Thursday, November 6, 2008
Kinship in Javanese Society
Indonesia as a whole is marked by social complexity and cultural heterogeneity. Central Java, that part of Indonesia which has always had the greatest economic and political development, shares in its complexity, and to a lesser extent in its heterogeneity. Its social structure is that of a modern nation, albeit a non-industrial one. Three hundred years of colonial occupation have left an imprint.
The economy is not a traditional one in any sense of the word. It is split in two, with a highly capitalized segment, oriented to production for export, and dominated by Western capital and Western management, and a poverty-stricken peasant segment, consisting largely of small holders producing commercial crops. The peasants live in large, crowded villages, which are by no means closed, self-sufficient communities. Most farmers sell a large portion of their crop at harvest, and buy much of their daily needs in markets during the rest of the year. Payment of cash wages even to fellow villagers, the existence of complex systems of credit, and the presence of Chinese and Indonesians from other islands with very different cultural backgrounds in the town stores and markets, are further signs that economic relationships are almost completely modern. The political system is modern also, for there is an extensive rationalized bureaucracy, which penetrates almost all aspects of the life of a Javanese. Since the revolution of 1945-1950, a number of political innovations have been made, notably the holding of popular elections for local officials as well as national ones, and the formation of political parties, which have brought political consciousness of the most contemporary sort to the most illiterate of peasants. The religion of Java is suitable for such a complex society. Both the Islam of the santri variant, and the Hindu-Buddhism of the prijaji variant are derived from ‘great traditions’ that is, they are systematized, universalistic, and proselytizing. The third religious variant, the abangan, is a 'little tradition' of animistic household and neighbourhood rituals, but it too exhibits a crucial modern characteristic in that it has a tolerance for increasing secularization of many aspects of social life and for the presence of other forms of worship.
Java has had an urban civilization for at least fifteen hundred years. While the majority of the population are rice-farmers living in villages, no peasant village is far from a town, and a good many townsmen were born in villages. Urban ways of life are not foreign to any Javanese. In this context, it is understandable that kinship, with its inflexible, particularistic, ascriptive social ties plays only a secondary part in Javanese social structure as a whole, in contrast to the central role that kinship plays in traditional societies in structuring economic, political, and even religious behaviour. That is to say, from the point of view of the functioning of the society, the Javanese kinship system, which is bilateral with the nuclear family as the most important kinship group, makes relatively few contributions. These few contributions, however, are of utmost importance to the stability and continuity of Javanese society in its present form. They include the provision of an enduring group within which personal, economic, social and psychological needs of the members of the society are met, and within which social values are transmitted and enforced. How these two central functions are performed by the Javanese family is the major concern of many anthropologists. In particular, the second, the process of socialization – the maintenance of normative continuity from generation to generation – occupies our attention. For, as revealed through history, some of the deepest and most pervasive Javanese values are maintained, not only by the socialization techniques used by Javanese adults on their children, but by the very structure of the kinship system itself.
The nuclear family, as has been stated, is the only important kinship unit. The other kinsmen are not organized into corporate groups or any sort, unlike the Oyabun-Kobum kinship system among the Japanese, and serve primarily as sources of aid in trouble and of pleasurable companionship. The nuclear family is tightly knit and augmented occasionally by one or two relatives; it functions as an entity in regard to neighbouring families and to kinsmen’s families. Within a neighbourhood it is the household, not its individual members, which acts on most important matters. On occasion, either the husband or wife may serve as representative of the entire household, the husband at the ritual events and the wife at certain social events such as weddings and births. Each household group is seen by the members of other household as a social unit, in terms, for instance, of the borrowing and lending of labour, the attribution of general social status, and general social participation. Economically, the nuclear family household is the basic consumption group. While each member – even the children – retains title on his own property, any goods which enter the household are usually redistributed among the members according to the need. However, the household is rarely a complete unit for production; this is even true for farmers, because rice-agriculture necessarily involves the labour of a larger number of people than a household alone can provide. Land is individually owned or controlled; a man’s kinsmen other than his primary relatives have little more claim to the use of that land of to the work on the land than do his neighbours. Townsmen have even fewer economic ties to their kinsmen than do farmers, for they work as individuals, usually either for the civil bureaucracy or in trade. Even those townsmen, who are self-employed, as for instance a man with a small cigarette factory, do not organize their enterprise in the form of a family business but employ outsiders just as frequently as family members.
In addition to ritual and economic functions, and the socialization of children, the nuclear family household performs a further function. This is the provision for those family members who cannot support themselves – the sick, the unemployed, the aged, the parentless child. All of these are absorbed into the families of their close kinsmen and given the care they need. This social security aspect of the family is significant for the functioning of Javanese society as a whole. It provides the measure of adaptability and flexibility to the society, since it allows free movement in and out of the labour pool without strain on the other institutions of the society. However, the amount of actual aid given to the relatives outside the nuclear family should not be overemphasized. While any kinsman has a moral claim to be helped in time of trouble, the strength of claim diminishes rapidly with the distance of relationship. To a Javanese, kinship is only one element among many – such as status, age, and wealth – which define the relationship between man and man. In fact, the most significant characteristic of the Javanese view of kin ties is the amount of freedom of action it permits the individual. In any given social situation, kinship is only one factor among many others which may influence the behaviour of the individual. If, for instance, there is an awkward wealth differential between tow kinsmen, or a personality conflict between them, or geographic distance due to occupational contingencies, they can ignore kinship ties or accentuate them as they wish in keeping with the pressures of their particular situation.
The manipulability of kin ties in practice is related to the nature of the kinship system itself – its minimizing of differentiation, the absence of kin-based social groups, and, further, the weakness, the vagueness, and limited number of its jural norms, the duties and rights between kin. Even between parents and children, kinship obligations and rights are given fairly wide latitude of individual interpretation. Property transfers at divorce and death are usually settled, not so much with reference to abstract legalistic rules, but in accordance with the specific situation and with a more substantive equity which takes into account the needs of the individuals involved. There is no preferential marriage pattern; selection of mate is the concern of the individual and his immediate family. What I have called ‘manipulability of kin ties’ means not so much an active switching and realigning of kin categories by the individual to suit his own purposes as a lack of coerciveness in the kin categories themselves, a tolerance which makes it easier to evade kin responsibilities and which narrows the range of effective kinship. A Javanese sees each relative as a unique individual. How he will behave toward this relative is a function of at least six different factors: sex, relative age, class position, religio-ideological views, personal feelings, and kinship. Outside the circle of primary relatives the kinship element is often the weakest of the six factors.
Nevertheless, for each Javanese, his family – his parents, his children, and, usually, his spouse – are the most important people in the world. They give him emotional security and provide a stable point of social orientation. They give him moral guidance, helping him form infancy through old age to learn, and relearn, the values of Javanese culture. The process of socialization is a continuous one throughout the life of the individual; and it is a man’s closest relatives who, by their day-to-day comment, both verbal and non-verbal, keep him from deviating too far from the cultural norms.
This essay is meant to elucidate the root of myself. Perhaps, to those, especially the one who is staying in Mont Kiara (",), who used to say that I am complicated this essay may give some lights to understand myself better, insya Allah. Part of this essay will be included in my paper which will be presented in the International Conference of '100 Years of Indonesian Anthropology'.