Paper on Sacred Wells and Shopping Malls in Indonesia, by Stephen Headley

Of Sacred Wells and Shopping Malls:

Glimpses of the Reconstruction of Social Confidence

 in Solo after Soeharto

Stephen C. Headley (Erasme, CNRS, Paris)

“L’individu est une valeur, ou plutôt fait partie d’une configuration des valeurs sui generis.”

[Louis Dumont 1979:23]

You can download the full text by clicking here: Reconstruction of Social Confidence Wells & Malls

It will be many years before historians, economists and other social scientists have a clear perspective on the changes wrought in Indonesia by the fall of General Soeharto’s regime in 1998. Javanese wayang, a highly “traditional” art form might be expected to evolve more slowly than other social indicators, artistic or otherwise, in reaction to such political upheaval. However, the very nature of wayang theatre, the nature of any living “tradition”, is indeed to evolve within its own structures. For once “tradition” becomes a completely static and immovable entity, it is in textbooks and museums, but not in the streets in tense times of rapid social change. Within wayang, the purification, or ruwatan genre, occupies a receptive place for change. For how can one claim to purify unless one heals today’s ills? The agency of wayang during exorcisms addresses the current needs of the local populace, but how does it do so? More specifically how can it address such all-encompassing social crises as the fall of the New Order regime?

The fall of General Soeharto created many new social currents in the later half of 1998 and during 1999. The social reconstruction of confidence, required for society to go on, took many forms. Local neighborhood committees in the town of Surakarta, as in many other places, were mobilised to protect the neighbourhoods (kampung) at night and help the poorest to get by through aid in kind and money[1]. The major Muslim movements increased their stress on religious tolerance and could be called upon to protect churches threatened with being burned down.[2] After the fall of Soeharto in May 1998, the status of the state was in question due to the daily lack of order and confidence. For instance, no one in Solo believed that the police were really police, just cowards and profiteers. The police, knowing they had lost their authority, kept a low profile. During the course of thirty lengthy interviews with Solonese of all walks of life in January and February, 1999, I heard described various types of efforts at the social reconstruction of confidence that had occured after May 1998: new labour unions, aid associations (panguyuban), NGO legal aid networks, and peddlers’ cooperatives.

Eldar Braten[3] has asked what relationship exists in Java between contemporary experience and cultural representation. Against the backdrop of rapid social change, we are asking how did wayang react? More precisely, one month or six months after the events of May ’98, did cultural representations in Solo reflect public experience? Many things changed in the Javanese way of being in the world in 1998-99. Obviously that had to be true on a personal level, but were there changes on the social plane as well?

Collective experience had always been reflected in ritual and theatrical discourse. In the purification rites I studied between 1983-1993[4], the dhalang always included in his monologues and dialogues references to the persons purified and their place of habitation, family background etc. The 1996 ecologically-oriented, “installation-art” earth purifications (ruwatan bumi) as well as the farcical imitations by live actors of political figures resonated with the concerns surrounding current events[5]. Commenting on the recent debacle of Soeharto, Ward Keeler (ch.?:23) stressed that not only the Javanese dhalang, but also his sponsors and fans would be likely to take wayang in new directions in the coming years. Yet during second half of 1998 theatre often illustrated a tendency which Hatley[6] describes:

“If performances of traditional theatre genre …celebrate the world as it is, modern theatre typically interrogates and problematises from a distance.”

Indeed, contesting the Soeharto regime had not been a major feature of traditional Javanese theatre, but of other more innovative theatrical genres. But once the regime fell, wayang, with its epic metaphors and tropes, set to work on the new situation, that is to say post-Soeharto Indonesia.

What it meant to be Solonese was being reviewed in the wake of the “war”, as the inhabitants often called the chaos that had devastated their town. The issue of who organised the riots has never really been clarified, but it was clear that the impoverished population had not been hard to provoke, and that outside criminal elements had been employed by elements in the army “loyal” to Soeharto to destroy the city. This pattern was avoided in extremis in Yogyakarta at the same period by a remarkable alliance of the court, the population and the universities.

During the night of 6 February 1999 I attended a purification (ruwatan) of a Solonese shopping plaza, followed by the performance of the wayang Pandhawa Timbul (the Appearance of the Pandava) by Ki Dhalang Manteb Sudarsono. That evening ritual is compared with the offering of a wayang play,Wahyu Kamulyan (The Revelation of Glory) by the dhalang Ki Warseno Slenk at another purification ritual, this time at the well of Mbah Meyek in the nearby neighbourhood of Bibis Kulon[7]. The latter took place on 11 June 1998, after having been delayed a month by the May riots in Solo and the collapse of the Soeharto regime.

