Ritual for having a healthy baby

7  Rituals

Return to Java and Symbolic Routines

The Puncak-pass in West-JavaThe Puncak-pass in West-Java

Meanwhile, just before we returned from our European furlough, my father had been notified that his next post would be Tasikmalaya, a city near Bandung on West Java in the Preanger. Here too, we were once again confronted with a set ritual for when people moved into a house, regardless of whether one was superstitious or not.

Ritual for a new address

If the family was East Indian, the mistress would insist that the following ceremony had to be performed first; if it was a Dutch family who didn’t have a clue about any of this, a servant would take the initiative and perform the following ritual. First, an offering had to be made to please the spirit of the house. For this, two bowls of porridge were placed on the floor in a corner or next to the house, one with white and one with brown porridge. Prior to this, the servant was also sent to the pasar to buy some flowers for strewing and was instructed to put these, along with a couple of copper one cent coins, in the middle of the nearest crossing.

Ritual when someone had passed away

There were more set rituals like these that people in the Dutch East Indies would abide by in good conscience following unwritten rules. When a family member had died in the house, the next of kin would gather on the 40th, 100th and sometimes on the 1000th day after that persons’ death to commemorate their passing away.

Ritual for good weather

A third - maybe somewhat hilarious - ritual was performed when people were planning to have a party at their home. Because if the party would be mainly outdoors, people wanted to be sure to have good weather. To accomplish this - or so one hoped - the weather gods had to be propitiated. The day before the party, one single vein was taken from a sapu lidi (veins of coconut leaves bundled together) or from a broom (the same, but with a wooden handle). It was planted in the garden and a lombok (chili pepper) was skewered on top. In addition, a pair of underpants had to be thrown onto the roof of the house for this rite. Hilarious, but it was worth a try: better safe than sorry. Right?

The Preanger (Parahiangan)

In the Preanger, West Java, you are spoilt with sceneries like this
The entire region from the city of Buitenzorg – which is now called Bogor - to Bandung and its surrounding areas is mostly mountainous and that whole area was called the Preanger - now Parahyangan. The original people of this region are the Sundanese and in addition to Malay – the present Bahasa Indonesia - they also speak their own language: Sundanese. In Tasikmalaya we lived in a large house right across from the pawnshop. Our neighbours were a family with two children, girls of about my age, with whom we were good friends. On a holiday 18 years later, when I visited an uncle of mine who lived with his family in a pavilion of a mansion in Semarang, I found out by chance that one of these two girls, by then married and with a family of her own, lived there in the main building.

 Rowing boat
Rowing boat

Racing Games

We lived in Tasikmalaya for a period of only six months from mid 1935, but it was a great place. Personally, I faced the biggest humiliation of my early childhood in Tasikmalaya (described in the next chapter). On weekends, the locals would often have archery competitions on the village square and they held racing contests with ‘fish’ in canals which held at least about 50 cm of fast flowing water. The competitors each had a wooden fish - all the same size - which was weighted at the bottom with lead so it would stay upright in the fast flowing water. Once the fish had been launched simultaneously, the whole gang would follow along the water and the fish arriving first at the predetermined finish line was, of course, the winner. The fish, carefully and lovingly carved from ebony, were absolutely beautiful.

Portrait of a man
Portrait of a man
Archery was a fairly serious and colourful event. The public, all dressed up in bright colours, cheered wildly for the contestants. All around the grassy area where the competition was held a variety of vendors selling all kinds of food could be found. The men participating in the competition would sit on the ground with their legs crossed, wearing their traditional Sundanese costume, a blankong (headgear made of batik material, which older Javanese still like to wear at festivities) on their head, the bow and a single arrow in their hand and a sheaf of arrows for later use next to them. All in all, the event drew large numbers of spectators and looked like a massive picnic. Everything indicated that the people enjoyed the outing, had a great time and used the opportunity to exchange the latest of the village’s gossip.

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