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.
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.
What started as an attempt to write about Indonesian cultural events has evolved through many different forms over the past few weeks. Realizing it would be impossible to sufficiently cover the three main types of selamatans (celebrations for weddings, funerals and births) I decided to narrow the focus to weddings only. Surely a single type of event would provide substantial interesting material while simultaneously being easy to encapsulate in a few hundred words.
Well even this more focused task proved too complicated as I spent the majority of time trying to explain the origins of the major wedding traditions. A big problem is that Javanese weddings can have a lot of variation, too much variation to apply a simple generic explanation. To solve the problem I switched from weddings to traditional Javanese culture and the external influences they have adopted over the years. Maybe this iteration was a step up in difficulty as my goal was nothing short of disentangling one-thousand years of culture from foreign influences. Then it is not surprising to learn that I have fallen terrifically short of my previous goals.