Javanese Culture

Dec 10th, 2006, in Society, by

The Javanese are stupid hypocritical liars, among other things, as Javanese culture comes in for some stinging criticism.

A seminar held by Suara Merdeka newspaper in Semarang, Central Java, with the title “Jawa dalam Kritik”, saw four analysts, Abdul Munir Mulkhan, Mohamad Sobary, Sutanto Mendut, and Suwardi Endraswara, give traditional Javanese culture a good belting.

Suwardi Endraswara got the ball rolling by describing Javanese people as jelek, no good. According to him the Javanese were stupid, deceptive, hypocritical, stubborn, vengeful, and spiteful, among other unlovely traits. As an example of all these faults rolled into one he cited a Javanese phrase that was often spoken by former president Suharto, mikul dhuwur mendhem jero, which means that one must always respect one’s elders and keep the knowledge of their faults to oneself. The effect of this attitude in practice, he said, was that the faults, stupidities, and crimes of one’s elders, and leaders, were kept in the dark and could not be spoken about, out of respect.

The hypocrisy of the Javanese could further be seen not only in their words. They speak well, they claim to uphold good moral values, but their actions reveal their hypocrisy, particularly in the area of carrying on hidden adulterous affairs.

Mohamad Sobary said that the movement of Javanese into cities had not gone well. Life in an urban environment was a struggle for survival and those who failed often took a perverse pleasure in their own failure. Sobary went on to say that Javanese culture was in a terrible crisis and needed to be saved.

Meanwhile Abdul Munir Mulkhan spoke of the irony that today, while many foreigners came to Java to study the culture, Javanese people themselves were losing their identity and couldn’t even read and write in their own language.

Tanto Mendut said that Java was not really a place anymore, it was extra-territorial, an idea. That’s why he hadn’t minded handing over a collection of keris swords and gamelan instruments to a professor in Poland. He then complained that the Javanese were anti-egalitarian and lived unnaturally, not based on true feelings, not from the soul.

Those who responded to these harsh criticisms said the speakers were being too one-sided, Javanese culture also had positive qualities. One unique feature of Javanese civilisation, said one, was its spirituality.

Another person complained that if one is going to criticise Javanese culture then one should also do the same for Western or Hindu culture. suaramerdeka

33 Comments on “Javanese Culture”

  1. jp says:

    Hmm, menarik banget, but we’ve known for years now that the cultures of the world have been disappearing like felled trees. The 1960s saw the US and Europe in the grips of major youth movements that sought to challenge the exact attitude that the above-quoted Soeharto reference represents. The fall of the Iron Curtain similarly ushered in an area of criticism and cultural liberalism for dozens of countries. Even in Jawa’s neighboring island of Bali youth culture is just beginning to challenge what are, or were, perceived as cultural ‘givens’, such as the philosophical pillars of the Ajeg Bali movement; many underground punk and art shows in Denpasar use these ‘givens’ (cultural ‘terms of reference’) as points of creative and critical departure. If considerations like these occur globally, why does Jawa deserve particular attention? Are the Javanese any more “stupid, deceptive, hypocritical, stubborn, vengeful” than Quechua Bolivians, the Manggarai of west Flores, the Saami of northern Finland, or Balinese Hindus? I’m not trying to be a cultural relavist (as in: being stupid is okay as long as it’s unique) but what I am saying is that this is nothing new, and the Javanese are certainly no more backward than the Batak, or indeed, most Texans.

  2. kris says:

    Hi, first of all, I’m a javanese…for me I would just take this criticism with a pinch of salt. Perhaps the seminar organisers didn’t mean to undermine Javanese culture nor its people.

    However, if this seminar was a serious one, I’d say that their statements/prejudice/generalizations/conclusions against javanese culture were controversial if not unfounded.

