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Telling the Landscape: Place and Meaning in Sunda (West Java)

Raconter le terroir : lieu et sens en pays soundanais (Java occidental)
Robert Wessing
p. 33-61

Résumés

Les hameaux de Java occidental sont définis par des entités spirituelles d’importance locale et par les histoires, positives ou négatives, qui leur sont associées. En effet, les lieux où ces esprits sont localisés attestent la véracité des histoires, qui à leur tour transforment ce qui autrement ne serait qu’un rocher, une grotte ou une tombe en un objet à valeur spirituelle. Par la connaissance qu’ils ont de ces lieux et leur participation à des rituels relatifs à ces lieux, les villageois sont définis comme des personnes sociales qui, avec d’autres, continuent à accepter les règles et prescriptions instituées par les ancêtres. Dans le passé, les villageois considéraient que ces esprits, particulièrement les ancêtres et le gardien du hameau, étaient intimement impliqués dans la vie quotidienne du hameau. Si ces croyances peuvent semblent en recul à cause de la vie moderne, de l’école et de l’éducation religieuse, les villageois visitent encore, lors de périodes troublées de leur vie, ces lieux spéciaux pour y chercher un soulagement. Avec le temps, la nature des croyances et la perception des esprits ont changé, certains tombant en relative désuétude tandis que d’autres voient leur dimension islamique amplifiée. Mais si les gens, le hameau et les histoires ont changé, les histoires demeurent locales et de même leur valeur pour ceux qui vivent là.

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Introduction

  • 1 My original fieldwork was conducted in 1970-71. Several additional visits were made in 1980-82 when (...)

1During my first fieldwork in West Java in 1970,1 I was struck by the fact that often, when I was told about a person or event of local significance, the teller would want to take me to the place where this person was buried or where the event was said to have taken place. It was as if being there and seeing the locality was thought to add something to the narration. At the time, these local icons meant little to me, an outsider, though they obviously seemed to add a significant dimension to the story for the narrator. It was only later that I came to realize the deeper way in which these stories and places were in fact linked. In this article I explore the connection between stories and places with reference to significant forces that are part of people’s lives, as well as to the cultural rules (adat) that maintain harmony between them. It will be seen that the veracity of the tales is verified by the significant localities, while these in return gain meaning from the stories, a meaning within which people live their lives.

  • 2 Thus we often find such lists of localities in legends of the founding of a kingdom (see Danasasmit (...)

2Since that early fieldwork, and especially in the past decade, considerable attention has been paid to the meaning of the local landscape to its inhabitants (see Fox 1997b). It has come to be realized that things like place names may contain significant, sometimes secret, local information that often may only be told at specific locations and times (see Osseweijer n.d.: 5, 8). The contributions to Fox (1997b), however, generally discuss units larger than the local community, dealing, for example, with how “Timor is mapped” or with “Buru as a whole” (Fox 1997b: 44, 116). Myths may tell, for example, of the wanderings of the ancestors from their arrival on an island until they settled in a particular place. These narratives speak of the bringing of order and civilization into the wild places, as the protagonist creates points of significance during his journey and, in doing so, differentiates places within a previously unordered chaos. Along his route, places where the ancestor or founder rested or had a significant encounter are named and often marked by an oddly shaped stone or other natural feature (Osseweijer n.d.: 6). The enumeration of an ordered sequence of these places, a topogeny (Fox 1997a: 8), is commonly part of the “local” history, while the places themselves are a framework upon which ideas about the people’s place in the locality may be ordered and expressed (Adams 1979: 89). Such points may be religiously sanctioned and become places for meditation and pilgrimage (see De Haan 1910-12, II: 758). Often these lists also have to do with the precedence of one group over another and thus may be used to back up claims to territory or authority; in Java and Bali, they may even encompass the state as a whole (Fox 1997a: 11).2 Often, then, the enumerated places feature in the myths and accounts of the ruling nobility (Fox 1997a: 8) and Fox’s use of the term “local” seems to imply a territorial unit more extensive than a hamlet.

  • 3 I am writing in an ethnographic present, fully aware that significant changes have since taken plac (...)
  • 4 Palmer’s (1959: 43) statement that West Javanese villages do “not have the close association with a (...)

3However, while people living in local hamlets may to varying degrees be aware of and even participate in the larger regional sacred geography defined by the topogenetic tales, this larger unit is not where they primarily live. Rather, their lives, especially in the past, were and, decreasingly, are spent in local hamlets whose territory is correspondingly defined by locally relevant markers. In West Java, the nature of these markers tends to be quite uniform, although the rules for their positioning are flexible enough to allow for adjustment to the local landscape. The markers are usually located3 on the community’s boundary and include the grave of the founder of the community, as well as a place where the spirit owner of the land (see below) may be venerated.4 Other features are a communal lisung (rice husking block), a kentongan (slit-drum; Wessing 1999b), and a variety of spirit entities that reside on hillocks surrounding the community. While people may be aware that other communities use markers similar to their own (see Appadurai 1995: 208), they also know that the significant entities are strictly local. The founder of a community and the nature spirit with whom he made a pact (see below) are figures unique to the local community, as are various other spirit entities resident in the neighborhood (see Pemberton 1994: 237; Pigeaud 1938: 223; Tuan 1977: 131).

The Hamlet

4Thus far I have spoken of hamlets (kampung) rather than villages (desa). The reason for this is that for the Sundanese the kampung, rather than the desa, has long been the significant unit, the desa being a rather recent development among them. Until early in the twentieth century, the Sundanese generally preferred cultivating huma (dry fields) in hill kampung, protected from floods and wild animals, and perhaps also from predation by the government (see De Haan 1910-12, I: 31). Populations were small, normally under ten households (ibid., III: 203; Van Marle 1862: 2). Colonial officials tried to consolidate these scattered communities into villages, but their efforts tended to be less than successful. Furthermore, even where villages were created, the kampung and its lands remained the primary unit, which proved difficult to unite with the other hamlet-land combi­nations in the village (Korn 1941: 122), people having little liking for the new arrangements (Van Dam 1937: 81).

  • 5 Paths are said to be ramai (busy) and thus felt to be short, when one is likely to meet friends and (...)

5As a result of this low population density, hamlets within a village might also be quite far removed from each other. Each lay amidst its own fields and was connected to the others by a path that often ran through dark, lonely patches of forest thought to be inhabited by unpredictable, and thus dangerous spirits. Consequently, people were afraid to travel between kampung and had little intercourse with people from hamlets other than their own (see Judistira Garna 1984: 229, 233, 237). These places were considered faraway, which referred not so much to physical distance as to the “otherness” of what one might encounter along the path leading to them (see Tuan 1977: 47, 136).5

  • 6 But see Schefold 1989 and 1997. Sacrifices may be required at this point or at some later time duri (...)

6The founding of a hamlet begins with the definition of a boundary point that demarcates the sphere of the spirits from that of the future hamlet. Since it directly deals with the spirits, this act must be seen as a religious one. With it the founder creates a place, a particular point, which is a human cultural entity, differentiated from the previously homogeneous and perhaps chaotic space of the forest (see Tuan 1977: 56, 104).6 If after a while nothing adverse occurs, a sign that the spirits concur with the founder’s activities, this boundary point is then expanded into a space of its own. We therefore have two kinds of spaces, one embedded within the other: that of the forest, in which the spirits live, and the expanded boundary point (place), within which people are active. The original boundary point, which later becomes an altar to the cooperating nature spirit (tukuh lembur), now is one of the markers that define the hamlet. Other markers will later include the grave of the founder and other sites in the community, both positive and negative. Together these places define the space of human cultural order, the hamlet, which in turn started as a ritually demarcated place in the forest. This order imbues the space with meaning, changing it, in Smith’s terms (1992: 28) into place, based on the marking of significant loci (see Fox 1997a: 1; Tuan 1977: 56).

  • 7 When, after returning from my 1970-71 fieldwork in kampung Gajah of desa Pameuntasan, I needed some (...)

