Contents - Previous - Next
This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu
The Javanese value of children
In Java, large families traditionally have been desirable. Some studies argue that the high value placed on fertility is mainly due to expected economic returns (White 1975; Nag, White, and Peet 1980; Williams 1990) that parents receive in the form of additional labour power and security in old age.
In Javanese peasant families in economically poor villages, very young children are actively involved in housework, care of younger siblings, and some agricultural chores (White 1975). Children's direct contribution to income is limited until about the age of 10 (White 1975). It is very common, especially in poor households, to see children from the age of five or six involved in looking after younger siblings, both before and after school. According to Jay (1969), children are not forced to work. He observed that it is through appreciation and praise of their activity that children's labour is encouraged. Jay explained further:
I observed children to be industrious, even at an early age, in picking up small piecework jobs such as hulling peanuts or sorting and bundling onions for sale ... there was a general notion that whatever a child might earn at such work belonged to the household purse. At lower levels, though, there was a feeling that most children would spend the proceeds on snacks for themselves and their age mates, and overt praise was given children who had turned their earnings over to their mothers. (Jay 1969, 69)
Yet higher-class Javanese families, who do not need their children's economic contribution, have more children than peasant families. Koentjaraningrat (1985) noted that having many children is perceived as prestigious; a man can have as many children as he can afford. The number of children a man has also increases his status at work. Javanese in white-collar occupations consider persons with many children higher in status than those with only a few. Also, in social etiquette, those with more children should be addressed in formal terms, even if their age, education, and experience are the same. Consequently, attempts in the early 1970s to introduce family planning were less successful among urban families than among peasants.
Since the introduction of rigorous family planning campaigns, however, the Javanese attitude towards the ideal number of children has begun to change (Koentjaraningrat 1985). Recent findings based on a study of 400 families in East Java (Megawangi, Sumarwan, and Hartoyo 1994), show that almost 90 per cent of couples, in both the urban and the rural areas, no longer agree with the statement, "Having many children can bring luck"; about 55 per cent of both rural and urban couples state that the ideal number of children is one or two. Among the Javanese peasant community, parents are now more future orientated and limit the number of children for the benefit of the children, foregoing the value of additional labour for the family (Koentjaraningrat 1985). A finding based on the Indonesian National Survey in East Java (Megawangi 1991) shows that the total parity of women from the lowest income category did not differ at all from the total parity of those from the highest income category. This attitude change seems to contradict the idea of high economic returns of the children mentioned earlier.
Koentjaraningrat (1957; 1985) and Geertz (1961) describe children as a source of family warmth, joy, and happiness. The Javanese believe that children bring luck and happiness and that if there is warmth in the family there will be calm and peace in the heart. Geertz (1961) wrote, "A woman with many children is envied; a barren woman is pitied." Infertility may become a source of family problems that end in divorce. A childless couple usually adopts a child, usually from relatives either on the husband's or the wife's side.
Many Javanese have children to provide security in old age. There is an expression for this in Javanese (Geertz 1961): "When you are old, your children will care for you. Even if you are very rich, the kind of care your children give you cannot be bought." Children are obligated to care for elderly parents. However, a shift in value of this kind of obligation may have occurred, as the most recent finding shows that only 53 per cent of Javanese parents agree with the statement, "Children can provide security in old age" (Megawangi, Sumarwan, and Hartoyo 1994). Parents traditionally endow their houses in their wills to the youngest child, especially the youngest daughter, who usually remains in the parents' home even after her marriage and is later charged with the obligation to care for elderly parents, living with them until the parents die.
In Javanese society, children of both sexes are equally wanted. Preferential treatment based on gender has never been noted in Indonesia, except for willingness to pay for tuition for higher education for boys, as noted above. A study conducted by Megawangi (1991) in East Java, Nusa Tenggara Timur, and Nusa Tenggara Barat (n= 6,796), showed that female children have better nutritional status, as measured by weight for age, than male children. The male infant mortality rate was also 30 per cent higher than for females (CBS 1985). Since preferential treatment does not explain this trend, biology may be implicated. Stini (1983) and Stinson (1985) noted that female children might have a higher survival rate than male children. In addition, the long-term effects of prenatal undernutrition of the mother are more pronounced in males than females.
