road , for which they did not receive any
payment, not even the food for their daily keep , while a large part of
them we re visibly suffering from hunger oedema . Such cases of forced
labour for the improvement of in frastructure, or the forced deliveries
of rice to build a national buffer-stock (see page 95 below], have
made people refer to such 'gotong royong' practices as 'the ret urn of
Japanese times ' , and even 'cultuur stelsel' (system of forced labour and
deliveries under the Dutch in the nineteenth century).
The exploitation of the traditional norms of mutual protection
and aid is sometimes co un tered by people who , because of education,
ideals, or foreign background, hope that 'modem' norms will prevail .
A Yogyakarta police captain, who was regularly in trouble with his
superiors because he wanted to judge cases on their merit and not


because of the peopl e involved, was also condemned by the people in

his neighbourhood fo r not exe rcising hi s influ ence to help find his
yo unger brother a job. This brother had graduated from Gadjah Mada
Univers it y and desired an entry into the civil service to have a position
and an income. Th e captai n lived up to the family n orm of mutual
protection by lettin g his broth er eat and sleep in his house, but refused
to use his influence in findin g him a j ob. One of his ideas of modernity
was: 'You have a diploma and merit; yo u find yo ur self a job on the
bas is of these .' Yet most people thought him in the wron g for not
helping his close relative more actively.
Similarly, a friend of mine complained about her brothe r whom
she described as a strange person . Even though her brother filled an
important position in a big national bank, she thought him to be a
disgrace to the fam ily because he went to his office on a bicycle and
lived in a poor bamboo house in an average kampung. She was ashamed
of this because his position in the bank should mean a display of status
and a bonanza for his relatives. She disclosed that her brother had
recently had to evaluate a demand for credit of forty million rupiah ,
the approval of which would have netted him two million. Yet the
brothe r deemed the proposal to be a risk ; he turned down the request
and did not pocket the substantial tea-money. His family felt ashan1ed
and thought this to be utterly strange behaviour. Ironically, she
remarked that her brother thought himself to be a pahl{l\,',lan
pembangunan ('hero of development') who did not respect the values
of status and shar ing, despite his sharing his monthl y I 00 ,000 rupiah
(U SS240) salary with his relatives.
Statu s and hierarchy need to be displayed and , with the possible
except ion of religious and spirirnal leadership , leaders are expec ted to
display the symbols of their powe r in order to be credible. Followers
aspire to have a powerful Bapak - the power of the Bapak being
reflected by his display of the appropriate symbo ls. Possessions and
income follow status, but status also results in soc ial obligat ions such as
the protect io n of followers. The ob ligations o f stat us are costly, and the
income needed to maintain both st atus and obligat ions must be looked
for in the nebulous sphere of bureauc rati c and pol itical powe r , of
favours grant ed and favours received; in short, from the pre bends that
go with patrimon ial office. Some may call the accompany in g practices
co rruption or exploitation , but they are also necessary to maintain
a position of leadership and to extend protection . Basically , the norms
surrou nding the in stitutions of leadership and patronage are far stronger
than the co ntrol on sour ces of income .

Yet leaders should not exaggerate thei"r.display of symbols of

power and wealth; status symbols should fit the. status of a Bapak. In
this sense, it might be a valid proposition to s'.tipp.ose that a one -star
general is entitled to one big house, one wife, and one Mercedes car,
while the three -star general is entitled to three of each . They will be
deemed corrupt and erode their standing with those on whom they
depend in their tum if they display more than what they are entitled
to. The moral connotations of power in a patrimonial hierarchy are the
obligations to extend protection to one 's followers and to be loyal to
one's superiors.
'The rule of law', in the sense of equality before the law, is a
modem ideal that is much talked about , but that implies values that are
far divorced from the present situation in which the powers of
hierarchy and protection undermine the values of rukun and mutual
security. Sometimes these values meet head-0n, as for instance
illustrated in the 'Sum Kuning affair' that has absorbed the attention of
people in Yogya for more than three years (Kamadjaja , 1972] .
Sum Kuning was a peasant girl; she went everyday to the market
in Yogya to sell a basket of eggs. Returning to her village one night, she
was raped by four youngsters riding in a car. After she had been
abandoned at the side of the road, she went to people with whom she
was acquainted and asked for help, telling her sad story. A neighbouring
journalis t was also listening. Finally, they called the police who brought
the girl to a hospital ; the journalist told the story in a newspaper. The
incident was very similar to another recent rape of which similar
youngsters , sons of important people', were suspected. The story
caused a stir of popular emotion in town; society had been shaken and
the rapes were the subject of the day: society had become bingung
(upset , confused).
No complaint was fi.Jed by Sum Kuning or her parents, yet the
police began to engage in some interesting activities. A few days later,
they cam e to arrest the girl at her home. Almost immediately after her
arrest. the police issued a hand-out stating that Sum Kuning had made
up her story and that she was a subvers ive element causing social unrest
and stir. For thirty -two days, she remained in custody, often mal-
treated by the police who finally released their version of her story:
Sum Kuning had had voluntary sexual relations with a soup -seller, the
police producing a suspect and witnesses. Th e police 's story was not
believed at all , and the press did its best to uncover the facts; mean-
while , a team of lawyers took it upon themselves to serve as counsel for
Sum Kuning .

Society remained bingung and interested in the outcome of the

affair, while the police were making fools of themselves; when the girl
was finally brought to court, her acquittal was hailed as a huge victory
oi justice and the common man over the police. Subsequently , some
po lice office rs were transferred , Sum Kuning went to a hospital for
mental and physical treatment and in l 973, the suspects still went free,
although the perka ra (affair) was still pursued by the police and the
court. The car of the rapists was known and, with a fair degree of
certainty, its occupants - 'sons of important peop le' in Yogyakarta .
The children of important people are, however. well protected -
the y may sleep quietly no matter what they do. The y enjoy powerful
protection while the victories of justice and the common man are few
and far between. Hier archy is protected and to the ruling class, rukun
primarily means 'no stir and the forceful maintenance of a quiet
The abuse of status privilege and the power of protection among
the new elites appear to have become facts to live with . In minor
affairs such as a rape or other nuisances , newspaper s may freely report
and very annoying journalists may be arrested and freed again (wh ich
also happened in the 'Sum Kuning affair') , but the culprits are seldom if
ever arrested. Moreover, the courts seem afraid, legal security minimal ,
and the control over society by police and army a threatening
expe rience. Too easily one isaccusedofbein ga 'communist ' . By 1973,
Yogya seemed to have become a society more subdued than ever, with
people unwilling to talk, suspicious and afraid: a society of lost hopes.
Suppression and the powerful maintenance of order caused people to
withdraw into ever smaller circles of loyalt y and trust: hierarchy had
grown strong without rukun.
Present -day Javanese society is frustrat ed, econo mically and
psychologic ally insecure , and its individual s feel threatened. It is
deficient in mechanisms t o maintain either the eq uilibrium of the old
values , or the values of a more modern and impersonal order. It is trul y
a post -traditional society, where the past is invalid and a secure future
far away. People are bingung, cop ing with uncertainty and alienation
from the processes of wider society. Morality has become the morality
of power and hiera rchy, each and every little group trying to care in
the best way for its own members to the exclusion of others. Social
solidarity, so high among Javanese values, is giving way to the realities
of power and moral vagueness.
In this process , double standards of behaviour have developed and
given rise to a co rrupt system in which the commo n and powerless man

is exploited and has become part of the 'float ing mass' that suffers
quietly. 5 Where the elite gets richer, the amanat penden'ra an rakyat, or
AMPERA (the message of the suffering masses) is unhea rd. Effective
protection is gradually extended to smaller and smaller groups, reducing
soc iety to small groups that ma inta in high standards of solidarity with in
themselves. 1l1e traditional norms have become overstretched in an
expanding society, whe re social contro l has weakened and whe re
gotong royong has become a very particularist ic value that is sometin1es
grossly explo ited by the authorit ies. People who want to maintain more
modern 'unive rsalist ic' values constitute a minority whose voice is litile
heard; at best they are considered strange and queer, but often they are
arrested, jailed, and fo rced to keep the ir 'subve rsive' op ini o ns to

THE SITU A TIO OF T HE RURAL POOR.6 In the villages , rukun relat ion-
ships are threatened by increas ing poverty and maldistribut ion of
economic resou rces. Life in J avanese villages has always been margin al ,
and people have long learned throug h exper ience that happ iness and
security are n ot obtained through tilling the earth or thro u gh the
manipulat ion of material conditions. For many generations, the pea -
sants have known that the ir hard labou r is little rewarding, for the
tax -farmer or another agent of government will take away their surpl us.
1l1eir sec urity lies in thei r sol idari t y, and they have long since know n
that rukun and go tong royong are essential for survival. Koentjaraning
rat described th eir situa tion as follows:

The Indonesian peasant , especia lly in J ava, bas ically sees

life as something that is bad, full of sin and suffering;

5. On the floating mass' doctrine , see Ken Ward [ 1974] . This doctrine pro -
hibits political activity or orga nization below th e kebuparen level.

6. The purpose of these paragraphs is to indic a te some causes of the decline

of rukun relationship s in Javanese villages . The practice of mkun and
gorong ro yo ng always co-exists with hierarch y and inequality , also in the
villages. In spite of thi s, and perhaps blindfolded by the existence of the
rukun ideal, many au th ors have picru red the J avanese village as a homo
gene ous society in which there is always a place fo r an extra mouth to
feed: village society would be characte rized by a 'system of shared poverty'
[Geertz, 1963]. That this is no t the case is for instance evident from the
descriptive analysis of Ina Slamet [ 1965] and a vast quant ity of other
recent literature. The ignorance of the condit ion of the poor, the reasons
for that ignorance, and a critical discuss ion of the literature can be found
in Wertheim [ 197 5] .

however, this does not mean that he must just avoid the
realities of life and withdraw himself quietly in the realms
of mysticism or ascetism. He has the obligation to be
conscious of the wickedness of life by the practice of
prehann (awareness), and he is obliged to make the best of
it by work or iktiyar (right effort). Indonesian peasants
work in orde r to live; sometimes, when possible, to obtain a
position. He is only interested in today, and he does not
care about the conditions of tomorrow; he is too poor to
think about that matter; only sometimes he longs for the
past which was a period of general welfare according to the
stories of his parents.
On the whole he is not terrified by the nature that
surrounds him. When there are sometimes natural
catastrophes such as vulcanic eruptions or floods, he just
accepts them as a fate that happens to be bad. When there
are pests that may threaten his harvest , he is not afraid
either; he knows the ways to overcome such catastrophes,
and if he is not able to cope with these pests , he will still
not die from hunger , because the system of mutual
assistance in his community gives him a feeling of security
that is sufficiently great. As long as he is able to harmonize
himself with his surroundings, his life will be peaceful. This
is the reason why he has to face his fellow villagers with the
spirit of go tong roy ong, and he must be very conscious that
he actually depends on his fellow villagers in his life;
the~efore he must always strive to safeguard good relations
with his fellow villagers (1969:31-32].

Even in these general terms , Koentjaraningrat's description seems

too idyllic. He is certainly right to assert that the only way to security
lies in the wisdom of helping and remaining loyal to each other; it is
questionable though, whether villagers can still live up to this wisdom.
The very unfavourable ratio of population to resources means that in
many villages, people are simply becoming too poor to effectively help
each other. 7 Moreover, under the impact of modern high-yielding but

7. For vivid and well-researched illustrations of the depth of poverty among

the peasants of the Yogyakarta area, see Penny and Singarimbun [ 1972],
and Timmer [196.t]. Furth er evidence is listed by Emmerson [1976:

more capital -intensive farming techniques, ciasses of haves and have-

nots have crystallized [Franke , 1972; 1974] , resulting in a breakdown
of mutual assistance and patronage relationships. In many villages, there
is a marked tendency towards proletarianism and business-like
relationships in which work and income tend to become a privilege
instead of a basic right.
Human relations in village society tend to become monetized.
The village elites who are in command of resources profit dispropor-
tionally from the programmes of development and the increasingly
capi talist mode of production; they tend to become more selective in
their extension of patronage. The right to work in th e village rice fields
is further jeopardized by the recent practice of some landowners of
selling their harvest to a contractor , who subsequently harvests with
gangs of hired labourers - usually outsiders - who can be paid in
.. money and who do not have claims of patronage toward the owner of
r, the crop (Collier et al., 1973; Palmer , 1972 :64-67].
The dynamics of the changing relationship between rukun and
hierarchy values in the villages are further illustrated by the change in
village leadership. Formerl y, a lurah (village headman) was looked upon
as a kind of primus interpares, a protective Bapak, often commanding
considerable resources but yet a repres entative and often charismatic
figure . Under the impact of economic development and administrative
penetration, many lurah have become representatives of the civil service
rather than representatives of their constituencies. In this trend, old
conceptions of leadership gradually become invalid - the lurah
~ becoming a majikan (ma nager) with respect to the people , on whom he
is not dependent for his recognition, legitimation, or power.
In Central Java , most village headmen - or mayors of towns for
j that matter - are now members of the armed forces. First of all, these
army appointees are executors of orders who see to it that government
programmes are effectively introduced. To the villagers concerned, they
are technocratic managers responsible for decisions that have little to
do with their wishes. This is not to say that the people whom they
command are entirely without power, or that a 'leade r-new -style' can
entirely ignore the values of rukun and musyawarah. People may still
say 'yes' to proposals and programmes, while passively refusing to
execute orders . In this refusal, one finds the last vestige of meaningful
participatio n , a non-accepta nce that is neither constructive nor
reflective of rukun [Quarles van Ufford, 1974] .

