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ETHNONYMS: Orang Djawa, Tijang Djawi, Wong Djawa


Identification. The Javanese are Indonesia's largest ethnic group and the world's third-largest Muslim ethnic group, following Arabs and Bengalis. "Wong Djawa" or "Tijang Djawi" are the names that the Javanese use to refer to themselves. The Indonesian term for the Javanese is "Orang Djawa." The term djawa has been traced to the Sanskrit word yava, "barley, grain." The name is of great antiquity and appears in Ptolemy's Geography.

Location. The Javanese primarily occupy the provinces of East and Central Java, although there are also some Javanese on other Indonesian islands. Java, one of the largest islands of Indonesia, is located between 6° and 9° S and 105° and 115° E. The climate is tropical, with a dry season from March to September and a wet season from September to March. Mountains and plateaus are somewhat cooler than the lowlands.

Demography. The Javanese population was 2 million in 1775. In 1900 the population of the island was 29 million and in 1990 it was estimated to be over 109 million (including the small island of Madura). Jakarta, the capital city, then had a population of about 9.5 million people. Some areas of Java have close to the highest rural population density in the world: the average density is 1,500 persons per square mile and in some areas it is considerably higher. In 1969 Jay reported a population density of 6,000-8,000 persons per square kilometer in residential areas of rural Modjokuto. Population growth combined with small and fragmented landholdings has produced severe problems of overcrowding and poverty.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Javanese are bilingual. They speak Bahasa Indonesia, the Indonesian national language, in public and in dealings with other ethnic groups, but at home and among themselves they speak Javanese. The Javanese language belongs to the West Indonesian Branch of the Hesperonesian Subfamily of the Malayo-Polynesian Family. Javanese has a literary history dating back to the eighth century. The language has nine styles of speech, the uses of which are determined by principles of etiquette. There is a trend toward simplification of speech levels.

History and Cultural Relations

Wet-rice agriculture and state organization were present in Java before the eighth century. Indian influence between the eighth and fourteenth centuries produced a number of petty Shaivite/Buddhist kingdoms. The Madjapahit Empire flourished near the present city of Surabaja during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, during which time Indian Muslims and Chinese dominated international trade. When the center of power shifted to port towns during the sixteenth century, Indian and Malay Muslims dominated trade. The aristocracy adopted a form of Islam that had been influenced by south Indian religious beliefs, and Islam spread.

The Mataram Kingdom rose in the sixteenth century and flourished until the middle of the eighteenth century. First the Portuguese, and later the Dutch, dominated trade during this period. The Dutch East India Company divided Mataram into several vassal states around 1750 and later these states came under the rule of the Dutch colonial government. Except for a brief period of British rule, Java remained under Dutch rule; it was opened to private Dutch enterprise after 1850. A nationalist movement arose in the early twentieth century and communism was introduced. There was an unsuccessful revolution in the late 1920s. After Japanese occupation during World War II, Indonesia declared its independence. The Dutch transferred sovereignty to Indonesia in 1949 after four years of warfare.


High population density imparts an urban quality to all of Java, including the rural areas. The majority of the population lives in small villages and towns and approximately 25 percent lives in cities. Population is evenly distributed and villages are often separated by no more than a few hundred meters. Villages are never more than 8 kilometers from a town. Although there are a number of towns and cities in Java, the only cities with true urban and industrial characteristics are Jakarta, Surabaja, and Semarang. Landholdings are small and fragmented.

The typical village house is small and rectangular. It is built directly on the ground and has a thatched roof. The inside has earthen floors and its small compartments are divided by movable bamboo panels. House styles are defined by the shape of the roof. Village houses that reflect urban influence have brick walls and tiled roofs. Large open pavilions at the front are typical of houses of high-ranking administrative officers and members of the nobility.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Java has a dual economy with industrial and peasant sectors. The Dutch established plantations based on a Western model of business Organization. This segment of the economy is now concerned with estate agriculture, mining, and industry. It is highly capitalized and it produces primarily for export. Wet-rice agriculture is the principal activity of the peasant economy; fishing is important in coastal villages. Animal husbandry is not developed for want of space. A number of dry-season crops are produced for sale, and there are also some small-scale cottage industries and a local market system.

