Regret and sorry Not easy to feel and say, Yet flushing the guilt. Look! It’s rain water pouring On the roof, sweeps away dirt.
Ramadhan is starting tomorrow, it’s my 38th year in which I do full fasting. I’m so grateful with this achievement. Achievement? Yes! Imagine for one full month during the day we don’t drink, we don’t eat, we don’t smoke, we don’t sex, we don’t let out uncontrolled emotion, we simply hold whatever we normally let out easily with no delay. We are human beings though, we can do all those at night. Ahem!
As a Javanese Muslim welcoming Ramadhan is as special as the fasting itself. We welcome the Ramadhan with a small celebration called megengan which literally means holding (esp. the breath).
In megengan a Javanese family will deliver a basket of rice with dishes to neighbours and extended family members living separately. While each family can choose what they share, there is one must specialty in this occasional delivery so called “apem” in Javanese or “kue apam” in Bahasa Indonesia or Malay.
Apem is steamed cake whose ingredients are rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water, yeast, sago starch and some sugar.
The word apem is derived from the word “afwun” (an Arabic word) meaning apology. Why apology? In Ramadhan when a Muslim is fasting, s/he is not only holding her/himself from hunger, thirst, lust, uncontrolled anger, and exercising her/his integrity; but s/he is also recommended to contemplate her/his own “action records” for the past one year. It is not easy for one to bear the guilt during the contemplation, so it is recommended for a Muslim before Ramadhan to apologise to their family and friends or to whomever s/he did wrongdoing, to ease the contemplation process. As it might not be easy to say sorry through a naked word, Javanese Muslim will include a symbolic apology in the food called apem when they deliver the whole food package. Everyone knows what it is, what it does— it is up to each person whether or not to accept the apology. And there they go starting the fasting month with a light heart to physically, mentally and spiritually exercise her/himself for one full month.
I used to think that that celebration was a waste of food. For one week I used to see sooooo many plastic and bamboo baskets piled up in our dining table and shelves — all those megengan packages which would be eaten just a bit and end up given to our chickens at the back yard. Fyi, the apem is never wasted though as every family has different taste and ways of how to make their best apem – maybe it’s a symbol that everyone is taking the apology seriously. I used to say to my mom that megengan was more about chickens celebrating than human beings celebrating. However after I understand what is symbolised through those simple deliveries, I highly appreciate the way we Javanese hold the integrity through our humble tradition.
I used to tell my mother to not do it, but now I’ve always been a reminder to her to not forget doing it and done it myself although I’m living around those not familiar with this tradition. I normally cook some simple food for the cleaning ladies and the gardeners who are assigned in the block two days before Ramadhan. Unfortunately minus the apem, simply because I am not confident enough to make my own apem. Tried this year though and failed 🙃
I promise to myself that this year is gonna be a good Ramadhan.
Welcome, month of holding, month of exercising integrity. It might not be always easy but doable.
I’m sending out apology to all the people having felt hurt by me. I’m sorry with my heart and soul in naked words. 🙏🏼
Time travels with you To where good memories sit, Waiting to rejoice.
When I was a girl, I got sick very often. Yet what I remember the most isn’t the pain but is how my family would take care of me. Of course they medically treated me either at home or hospitalised, but there was a unique way I can never forget what my mother, father and siblings did extra.
My father would chant Javanese mantra that would calm me down. My mother would wrap me with a sheet of batik cloth before putting the next thicker blanket. And of course siblings especially sisters would sleep with me the whole night.
What Javanese mantra chanted by father? Oh can’t remember! What batik, I definitely remember it and now own it for the same need; covering myself with batik gringsing when sick.
Gringsing is one of the oldest batik background patterns in Java. It is thousands of tiny square with a dot in the center symbolising “sedulur papat kalima pancer” (literally means 4 siblings and 1 core as the fifth) the cosmic balance of human reality in Javanese wisdom. And through the philosophy it is believed that when a Javanese human is sick, s/he is cosmically imbalanced and needs to be balanced. Physically s/he is medically treated, metaphysically s/he is cured with gringsing the balance symbol.
Gringsing is an acronym of gring or gering (sick, not well, ill) and sing (not); gringsing means not sick anymore. Oh! That simple! Made by hand! Oh! Not that simple!
Fire melts metal, Taming its hard side of life. A shout to soft heart—
Hardship in life train two muscles: physical body and mental body.
The harder the exercises, the harder and tougher the physical body is. Punches will only hit hard strong muscle and a hit back can even beat the attacker.
In fact the harder life tests a human being with challenges, the softer one’s heart could be. Soft heart isn’t a sign of weakness, it is kindness or even wisdom. And wisdom is the purest strength.