7It is in the hamlet, rather than the village, therefore, that we find the significant loci that are important in this discussion. I mentioned earlier that these loci are located on the hamlet’s boundary. Unlike those of villages, however, the boundaries of hamlets in West Java tend not to be clearly marked (see Judistira Garna 1984: 237). Such borders are part of local knowledge and divide insiders from outsiders, whether human or spirit.7 Similar to what Fox (1997a: 15) found in Eastern Indonesia, the markers are more important than boundaries as such.

  • 8 Like the geographical markers, local mythologies may be similar to more widely known or published v (...)

8As with the topogenies, stories are told about these markers and the persons or entities associated with them. Like the markers themselves, these myths are local in nature, relating to the doings and adventures of local ancestors and spirits.8 In principle, however, they do not vary much from one community to the next, just like life does not vary that much between them. These myths tell how the community came into being and whom the locally relevant spirit entities are, both the approved ones and those disapproved of. As O’Flaherty (1988: 35) observes, these may not be true stories, but rather tales that people can infuse with their own truth – a truth that is then again necessarily local and based on local realities. Through their connection with the markers and with the founders of the community, the tales gain authority and become a sacralized local history (see Mitchell 2001: 10), further imbuing the landscape with meaning and defining the bounded landscape within which the community lives. In the words of Thornton Wilder (1961: 1), “[t]he land that has inspired sentiment in the poet ultimately receives its sentiment from him.” Like the topogenies, then, the markers and their associated stories delineate the hamlet’s territory, localizing local history and relationships (see Fox 1997a: 2, 13), but here on a community level. In this way, they create a unique localized group referring to local myths, which contrasts with other such groupings elsewhere in the topogeny’s reach (see Appadurai 1995: 209).

The Sacred Field

9Such units may in a sense be seen as a sacred field. To understand this, we must consider two things. First, there is the relationship between the founder of the hamlet and the nature spirit that is said to own the land on which the hamlet stands. Second, we must look at the relationship between the present inhabitants and the ancestors who laid down the rules for a good life, the adat. Since the adat contains within it the rules for dealing with the hamlet’s spirits, both ancestral and natural, the two are closely related.

  • 9 In Dutch, zedelijke lichamen (Van den Berg 1901: 16).

10It has long been recognized that Southeast Asian rural communities, here specifically those in West Java, could in a general sense be characterized as religious communities (Mus 1975; Korn 1932: 79-86, 180), in that daily life is governed by the adat, a set of rules considered sacred because they are thought to come from and be sanctioned by the ancestors. Villages were effectively the cosmological center for their inhabitants and, as such, have indeed been called moral entities;9 to ignore the rules governing interaction between people and between people and spirits (see below) within this center was to court disaster (see Van den Berge 1993: 59). This does not mean, of course, that they were the closed corporate units of colonial imagination (see Holtzappel 1986: 105ff). Rather, the hamlet was the center of its inhabitants’ world, in which the ancestors and the nature spirits, the spirits most relevant in daily life, were part of the local reality.

  • 10 Usually only one spirit was involved here. When there are more, they are said to be subservient to (...)
  • 11 Informants state that the spirits of ancestors are stronger (Indonesian lebih kuat) than nature spi (...)

11This relationship with the nature spirits came about when the leader of a group, the founder of the hamlet, and his or her kin and followers invaded the land that they were to settle. This land was seen as owned by the spirits and their permission had therefore to be obtained before the land could be cleared. If this were not done, the new hamlet would not prosper and illness and death might follow. The details would take us too far afield for the purposes of this article (see Domenig 1988), but obtaining this permission eventually involved the spirit in a cult and a set of mutual obligations between it and the community.10 As long as the community met its obligations to the spirit world, usually including an annual feast (seren taun), the spirit(s) in turn would guard the welfare of the people, assuring them of abundant harvests and fertile livestock. To be able to deal with spirits and bend them to his will11 a founder was obviously no ordinary person (see Lehman 1997). Often he is said to have been the scion of a noble house who was not in line for succession, or a pious Muslim whose powers came from God (Wessing 1999c: 61; see Lehman 1981: 104). Some are said to have enlisted the aid of wild animals, such as tigers, in clearing the forest (Wessing 1999b).

  • 12 Lemmens (2001: 46) observed that, when a Minangkabau hamlet was forced to move to make way for a de (...)

12Whether noble or pious, such a person is thought to have had special cosmic powers, akin to the Javanese kasektèn described by Anderson (1972), and their power and authority are thus at least partly constituted in terms of ritual agency, e.g., their ability to deal with the dangerous forces of the forest. After the founder’s death these powers are thought to continue to adhere to his grave, which may therefore be utilized for the needs of those living under its influence – i.e., within the sacred field. However, they also devolved upon one of his sons and with them also the leadership and the obligations to the spirit world. The spirit of the founder, furthermore, as well as those of other ancestors, continued to guard the welfare of their descendants, which included making sure that these continue to follow the adat, the rules for a good life in the community. In part because of the involvement of both natural and ancestral spirits, the community may be seen as a sacred one, in which the balance between the two spheres is carefully maintained through the application of the adat, part of which involves the veneration of the various spirits. Given the local nature of these spirits, the adat dealing with them must, of course, for that part be very local as well. Indeed, since the spirits are intrinsic to the place, this adat must be so as well.12

  • 13 This line is not tied to any compass direction but runs between any two convenient places; since an (...)
  • 14 From the Arabic jinn. Some jin have entered the Muslim faith while others remain obdurate (see Bama (...)

13The sacred field within which the ritual of people’s daily lives takes place, was and often still is a function of a line that runs between the grave of the founder and the place where the guardian spirit is thought to reside.13 This line bisects the community, acting as a diameter whose ends define the boundary of the sacred field. In hamlets founded by a pious Muslim, a slightly different pattern is found, since such a person cannot, of course, have dealings with the spirit world. Here we find that an Islamic jin14 has taken over the function of the guardian spirit, while the end of the line that starts at the founder’s grave in theory extends all the way to Mecca – although often an intermediary sacred site takes on the role. Commonly a river or a couple of canals run through the “circle” defined by this diameter, in such a way that the water flows either from the founder to the nature spirit or vice versa. The point seems to be that these sites, which usually lie across the water from the settlement, are connected to each other. The hamlet thus often lays within a natural or artificial oxbow, in the curve of which lies the sacred center of the hamlet, in which the kentongan (slit-drum), the lisung (rice block), and the meeting hall are clustered together.

  • 15 Experiences are, of course, always individual. However, by assuming that others have experienced so (...)
  • 16 There are three kampung Gajah: Gajah Kantor (the location of a school), Gajah Tengah (“middle” Gaja (...)
  • 17 This choice is only partially arbitrary in that my best data come from Gajah. Data from other kampu (...)

14To summarize, in the foregoing I discussed how the internal order of kampung came about through the cooperation of humans and nature spirits, mediated by the rules laid down in the local adat. Through this cooperation, Sundanese “hamlets as sacred spaces” came into existence, defined or bounded by significant spiritually potent places. As will be seen, it is through the interaction of the inhabitants of the hamlet with these places, both individually and communally, that a feeling of a “shared” understanding develops among them, in which the memories of individual experiences become links between them (see Mitchell 2001: 10).15 In the next section I shall give a sketch of some of these significant points in a particular kampung, to wit kampung Gajah Kantor16 in the kecamatan (district) of Soreang, kabupaten (regency) of Bandung.17

Places and Tales

15Gajah Kantor is today a kampung in the village (desa) of Gajah Mekar. At the time of my 1970-71 fieldwork, however, Gajah was part of the village Pameuntasan (Wessing 1978a). Gajah Kantor is said to be the “eldest” kampung of the village, having been the place where the founder, Embah Andui, first started a hamlet after the fall of the court of Batulayang c. 1802. Gajah Kantor lies along the Citarum River, its northern boundary. To the east and west, it is bounded respectively by the Cipari and Cijaruwah streams, both originating in the hills to the west of the kampung. Their springs, as is common in West Java, have a guardian spirit (anu ngageugeuh; see Eringa 1984: 251).