During a shadow puppet theatre, the dialogue (ginem) between a wizen old mother (Cangik) and her plump and slow daughter (Limbuk) deal with many topical issues. The final chapter of Jan Mrazek’s dissertation[8] has demonstrated the importance of these limbukan exchanges for understanding the place of wayang theatre in the social debates of the late 1990’s. Day’s discussion here(ch.?) of the  treatment of hybrid identities in East Java wayang also encouraged me to scrutinise the ritual accompanying the play and the dialogues of Limbuk and Cangik in these two Solonese wayang performances for glimpses of the social reconstruction of confidence in central Java.

Both theatrical events described below contained a distinct ritual dimension. They also both provided ample opportunity for the dhalang to comment on events. The village well purification was an annual event that never before had occured in such an atmosphere coloured as it was by the recent riots. When village well purification was celebrated the city was still a series of burnt out ruins. The burnt-out shopping mall purification which took place eight months later occured next to a cleaned up, but not rebuilt building. The Bètèng plaza purification was a direct result of the rioting which took place in Solo seven days before Soeharto’s fall. The parallel dimensions in the two performances, one in an urban village and another in a shopping mall just north-east of the main Solo palace, across the street from the eighteenth-century Dutch fort, suggested that a comparison should include at least two levels, the ritual and dialogic. The longed-necked, scrawny peasant Cangik and her plump indecisive daughter Limbuk could not ignore the recent events which encroached massively on every aspect of Solonese life. I have chosen to present the village purification after the shopping mall purification. The village ruwatan presented neighbourhood bonds and social linkage with home which the “non-lieu” of a shopping mall can’t claim to possess. On the other hand, the shopping mall ritual united the Bètèng plaza merchants with mutual economic interests far greater than that those between the villagers of Bibis Kulon. How purification (ruwatan), the communal ritual meal (slametan) and wayang theatre relate aspects social morphology and facilitate the exchange of values will be taken up in the conclusion.

[1]– Hari Mulyadi, Soedarmono and a team of researchers belonging to the Lembaga Pengembangan Teknologi Pedasan (LPTP) produced in 1999 a 659 page book entitled, Runtuhnya Kekuasaan “Kraton Alit” (Studi Radikalisasi Social “Wong Solo” dan Kerusuhan Mei 1989 di Surakarta) [The Collapse of the Reign of the “Small Palace”. A Study of the Social Radicalisation of the Solonese populace and the Riots of May 1998 in Surakarta.] The title does not give justice to the breadth of economic, social and political analysis. It is as if after more than thirty years of stultifying demagogy, the social lens of the Solonese suddenly focused on the realities that previously had been taboo and social scientists suddenly saw their whole history, and not just the last thirty years, brought into focus. The urban history and the ethnic relations that were weaved into that history, just as the radicalisation of the population, are seen in the persepctive of the whole twentieth century political and economic developments. The state violence against citizenry, and the clashes between social classes against, are not ignored. As many social facets of the aftermath as possible were taken into consideration: from the “national” purification ritual (ruwatan) held by the Brayat Ageng Masyarakat Surakarta on the 23rd of July 1998 (1999:553-555) to the numerous  ” marché aux puces” (pasar klitikan) that grew up after the looting of the city. This attempt of a description of the total social fact  in a regional, here urban, monograph is especially welcome.

[2]– Interview with the head (ketua) of the Solo branch of the Nadhatul Ulama (2 February, 1999), H. M. Dian Haji. Few foreign observers, reading about the provoked and unprovoked outbreak of inter ethnic and religious violence in Indonesiain 1998 -99, have been able to integrate into their  vision, an Indonesia seeking better relations between Christians and Muslims. Robert Hefner’s Civil Islam (Princeton University Press, Princeton,2000)is an important exception to this failure.

[3]– Eldar Braten “Recapturing “Java”: a call for a Javanese Anthropology”. unpublished ms. pp, .9-10.

[4]– Cf. S. C. Headley, Cosmogeny and Exorcism in a Javanese Genesis. The Spilt Seed, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2000.

[5]– Cf. The Surabaya Post April 6th. 1998 article describes a provisional schedule of performances including “seni instali”, performance art, ketoprak, comedies, danse theatre (jatilan), pantomine, and shaddow puppet theatre. The program began on Idul Adha (7 April 1999) and apparently only borrowed the term ruwatan to baptise ther sereis of assoicated performances. In the same vein an author claimed (Suara Merdeka 6 April 1998) for his exorcistic qualitiesSastra Tegalan. The idea that one needs to purify the kingdom (or nation) during times of disorder is a very old one already present in the Panji corpus some four hundred years ago.