In our data, parental investment in the child's future, as measured by a modified HOME subscale describing learning and academic stimulation in the home, was significantly associated with taller child stature and the adequacy of nutrient intake. The subscale measured the provision of toys and books, and encouragement to learn the alphabet and numbers, and to read words. The type of behavioural interactions involved in teaching, and providing toys and books, may have been conducive to an investment in the child's nutrient intake and subsequent growth. This relationship of stature to child investment strategies was also seen in a study with slightly younger children living in the same geographical area (Sockalingam et al. 1990) and in the positive deviance literature (Zeitlin, Ghassemi, and Mansour 1990). Super, Herrera, and Mora (1990) also found that a group of Columbian children whose mothers had been tutored in cognitive and social stimulation had increased adequacy of protein and energy intake, as well as a distinct growth advantage over those children whose mothers did not receive tutoring. The learning and academic stimulation factor in our study was associated with characteristics typical of the middle-class Javanese family, and may reflect a more privileged lifestyle where the mother is more educated and is a nonworking housewife intimately involved in child-rearing (Hull 1982; Koentjaraningrat 1985).
The Javanese child is the centre of social attention from the time of conception Koentjaraningrat 1957; 1985). Before the birth, at least one ceremony in the seventh month of pregnancy is held to secure a successful delivery; this is usually a big party of relatives and neighbours. After the child is born, the father and other adult members stay awake every night until the umbilical cord has fallen off. They usually invite relatives, friends, or neighbours to spend the time chatting the whole night. There is an additional ceremony in the night when the umbilical cord has fallen off. This custom, however, has disappeared in urban families (Koentjaraningrat 1985), although other ceremonies are still held, including a naming ceremony usually held on the seventh day after birth; kekah, an offering after the thirty-fifth day that is especially common among Moslems; and selapan, a ceremony marking the thirty-fifth day after birth (Koentjaraningrat 1957).
It is a Javanese ideal that husbands and wives should show affection and love to each other, although they cannot demonstrate their affection publicly (Koentjaraningrat 1957; 1985). The wife must show respect to the husband, as the husband is assumed to be older than the wife. The husband is supposed to be the leader of the household, but is concerned primarily with external matters. The wife's sphere of interest is internal household matters. Husbands and wives cooperate on significant financial decisions, but usually husbands take little interest in the day-to-day household management, including daily expenses, which are handled by the wife. Internal affairs of the household are not usually a source of conflict between husband and wife. Conflicts usually relate to compatibility of individual character traits, to sexual infidelity, and to larger affinal conflicts (Geertz 1961; Koentjaraningrat 1985). Communication between husbands and wives varies, depending on their education (Hull 1982; Williams 1990). For example, over one-half of lowerclass married women surveyed in Maguwoharjo, Central Java (Hull 1982), said they never discussed either the number of children they wanted or the use of contraception with their husbands. In contrast, most educated women claimed to have discussed both issues.
Besides education, husband-wife communication appears to be related to whether the marriage was arranged or not (Hull 1982). Marriages arranged by parents, although declining, are still common among lower-class families (Geertz 1961). Among younger-generation women in Hull's study, marriages were arranged for 53 per cent of lower-income women, compared with 35 per cent of upper-income women.
Arranged first marriages account for high divorce rates in lower-class families (Geertz 1961; Hull 1982). The divorce rate in Modjokuto in 1953 was 47.2 per cent, mostly among arranged first marriages. Parents of low social class usually are aware that the first arranged marriage of their daughter can easily end in divorce, with little social stigma attached to such a divorce. Geertz (1961) compared the attitude towards divorce among the lower- and upper-class women in Java, stating that in the lower class divorce is neither right nor wrong, but often is the easiest solution to an unsatisfactory marriage. This is because the courtship period is extremely limited and sometimes completely omitted. According to Geertz, Javanese couples may have the wedding first and then, in the months following, find out whether or not they are compatible. In contrast, upper-class women perceive divorce as showing a lack of self-control and refinement, making divorce shameful. In Hull's study, 47 per cent of women aged 45 and over in the lower income group had their first marriage end in divorce, compared with only 24 per cent of upper-income women in that age group. A more recent survey reported by UNICEF and the Government of Indonesia (1988) shows that female-headed households tend to fall into a low or lower-middle income category.
The economic self-reliance of Javanese women in the lower income group is also considered a "facilitating factor" to divorce (Geertz 1961). This differs from the middle-class women who depend on their husbands for support (Hull 1982). Hull found that divorced lower-class women were completely self-supporting, except at very young ages. The few upper-class women who were divorced or widowed were more likely to depend on other family members until they could remarry.