16The sites and stories associated with Gajah’s markers can be divided into two general categories: tales and places dealing with graves of the founder and other important figures in local history; and stories about caves and spirits. Except for Embah Andui’s grave, the important graves are located on top of Mt. Lalakon, a hill just outside Gajah. Most of the spirit entities are distributed on the lower slopes of Mt. Lalakon and another hill, Mt. Paseban. The stories about historical characters, in particular, as told by local residents, should not be taken as historically correct. Villagers generally do not know the exact details of events and, like people everywhere, really depend on word of mouth and second-hand stories for their information. As is the case with myths, O’Flaherty’s (1988: 35) observation that these are tales upon which truth is based is applicable here: These tales are true to the inhabitants and give meaning to their lives and their hamlet (see Bruner 1990: 111).

17This is not to say that these places and stories played an overwhelmingly dominant part in the daily lives of all the people in Gajah, or that everyone admitted believing in them. Indeed, some Muslim leaders frowned upon them, and others spoke of them as mere curiosities. Yet, people were generally aware of them, and all who accompanied me there would utter a polite greeting to the power of the place and ask permission to approach. Since 1970-71, the number of skeptics has apparently increased, as schools and religion have influenced people’s outlook on life. But note that I say apparently, because when I visited the gravesites of Embah Andui and Eyang Santoan Kobul (see below) in 1998, during the monetary crisis, both were filled with supplicants seeking relief from their troubles. Whether people still approach Embah Batu Gajah (see below) is difficult to say, given the nature of such visits. The point is that, while people may voice skepticism, this does not always reflect their actions in times of crisis.

Embah Andui18

  • 18 Embah is a title for grandparents as well as for venerable persons and things.

18Embah Andui is said to have been a jago (strong man) who came from Panyalu, near Galuh, fleeing from the Dutch forced labor. Before coming to our area, he drifted from one place of learning (paguron) to another in search of magic to give him cosmic power (Indonesian kesaktian) and pluck (Indonesian kegagahan). He even went to the paguron Dalem Tumpang in Cimahi, but eventually ended up in this locality, having heard that there was a paguron in Mahmud, just across the river (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. The Gajah and Mahmud area

Fig. 1. The Gajah and Mahmud area

19But, rather than magic, Islam was taught in Mahmud, as well as pencak silat. Embah Andui learned very quickly and became a good Muslim while his esoteric knowledge (Indonesian ilmu) surpassed that of all the students at Mahmud. Indeed, Embah Karir, who could change himself into a tiger and wanted to test (coba) Embah Andui, once dared him to fight. The challenge was that the loser would have to be loyal and obedient (taat) to the winner. Embah Andui won and, to this day, Embah Karir is said to guard his grave in tigrine form (see Wessing 1986; and see Fig. 2 & 3).

Fig. 2. Embah Andui’s grave in 1970

Fig. 2. Embah Andui’s grave in 1970

Fig. 3. Embah Andui’s grave in 1998

Fig. 3. Embah Andui’s grave in 1998
  • 19 The exact details are unclear, but these might be sons-in-law and persons who came to learn ilmu fr (...)
  • 20 This is contrary to what I indicated in Wessing (1979), when I was still unaware of the primacy of (...)

20All the land here originally belonged to Embah Andui. His sons inherited a little more than half of it, and the rest was given to those who had helped him settle the area and clear the land, so that these were considered to be his sons as well.19 Embah Andui’s grave lies on the eastern border of Gajah Kantor20 and is a source of protection and help. Various stories are told of people in trouble who appealed to Embah Andui’s spirit and saw their problems magically disappear:

“Asep worked for the railroad and was in charge of some important keys. One day he lost them and was quite upset, fearing he would be punished. He went to Embah Andui’s grave and asked him for help. At midnight the keys just appeared before him.”

21or

“My daughter Euis was engaged to be married, but changed her mind. I was quite confused because I loved my daughter and did not want to force her to marry, but I also felt sorry for the young man. So I went to Embah Andui’s grave, along with the kuncen (intermediary). There, I became possessed (kasurupan) and Embah Andui spoke through me. He said I should wait two days and all would be well. After two days, the boy went home and did not return.”

22Another story tells how a man was possessed by a forest spirit because he had felled a tree without this spirit’s permission, and how the matter was resolved through Embah Andui’s intercession. Only those living in Gajah go to this grave, however, as they are considered to be Embah Andui’s descendants.

Mahnaba

23Normally, as was pointed out earlier, a kampung would be under the protection of a nature spirit that had been coopted into this position by the founder. This was indeed the case in the kampung Nyalindung (Sumedang), Guradog (Lebak), Naga (Tasikmalaya), Dukuh (Garut), and in the Kesepuhan kampung of Cipta Rasa on Mt. Halimun, although in 1998 the belief was fading in Nyalindung and Guradog and not acknowledged to outsiders in Naga. This spirit, often said to be a female entity manifesting as a snake, is responsible for, or the embodiment of, the general fertility of the hamlet. An appeal to this spirit can sometimes bring relief, though usually it does not concern itself with private matters and only looks after the hamlet as a whole, in cooperation with the spirit of the founder.

  • 21 In this, Mahnaba is somewhat like the Javanese genderuwo, who is said to like to bother ladies who (...)

24Since Embah Andui was a pious Muslim, he did not, of course, enter into deals with heathen nature spirits. Instead, Gajah is guarded by the Islamic jin Mahnaba, who, not being a nature spirit and thus not having an abode in the soil, moves through Gajah at regular intervals, pausing at various prayer houses (langgar) and mosques. Otherwise, he is much like the nature spirits in that appeals to him may bring relief from trouble and that he looks after the welfare of Gajah’s inhabitants, especially their morality, as embodied in the (now increasingly Islamized) adat.21

Hills

25As Hidding (1933: 470-471; 1935: 34-35) long ago pointed out, mountains are a natural boundary of the settled area and, as such, are part of that strange area where the human world ends and another starts. Mountains were the places where important persons were buried and where sacred sites are found, the object of pilgrimages.

  • 22 Elsewhere (Wessing 1988b) I showed how the location of these entities correlates with wet and dry f (...)

26In the administrative area of Gajah Mekar itself, i.e., the official territory of the desa, no hills or mountains are found. Hills, however, begin to rise almost immediately beyond the village boundary, on both the roads to Jelegong and to Kopo. While not officially part of Gajah, these bounding hills are nevertheless significant in the folklore of Gajah Kantor, especially those toward Jelegong. These hills, that were in the past heavily forested and full of danger, are the source of the streams that encompass Gajah’s territory, as well as the whereabouts of various kinds of spirits: nature spirits, as well as those of important persons.22

  • 23 Or perhaps even underneath the house itself. Poensen (1910: 298) writes that, after a house had col (...)
  • 24 Rikin (1973: 17, 40) notes that in one dialect of Sundanese the word leuweung (“forest”) is also us (...)
  • 25 These last graves, while respected, are less immediately relevant to the people of Gajah. Visitors (...)

27Like elsewhere in Indonesia (see Hatta 1982; Dominikus Rato 1992), deceased focal figures often take on the role of generalized ancestors, their graves located on a wooded hill, beyond the edge of the hamlet. In Gajah, four kinds of graves are found: first, that of the founder, Embah Andui, which, as was mentioned, is located on the eastern edge of Gajah Kantor; then, those of ordinary people, now buried in a common graveyard, although in the past they were often interred at the eastern edge of the house compound (Judistira Garna 1984: 268);23 third, the graves of the focal figures, located in the hills beyond Gajah24; and finally, the graves of the old court (dalem) of Batulayang or Dalem Gajah.25

Graves

28On the hill Buni Buana (“hidden world;” see Fig. 4) lies the grave of Eyang Santoan Kobul, who was related to the old dalem Batulayang. While he was not directly related to the people of Gajah, the title eyang (ancestor) makes him into a generalized protector. Local tradition has him come to Buni Buana from Cirebon, where he had many children who became sultans and wali (saints). After meditating at Buni Buana for many years, he died and was buried there some time between 1660 and 1670 CE. People come to his grave, which is guarded by a tiger, to ask for favors and help.

Fig. 4. Buni Buana and surrounding hills

Fig. 4. Buni Buana and surrounding hills
  • 26 In Wessing (1988b), I erroneously placed these on Buni Buana.