    Most civilized culture are good. A sample of bad prominent figure or even a phrase from a culture doesn’t warrant a generalization. An educated person would not be so quick in making such a criticism on an established civilization like javanese.

    for the record,I’m pure Javanese…living away from home for almost 10 years, i can still sing ‘mocopat’ like ‘bapak pocung’, i still know how to wear ‘jarik’, i can still write ‘ha – na – ca – ra – ka’ (Javanese writing), i can still speak all three level of its language (‘ngoko, krama and krama inggil’).

    I’m sure there are lots of other Javanese who can still do so. again I think it’s utterly wrong to judge a culture without doing a thorough research and study.

    And everytime i go back to my hometown, i can always expect warm feeling that i got from my neighbors, their smiley faces, their considerate manners, their gotong-royong spirit, and their fervor in holding on to their rich culture.


  3. Tomaculum says:

    This is Indonesia. Every one think she/he has to issue any statement, never mind if she/he has any qualification to do it or not. The result is often dingy and embarassing, like a niffy flatus in a crowd.

  4. Rudy Hendra says:

    I am a Purchaser in a company in Jakarta.

    I have a Javanese supplier.
    This one man is very stubborn, and also have a nerd nationality-feeling.
    We judge suppliers according to their quality of goods and service, term of payment, etc.
    When I was new here, he approach me and told me not to buy from Singapore supplier. He said that if we buy from Singapore supplier, then the Singaporean will eat, he doesn’t get the order, he doesn’t eat.

    He never try to compete with other supplier. Just want to be helped… helped… helped… Just like a beggar. And when we don’t help him, he talked to my boss and convince my boss to give him an order.

    Other supplier (especially Chinese supplier) ‘serve’ us. They take care of our problems. They solve problems. They are quick in their actions.
    The Javanese supplier act like he is the boss, and we, the buyer, are like his servants.
    He is not moving if we don’t fax the inquiry to him.
    In many things, problems are solved by voice communications, and when everything have been concluded, then we write it.
    Sometimes, we need goods fast, urgently. Inquiry is conducted by phone.
    This one won’t move if he don’t get written note.

    Bad culture.
    Have no idea why my boss still want this supplier.

  5. Dimp says:

    Hi Rudy,

    Just because there is a bad apple, doesn’t mean that you can say the whole harvest has gone bad.

    You can always find bad apple in any culture, and you can always find a good one in every culture.

    If you find a bad apple then just don’t eat it, don’t throw away the whole batch, you can always find a good use for a bad apple anyway.

  6. Kris says:

    Hi Rudy,

    As it has nicely been put by Dimp, a culture can’t be defined by the traits of one single person from that respective civilization. Please widen up your perspective and be objective.

    I now live in Novena – Singapore, and it’s obvious from my point of view here that not all Singaporeans have the same good qualities that you’ve described. Some are good, some are bad. And please if you really want to know Javanese culture, visit any of the country sides in Java…ambarawa, magelang, sleman, klaten or anywhere you wish, I bet my last dollar that you’ll have a totally different perception on Javanese culture.


  7. Cukurungan says:

    Javanese Culture consits of tree sentence :
    asal “ono beras, awake waras, manuke bergas” every thing will be OK. The most javanese people only need very simple live, as long as the javanese can eat, not sick and can make love every thing will be ok. Most of them don’t care with corruption, democracy or human rights bullshiet.

    so anyone Indonesia Leader can not maintained those simple need Javanese people will be finished and game over.

  8. DianDoank says:

    Well Cukurungan.

    Too bad, when a leader (everywhere in the world) can not provide those basic needs such as food, health and well in Javanese case make love (as you stated) then it always a fragile situation for those leader to maintain their position.

    I mean how one can think of democracy and human rights when the basic needs were not provided?

    Even the French revolution basically not because the people (except the leaders) think primarily about the idea behind democracy but because there’s no food! And if you want to look on another culture, one can say that Padangnese or those Indonesia-chinese are stingy, Bataks talked too much and et cetera et cetera, but is that really true? I think it just a stamp to these tribes caused of what Dimp said bad apple.