Few factors discourage divorce. Although a mother may feel that she needs to maintain her marriage to support her children or to prevent them from living with a stepmother, this is a weak opposing factor, "... children of a divorced couple are always easily added to the families of their siblings and the divorced girl always has a place in her parents' family" (Geertz 1961, 144). Children of divorced parents usually live with the mother or the grandparents. Often siblings take care of their siblings' children. The custom of taking nephews and nieces into the household, or the so-called ngenger custom, according to Koentjaraningrat (1985) is very common among middleclass households. Impoverished relatives who come to live with a prosperous uncle or aunt are usually given proper care, education, and even a wedding. In return, they help with household chores.
According to Geertz (1961), quarrels between husband and wife generally are not explosive. Couples try to avoid anger; the neighbours, and even the children, must not know about the quarrel. When tempers flared, nearly every couple interviewed by Geertz used a form of silent expression, called satru, during which they did not speak to each other for a week or so. Direct contact is rarely used to settle differences. Couples use a mediator, usually the parents of both sides, to help solve the problem. Geertz further explained that "the go-between pattern appears in other contexts in Javanese life, particularly in delicate matters such as arranging a loan or a marriage, and is part of a more pervasive pattern of general avoidance of direct contacts that are potentially explosive" (Geertz 1961, 136).
The presence of children can strengthen the tie between husband and wife. After the birth of a child, a husband will address his wife as "mother of Slamet" (Mbokne Slamet) and the wife addresses her husband as "father of Slamet" (Pakne Slamet) (Geertz 1961). A husband is required to try to satisfy his wife's wishes, no matter how difficult, during her pregnancy. He also should share the pregnancy taboos, and supervise his wife's eating behaviour to avoid endangering the baby. He cannot hunt or kill animals. If he happens to kill an animal he should forestall the evil by shouting out "A thousand pardons, infant child!" The husband's positive attitude towards his wife during pregnancy still continues. A study conducted in East Java (n = 400) reveals that 95 per cent of Javanese husbands agree with the statement, "The husband should please his wife during her pregnancy"; 88 per cent with the statement that "his pregnant wife should rest more"; and 80 per cent that "a pregnant woman should eat more" (Megawangi, Sumarwan, and Hartoyo 1994). The husband's involvement in his wife's pregnancy can be seen in his active role in delivery: during the delivery, the husband should support his wife as she leans back while pushing her baby out; it is the task of the husband, and his alone, to wash away the blood from the birth. A Javanese friend of the authors told us of watching her brother wash his wife's dirty clothes every morning for several days following his wife's delivery; this washing, according to the husband, could not be done by a substitute.
Relationships in the family
The principles of social harmony and respect guide Javanese social behaviour outside the family. Parents begin to teach their children very early about the concepts of isin (shyness), wedi (fear), and sungkan (respectful politeness) to encourage social harmony and respect in their outside relationships. These three concepts are considered appropriate to situations demanding respectful behaviour (Geertz 1961). According to Magnis-Suseno (1988), the Javanese strive to control their natural impulses in order to maintain social harmony. Therefore, within the family is the only place where the Javanese are relatively free from such tensions, and Javanese relationships among family members should be based on unconditional love, or tresna (Magnis-Suseno 1988). Feelings of isin and sungkan should not be felt among members of the family; rather, family members can express their emotions freely, without fearing the loss of family support, especially that of the parents (Magnis-Suseno 1988). It should be noted that other authors cited in this report indicate that a certain degree of behaviour restriction exists towards the father and older siblings.
According to the Javanese, the love given by biological parents to their children is incomparable and there is no substitute for it (Jay 1969). Before the age of five or six, children are provided by their parents, especially the mother, with nurturance, unconditional emotional support, and love, (Geertz 1961; Magnis-Suseno 1988). As the child ages, this kind of relationship with the father gradually disappears because the father should receive "respect" from his children.
Young children always sleep with their mother and usually also with their father, a practice that involves a good deal of physical intimacy (Geertz 1961). Bedtime for Javanese children was described by Geertz as a pleasant time, when "his mother lies down with him on his mat and puts her arms about him, cuddling him till he is asleep." When Geertz did her study in the 1950s, every child in her village was sent to sleep in this way.
