There are many intersections between Islam and traditional Javanese culture in Indonesia. Tahlilan and yasinan are great examples of one of those intersections. During PST I was fortunate enough to attend nearly a dozen such cultural events with my bapak. My original goal, as my goals so often are, was too ambitious. I had hoped to explain exactly what tahlilan and yasinan are, how they’re different, where they fit into indigenous Indonesian traditions and modernist orthodox Islam. However; even after having queried my community liaisons (CLs), my host family, and many other volunteers about this subject I still find my knowledge about these subjects lacking and my understanding short of what it should be.
“What do Indonesians eat?” This is a question I oft fielded after disclosing that I had accepted a Peace Corps assignment, and would be living in Indonesia for two years. Well, the short answer: rice. Indonesians eat rice. Lots and lots of rice.
The Sunday after Idul Fitri began like any other day from the past month. I woke up around five, mandied, had breakfast, and continued to read my book on the history of the United States Postal Service (it’s fascinating). At some point midmorning my host family niece (I think, the family relations are still uncertain to me) asked me something. What she asked specifically, I do not know. But she used the words ambil, ikan, and kolam. Something about taking a fish, but I couldn’t understand whether they were asking if I had taken a fish, if I would take a fish, if they should take a fish, or some other equally odd question. Eventually, and after some helpful charades, I remembered kolam means pond. They were inviting me to a pond with them to go fishing.
“It seems like Ramadan starts earlier and earlier every year.” Well, if it seems that way then it is only because it is true. The Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles, and one lunar year is about eleven days shorter than its cousin, the solar year. So generally Ramadan occurs eleven days earlier than it did the previous year.
The Javanese word for please is monggo. In Sundanese people say mangga. In both Indonesian and Javanese mangga means mango. So to say mango in Sundanese people say buah manggah, which literally means mango fruit. Explaining this somewhat trivial difference in language was always one of the first things people in Kediri would do when I told them I would be moving to West Java.