Industrial Arts. Small-scale industries are not well developed because of problems in capital, distribution, and marketing. Cottage industries in Central Java Province are silver work, batik, handweaving, and the manufacture of native cigarettes.

Trade. There are local markets, each servicing four to five villages throughout rural Java. The retailers are usually women.

Division of Labor. Javanese are primarily farmers, local traders, and skilled artisans. Intermediate trade and small industry are dominated by foreign Asians, and the large plantations and industries are owned by Europeans. In precolonial Java, the population was divided between royalty, with its court and the nobility, and the peasantry. Two more classes emerged under colonialism and with the development of administrative centers. These classes are landless laborers and government officials, or prijaji. The prijaji are generally urban and there are several statuses. In rural areas farming remains the predominant occupation. Some people engage in craft specializations and trade but these occupations are usually part-time. The majority of everyone's time is spent on farming. In rural areas learned professionals such as teachers, spiritual leaders, and puppeteers are usually people from affluent families. These latter occupations have considerable prestige but they are also practiced only part-time. Local and central government officials have the highest prestige.

Land Tenure. Traditionally much of the land was held communally and communities recruited corvée (unpaid labor) for the king, the nobility, or the colonial government. Even today, communal land is reserved for schools, roads, and cemeteries and for support of the village headman and his staff. The corvée consisted of a group of villagers (kuli ), who constituted the productive labor force of the village. Communal land was allotted for usufruct as compensation to the kuli. In some places the kuli became a hereditary status included with the inheritance of the land. In addition, many Javanese villages have tracts of communal land allotted to the population for usufruct on a rotating basis. Individual holdings are small.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is bilateral and the basic kin group is the nuclear family (kulawarga ). Two kindredlike groups are recognized by the Javanese. One is the golongan, an informal bilateral group whose members usually reside in the same village and who participate together in various ceremonies and celebrations. The alur waris, the second kindredlike group, is a more formal unit involved in caring for the graves of ancestors.

Kinship Terminology. Four principles govern Javanese kinship terminology. First, the system is bilateral; that is, the kin terms are the same whether the link is the father or the mother. The second principle is generational; that is, all the members of each generation are verbally grouped. The third principle is seniority, a principle that subdivides each generation into junior and senior categories. Finally, the fourth principle is gender. There is a slight distinction made between nuclear-family relatives and others.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Individuals usually choose their own spouses, although parents sometimes arrange marriages. Marriage is prohibited between members of the nuclear family, half siblings, and second cousins. Several types of marriage are disapproved of but people can avoid the supernatural sanctions associated with them by performing protective rituals. The idea of preferred marriages is not widely known.

Marriage formalities include a gift to the bride's parents from the groom's relatives, a meeting of the bride's relatives at her house the night before the ceremony, civil and religious ceremonies and transactions, and a ceremonial meeting of the couple. Divorce is common and is accomplished according to Muslim law.

Most marriages are monogamous. Polygyny is practiced only among the urban lower class, orthodox high-ranking prijaji, and the nobility.

There is no fixed postmarital residence rule, although the ideal is neolocal. Uxorilocal residence is common in southern Central Java Province. High-ranking prijaji and the nobility tend toward residence in either of the parents' homes. Urban prijaji are neolocal.

Domestic Unit. The Javanese term for "household" is somah. Peasants and the average urban prijaji live in monogamous nuclear-family households with an average population of five to six. High-ranking prijaji and the nobility have polygynous uterolocal extended families and are larger.

Inheritance. Dwellings and their surrounding garden land are inherited by a married daughter or granddaughter after a period of coresidence. Fruit trees, domestic animals, and cultivable land are inherited equally by all the children, while heirlooms are usually inherited by a son.

Socialization. Children are treated indulgently until the age of two to four when inculcation and discipline begin. The most common methods of discipline are snarling, corporal punishment, comparison to siblings and others, and threat of external disapproval and sanctions. The latter type of discipline encourages children to be fearful and shy around strangers. Mothers are the primary socializing agents, as well as sources of affection and support, while fathers are more distant. Older siblings often take care of young children. First menstruation for girls is marked simply by a slametan, or communal meal, while for boys circumcision, occurring between the ages of 6 and 12, is an important and dramatic event.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Javanese social classes have a long history. During the time of the Mataram Kingdom, peasants were ruled by a landed nobility or gentry representing the king. The king allotted land to some people in an appanage system. Merchants lived in coastal and port towns where international trade was in the hands of Chinese, Indians, and Malays. The port towns were ruled by princes. This pattern prevailed until the colonial period. During that period, in addition to the peasantry, two new classes arose, nonpeasant laborers and the prijaji. The prijaji, descendants of the precolonial administrative gentry, were "white-collar" workers and civil servants. There was a class of nobles (ndara ) who could trace their descent from the rulers of the Mataram Kingdom.