Mother-child relationship and infant care
During the first one or two years, until the child is weaned or begins to walk, the mother is the most important person in the child's life. She is with the baby whenever she can be. If she works outside the home, she leaves the baby with someone she trusts, usually her sister or mother (Geertz 1961). Every early transition is managed with extreme care. Magnis-Suseno (1988) described the weaning period as very difficult for the mother, since she was constantly aware of the possible frustrations the child might undergo. This may explain why prolonged breast-feeding in East Java (Megawangi 1991) is quite common. In the villages studied, about 35 per cent of the children between the ages of 49 and 60 months were still partially breast-fed. Piwoz (1986) found that 58 per cent of children in East Java and West Nusatenggara still breast-fed at the age of two to three years, and in some cases, until well over four years of age. In our sample, 6 per cent of the total, and 16.4 per cent of the children aged two to four years, consumed some breast milk.
Geertz observed that a crying baby is rarely heard because no Javanese can bear to hear the sound without trying to calm the baby, no matter whose baby it is. A baby is handled with great care and in a completely supportive manner.
For if the baby were suddenly or severely disturbed by a loud noise, rough handling, or physical discomfort, he would be "shocked," "startled," or "upset," his weak psychic defenses would fall and the evil spirits, which hover constantly around the mother and child, could enter the infant and cause him to be ill. (Geertz 1961, 92)
This pattern is in marked contrast to earlier Western practices of leaving infants alone to cry, out of fear that picking them up would spoil their moral character (Zeitlin, Ghassemi, and Mansour 1990). Richman, Miller, and Solomon (1988) also found that US mothers in Boston value the child's independence and separateness. The use of infant seats and playpens that do not need human physical contact reflects this attitude.
Maternal behaviour that emphasizes soothing, holding, and overprotection of infants is typical, according to LeVine (1988), in an agricultural society. This represents a historical adaptation of culturally constituted maternal behaviour to high infant mortality rates. This also may be a way to keep the baby quiet and easily managed. Richman, Miller, and Solomon (1988) reported from a study of the Gusii society in Kenya that an infant care pattern similar to that of the Javanese was considered to be a means not only of keeping the infant safe and healthy but also of reducing the mother's energy output from her heavy workload.
Javanese babies spend most of their time carried in front of the mother's body in a shawl where they can nurse on demand. Geertz observed that most infants under the age of three seem to prefer to be carried rather than to be left to run around. She also found that because infants were constantly carried, they had no opportunity to crawl. Out of fear of damage to the baby's muscles and bones, which may result in a localized "fever," infants are held in a horizontal position at least until they lift up their own heads and often until they pull themselves upright. Before the baby is seven months old, he is not supposed to set foot on the ground. The child is permitted to walk by himself only when the mother is certain his muscles are developed enough to support him. In contrast, Yoruba mothers prop their infants upright and promote crawling and walking as early as possible (Zeitlin, Ghassemi, and Mansour 1990). The strong emphasis on rapid motor development might once have been related to "survival skills requiring physical dexterity, and activities such as hunting" (Aina et al. 1992). Bary, Child, and Bacon (1959) also stated that children in hunting societies tend to be pressured to be self-reliant and achievement-orientated. The overprotection of the Javanese mothers may be related to Whiting and Whiting's hypothesis that when a mother's workload is not demanding, or she has little involvement in the production of foods, it is not essential to encourage children to be self-reliant (Whiting and Whiting 1975). In addition, some Javanese mothers start to feed large amounts of starchy food, such as rice or banana, to their infants from the fifth day of life, and this diet may not promote early physical strength and motor development.
The general pattern of infant care in the Javanese society seems to have positive outcomes. Mothers who are concerned about reducing their children's discomforts are more likely to give them more love when they grow older than are mothers who fail to attend to infantile needs as nurturantly (Rohner 1975).
According to Geertz, "strong" and "secure" mother-and-child relationships will last a lifetime. It is usually the mother with whom both boys and girls discuss private matters and from whom they seek emotional support. The mother also teaches social manners, makes important decisions for her children, and administers most punishment (Geertz 1961; Magnis-Suseno 1988). Although children respect their mothers, they never address them in the formal kromo style of speech used in the Javanese language when speaking to an older or higher-status person, as they do their fathers. Some argue that this style of speech is disappearing as the result of modern education (Satoto 1990, personal communication).