The reasons for the decline in rukun and solidarity in Javanese

villages appear to be located in changes of structure and process , rather
than in a sudden change of village ideology. Formal leadership positions
have become representatives of the power that rules , and are divorced
from the principles of mechanical solidarity that are still high in
Javanese moral thinking. This change means a disintegration of
traditional leadership and a strengthening of the trend toward
btueaucratization and the growth of a quasi-rational system of village
administration. The integration of village sodety is further threatened
by the extreme disproportion of population to resources , the deepening
of poverty, the emergence of classes, and growing disparities in the
rights to land and work.

In the previous chapter, we have explored the persistence of, and the
changes in, values that are directly related to social life and the Javanese
value system as embodied in the kebatinan world view and ethic . In our
discussion of world view and ethic, we have already noted the intriguing
absence of clear recommendations for act ion in the world of things . It
appeared that the mystical recommendations for human behaviour are
largely restricted to recommendations for spiritual and social behaviour.
Many changes in the practice of the central values appeared to
originate in the changing relationships to resources and production. It
is therefore justified to further explore the attitudes and values that
relate to the material or non-human environment. Since it is far more
difficult to advance by the analysis of negative evidence than to
advance from positive observations, parts of the following analysis will
necessarily be somewhat impressionistically construed interpretations
of findings and experience.

The Order

The Javanese kebatinan world view explains that the advance -

ment of man lies in his movement away from the gross kasar material
conditions to conditions that are increasingly halus, refined and ethereal.
His aspirations should be directed upwards to the refined realrns of
existence; the power and the insigh1 acquired there will eventually also
result in power over material conditions. but this latter possibility is
de -emphasized in the modern kebannan teachings. After all, one's
sojourn on earth is only a relatively unimportant stop on the road to
one s exalted origin and destiny. The dynamics of Javanese culture lie
in the movement away from the material conditions of life, in the
development of one's inner being, and in insight into matters that are
only indirectly connected to the earth on which one lives .
In everyday life, these thoughts are first of all exp ressed in the
notion of duty: one should faithfully fulfil one's task in the material,

social . and cosmic hierarchy. 1l1e notion of duty does not imply
material mastery or advancement, but rather acceptance of the world as
it is and respect for the overall order. Man should not strive to advance
materially. and ambition and murual competition are disapproved.
Given such a value system, it is little wonder that there is an absence of
injurictions to cultivate the earth and to achieve mastery over matter.
Mastery over matter is not absent but is largely restricted to the
manufacture of 'revealing objects', such as the kris (ceremonial dagger
and most common of the pusaka objects), wayang puppets, and batik
(wax -died cloth) . These three concern the manufacture of status
symbols of cosmic, ceremonial, and social significance. With the gradual
extinction of the krawn culture, the manufacture of beautiful kris has
virtually come to an end; at the time of my research, there still
remained only one very old empu (kris smith) in Yogya who could
make this sacred object according t o the rules of his craft: there were,
however. plenty of cheap imitations for tourists. A similar situation
prevailed for wayang puppets; the craft was not lost, but it was hard to
find a wayang-maker who was willing to produce a ha/us puppet and
to spend months on its manufacture: also in this case, the tourist trade
with its demand for exotic but unrefined and cheap souvenirs was
driving out the exe rcise of the art of refined kraton-commissioned
Batik production is still thriving, but not because of the com-
missions of the old nobility. The former exclusive patterns that were
reserved for special rank and status can now be bought everywhere,
and refined batik cloth is the status symbol of upper-class ladies and
whoever can pay for it. 1l1ere is even a revival of barik-making, both
in the traditional development of beautiful patterns and in the novel
art of barik painting that attracts Indonesian and fore igners alike.
Other types of material expression that are highly developed are
the an of dancing and wayang performance. TI1e dances especially
depict the value that is attached to mastery of the body, that indicates
how the mastery of the outer aspects of existence can reveal the ha/us
potential in man. Yet this ceremonial art is rapidly declining; the ha/us
exercise of court dancing has always depended on the traditional upper
classes that have now lost their money. power, and influence. As a
model for education . the art of dancing has never achieved wide
popularity, and there is a declining interest in going through the
discipline of the Javanese court criteria of refinement and mastery.
There is an increasing interest in the far more extroverted Balinese

dancing, even in Yogya, as a pastime for the sons and daugh ters of the
middle classes ; also , the Ramayana performances ('monkey dances'
according to the more halus Javan ese) enjoy a steady popu larity while
suff from a vu lgarization of the art of dancing in catering to th e
needs of tourism.
A similar story can 'be to ld c:bout the an of wayang k ulit shadow
play performances . More dalang (perform e rs) than ever are trained i.n
the special schools in Yogya and Solo. and as a popular art, their
pe r formances are probably more frequent now than they have been fo r
a long time . Yet there are strong tendenci es of popularizat ion in their
shows that now also tend to shorten and to vulga rize the intricate
stories into simple black -and-wrute moral s (Mangkunagara , 19 57;
Anderson, 1965] .

Attitudes Retanng to Environment

Apart from these arts and crafts . there is little to note about
con tem porary Ja vanese material cult ur e . App aren tl y, people de-
.. emp h asize their ph ys ical env ironm ent. They are co ntent to live in
houses that strike the Western obse rver as poorly kept and to sit o n
furniture that seem ed to me uncomfortable. TI1is is so not onl y among
the poo r : most people who can affo rd more graceful surro undings do
not seem to care much to decorate or to improve the comfort of their
homes. These better-off people may live i.n better -bu ilt houses, possess
so me better -quality furnitur e, but the houses do not seem to be the
object of excessive attention - they ten d to be plain and sin1ple, in
spite of the fact th at the people are not accustomed to ou t much
and so spe nd most of their free time at home. 1
The immediate livin g surroundings in a Javanese town or village
look drab and negle cted . On rainy days, the smaU streets and lanes
become mud-p oo ls and in dry weather, dustbowls; and the pavement is
general ly full of p ot-ho les. Most Central Javanese kampung and villages
just look neglected and gloomy rather than dirty. Towards the cele -
bration of Independence day . fences and waUs may be wh itewashed in
a collect ive campaign, but most houses and public build ings appear

l. Some exceptions are p rovided by th ose families where Dutch influence and
taste are very stro ng, or by th e new rich classes in Jaka rt a that tend to
spe nd lavishly on h ou sing, decora tion, and fu rniture . In Yogyakarta and
Ce ntral Java, I have seen very few instances of care fo r the beau ty and
co mfort of the home. Appliance s and fLxtures were often out of or der and
nobody seeme d to care to repair them .

never io be touched by a paint -brush after the ir init ial construct ion.
People in town as weil as in the surrounding villages seem to derive littl e
pleasure from their material environment, and to invest little pride in its
con dition. This is in marked contrast to the appearance of the villages
of the Sundanese in West J ava, who obviously ca re about their
environment and whose villag s look neat - the houses are preferably
built of stone, whitewashed and painted, with neat gar-dens and fences
surrounding them. Although Centr al Java is certainly poorer than West
Java. ec onomic reasons do not seem to provide a satisfactory ex -
planation for the difference: in surroundings where free time and
labour are abunda nt and resources for improveP1ent cheap or free of
charge. the condition of the Central J avanese man -made environment
would seem to depend more on interest and attention than on cost.
In contrast to the man -made env ironment. the natural env iron-
ment of Ja va is utterly beautiful and worthy of th e journey. The land -
scape w ith its towering volcanoes, the reflection of the water on the rice
terraces. the abundance of nature and its fertility, make Java look like
a tropical Arcadia . Few places on earth are so richly endowed with the
splendours of nature as the island of Java, and yet there are only very
few Javanese who appear to consciously enjoy the beauty of their
natural environment. TI1e Javanese seem to be absorbed pri.marily in
their social and cultural environment, of which they are extremely
consc ious. Their interest focuses on people and ceremonies. on wayang
and politics. on mysticism and the esoteric explanation of current and
coming events. The Javan ese world is a so ial world par excelle nce, to
which material conditio ns are subordinated .
Sin1ilarly, the Central Javanese seem little interested in the food
that they eat and again, poverty is not the explanation . With a few
exceptions, virtually al] of my better -off acquaintances ate very simple
fare. They simply did not care for refinement in food o r for abundant
meals - this las t in contrast to Minangkabau (West Sumatra) or lo cal
Chinese traditions . or even as compared with the food habits in East
Java and Bali.
TI1e Javanese live on an island but hardly consume ihe products
of the surrounding seas; meat is considered to be more of an excess
than a luxury (which it also is). The vegetables and the vegeta rian
products are generalJy overcooked. the drinks sweet and dull . and the
per cap ira consumpt ion of liquor must be among the lowest in the
world in spite of its cheapness and ease of preparation in a tropical

Treating the body and palate well has not been cultivated, and is
some how taboo in a soc iety that plac es a value on ascet ism and
simplicity with respect t o material good s and environment . A popular
name for Javanese restaurant s is Sed erhana, which means pla in
simplicity - no exaggeration. One should stay alive, o f course, but one
should content oneself wi th cukup , that is, enough to keep body and
soul together. The saying '.Mangan ora mangan, asal kumpu/' (Eat o r
n ot , the important thing is to be to ge th er') refl ects these attitudes .
Many p eople boast that they ~am a salary that is enough for one
week o ut of the month , and ye t they survive - the y achieve cukup
(enough) . Having plenty is not an id eal, material riches are a n ovelty,
concentrated in Jakarta o r among th e military elite . but not an examp le
to follow - ye t. Food. environment. material condit ions - all these
do not motivate even when they are within reach. wh ich contrasts with
the hab it s of other cul tu res in Indonesia. such as the Minang. the
Sundanese. the Balinese , or the new life-st yle of th e Jakarta elites.
j. ,
Anirudes Relating to Wo rk and Hierarch ical Sratus
Nobody in Java will doubt the necessit y of wo rk : wo rk is
necessary to stay alive, and is pan of every man 's fate. The lower classes
labour diligently within their physical limi tations - many are under-
nourished - and within their capacity to obtain renumerative work.
Yet the pleasures of work are lirrute d and primarily social. Wo rk fo r

the inherent pleasu ~e of th e act ivit y of working, or for the satisfacti on

that one may derive from the exerc ise of mastery over th e material
enviro nment by it s direct manipulati on. is nev e r talk ed about. The
pleasure of working activity and the satisfaction of mastery over
ordinary matter are left to th e Chinese and Westerner s. who derive
pride and pleasure from the kasar world of things. Among the Javanese ,
a direct relationship with that kasar world of thin gs and nature is
indicative of the vast distance that separates t h e indi vid ual from the
sources of real power and sati sfact ion . from soc ial status and
recogn ition.
One works to achieve a low standard of living , and most people
are lit tle interested in advancing beyond that. Moreover, exaggeration
of effort is socially condemned and if one still ach ieves. one is expected
to share, so that there are few if any in cent ives to accumulate riches
through hard work. It is better to be un obtrusive and average. At the
university, the students do not appear to be so much motivated to
master the ir subject matter as to show average achievement in line with


the rest. To be bette r would cause embarrassment . and a 'show -off

would be condem ned by his fellow students . The vast majo rity of the
students are there to obtain an academic degree and a diploma lead ing
to a position . and are littl e motivated to show excellence in their fields
of study.
The satisfaction of work derives largely from its social setting,
from the group within which one works. from one's friends and
colleagues. from the paraphernalia of office. and from the sarisfaction
of oncs superiors . For those in the higher positions. the satisfaction of
work is the demonstration of rank and status: for those in the lower
positions . it derives from asal Bapak senang (the pleasure of the boss).
\1anual labour and its symbols are despised and can hardly be regarded
as honourable. Of course . the lowly peasant who rills the soil is still
pan of honourable society . but his fate is considered to be a bad one,
full of ignorance and suffering. 'owadays. if he can save some money .
rhe peasant will invest in the education of a son in order that the latter
may achieve a low pnyavi (civil servanr) status in the form of a badly
paid but prestigious minor function in one of the swollen branches of
government. such as a clerk in a posral office in town .
Education is the chance to move away from the village; the
education invested is therefore a drain on village resources for the
benefit of town and hierarchy . There is hardly any thought of investing
in agricultural ed ucation and becomi ng a bette r farme r with an unde r-
sta nding and comma nd of modern techn iques . Agriculture is a st ation
in life to move away from if one has the chance to do so . It is no
wonder. therefore, th at elements of the conse rvative Muslims, espec ially
in East Java - with their somewhat different eth ic regardjng labour and
the saving of money, and their relative con tempt for hierarch ical
Javanese culture - have gradually established themselves as the pre -
dominant landow ning class. while also predominating in perty tradi ng
and manufacturing activities as compared with their abangan brethren .
In the massively abangan Yogya area this social characteristic of Islam
is less obvious, although common barik manufacture and the pro -
duction of Yogya silver are largely in the hands of orthodox Muslim
enrrepreneurs . Thei r labourers may be abangan. however. and their
working capiral of ten Chinese .
I often encountered the aversion to manual labour in relation to
my motorcycle . It was a permanent cause for amazement that I myself
kept my bike in good repa ir and enjoyed workirg on it. Apart from my
pleasure, I had good reasons to keep the vehicle in my own hands ever

since, in the nearby Javanese workshop, they had treated my cylinder -

head with a hammer when I had trouble in loosening a spark -plug.
Once my bike got me into real soc ial trouble when I stayed with a
lower p riyayi household in the neighbourhood of the famous
Modjokuto (' Middletown' ) of Par e . Afte r lots of polite conve rsation
and just before retirin g, I made the horrible mistake of beginning to
make a mino r repair on my cycle . I am st ill in1pressed when I recall
the express ion on my host's face . It seemed as if his world coUapsed;he
I was sta rt led with such a manifestation of kasamess and breach of
decorum, and he persuaded me to take my bike to a local repa irshop
the next day. I recognized my mistake and y ielded to his dismay while
being unhappy with the knowledge that I would have to entrust my
vehicle to local expertise. Later I related story to some of my
Yogyanese friends, but they could not see any humour in my
presentat ion, and ail co ndemned my behaviour as rude.