During the twentieth century, there has been a trend toward an egalitarian social system and a drive to make upward mobility available to all. By the middle of the twentieth century, peasants comprised the largest class and there was a growing class of landless agricultural laborers.

Political Organization. Indonesia is an independent republic and the head of state is President Suharto. The capital of Indonesia is Jakarta and the ministries of the national government are located there. The ministries have branches at various levels from which they administer services. There are three provinces (propinsi ) in Java. In addition, the Special Region of Jogjakarta, or Daerah Istimewa Jogjakarta, has provincial status. There are five residencies (karésidènen ) in each province. Each residency contains four or five districts (kawédanan ) and each district has four or five subdistricts (katjamatan ). There are ten to twenty village complexes (kalurahan in Javanese, desa in Indonesian) in each subdistrict. The smallest unit of administration is the dukuhan and each kalurahan contains two to ten of them. Some dukuhan contain a number of smaller villages or hamlets also called desa. The kalurahan or desa is headed by an official called a lurah and the dukuhan is headed by a kamitua.

Social Control. In rural areas the neighborhood exerts the greatest pressures toward conformity with social values. The strongest sanctions are gossip and shunning. Kin seem to have less force than the neighborhood in exerting social control.

Conflict. Interpersonal conflict, anger, and aggression are repressed or avoided in Javanese society. In Java it is difficult to express differences of opinion. Direct criticism, anger, and annoyance are rarely expressed. The major method of handling interpersonal conflict is by not speaking to one another (satru ). This type of conflict resolution is not surprising in a society that represses anger and expression of true feelings. Concern with maintaining peaceful interactions results in not only the avoidance of conflict and repression of true feelings, but also in the prevalence of conciliatory techniques, particularly in status-bound relationships. One source of antagonism is between adherents of different religious orientations; this is related to class differences, prijaji versus abangan villagers (see under "Religious Beliefs"), and has much to do with rapid social change.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Virtually all Javanese are Muslims. In reality, the religion of the Javanese is syncretic, with Islam being laid over spiritual and mystical beliefs of Hindu-Buddhist and indigenous origins. The difference in degree of adherence to the doctrines of Islam constitutes a dichotomy that pervades Javanese culture. The santri are strict in their adherence to Islam while the abangan are not. This dichotomy has class and political-party implications.

The peasant abangan knows the general structure of Islam but does not follow it to the letter. The abangan religion is a blend of indigenous beliefs, Hinduism-Buddhism, and Islam. In addition to Allah, abangan believe in several Hindu deities and numerous spirits that inhabit the environment. Abangan also believe in a form of magical power that is possessed by the dukun, who is a specialist in magical practices, a curer, and/or a sorcerer.

The prijaji abangan religious practice is similar to that of the peasant abangan but it is somewhat more sophisticated. It has an elaborate philosophy of fate and is quite mystical. Asceticism and the practice of meditation are characteristic of prijaji abangan religion. Sects under the leadership of gurus are typical.

The santri are present among all social levels but they predominate in the commercial classes. The santri diligently comply with Islamic doctrine. They perform the required prayers five times a day, attend communal prayers at the mosque every Friday, fast during the month of Ramadan (Pasa), do not eat pork, and make every effort to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once.

Religious Practitioners. There are several types of religious practitioner in Islam. There are sects consisting of a guru or kijaji (teacher) and murid (disciple) dyads that are hierarchically organized. Individual kijaji attract students to their pondoks or pesantren (monasterylike schools) to teach Muslim doctrines and laws. In addition to the dominance of Islam, magic and sorcery are widely practiced among the Javanese. There are many varieties of dukun, each one dealing with specialized kinds of ritual such as agricultural rituals, fertility rituals, etc. Dukun also perform divination and curing.

