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The Javanese

The Javanese used to be a term which refers to the people who live in the island of Java.  These days the term Javanese refers to the people who live in central and east of Java island and their descendants.

In general, the Javanese maintain their culture, what their ancestors inherit to them.  They also speak the Javanese language.  However, many of the Javanese even though they maintain their culture, those who live in other cities such as Jakarta, or other country, do not communicate in Javanese anymore.  They use the Indonesian language.

Although there are variety of cultures and dialect in Indonesia, there is an admirable sense of a people of one nation.  It does not matter whether one was born as a certain culture or race in Indonesia, at the end of the day you are an Indonesian.  The only patriotism that exists in Indonesia, is the loyalty to the country, not to a certain culture or race!

In a society of multi cultures such as Indonesia, every art, customs from different provinces are preserved and developed under the flag of one nation, the honorable red and white Indonesian flag.

The Sangiran Early Man Site

In the archeology world, the name Java Man, one of the ancestors of the ancient Java, is quite famous.  The location of the ancient man in Indonesia is in the island of Java, in Sangiran village, which is divided by the river Cemoro as north and south Sangiran.  The river flows from the mountain Merapi to the river Bengawan Solo.  The north part consists of Krikilan village, Sragen, and the south part consist of Krendowahono village, Karangayar.

The excavation in Sangiran started in 1893 by archeologist Eugene Dubois.  He found the human fossil in Trinil, Ngawi, East Java, which was named Pithecanthropus Erectus, which means the ape who walked straight.

The excavation is Sangiran is continued intensively in 1930 by J.P Van Es and 1934 by GHR Von Koenigswald.  About 1,000 men made stone tools were found. 

The stone tools were used to cut, shape and sharpen spears.  Von Koenigswald named the tools found in Sangiran as The Sangiran Flake Industry.

Meganthropus Paleojavanicus, the ancient man with a big jaw was found in 1936.  Next in 1937 another fossil named Pithecantropus Erectus was found.  This spectacular finding was a team effort by both Indonesian and foreign archeologists such as R.P Soejono, Teuku Yacob, S.Sartono, Hari Widianto etc.

Involved in this excavations are scientific organizations such as the American Museum of Natural History, Biologisch-Archaelogisch Institut, Groningen, Tokyo University, Padova University, National d”Histoire Naturelle, Paris, the Geology Center of Research and Development, Bandung, the Center of National Archeology Research, and the Yogyakarta Archeology Center.

The government of Indonesia has declared the area of Sangiran, about 56 km2, as the National Preservation Area.  On 5 December 1996, the Sangiran location is declared by UNESCO as the World Heritage List No. 593, names as the “Sangiran Early Man Site”.

Geological studies shows that Sangiran occurred three million years ago.  It started as a hilly area with a structure of a dome in the middle, thus it was called the Sangiran Dome.

About 1,8 to one million years ago, central and east Java were part of a terrain bordered on the south by Mount Selatan and north by Mountain Kendeng.  The land in majority consisted of lakes and swamps.  The sea is located in the east.  In the middle of the land were the old Mountains Lawu  and Wilis.

Around this time the life of the early man started, around the swamps and river Cemoro, which water started in Mount Merapi.  Homo Erectus also known as the Java Man lived around the river Cemoro and his life developed as evidenced by the stone tools found in the area.

Besides the ancient man fossil, the archeologists also found animal fossils such as: elephant, Bull, Ox, Deer, hippopotamus etc.  The hippopotamus found in Sangiran weighs twice as much as our hippopotamus today!

The thousands of fossils and the tools found are now on display in Museum Sangiran.

The development of the early man into the modern man happened in a long period of time. This is the scientific explanation of the existence of the people of Java and their ancestors who have lived in the island since ancient time.



Javanese from the Spiritual Point of View

People with more advanced culture started to exist in the island of Java around 10,000 BC.  The island started to get more population around 3,000 BC.  People started to live in groups, they started to pay attention to their sources of food, they tended to their vegetables, and they started a simple irrigation system to water their paddy fields.  There was no concern over the land, water, seeds for paddy fields and food in general, because of the abundant resources.  Also the population wasn’t that high.  

It emerged the name of the sub continent Jawata, the islands of Sweta Dwipa (South East Asia, Nusantara ( the old name of Indonesia) and Jawa Dwipa which is the name for the island of Java.  The people who inhabit the island is known as the Javanese.