[6]–  Barbara Hatley, “Cultural Expression and social transformation in Indonesia” p. 268 in  Arief Budiman, Barbara Hatley and Damien Kingsbury, Reformasi. Crisis and change in Indonesia. Monash Asia Institute, Clayton, Australia 1999.

[7]– My understanding of the event in the village of Bibis Kulon is entirely second-hand and based on Sarwanto’s master’s thesis ( tesis S-2), Wayang Kulit Purwa Dalam Upacara Bersih Desa di Bibis Kulon, Surakarta. Gadjah Mada University,1999. This study included a transcription of the play.

[8]– reference   ???

Journal Issue on Pilgrimages in Eurasia, 2013

Pèlerinages en Eurasie et au-delà

Slavica Occitania n°36

Edited by Kathy Rousselet


Kathy ROUSSELET D’un pèlerinage à l’autre

Marcello GARZANITI Le Livre du Pèlerin d’Antoine de Novgorod : Constantinople dans le premier témoignage d’un récit de voyage russe

Myriam D’AVEZAC-ODAYSK Les Pérégrinations de Vassili Grigorovitch-Barski : du pèlerinage à la réalisation de soi

Aleksandr LAVROV Un pèlerin de Moscovie aux lieux saints de l’islam

Ilya PLATOV Le pèlerinage en Terre sainte et la société russe au XIXe siècle

Roger COMTET Vladimir G. Korolenko (1853-1921) et le pèlerinage russe

Dany SAVELLI Des théosophes sur la route de Lhassa. Les carnets de voyage au Tibet de trois membres de l’expédition Roerich (1927-1928)

Ilnur MINNULIN La lutte contre les « saints ». La politique soviétique à l’égard des pèlerinages de musulmans dans la Moyenne Volga dans les années 1950 et 1960

Anne NERCESSIAN Le parc des Lamentations à Saint-Pétersbourg

Jeanna KORMINA La langue des pèlerins orthodoxes : « l’énergie sacrale d’un lieu chargé de prière »

Irina BABITCH, Evgueni KRATOV, Natalia KRATOVA Notes ethnographiques sur le pèlerinage orthodoxe dans le Caucase du Nord aujourd’hui

Katerina SERAïDARI Pèlerinages entre la Grèce et la Russie : jeux de pouvoirs et recompositions du christianisme orthodoxe

Anya BERNSTEIN L’Asie du nord au sud : genre, pouvoir et position sociale dans la topographie bouddhique post-soviétique


Svetlana DUDARENOK Entre prophéties et persécutions : l’émigration des pentecôtistes de Nakhodka

Françoise LESOURD Sécularisation et culture russe

Ksenja PIMENOVA Les sources du savoir. Le renouveau du bouddhisme et du chamanisme chez les Touvas de la Sibérie du Sud (résumé de thèse)


Jean-Pierre ALBERT Roberte Hamayon, Jouer. Étude anthropologique à partir d’exemples sibériens, Paris, La Découverte, « Bibliothèque du Mauss », 2012, 369 p. – ISBN 9-782707-164919

Roger COMTET Iva Novakova & Elena Dontchenko (éd.), Grammaire et lexique : regards croisés, Grenoble, Éditions littéraires et artistiques de l’Université de Grenoble – Astrakhan, Université d’État d’Astrakhan, 2010, 247 p. – ISBN (France) : 978-2-84310-165-6 ISBN (Russie) : 978-5-9926-03147-9.

Roger COMTET Jack Feuillet, La Langue bulgare au début du XIXe siècle, Paris, Institut d’études slaves, (Collection de manuels publiés par l’Institut d’études slaves. – XIII), 2011, 575 p. ― ISSN 0078-9992 ISBN 978-2- 7204-0470-2

Maryse DENNES William Leatherbarrow & Derek Offord (éd.), A History of Russian Thought, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010, 444 p. – ISBN 978-0-521-87521-9

Isabelle DESPRÉS Catherine Depretto (éd.), Un Autre Tolstoï, Paris, Institut d’études slaves, 2012, 288 p. – ISBN 978-2-7204-0491-7

Jean-Marie JACONO Pascale Melani, L’Opéra privé de Moscou et l’avènement du spectacle d’opéra moderne en Russie, Paris, Institut d’études slaves, 2012, 293 p. – ISBN 978-2-7204-0487-0 ISSN 0078-9976

Natalia GAMALOVA Nikoletta [Nicoletta] Misler, V Načale bylo telo. Ritmoplastičeskie èksperimenty načala XX veka. [Au commencement était le corps. Expériences rythmiques et plastiques du début du XXe siècle], Moscou, Iskusstvo-XXI vek, 2011, 447 p. – ISBN 978-5- 98051-076-3.