Ceremonies. The communal meal, the slametan, is central to abangan practice and is sometimes also performed by santri. The function of the slametan is to promote slamet, a state of calmness and serenity. The slametan is performed within a household and it is usually attended by one's closest neighbors. Occasions for a slametan include important lifecycle events and certain points in the Muslim ceremonial calendar; otherwise it is performed for the well-being of the village.

Arts. Geertz (1964) describes three art "complexes," each involving different forms of music, drama, dance, and literature. The Javanese shadow play, the wajang, is known worldwide and is central to the alus (refined) art complex. The wajang uses puppets to dramatize stories from the Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, or from Java's precolonial past. Wajang performances are accompanied by gamelan (percussion orchestras), which also have achieved worldwide fame. Another art form associated with the alus complex is batik textile dyeing. The alus art complex is classical and traditional and is largely the domain of the prijaji. The other two art complexes are more popular, nationally shared, and Western-influenced.

Medicine. Doctors practicing scientific medicine are present and are consulted in Java, especially in urban areas, but curers and diviners continue to be important in all of Javanese culture. In addition to the dukun who perform magic rites, there are many dukun who cure illnesses. These latter dukun include curers who use magic spells, herbalists, midwives, and masseurs. It is said that even urban prijaji who regularly consult medical doctors may also consult dukun for particular illnesses and psychosomatic complaints.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals are held within hours of death and they are attended by neighbors and close relatives who are able to arrive in time. A coffin is built and a grave is dug quickly while a village official performs rituals. A simple ceremony is held at the home of the deceased followed by a procession to the graveyard and burial. A slametan is held with food provided by neighbors. Javanese funerals are marked with the same emotional restraint that characterizes other social interactions. Graves are visited regularly, espedaily at the beginning and end of the fasting month, and they are tended by relatives. The Javanese believe in continuing ties with the dead and especially ties between parents and children. Children hold a number of slametans at intervals after death with the last held 1,000 days after the death. There are varying beliefs about life after death, including the standard Islamic concepts of eternal retribution, beliefs in spirits or ghosts who continue to influence events, and belief in reincarnation, the last sternly condemned by the orthodox Muslims.


Dewey, Alice G. (1962). Feasant Marketing in Java. New York: Free Press of Glencoe.

Geertz, Clifford (1964). The Religion of Java. New York: Free Press of Glencoe.

Geertz, Clifford (1975). The Social History of an Indonesian Town. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Geertz, Hildred (1961). The Javanese Family: A Study of Kinship and Socialization. New York: Free Press of Glencoe.

Jay, Robert (1969). Javanese Villagers: Social Relations in Rural Modjokuto. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.

Williams, Linda B. (1990). Development, Demography, and Family Decision Making: The Status of Women in Rural Java. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.


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LOCATION: Indonesia (Central and East Java [minus the island of Madura], and the Special Region of Yogyakarta)

POPULATION: 6080 million

LANGUAGE: Javanese

RELIGION: Islam; Christianity (Roman Catholicism); folk religion


The Javanese are the dominant ethnic group of Indonesia. Non-Javanese Indonesians often complain of a Javanese "colonialism" having replaced the Dutch version. Although Javanese culture is just another regional culture, it has far greater power to influence national culture.

The Austronesian ancestors of the Javanese arrived perhaps as early as 3000 bc from the Kalimantan coast. Apparently the island's agricultural bounty was renowned from the earliest times: "Java" comes from the Sanskrit Yavadvipa ("island of barley").

Over the centuries, various native Javanese states emerged. Most were fragile coalitions of regional lords under central dynasties, often embroiled in bloody succession struggles. In the fifteenth century ad, Java's north coast ports fell under the influence of Muslim Malacca, and under the rule of the descendants of non-Javanese Muslim merchants. The Dutch government took control of Java in the 1830s. A population explosion turned three million Javanese in 1800 to twenty-eight million by 1900. The Javanese took the lead in the Islamic, communist, and nationalist movements that challenged colonialism from early in the twentieth century.


The island of Java is roughly the size of Britain. Some 63 percent of the island is cultivated; 25 percent of the surface is devoted to wet-rice paddies. The northern coastal plain faces the shallow and busy Java Sea. Along the southern shore, plateaus fall sharply to the Indian Ocean. The Javanese homeland consists of the provinces of Central Java and East Java (minus the island of Madura) and the Special Region of Yogyakarta. Javanese have also settled for centuries along the northern coast of West Java, particularly in the area of Cirebon and Banten.