  9. aniza says:

    hi all,
    i can consider myself a Javanese as my late mother was a Javanese.I’m a Singaporean at birth and my late mum used to tell me not to forget my javanese roots as my forefathers, late grandfather a Javanese sailor(from Solo) came to Singapore to search for a living.

    Do not consider all Javanese bad.Merely,they are preserving the traditions and culture taht has been around for decades that’s all.

  10. Shiva says:

    Strange to see that two of the four analysts, Abdul Munir Mulkhan, Mohamad Sobary, have forsaken their Javanese heritage, and as their names suggest, they have adopted a culture/religion that has nothing to do with Java.

    It is odd that they have adopted a religious culture that has a historic legacy, of ignorance, fanaticism, and narrow-mindedness, and then criticize the true Javanese.

    These men should remember the spirit of Gajah Mada, not an Arabian belief. This men should remember they are Javanese, not Arabs.

    These men are selling out their heritage, and enabling the Arabization of Java.

    Javanese should not become another lost culture.

  11. Susan Espinoza says:

    In relation to the Javanese “losing” their culture, I’m curious about the language factor. Do most native Javanese understand Indonesian, the official language? What percentage would you say do not understand Indonesian?

  12. aniza says:

    In relation to the Javanese “losing” their culture, I’m curious about the language factor. Do most native Javanese understand Indonesian, the official language? What percentage would you say do not understand Indonesian?

    I would say the native of Javanese that is an Indonesian and staying in Java or any other parts of Indonesia understand the language and how many percentage of that should be the majority of course BUT a Javanese to understand the JAVANESE language is I HAVE NO IDEA….whether they are residing in INdonesia or other south-east asian countries…
    For the case of here in s’pore, I can say from what i know and the latest statistic more than half of Malay s’poreans have their roots originated from Java Island…and i can say less than half of them can understand Javanese language and that include my late mother and some of my uncles….

  13. GunDhul says:

    Ajining dhiri ana ing lathi – ajining salira ana ing busana, is an old Javanese wisdom about the way we should lead our lives meaning that a person’s self worth comes from the strength of their words and a person’s greatness comes from their attire. Consequently the life and truth that we pursue is an indication of the faith of the outside world in us. Art is an illusion and the clothes that I wear to express my intellectual and emotional milieu relate both to my outer and inner world.

  14. jaka says:

    Shiva said:

    Strange to see that two of the four analysts, Abdul Munir Mulkhan, Mohamad Sobary, have forsaken their Javanese heritage, and as their names suggest, they have adopted a culture/religion that has nothing to do with Java.

    On the very contrary: Both are masters of javanese culture. Prof. Mulkhan has deep knowledge on Islamo-javanese misticism, whereas M. Sobary is the writer of many books on javanese culture.

    And Islam had and has a lot to do with Java.

  15. Rebecca says:

    Java as part of the Dutch East Indies was under foreign colonial rule for 350 years and then under Japanese rule for about 7 years before declaring independence. As colonialized people, the Javanese workers did not receive training to be good leaders, nor did they gain experience planning and making good decisions as leaders. Even after “winning” independence, the nation was ruled by dictatorship for a long time.

    The basic human drives to survive are more familiar and essential in the day to day lives of average Javanese people. That supplier was right, if he does not get the order he does not eat. This is a good example of a culture that has been thrown into the globalized world without good training in the ways of modern business and without the entrepreneurial nerve to invest in something that does not give an instant return.

    Indonesian and Javanese people believe profoundly in spirits. They tell of experiences and encounters with good spirits, evil spirits, angry spirits, and vengeful spirits. They understand the nature and ways of the unseen world around them better than they comprehend the way a globalized market works.

    In contrast with Chinese culture, Javanese culture has been heavily influenced by many other cultures; whereas, the Chinese culture tends to be naturally more self-sufficient. Even in ancient times, the Chinese did not like other nations to come in and mess with their countryand culture. Chinese Indonesians are the upper class because they stick to their cultural strengths and to each other. They prosper with good business sense, and they prefer to keep the Javanese working under them.