A Javanese child does not have an intense relationship with the father until the child begins to walk. During the first year of life, the father may carry the child when the mother is busy, but he is not an important part of the child's life. During the period when the child is being weaned and is learning to walk, the father begins to show a more active interest in the child. Geertz observed that, during this period, fathers play with their children, feed and bathe them, and cuddle them to sleep; she described this relationship as a bond of warmth and affection. In their cross-cultural study, Whiting and Whiting (1975) observed that, in societies where a father shares a bed with his wife and children (with a monogamous marriage and a nuclear household), he tends to be more involved in child care than are fathers with polygynous marriages, who sleep in a different room from their wives and young children. Coltrane (1988) found that fathers participate more in child care in cultures in which women have high status. The relationships within Javanese families correspond to these findings.
Young children remain close to their fathers only until they are about five years old. After that they are taught to approach him more formally and to stay respectfully away from him. Although a Javanese child is seldom punished by his father, the father is accorded much respect. This trend was confirmed by Koentjaraningrat (1985) and Magnis-Suseno (1988). The ideal Javanese father should be "patient and dignified with his wife and children: he should lead them with a gentle though firm hand, not interfering with their petty quarrels, but being always available to give solemn sanction to his wife's punishment of disobedient children" (Geertz 1961, 107). Jay (1969) argued that because of these high expectations the father cannot be as free as his wife in expressing his emotions. According to Koentjaraningrat (1985), however, more educated fathers are less aloof and try to maintain closeness with their children.
Relationships among siblings
In Java, the relationship between the elder and the younger sister is close and warm (Magnis-Suseno 1988), as is the relationship between the elder sister and the younger brother (Geertz 1961; Magnis-Suseno 1988). Older siblings who already show a degree of responsibility are expected to take care of the small children, and they, according to Geertz's observations, seem happily unaware of jealousies. Jay (1969) described the relationship between the older child and the younger ones:
The tenderness an older child regularly shows toward a baby sibling leads him to feel strongly affectionate and protective toward the infant. The parents and older kin encourage this behavior and also gently encourage the baby to respond to the older child's attention and direction. The patient, loving, and solicitous manner of older children to the very young is indeed touching. Yet in this they are simply following the adult's lead. (Jay 1969, 118)
Because parents want to protect small children from dangerous accidents and frustrations, older siblings are instructed to fulfil the wishes of the younger one. The older sibling is usually blamed for a quarrel with a younger sibling. A personal communication with a Javanese friend confirms Geertz's observation (W. Rachmat Adi 1991, personal communication). He told us that being the eldest brother during childhood was not easy: he always had to maintain minimal conflict with the younger siblings or he would be blamed, no matter how right he was. As younger siblings get older, they gradually learn that they are supposed to follow their elder siblings' suggestions and, to some extent, to obey them (Koentjaraningrat 1957).
The pattern of intersibling interactions within the family is the first step in learning the Javanese value of repressing one's own desire and avoiding conflict, an essential step in adopting socially acceptable behaviour outside the family. Since the process of instilling Javanese values begins very early with the continual process of intersibling interactions, it is usually the only child or the youngest one who is spoiled and does not have self-control, a phenomenon that is captured in Javanese folklore and stories (Geertz 1961).
Geertz (1961) documented the close relationship between elder sister and younger brother. A boy's elder sister is like a mother, showing tresna (unconditional love) to her younger siblings. The relationship between a female and her younger sisters, however, differs somewhat (Jay 1969). Since girls are expected to help with the household chores, a younger sister is usually under the supervision of her elder sister as well as of the mother. Although the elder sister's authority is only mildly exercised (Jay 1969), conflicts between sisters are common. After marriage, the relationships between sisters are very intense, warm, and cooperative (Jay 1969).
The relationship between elder brother and younger brother is usually restrained and formal (Magnis-Suseno 1988). As reported by Jay (1969, 121), "I have often seen a teenage boy leave the room when an older brother appears, and the patterns of avoidance reveal occasional flashes of hostility." Jay observed that this constrained relationship between brothers had nothing to do with the exercise of authority and seniority by the older brother. The avoidance between brothers starts when the younger brother understands that he must play with his own age mates.
Mutual assistance among siblings is obligatory, especially when there are problems (Koentjaraningrat 1957). The elder siblings should take care of their younger siblings if financial problems arise or if the younger siblings are orphaned before adulthood.