Numbering between 60 million and 80 million people, the Javanese account for more than 40 percent of Indonesia's total population.


The Javanese language is Austronesian. It is most similar to neighboring Sandiness and Madurese. It divides into several regional dialects.

A speaker of Javanese must adjust his or her "speech level" according to the status of the person addressed. There are basically two "speech levels": nikko and kromo. Nikko is the language in which a person thinks. It is only appropriate to use nikko with people of equal status whom one knows intimately, and with social inferiors. Kromo is spoken to older people, people of higher status, and those whose status is not yet known by the speaker. Many of the most basic sentences differ markedly at the two levels. In nikko, "Where [are you] coming from?" is Soko ngendi. In kromo, it is Saking pundi. Mastering kromo is an acquired skill.

Javanese do not use surnames. They go only by a single personal name. Two examples are the names of twentieth-century Indonesian leaders Sukarno and Suharto, both Javanese.


Javanese recognize several classes of supernatural beings. Memedis are frightening spirits. These include the gendruwo, which appear to people as familiar relatives in order to kidnap them, making them invisible. If the victim accepts food from the gendruwo, he or she will remain invisible forever.

The greatest spirit is Ratu Kidul, the Queen of the South Sea. She is believed to be the mystical bride of Java's rulers. Her favorite color is green. Young men avoid wearing green while at the Indian Ocean shore so that they will not be pulled down into Ratu Kidul's underwater realm.

Another set of legendary figures are the wali songo. These are the nine holy men who brought Islam to Java. They are credited with magical powers such as flying.


All but a fraction of Javanese are Muslim. However, only a portion regularly follow the "five pillars of Islam" and other practices of orthodox, Middle Eastern Islam. They have come to be called santri and are further divided into two subgroups. The "conservatives" keep to orthodox Islam as it has been practiced for centuries by the Javanese. The "modernists" reject local traditions and embrace a form of Islam supported by Western-style educational institutions.

Non-santri Javanese Muslims are popularly termed abangan or Islam kejawen. They do not perform the five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, or make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Their religious life focuses on ritual meals called slametan.

As much as 12 percent of the population of the island of Java adhere to religions other than Islam. There are several hundred thousand Christians. Among these, Roman Catholics are particularly numerous.


The first day (beginning at sunset) of the Islamic year ( 1 Sura) is regarded as a special day. On the eve of the holiday, people stay up all night. They watch processions such as the kirab pusaka (parading of the royal heirlooms) in the town of Solo. Many meditate on mountains or beaches. The birthday of Muhammad ( 12 Mulud) is celebrated in Yogya and Solo by holding the Sekaten fair the week preceding the date. Ancient gamelans (a type of orchestra) are played at the festival. On the holiday itself, there is a procession involving three or more sticky-rice "mountains" (symbolizing male, female, and baby).


On the thirty-fifth day after birth, a ceremony is held with special food and much family celebrating.

Arranged marriages still occur in villages, but most Javanese choose their own partners. The process begins with the man formally asking the woman's father or male guardian (wali) for her hand. On the night before the wedding, the woman's kin visit the graves of ancestors to ask for their blessing. Kin, neighbors, and friends come for a slametan feast.

The wedding ceremony itself is the conclusion of the Islamic marriage contract between the groom and the bride's father or wali. The groom, with his party, proceeds to the bride's house. There is a festive meal with music and dancing. The groom can take the bride away after five days. The trend today is for wealthy families to display their status by reviving the more elaborate traditional ceremonies.

Javanese hold slametan (ceremonies) for the deceased on the third, seventh, fortieth, one-hundredth, and one-thousandth day after death. On Ramadan and certain other holidays, people put flowers on the graves of their departed loved ones.


The Javanese avoid confrontation at all costs. They react even to disturbing news with a resigned smile and soft words. They never give a direct refusal to any request (however, they are very good at giving and taking hints). In addition to polite speech, proper respect requires appropriate body language: bowing and slow, graceful movements. Children who have not yet learned to behave in a dignified way are said to be durung jawa, "not yet Javanese."


In Javanese villages, individual houses and yards are enclosed by bamboo fences. Village houses sit on the ground and have earthen floors. They have a framework of bamboo, palm trunks, or teak. The walls are of plaited bamboo (gedek), wood planks, or bricks. The roofs are made of dried palm leaves (blarak) or tiles. Inside, rooms have movable gedek partitions. Traditional houses have no windows. Light and air enter through chinks in the walls or holes in the roof.