    The Javanese culture itself is fitting for the traditional lifestyle that they had once upon a time; however, for better or for worse, the modern, globalized world has arrived. I enjoy the hospitality, the friendly and laid-back nature of my Javanese friends. I admire their skill in cooking, in growing food, in building their homes and in doing whatever is necessary to survive. Most of the time they have only their two hands and their own creativity to work with. I am not Javanese, but I have some near and dear Javanese friends.

  16. Devina says:

    I would like to know more about Javanese, I think interesting if I can know their traditional foods, traditional dances, ect

  17. Observato says:

    @Rebbeca, news flash for you: javanese humiliated and defeated Mongolians at the time China was occupied by them.

    The javanese may have been influenced by or have been absorbing many aspects of other cultures in history as its geographycal or political position required them to do so. Definitely a culture should do that in order to survive, no exception for the Chinese. I guess Buddhism influenced China very much, and Mongol and Japan invade China too. And todays China might never exist without Communisme! (an european thing).

    Role of Chinese people in Java is on trading/business role, which seems it was their ‘natural role’ and thank to Dutch colonial policy which placed immigrants (Arabs and Chinese) as ‘second class’ citizen, right after the colonial officers as first class citizen. And thank to Soeharto, too, who liked and continued such policy.

    While in Java island generaly chinese people are rich, it has been known Chinese people in Kalimantan and some other places are not that lucky. You can find ‘ordinary’ chinese there, as well as at some special places in Java/Jakarta. I have chinese friends with less or equal income in comparison to me (an javanese employee) in Jakarta.

    The Javanese usually care to long future, the spiritual aspect of life and attracted to politics. They value ‘derajat'(social status as well as spiritual status) more than ‘money’. And also because their majority, they will be the ruling class. A poor javanese who work for a chinese boss will motivate their children to be ‘wong gedhe/wong mulya’, (this is called ‘ngudang’), transfers his innate political skills and make his children become the leaders the country (thus rule their chinese bosses, too).

    Wong JOWO

  18. Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    @ All

    Javanese are the best people on earth for one very clear reason.

    The Slumdog Millionaire story tells of children abducted and intentionally crippled to beg for organised beggar syndicate. These are cruel reality in China, India, the Phillipines, Thailand, Africa, Middle East, South America, you name it; every nation except Javanese-ruled Indonesia.

    Most Javanese may be poor, but we are spiritually enlightened.

  19. diego says:


    Balinese too. In addition to doing all the good things the Javanese do, equally well, Balinese are also good at organizing cock-fight tournaments. After all, Balinese are descendants of the artists / intellectuals who migrated from Mojopahit, refusing to submit to islam.

  20. Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    Didn’t the Balinese went on a Chinese and Pribumis killing frenzy, and that the Javanese had to restrain them?

  21. diego says:

    You mean this one?:

    The killings on Bali started in earnest in December 1965 and soon began to take on dimensions of mass purgation, an “essential” exorcism of the island. Devout Balinese murdered godless communists whom they believed mocked their religion and threatened their pious way of life. In the witch hunt for “communists” old scores were settled and many noncommunists wiped out. Wealthy businessmen took advantage of the chaos to murder their Chinese or Balinese competitors

    On Java the people had to be egged on to kill the communists; on Bali they had to be restrained. The “trance of killings” reached a fever pitch in 1966, whe whole group of Balinese were rounded up and slashed, clubbed, and chopped to death by communal consent. The purge in Bali became so indiscriminate commandos finally had to step in to store order. From then on the killing was coordinated by the military and police, working with civilian authorities to make sure only the “right” people were executed. Of the two millions populations more than 50,000 people were killed.

    Yea, balinese can be evil too, sometimes. I guess that’s something innate to most balinese, sense of superiority. I knew a balinese family who think they’re a new “generation of balinese / indonesian people” due to their above-than-average body height.

  22. Observato says:

    If there is something very special to Javanese culture, may be its openness. The Javanese tend not to resist any cultural influence. The javanese language itself changed time to time so much that the new generation (except the scholars) do not understand the language of their parents. This might create a perception that Javanese culture is not self-sufficient. But such phrase is simply waaay an oversimplification.