29Two other important graves lie on Mt. Lalakon, those of Adipati Ukur and Sembah Prabu Surialagakusumah. Adipati Ukur, the hero of a failed seventeenth-century revolt against the Dutch, was caught and executed by the ruler of Mataram. Local folklore has it that his body was cut into two pieces, one of which now lies buried on Mt. Lalakon (see Ekadjati 1982; Rosidi 1984: 88-100). Sembah Prabu Surialagakusumah, like Eyang Santoan Kobul, was related to the ruling house of Batulayang. The approach to this grave is marked by two boundary stones,26 symbolically setting this area off from the territory around it and possibly acting as a “container” of the power of the grave (Wessing 1988b).

Spirits

30Two named spirits are found in these hills as well. The first, located on an unnamed hill, is Embah Sanusi, an earth spirit (siluman; see Moestapa 1946: 87 n. 5). From its association with the spring Cimuja (from puja, “to worship”), it could be speculated that this is the original guardian spirit (dhanyang; see note 10) of the area, with whom Embah Andui refused to associate. This suspicion is strengthened by the fact that the water from this spring is used to irrigate the fields and is said to be very sacred (angker). Nothing much further, either positive or negative, is told about Embah Sanusi. This is unlike Embah Batu Gajah, another earth spirit located on Mt. Lalakon, who may be appealed to for power, wealth, status, and aid in seducing women. The community’s religious leaders frown upon such activities (Wessing 1988b), which come at a (spiritual) price. Such wealth, it is said, cannot be inherited or passed on:

“Haji S. is rumored having gone there. That is how he became so wealthy. But it is of no use, socially, because he can only use it for himself. That is why he doesn’t contribute [to the building of a mosque]. The money would just disappear.”

31Thus, being accused of having acquired one’s wealth from Embah Batu Gajah is a sanction applied to those who are less generous with their wealth than is considered proper; implied is that wealth is anti-social.

Other Places

32Finally there are a few places that informants indicate as strange. The first of these is the Rengis Stone (Batu Rengis), on the slope of Mt. Lalakon, which is associated with the occurrence of strange hollow sounds (rerendung). On the next hill over, Mt. Paseban, lies another strange stone, the Batu Tapak (“stone footprint”). Today this footprint is not attributed, but in the past such marks were said to have been left by the Buddha when he walked through the area. On Mt. Paseban, one may also meet with an ipri, a kind of earth spirit that trades wealth for sexual favors, though at a cost (Wessing 1978a: 101-102; 1988b: 53). Finally, there used to be a hillock called Tegal Jangkung, lying amid the rice fields between Gajah proper and these hills, which was said to be haunted, its ghosts bothering people in their sleep, especially men who chipped away at it with their hoes when farming the surrounding fields. They dreamed of meeting with a threatening spirit in the uniform of a Dutch colonial policeman, or of being put to work as, e.g., house carpenters in the domain of the spirits. The hillock, which indeed contained old graves, has eroded away now and its resident spirits are said to have moved elsewhere.

Water

  • 27 Similar features and corrections are found at palaces (kraton). While informants specifically point (...)

33As mentioned earlier, hamlets often lie in the bend or oxbow of a river or at the confluence of two streams, the water of which flows, in one direction or the other, between the grave of the founder and the place where the protective spirit resides. So important is this feature that where it is naturally lacking, it may be created by the construction of a canal.27

34Gajah, too, lies between two streams. One, the Cipari, originating at Pancuran Tujuh on Mt. Pasir Gambir, near Pasir Buni Buana, flows north from here into the Citarum and forms the eastern boundary of Gajah. Although the spring is not considered particularly eerie (angker), it does have a resident spirit (anu ngageugeuh). People who came to this spring to purify themselves before the Muslim prayer (wudlu) were unable to tell me this spirit’s name. Yet, one informant calls the water of this stream cikahuripan, the “water of life,” perhaps reflecting its symbolic importance to the hamlet, since its position as Gajah’s eastern boundary brings it near Embah Andui’s grave.

  • 28 It is not clear when Embah Andui’s reputation as a pious Muslim started to intensify. My original f (...)
  • 29 The ngahapit idea is also found around the hill Pasir Buni Buana, the location of the grave of Eyan (...)

35Gajah’s western boundary is formed by the Cijaruwah stream, whose spring is located at the foot of the hill that is the residence of Embah Sanusi, the spirit who I earlier speculated might be the original spirit-owner of the area.28 The water from the Cijaruwah is made to cross an irrigation canal through bamboo pipes leading to a holding tank, from which it is allowed to follow its natural course. The two springs, then, lie not too far removed from each other, and their streams may be seen as embracing (ngahapit)29 the hamlet; one is associated with Embah Sanusi, and the other with Embah Andui. To this we must add the spring of the Cimuja, located farther up the same hill. The water from this source is said to be very angker (supernaturally charged) but informants added nothing further. Springs, then, are angker and have a guardian (penunggu), which often takes the form of a (female) snake. There are also spirits in the streams themselves. Thus, the Citarum River, where it flows along our hamlet, is the territory of Embah Raden Kalung, a snake borne of the wife of Dalem Mahmud.

36Springs and streams, then, are important features of the local sacred landscape. They, or perhaps the spirits that guard them and are associated with untamed fertility (see Wessing 1999a), provide the water of life. It is said that, having once drunk the local water, one must always return, i.e., one has an unbreakable tie with the place, which is now part of oneself. Similarly, the afterbirth of children, especially male, may be placed into the stream, making this ‘sibling’ part of the local landscape’s periphery. This does not mean, of course, that the water of these rivers and streams is always sacred; it is so only in ritual contexts (Smith 1992: 103-106). Yet, since life within the sacred field must be seen as a ritual, this sacredness is never far removed.

Ancestors

  • 30 Such return visits to sacred ancestral sites may be one reason for the topogenies and may continue (...)

37Finally, there are the ancestors, the immediate forebears of the inhabitants of the hamlet. Contrasting with the apical ancestors – the founder of the hamlet, who looks after the community as a whole – these spirits are more concerned with the welfare, and also the behavior, of their descendants. They are invited to all family rituals and their help and advice are sought in times of difficulty. Forebears are therefore seen as a source of aid and blessing for their descendants, as long as these continue to honor them through visits to their graves at ritual times and adherence to the commands and taboos laid down by them. While today the deceased are buried in community graveyards, in the past this was done on the house plot, near their old house. Since the spirits of the deceased are thought to retain an attraction to their remains, this practice would tie their spirits to the house yard and their descendants (Rikin 1973: 27). This attachment to their ancestors leads many people to return to the ancestral hamlet (mulih ka kampung) at least once a year during Idul Fithri (the end of the Muslim fast). In common with Austronesian peoples’ practice elsewhere (see Thomas 1997), if the present kampung is an offshoot from a previous one, visits may be made to the founder and ancestors in the “elder” hamlet as well, e.g., during the village cleansing ritual (Indonesian bersih desa), a ritual of reconciliation between people and spirits at harvest time (see Sufia Isa 1971).30

  • 31 Aside from the almost standard founder and protective nature spirits, most hamlets have other, more (...)

38In summary, while more spirits could be mentioned,31 we have seen how the boundary of Gajah is defined, or comes into being, through a set of potent sites. These sites are created through a narrowing of ritual focus on them, an elaboration of relative differences that defines the distinction between the site and the rest of the hamlet (Lévi-Strauss 1981: 672). In other words, power is focused and concentrated, which makes it accessible to those who could handle it, and removes it from access by others (Smith 1992: 109-111). Such sites mark the transition between the inhabited, adat-governed hamlet, and the realm of the other (O’Flaherty 1988: 3), the spirits, with their positive and negative influences: graves that are the source of well-being, and sites of wild spirits that are visited for private gain and, often, anti-social activities. However, whether in folklore or gossip, approved or disapproved, real people are involved in and with the stories, persons who are known to all. Through these relationships the spirits are part of the local reality and help to define Gajah as a place and make up the hamlet’s topogeny, “the framework for the ‘placement’ of more extended knowledge” (Fox 1997a: 13) about the place and its history.