The nuclear family (kuluwarga or somah) is the basic unit of Javanese society. It includes a couple and their unmarried children. Sometimes a household also includes other relatives and married children and their families. A married couple prefers to set up a separate household if they can afford to. Otherwise, they usually move in with the wife's parents. Taking more than one wife is rare. The divorce rate is high among village folk and poorer city folk. After a divorce, the children stay with the mother. If she marries again, the children may go to live with other relatives.

Javanese mothers remain close to their children throughout their lives. Fathers, however, become more distant after children reach the age of four. Fathers are regarded as the heads of the house, but the mother exercises more real control. Parents are supposed to be constantly correcting and advising their children, however old the child is. Children, though, never criticize or correct their parents except in the most indirect ways.

Descendants of a common great-grand-parent form a golongan or sanak-sadulur. Their members help each other hold major celebrations and gather on Islamic holidays. Larger still is the alurwaris, a kinship group directed toward the care of the graves of a common ancestor seven generations back.


For everyday wear, Javanese follow the Indonesian style of dress. Men and women also commonly wear sarongs (a skirtlike garment) in public. Ceremonial clothing for men includes a sarong, high-collared shirt, jacket, and a blangkon, a head cloth wrapped to resemble a skullcap. Women wear the sarong, kebaya (long-sleeved blouse), and selendang (sash over the shoulder). The woman's hairstyle is called sanggul (long hair in a thick, flat bun at the backnow achieved with a wig addition). Handbags are always worn. Traditional dance costumes and wedding attire leave the chest bare for men and the shoulders bare for women.


The most common meal ingredients are rice, stir-fried vegetables, dried salted fish, tahu (tofu), tempeh (a bar of fermented soybeans), krupuk (fish or shrimp crackers), and sambel (chili sauce). Favorite dishes include gado-gado (a salad of partially boiled vegetables eaten with a peanut sauce), sayur lodeh (a vegetable and coconut milk stew), pergedel (fat potato fritters), and soto (soup with chicken, noodles, and other ingredients). Dishes of Chinese origin are very popular, such as bakso (meatball soup), bakmi (fried noodles), and cap cay (stir-fried meat and vegetables). Common desserts are gethuk (a steamed cassava dish colored pink, green, or white) and various sticky-rice preparations (jenang dodol, klepon, and wajik).


Nasi Tumpeng (Festive Rice Cone)


  • 6 cups cooked white rice
  • 6 scallions
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1 small shallot or pearl onion
  • 1 small red chili
  • Bamboo skewer


  1. With clean hands, mound the rice into a cone shape about four inches in diameter and about five inches high. Press firmly to form a cone that will hold its shape.
  2. Carefully peel six or eight lengths of green scallion, and tie them together about one inch from their end. (A small rubber band could be used for this.)
  3. Place the tied end on top of the rice cone. Drape the green ends evenly to form stripes down the side of the cone.
  4. Thread the chili, pearl onion or shallot, and hard-boiled egg onto the skewer. Carefully insert the skewer into the rice cone to make a garnish top for the cone.

Javanese often buy prepared food from peddlers making the rounds of neighborhoods. They enjoy lesehan, late-night dining on mats provided by sidewalk food vendors. For special occasions, the tumpeng slematan, a cone-shaped mound of steamed rice, is served ceremoniously. The guest of honor holds a knife in his right hand and a spoon in his left. First, he cuts off the top of the cone, usually featuring a hard-boiled egg and some chilies in a type of garnish, and places it on a serving plate. Then he cuts a horizontal slice from the top of the rice cone and serves it to the most-respected (usually the oldest) guest.


See the article on "Indonesians" in this chapter.


The full gamelan orchestra is an important part of traditional rituals, festivities, and theater. It consists of bronze gongs, keyed metallophones (like xylophones), drums, a flute, a rebab fiddle, and a celempung zither. It also includes male and female vocalists. The music (either loud or soft styles) includes hundreds of compositions (gending) in a variety of forms.

Traditional dance emphasizes precise control of the body, particularly in graceful hand movements. The most revered dances are the bedoyo and srimpi, in which young women symbolically enact combat. Male dancing includes the tari topeng in which solo performers portray folktale characters.