A Javanese wisdom reflects how a soft heart can build someone’s attitude and behaviour: sugih tanpa bandha, digdaya tanpa aji, ngluruk tanpa bala, menang tanpa ngasorake.
Sugih tanpa bandha: Someone can feel rich without money or property. She can own treasure, wealth, fortune more precious than what money can buy. The true richness is a soft heart that can contain a lot of opportunity to learn lessons and preserve the heritage of life wisdom of being a human. Only soft heart can do that.
Digdaya tanpa aji: Someone can be powerful without physical strength. Only clear mind and soft heart can shape her to a powerful individual through whom solutions and ways out are channeled. Don’t ever worry, Beloved that having a good heart is in vain. At the end it is soft heart who drives good mind and it is also soft heart who invites true appreciation and respect.
Ngluruk tanpa bala: fighting without ally sometimes happens in life. Or always? Yes, when she fights against her own imbalanced judgement or inharmonious thinking, that’s when she doesn’t have ally. She is alone. No one can help her. She needs her own self and her alone. It is soft heart her sole ally to win every battle inside.
Menang tanpa ngasorake: winning without defeating or humiliating others. What do we need but victory? Yet victory isn’t always about winning against others in arguments or race. Victory is at the end about learning what weakness lies beneath a failure to appreciate and respect a relationship of any form: blood ties, friendship, romance, etc. And only soft heart can calm her down from intensity of defeating or humiliating others. The softer her heart, the better others feel about themselves. As a result those who are not feeling belittled will make space; and only soft heart will be given space without second thought.
Unfortunately it is applicable only in relationships without money as the basis. Sad? No. I can apply it happily outside business arena, a space which is broader and deeper than it looks. Step by step…. 💝
Urip iku sawang-sinawang is another Javanese wisdom that I’ve learnt. It simply means life is looking at each other, looking at something.
When feeling unfortunate, many will see others as luckier than them. Comparison is an immediate expression to show their frustration. Why are those people getting that but I’m not? Why does life give the blessings to them but not to me? Why are they married but I’m not? Why do they have good jobs but I don’t? Blahblahblah!
Let’s call them “these angry children”. When these angry children happen to consult to Javanese elderly, they will softly say “Ngger, urip kuwi mung sawang-sinawang….”
“Ngger” is equivalent with “My child”.
Many can only see what they are exposed to. Others have better job while these angry children don’t; and that makes these children angrier. They think that having particular jobs will make those people happier.
People are married and being married is considered happier and that makes these angry children sad or even angrier.
People travel to many places and these angry children think they are luckier; and that makes these children envy.
Some colleagues are able to deliver the speech better than these angry children and they think the colleagues perform better; and that makes these angry children feel as worst employees.
Are all those truly as these angry children think? No. Or at least not always. Or let’s say not exactly like what you expect. Or maybe not at all!
They have good jobs but they might have a lot of pressure or feel less appreciated. Whereas having (what you consider) less fortunate jobs is blessings for becoming less risky against integrity issues and less pressure.
They are married and these angry children never know what kind of spouse those people have. These children should be thankful for not being in a marriage this time and see that those married people are struggling financially or romantically or sexually or spiritually or socially or all…. Whereas the unmarried are free to be their own selves and getting more training from Life to be better and readier human beings.
People travel to many different countries while these angry children can only jump out to other districts in their province. These angry children think that makes those people better human beings. Yes, they have more photo albums and memories of what they have seen and more information; but they don’t automatically become wiser than whoever mostly stay home but are able to process the life experiences into true wisdom to address this humble life.
And colleagues speaking more sophisticatedly? Bloody hell! Those who talk talk, but not always walk the talk. What’s more important is how what aren’t even spoken or talked have helped people around them.
So, life is only how we are looking at each other, looking at something. We can look at them and get offended. We can look at them and digest what we see into a wisdom to be better living being without judging ourselves of being bad or unlucky.
That’s a simple Javanese philosophy that might be also taught in other cultures.
Accept who we are and process our own facts to mould the shape of love in us. Others are not always our mirror, they might be magnifying glass.
In fact, all of us deserve to be these angry children while growing to be the wise.
Thanks for the simple chats with some good friends and my own self.
Language is alive
Even in silence. I guess
It’s ears who discount.
I don’t escape, Beloved.
Just my confidence collapsed....
Space is not distance,
It’s a knot between two hearts.
Imagine two words
Without space: cramped and crowded.
Just never disconnect, Love.
Year end is ready
To summarise lessons learnt
To hand happiness
Over to new one. Welcome,
Self, to realm of connection....