Weaving Meaning

  • 32 This person can be seen to function as what Bruner (1990: 69) calls an “interpretant,” “a represent (...)
  • 33 This adds an interesting dimension to the phrase yang empunya cerita, “the one whose tale it is.” I (...)

39The insider in-the-know is aware of these places, their difference from the ordinary elements of the community having been more or less clearly marked, or at least commented upon in myths and stories. While some of the knowledge is common to most people living in the hamlet, other, more esoteric information about graves or spirits is controlled by specific persons (kuncen; intermediaries) (see Osseweijer n.d.: 8). Each such location, Fox points out (1997a: 13), has an inherent possibility for an “elaboration of knowledge,” and thus also for an adaptation to prevailing currents of opinion, as we see, for instance, in the altered image of Embah Andui since 1970 and the apparently changed position of Embah Sanusi. Being the acknowledged intermediary to a site,32 therefore, gives a person a degree of power over its message (see Heringa 1997), and thus also over the shape of the local cosmos.33 But, however the associated event may be reinterpreted, the place where it is commemorated is forever mnemonic (Fox 1997a: 17; see Smith 1992: 112), at least of its current version.

  • 34 “… utterances embellished beyond the minimal needs of ordinary discourse, such as myths, legends, t (...)
  • 35 Dr. Sean Williams is an ethnomusicologist who received her Ph. D. based on a dissertation on temban (...)

40The knowledge about these places within the local landscape is embedded in stories, what Adams has called “tellantry,”34 which in Sunda traditionally took the form of poetry (Van den Berge 1993: 175). As Sean Williams points out (pers. comm.),35 locating a site in this way shifts it ‘from a “where” to a “when”.’ In other words, it actualizes the site historically, making it “move through time rather than space,” and giving it a temporal dimension of power that it would otherwise not have. This, in turn, makes it possible for the combination of the tale and the ritual object, there to be looked at and physically referred to, to create a memory or a “structure for remembrance” (Smith 1992: 112; Fentress & Wickham 1992: 113; Fox 1997a: 2; Pannell 1997: 165). Without the story, the place would lose significance, while without the place the tale would only be a “just so” story. Together they create a local cosmological reality, a coherent space within which symbolic structures can have meaning and which can function as home for the inhabitants and their spirits. This reality is further elaborated in all kinds of ways, such as how houses should be oriented and the location of other symbolically significant structures in the community, as well as behavioral rules that govern how a person is to interact with these (see Tuan 1977: 40, 86, 117).

41The telling of the tales, therefore, is an act of communion (O’Flaherty 1988: 148) rather than just communication. The stories are familiar, except to the very young who might hear them for the first time. The teller is a participant in the community: “He and the hamlet were one. He knew everyone’s descent and family circumstances in detail, along with their joys and sorrows,” as Pleyte (1905: 8) writes about a specific teller of tales. These are tales about the community and thus about the people themselves, about their relations, both social and spiritual, and their common experience. They are sacred stories from which flows their “web of meaning,” to borrow a phrase from C. Geertz (1973). This is the glue that holds together the social reality, both here and now and over time. Insofar as at ritual times a hamlet can be seen to be acted together (see below), through these tales it can be said to be “told together” as well. The process of learning the stories and their associated markers creates insiders, those who are in the know and participate in the local process. At the same time, the oral presentation of the stories (Van den Berge 1993: 2-3; Pleyte 1905) will tend to promote local versions of even wider known myths, versions not immediately subject to tests of accuracy and correction that written versions would be subject to.

Identity

  • 36 On the other hand, the Minangkabau in diaspora seem to have created a virtual “place” on the World (...)
  • 37 It has been noted that many transmigrants to other islands have difficulty in settling in their new (...)
  • 38 Taking identity to be a function of a person’s social interactions, here including both those with (...)

42Participation in the local reality begins at birth. Disposing of the afterbirth either in the river or on the house plot makes the person’s spirit siblings (dulur opat) part of the sacred locality in which the person’s ancestors are buried as well. Burying him or her in its ground after death completes the process of linking succeeding generations to the locality. In between, the person is socialized into the local customs and lore, competence in which it is hoped will created “reliable local subjects” and produce “reliable local neighbourhoods” (Appadurai 1995: 205-208).36 It is the familiar physical setting and the familiar associated tales that create for the participant a sense of belonging, of being home (see Fox 1997a: 91). Both emotionally and physically, these are strong feelings, Mitchell (2001: 12) observes. Home is where a person’s origins lie and where his identity is rooted,37 and where he or she must return at ritually important times. Rootedness in a place, and through it a connectedness with other persons, with the ancestors, with the spirits, and with significant places, constitutes the social person (see Tuan 1977: 140-157).38

  • 39 In 1970, when I first started working in Gajah, I had to be introduced to and approved by Embah And (...)

43The basis for this rootedness lies, of course, in a person’s childhood experiences. New babies are introduced to the local soil (nurunkeun) and the ancestors (Fox 1997a: 49)39 and from earliest childhood they participate in the community’s activities. Like elsewhere in Indonesia and Southeast Asia (Mead 1955: 43; Keyes 1977: 119-120), children are present at most activities. They sit watching and dozing underneath and near the platform during the presentation of puppet shows (wayang golek) and their associated myths (see Fig. 5). They participate, often noisily, in all religious activities, whether this is the giving of a name to a child or the commemoration of someone’s death. In the evening, when tales were told to me about local history and spirits, they sat and listened, the older ones adding details or asking questions. It is through this process of socialization that belief becomes meaningful (Keyes 1977: 119; Eggan 1965: 109; Pleyte 1905: 7-8), whether this is belief in spirits or in the now ever more dominant religion of Islam, or both. Experience and belief reinforce each other, and in the process the child internalizes the meanings and values that will make it a member of the community (H. Geertz 1974).

Fig. 5. Children watching a wayang golek show

Fig. 5. Children watching a wayang golek show

Being There

44This then is a process, in which the symbolically experienced locality and its associated tales mutually constitute each other in the shape of a community, and together are the context in or through which social persons are constituted (see Appadurai 1995: 204). However, people experience these individually and thus differentially, due to differences in individual personality. Thus, social participation constitutes the social self, while individual understandings and reactions constitute (or reflect) the private self (see Valeri 2000: 98).

45The key words here are, of course, symbolically experienced, since without the participation of those social persons, rocks and springs would be just that, and the tales that speak of extra dimensions would not exist.

  • 40 See Bruner (1990) on the important role of narrative in the enculturation of children and the creat (...)

46The first symbolic experience of these places, as pointed out above, is in youth, as the child listens to and is perhaps entertained or frightened by the various tales, and participates to varying degrees in the rituals associated with some of these places.40 The exposure is not limited to this, however, as usually once a year the community as a whole gathers to celebrate itself and its relationship with at least the socially approved spirit entities that we have discussed here. On this occasion, the most important spirits, usually the ancestors and the protective spirit, are invited to and feasted in a celebration that bears witness to the fact that the descendants continue to follow the adat of their forebears and to honor the agreements that these entered into. This is true of more Islamic communities as well, although here the one that is honored is, of course, God. Following Mitchell (2001: 10), the physical act of participating in such an event is the interface between what the individual experiences and the power points of the hamlet. Having experienced it, the individual attributes a “sharing” of feelings to other participants in the community.

  • 41 This is related to mauwlid, traditional festivals in honor of Muslim saints, which in the Middle Ea (...)

47These celebrations have varying names, the most common of them being the seren taun and its Islamized variant, the ngabungbang. In kampung Naga (Tasikmalaya), there is a bi-monthly variant, called hajat sasih (month feast). The seren taun is a ritual during which thanks are given for an adequate or abundant harvest. Kusnaka Adimihardja (1992: 196) writes that the ancestors are thanked, but considering that the procession that is part of the celebration also links the founder’s grave with the spirit’s altar, more than just the ancestors are involved here. In Gajah, the ngabungbang takes place as part of Muludan, the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. During this celebration, groups of people spend the night visiting the various sacred graves and chanting verses from the Qur’an over them, and over water and perfume that are placed on the grave and taken home afterwards, infused with the power of the grave and/or the chant.41 During the ngabungbang activities in Gajah, only the various focal graves were visited and not the locations of siluman and jin. However, this last may have been a more recent development since Prawirasuganda (1964: 103) writes that people visit whatever place they consider keramat (sacred).