    At the time some Majapahitans elites escape to Bali, at least Majapahitans consist of three elements: the Hindus, Buddist and new emerging but influential Muslims. The philosophy of the kingdom itself: Binneka Tunggal Ika, Tan Hana Dharma Mangrwa, that latter became state philosophy of Republic Indonesia. And at the time Bali was a living culture, so the Majapahit immigrants might affected Bali but they were not what made Bali today. And the fact that Bali is mostly dominated by the Hindus, they must follow a bit different path and different philosophy to their brethren in Java.

    While the javanese is so open to influence, take the best from it (ie: the removal of caste system by Islam), it preserved their ancient values so well, such as pluralism, harmony, gotong-royong etc. The preservations can be seen in the synchretic fashion of the religions. Hindu, Budha, and Islam are all well localized so the javanese values would inherently contained in the synchretic religions and transferred generation to generation.

    The Javanese are living in the land of continuous change, and being Javanese is the destiny of never ending change. Like the the array of volcanic mountains, lava and the mud those still continue destroy and reforming the shape of the land. The Javanese has endure Hindu, Buddhism and Islam, and Colonialism. And the next change may be you name it globalization. But the Javanese has been accustomed to it.

    Wong Jowo.

  23. David says:

    The Javanese are living in the land of continuous change, and being Javanese is the destiny of never ending change. Like the the array of volcanic mountains, lava and the mud those still continue destroy and reforming the shape of the land. The Javanese has endure Hindu, Buddhism and Islam, and Colonialism. And the next change may be you name it globalization. But the Javanese has been accustomed to it.

    No small culture, like the Javanese, will survive globalisation, there is no reason for it to, no logical reason. Today everywhere small cultures are being obliterated or swallowed up into much bigger wholes, the world is devolving around three supra-ethnic states – USA, China, India, while the others, Europeans, Arabs, much of Asia, just don’t matter. The Javanese are busily attaching themselves to one of these latter losers – the Arabs and their clever, very cunning export Islam….as it will continue. Some people here just live in the past, or think the way it has always been is the way it will be forever….

  24. Observato says:

    The Javanese are busily attaching themselves to one of these latter losers – the Arabs and their clever, very cunning export Islam….as it will continue

    You just rely too much on your materialistic logic, simplification, and your fear of Islam.

    Actually, the Javanese are exporting its world to globalization as well, such as the gamelan, wayang, spiritual groups etc, the Dutch play significant role on this, and now the Internet. It has been hundreds years since the Javanese being in touch with Islam. Actually the religion bring reforms to the society since its arrival, especially, as I mentioned before, the removal of caste system.

    It is not necessary the current forms of Javaneseness should survive or last forever, it was clearly stated in my post. It is that some if not all javanese values that will likely be able to survive (ofcourse not without gradual change), experience proof more than logic.

    You may afraid of Indonesia is turning to be Islamic Chalipate. Actually since hundreds years age the title of Mataram kings are: “Khalifatullah ing tanah jawa”, the chaliphate of Java island, yet ancient javanese values is surviving. You must thank God since Indonesia became republic and the sultanate was rendered absolete.

    Arabization is something old to us. If now you can see it, well, it is supposed to. On other hand, the Islamists and traditionalists are worrying about westernization of our people, too. You share the same feeling with them. But you see currently our political system is democracy. And Java is just part of the country, although the javanese are still majority in goverment and at the parliament.

    It is now the people who choose what Indonesia should look like in the near or long future. Will it be more Islamic, more Indianic, westernic etc. As far I know, that is how democracy works. May some people afraid of, may some people just embrace it.

  25. zekky says:

    I, also, dislike the thought of Java ‘losing’ her ‘traditional’ culture. But then what is tradition in Java?

    It was Islamic and Western influence that made Javanese women wear kebaya, but now it looks like Javanese traditional clothing.

    Sultan Diponegoro was usually pictured wearing a Middle-Eastern style turban.

