Date: Sun, 10 May 1998 19:16:36 +0200
Subject: Javanese Mantric traditions?

> It is interesting how many words are repeated in the presidential speeches
> and quotes. For instance, the idea of 'pertanggungjawaban', this has been an
> oft repeated phrase in recent months, as has 'krises kepercayaan' and
> 'reformasi' in response by the opposition groups. The short lived Getar
> (mari kita cintai rupiah) and ' provides an interesting example of the use
> of  slogans by the government in crises periods. Slogans have of course also
> been a common feature in the student demonstrations, such as 'demokrasi
> bukan kolusi korupsi'.
> Can it be fairly said that this reflects what Anderson ahs termed Javanese
> modalities in the language use? does the repitition of such words arise from
> Mantric traditions? or is it symptomatic merely of repition of keywords by
> interest groups which is not unique to Java or Indonesia as a whole?
I have a high respect for Ben Anderson and he is certainly a must-have-read for anyone wishing to understand contemporary Indonesian culture and politics. Nevertheless, many people (just about everybody?), and not only foreigners, forget that Javanese tradition is not just the Central Javanese principalities, the orang dalem from the kraton and the desa community peasant, but also Pesisiran tradition of Banyuwangi-Surabaya-Semarang-Tegal with its down-to-earth no-nonsense directness and get-things-done spirit, as also the middle-class puritanism of the kaum putihan with their thrift-and-diligence ethics. Once one realizes, that neither being a communal peasant or a feudal, nor belonging to a middle class or abiding to a puritanist credo is a distinctive feature of Javanese culture tradition, one immediately sees all that "Javanese" voodoo in a different light. Sure, those Mantric traditions must reflect somewhere, like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table folklore in modern British tradition (they knighted the Beatles, didn't they? The Rolling Stones balked though, I heard somewhere). But does that explain much about Thatcherism, or Tony Blair, or even BSE?

I think one must congratulate Ben Anderson for his very apt observations in the role of the different language cultures of Javanese (more feudal with its politeness levels) and Indonesian Malay (much more democratic), leading to the latter becoming the universal language of the national movement for independence (and some of his more recent comments on what's going on in the country I find quite brilliant). Unfortunately (not his fault), he also became victim of some persistent urban mythology existing in prevailing views on the linguistic situation in Indonesia, particularly in the first half of this century.

The Javanese dialects of Surabaya or Tegal can hardly be called "feudal". Most people usually say they find either of them rather coarse, or vulgar ("kasar"). The French (with that so charmingly "feudal" rococo language of theirs) used to say something similar, I think, about Langue d'oc dialects of the Provence. The area has a similar history of interrupted former mercantile success like the Pesisiran area of Java. The "democratic" Malay of prewar times was not the School Malay that became the precursor of baku Bahasa Indonesia. That was also a very obsolete language tradition, even more "feudal" than Javanese, which was scrupulously kept "pure" of any influences of contemporarily actually spoken Malay. The actual language of the movement of independence, which was the language of so-called vernacular press and politics, was the Bazaar Malay of indigenous intellectuals and professionals, that I see as the precursor of modern spoken Bahasa Indonesia (Pramudya Ananta Tur spoke of Lingua Franca Malay).

My eyes were opened for the first time with regard to the deceptive impressions one may get from some prevailing urban legends, when I got acquainted with the so-called Cape Malays of South Africa. The name is a misnomer, because the greater part of their ancestors were not Malays. They were mainly prisoners and slaves from South Sulawesi and East Indonesia (particularly North Maluku). If you've ever wondered, why the Chinese are commercially so much more successful than the indigenous people in Indonesia, go to South Africa and ask the indigenous people there, why the Cape Malays are so commercially and professionally talented. You'll probably get roughly the same answers as you get in Indonesia to the former question. Have you ever wondered why the transmigration authorities in Indonesia are having so many problems with transmigrants from Java in spite of the gratis patch of land, housing, equipment, and seeds? Well, go to Surinam, where you will find successful Javanese farmers (FARMERS - not peasants - with own tractors, modern housing, equipment etc) who built up their businesses from scratch, on own initiative, without any other assistance than having been transported to the other end of the world as contract coolies! Neither has being Javanese prevented the Surinam Javanese from success, nor has descendance from indigenous Indonesians hampered Cape Malays. Perhaps, what's hampering those that stayed at home is what some of our politicians like to sell us as "kepribadian Timur", which the Cape Malays and Surinam Javanese were rid of at an early time?

Mind you, I'm a great fan of national tradition. It's just certain things which actually have nothing to do with that, but only go by that name....

As for your original question, I think your best option would be to consult literature on the effectivity of the language of commercial adverisement. They also operate with catch words there. The product must be associated with some catchy word which is associated with some positive connotations. This distracts the attention of the customer from it's actual qualities which may not always be as positive as the associations engendered by the name.

Must stop here now.

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