_, I Work and L eadersh ip

1. I
In Jav anese forms of co-Operative labour. such as gotong royong,
,.,, where everybody performs the tasks that have been alloted to by
tradition and whe re one man can generally substitute for another, the
,. group often works hard and efficiently. Everybody knows the job at
", , hand, there are no questions about leadership or the division of labour ,
and people pride themselves in performing something together, such as
' the building of a house, the organization of a funeral, or a village
ceremony . A wayang kulit shadow play performance may be regarded
as an example of a well-functioning traditional organizat ion. and so
may the bigger selamatan and village celebrations that involve many
people . When Pak Amat. the lottery predictor . came to be honoured by
his followers, they were amazingly efficient in rebuilding house and
were proud to have provided their Bapak with an approp ria te symbol status - a status in wh.ich they, as his followers. shared .
When things get beyond the sphere of mechanical solidarity,
people often fail to organize well or to identify with the work at hand.
The objective result of their common efforts does not appear to
motivate them because of the abst:-actness of o rganization, because it
is unclear for whom the work is done, and because familiar cha rismatic
leadersh.ip has mad e place for the criteria of effic iency and competitive
achieveme nt. In such situations, leade rship tends to become in1personal
and cannot command traditional loyalties . Practically, such situations
rarely occu r. In modem Indonesian enterprises and offices, the

o rganiza ti on of work and leadersrup are charac terized by a 'neo-

trad itional acco mmodation' to the requir ements of modernity and
efficiency, which means that the new tasks are executed along the
time-honoured principles of mechanical solidarity and a give-and -
take relationship between management and personnel (Willner. 1966] .
A truly modern o rganization of work can pe rh aps be found only with
some of the bigge r banking -houses and the Western firms that ope rate
in Indonesia; b ut such banks and firms are not typical, because of their
different ways of operation. recruitment, and most specifically, because
of their very different system of rewards with high salaries for high
Th e point may be best illustrated by those situations where
modern activities are performed by people who like to regard them -
selves as modern and who are more or less equal in authority . The
var ious student theatre performances that I watched provide a case in
point. When their performances were directed at the in -group of their
own membership, perforn1ances were generally sufficiently well
organized, but whenever I observed students perform for wider
audiences. such as the entire academic community, their organization
failed - the shows began far too late , the presentation sloppy, the
mechanical equipment never functioning properly, etc., - in short,
miserable performances, badly managed and directed, with nobody
holding clear authority, and obviously without pride in the perform-
ance itself as an expression of the group presenting it. Such sloppiness
is not the privilege of students only: in 1973 in Jakarta , I could watch a
fashion show in an expensive nightclub that charged an entry fee of
USS7 for the occasion, in which some of the dresses had not even been
ironed, and only tw o of the ten models had an idea of what they were
doing, if judged by the standards that they evoked by their obvious
desire to present a modern stage show .
However, there are exceptions . 1n Yogya. we could watch the
remarkable performances of the poet and social critic. Rendra. who was
able to inspire rus following and who also desired to stick to modern
criteria and crit ici sm . He began his stage performances on time. and he
did not wait for the important people to show up late - the latter
consequently avoiding rus productions . Rendra's organization was
flawless, and his group was clearly proud of presenting a good piece of
wo rk ; the members admired their charismatic leader and were proud of
their association with him. A sinular bleniling of the modem traits of
effic iency , a critical attitude. and charismatic leadersrup was also
apparent in the modern presentations of some Catholic groups; they
' I


presented a fine Easter oratorio in 1970. and the students of their

academy for women (AKWA) were able to stage an impressive and
co nvincing fash.ion show.
In view of the social perception of work . modern fom1s of
product ive orga nization often fail. Co-operatives , factory production ,
and the vast p rojects of 'agricultural modernization m iss the in spi rin g
leadership of unque sti oned . trusted and accep ted leade rs . o r sol idarity.
makers, as Feith wou ld call them [ l 964: 113- 122]. Purely b u siness -like
leadership for obje ct ive purposes of achiPvement clea rly do es not lead
to success and is cu lturall y out of place . It is not what is be ing done
b ut the soc ial atmosphe re in whic h it is done tha t is impo rt ant .
Pe op le strive to ach ieve soc ially . and n ot necessari ly in the realm
of matter . Peop le obtain work and favours because the y belong to a
relevant grou p , and not necessarily because of their ability . Work as
1 I
such - co nfr o ntation with the world of matte r - does not pay, and is
left to soc ial inferior s. What pays is the right relat ionships . the right
_. I
acquainta nc es , an d especially the relati onsh ip to a Bapak wh o can
;; d istribute favours and privileges . Manual work is for the peasants and
i;; th e poor , or the Chin ese who are kasar and far divorced from the
f. , sources of power.
.; ..
' PSYCHOLOGICAL DIMENSIONS. Th e attitud es to the world of matter
., may be sust ained by the early soc ializ ati o n experie nc e . The young
"' Javanese child ex pe riences the wo rld from the selendang in wh ich it is
carried around for most of the tin1e until it is two years old . Du ring
that period, it is always in intin1ate contact with its human envi ron -
ment (its mother's o r somebody else' s body) but largely divorced from
the material aspect of existence. It is not given int e resti ng objects or
toys to manipulate and is denied the pleasures of crawl ing and in-
dividual locomotion. Conse quen tly, its natural cu rio sity for thing
manipulation and the disc overy of the material world is frustrated ,
while it learns to feel secure and d ependent o n the intimate company
of warm bodies . It does not get the chance to ex e rcis e its will t o
master o bject s and to satisfy its curiosity in respect of its non-hum an
enviro nment. Th e material wo rld rem ain s at a dista nce , and does not
achieve an affe ctiv e intere st of its own in compe tition w ith its human
su rr oundings.
Later , when it walk s well, it w ill run arou nd with children of its
age, playing in groups, flying kites , manipul atin g coa rse wayang
puppets, playing with mar bles or gambling with coins, sh ooting with

catapults, and playing at hop-scotch. Most of these games and to ys

h ave the characteristic of manipulation from a distance, and do not
concentrate on the manipulation and construction of objects proper.
To ys that could stimulate the will to master the inunediate environ -
ment, such as constructive and creative toys - building blocks, jigsaw
puzzles , Chinese puzzles , colo ur plates, writin g and drawing equipment
- are conspicuo usly absent. Even urban children from relatively well-
of( and culturally sophisticated families in Yogya miss the interesting
assortment of challenging toys with which children in certain other
cultur es are surrounded . The small girls seem to run around much less,
and often play with knucklebone s or at market, cooking, child-<:aring,
and similar act ivities imitative of the mother. Generally , at least fo r the
boys, one may observe that the early experiences de-emphasize contact
with and direct mastery over matter , while they stimulate the feelings
of dependency on the social environment.

The Changing Dimensions of Order

Modernization in Urban Yogyakarta

Pr esent times are modern times that nee d to be shaped and

filled in accordingly . While mos t people remain masa bodoh (un -
enlightened and indifferent) and srick to their atavis ti c ways , many
people in town want to show that they are in co n tact with modernit y
by shap ing their behav iour and environment accord ing to its
requi reme nt s.
The regula ti on of the flow of traffic in Yogya is a case in point.
That flow consiste d of an incredibl e number of bicycles and pedicabs,
ox -cart s, the famous andong (horse-drawn carriage), a few cars , and a
co nside rable number of regional bus es. To regulate that flow, the city
abounded in one -way streets; th ere were also a few manually
operated tr affic lights and at many intersection s, right turns were
prohibited . The regula tory system was rather bewildering when studied
with the criteria of efficiency, speed , o r safe ty in mind; it compelled
every body on the road to cover excessive distances, _and buses especially
had to mak e lengthy detours. But the system had not been designed to
speed up the littl e t raffi c there was, or to ach ieve safe ty and effic iency .
The system had been desi gned in orde r to have a system - to regulate
and to establish order. The objective was to give an image of order,
rather than to achieve functional efficie ncy . Also, in the villages where
seldom anything but an ox-<:art passed, one was struck by the man-
datory notices 'menyebe rang disini' ('cross the road he re').
. I


The most interesting and massive attempt to give form and shape
to modernity is known as pembangunan (development). It is not change
as such that has become a value, but it is the urge to cope with changing
times - to fulfil the demands of modernity in order to keep in step
I with the present. High-rise buildings, office towers, and hotels are
'modem'; activities to increase the production of food in the country-
side are 'modem' , and so are family planning programmes, broad
streets, national and provincial planning boards, 'operation rooms' ,2
speeches about national development, national elections, talks about
the rule of law, foreign textbooks , and outlandish models and fashions.
I ' All these symbols of modernity are eagerly introduced in competition
rr with manifestations of modernity that grow spontaneously but that are
little appreciated - such as mini-skirts, long hair for males, Western -
style dancing , pornography , secularization, prostitution, casinos,
national lottery , political awareness, the rule of power and money,
corruption, weakening social contro l, hippy tourism, and the increasing
poverty and indifference of the masses. In the process of filling in the
structure of modernity , the first traits should be realized, but much
energy and attention is absorbed by the losing battle with the latter
ou.~rowths of the process. When these first symbols of modernity can
be instituted, development , justice, and prosperity will have to follow .
The trend of development in Yogyakarta is often inspired by
models that originate in Jakarta . The mayor of Jakarta has begun an
ambitious programme of broadening certain streets to accommodate
the growing flow of traffic in the capital. In Jakarta , this programme is
entirely justifiable , but it has now come to stand as a model for many
provincial towns, whether there is a need for it or not, whether scarce
development funds could be better spent on other projects or not.
Broad streets are a symbol of development, and to have broad streets is
to be modem - thus trees are cut down, the sidewalks reduced , and
the Chinese shopkeepers compelled to give up a few square metres of
their premises. Such a programme is now threatening the Malioboro -
the main and broad avenue that bisects Yogya. It is hard to find an

2. 'Operation rooms' have been established in all kebuparen and sometimes

even at lower administrative levels. Generally , they consis t of an air-
cond itioned room in which charts , statistics , maps, etc., are displayed or
projected, often in a semi-automated manner. Such rooms convey a
military-technocratic approach to development and the illusion of precise
day-to-day monitoring of events and developments. They are highly
symbo lic forms of modernity that contain little precise information; they
function as show-pieces for visitors.

objective need for this plan since the flow of tr affic is slow and light,
while the Malioboro avenue is broad enough to accommodate the
traffic. Moreover, the street is the shopping centre of the town, and to
broaden it would destroy its main function and cosy atmosphere.
The street s that are in need of surfacing remain neglected how-
ever, and activities centre on the visible and 'rep resentative'. This
was well demonstrated at the visit of Prince Bernhard of the Nether -
lands in 1970. The road that he had to follow from the airport to
the patihan (centre of government) was really in a fair conditio n ; yet
a machine was brougl1t up to Yogya and the streets were resurfaced
from the municipal border to the patihan, that is, a new cover of
asphalt was laid on top of the existing surface without considering the
problems of foundation. The othe r streets remained as they were .
Such 'development' is the manip ulation of form irrespective of
needs, and a reckless spending of scarce funds. In a comparab le way,
the mayor of Yogya decided that development meant cleanliness.
Subsequently, the Malioboro was lined with ugly concrete dust -bins .
The problem with them was that they could be filled but not emptied;
this soon resulted in stench and hosts of rats . By 1973, these ill-
conceived structures had disappeared again. In 1970, the mayor also
decided that funds could best be spent on the construction of a new
town-hall, not because the old one was inadequate or could not seat the
vast number of underemployed and idle civil servants, but because
developmental funds should be spent and a new building was thought
to constitute a visible symbol of progress and modernity. Kebatinan
experts were invited to calculate the right dav to comme nce its con -
struction and on that day, the y buried the head of a water buffalo at
the construct ion site. After that ceremony , the building was erected
and at it s inauguration , trees were planted in front of it, one tree for
every kampung in town. By 1973, the building had already acquired
that familiar touch of shabbiness and half the trees had died.
To attack the problem of rural poverty, jobless students and
graduates organized the Lembaga Pembanguan - Korps Pionir
(association for development - pioneer corps) . The idea had originated
from a student who had returned from the United States inspired
by the U.S. Peace Corps. The stated purpose of the Lembaga was to
crganize the expertise of students and graduates to study village
conditions and to help the villagers help themselves. They made some
propaganda, and were sufficiently well connected to attrac t funds from
the Australian government and the Ford Foundation . They drafted
statutes and rules, established a hierarchy , and organized the mselves

