Almost 70 percent of Indonesia’s 170 million people, or roughly 110 million people, live in Java, an island whose land surface is on y about seven percent of that of Indoesia. Java, as a result, is one of the worldmostdense1y populated regions. i’S The island of Java is located in the Southern Hemisphere, or south of the equator. It occupies an area of roughly132,187 square kilometers, which equals one fourteenth of Indonesia’s
total. By comparison, Sumatra is three-and- a-half times as big as Java, Kalimantan between five and six times, Sulawesi one- and-a-half times, and Irian Jaya three times. To the west of Java is the Sunda Strait,
which separates the island from Sumatra, to its east the Bali Strait, to its north the Java Sea, and to its south the Indian Ocean.
Off Java’s north coast are the Seribu islands near Jakarta, the Karimunjawa group near Central Java, and the Bawean and Kangean islands off East Java. On the south coast are Nusa Kambangan peninsula and the island Nusa Barung.
Java’s southern seashore is vastly different from its northern. One of the world’s deepest troughs runs across the ocean floor south of the islands and parallel to it, and the huge waves of the Indian Ocean lash endlessly against the shore, pushing the shoreline slowl y further and further back.
Because of this incessant pounding, caves have in many places formed in the cliffs. Such a cave is Karang Bolong, in Central Java, where thousands of swallows have built their nests which the people collect to be sold at high prices as a delicacy.
Generally, Java’s rivers are not used for navigation between towns and cities, being too small, but can be utilized for the generation of power and for irrigation.
On the hand, inter-city land transportation is very smooth, and the network of roads is generally good and all-embracing, penetrating deep into the countryside. In addition, the island’s railroad network spans a length of more than 6,000 kilometers.
Sea transportation facilities are equally satisfactory. Besides those of the state-owned shipping company PELNI, a fleet of ships belonging to private corporations offer main passenger and freight transportation services between Java and the other islands.
Air transportation facilities link almost all major towns and citie in Java with points all over Indonesia, while Jakarta, the country’s capital city and most important gateway, is connected by regular services to all major cities of the world.
Java has been a center of culture, civilization and power ever since the Hindu period of its history, a position which it retained when Islam replaced Hinduism in later centuries.
Also during period of European colonialism, Java remained the center of government, with Jakarta (Batavia) as the colonial capital. With the achievement of national independence in 1945, Jakarta became the capital city of the Republic of Indonesia.
According to archaeologist Robert von Heine Geldern, the oldest ancestors of the present-day Indonesians lived here some 4,000 years ago. Later, beginning at around the year 1,500 B.C. peoples from what is now southern China on the Asian mainland, came to settle.
They came in waves, following two diff erent routes. The first of them came to Java through what is now Indochina, Thailand, Malaysia and Sumatra, and built settlements that were scattered across the island.
Then, at around 300 B.C., came the peoples who brought what is known as the Dongson culture, a metal-using culture.
Their arrival in Java marked the beginning on the island of the megalithic period. Those people erected big stone monuments to honor the ancestral spirits.
Fossils found in caves and on lowland plains near rivers appear to support that theory. So did the various gravestones and menhirs, tall upright standing stone monuments, that were found in various places.
In 1891, while digging near the village Trinil in Central Java, the archaeologist Eugene Dubois unearthed the fossilized remains — the roof of a skull — of an ancient, apparently upright standing and walking human like being, or hominid. He named the creature Pithecanthropus erectus.
In 1936, in Sangiran, not far from where Dubois had made his find, Von Koenigswald found the fossilized skull of another hominid. This new creature was given the name Meganthropus palaeojavanicus. It was estimated to have lived one or two million years ago. Pithecanthropus fossils were also found near Mojokerto, in East Java, and near Solo (Surakarta) in Central Java. They were Pithecanthropus modjokertensis and Pit hecant hropus soloensis.
Like Pithecanthropus erectus, they are believed to have lived during the middle and late Pleistocene period of the earth’s history, between two million and 300,000 years ago.
Meganthropus was a herbivore, Pit hecant hropus apparently an omnivore capable of hunting and collecting food, which it consumed raw. Then, the fossilized remains were found in Wajak, East Java, of a more or advanced hominid which eventually became known as Homo wajakensis, which lived in the post- Pleistocene, or the early Holocene, period, some 25,000 to 40,000 years ago. Those creatures made stone and bone tools, which they used for hunting. They no longer ate their food raw, but cooked them over a fire.