Paper on Secularization of religion in Indonesia, by Stephen Headley

Secularization of religion in Indonesia:

From Custom to Pancasila and back to adat

Stephen C. Headley (CNRS)

[Version 3 Nov., 2008]

A full version of this paper can be downloaded here: From Custom to Pancasila and back to adat _Naples

Introduction: Why would anyone want to promote or accept a move to normalization of religion? Why are village rituals considered superstition while Islam is not? What is dangerous about such cultic diversity?

These are the basic questions which we are asking in this paper. After independence in 1949, the standardization of religion in the Republic of Indonesia was animated by a preoccupation with “unity in diversity”. All citizens were to be monotheists, for monotheism reflected more perfectly the unity of the new republic than did the great variety of cosmologies deployed in the animistic cults. Initially the legal term secularization in European countries (i.e., England and France circa 1600-1800) meant confiscations of church property. Only later in sociology of religion did the word secularization come to designate lesser attendance to church services. It also involved a deep shift in the epistemological framework. It redefined what it meant to be a person (Milbank, 1990). Anthropology in societies where religion and the state are separate is very different than an anthropology where the rulers and the religion agree about man’s destiny. This means that in each distinct cultural secularization will take a different form depending on the anthropology conveyed by its historically dominant religion expression. For example, the French republic has no cosmology referring to heaven and earth; its genealogical amnesia concerning the Christian origins of the Merovingian and Carolingian kingdoms is deliberate for, the universality of the values of the republic were to liberate its citizens from public obedience to Catholicism. Man, having become the measure of all things, permits humanism to gradually dominate the traditional cathedral-centered polis where a partially religious hierarchy of values had once been enthroned. Henceforth the person was increasingly defined as  citizen of the republic. Outside of Western Europe, even in Eastern Europe where papo-caesarism was unknown, this inversion never took place (cf. G. Dagron, Empereur et prêtre, 1996).

What sort of “secular” state is the Indonesian Republic with its five recognized religions, yet where Islam overshadows all others (Irfan Ahmad 2006)? In any case it is not unique as the institution of a similar system in the Russian Federation during the 1990’s shows us.  More specifically this took the form of a shift: monotheism à la Pancasila and not Islam would be the basis of citizenship. Naturally, Islam seems the common denominator to many inhabitants of the archipelago. The anti-colonial, nationalist movement had already shown that ethnic labels could be removed from groups when they worked towards “unity in diversity”. A disenchanted cosmology provides a secular (i.e., this century) space where nature can be manipulated. In the past, Indonesians wouldn’t sell their rice because it was a gift from the goddess Sri. In the twentieth century this was understood to make for poor citizens (Asad 2003:27). The domestication of “religions” to the norms of a republican social morphology required secularizing those horizons of transcendence which risked to contradict the pretensions of the new republic to being the greater “whole”. Cultural diversity, too many cults and customs with their strong public norms and values, challenged the secular structure of the republic which proposes citizenship instead of tribal collective identities.

Only Islam was in a position to oppose such a ground shift, such a politicizing of the vision of what it meant to be a person, for only Islam, having organized itself into political parties in the first quarter of the twentieth century, was able to operate on the level of statehood. For more than ten years, starting in 1949, S.W. Kartosuwirjo’s regional rebellion Darul Islam challenged the new republic as would-be founders of an Islamic state appeared. Since the suppression of the Darul Islam, other models of re-establishments of Islamic states have been imported from abroad, such as Hizbut Tahrir[1]. Radical groups such as the Solonese branch of this movement give gentle titles to their public meetings in order to obtain permission to hold them. They implicitly recognize that nowadays encouraging violence is frowned upon. In 1945, Muslim demands that shariah be obligatory for all Muslims was not incorporated into the constitution. The so-called Jakarta charter was premised on the belief  that acculturations represented by regional custom or adat-based religion presented an unwanted imbeddedness, i.e. to a local, insular Islam. For different reasons Muslims agreed about this latter diversity and from 1949 till 1955 the insistence on this piagam Jakarta was abandoned. Once the Soeharto regime came to power (1967+), military-imposed unity was strengthened, and openly declared as the “raison d’État”, and eventually was the pretext for suspension of modern legal procedures that destabilized local adat. Can regional custom be eliminated by a republic in the name of the rule of law, by claiming it does not qualify as religion? Successive Indonesian governments and Islam have seen society through such a prism of uniformity. For Islam, Allah’s sovereignty is reflected in the mirror of mosque-based prayer, while for the republican government political control and surveillance were activities which the Javanese, and their pre-eminent kingdoms, placed above the laws of God. Such in brief is the Indonesian republic’s vision of secularization until recently.