into departme nt s in charge of health, animal husbandry, agr icult ur e,

law , eco nomics, and technical matters. Subsequ en tly, they wou ld
I' search fo r villages that needed their help. Before doing so, however,
I they had pleasure in o rganizing themselves in such a bureaucratic way
that four or five men could do the work of a single person, w ritin g
I letters that o ne composed. another dictated, someone else typed ,
another corrected, etc .. or. as they expla ined it themselves , to orga niz e
adm ini strat ion . lo gist ics , facilities, and communications. They kept each
other busy in the sam e way tha t Geertz described Java nese agriculture
in his Agricultu ral f nvolu rion [ 1963] , sharing work in an increasingly
i'i complicated o rgan izat ion.
Finally , these gr aduates also gave help to certain villages. Accord-
ing to them, a ce rtain village needed a ch icke n project, another goa ts ,
a third a we ll , and with the fore ign money, they orga nized some minor
projects . They did not do much themselves. bu t rather told villagers to
do certa in th ings. They abho rred the thougl1t of dirty ha n ds . K erja
kasar (man ual labour) was not part of their vocabula ry . 1l1ey talked
about facilities, logistics , administration - all the halus qualities that
befitted their learnin g. In 1973 , they still received th eir subsidies, and
they we re still pursuing the ir wo rk with relish. T h e chickens had died,
and so had the goats, the water -pump , had falle n idle - and they were
sorry that villagers were beyond improvement. Their only operational
. project was the free treatment of a number of patients by a medical
graduate during two hours a week . As an official " organization. they
were a success, as a practical one . they had accomplished next to
; :,. nothing.
In Yogya, development basical ly meant a renaming and re-
1l ordering of the existing. Market and street vendors were co m pelled to
give up their customary places of business to make way for grass, the
bes t stree ts rece ived a new cover of asphalt. some streets were widened.
a new town -h all erected, but the side streets and the living cond iti ons of
the population remained the same . The manipulation of consp icuous
form sufficed; a few got somewhat richer. and many of the poor
became visibly poorer. The steam tram -way type of train from Yogya
to Magelang was renamed 'Borobudur Express'. ran as slowly as ever .
but was sin ce staffed w it h hostesses t o take care of the ever absent
tourists - symbo lic modernization indeed .
For the rest, t here is little t o be reported about deve lopment in
Yogyakarta. In 1973, the university boasted a few new b uildings , the
army office rs had established themselves in a complex of new luxur y

villas, some begg ar s so ugh t their food directly from the dust -bins and
had ceased to ask fo r alms , the st udents and intellectuals were mor e
subdued than eve r , fo rei gn speakers needed licences to speak, people
were quiet and afraid, n ewspapers were heavil y censo red , th e cost of
living had increased, the main sh ops we re be tt er supplied, more cars
with military and official licen ce plates were on the roads, a few people
were better dressed and quite a few more in rags, the Sum Kuning affair
had go ne int o it s third yea r and the p olice were stil l 'a c tively ' pur suing
the case, and the hopes th at had been inspir ed by th e first five-year
plan of 1968 and by th e national elec tion s of 19 71 had vanished.
Development was represented by both more we ll-dressed military
personnel and more ill-dressed tour ists in the streets: my mystical
e ngin ee r friend was still practising sujud next to his m ach ines in orde r
to boost production, and town and society remained u n touched and
peripheral to the development efforts of J akarta . 3

Developmenr in rhe Cou nrrysid e

To a large extent, te ch n oc ratic plarn,ing and developme nt

activities in the cou nt ryside can be unde rst0od wi thin the framework of
Javanese conceptions, making them 'logical', understandable, and t0 a
certain extent acceptable . One of the characteristics of the kebar inan
world view is the kasar-halus con tinuum. The ea rth, the animals,
and tho se who live in an intimate relationship with these primary
conditions are cons idered kasar. gross and earthly. Th e mystical ethos
prefers to move away from these kasar cond iti ons and up to the more
refined ha/us realms of sp iritual ity and intuiti ve understand in g.
Mystical insight may also be seen as beneficial for earthly and
social conditions, as exemplified by the idea that a ruler should strive
for the superior inspiration that will result in orderly and prosperous
cond itions in his realm. Power and legit imation derive from superior
powe r , and the holding powe r signifies that one enjoys the blessing of
superior forces . Powe r and in sp irat ion derive from high sour ces, not
from popular su pport. and the righteousness of power is reflected by
the seem in g unanimity of its acceptance.
The practice of development in urban Yogyakarta made sense
when we applied the above model. The mayor of Yogya (a colo nel of

3. The situa ti on in the co urt town of Yogyakarta is doubtless somew hat

ext reme whe reas in such towns as Klaten and Pekajangan, m ore pr actic al
achievements have proved poss ible. Throughout , however, one cann o t
escape the impression that the problems of dealing wi th modernity have
grow n too b ig to cope with mentally.

the army) was inspired by whatever happened in Jakarta; when the

exalted example of Jakarta indicated that broad streets and new
buildings were signs of development , the mayor saw to it that streets
were broadened and buildings built . The decision makers in Jakarta
look up to still higher inspiration that the y find in such exalted places
of capitalist industrial modernity as the United States, Australia ,
Europe, or Japan and Singapore .
One moves upward and away from one's own situation to find
inspiration and sacred formulae in higher realms or abroad, in order
to shape one's own situation accordingly . Inspiration and formulae
'descend'; they should contain the truth and therefore be applicable
without posing unpleasant questions about the kasar reality to which
the y are applied. Material conditions should follow from inspiration
and not the other way round . It is in that manner that planners and
politicians , together with the interests of foreign capital, appear to have
concocted their great schemes of development for the countryside, such
as the various BIMAS Gotong Royong programmes (BIMAS, or
bimbingan masal, means guidance of the masses). At the time of my
research, various BIMAS programm es were in the hands of foreign firms
that wanted to sell seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides in order to earn
money and to boost the national production of the staple food , rice
(BIMAS Ciba, BIMAS Mitsubishi , BIMAS Hoechst, BIMAS AHT ,
that is, Agrar-und Hydro-Technik and , most famous of all, BIMAS
COOPA) [Franke, 1972 :29-47] .
Somewhat simplified, BIMAS operated in this way: one puts a
bagofmiracle seeds, a bag of fertilizer, and a bag of pesticide in front of
a peasant's house, and instructs the peasant how to use these; at harvest
time , one comes back to take one -sixth of the harvest as a repayment
for the inputs. In some places, this programme worked but in most, it
did not. National rice production increased, but the satisfaction of the
peasants decreased because they had to work more and take greater
risks for a net result that remained the same for them . With uniform
recommendations for the use of seeds, fertilizers , and pesticides on
many hundred thousand hectares and without any significant testing,
consultation of the peasant producers , or a reliable apparatus for the
distribution of inputs, the holy formula failed.
Consequently, the foreign companies took aspects of distribution
into their own hands , spraying the insecticides themselves from
aeroplanes . After a few crashes, the pilots decided to fly somewhat
higher, spraying villages, wells , and gardens in the process, while their
efforts became largely ineffective. Again BIMAS failed, and dissatis-

faction among the villagers increased. The holy fonnula that descended
(or crashed) upon them in the name of development brought more
work and suffering to the latter , slightly better harvests to the
authorities , and most of all it stimulated corruption. [For critical
discussions of the BIMAS programmes, see Agro-Ekonomika , 1/1 1970;
Hansen, 1971 ; Franke , 1972 .] \
When I came back to Yogyaka rta in 1973, a new holy fonnula
had been discovered, this time called BUUD (Badan Usaha Unit Desa,
meaning a kind of co-operative village organization). The BUUD aimed
to establish a sort of co-ope rati ve village organization by organizing a
better availability of inputs , including credit, for all peasants and
fanners concerned. The purpose of the BUUD was to raise the yields
of rice, to reach the planned target, and to create a national buffer
stock which would subsequently stabilize the price of rice. The national
target for the buffer stock was broken down into targets for province s,
the provinces broke it down into targets for districts , the districts broke
it down to lower units , until finally in certain villages, a number of
kilogrammes of rice had to be delivered by every household head. That
rice was then bought by the authorities at a price which was about
two-thirds to half the market value. In some villages, teachers and
other non-producers had to buy their quotum of rice at free market
rates to deliver them against the much lower government buying price.
This ill-conce1ved programme offered tremendous opportunities
for corruption; it put a number of traders who offered more than the
official price in jail ; it resulted in the murder of at least one official by
angry villagers, and caused protest and unrest in the countryside. To
collect the village targets, rice sales, distribution, and transportation had
to wait; consequently, the cost of rice in the cities soared and within
three months of its incipience, the programme collapsed, at least for
the time being [Tempo III/ 14, 15, 16, 18, 1973].
The forceful decisions on the production of rice find their parallel
in those on the production of children. In 1971, while interviewing on
behalf of the United Nations, I had been impressed by the technocratic
reasoning in Jakarta about the need for a national family-planning
programme . Family planning would result in fewer schools, lower
costs for the government, fewer mouths to feed, less unemplo yment,
etc., but never was the argument directed to the advance or emanci -
pation of the masses of the population.
In 1973, the family-planning programme operated in a very
similar way as the BUUD programme: villages had been allotted targets
of accepters, that is, a certain number of female accepters in the fertile

age. These women were commanded to show up by the (mili tar y)

village headmen to have their IUDs inserted by mobile teams that
travelled the countryside. The least that it did was to coin a new word:
the village mothers were 'dispiralkan' (had a spiral inserted) .
The ideas of the planners are a halus affair, and descend upon th e
common people as magical fonnulae; the results are cons idered certain
because of their inspired origin. The idea that viable development
would have anything to do with the k.asar conditions of life is a thought
that is foreign to the planners and decision makers in the capital, and
probably also foreign to the kasar people themselves. Yet when first
the peasants' rice is taken away from them, and then their highly
valued children, unity and harmony or Jakarta's inspired fonnulae
may become empty slogans , and national development a stigmatized
Such development becomes meaningless by the lack of popular
participation. The eternal offic ial slogans of gorong royong,
musyawa rah, unity, justice, and prosperity as the instruments and the
purpose of development seem to have lost their credibility. To the elite,
national development lies in the compliance of the peasants with their
will. The common man becomes the instrument of development, not
its purpose; as long as he remains voiceless and unseen, the national
conscience is not disturbed. As long as the people do not protest, the
social condition appears to be quiet; as long as it is quiet, the power
that prevails can be secure, as quietness is a sign of unanimity and of
wahyu, or the blessing of superior power. Objectively, however, it is the
rule of naked power. The present leadership of the army is a leadership
of hierarchy without rukun, without musyawarah or effective feedback
from the low and kasar masses.
Sukarno's 'message of the suffering of the masses' (AM PERA )
has been substituted by the concept of the 'floating mass' that has no
message and that should remain voiceless and quiet , while fulfilling
national targets of rice production and famil y planning . There are
virtually no viable programmes that directly aim to attack mass
poverty , or to further the emancipation and motivation of the masses.
The fledgling programmes of the Sukarno era - such as the Lembaga
Sosial Desa or LSD (community development), basic health, lower
agricultural education, and redistribution of land - have dissipated, and
the nation -buildin g and hope-giving slogans of yesteryea r have made
place for 'bureaucratic capitalist' and technocratic programmes of
development that suffocate the energy and the potential of the masses.

Planning decisions are inspired by foreign ideas abo ut eco nomic

and material development. 4 These ideas are translated by 'technocrats'
into models of planning and targets , irrespective of kasar conditions.
Planning and development programmes are consequently out of touch
with the lowly material and social foundations of society. The elites
want to reach targets, not to develop the masses. They want money,
power, and privilege and are little interested in basic social development.
Their preoccupation with status and hierarchy further leads to a static
view of the soc ial order and a style of development planning that aims
at the maintenance of the social status quo, whereas planning and
programmes that aim at basic soc ial change or the redistribution of
power, income , and resources remain co nspicuously absent.
In this process, elites and masses have grown dangerous ly apart.
The elites are in the happ y circumstances of comb inin g the elegance of
Javanese thinking with high status , power , and privile ge. As the rulers
of their neo-colonial estate, 5 the y are far removed from the plight of

4. Th e dependence on foreign ide as about development and moderniza iion

in Ind o nesia is well elaboraied and illu strated by Evers [ 1973] , Lid dle
[ 1973], and Ward [ 1974].

5. Van Doo rn has compared the style of governmen t and developmeni of the
Suharto New Order ad mini strati on with the style of the fo rmer Dutch
colonial administration. He sees stron g ,-,arallels between the period befor e
1942 and the period af ter 1965. ow as well as then, econom ics and
tec hn ocra iic decisi on making domina te the sty le of gove rnment and
materi al development to ihe detriment of political development;
mechanisms of control originate at the top and are forcefully implemented;
the Indonesian military has taken over the ta sks and the posiiions of
the pre-war Binnenlands Bestuur (Dutch internal administrat ion ) th at
guaranteed the political and admin istrative integrity of the terri tory ; the
seco nd echelon of administrators is st rongly tied to the local and region al
levels; the military style of internal admin istrati on, the circu lati on of
personnel through th e ranks and administrative units, and the emphasis on
esprit de corps are simil ar io the style of the Dut ch; altogether thi s style
has revived the administrative dualism of the colonial period. The regime
has been and is primarily interested in guaranieein g law and order wi th the
purpose of favouring an economic -capitalistic style of development; the
regime is apo litical and technocratic, and very suspic ious of revolutionary
ambitions; soc ial rad icalism is suspec t and forbidden in its o rganized forms;
risks are to be avoided and soc ial unrest need s to be suppressed
immediately. Because of the se parallels between th e co lonial and th e
present s~tuati on, van Doom proposes the view that the period from
I 942-65, which was characte riz ed by instab iliiy and turmo il, was an inter -
mezzo in the pattern of continuity in Indone sia's socia l and political
system [1973:76-77] .

the poor, while still operating well within the limits of Javanese co ncep-
tions. They are the ha/us people who can remain quiet and secu re, as
long as the commo n man remains quiet in his suffering .
The masses also find meaning in the Javanese world view and its
ethic . There is no shortage of reasons to explain suffering and a low
posit ion. The strong emphasis on the nonentity of the ind ividual, the
values of ngeli (giving way, flowing with the st ream), of na r ima
(acceptance), sabar (patience), and the idea of cosmic inevitab ility - all
of these give strong support to the wisdom of passive endurance in the
hope of better times to come .