In the late 19th century, a Dutch scholar named H. Kern, on the basis of linguistic comp arative studies, came to the conclusion that the ancestors of the present Indonesian peoples must have come from the Malayan peninsula.
Another Dutch archaeologist by the name of H.R. van Heekeren classified the metal- bronze period into what he called the protoh istorical period, because on the bronze nekara kettledrums which were found in Indonesia had
Their arrival in Java marked the beginning on the island of the
inscriptions in Chinese characters.
It appears likely that trade relations with India were already established at around the beginning of the Christian Era, and a Hindu kingdom probably existed in as early as the 6th century A.D. The meeting of the two civilizat ions, the indigenous and the Hindu, resulted in the emergence of what isnow referred to as the Hindu-Javanese culture.
Islam made its entry into Java in the 15th century, brought here by traders, either directly from Arabia or through Persia, and gradually Islamic states arose to replace the old Hindu kingdoms. The infusion of islamic influences into the existing Hindu-Javanese civilization again produced a mixed culture, which is tod ay referred to as that of the Abangan, or kejawen.
The belief in man’s capability to acquire supernatural powers, known as kesakien, rem ained strong. So did the belief in ghosts and spirits, good and evil, which presumably inh abit various objects.
At the end of the 16th century, the first Europeans set foot on Javanese soil, eventually turning the island into a colony. Gradually, the original nature and structure of the Javanese village society changed, and its social unity waned.
Myths and legends
The Javanese saw their village as a complete cosmic entity. Man, animals, plants, the rivers and mountains and the various spirits, they all were elements of nature that worked together to maintain the equilibrium of the universe.
They were also inseparable parts of the universe, and therefore the Javanese believed that failure to follow the natural scenario would disrupt the equilibrium and calamity would result.
That, in a nutshell, was — and often still is — the basic religious-philosophical view of the Javanese.
Before the arrival of the Hindus, the Javanese already had a culture and beliefs of their own. The teachings of the Hindus and Buddhists, however, were easily absorbed by the Javanese, as were those of Islam in later ages.
As a result, it is hard today to determine with any certainty the nature of the original beliefs that prevailed in Java before the arrival of those major world religions.
The indigenous myth of origin of the Javanese, for instance, has blended with Hind u and Moslem beliefs, and now are related to the two figures Sri and Sadono. Sri is ident ical with Laksmi, Lord Wisnu’s consort, while Sadono is Lord Wisnu himself. Sri and Sadono are the original ancestors, the Eve and the Adam of the Javanese people. Sri incarnated as Sekartaji or Condrokirono, the daughter of the king of Kediri, while Sadono incarnated as the son of the king of Jenggala, Panji. After surmounting many difficulties, the two final- ly became man and wife.
The figure of Sri is still exalted by the Javanese today in wedding ceremonies and during rice harvests. During the wedding ceremony, a couple of puppets representing Sri and Sadono are placed in front of a ceremonial bedroom, while during the rice harvest, sheaves of rice are shaped into the likeness of a couple of human beings and brought in procession to the village, where they will bestow their blessings on the villagers. Sri, therefore, is also the goddess of the rice field, or of fertility.
The Javanese also believe in danywzg, or guardian spirits. At the beginning of the rice planting season and during the harvest, offerings are made to them, too. This usually occurs in a simple family ritual known as slametan, which is religious thanksgiving meal.
In honor of the goddess Sri, Javanese villagers once a year hold what they refer to as bersih desa, which literally means “cleaning up the village”. Houses, rice fields, irrigation ditches and other places are cleaned while offerings are made. Often, a wayang shadow play with a suitable theme is performed to luster up this village community ritual.
The ancient Javanese text Tantu Panggelaran indicates that the Javanese believed that man is descended from the gods. There is an enduring relationship between the two.
Before the arrival of the Hindus, the Javanese apparently already had their own original-ancestor figures — their Adam and Eve. In the Hinduized version, the god and goddess Wisnu and Sri descended from the heavens onto the island of Java as Kandyawan and Kanyawan to become the original ancestor of the Javanese.
They had five children. The first-born became a farmer, the second a trader, the third a tapper of palm wine, the fourth a butcher and the youngest a ruler.
The Oldest Dynasties
The kings of Mataram
The story was for the first time revealed by inscriptions found on a stone plaque dating from the year 732 A.D.. The ancient plaque was found on Gunung Wukir, a hill near the village Canggal, west of Magelang in the southern central parts of Java.