Javanese literature goes back to the eleventh century ad, beginning with adaptations of the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The earliest surviving literature in modern Javanese includes babad, poetical chronicles of Java's history. Novels and short stories are produced in Javanese but must compete with better-known works in Indonesian.


Some 60 percent of Javanese earn a living from agriculture. They grow wet rice and dry-field (tegalan) crops (cassava, corn, yams, peanuts, and soybeans). In mountain areas, many peasants engage in market gardening (vegetables and fruits).

Traditionally, Javanese look down on manual labor and commercial occupations. They prefer white-collar jobs and, most of all, aspire to bureaucratic service. However, most nonfarming Javanese work as artisans or as petty traders (many are women). With Indonesia's economic boom, more Javanese are taking factory or service jobs. Poverty has forced many Javanese into low-status jobs such as maid, street peddler, fare-collector, parking attendant, or ngamen (street musician who plays on sidewalks or on buses between stops).


See the article on "Indonesians" in this chapter.


On the whole, urban middle-class Javanese prefer pop culture to the traditional performing arts as a source of entertainment. However, the urban poor, peasants, and some members of the elite still enjoy the traditional performing arts.

Java's master art form is the wayang kulit shadow-puppet play. Flat puppets are manipulated against a screen lit by a lamp or electric bulb overhead. The plays are based on the Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana and include intrigues, romance, comedy, and tragedy. Nowadays, wayang is broadcast on the radio, blaring from open-air eateries.

Today a popular form of theater is central-Javanese ketoprak. Based on stories from Javanese history, and Chinese and Arab tales, it emphasizes spoken comedy and melodrama rather than music and dance.


Batik textiles are the best-known Javanese craft. The intricate designs are created in several dyeings. The space not to be dyed in a particular color is covered with wax. Batik styles differ radically. Some emphasize dense geometric patterns in brown, indigo, and white. Others feature delicate floral patterns in red and other bright colors.

Other noteworthy crafts are leatherwork (wayang puppets), woodcarving (dance masks, furniture, and screens), pottery, glass-painting, and ironsmithing (kris swords).


Javanese peasants must support themselves on smaller and smaller landholdings. Many lose their land and must become tenant farmers, sharecroppers, or wage-laborers for the better-off peasants who can afford fertilizers and some machinery. The military helps industrialists suppress labor unrest in the factories that are multiplying in Java's crowded cities.


Keeler, Ward. Javanese Shadow Plays, Javanese Selves. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Oey, Eric, ed. Java: Garden of the East. Lincoln-wood, Ill.: Passport Books, 1991.


Indonesian Embassy in Canada. [Online] Available, 1998.

Interknowledge Corp. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Indonesia. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Jav·a·nese / ˌjävəˈnēz; -ˈnēs/ • n. (pl. same) 1. a native or inhabitant of Java, or a person of Javanese descent. 2. the Indonesian language of central Java. • adj. of or relating to Java, its people, or their language.

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"Javanese." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Javanese." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (December 16, 2017).

"Javanese." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from


JavaneseAchinese, Ambonese, appease, Assamese, Balinese, Belize, Beninese, Bernese, bêtise, Bhutanese, breeze, Burmese, Cantonese, Castries, cerise, cheese, chemise, Chinese, Cingalese, Cleese, Congolese, Denise, Dodecanese, ease, éminence grise, expertise, Faroese, freeze, Fries, frieze, Gabonese, Genoese, Goanese, Guyanese, he's, Japanese, Javanese, jeez, journalese, Kanarese, Keys, Lebanese, lees, legalese, Louise, Macanese, Madurese, Maltese, marquise, Milanese, Nepalese, Nipponese, officialese, overseas, pease, Pekinese, Peloponnese, Piedmontese, please, Portuguese, Pyrenees, reprise, Rwandese, seise, seize, Senegalese, she's, Siamese, Sienese, Sikkimese, Sinhalese, sleaze, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees, Sudanese, Sundanese, Surinamese, Tabriz, Taiwanese, tease, Tees, telegraphese, these, Timorese, Togolese, trapeze, valise, Viennese, Vietnamese, vocalese, wheeze •superficies • Héloïse • Averroës •rabies • pubes • Maccabees •headcheese

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