The Cultural Dynamics of Contemporary Javanese Society

In the cultural analyt ical idiom, ideas , concept ion s, and values comp rise
th e notion of culture . Culture is thought to struc ture perception, and
serves as a guide to action and it s interpretation. Because of culture, we
think to understand life and are thus able to locat e ourselves some-
where in its meaningful 'logical ' stru cture . To have cu ltur e means to
make orde r out of chaos , and it is the most dist inctive human qualit y
[Geertz, 1973: ch.2 and 3) .
One of the most interesting qualities of the Javanese is that the y
are very consc ious of what cultur e mean s to soc ial life. The noti on
'durung Jawa ', that is, 'not yet a Javanese', 'n ot ye t cultured' , applies
to child ren and foo ls, and renders in a nutshell the extreme conscio us-
ness that the Jav anese share fo r what it means to have cultur e and to be
human .
If this sounds too much as an anthropological abstraction, it ma y
be worthwhile to recall one of my interviews during my visit to a Samin
commu ni ty near Kudus (Mulder , 1974) . There I had the privilege of
interviewing a man over ninety years old, who responded to my
question whether the Samin comm unit y believed in God : 'Ah , Tuan
(Sir) , for people who believe in God , God is a realit y; for us people who
do not believe, he simply is not the re.' Thi s old illiterate peasan t was
entirely conscious of the role that ideas play in our construction of
reality (Ber ger and Luclcmann , l 967 ] ; he did not believe in God and
cou ld formu late it s consequences.
This was not a unique expe rience . On the whole, the Javan ese
ll impressed me with their very high consciousness of what it means to
be Javanese. What does it mean to be Dut ch , American, or Thai? Most
ofte n , it is the anthropologist who ne eds to formulate the underlying
ideas of our social action and consequentl y , they become a scientist's

j abstractio n. In J ava, however , the anthrop ologist need not abstract tha t

much because people are able to simply tell him - they have reflected
about the meaning of life and the me aning of their actions, and they are
co ns cious that to be human means t o be cultured .
In the present stud y, I have focused on the idea s that are
contained in kebat inan, and I have paid little o r no attention to the
othe r materials that I gathered abo ut the abangan style of life o r my
int e rviews with staunch Muslim s, Christians of various denominat ions,
avowed Hin dus and Buddhists, and thoroughly secular representatives
of J avanese cul ture. This p ro cedure was certainly not insp ir ed by their
social irr elevance but by the fact that their ways of thinking - not as a
theology but as a vision of life - had so much in common and were so
'J avanese' as I came to understand the term , that befo re long I became
more interested in the ir similarit ies than in th eir pecu liariti es . With my
preconceptions about n at ional aliran, I soon ran into serio u s difficult ies
in understanding my tw o santri teachers of In do n esian. If they were
reai santri - as they we re on all cou nt s - what then was a Ja vanese
abangan like? In sp ite of theological differences and differences in
group identification . I became more and more impressed by the sha red
culture and its bu ild ing stones. Exempted from this generalization may
be a certain Muslim int olerance that was relativel y rare in Yogya . What
struck me most were the referents to a common a:id widely -shared
Javanese identity that seemed to be best exp ressed in current kebatinan
thinking . Kebatinan became therefore the generic type of Javaneseness,
rather than the monopoly o f thos e who act ively engaged in it s practice .
As a storehouse of Javanese meaning in life, its theory seemed to be
as follows.


In the desc rip t ion of the mystical world view , we have noted the
Javanese preocc up at ion with unity and one ness . Javanese unity is n ot
unitedness but the more esse nti al notion of th e basic oneness of the All ,
in which const ituent parts are merely apparent as separate eleme nt s.
The essence of unit y is the re fore the concept ion that it forms a co -
ordinated compe llin g whole, a functionally in tegrated syste m , bulat
(complete in itself), encompass ing the kasar (gross) and the halus
(refined) , th e ratio (rational) and the rasa (intuitive ), the lahir (external)
and the batin (internal). All partake in the unity of existence , co -
ord in ated, h ie rarchica!J y related , and preferably in quiet harm o nious
equil ibrium .

These not ions perva de the practice of kebatinan, enac ting thi s
world view and projec t ing it on earth as a beneficial white magical
influence. The same notions colour Javanese ethic and attitude to
life. In the m usyawa rah process of decis ion making, the co -ordinated
hierarchical oneness of the group is expressed by the mufakar, or
unanimous decision; the harmonious unit y of the group is expressed
in the ideal and practice of gotong royo ng, or the mutual assistance
between equals and hierarchically non-equals, and also in its rukun
These ideas affect the conception of th e individual : the indi -
vidual person should be a co -ordinated and ham1onious part of his
unitary group, and Javanese culture appears to abandon its indiv iduals
in the social dimension yet recog nizing personality and individual
pursuits. Javanese etiquette gives the individual a means to hide and
safeguard himself; as long as he does not disturb harmony and seeming -
ly co-operates, he is allowed a certain privacy . This becomes especially
clear in the hiera rch ical dimensions of social and cosmological order. A
resourceful personality may establish himself as a leader and benefit
from his privilege of superior hierarchical position; as long as he acts
as a benevolent patron, he has certain privileges of tolerated deviancy .
Personality exp ression is more generally accepted in the essentially
hierarchical, private , and vertical domain of kebatinan mysticism.
While its disturbing and dangerous black magical possibilities are
condemned and even illegal, the indiv idual is free to seek self-express ion
in his relat ionship with the Nurninous. 1
Mysticism and personality expression notwithstanding, Javanese
conceptions of order appear to be very orderly indeed. By establish -
ing co -ordination, coincidence should follow as a compelling logic. The
strong ritualistic flavour of Javanese life, the security in halt ing and
delineating the time flow by establishing its co-ord ina tes, 2 the inte r-

I. Exceptions to this rule are provided by dogmatic adherents to the Middle-

Eastern religions who find a danger to established truth and orthodoxy in
the pursuit of individual ' non -o rth odox ' re ligious expression. Their
intol e rance expresses politica l cleavage and a relative minority position
more than Javane se religi ous thinkin g.

2. A modem variant of 'hal tin g and delineating the tim e flow by establish ing
its co-o rdinates ' that is especially popular among the military and th e
police is the evaluation of siruasi dan kondisi, sikon for short (conditioned
situatio ns) according to circumstances only, without regard for principles
and consequences . Guided by quesiions such as 'who has the power?',

pretation of signs and symbol s, and the love of their manipulation, the
convict ion that lottery is predictable, and the security of prophecy -
all tend to indicate that Javanese time flows from one predetermined
condition to the other. Basically, there is nothing new - although not
necessarily a repetition of events - but rather, a spiralling progression
from one in evitable cond ition to the next, with the presen t a hardly
worthwhile ye t necessary step.
The present is cons idered a stop on a bus route, an irrelevant
clement in understanding how th e bus moves from an origin to a
destiny. We travel alo n g as passen gers, knowing that there is a plan
with great rea so ns, but somehow ignorant of them. The nation will be
just and it will prosper - that is, along where the route is leading -
but individual lives and five-year plan s are merely stops along a long
Man is part of the secret of Order and at the same time, far
divorced from the revelation of its mystery . Th e present abangan
Javanese -Indonesian leadership finds inspiration in the old mys tical
heritage, much like the sultans of olde n days [Moertono , 1968 ]. Top
generals regularly spend the night in meditation at mystically auspic ious
places such as the Cua Lang sih grotto at Par angtr it is, or the Dieng
Plateau in the mountains, in order to receive isyarat, pet unjuk , or
wahyu (divine guidance) wh ich will result in kawicaksanan, or wisdom
and cosmic insight into the course of the nation . Man is not alone , but
a very element of o rde r, a part of it , co-Ordinated in a hierarchical 1
sys tem of oneness . The ke y question is whether he is in harmony with
th e all-enc ompa ssing order.

Within the confines of Javanese cultu re as we studied it from
the conceptions of kebatinan mysticism, thr ee processes of change seem
to indicate dev iation from its te nets . Is the in dividual still in harmony
with the all-enco mpassing onene ss of ex ist ence? Ho w are concept ions
of social oneness and harmon y evolving? Are batin, ha/us, and rasa
co nceptions still holding their dominance over lahir, kasar, and ratio?
The kebatinan world view sees the mo ral task of man as the
pu rsuit of harmony w ith ultimate oneness, t o which he is subo rdinated
as a servan t to his Master ; it recommends the superiority of the batin

'where is the money?', 'what are the ranks of the perso ns involved?', etc.,
this cynical oppo rtunism of evaluating judicial cases as accomplished facts
is known as sikonisme.

over the lah ir , the rasa ove r the ratio, and the ha/us realm ove r k asar
existence . As a moral paradigm for world ly existence, Java nese ethics
translates as the care fo r harmonious community life to wh ich the
individual is subordinated and to wh ich he should sacrifice his own will
and desires, recommend in g attitudes of self -sacrifice and wit hd rawal,
of communal oneness of feeling and will, of moderation and modesty . these and othe r wo rld view related not ions, the p rocess o f
change could be meaningfully analysed.
The pe rsistence of thinking and value system seems to lie in
its possibility to retract to smaller units of soc ial inte rcourse. Where as
mystically, it prese nts the Javanese with a mode to understan d the
relationship between man and cosmos and ethically, with a mode to
understand the relationship between ind ividual and state, the act ive
mode of operatio n and rad ius of action have devolved more and mo re
to the less inclusive social units of relatives and patronage groups .
Significant social change may be persistently exp lained in
Javanese tem1s . The in stability of social life, of hopes and expectations
in the last thirty -five years has given people the idea that they ex -
perience a zaman edan, an unsettled period, the signs of which are
nyara (evident). This is not so much because of conflict, political,
religious, social, or otherw ise but because indiviriuals do not respect the
o rder , think themselves to be more important than social harmony , and
do not follow the moral and ethical recommendations. The lahir
appears to dominate the barin, the rati o the rasa, and material
conditions the refined realm of ha/us criteria.
Basically th is is what it must be , because it cannot be otherwise:
the times being modern , disorderl y , and materialistic, society is com -
pelled to follow suit . Modernity must be mengisi (filled in) and soc ial
conditions cannot bu t cocok (fit) these times . Modern times mean
material accomplishment , or pembangunan, that is, visible material
manifestations of the times. Modern times also mean individual
rr,obility , the upsetting of the harmonious social whole, frustrated
feelings, and lack of a sense of social well -being.
Modern times as a zaman edan mean that the order is broken. In
normal times , the order is one .. l\n order that is one means a 'sacred'
order , an order of harmony where individuals know their place and
respect hierarchy and harmony; it is the order where morality prevails.
Nowadays, a non -sacred order seems to emerge. that is characterized
by essentially secular perceptions . The individual fights fo r himself and
may think in terms of his own betterment , isolated from rukun con -

siderations. He strives fo r material satisfaction, uses his rario or aka!

instead of his rasa, and thinks that reality is in lahir manifestations
while he forgets about his batin reality.
Yet, has he realJy forgotten? Has the kasar reality really replaced
halus understanding? In the instances of modern individual and material
expression, this seems to be the case, but the ways of handling order
or disorder can often be understood in Ja vanese tem1s again. The
rulers remain in touc h with ultimate reality and search for wahyu or
divin e guidance . The way in which the technocrats in1pose their magic
formulae is reminiscent of the old belief that once the inspired co -
ordinates and words have been established, kasar reality has to follow
suit . Whereas leaders tend to become managers , they would prefer to
be seen as charismatic Bapak; while some indi viduals try to live up to
modern secular norms, they feel most fulfilled at home in their rukun
communities . Last but not least, there is the nation-wide and steadily
growing popularity of kebatinan.

Kebatinan Reconside red

The revival and steady growth of kebatinan mysticism in ind e-

pendent Indonesia is as much a part of change as a reaction against
disorder. It draws much of its inspiration from the old pre-Islamic
Javanese Hindu-Buddhist anin1istic heritage in its attempts to give
indigenous meaning to life in the modern situation. This does not mean
that mysticism is the exclusive preserve of the Javan ese. Mysticism is
an old and widespread phenomenon through the Indonesian archipelago
(Hadiwijono , 1967] , but its organized revival origin ated in Java. In its
expans ion to other, non -Javanese areas, organized mysticism is
becoming national in scope.
While it is possible that kebarinan is espec ially popular among the
overseas' Javanese in the Out er Islands (non-Java), indications are that
all kinds of Indonesians are attracted to its style of thinking that
resounds a primordial string in their hearts. Excepted from this thinking
are - sometin1es fully but mostly as a matter of deg ree - those
segme nts of the population, whether in Java or outside of it, for whom
Islam has grown to become the dominant force. These Muslin1s may
oppose mysticism as being heterodox, yet in much of their thinking,
they appear to be guided by comparable notions of unity and harmony
and the intin1ate relationship between the human condition and God 's
will. Most santri are perfectly understandable within the wider Javanese -
Indonesian framework of perceptions. If I had not been familiar with

the kebatinan world view and its mystical practice, I could never have
made sense of my observations of quasi-mystical zikir and recitation
practices in various pondok-pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) in
East Java , The orthodox Muslims' main differences pertain to the ir
rejection of the mystical notions of hierarchy, oneness with 'God', rasa
over aka! (rationality), and an absence of tolerance for truth outside
Islam. Their minority point of view and their self-imposed fortification
within their ummat (religious community) seem to isolate these
most orthodox Muslims from the Indonesian mainstream, reducing
them politically to a defensive hardcore minority [Emmerson , 1976:
101-14] .3
Because of these reasons, it seems likely that the abangan style
of thinking, as exemp lified by kebarinan mysticism, may hold the key
to the understanding of Indone sian thinking . While there is a strong
current of more secular thinking, basic cognitive and affective
orientations will remain anchored in primordial truth, albeit possibly
devoid of cosmic referents. As much as one cannot understand secular
North Western Europe or orth America - its feelings of sin and guilt,
its sense of mission and this -worldly activity - without understanding
its Protestant heritage, one cannot understand modem Ind onesia
without taking the thorough influence of mystical conceptions of
existence , its inherent syncretism, and its s,iiritual tolerance into
It is therefore fully justified to interpret the resurgent kebatinan
phenomenon as a means to deal with the present by a revival of con-
scious cultural identity. The practice of kebarinan provides the individ-
ual with a counterpoint experience in a time flow that upsets values,
norms, and expectations. It anchors the individual experience in higher
truth , and so contributes to restore psychic equilibrium; it also helps
the individual to stand on his own feet vis-a-vis the adversities and
vicissitudes of everyday experience. On the other hand - and this
should be made explicit - the kebatinan teachings and all that they
entail leave one alone if one searches for clear recommendations for