From that ancient account, it is known that the first king on record so far to have reigned on the island of Java was Sanna. It was, however, Sanjaya, a later king, who is cons idered to be the more important, as well as the one from whom the later kings of Mataram were descended.
At the beginning of the eight century A.D. there appeared in the southern central parts of Java a ruling dynasty, known as that of the Syailendras, who were adherents of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. In the south, there were the rulers of the Sanjaya dynasty, who were Hindus.
Rather remarkably, the two dynasties app eared to be able to coexist in conditions peace, and even cooperation, as can be deducted from other records on stone, dating from the year 778, which were found at Kalasan.
Then, somewhere in the ninth century, a union materialized with the marriage of King Rakai Pikatan, of the Sanjayas, with Pramodawardani, of the Syailendras, who from then on became known under the title of Sri Kahulunan. In 842 A.D. Sri Kahulunan went on record as having bestowed tracts of land and rice fields to villagers in the vicinity of Borobudur, as a token of appreciation for their looking after the huge sanctuary on the hilltop. The stupa is believed to have been built at around the year 824 at the orders of King Samaratungga.
After having eclipsed the Syailendra kings, Rakai Pikatan absconded the throne in 856 A.D. and was replaced by a succession of kings until King Balitung became the ruler of ancient Mataram from 898 to 910.
That much is known from the inscriptions on stone that were found in Central and East Java. The latest king of Mataram we hear ofis Wawa. From then on, due to unknown reasons but probably because of the devastat ion wrought by a cataclysmic eruption of Mount Merapi, Central Java disappeared from the records of history, and the seat of power shifted towards the east.
Mpu Sindok, Dharmawangsa and Airlangga
Mpu Sindok, the founder of the Isyana Dynasty in East Java, left many records on stone. He also built numerous shrines and, although he was a Hindu, also compiled various holy texts of the Tantrayana school of Budd hism. Sindok ruled in Medang together with his wife, Sri Parameswari Sri Wardhani, who was a daughter of the last king of Mataram, Wawa.
He was succeeded by Dharmawangsa, who rewrote the Siwasasana. Under his rule, the Hindu epic Bharatayuda was in 996 A.D. translated into the Old Javanese language. King Dharmawangsa died in 1016, and was succeede d by Airlangga, his son-in-law.
Airlangga’s reign lasted from 1019 to 1042. Assisted by the capable Narottama, he succeede d in reuniting his father-in-law’s by the then divided kingdom. Airlangga was one of East Java’s greatest kings, who did much to prom ote the welfare of the kingdom and its people.
For instance, he ordered the harbor at Huj ung Galuh, on Brantas River, built. The port Kembang Putih in Tubati was given special rights for the sake of advancing trade. He also had a dike constructed to prevent floods along the Brantas.
Arts and literature blossomed under Airlangga’s reign. A version of the Hindu epic Arjunawiwaha appeared in the Old Javanese language, written by Mpu Kanwa (1035). The wayang leather puppet theater was known.
In 1042, Airlangga abdicated to devote himself to assume the priesthood, and divided his kingdom among his two sons. Thus were born the kingdoms of Jenggala (Singhasari) with Kahuripan as its capital, and Penjala (Kediri), whose capital was Daha.
Kediri and Singosari
Not much is known about the fate of the divided kingdom after Airlangga’s abdication. From inscriptions on a stone plaque it is known that a king by the name of Kameswara reigne d in Kediri from 1115 to 1130. His successor was King Jayabaya (1130 — 1160), under whose reign the arts flourished.
The last king of Kediri was Kertajaya (1200
— 1222), who was forced to surrender the kingdom to Ken Arok (1222), of the neighboring kingdom of Tumapel. Earlier, Ken Arok had already defeated Jenggala. The supremacy thus shifted to Tumapel, as whose king Ken Arok assumed the name Rajasa or Rajawangsa. Under one of his descendants, Rangga Wuni, the final reunification of East Java was eventually realized. Tumapel, the capital, rapidly grew and became known as Singhasari.
Rangga Wuni’s successor was Kertanegara, who reigned from 1268 to 1292, and whose power extended across much of what is now the Indonesian archipelago. Kertanegara was toppled and killed by Jayakatwang, a viceroy of Kediri, which brought to an end the existence of the
kingdom of Tumapel-Singosari.