  • 42 In both Naga and Cipta Rasa, the procession describes a counter-clockwise spiral, the route between (...)
  • 43 See Bruner (1990: 72, 77). Participation in these rituals can also, of course, help integrate outsi (...)

48One common component in these activities is a communal procession (Javanese kirab) to various defining points in the hamlet: In Naga and Cipta Rasa (Mt. Halimun), these connect the sacred center of the hamlet with the founder’s grave and with the nature spirit,42 and in Gajah, the various sacred graves. These icons of the community are places at which to pause as people move through the sacred field that they define, making this place of veneration – whether through chanting or other forms of meditation – a place where social reality is confirmed (see Tuan 1977: 138). These pauses acknowledge the participant as belonging to the community and its points of origin, the founder and the nature spirit who, along with the participant, take part in the proceedings. Indeed, the events narrated in the tales are actualized anew and in the process the participants, the founder, and the spirits are re-integrated:43 Remembering one’s origins, and through them one’s ancestors, is of primary importance, and to forget this is considered a major offence, leading to disaster (katulah).

  • 44 Extending Austin’s (1975) ideas, ritual may be said to be performative.

49Following Parkin (1992), we can see ritual performance as acting and creating through movement, the physical movement realizing the thing that people want to express.44 Earlier I depicted the hamlet as a sacred field. A logical conclusion of this idea is that daily life must then be seen as having at least some characteristics of ritual, which is indeed the case. Many taboos and adat rules regulate contact between people, as well as between people and spirit entities such as the pohaci (spirit) of the rice, the deceased, and the spirits mentioned here thus far. These rules indeed aim at promoting harmonious relations in the hamlet and preventing discord that would disturb this harmony. In other words, the rules of daily life aim at the integration of the hamlet and its inhabitants for the common good.

  • 45 The fact that, in some hamlets (e.g., Naga, Dukuh, and among the Baduy), only immediate descendants (...)

50The annual visits to the sacred places, then, can be seen as special instances of the daily ritual. People are made especially aware of their relationship with these points of power and, through the communal movement,45 their relationship with and dependency on each other. At the same time, these visits do physically what elsewhere in the Austronesian world is often done through the recitation of a topogeny, namely the passing on of social knowledge (Fox 1997a: 8). Through these visits to the physical evidence, the founding myths of the community are made real, providing proof of their veracity (see Mitchell 2001: 12). And thus, not only do these ritual visits act the hamlet into being, as was proposed elsewhere (Wessing, in press); but also, through their involvement in the event, people create themselves as social individuals vis-à-vis other social individuals. Place, tale, teller, and audience all mutually constitute each other by their physical participation in this symbolic reality.

New Tales, New Places

51When I returned to Gajah for a brief visit in 1980, much had changed. I arrived at the house of my teacher, E. Sukarya, to find everyone in a darkened room, watching television: Mains electricity had come to the hamlet. While in 1970-71 people had radios, the batteries needed to operate them were both expensive and of poor quality, making operating them a luxury. With the coming of mains electricity, all this changed and television came within reach. With it, however, came a significant change in the social patterns. Where before, as I described earlier, people had sat around in the evenings, recounting local history and lore, when not discussing the weather and market prices, they now sat facing the television screen: From interactive participants they had changed into passive receivers, absorbing whatever had been programmed somewhere beyond their hamlet by a government agency.

52As has been discussed at length elsewhere (Effendi 1998; Pemberton 1994), messages from the government are anything but neutral in their content. Through an emphasis on modernization, the favoring of national versus local events, and the sometimes not so subtle manipulation of local messages, they try to introduce cultural changes on the local level. At the same time, through the school curriculum children are exposed to modernizing ideologies (Hefner 1994), in which especially beliefs in spirits and ancestors are depicted as old fashioned and often also as un-Islamic. A further increasing awareness of the teachings of Islam has also helped to move the Sundanese away from the old, sacred beliefs discussed here, causing people to perceive them as superstitions.

53As I pointed out earlier, and in common with elsewhere in Indonesia (see Nourse 1999), not everyone agreed with the nature of the ritual markers that I have discussed here. In 1970-71, the religious teachers in the Bojong section of then kampung Gajah frowned upon such beliefs and did not like to have wayang presentations staged in the kampung. Others, however, made jokes about these teachers’ piety and readily discussed both socially approved spirits and negatively sanctioned ones. Since neither side was overbearing in pushing its point of view, people lived peaceably together, presenting an appropriate self as required by the context (see Beatty 1996, Wessing 2002, Goffman 1959).

54Since 1980, television has become normal and no longer takes up the attention it did in the early days, but the results of its and other influences are readily seen. During recent visits to Nyalindung and Guradog, elsewhere in West Java, people were reluctant to speak of things that were common in 1970 and 1980. Meanings can change, after all, and with them the way in which people perceive their world. Like elsewhere in Java, this is often a matter of political advantage, in which rival factions compete to define the nature of (symbolic) reality (see Parkin 1992: 13; Wessing 2002; Heringa 1997: 361). This is an ongoing contest and its results will vary according to local circumstances.

  • 46 An ethnoscape is the local cultural configuration within a hamlet.

55Furthermore, while I have sketched hamlets as communities that are bounded by their own local symbolism, they were aware of and participated in a wider set of relationships, producing what Appadurai (1995: 210) has called a “context of neighbourhoods,” and with it what is generally described as Sundanese culture. Minimally, they were aware of the root-village from which they hove off to start the new community. Many also knew of significant places beyond their own local “ethnoscape” (Appadurai 1995: 211),46, such as the grave of the Muslim saint Sunan Gunung Jati and the presence of pilgrimage sites throughout West Java and even beyond. Without such awareness, Embah Andui would never have undertaken the search for teachers that led him to Mahmud and Gajah. This world only became wider as people learned more of Islam and its teachings, including the hajj and its focus in Mecca. While many, perhaps most, would never embark on such quests, the awareness was certainly there and only its scope has changed under the influence of these recent developments.

  • 47 In my own experience, it was more often tales of local spirits than dongeng about Si Kabayan, a Sun (...)
  • 48 These were perhaps not as common as might be expected. Even in 1916, Pleyte noted for the Bogor reg (...)
  • 49 Victoria M.C. Van Groenendael (pers. comm.) tells of a jaranan (horse-dance) group that c. 1992, up (...)

56Some have wondered what the influence of this influx of new “tales” might be having on the local repertoire. Some (AW 1991, Manuaba 2000) have written of a decline in ethnic oral folklore, as parents prefer to park their children in front of the television – much like what was noted in Gajah in the early days of television – rather than telling them stories (dongeng). Although no figures are given in these reports concerning the level of story telling that actually took place prior to the advent of television, rural Sundanese informants confirm that parents in their youth told stories of Sang Kuriang or Nyi Sumur Bandung to their children in the evening.47 This practice now indeed seems to be disappearing, to the dismay of, e.g., the organizers of the 2001 First Conference on Sundanese Culture in Bandung. Of course, television stories are neither the first nor the only tales from outside the hamlet to be heard. Traveling bards (tukang pantun)48 and puppet (wayang) presentations with their tales based on the Indian Mahabarata and Ramayana stories had long been known in rural areas as well. Yet, wayang tales are presented locally, within the context of both local tales and offerings made to local spirits.49

  • 50 This is similar to what I found during a recent visit to Jember in East Java. Children there could (...)
  • 51 Sheila Fish is a Ph.D. candidate at the SOAS, University of London, who did her fieldwork among chi (...)