I’ve been told to pray for the ancestors, overall those in the family tree who have been deceased. We will trace back from my late father to his parents to his parents’ parents, up above to the very first regardless traceable or not and trace back from my mother’s parents to her parents’ parents, up above to the very first regardless traceable or not.
In old Javanese tradition people will do the prayer for ancestors in a simple yet sacred ritual – while some people will go to the graveyard or monument to do it, many are doing it at home. No altar, put thing on your table and pray.
However, four components shall be thoughtfully prepared: the day, the prayer, the food, drink, and (sometimes) cigarettes, and the flowers. Each of those has meaning.
As a reminder, here is the meaning. Please don’t quote me as my knowledge is the result of my personal contemplation mixed with very limited knowledge that I read and hear from many sources.
Chosen Days All days are good, all time is precious. We are the one giving them meaning by putting some more attention and creating the moment on particular days. So choosing the day is a decision to give meaning to particular time so that it becomes a beautiful moment that boost our mood to connect with our beloved and respected members “above”. The day you are born must be your favourite day.
People will do it at night; many choose to do it at Thursday night before Friday morning breaks, others choose to do it on the day they are born (Sunday to Saturday combined with one of the Javanese 5 days. which is Paing, Pon, Wage, Kliwon and Legi — so if you combine, it can be Thursday Kliwon, Tuesday Legi, etc which are astrologically calculated in a very complicated system. Don’t ask me further about Javanese astrology – I’m zero!
By the way, people traditionally do the ritual ancestor prayer once in 35-40 days or on special dates/occasions but nowadays most people do it twice in a year: around Ramadan and in Javanese new year (lunar calendar). Me? Don’t ask…. 😂
Prayers To me chanted prayer is a set of (poetic and romantic) line to synchronise the emotions through all senses with the inner self by focusing on what are uttered or sung. Chanted prayer improves concentration. It helps achieve the oneness within self. So, make sure you understand what you are saying in the prayer. Otherwise, you become a talking parrot.
In Javanese old tradition people recite some “tembang” the Javanese songs which reflect wishes and philosophical thought. Young Javanese used to be taught how to sing those songs in elementary school but now that lesson has gone from the formal education and replaced by popular music lesson as a result of modern culture massively affecting and marginalising the local potential.
While Dhandhanggula verses are commonly chosen to be sung softly by those who are good enough to be heard by the wind and human beings — oh please excuse my out of tune; other Javanese songs (Mocopat) can be the alternatives. People can only use the tembang’s tones or tones and verses. There is no rigid rule for that.
Some others will use Quranic verses containing universal prayers — Javanese culture has been merged and amalgamated with many different religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and strongly with Islam) and so Quranic verses are inserted or substituting some items in the culture. Many will choose QS Yaasiin allegedly the “heart of Quran” or QS Arrahman that contains a lot of heavenly joy to reflect our prayers that all ancestors’ souls are living in heaven. Many people also use QS Alfatihah allegedly the “mother of the Book” or the “mother of Quran” which is much shorter than the other two.
Why Quran is used in many aspects of Javanese? There is a lot of synchronicity between Javanese thinking tradition (Kejawen) with the Islam spirituality (Sufi) and that has developed mutual functionality between those traditions.
If you live in Java island especially central to eastern part of the island for just a while (one week maybe), ou will shift understanding about the Islam which you might have perceived as a rigid teaching originated from Arab land. Islam in Java is different at an almost extreme level of characteristics from Arabian culture. No, no I don’t hate Arab or the “Arabian Islam”, I just don’t want people to wrongly think that all muslims are rigid and narrow minded just by some wrongly-defined teaching or hatred-based perception made by some irresponsible Orientalists. Please don’t judge my language. I don’t mean anything but “Islam isn’t like what you think it is, You should travel more to know more.” Ok, I rest my case.
The other group will just say nothing at all, their prayers are uttered silently in the secret language that can only be understood by those praying.
What do we pray for? We pray for the joy of ancestors’ soul — I myself like to whisper in English “Dear beloved and respected Ancestors, may you be living peacefully in the heart of green birds in heaven. May you be blessed with good sight of seeing us remembering and praying for you. May you be greeting us too when we realise that we exist after and through you.” Then we pray for our own selves — whatever good prayer we want to chant. What is good prayer? My goodness, any prayer for your happiness and success! 😊
Preparation of Drink and Food If you know ancestors’ favourite drink and food, prepare them. If not, take your most favourite and remember to always prepare the best ones.
I never know what my ancestors’ favourite food but I know my father loved “kue lapis” – that with layers of coloured rice cake. So kue lapis is always there accompanied by others.
