- Discover Indonesia Online

You are currently in > Indonesia > Java island > Etiquette

Java island

Java (Jawa) is an island of Indonesia and the site of its capital city, Jakarta. Once the center of powerful Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, Islamic sultanates, and the core of the colonial Dutch East Indies, Java now plays a dominant role in the economic and political life of Indonesia. Home to a population of 130 million in 2006, it is the most populous island in the world. Java is also one of the most densely populated regions on Earth.

The art of being Javanese

For the Javanese a child is an beloved and above all emotional creature, that isn't yet Javanese; durung jawa. To be Javanese, they have to be grown up in the first place, and also poses self-control, mental balance, well-mannered and considerate. In this the Javanese distinct themselves about on the island accepted rules of animals, children, mentally-handicapped, and last but not least, most foreigners.

Become Javanese

The creation to Javanese starts direct at birth. Javanese see a baby as extremely harmful, because it doesn't control and understands it's feelings yet. Most of all sudden fear (kaget) can influence the well-being of the baby, as well as physically as mentally. A frightened child can be weakened so much that harmful spirits can enter the body with al ease. The child can be protected for those spirits by clearing and strengthening rituals, until it is strong enough to fight threats on their own.

During the first year the baby has almost continuous contact with it's parents or other grown-up family members. It will never be left alone. At the first notice they will be breastfed or distracted in another way until it's at ease again. Until the early youth it sleeps in bed with it's mother, while at day it is surrounded with care.

When the child starts to express itself, the mother will gradually learn it to behave. When it reaches it's left hand to something, she will resolute but carefully tell it's the right hand they should use. At the same time the child will learn the first words of the polite language, so they can speak to brothers and sisters in a civilized way. On other moments, for example when the father is there either, the mother will talk for the baby using all kinds of polite words for the father. Javanese 'baby-talk' is full of civilized words and sentences. Even specified Javanese it used to comfort the make the child familiar with it. All this practice are used to focus the child on suppressing it's impulses, to control their emotions and to civilized talking, which is obliged in social life.

The polite language

The language practice, which take place mainly in the family, are an important part of the process called Javanisation. Then the child is about four or five years old the father will act more preserved. The mother and other adults will treat the child with more respect from now on.

Gradually the child has to learn the use of the high-Javanese language ( krama ). It's the father which makes the child known with the things that the outside world wants. While the mother stays the source of safety and support, the father will retreat more and more, showing the strict Javanese etiquette that the Javanese community uses.

Little other languages - in fact only Korean, Japanese and Samoan - do have as many words as the Javanese language for expressing respect. The Javanese knows three levels, with each it's own vocabulary, pre-, and suffixes and etiquette. Ngoko or low-Javanese is the language used at home. It's an easy language which is used at informal things and with meetings of people of the same status. Since the Javanese people always see people as another layer, they only use this language for family and friends.

Krama is much more elegant and refined, and is used to talk to people of high social status. Madya or middle-Javanese is a less refined language than krama, which it used by farmers, the working class and situations where krama sounds too stiff.

On Java every meeting has it's consequences for the use of language. At each talk people have to search to each others social status, and adapt their language on that. When there is a very clear difference of social status ( farmer-land owner, student-teacher ) it is very clear which language is used. Most of the times it's hard to tell what language should be used. Because of this difficulty it's an question how to tell which language to speak, is a question that every Javanese keeps busy.

People who meet for the first time, try to start their conversation in such a way that they can discover each others status. With this also becomes visual which respect they have to each other. Such a conversation starts at a very high level of Javanese and Indonesian, which slowly drops to a level where both people think it's enough for them. If there is a difference in the way they see each other in social status, they end the conversation, they would rather be quiet that to compromise.