A contemporary of Kublai Khan, King Ker anegara is remembered, among other things, for the fact that during his reign Singhasari once insulted the great Chinese ruler by mutilating and sending back a Chinese envoy who came to collect tributes. At the time a Chinese penal expedition arrived in Java, however, the king had already died (1292).
Raden Wijaya, a son-in-law of Kertanegara who had fled Tumapel’s forces but later returne d, initially sided with the Mongolians, who were unaware of the changes, to defeat Jayakatwang. That goal achieved, Wijaya turne d against the foreigners and forced them to leave.
As king of Majapahit, Wijaya became the sole ruler of Java. He married a daughter of a king of Melayu named Dara Petak.A son was born of the marriage, named Adityawarm an, who was much later to return to his mother’s native land as a ruler.
Raden Wijaya died in 1309 and was succ eeded by his son, Jayanegara, a weak ruler under whose reign many rebellions occurred, which were, however, all crushed by the strong but authoritarian Prime Minister Gajah Mada, whose maln alm in life was to unify all of the territories of the Indonesian archipelago under Majapahit’s power umbrella.
In 1350, King Hayam Wuruk ascended the throne of Majapahit. At that time, Majapahit’s power already embraced almost the entire terr itory of what is now the Republic of Ind onesia. Gajah Mada died in 1364.
A famous work of literature dating from around that period is the Negarakertagama, written by the court poet Mpu Prapanca (1365). The work relates many details of court life in Majapahit, and is an important source of inf ormation on that particular period of Java’s history.
Since the death of Hayam Wuruk in 1389, Majapahit’s decline began, to finally collapse at around 1478 A.D. At the same time, the asc ent of Islam reached new heights, and many converts were made along the coastal areas around Tuban, on the island of Madura and along the northern coastal areas of Java.
Wayang, the Javanese Puppet Show
The word wayang t’bayang means shadow. Various other meanings, however have been given to it by scholars who were fascinated by both the artistry and the philosophical content of this particular form of theater.
The Dutch archaeologist Kern, for examp le, agreed with the interpretation cited above. Hazeu, on the other hand, believed the word wayang to indicate the spirit, or soul, while Poensan took it to refer to any religious act.
The puppet play tradition is widespread in Southeast Asia, China and the Middle East. More than merely a form of entertainment, wayang in Java is a visualization of an abstract world and of ideas. Nowadays the puppet theater is even utilized as a medium for mass education and information.
According to tradition, the wayang theater was born during the reign of King Jayabhaya (930 A.D), who wanted a more or less realistic representation of his ancestors. Then, gods and goddesses were also depicted. So, presumably, the wayang puppets were born. According to
Dr. Hazeu the puppets were already known during the reign of King Airlangga (1007 – 1042).
The oldest form of wayang theater, known as wayangpurwa derives its repertoire from either the Bharatayuda, or the Ramayana. Other versions, however, tell stories taken from the Arjunawiwaha and Bhrahmand apura. In its most classical form, therefore, the Javanese leather puppet theater is Hindu – inspired.
How old is the wayang theater. Judging by ancient narratives, it can be said for certain that wayang already existed in the 11th century A.D. although quite probably not in the exact form that is known in Java today. Other sources contend that the shadow play probably existed in some form or another even before the second century A.D.
The 11th century Old Javanese text Tantu Pen ggelaran relates an episode in which Isywara (Lord Siwa), Brahma and Wisnu descended onto the earth and manipulated wayang puppets behind a screen. Another old text, the Wretta Sancaya, which dates from the 12th century, also mentioned this particular form of theater. According to the scholar Hageman, the first person who made the pupp ets was Panji Inukertapati, who lived in the 13th century. The debate still continues. Most experts, however, believe that a form of wayang must have existed long before the arr ival of the Hindus as a part of the cult of ancestor worship. Hinduism only refined and enriched the art form in terms of shape, repert oire and philosophical content.
The highly stylized forms found in the Javanese puppets (as compared to, for ins tance, those of Bali) represents the contribut ion to the art form made by Islam, which forb ids the depiction of human beings.
The classic wayangpurwa, however, is still the best-loved form in Java, and there are many people who believe, even now, that the events told once actually took place — not in India, but in ancient Java, and with Javanese actors.
In the course of time, many variations have developed from this particular genre as it became accepted in the various regions of Ind onesia and adapted to local conditions. Thus, a number if offshoots became known, such as the wayang Cirebon and wayang Tambun of northern West Java and the Jakarta area.