3. During ihe campaign for the 1977 elections, the united Muslim party
Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP) skilfully exploited the religious issue.
Choosing the Ka'bah (the holiesi shrine oflslam in Mecca) as iheir elec tion
symbol, religion and politics were once again strongly identified. They
polled 29.5 per cent of the vote (27.1 per cent in 1971) - a percentage
thai certainly include s the votes of many who are merely disaffected with
the New Order government This percentage seems therefore a fair re-
flection of the maximum strength of orthodox Islam in Indonesia.

the kebatinan wo rld view and its mystical practice, I could never have
made sense of my observations of quasi-mystical zikir and recitation
practices in various pondok-pesanrren (Islamic boarding schools) in
East Java. The orthodox Muslims' main differences pertain to their
rejection of the mystical notions of hierarchy, oneness with 'God' , rasa
over aka! (rationality), and an absence of tolerance for truth outside
Islam. Their minority point of view and th eir self-imposed fortification
within their ummat (religious community) seem to isolate these
most orthodox Muslims from the Indonesian . mainstream, reducing
them politically to a defensive hardcore minorit y. [Emmerson , 1976:
101-14] . 3
Because of these reasons, it seems likely that the abangan style
of thinking, as exemplified by kebatinan mysticism, may hold the key
to the understanding of In dones ian thinking. While there is a strong
current of more secu lar thinking, basic cognitive and affective
orientations will remain anchored in primordial truth , albeit poss ibly
devoid of cosmic referents. As much as one cannot understand secular
1 orth Western Europe or North America - its feelings of sin and guilt ,
its sense of mission and this-worldly activity - without understanding
its Protestant heritage, one cannot understand modern Ind ones ia
without taking the thorough influence of mystical conceptions of
existence , its inherent syncretism, and its spiritual tolerance into
It is therefore fully justified to interpret the resurgent kebatinan
phenomenon as a means to deal with the present by a revival of con-
scious cultural identity. The prac tic e of kebarinan provides the individ-
ual with a counterpoint experience in a time flow that upsets values,
norms, and expectations. It anchors the individual experience in higher
truth , and so contributes to restore psychic equilibrium; it also helps
the individual to stand on his own feet vis-a-vis the adversities and
vicissitudes of everyday experience. On the other hand - and this
should be made explicit - the kebatinan teachings and all that they
entail leave one alone if one searches for clear recommendations for

3. During the campaign for the 1977 elections, the united '.vluslim party
Parrai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP) skilfully exploited the religious issue.
Choosing the Ka'bah (the holiest shrine of Islam in Mecca) as their election
symbol, religion and politics were once again strongly identifi ed. Th ey
polled 29.5 per cent of th e vote (27 .1 per cent in 1971) - a percentage
that certainly includ es the vo tes of many who are merely disaffected with
the New Order government This percentage seems therefore a fair re-
flection of the maximum strength of orthodox Islam in Indonesia.

material existence and for the develo pm ent of socially active individual
express ion .
Th e strength of kebatinan teac hin gs, that in their essentials refer
back to a magical anim istic and sync re tist world view, seems to be
particularly relevant in its 'fit with the times'. If religious express ion is
understood as reflecting dynamic social co nditions, then kebatinan
thinking is most timely. As an individual religious expression, kebatinan
links individual experience direct ly to higher truth , without inter-
ference of a religious commu nit y o r even the mys tical group itself. The
mystical way is essentially an individual pursuit for o rder, leavin g social
chaos and unpredicta bility beh ind . The estab lished great religion s all
imposed a message of o rder over primordial , ad _hoc, and whimsical
animistic wo rld views, and for a long historical period, social life could
be meaningfully interpreted in terms of a stable sacred order. Th e
advent of modernity did away with this idyll. In the absence of a stable
soc ial order, the promise of the great religions dwindled , and more
animistic and individual-centred religious exp ressions began once again
to flourish. This appears to be a world -wir\e phenomenon wherever
modernity makes it s impact.
Pietistic individual -centred religious expression or exp ressions of
magical animism appear to hold much attraction whe n social life and
economic orde r have seemi n gly become un predictable and chaotic.
Religiously, indiv idual security lies once more in the t rust in a personal
relationship with the ultimate or in an ad hoc relat ionship with the
forces that rule. In both these respects, kebatinan and its related
magical animistic thinking make sense in this modern wo rld.

The Meaningful Structure of Javanese Experience

In the human life situation, we live with ideas, other people ,

ourselve s, and the material environment. Our relationships with these
fou r realms of expression structure our experience and outlook. For
instance , a person may be a socialist, a labour leader, a self-reliant
personality, and may love to wo rk his garden ; or, a perso n may believe
in fortune telling, may be a prostitute, ha te herself, and spend all
her m oney on clothes. At th e level of the individual, these relationships
may serve our self-definition.
At the social level, these relationships are also defined and given
meaning by th e values , conceptions , and ideas that our culture attrib-
utes to these relationships in gene ral and in their aspects . For instance,
a nice person believes in God, is submissive to his superiors, does not

assert himself, and should never to be seen working with his hands.
Culture is normative, shared, and gives meaning to our actions in the
social context. In proposing the concept of the 'meaningful structure of
experience', I want to summarize what Jav anese culture tells about the
desirable relationships to those four realms of experience, sometimes
looking for sustaining evidence in the individual experience, and some -
times comparing with other meaningful structures of experience
(cultures) for the sake of contrast and clarification.
We have noted a strong preference in Java for speculative, non-
empirical thinking . Ideas seem to derive from higher or inspired halus
sources, such as 'God ', revelation , inspiration, the elegance of pre-
sentation , analogy , unanimity , a person higher in the hierarchy or a
guru , and in the case of development planning , from theory and
practice abroad. Such ideas are validated by the rasa or intuitive inner
feeling , and in the arena of practical decision making, it lends them
the aura of magical formulae.
In contrast , the material world - that serves as a source of
inspiration and the foundation of modern Western scientific develop-
ment - has no inherent interest. In Javanese thinking , the material
world is negatively valued: the emphasis is on batin, rasa, and halus
considerations while moving away from the material environment that
is expressed in the notions of lahir, ratio, and kasar. A person may
achieve in the realm of refined thinking , mysticism, art / inspired
speculation , or by knowledge of history, religion, literature, and culture.
All these enterprises carry prestige and are socially highly valued.
In these culturally valued pursuits, the Javanese individual is given
a vast domain of self-expression and self-realization. Yet, since most
individuals are neither accomplished mystics nor literati, they need
to express themselves in other ways that tend to be eminently social .
Whereas Javanese tolerance for divergent ideas borders on the pro-
verbial, such ideas should no t interfere with what is considered the
good social orde r ; the order of society is a moral order on which the
individual should not impose himself.
In Javanese culture , social life is characterized by prestige,
honour, privilege, power , and submission in its hierarchical dimensions,
by gotong royong, rukun, and stringent social control in its more
horizontal dimensions. Where these two dimensions mesh, they should
be harmoniously co-ordinated in a smooth unity. The individual should
lie low and certainly not thwart the smoothness of process by exe rtin g
his will or private opinion. Individuals should primarily be group
members, and their expression of individuality should be the expression

of their group. At the very least, he should avoid all overt expression of
conflict. The individual who wants to achieve on his own terms, or who
is overtly critical of the social order, is little appreciated and preferably
isolated from the social process .
To the Western reader, this importance and power of society over
the individual may sound terrible. To most Javan ese, however, individ-
ual and group do not entail the mutually exclusive categories of
Western culture, and personal , social, and cultural characteristics are
intimately related. Apart from the vertical dimensions of culture, there
is an absence of emphasis on individual identity pe r se, and one com-
promises or conforms easily to the opinion of others. On the other
hand, the realm of society is of most absorbing interest: the desire to
be a social somebody, to hold honour, rank, prestige , and power, to
be higher and closer to social truth, motivates the behaviour of those
who want to achieve. Social prestige and power motivations are the
achievement motivations par excellence. For those who have chances
for social mobility , the means are better education, the cultivation of
connections , political agility, and the development of leadership
capacities. They essentially manipulate socio -political comparative
advantage, but not by the demonstration of inherent individual merit
o r by their excellence in doing a material job: it is social cleverness that
pays .
To most Westerners - or Japanese for that matter - the world of
things is of an absorbing interest. Things are fun to play with , to
manipulate, and the mastery of things , technological skill, and interest
in the material environment are culturally valued . The physical, or
non-human environment [Searles, 1960] is defined as a worthwhile
challenge, and it s skilful manipulation a source of prestige. In the
Christian teachings, the material world is even defined as the field
where one should work 'in the sweat of one's brow' for the glory of
God. The material world is a field to be confronted head -on, not in
order to accumulate possessions, but to work and to master. In Weber's
analysis of the Protestant ethic [1956], ascet ism in this world, com -
bined with rational mastery of matter, may even lead to pros~e rity as
an indication of salvation, irrespective of wider social conditions.
This Christian emphasis on the relationship of the individ ual to
the world of matter as a valid religious expression is foreign to the
Javanese view of meaningful experience. In the Javanese world view
individual autonomy and social self-expression, and an active relation-
ship to the world of matte r are negatively valued. Javanese thinking

does not attrib ut e positive meaning to individual autonomy, or to a

direct confrontation with th e world of things .
This absence of a pos itive relationship to individuality and matter
is correlated and possibly strongly sustained by early childhood ex -
periences. Whereas in Western socialization practice, the small ch ild is
encouraged to crawl, to find solutions to its imm ed iate problems while
being left to its own devices, the J avanese child is denied these pleasures
of se lf-assert ion and self-discovery . Its env ir onment is most warm ly
social : it is carried around in a selendang (sling) up to the age of two,
tended to at its minor signs of discomfort, and denied the oppo r-
tunities to explore its individuality. and to discover the world of things.
The material world of the small Ja vanese child is extremely
limited: whe reas children of its age in Europe or J apan are already
playing with building blocks, elementary puzzles, and other tech -
nologically or constructively challenging t oys, th e former is still carried
around and kept at a distance from its material environment . The
natural drive for thing manipulation and env ironmental discovery and
the drive for a certain self -assertion and autonomy are conseque nt ly
frustrated, and w ill not develop naturally into sources of security.
Security needs will therefore be fulfilled almost entirely by attachment
to, and depende ncy on, the human environment. It thus appears that
early socialization practices reinforce the cu ltural direction that
attributes little or negat ive meaning to both individual autonomy and
the mate rial world.
For the J avanese, the world of matter is not int erpreted or given
meaning in its own terms or as a challenge, but rather serves as a social
appendage. Things are attributed soc ial symbolical meaning and lack
intrinsic interest. Moral individual autonomy is valued in its mystical
d im ensions but socially , there is little value on, or trust in , individual
autonomy: morally , the indivi dual should y ield to the group.
The forces of modernity and the desi re for development have not
bypassed Indonesia. Becau se their own culture did not provide meaning -
ful guidelines t o deal with its requisites, such as a certain indi vidual
aut ono my and a positive relationship to the material world , Ind onesians
had to resort to other universes of meaning, where such meaningful
guidelines have been developed. Consequently, Indonesians have tu rned
to rather far -fetche d and most often ill-undnstood Western cult ural
models of individual autonomy and the hanc!Jing of the material world .
On the one hand, Indon esians want to be modern and to develop
their country; on the other, they are highly conscious of the threat that
the forces of modernity and development spell to their own cu lture ,

its social fabric, and their way of life. This consciousness is evident
from the seemingly unending debate about the meaning of modern
Indonesia, the kepribadian nasional, the adaptat ion to modernity,
secularization, and about what to accept and what to reject from the
package of modernity .
These discussions date back to the early twentieth-century
movements of religious, cultural, and national awakening and are
clearly expressed in the thinking of l(j Had jar Dewantoro of the Taman
Siswa school movement and the widespread polemik kebudayaan
(cultural polemic) of the colo nial days . But while much literature has
since been produced on this topic , Indonesians still appear to be con-
fused about which direction to take. While kebatinan movements do
revive cultural co nsciousn ess, their message has so far not formulated a
positive way to deal with individual or material modernity.
Most of the discussions appear to focus on the changing relation -
ship between individual and society. Individual autonomy is probably
seen as the greatest danger to any desirable orde r, whether on a micro
or macro level. The individual should be controlled, and cannot be
trusted . As an independ ent thinker or as a practitioner of klenik
mysticism, he may upset the social equilibrium and the status quo.
Opinions and individuals should be watched and controlled, periodicals
censo red , and 'democracy' guided. Negatively, this is expressed in the
criticism of hippy tourism, the fads and fancies of youth, and Western
life styles. According to Emmerson, there is little doubt 'in the opinion
of the vast majority of administrative and political leaders of all per -
suasions , that the people should be led and should t rust their leaders'
wisdom' (1976:206-10].
The leadership reas ons in the familiar terms of unity and oneness .
There are - or at least there should be - no classes . The people form
~ the 'float in g mass ' , about whom their inspired leaders will decide and