This paper considers the post Reformasi (1998+) demand for an application of shariah to all Muslims. Such a move could neutralize the diversity of local adat which implicitly had been admitted by normal Pancasila “plurality”[2]. This chapter is less a political or ethnographic study than a general reflection on Javanese adat. My stepping off point is the following: Javanese culture presupposes that differences create spaces for communication. Political strategies for accumulating identity hinders the creation of such spaces. When difference is treated as division, as in the Soeharto period (1967-98) the relations that bridge the differences are destroyed. The “other” becomes a danger and the different parties can be easily instrumentalized. Difference is “good” as long as the cultural and religious groups have kept each other in focus. For that to be so, above and beyond their differences, some common “higher” values must motivate them to remain in contact. Following Louis Dumont, I have called this “encompassment”[3], a concept he used in his description of the articulation beyond the diversity of the Indian castes.

Adat as Javanese village custom was traditionally “encompassed” by, but not separated, from the law of the palace. Especially in settling village disputes over land tenure, the authority of the founding fathers and spirits of the village was expressed in local cults and adjucations. Adat was an indigenous anthropology, a religious and administrative synthesis for local use. It was rendered redundant by the arrival of direct colonial administration. I am deliberately opposing state-sponsored Pancasila management to spontaneous religious praxis, because I consider that Soeharto’s approach to this normalization imposes it as a norm, not so much of religion, as of secularization. This included the obligatory study of the Ordre Baru’s own version of Pancasila ideology[4], the substitution of New Order sovereignty above and beyond Allah. The political regime protected, “umbrella”-ed (dipayungaké) and overshadowed the more traditional, “normal” wholeness of the Godhead, the tauhid of Allah. Endemic local insecurity in the reformasi period encouraged the re-emergence of older notions of sociability which permitted the creation of local micro-holisms, each cultural area possessing its own character[5]. Sometimes, as on the north coast of Java, the outbreaks were orchestrated by outside dhalang (manipulators) but in southern Borneo or central Celebes, the results of tensions resulting from immigration (so called “transmigrasi”) had produced much deeper roots of local conflict[6]. The return to local adat-based administration sometimes reduced the levels of intolerance provoked by the top-to-bottom Pancasila approaches to local religious diversity. To conceptualize the diversity of adat revivals outside of Java, we will first bring in the most recent data collected on this topic.

[1] – In Arabic Hizb ut-Tahrir, this “Party of Liberation” boasts itself to be the vanguard of the Sunni. Its aim is to join all Muslim states into a caliphate ruled by an elected caliph. Its founder, Taqiuddin al-Nabahani, a court judge (qadi) from Haifa, began his movement in 1953; it is now present in some forty countries, with some one million adherents, and is especially active in Western Europe. Cf. Matringe, Denis, 2005.

[2] – I am referring to Pancasila’s as propagated under Soeharto’s New Order. I am not referring to 2006 Pancasila’s re-packaging as the indispensable national foundation (dasar negara) of the republic by such distinguished figures as Azyumardi Azra which is dealt with in Francois Raillon’s paper.

[3] – Cf. Louis Dumont, Essais sur l’individualisme. Une perspective anthropologique sur l’idéologie moderne. Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1983.

[4] – On the debates between 1945 and 1978 on the content and way in which Pancasila should be studied cf. Marcel Bonneff, et al, Pantjasila, trente années de débats politiques en Indonésie. Paris, Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1980.

[5] – Among the new approaches to kinship, the term sociability is used in different ways. Cf. Janet Carsten (ed.), Cultures of Relatedness. New Approaches to the Study of Kinship. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000.

[6] – Over the last few years, inter-religious violence has been provoked in Tasikmalaya (Institut Studi Arus Informasi, 1998), Situbondo (in east Java, Hariyanto 1997), southern Borneo (Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia, 1997); Aceh, Maluku and Riau (Tim Peneliti LIPI, 2001).