The Jakarta Post
The declining use of the Javanese language among young people has prompted teachers of a senior high school in Malang to reintroduce Javanese culture through a number of activities. They celebrate the cultural identity to prevent it from going with the wind.
The sound of a gamelan performance and the buzzing noise of teenagers attracts passersby on the roadside in front of SMA 1 Bantur in Bantur village, some 40 kilometers south of Malang in East Java. Inside, students wearing the traditional blangkon headdress carry a tumpeng (rice cone served with various dishes), which symbolizes blessings, into a classroom.
It is a monthly activity at the school to preserve the Javanese culture, this time coinciding with the opening of a new class building.
The Javanese atmosphere was unmistakable in that school, with some students greeting visitors and speaking to older people in refined Javanese. Boards with Javanese philosophical quotes and mottos ' along with their Indonesian translation ' decorate classroom walls.
The school holds a monthly program called the Preservation of Javanese Culture every first Tuesday of the month in a ceremony launched in October 2013.
'I noticed how youngsters speak to their parents and elders just in the way they talk to their friends, thus losing their Javanese ethics,' School principal Suwedhy Santos said.
He initiated a unique new policy obliging students, teachers and employees of the school to speak Javanese according to their positions and to dress in Malang traditional costumes ' jarit (broad batik skirts) and kebaya (long-sleeved blouses) for women and white pants wrapped in sarongs with blangkon for men.
Apart from the monthly program, the school also embraced traditional language in its curriculum for tenth-graders, making SMA 1 Bantur the only senior high school in East Java with this dedication to preserve the Javanese culture. To date, the traditional language has only been taught at primary and junior high schools in the province.
The school also invites traditional Javanese artists like sinden (female vocalists for gamelan), batik artists, craftsmen of Javanese daggers and traditional dancers to familiarize students with the Javanese arts. The students are required to identify one Javanese word a day with its Indonesian and English meanings, to be collected weekly for their future dictionaries.
When the new school building was completed, they all agreed to celebrate it in the Javanese way by holding traditional selamatan (thanksgiving prayers).
'It is to acquaint students with selamatan as part of Javanese culture,' said teacher Eko Lusiadi. The ceremony was enlivened by art performances presented by the students, including campursari (traditional songs covered in modern style), karawitan (Javanese music ensemble) and mocopat (Javanese verse accompanied by traditional music). The shows were followed by prayers recited in Javanese and Indonesian.
'My friends and I shared the cost of the rice cone. I just learned about the significance of this home tradition,' said student Rina Angrita.
Thanks to the program, SMA 1 Bantur snatched an award for Javanese cultural conservation while the school principal, Suwedhy, earned a royal title of Raden Tumengung from the Solo Sultanate Palace.
Today, the school's program may enjoy recognition, but there is no certainty about its continuation.
'The government will hopefully pay more attention to regional culture instead of merely adding it as decoration in the education system. Youngsters who lose their ethnic identity are not part of the Indonesian generation,' Suwedhy said.
' Photos by Aman Rochman
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