I whose AMPERA (message of suffering) is not heard. While these elite

co nceptions fit the old framework of thinkin g, the y overlook an

essential area that remains out of most discussions, namely, the
relationship of society to its material environment , such as for instance
the relationships of production, of poverty , wealth, and redistribution .
This latter area of the meaningful structure of experience has so
far remained outside' the culturally conditioned conscious ness , and is
thought to respond to some 'universal' economic laws about material
development, irrespective of people or culture. When culture fails to
guide thinking about matter , th en 'objecti ve' sociological inter -
pretations - such as for instance offered by historical material ism -

the Japanese finally decided to meet the West on its own terms, they
were eager to study and master Western technology and natural science,
in which they soon excelled - not because of sheer i.m.itation, but
because the love for objects and competence in the handling of the
world of matter are things that are positively appreciated in Japanese
culture. There , the material world is not a condition to move away
from , but a matter of inten se affective and cultu ral int erest.
I also reflected upon the material achievements of old China. By
the time that Western Europe had advanced to an interesting level of
what we would now call intermediate technology, th e Chinese had
already developed sophisticated agricultural and weaving technology,
the art of paper-making and printing, procelain manufacture , ocean
navigation , the compass, etc. (Ho, 1976]. The Chinese also made those
ingenious geometrical puzzles and concentrated on tang-ram, con -
sisting of seven planimetric forms with which one can depict an infinite
variety of things as a pastime. In their culture, object-directedness
obviously played an important and respectable role. The love for
objects and interest in material conditions that must also exist in
Chinese culture led me to hypothesize that the discovery and mastery
of technology is fostered by a positive interest in the material environ-
ment , and is a characteristic of both the sinicized culture area and the
Presently, the strongly sinicized cultures of the Far East have all
successfully begun to advance on the road to material progress and
industrialization irrespective of their political system , but all of them
are characterized by a high degree of social discipline. Whether we look
at Japan, South or North Korea , the People 's Republic of China or
Taiwan, Hongkong, Singapore, or North Vietnam , we cannot but be
impressed by their disciplined social organization and material advance.
When we look on the other side to the so-called Indianized states of
Southeast Asia and countries such as India, Sri Lanka , and Bangladesh,
we cannot fail to be impressed by their extremely slow advance in
mastering the material realities of development and their lack of soc ial
discipline. These same countries also set a prize on spirituality, and miss
the cultural emphasis on the mastery of material reality.
Among these Indianized cultures, the tolerance for personality
expression varies. The freedom of individual express ion in Thailand is

also isolated just this factor , that is, the interest in the 'thingly' environ-
ment and the manipulation of things as the probably crucial variable to
explain Java 's and Japan 's differential developments [ 1973:57].

a case in point, and stands in cont rast to the more socially bound
Javanese. Virtually all observers of Thai society [for example, Embree,
1950; Evers , 1969 ; Phillips , 1965] have been impressed by the
tolerance for personality expression and the individual autonomy of the
Thais. In spite of their individual autonomy, however , the Thais also
prefer to seek their material advance in the realm of politics and
patronage; they ach.ieve socially in order to advance materially - much
along the lines of the Javanese. 1n the Thai case, the tolerance for
individual autonomy has not led to material progress and development,
or the evolvement of an ethnically Thai class of entrepreneurs.
In the terms of an analysis of the 'meaningful structure of
exper ienc e', we can now advance the following logical possibilities. Ail
cultures stress the importance of ideas and socialness, but while some
cultures also emphasize the importance of individual autonomy and / or
the importance of the material environment , others do not. The
sinicized culture area appears to value the material environment, while
individual autonomy in the social realm is lowly or negativel y valued.
1n partly Indianized Thailand, tolerance for ind ividual autonomy
appears to be h.igh and is stimulated by a low measure of social control
and cul tu rally valued by the Th eravada Buddhist emphasis that man can
and should only rely on himself. In modern Western culture, all the
four referents of the meaningful structu re of c.xperien ce appear to be
culturally stimulated , and all four areas are e!ldowed with meaning.
They carr y each other in an intri cate balance of ideas that seems to be
the essence of modernity. For the pursuit of material development,
however, individual autonomy does not appear to be such a crucial
variable as it is often held to be. The crucial variable for material
advance seems rather to lie in the interest in the world of matter as an
autonomous and culturally valued meaningful area of activity and
A ppendix: A note on the Field Experience and Method of Work

For a study of the type presented in this report, it is necessary

to report the field experience of the researcher. The researcher is a part
of the total research situation and certainly not a me re catalyst between
'objective observations', the resulting reporting, and subseque n t
theoretical insights . While I think this to be true for almost every type
of sociological research, it is most appa rent in the situations whe re th e
investigator needs to involve himself with those he investigates , when
he employs a verstehen approach, and relies on the techniques of
participant obse rvation and open -ended interv iewing.
I tried to control researcher 's bias by watching myself carefully,
and it is justified to ask th e question: about whom did I learn more -
about myself or about my informants? I tried to separate the two
consistently, by evaluating my personal involvement while reassessing
the facts and their meaning, and recording them. I could go back to
my informants, ask again, rediscuss , and many of my formal interviews
have run into over thirty hours with one and the same informant. I
could check and modify my data and impressions with a multitude of
other participants in the J avanese syst em of life, against the data and
impressions of others, discuss them with university audiences and othe r
knowledgeable persons, and most pertinently, by tes ting them against
the system of Javanese life itself.
It is this last supposition - namely, that the data and obser -
vations are systematically related - that gives meaning to sociological
research and exploration. The data validate themselves when they fit an
overall Javanese theory of life, and when they do not, they should be
carefully evaluated as to what they do reveal. Have I derived these data
from an odd and 'except ional ' person? Have I misinterpreted it? Or did
I perhaps hit on a meaningful counterpoint, a co unt er trend, a
phenomenon of protest , and a less then fully institutionalized attitude
and opinion?
Some observatio ns appear to be trivial , and others may have been
overlooked because their meaning was unclear or deemed to be irrel-
evant. A researcher needs luck and in1agination; he must be awa re of
himself and curious to discover the unimagined. The least he needs is
the capacity to be amazed. After two months, I 'discove red' that most
people went barefoot or in plastic sandals . I had wanted to buy a box of
shoe-po lish in my neighbourhood store, where I was directed to the
better shops of Malioboro avenue; only then did I notice what I should
have known (the very word 'semir sepatu ' or shoe -po lish even being a

compo und of a Dut ch and a Por tugue se word 1) . It was on ly after eleven
months in the field that I co nsci ously noted attitudes towards the
mat erial enviro nment that struck me as interesting. Thus I must have
discovered and overlooked hundreds of potentiall y significant things.
On the other hand , I was fascinated wi th syste matic compre -
hension . For example, when I got some ideas abo ut leadersh ip from the
teachings of mysticism and the observation of th e behaviour of gu ,u
kebat inan, I went to check on other forms of leadership in different
situ at ions to find out whether the type of leadership obse rved in one
context (mysticism) was peculiar or gene ral. In th is way, I checked on
many observat ions: was it a pecu liar o r a gene ral phenomenon? How
was it mod ified in a different context? Was I able to understand the
newspaper in the context of Javanese understanding? By ap pl ying thi s
technique of checki ng obse rvat ion s in one part of-the system against
other pa rt s of the system , the obse rvations gained or lost the ir validit y
in explai ning elements of Javanese life . Another techniq ue that I
exp loited was to check my un derstanding by experimenting with
Javanese perception. Could I predict the lottery in an acce ptabl e way?
Could I co nvin ce people of my mystically supe rior stat us? Would the y
believe in my manipulation of kris and the success of my meditation?
Would they react seriously to articles that I contr ibuted to the news -
paper and in which I applied the laws of Ja vanese 'logic'? 1
For my reporting, I often had to rely on the vernacula r (Javanese
or Indonesian), approximating the meaning of concepts by expla nation
and description , because straight translations would have rob bed such
concepts of their intricate mea ni ng . Thi s does not make the data
'objective' in the sense of being easily com p arable with othe r, non-
Yogyanese or no n-Javanese systems. Yet , mean in gful cultural theories
can only build up from the field and can never be deduced from 'grand'
theories that are of limited validity in explai nin g everyday life.

The Re search in Yogyak arta

Th e reasons fo r my going to Yogya are simple enough. I was

acquainted with the Dean of the Faculty of Lit era tu re and Culture of
Gadjah Mada Un iversity who had encouraged my visit . Mo reover, by
the time I arrived in Yogya , it was still unc er tain whether my research
would be supported , and I looked for an inexpensive place to stay;

1. See , for example , 'Mengenai Arti Kata " Hippie",' Merrju Suar 5/ 82,
17 Djuli 1970. p. 3.

Yogya had been recommended for its lo w cost of living. Finall y, I

needed to begin somewhere and Yogya seemed to be well chosen
because of its universities and librari es. Initiall y, I looked at Yo gya as
a place of exploration where I should learn the language and identify
a relevant and feasible problem and a locale for my research. After all,
my preconceived study about the national aliran was open -ended and
needed to be cut down to a manageable size.
The sruft of attention from a social organizat ional study to
research about the cultural and 'subjective' aspects of life did not catch
me by surprise . I had gone through a similar experience in Thailand in
1965-66 , when I collected material about Thai Buddhi sm and its
possible significance for national development. But while my reporting
from Thailand still shifted between a cultural and a struct ural approach
[Mulder , 1973b) , in Yogya I decided that I should leave structural and
organizational considerations behind until I would be able to grasp
the cultural element first. Finall y, the study did not advance beyond
that problem.
During the period of exploration, I studied the Indonesian
language intensively. For a study of Javanese culture, a good command
of Javanese might have been more appropriate than fluency in
Indonesian. Yet in Yogya , this was not immediately apparent beca u se
most of my early informants were well -informed, educated opinion
leaders who could express themselves well in Indonesian and often even
in Dutch. Because I was initially interested in national processes of
political integration and development, and also because of the paucity
of recent literature in Javanese, the knowledge of Ind onesian seemed to
be well chosen. It is the working language of the nation, and even
certain Javanese poets such as Rendra express themselves in the
national language. Also , most of the recent literature on kebatinan
mysticism is available in Indonesian. For village research , or research
among the lower classes, Jav anese is a must, however; in such situatio ns,
I had to rely on interpreters.
Meanwhile , I checked the libraries for those pre -war materials
about J avanese culture with which I was not familiar. I read through
the available dissertations and other works of Jie Leyden school of
Javanists and the works and commentaries of missionaries. All these
were greatly helpful in forming my early thinking and interpretations,
but they also constituted a danger of which I soon became aware. The
works of the Leyden school most often concentrated on old Javanese
texts and the analysis of court culture and history, while the mission -
aries tended to approach their subject from a comparative theological

point of view . Virtuall y none of tho se wo rks we re based on sociological

field observations, and I found them rather far divorc ed from the living
reality that I witnessed. Thes e works were elegant as hist orical theory ,
often ethnocentric and colonial in th eir evalu ative aspects, and very
repetitious in the treatment of their subject matter. Initiall y, I found
them of grea t help in understanding, only to become aware that they
we re writt en from a state of mind, and about situations that were
rather far removed from the conditions of the present.
After three months in Yogya , I decided to stay there. I left my
temporary quarters in the princely dalem (compound) Tedjukusama n
and moved to a very big house at the edge of the k raton of Paku
Alaman, facing a conservative urban kampung. I felt relieved at leaving
my fonne r quarte rs whe re I had been severely restricted in my privacy ,
and I looked forward to having a place enti rely my own . Within two
weeks in my new house , I knew that I should abandon that illusion.
Privacy is a scarce good in Java; I felt watched , talked abo ut , unfr ee,
and suddenly it was as if I could not breathe any lon ger. In the same
town and with the same people wit h wh om I had felt thoroughly at
home and happy, I suddenl y felt miserable, lonely, and disgusted , and
the lengthy research effort to come seemed an ordeal. In shor t , I
suffe red from an acute case of culture shock. I felt imprisoned in a
world of smiles, politenesses, and little irri ta n ts. I did not wan t to eat
my J avanese fare, to hear the lan guage, or to witness Yogyanese
manners. I disengaged myself and fled to Jakarta.
In Jakarta, I could speak Dut ch if I so desired. I could eat
different foo d, live a different kind of life , meet different peop le. I
spent three weeks in the capital and a few days in both Bogor and
Bandun g, interviewing a host of well-known political leaders ,
in tellec tuals, colleagues, and artists. It was a relati vely happ y period
during which I gained distance from my Yogyanese data and im-
pressions . Apart from my culture shock, I should make it clea r that I
never experienced so little anger and frust ration while staying in any
country fo r such a lengthy period. The cause of my frustration was
more with myself in adjusting to a stran ge experience than with the
cordial and hospitable Indonesians . When I had difficulties in findin g
my way, it was not because of those who treated me as their guest of
honour, but because of myself and my difficulty in adapting to a
style of life that was not mine .
My culture shock meant the end of the exploration. The decision
to end an exploration can be made for a variety of reasons: the weakest
is probably because of time schedule consid erations , the best because

one feels that one knows enough. It may also be when the urge to
interpret, to classify , and to analyse has become too strong in spite of
good phenome n ological intentions . In my case , it was culture shock
that necessitated taking a new approach after a most fruitfu l per iod of
exploration. When I came back to Yogya , my guard was still up and I
spent about three weeks at my writing-desk , tentatively piecing
together the material that I had since collected. From then on, I
conducted my research systematicall y and from a certain distance.
In the sixth month of my field research , I felt well adjusted and
at ease again. By that time, my command of Indonesian was good
enough to do some occasional lecturing at Gadjah Mada Un iversity, and
I could take on the systematic reading of local newspapers and national
periodi cals. I involved myself in a wide variety of religious and other
cultural manifestations, and I guided my interviewing and participation
in such a wa y that I received my impulses from students and established
leaders, from individual mystics and guru, from journal ists , artists ,
teachers, puliticians , Islamic leaders , parsons and priests , Buddhists
and Hindus , the academic community, army officers , and occasionally
While interviewing .on such emotional issues as religion and
mysticism , I soon d iscovered the rich source of data that one uncovers
by using a technique of 'anonymous confrontation' , in which I con-
fronted my informants with the ideas and prejudices that others held
about their group. I would, for instance , begin my interviewing with
some remarks about Catholic missionary activities when I wanted to
int erview a Muslim about Islam, or voice the Muslim opinion that
Buddhism is the religion of the communists when interviewing a
Buddhist. By contrasting and exploiting these sensitivities systema-
tically, I could achieve considerable depth, because it put inform an ts
initially in a somewhat defensive position. By becoming emotional and
mildly excited , people would relatively soon drop their guard and were
willing to give much information about themsel ves , their group , and
th eir religiou s or mystical practices and thinking .
In spite of their reputed tranquillit y, most of my Javanese infor -
mants appeared to be highly emotional about the issues that were really
important to them. While interviews about national development were
most often teclious and unrewarding , interviews about religion and
mysticism were generally laden with high emot ional conte nt. In those
latter interviews , we were talking about the really important dime nsions
of life, in which people held strong opinions and felt themselves