In the world of Javanese, each name has a meaning and a mission.  A name carries a certain hope. Parents who wish safety for their child would name the child “Slamet” of “Sugeng” or “Rahayu” (Javanese for safe).  Parents who wish that their child will grow to be a person with wisdom, would name their child “Wicaksono”, if the parents wish for a child with sharp intuition, then the child will be named “Waskita”.  Daughters are given the name of the fairies to be beautiful, such as: Ratih, Nawangwulan, Laksmi etc. Sons are named “Satria” (knight), or are being given the names of the knights from the wayang (a javanese folk stories) such as: Arjuna, Bimo, Sadewo with the hope that the son will grow to be strong and gentle person.
Places and dwellings/buildings are also given names that sound great, have meanings in them, and are easy to pronounce.

This is a different philosophy than the western culture, which asks the question: “What is in a name?”

In the Jawadwipa chapter we discussed that the Javanese people are the descendants of the gods.

Pangiwo and Panengen

In Kejawen, we know of the words “Pangiwo” and “Panengen”Pangiwo is from the word “Kiwo” which means left, the quiet place, the place of the soul, the place of the gods.  The life is named Sang Hyang Nurcahyo, a bright light, in the non physical world, does not have the body to live in the world.

Panengen means the right side, not quiet, visible.  This is the symbol of the body. It started as the seed conceived in a mother’s womb.  It is being meditated for nine months and receive food from the mother, ready to be born and live in the outer world.

Tanah Jawa (The Land of Java)

The literal meaning of Tanah Jawa is the land of Java, however it also have a deeper meaning.  Tanah is from ‘ta-sira’ which means you, ‘nah’ is from the word ‘mrenah’ which means to live in Jawa or Jawi –outer world.  You no longer live in the non physical world, the world of the gods, the world of the souls, you are now in the outer world, this world.

The life of the human being in this world does not separate the life of the soul from the non physical world and the life of the physical world.  Soul and body are attached together in a human being. It’s a perfect, synchronized match.

If one day, the body is destroyed, then the soul will return to the world of the souls, where it belongs, to the hands of the Lord.

The Javanese spiritual philosophy teaches that the soul is ever lasting, it lives forever.  There is a spiritual saying that goes: ‘Asal mula bali marang mula-mula’ which means the soul, the spirit will go back to where it belongs, to God.

The Javanese uses symbols in their language to express themselves.  Those not familiar with the use of symbols in the Javanese way of speaking may feel misled by the terms used, because it was translated literally.

The meaning of the word ‘Jawa’

Back in the 1980s, I had a conversation with Prof. Mr. Hardjono of the University of Gajah Mada, Jogjakarta.  He said to me, “Dimas (younger brother), there are many people who do not understand the meaning of the word Jawa or Jawi.  ‘Ja’ means to be born, and ‘Wi’ means the bird.  So like the bird, human being must go through two phases: to be born as an egg first, and later as a bird.  He did not elaborate further on what this means, he wanted me to find the answer.

In 1984, while I was in the process of learning Kejawen deeper, I met with Mr. Drs. S. Prawirowardoyo, retired colonel of the army, who is a wise senior in the Kejawen knowledge.  From him I learned another meaning of the word Jawa. He said that a Javanese person is considered to have the perfect life after being born twice.  Once through the womb of the mother and the second time after the person perfected his or her true spiritual knowledge.  I understood what he said, but I had no vision of what exactly is the process to attain the second birth.

Don’t Just Believe What I said

He smiled and did not answer my question.  He said, ”Son, don’t just believe what I said. As a Javanese, you need to have your own spiritual experience, then you believe.  This is the law of the spiritual world.  So don’t just believe on hear say, but you have to experience it!”

After ten years of this meeting, I finally understood what the spiritual world meant by the “second birth”.

In addition, the masters of the Javanese spiritual world said that a Javanese is a person who pray and commit to doing good things for Gusti, God.

From Etiquette Point of View

From the etiquette point of view, the social etiquette, a Javanese means a polite person.  A good mannered person is refer to as ‘njawani’ , a person who has no manner is reffered to as ‘ora njawani’.

We will discuss etiquette, manner and consciousness as a subject on its own, since it is considered as an important Kejawen subject.




Jagad Kejawen (The world of Kejawen),
Suryo S. Negoro
Translated by Nurul Kartikasari