    Many Javanese women today wear jilbab, but my cousins’ jilbab is batik.

    Batavia was more Dutch than Sundanese for centuries.

    As for Hinduism & Buddhism, they’re just Indian, no? Same as the beautiful temples like Borobudur, which are very Indian-influenced. Now they seem more Javanese because they’re old, but when they were built they must have looked foreign. In 300 years, if Java became all Christian, surely we’d think the Arabesque mosques are ‘traditional Javanese’.

    I’m so proud to have Javanese heritage, and very proud of Java’s old Hindu-Buddhist/spiritual traditions, but surely ‘Javanese’ always changes.

  26. Djoko SU says:

    Javanese is very famous in Indonesia as the source of the almost all problems. In my opinion Javanese in average has lower brain power as they are not pure Malay as Sumatra, Kalimantan, or Sulawesi people. They were mixed with the descendant of pithecanthropus erectus which is much more primitive.

    Of course there are many smart Javanese, but if you look at their facial and posture, you will realize that they are not pure. You can see the physical traits of Chinese or Caucasian.

  27. walkertr27 says:

    “Just because there is a bad apple, doesn’t mean that you can say the whole harvest has gone bad”

    dimp said

    dimp is american or european stock he dont know nothing about javanese.

    javanese is people that have long history of culture and civilization.if its not advance of its time.long before european can build a house.

  28. desmi quine says:

    hi. actually, i’m very shock when i read this article.
    first, there is sentence said ” javanese is stupid and so fort.
    cause i have assignment in the course, to search an article about java society and culture…

  29. Eko says:

    The spotlight is on Javanese just because they’re one of the most influential ‘groups’ in Southeast Asia.

    If Indonesian culture and politics were centred on Sulawesi, or Sumatra, the local people from those regions would be described in the same way.

  30. David Wong Jowo says:

    The Javanese people are neither stupid nor lacking in brain power!

    The Javanese people are patience people, they reserve their judgment/s until they know the whole story before making decision/s. I know this because in my family and my friend’s family, the elders are always discuss things of importance before they make their decision/s.
    Some Javanese people continue to advance without showing off, very low profile people!

    They are steadfast and loyal to their positions, well reserved and willing to listen to other people’s complaints and whinnings. They are wise, they become architects, teachers, professors, bankers and hold other high echelon positions. I’ve been around them for a long time, and when things get rough and shaky, they are the ones that get things done without any needs for pats on the back. Some are short tempered, but any other ethnic backgrounds have people like that as well, so basically they are smart, good hard working people. They tend to their traditions well, eventhough the young ones, maybe now, think that they are more westerned than some; in due time, they will be back to their own culture once they recognize the obvious…that western world is just an illusion…

    Hollywood is dead! Believe in yourself, your own culture and traditions!

    Why do you think lots of foreigners come to Java and want to learn Javanese cultures, languange and traditions? Because they don’t have any! Hollywood is a made up world, it is not real! It is just for entertainment only, please do not do this at home…things.

    The Chinese are like ants, they worked hard for their money and keep them. They are frugal and aware that money don’t grow on trees, that is why most of them on top. You can find the Chinese people in every corner of the world, even in the most cold southern part of the world like in Punta Arenas, Argentina, there are chinese restaurants down there. They are adventurous, willing to work hard, most of them work ten to fourteen hours a day without so much as complaint about their tough working conditions. It is a tradition, they are like ants! Work hard, keep their harvest and store them for rainy days ahead.

    Other ethnic background like to live like kings and queens with champagne taste but beer budget, only fooling themselves in the process. Buying new cars, motorcycles, and other things they cannot really afford. Live dangerously on credit and not worry about the future. Just like the West where people wants and get things…instantly! Worry about being able to pay it later…later! It is the “NOW” generations! When I grew up it is work hard, save your money and when you have the money, you buy it. Now, it is work, buy it now!, pay and pay and pay later until you are burried in the debts’ mountains. This is why the economy the world over is in bad shape right now…now you know…

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