57Moreover, we should perhaps more closely define what is meant by dongeng since, while Sundanese (i.e., regional) tales like Sang Kuriang are indeed less popular these days, tales of local spirits continue undiminished.50 Rather than these disappearing, the findings of Sheila Fish (pers. comm.)51 show that children, especially, use mystery stories from television, e.g., Misteri Gunung Merapi (The Mystery of Mt. Merapi), as a vehicle to talk about local spirits. Thus, rather than there being a process of replacement, the television stories become incorporated into the local ones, or are used in addition to them (S. Fish, pers. comm.). Such a process of recombination need not be a uniform one, of course, and may well be influenced by a group dynamic in which local opinion leaders set the tone for what is and is not integrated into the local knowledge. Similar things have probably been taking place for many years, as wayang and other stories were presented in these areas, and their tales became part of the local repertoire. It is the regional tales that tend to come to be replaced by other ones, also far removed from the kampung, as the area beyond the kampung’s boundary shifts into another focus.

Conclusion

58In this article, we have seen how local spirit entities, both positive and negative ones, define the local hamlet and, through interaction with them, define the identity of its inhabitants as well. Whether or not these inhabitants engaged with especially the negatively valued ones among these spirits, they were aware of their presence and those of the founder and his counterpart(s), the nature spirit guardian(s). As times have changed, the local tales have changed as well, having been subject to modernizing messages of television and the ever-stronger voice of Islam. The impact of these new messages has not been uniform and the reaction to their content varies, although most often people still ignore their mutual differences and prefer not to argue the finer points of belief.

59However, different stories define different places and spaces, and require different acts of membership. Ancestral rituals that until recently tied people to the place that they defined are now replaced by Muslim rituals that tie their adherents to new, Islamically defined places, in which the old beliefs and practices tend to be denigrated as superstitions. Yet, people over the years have integrated the various kinds of messages, much as children still do today, changing the emphasis one way or another, making a historical character slowly more Muslim than he might have appeared before, or converting a spirit to Islam. In this way, these new stories remain tied to the locality, which through them remains home, a changed place for a new person.

LEHMAN, F.K., 1997, “The Relevance of the Founders’ Cult for Understanding the Political Systems of the Peoples of Northern South East Asia and its Chinese Borderlands,” paper, “Advanced Seminar of Sociocultural Anthropology of China,” Yunnan University, Second Session, January 1997.

WESSING, Robert, 2002, “Shifting Boundaries: Cosmological Discourse in Java,” in Riding a Tiger, Coen Holtzappel, Martin Sanders, & Milan Titus (eds.), Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers, pp. 162-180.

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Notes

1 My original fieldwork was conducted in 1970-71. Several additional visits were made in 1980-82 when I was in Aceh, and again in the period 1989-93 during an extended stay in East Java. Most recently, I visited West Java in 1998 and 2001. As always, I would like to thank my friend and teacher E. Sukarya for his hospitality and patient explanations during my various visits. Thanks also to Randall Baier, Sheila Fish, Gerald Sullivan, and Sean Williams for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

2 Thus we often find such lists of localities in legends of the founding of a kingdom (see Danasasmita et al. 1977, I: 151; Marjuni 1982), or as a list of places visible from a certain location (see Noorduyn & Teeuw 1999). The enumeration of places visited on tour by a ruler may also serve this purpose (see Pigeaud 1960-62: III: 16-19).

3 I am writing in an ethnographic present, fully aware that significant changes have since taken place. These I will address later on in this article.

4 Palmer’s (1959: 43) statement that West Javanese villages do “not have the close association with a shrine or guardian spirit characteristic of the Central Javanese village” is not borne out by my data, although, as in Gajah, the spirit may be de-emphasized (see below). While many appeals to such spirits are indeed personal, a communal veneration of them may be seen, for instance, in the annual ngabungbang ritual to be discussed later. The nature of the village that Palmer studied may have given her a wrong impression, being a modern, government-supervised model village, at that time receiving technical and financial support (ibid.: 47). Furthermore, her emphasis was on the village rather than on the kampung, so that the founder and the guardian may have remained relatively invisible.

5 Paths are said to be ramai (busy) and thus felt to be short, when one is likely to meet friends and acquaintances on them. Conversely, a path is sepih (quiet) and thus long, when acquaintances are few and the likelihood of encountering spirits is high.

6 But see Schefold 1989 and 1997. Sacrifices may be required at this point or at some later time during the founding (see Wessing & Jordaan 1997).

7 When, after returning from my 1970-71 fieldwork in kampung Gajah of desa Pameuntasan, I needed some additional information about such markers in the other two kampung making up the village, it was difficult to get my informant in Gajah to obtain this information for me, it not being relevant to Gajah.

8 Like the geographical markers, local mythologies may be similar to more widely known or published versions. Yet, as Heringa (1997: 357) has shown, to understand local significance, local versions are crucial, although it is important to tie them to local features, rather than just record the stories.

9 In Dutch, zedelijke lichamen (Van den Berg 1901: 16).

10 Usually only one spirit was involved here. When there are more, they are said to be subservient to her/him or to be his/her relatives. These spirits are like the Javanese dhanyang. Although dhanyang (dangiang, danghyang, etc.) are known in West Java as well (Hidding 1935: 65; Coolsma n.d.: 111; Eringa 1984: 178; LBSS 1980: 103), I never heard them mentioned as such during my research.

11 Informants state that the spirits of ancestors are stronger (Indonesian lebih kuat) than nature spirits, and thus more respected. Named spirits are stronger than anonymous ones. The latter are just there and people are aware of them.

12 Lemmens (2001: 46) observed that, when a Minangkabau hamlet was forced to move to make way for a development project, the people rejected the government’s first choice for a new location because the adat there would have been different from their own. The move was finally made to a place that already fell within their local adat. Kroes (2002: 143) similarly notes that the Semai (Orang Asli) of Malaysia will adopt the adat of the previous inhabitants of an area when moving into it, giving the idea that adat is place specific.

13 This line is not tied to any compass direction but runs between any two convenient places; since any diameter will define a “circle” (the field), this detachment from the compass provides a degree of flexibility in adjusting to the local landscape (Wessing, in press), the important thing being the identification of places, rather than their specific placement vis-à-vis the compass (see Fox 1997a: 4, 6).

14 From the Arabic jinn. Some jin have entered the Muslim faith while others remain obdurate (see Bamar Eska 1991).

15 Experiences are, of course, always individual. However, by assuming that others have experienced something identical to one’s own experience, an illusion of mutuality comes about (see Wessing 1978b).

16 There are three kampung Gajah: Gajah Kantor (the location of a school), Gajah Tengah (“middle” Gajah) and Gajah Eretan (location of a ferry, eretan). Besides these, Gajah Mekar also has three kampung Bojong, namely Bojong 1, 2, and 3 (see Wessing 1978a, 1979).

17 This choice is only partially arbitrary in that my best data come from Gajah. Data from other kampung, however, such as kampung Nyalindung (Sumedang) or kampung Guradog (Lebak), differ only in specific detail (see Wessing, in press).

18 Embah is a title for grandparents as well as for venerable persons and things.

19 The exact details are unclear, but these might be sons-in-law and persons who came to learn ilmu from him. Beyond Gajah, some even claim descent from him, although informants say that these could not possibly be blood relatives and must be descended from people to whom he gave land and who were “like children to him.”

20 This is contrary to what I indicated in Wessing (1979), when I was still unaware of the primacy of kampung over desa.

21 In this, Mahnaba is somewhat like the Javanese genderuwo, who is said to like to bother ladies who are out alone in the evening. Since this sort of behavior by ladies was traditionally frowned upon in Java, the genderuwo can be seen as a guardian of public morality rather than just a spirit ladies-man. Mahnaba also likes to tease people by getting into fights with them, although he never hurts anyone and is less naughty than other spirits (jurig).

22 Elsewhere (Wessing 1988b) I showed how the location of these entities correlates with wet and dry fields and their associated mythologies.

23 Or perhaps even underneath the house itself. Poensen (1910: 298) writes that, after a house had collapsed in a storm, “[t]he small corpse was buried outside of the house,” which would only be noteworthy if this had not usually been the case. In Madura, the deceased were reputedly buried underneath the floor (Bambang Samsu 1992: 17), which also seems to have been the custom elsewhere in Southeast Asia (Waterson 1990: 14).