And the beverage is always kopi tubruk and teh tubruk because those two types are the favourite of all in Javanese tradition. Kopi tubruk is plain brewed ground coffee – we don’t filter it, no strainer no no, some people let the coffee powder settle at the bottom of the cup but some will drink the black black coffee with some coffee paste in it, and don’t forget sugar! Teh tubruk is the other one: you just throw dried tea leaves into a cup, pour boiled water, let the leaves drown down, then sip it up with or no sugar!
Cigarettes? I am sorry, dear Ancestors. Smoking isn’t healthy as cigarettes nowadays are made of those hazardous chemicals that will harm your health. So, please excuse this decision. 😁
Flowers What flowers are used? The key is always “what’s you ancestors’ favourite?” As I am not sure what my ancestors’ favourite flowers, I just refer to what flowers are commonly used in the tradition. Jasmine, rose, ylangylang and magnolia alba are the ones. As I could only find rose then rose it is! I plan to use sunflower, lily or orchid next time as they re my fave!
Why flower? Flower is always associated with fragrance. Fragrance symbolises the good deeds that were dedicated by our ancestors in their life time that will be eternally carved as a sacred key to connect with their bloodline. It also symbolises our good deeds to connect with ancestors. Only when we do our good deed and preserve ancestors’ good deeds, will we connect strongly with the powerful blessings from ancestors.
Being a modern human being should not stop me from remembering that I can only exist with “the good heart and help” of those up above the branches and trunk in a family tree. Hey, we might be a part of a giant family tree – Homo Sapiens whose ancestors are the same. So, next time I’ll probably pray for everyone’s ancestors.
Messy like heaven.
After cooking I feel tired
Of all the dirty
Pots, plates, spoons, knives and rubbish.
Full without eating—
I am naturally a picky eater, but trying my best to eat every thing served as long as healthy and non poisonous. I even let myself eat those I’m allergic to – just to prove to this weak Self that this body can bear the poison though has failed now and then.
Today I cooked one traditional food from Java island of beautiful archipelago, my dear Indonesia – buntil.
It is stuffed cassava leaves wraps, you can also use papaya leaves. The content can be as cheap as grated young coconut only or added with anchovy or meat or any protein that you wish to have in the meal. This time I make a fusion – buntil stuffed with Korean stir fried anchovies with pumpkin seed and walnuts. The fusion is just because I could not find the seed that originally cooked in the Java island, we call it “petai Cina” (please use your freedom to find what it is in Google). I bought the Korean side dish coz I don’t know how to make it.
This is cheap and humble dish that is traditionally eaten as side dish with rice. But it has become a rare food where I live now – even people from Indonesia might not find it interesting anymore. Not sure why but alas! Everybody has one’s own liking. I’m so grateful that the cleaning lady knocked my door and brought some earth products that I’ve missed dearly – bamboo shoot, banana flower, cabai rawit and cassava leaves! So why not making food that I’ve missed so dearly, too.
I’m happy with the result, knowing that there are details of ingredients and still a good success. But the after cooking was not so happy seeing piles of dirty containers and cooking utensils that I had to wash by myself…. Heaven!
Anyway! Let’s see the happy scenes! Unhappy scenes of cleaning and tidying up the shelves and cabinets are off the records!
I am a lady,
Was born and grown in Java,
Will travel the globe.
Singapore – Feb. 11, 2020 / 19:45
I feel more and more feminine and I like it. I’m comfortable to be a woman although being a woman is not always easy in my original culture, Javanese. I am not a typical Javanese who are shy, withdrawal and submissive to the male and yes-yes-yes whether liking it or not. I will be in those mode in some situations but I don’t feel them as my nature. All those traits shall be presented as a response to a situation, not as a nature.
Once one very mean aunt said to me in a very sharp tone “You are not a Javanese lady yet, my child! Learn. No man will want to marry you if you are brave, confident and vocal.”
I didn’t say anything because I was just 12 at that time. I didn’t even know what was Javanese lady and marriage. What I knew was I played with girls and boys together.
She sounded cruel but she was right that no man has married me until now. She would say (if she happened to be alive today) to me it is because of my failure to be a Javanese lady; but if she were still alive, I would tell her politely that it may be because the men approaching me just failed to be a true gentlemen. I will not change myself into the Javanese lady characteristic that has been in a biased assumption in my community and family.
I never doubt myself to be what I am now – I might change but to better state. Moreover, I found a good reading that describes a Javanese woman in the eyes of a modern Javanese woman. It might not resonate 100% of what I consider a woman be but at least the way the writer positions herself helps me understand why I never fitted the boxes brought to me before.