Abangan – Javanese Mystical Movements

25 January 2009

There are numerous forms of mysticism. The majestic grandeur of nature evoked an intuitive awe in man and a feeling of unity. Some time in history members of the homo sapiens species began directing their attention inside themselves as they received indications of a magical and spiritual nature.
In early cultures groups formed around a person who seemed through some strange play of nature be possessed with extraordinary powers and insights. Some call them medicine man, or shamans.

In modern culture mysticism is seen as the practice of communion and adoration of man of his divine nature.
It takes all forms, though. On this page an introduction to Javanese mysticism, the origins of which little is known as its early adherents committed little to writing.
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Abangan – Javanese Santri Islam

25 January 2009

Gary Dean, June 1999
Reference: http://okusi.net/garydean/works/santri.html

The Western aversion and distrust towards Islam runs deep, in contrast to how ‘friendlier’ religions such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism are often considered. Even Westerners better informed about Islam have their concerns, so it is probably not simply a case of a ‘misunderstood’ religion. Many see Islam as an inherently undemocratic religion, placing restrictions on, for example, women’s rights or freedom of religion. To assert that understanding leads to tolerance is not necessarily true. Islam confronts many of the foundations of Western liberal-democratic culture, and by its very nature does not lend itself to be co-opted into the pluralistic, ‘tolerant’ frameworks of liberal Western societies.
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Abangan Beliefs in Indonesia – Part Two

25 January 2009

“Hindus” or local Muslims?

In the mid-20th century, American social scientists made the now classic dichotomy of santri (more or less strictly practising Muslims) and abangan (nominal Muslims with syncretistic beliefs and practices) cultural patterns, in Geertz’ schema complemented with an elite variant of the latter, priyayi.

Following his reformist Muslim informants, no doubt, Geertz described many abangan (and priyayi) practices as non-Islamic and occasionally referred to them as Hindu. Ancestor cults and spirit beliefs with sacrificial meals as the chief form of ritual, magic and forms of mysticism that emphasised the ultimate unity of God and humanity, ascetic exercises in isolated places: all this seemed alien to Islam and closer to Hinduism or “spiritism”.
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Abangan Beliefs in Indonesia – Part One

25 January 2009

Abangan (Javanese “red”) is a term popularized by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz (b. 1926) to describe the rural Javanese Muslims whose Islam is blended syncretistically with older animist and Hindu-Buddhist beliefs. The term has entered Indonesian usage and is now considered pejorative, implying laxness in belief. The complex of beliefs that Geertz described are now more commonly called Kejawen (“Javanism”). Abangan belief centers on spirits, magic, and the ceremonial feast or slametan. Most spirits are malicious beings who intervene in human affairs on their own initiative, whereas magic involves the direct control of supernatural forces by a sorcerer or dukun. The skills of a dukun include treating disease, preventing accidents or injury, controlling natural phenomena, and both casting and lifting spells. The slametan is a feast offered to the immediate (male) community and accompanied by incense and prayer to mark a special occasion, to placate the spirits, and to confer on participants and their families a state of being slamet, or healthy and calm. Geertz distinguished abangan beliefs from the similarly syncretistic Javanese aristocratic priyayi tradition, but most observers now use the term priyayi to indicate aristocratic status and culture in general and regard it as part of the broader abangan or Kejawen category.
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Abangan – At a Glance

25 January 2009

The Abangan are the population of Javanese Muslims who practice a more syncretic version of Islam than the more orthodox santri. The term, apparently derived from the Javanese word for red, was first developed by Clifford Geertz but the meaning has since shifted. Abangan are more inclined to follow a local system of beliefs called adat than pure Sharia (Islamic law). Their belief system integrates Hinduism, Buddhism and Animist traditions. However, some scholars hold that what has classically been viewed as Indonesian variance from Islam is often a part of that faith in other countries. For example, Martin van Bruinessen notes similarity between adat and historical practice among Muslims in Egypt as described by Edward Lane.

References:

  • Geertz, Clifford, The Religion of Java, University Of Chicago Press 1976

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