24 Rikin (1973: 17, 40) notes that in one dialect of Sundanese the word leuweung (“forest”) is also used for the grave of a common ancestor.

25 These last graves, while respected, are less immediately relevant to the people of Gajah. Visitors to them tend to be outsiders, people descended from or related to the noble line of regents that ruled there in the past.

26 In Wessing (1988b), I erroneously placed these on Buni Buana.

27 Similar features and corrections are found at palaces (kraton). While informants specifically pointed this feature out to me, this, of course, does not preclude such constructions also serving other, practical, purposes.

28 It is not clear when Embah Andui’s reputation as a pious Muslim started to intensify. My original fieldwork took place after the 1965 troubles, one consequence of which was that it was prudent to present oneself as a proper Muslim. Since then, I have noticed a slow but steady increase in the degree to which people, especially the young, conform to at least the outward signs of the faith. Embah Andui himself also underwent an ensuing upgrading, and so also his reputation as a good Muslim.

29 The ngahapit idea is also found around the hill Pasir Buni Buana, the location of the grave of Eyang Santoan Kobul, which has a canal especially dug around it.

30 Such return visits to sacred ancestral sites may be one reason for the topogenies and may continue for quite a long time. Pennings (1902: 376) quotes an Urang Karang elder, concerning annual visits to the ancient sacred site of Kosala, as saying that “our ancestors once lived at Kosala, the bumi Sunda [‘cradle of Sunda’] and from there moves occurred to Kumbul Kintél, Janten Dewata, Kalapa Dua, Bangkong Sema, Bojong Bombang and Karang.” This list may be seen as a topogeny and it is striking that the return is to Kosala rather than the immediately preceding Bojong Bombang.

31 Aside from the almost standard founder and protective nature spirits, most hamlets have other, more idiosyncratic spirits as well, resulting from local historical circumstances. Thus, there is often a spirit-tiger guardian (maung Pajajaran) residing on a hill overlooking the approach to the hamlet, such as I found in Guradog (Lebak) and Nyalindung (Sumedang). Snake spirits other than the ones mentioned here may also fulfill various functions.

32 This person can be seen to function as what Bruner (1990: 69) calls an “interpretant,” “a representation of the world in terms of which the sign-referent relationship [between the sites and their tales] is mediated.”

33 This adds an interesting dimension to the phrase yang empunya cerita, “the one whose tale it is.” Informants noted that empunya implied having power, authority, or control over something (see Pigeaud n.d.: 104; Zoetmulder 1982, I: 1149), so that yang empunya cerita is the person controlling the tale’s contents and truth. Since these tales structure the local cosmos, such persons would have a major influence on it. Of course, as is clear from Nourse (1999: 213-224), others may have diverging opinions that become clear only after the dominant person’s death when, as she describes, various voices may compete to redefine the shape of reality.

34 “… utterances embellished beyond the minimal needs of ordinary discourse, such as myths, legends, tales, poetry, songs, prayers, puns, name jokes, swearing riddles, and any other special forms” (Adams 1979: 87).

35 Dr. Sean Williams is an ethnomusicologist who received her Ph. D. based on a dissertation on tembang Sunda.

36 On the other hand, the Minangkabau in diaspora seem to have created a virtual “place” on the World Wide Web, detaching Minang-ness from specific localities and making it possible for them to be generically Minangkabau (Barendregt 2001).

37 It has been noted that many transmigrants to other islands have difficulty in settling in their new home and that a significant percentage of them in the end return to their village of origin. On the other hand, significant participation in the new locality tends to make an insider of the initial outsider (Thomas 1997: 32; Fox 1997a: 32).

38 Taking identity to be a function of a person’s social interactions, here including both those with fellow hamlet members (see Miller 1970) and with the various spirits resident in the place.

39 In 1970, when I first started working in Gajah, I had to be introduced to and approved by Embah Andui before information seriously began to flow.

40 See Bruner (1990) on the important role of narrative in the enculturation of children and the creation of meaning.

41 This is related to mauwlid, traditional festivals in honor of Muslim saints, which in the Middle East are held yearly at the saint’s shrine. People come, hoping to find cures, to meditate, but also to meet with friends and have fun (see Schielke 2001: 23). In Gajah, the only such celebration was held in the month Mulud, the month in which the Prophet was born and which is regarded as a supernaturally charged time. But in Java, generally, such celebrations occur at other times as well (see Guillot & Chambert-Loir 1995). The aim of the ngabungbang, however, seems in the past to have been only peripherally related to Islam. Coolsma (n.d.: 91) writes of the ngabungbang that it consists of staying awake for a night, accompanied by a fast. Eringa (1984: 120) adds that this happens outside at a full moon and may involve visits to sacred places. Both state that the intention is to have a wish fulfilled or to receive a vision concerning the way to happiness (see Hidding 1935: 82; Moestapa 1946: 147, 172; Prawirasuganda 1964: 103). None of these authors mentions Allah in this connection, although in Gajah Islam received more emphasis in this celebration in 1970 than one would expect from these entries. Palmer’s (1959: 43) observation that “[t]he worship of Sundanese at the scattered shrines dedicated to local ‘grandparents’ is more individually than communally determined” can therefore not have been based on participation in either the seren taun or ngabungbang celebrations.

42 In both Naga and Cipta Rasa, the procession describes a counter-clockwise spiral, the route between the world and the earth spirits (see Wessing 1988a).

43 See Bruner (1990: 72, 77). Participation in these rituals can also, of course, help integrate outsiders, like in-marrying men, into the community (see Thomas 1997).

44 Extending Austin’s (1975) ideas, ritual may be said to be performative.

45 The fact that, in some hamlets (e.g., Naga, Dukuh, and among the Baduy), only immediate descendants of the founder may engage in the ritual visits makes no difference, so long as these people are seen as indeed representative of the hamlet.

46 An ethnoscape is the local cultural configuration within a hamlet.

47 In my own experience, it was more often tales of local spirits than dongeng about Si Kabayan, a Sundanese figure of fun (see Darmawidjaja 1968). It is not impossible, of course, that the presence of an anthropologist known to be interested in local spirits and the like influenced the choice of topic of conversation on the evenings when I was present.

48 These were perhaps not as common as might be expected. Even in 1916, Pleyte noted for the Bogor region that tukang pantun native to that area had been history for years (1916: 538).

49 Victoria M.C. Van Groenendael (pers. comm.) tells of a jaranan (horse-dance) group that c. 1992, upon entering a community with their “horses” and associated spirits, made an offering of flowers and incense to the local spirit, to ask permission (pamit) to enter and perform in this spirit’s territory. To this, Pigeaud (1938: 223) adds that sometimes the local spirit then takes over the role of possessing the person who puts on the show.

50 This is similar to what I found during a recent visit to Jember in East Java. Children there could only vaguely tell me who Nyai Roro Kidul was, and even then their information was significantly influenced by programs such as Angling Dharmo and Misteri Nini Pelet, which they had seen on television. The same children, however, were quite clear about local snake-spirits that guard their area and were perfectly able to go into consistent detail about these.

51 Sheila Fish is a Ph.D. candidate at the SOAS, University of London, who did her fieldwork among children in a Bandung kampung.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. The Gajah and Mahmud area
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Titre Fig. 2. Embah Andui’s grave in 1970
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Titre Fig. 3. Embah Andui’s grave in 1998
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Titre Fig. 4. Buni Buana and surrounding hills
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Titre Fig. 5. Children watching a wayang golek show
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Robert Wessing, « Telling the Landscape: Place and Meaning in Sunda (West Java) »Moussons, 4 | 2001, 33-61.

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Robert Wessing, « Telling the Landscape: Place and Meaning in Sunda (West Java) »Moussons [En ligne], 4 | 2001, mis en ligne le 14 mars 2016, consulté le 01 mars 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/moussons/3441 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/moussons.3441

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Auteur

Robert Wessing

Robert Wessing obtained his Ph.D. in 1974 from the University of Illinois. He is the author of Cosmology and Social Behavior in a West Javanese Settlement (1978) and The Soul of Ambiguity: the Tiger in Southeast Asia (1986), as well as numerous articles.

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