The research about kebatinan and other forms of religious ex-

pression took perhaps one -third of my time ; the rest was taken up by
participant observation and interviewing about the ordinary everyday
course of life , with spec ial interest in developmental matters. These
included child socialization and schoo lin g, political discussions and
observations in the market, the viewing of all kinds of performances,
the reading of newspapers , bein& attentive to gossip, travelling in the
countryside around Yogya , and loafing and gossipin g in coffee -shops.
The accessibility of my informants was astonishing . Especially
after 5 p.m., after the ritual period of resting, everybody seemed to be
available for interviewing, and many people liked this sign of personal
attention so much that I often ate my evening meal with them and
could only leave around midnight. Another fruitful period for a formal
o r informal chat was the early morning, between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.,
when almost everybody in Indonesia is available; especially in Jakarta,
with its more hectic pace of life , the early morning period proved to be
unusually rewarrung. It seemed that I could interview everyone whom
I wanted to , and the reception was always cordial and co-operative.
After eleven months in the field , I consciously abandoned the
approach from within and I began to develop systematic comparisons.
First I contrasted Ja vanese religious and mystical co nceptions with Thai
Buddhist conceptions (Mulder , 1974] ; the discovery of rufferem
emotional attitudes to the world of matter extended my comparisons
to Western and Japan ese experience. I began to construct typologies
of the meaningful structure of experience as heuristic devices.
In order to test my insights and interpretations, I embarked on
a series of fifty lecture hours for university audiences , and wrote a
series of articles for the cultural monthly Basis (Mulder, 1973a],
hoping to draw ruscussion and reactions from students , colleagues,
intellectuals, and other knowledgeable persons. These activities resulted
in refinement and depth . Yet by the time I left Indonesia, I was
exhausted and very much the prisoner of schemes of my own con -
coction. My Javanese categories seemed to be saturated , and I had lost
the capacity to ask new questions. Because open -mindedness had made
place for rigiruty , the decision to leave the field a few months before
schedule seemed justified.
I went to Thailand where I picked up my previous research on
Buddhist attitudes and development. Differences in perception and
behaviour we re as striking as certain similarities. Yet back home in
Amsterdam, I did not succeed in breaking through the deadlock ofmy

perceptions and interpretations. It was only after two new visits to

Indonesia - in 1971 as a United Nat ions ' official to study national
planning, and in 1973 to check on my previous findings - that I
achieved sufficient distance and clarity of mind to emba rk on this
report. I do not thi nk that the substance or its interpretations have
changed very much , but while writ in g I was more detached and less the
prisoner of Yo gya and my ideas about it.
Glossary of Javanese and Indonesian terms*

Abangan. A Javanese , nominally an adherent of one of the 'official'

religions, mostly Islam, in whose thinking and religious practices
old Javanese, animistic , Hindu and / or Buddhist elements co-exist
or predominate.

Aliran kebatinan. Contemporary mystical groups or sects, practising

kebatinan mysticism.

Aliran (national). Collective associations, or streams, in which ideo-

logical, mainly religious , orientations were organized and ex-
pressed in political parties and their sub-groups.

AMPERA. Amenat pendentaan rakyat, or the message of the suffering

of the people; an acronym coined by Sukarno , expressive of
concern for the masses.

Bapak. Literally, father; trusted leader, patron; man of resources.

Ba tin. The inner or spiritual aspect of one's personal existence; inner-

man, the secret place where man and 'God' may meet. Its instru -
ment is the rasa.

BKKI. Badan Kongres Kebatinan seluruh Indonesia, the Organizing

Body for the Convention of Kebatinan throughout Indonesia,
established in 19 5 5. Now replaced by SKK.

Gorong royong. Mutual help, the sharing of burdens; solidarity. A key-

stone of Javanese village ideology and a central ideological
element of Indonesian nation-building. See also: kepribadian
nasional, musyawarah, and rukun

l Guru. Literally , teacher, master, mentor. A p~rson of wisdom who

should be respected because of that wisdom; ideologically, a
guru is a person who can be trusted.

* (J) indicaies Javanese.


Ha/us. Ref111ed , ethereal, delicate, noble, cultured; spiritu al , subtl e. The

qualit y in life to search for. Opposed to kasar.

Hawa nepsu. The passions and lower senses.

Karm.a. The impersonal cosmic principle o f ju stice. This principle

determines one's fate as the fruit of previous ex istences; therefore
karma is also und erstood to mean one's fate , or lot, in one's
present existence.

Kasar. Gross, earthly , unrefined. The antip ode of ha/u s.

Keba tinan. Throughout this study : the practice of contemporary

Javanese mysticism as it appears in the aliran k ebatinan Also,
the cultu re of inner-man ; Javanese science; the essence of

K epribadian nasional. Literally, the national personality . The ideo-

logical definition of Indonesia's national charac ter and co re social
characte ristics.

Klenik. Black magical prac tices inspired by the hawa nepsu as opposed
to the batin.

Kraton Palace of king, or sult an.

Lahir. The outw ard, co rporeal aspects of existe nce, includin g ration-
ality , that tic a perso n to the phenomenal world. Complementa ry
to batin.

Musyawa rah. Process of common decision makin g in which all voices

and opinions should be heard and deliberat ed until a unanim ous
decision , mufakat, can be reached .

Narima (J). The atti tude of acceptance. Negatively, because of knowing

that one canno t fight superior power or circumstances, posi lively,
because of equanimi ty.

PAKEM. Pengawasan Aliran Kepercayaan Masyarakat, Supervision of

Belief Movements in Society. The official authority that watches
over new religions, mystical movements , etc., and their activities,
with the purpose to suppress religious or social unrest.

Pamrih (J) . Self-interest , ego-motives in the bad sense of the word.

Panca Sila.. The five principles of Indonesian nationhood , formulated

as: (1) belief in God , (2) national consciousness, (3) humanism ,
(4) social justice , and (5) sovereignty of the people. It is supposed
to be the 'philosophy' of the Indonesian nation; its interpretation
is vague, however , and always made to suit the point of view of
th e interpreter.

Pembangunan. Literall y, the act of building; national development.

Priy ay i. Originall y , those close to the ruling power, the lower nobilit y,
the kraton officials and administrators . Nowada ys, refined people ,
or just officials.

Pusaka. Holy heirlooms with protective power.

Rasa. 'Intuitive inner-feeling', the way to essential knowledge .

Rukun Harm ony, unity, of the same principle. The ideology of com-
munity , resulting in gotong roy ong.

Sanrri. Faithfully pract ising Muslim; originally and also, student of a

pondok -pesantr en

Selamatan. Ritual holy meal to ma rk an event and given to ensure

auspiciousness; it is most commo n am ong the abangan

I SKK. Sekrerariat Kerjasama an tar Kepercayaan - K ebatinan, Kejiwaan,

dan Kerohanian, Co-ordinating Secretariat of Belief Movements -
Kebatinan, Science of the Soul and Science of the Spirit. The
New Order successor of the BKKI, trying to organize and to co-
ord inate the kebatinan movements in their variety in one broad

Tapa. All forms of ascetism serving both white magical, or mystically

pure, and black magical, or klenik , purposes.

Wahyu. Divine revelation , supernatural blessing; mandate of 'God', the

essent ial characte ristic of a king, pres ident , or ruler.

Way ang. A puppet used in the shadow play performance (wayang

kulit) ; by extension, the performance itself. The wayang per-
formances deal with Javanese mytho logy which they 'project'
into this world; they are ritually and magically significant.
List of other terms relating to kebatinan and Javanese culture*
(with refe rence to the page where th e term is mos t fully exp licated)

adat 20 jagad cilik (J) 13

agama 8 jagad gede (J) 13
aka! 104-5 jiwa 19
akrab 39 jotakan (J) 57
amok 66 jumbuhing kawula Ian Gusti (J) 23
anak buah 27
andap-asor (J) kaget 39
asal Bapak senang kangen 39
asal dan tujuan 51 kaw icaksanan (J) 102
kebulatan fik iran 40
Bharata Yuddha 13 kebularan kehendak 40
Bima 22 kehidupan yang mumi 26
BimaSuci 22 kejawen (J) 26
budaya 39 kenyataan 15
bu lat 41 kepe rcayaan 8
ke ramat xiv
cakra manggi,/ingan (J) 15
ketentreman 58
cakravartin (J) 15
kewajiban 38
cocok 49
kiai 26
cukup 58
kodrat 25
darma 37 k rama (J) 61
dewa 22 kris 81
Dewa Ru ci 22 Kura wa 13
dukun 44 kuwalat (J) 61
durung Jawa (J) 38-39
lakon 22
etok-etok (J) 58 laku 23-25
latihan 28-30
hakekat 22 ludruk (J) xiv
hantu 49 lurah 78
hormat 40
Mahabharata 13
ikriyar 77 mah nfar 23-24
ilham 42 majikan 78
isin (J) 62 mamayu hayuning
isyarar 102 Buw ono (J) 36-38
mantra 51
* (J) indicates Ja vanese. masa bodo h 89

Menak 7 Sabdo Palon 7

mengisi 49 samadi 23-24
mufakar 40 Sang Hyang (J) 13
murid 50 Sang Hyang K esaktian (J) 13
sangkan-paran (J) 13
ngeli (J) 64
sasmito alam (J) 55
Nyai Laro Kidul 32 satru (J) 58
nyata 48
sederhana 84
ojok daku (J) 24 selendang 60
ojok kongas (J) 25 Semar Boyo ng 32
olah rasa 28-29 sepi ing pamn"h (J) 36-38
suara batin 44
pandita ratu (J) 15 sujud 28-29
Panji 7 sungkem (J) 43
Pendcrwa 13 syahadat 9
pe rkara 75
perkutut 44 tarekat 26
petungan (J) 31 tarekat, stage of 22
petunjuk 53 tascrwuf 20
pindah tangan 62 tatakrama (J) 20
pondok -pesant ren 105 ulama 8
prasaja (J) 21 ummat 57
prehatin 77 Urip (J) 15
primbon (J) 31
waspada-eling (J) 20
Ramayana 7 Wedarama 36
rame ing gawe (J) 36-38
Ratu Adil 14 Yang Maha Esa 13
realiras 15- 16 Yang Maha Kuasa 13
rila (J) 38 zama n edan (J) 67-68
rah 19 zaman mas 14
sabar 20 zikir 28
sabda pandita ratu (J) 27

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may hold better to 'meaningfully' understand the position of the

common man and his struggle for survival. With the PKI deep under -
ground, we can only hope that a new thinking about the relationship
between man and matter may soon emerge and positively shape the
Indonesian policy of development. The present models and practices of
open-ended growth, with their increasingly skewed distribution of
income and privilege, are certainly not conducive to highly prized
unity and stability.
In conclusion, we can summarize the 'meaningful structure of
experience' of the Javanese as primarily consisting of intuitive ideas and
other cultural ideation , and strong referents to 'other people' or society.
The meaning of individual identity and autonomy , and the relationship
to the world of matter are culturally not elaborated; if indigenous
meaning is attributed at all, it tends to be negative. Whereas modernity
and development precisely seem to demand creative thinking in these
latter realms of experience, the Javanese - and by extension, the
Indonesian leadership - appear to be confused.
To end on a speculative note while exploring the gross analytical
value of the concept of the 'meaningful structure of experience', I
propose to make a few tentative comparisons that seem to hold the
promise of a typology of cultures and possibly a deeper understanding
of questions of development. The Javanese often told me during
interviews that their thinking was 'oriental' as opposed to my
'occidental' thinking; yet we should be aware that the Javanese are
'oriental ' of sorts . They belong to the Indianized group of Southeast
Asian cultures [Coedes, 1968], but are very distinct from other
orientals, such as for instance those in the sinicized culture area of the
Far East.
When I was struck by the Javanese cultural and visible neglect of
their material environment, I could not help but think of Japan. Long
before Japan's opening to the West, the country was famous for its
ingenious and beautiful handicrafts . From their artifacts and arts, it
is apparent that the Japanese are keen observers of their natural and
material environment; moreover, they are always highly interested in
the material objects that reach them from abroad. To the Japanese,
the world of matter obviously constitutes a thoroughly interesting
aspect of life and a testing ground of skills and inventiveness. 4 When

4. In a brief critique of Geertz' argument concerning the comparability of

Java and Japan at the time of their initial contact with the West, Peacock