Social network and family support system
Javanese behaviour and etiquette, as previously indicated, focus on achieving social conformity. Because the Javanese rely on other persons, especially on relatives and close neighbours, for support in times of need, they maintain good relationships by following socially acceptable behaviour. These values are embedded in the structure of social relations among relatives and within the community.
Relationships with relatives
The nuclear family is the most important kin group. Attention and care, as well as mandatory obligations, are expected among family members, and neglecting obligation is a serious infraction (Koentjaraningrat 1957). Conflicts with parents are believed to remove the parents' blessing, and such a loss is believed to threaten the child's life. Children are obliged to care for and maintain their parents when they are old and no longer self-supporting (Geertz 1961; Koentjaraningrat 1985). Women maintain closer contacts with their kindred than do men (Geertz 1961). Elderly parents live with both daughters and sons, but especially with daughters. However, this trend may change in the future, as current couples in East Java (n = 400) may have changed their perceptions about living with children in old age: 34 per cent do not expect this, 27 per cent are uncertain, and only 38 per cent say they expect to live with their children in the future (Megawangi, Sumarwan, and Hartoyo 1994).
The relationship with affinal relatives is usually formal, requiring constant politeness and reserve (Geertz 1961). Relatives through the male line always address each other in the language of respect. One reason why Javanese tend to limit the household occupancy to nuclear family members is to avoid psychological tension between affinal relatives (Geertz 1961). For parents to live with a daughter-in-law is undesirable, because conflicts about household matters may erupt. Conflict between parents and a son-in-law is rare, however, since husbands are usually uninterested in internal household matters.
According to Koentjaraningrat, there are two defined kin groups close relatives, extending collaterally up through first cousins, and distant relatives, consisting of second and third cousins. In practice, the intensity of these relationships is fluid. Close relatives separated by geographical distance may have little contact, whereas distant relatives may have intense relationships because of proximity and frequent contact (Geertz 1961). A pattern of frequent contact is confirmed by more recent findings, in which 92 per cent of couples in East Java claim that they visit their relatives regularly (Megawangi, Sumarwan, and Hartoyo 1994). While relationships between cousins are generally friendly, no special obligations exist regarding mutual assistance (Koentjaraningrat 1985, 157).
A family usually pays attention to its nephews and nieces, although no authority is exerted over them. The relationship between girls and their aunts can be very close: girls may discuss private problems with their aunts (Koentjaraningrat 1957). There is a moral obligation to help a destitute aunt or a nephew/niece if no one closer is available to care for them (Geertz 1961). More fortunate families often support their nephews or nieces, who sometimes live with them.
While there are few mandatory obligations towards relatives outside the nuclear family, respect towards older and senior relatives is required. In addition, participation in, and contribution to (money, supplies, or labour), some festivities, such as weddings, circumcisions, and births are required (Koentjaraningrat 1985).
Relationships in the community and community support system
The Javanese frequently use the following phrase to describe the relationship between close neighbours: "If there is only little, (each) will receive little, but if there is much, (each) will receive a big share" (Koentjaraningrat 1985, 458). One should maintain good relations and share with one's neighbours. Two terms denote ideals of community behaviour among all classes (Koentjaraningrat 1957): gotong royong, which means "mutual help," and rukun tangga, which means "the bond of households" (Koentjaraningrat 1957, 74). These ideals require mutual attention and assistance among neighbours, especially in times of sickness and death. Neighbours assist one another either morally or financially when there is a death in the community. Neighbours also participate in various ceremonies (e.g. wedding ceremonies, circumcisions). The study by Megawangi, Sumarwan, and Hartoyo (1994) in East Java showed that 79 per cent of couples claimed always, 19 per cent sometimes and 2 per cent never to participate in wedding ceremonies/circumcisions in the neighbourhood. Also, the majority of respondents said that they always help when there has been a death in the neighbourhood and visit their neighbours in times of sickness.
With regard to gotong royong, or mutual help, there is an institution called sambatan, which formerly provided mutual help among neighbours in corporate functions, such as building or repairing someone's house, participating in celebrations, or cooperating in farming (Koentjaraningrat 1984). However, the role of this institution is declining since, according to Koentjaraningrat (1984; 1985), the number of professional workers such as carpenters, bricklayers, painters, and handymen in the village has increased. The increased dependency of villagers on commercial goods also contributes to the declining role of sambatan (Koentjaraningrat 1984). This can explain why only 27 per cent of couples in East Java (n = 200) said that they participate in building neighbourhood houses, and only 53 per cent claim to help neighbours in agricultural activities (Megawangi, Sumarwan, and Hartoyo 1994).