Averaged and modest

Due to this, and other rules of behavior the Javanese learned not to expose spontaneity. They don't expose they emotions in a big way. This is the most important reason why they are modest in sexual feelings and other feelings, like eating. This form of self-control is not the same as suppression of emotions. It's more a subtle change of ego and emotion. Stylish appearances is the key to mentally balance and contact with others. In contrary to the formal Western countries, the Javanese point at the manners of the royalty for expressing feelings and warmth. The personal way of performing of a person is a way to measure the truth inside a person. For foreigners this is good to know, so they can react on the subtle, though serious small hints.

In Javanese art these theme's can be found everywhere. The wayang and wayang wong-theater shows status, etiquette and mental power. They also form the foundation of the philosophical mirror in mystical tradition what is known as kebatinan. The education, which is very popular among intelligent people from the city, exits from mystical rules where the most important is the way of expressing emotions. Wich those rules come meditation, fasting and other Islamic traditions from India. Other than the Indian ideal, the kebatinan does not endeavor supernatural targets. Self-control is way of gather mental power, which supports to a good health, richness and status.

Role patterns

The art of 'being Javanese' knows individual variations. Javanese women are less attached to status than men. The role of the mother takes with it that the life of a female is about family, which are not connected to formal public environment. On other subjects women are allowed to react much more direct than men with the same status. On the market for example, women argue about prices while they don't feel insulted. Some men will call this female fallibility, which is connected with female inferiority. Women laugh at such remarks and say that men are oversensitive and stiff.

In most Javanese families the woman is the in the first place responsible for the household money. In family happenings she has the final say. And however Javanese women want to recognize her husbands power, he doesn't have to take care of the family-jobs too much, because then his authority can be unsure. That's why the husband usually is a little bit distant from the daily life. His authority is more an ideal, which it's really much in real life.

Devote santri does think differently about it. During the practice of their religion in the mosque, they stress the unity of all people in the mosque to Allah, and in social contact they are normally much more free and spontaneous than the average Javanese. Many modern thinking Muslim think that the traditional Javanese culture old-fashioned and undemocratic. The middle-class from the city sees the Islam, more than the traditional Javanese rules, as a solid base for the national vulture.

Change on the countryside

Java's population - more than 50 per cent of the total population - always has been on the lowest rank of social status. Their look on the traditional rules is ambivalent. In the part the farmers have tried many times to break down the existing system. Most failed or resulted in the rise of powerful people which didn't want to change the social system.

Independence and nationalism have changed the position of the farmers dramatically. Old structures of power have lost their power, and the fanaticism that ruled on the countryside, has gone almost completely. However the democratization of the education is absolutely no way a guarantee for equal chances. New endeavors on the area of trading and farming meant a split of traditional village-structures and brought a part of the rural families to reasonable wealth. Unto the most remote area's the perspectives of the farmers have widened. A quiet revolution changes the life and identity of the Javanese people

Many guys from the countryside do high school; a small number even goes to university. Influence of media is visible in clothing, spare time and consumption. Nowadays a farming family just as easily invests in a truck or stereo-installation as in a ritual party. This seemingly everyday changes have to be seen as a sign of an very deep process of change. The subject of social changes still keeps the Javanese busy, but the descending differences seem to change this.

It's an big mistake that the Javanese culture is under attack of the Western culture, nothing is more wrong. The Javanese have a strong feeling of dignity and in fact don't know what Western really means. It were their way of adaption and lively feeling of humor which made is possible that they have survived any battles. Hopefully these qualities will help the Javanese to survive upcoming economical and social problems.

Last revised on December 27, 2009
Your website for tickets in Indonesia!
Looking for e-tickets for flights in Indonesia? Here's your solution! Order your e-tickets at
Add this page to your email, your own blog, MySpace, Facebook, or whatsoever via AddThis:
Bookmark and Share

Additional information, updates or feedback? Send them in!

Feedback Form


12 pictures in this gallery 

Created by · feedback & contact · © 2000-2021
Other websites by · · ·

143,519,639 pageviews Discover Indonesia Online at