Furthermore, the two—dimensional and highly stylized leather puppets of the wayang purwa actually represent only one form of several that are known. In West Java, for ins tance, the popular form is the wayang golek, which uses three-dimensional wooden pupp ets. An older form of wayang which is not seldom seen is wayang beber, in which the wayang figures are painted on a screen, which is rolled out before the audience while the dalang, or puppeteer, narrates the story to the accompaniment of the gamelan percussion orchestra.
There are many other varieties, such as wayang gedhog, wayang klitik and wayang krucil, each with its own puppets and repert oire. Popular themes besides those taken from the Mahabharata and Ramayana are those that are based on folk tales, or history.
The leather puppets of the wayang kulit — in whose general category the wayang purwa belongs — are made of buffalo skin. Shows usually begin in the evening and last until shortl y before dawn. The light is provided by a suspended torch or oil lamp, called a blencong. The puppeteer or dalang manipulates the puppet against a screen of thin white cloth, called the kelir as the gamelan provided the accompanying music. The play can be watched from either side of the screen.
Wayang wong is a form of Javanese opera, or dance drama, based on the puppet theater. A variety in this genre is wayang topeng, in which the dancers or actors wear masks. The tan gendriya is a form of wayang dance drama staged by women. Its basic repertoire is derived from folklore.
Gamelan, the orchestra of Java
The gamelan orchestra of Java as it is known at present consists almost entirely of copper percussion instruments, plus a few drums, a flute and one stringed instrument. The name gamelan, in fact, comes from the word gamel, which means mallet.
Some scholars believe that the gamelan has developed over many centuries from the nekara or moko kettledrums which the ancient Indones ian ancestors had brought from the Asian mainland. Initially used as signaling ins truments during state events, more and more of the metal “drums” were needed as state protocol became more complicated. So, the gamelan orchestra gradually evolved.
In the Javanese belief, the first complete gamelan set was called lokananta, which cons isted of only five instruments: the big gong, and the smaller, horizontally suspended gongs, kemanak, ketuk, and kenong, and a drum with buffalo leather heads, called kendang.
Nowadays, a complete gamelan set consists of at least 25 different instruments. Two different sets are known, each one tuned to a diff erent tone system, slendro and pelog. The first, gamelan slendro, is pentatonic and is believed to be the older. The second, the gamelan pelog, is septatonic and is of a relatively more recent origin. Both sets are used in the wayang kulit puppet show.
The gamelan orchestra, in one form or another, probably already existed in as early as the 8th or 9th century A.D., which means at around the time when the great temples of Central Java were built.
In its present form, however, the Javanese orchestra probably was not known until in the 15th century, when the Hindu states of Java were already past their zenith and approaching the end of their existence.
highly revered master craftsman. The kris is not an ordinary weapon.
More ceremonial than practical in nature, it is traditionally believed to be infested with supernatural powers, which could be either beneficial or disastrous to the owner or wearer. Ideally, therefore, a kris should match and complement the personality of its owner.
The achievement of such a perfect match is an art which only a truly capable empu is believed to master, and is something that req uires a thorough knowledge of the science of metallurgy as well as of the mystical powers of nature. Hence the empu’s exalted standing in the society.
Collectors even today place the highest value on ancient krisses, reputedly made by master craftsmen of the Majapahit, Mataram or Pajajaran periods, which are held to have produced the greatest kris-makers ever.
There are two major types of kris in terms of physical appearance: the straight-bladed and the wavy, with undulating blade.
Some rare kris blades have as many as 29 curves. Some blades are smooth and polished, others rough and dull. The alloys used have a bluish glow, others are reddish.
A typical feature of the kris is the painor, orn amental patterns of different shapes that are found along the center at the base of the weapon’s blade, usually made of a kind of light-gray alloy or metal. Those patterns are believed to be associated with the weapon’s part icular character, or “power”.
Forging a kris is not a simple matter of shaping a metal alloy. The most propitious day and hour has to be selected. The precise number of curves for the blade must be determ ined, often through meditation and fasting.
The sheath, or warangka, is usually made of sandalwood or some other kind of fragrant or decorative wood variety. In the past, it also had to be tough because it was also used as a stick to fend off an adversary’s attacks. Two basic types of warangka are known: ladrang, and gayaman or gandon, the first curved and elegant, the second more blunt and rounded.
The kris, as a weapon, is known only in Southeast Asia, where different types exist.
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