The daily interactions among village women are warm and friendly. Hull (1982) observed in Maguwohardjo that women develop bonds through interactions with both kin and non-kin. Lower-class women chat and joke together during shared activities, obtaining, according to Hull (1982, 114) "interpersonal gratification" as a substitute for the lack of close conjugal ties. In contrast, middle-class women are more home centred, with limited daily interaction outside the family, although to a certain extent they are part of a female network in the village. Hull questioned whether decreasing participation in the world outside the home among middle-class women represents "progress" or "regress."
Given their lineal value orientation, the Javanese respect and trust their seniors and superiors (Koentjaraningrat 1985). Older people in the community, village notables, and village administrators are respected. If someone disagrees with these people, it is done by not responding or by agreeing in a particular manner, which actually indicates subtle disagreement (Koentjaraningrat 1985).
According to Koentjaraningrat, this type of lineal system is less pronounced in rural areas. Although villagers still rely on, and respect, their superiors within the family and the kin group, their hierarchical orientation is diminished outside the circle of relatives. Their attitudes toward village notables are more critical. However, peasants rarely interact with superiors. Decreasing respect for village authority, according to Koentjaraningrat (1985), is due to the seasonal mobility of the peasants looking for a living in the towns, which reduces their reliance on village superiors. In contrast, among the priyayi class or administrative officials, the lineal value system is still maintained and is still characterized by reliance on, and respect for, the superiors.
The participation of women in organizations also influences their extrafamilial relationships. Hull (1982) observed in her village in central Java that lower-class women's involvement in formal organizations was not as great as that of the upper-middle-class women. This is consistent with the lineal value system, in which lower-class women feel sungkan or awkward associating with upper-class women. In addition, lower-class women are heavily involved in economic activities. Lower-class women, however, usually belong to some informal organization that meets regularly, such as a rotating credit association or Koran-reciting group. According to Hull, membership of formal organizations does not promise improved opportunities for women to develop. Most formal women's organizations are orientated towards skills relating to middle-class social status, such as cooking, flower arranging, and home decoration.
Health facilities in every village are available through the puskesmas (community health centre), and community-organized activities are at the posyandu (integrated service delivery and nutrition post). There is at least one puskesmas in every subdistrict (kecamatan). The posyandu serves as the first contact for basic health services at the village level. It is orientated primarily towards family planning services and preventive and promotional health and nutrition services for children and mothers. Data from 1987 indicate that the average posyandu in central Java serves around 120 children. The current objective is to provide one integrated service post for every 100 children in the country under the age of five (UNICEF and the Government of Indonesia 1988).
In terms of education, both religious schools and public schools are available in most villages. A policy of free and compulsory primary education, introduced in 1984, has increased school attendance by almost 100 per cent (Supas 1987).
Javanese concept of life
Javanese parents tend to teach their children a "pessimistic view about life" and describe life as a series of hardships and misfortunes (Koentjaraningrat 1985). Children are taught to be in a continuous state of eling and prihatin, or "forever feeling concern" (Koentjaraningrat 1985, 121). They should develop an attitude to accept hardships and misfortunes of fate willingly. Koentjaraningrat also noted that they are taught that exertion is important to overcome hardships. Their willingness to work is reflected in their activities in agricultural production? economic life, and social matters, which require an active life through constant endeavour.
The Javanese religion is mainly Islam, strongly influenced by Islamic mysticism. The Javanese seek hardship and suffering deliberately for religious reasons (Koentjaraningrat 1985). This practice, called tirakat, usually involves fasting during the month of Ramadhan or every Monday and Thursday, or eating only rice with no side dishes, and eating only small amounts of food for one or two days. The Javanese believe that experiencing suffering builds perseverance, making a person mentally strong and resistant to discomfort, dissatisfaction, and disappointment. In fact, one of the authors' family traditions is influenced by this practice: her mother is half Javanese, and her grandfather was a devout Javanese ascetic; she was introduced to fasting every Monday and Thursday during adolescence.
The Javanese also perform tirakat fasting in any critical situation, such as facing a difficult task; experiencing a crisis in family life, in career, or in social relations; or when the entire community faces hard times (Koentjaraningrat 1985).
Contents - Previous - Next