The Face of Change

The Face of Change


Of late there have been many articles on this subject and I  can't  help  but relate it to my own personal recollections as a child living a cross cultural life.


Though I grew up in New York, I spent every other summer in Solo with my family. It was during the years between 1960's  through mid 1970's - and there couldn't have been a more distinct difference in culture that I experienced then. In those early years, our house was lit with kerosene lanterns, we ironed using a brass iron filled with coal - I can still smell the remnants of burning ember that permeated through our freshly ironed clothes. We had two wells; one situated near the center garden between the main house and the pavillion where we would manually fill this large cement tub with water that enabled the kitchen and bathroom area to have running water. The other well was in the backyard and our neighbors used it  also because they had no water available to them to bathe or for cooking.


My maternal grandmother lived in the pavillion  and her hair had this strong scent of coconut oil that she applied daily. She always wore kain & kebaya; her face was thickly and unevenly powdered with "maarks bedak dingin", a concentrated powder that came in the form of tiny pellets that you would dissolve in water and then apply on your face. What I  most remember about her was her onyx colored teethe that resulted from years of chewing betel nut. She had this wooden betel nut box where she organised  her stash of betel nut leaves, tobacco & lime stone that she would grind into a paste. I would watch her in bewilderment as she combined all three ingredients and began to chew. I must have been about nine when she offered me some and as I  began to chew I felt nausea but continued to chew anyway and pretended it was not so bad so as not to disrespect her. But she saw by the  expression on my face that I  was just not into it and said it's ok to spit it out now.


I would spend the days playing with the children around the neighborhood, most who  ran barefoot while I wore rubber sandals. On occasions I would walk with my family at night  to Sriwedari  where there was always something going on, whether it was a shadow puppet performance or some local fair. Sometimes I would accompany my mother to the traditional markets and I  noticed that almost all the women whether you were a customer or a vendor were wearing kain & kebaya including my mother and their hair was in a bun cleverly scultpted from a "cemara" - a thick and long pony tail hair extention.  I wish I had actual photographs of this image in my mind because it was so colorful and indicative to that era and the many generations proceeding that. Up untill the early 1980's images of such were still quite prevalent in Solo. But now that picturesque scene that is so representative of Javanese culture has become somewhat of a rarity.


What ever religion and ethnic background you come from in Indonesia  - there clearly is an apparent changing face in our society - our cultural identity is slowly fading away and it's begun by adopting foreign elements into our culture whether that be how we dress to how we live out our lives and express our beliefs.  


Despite my western Javanese heritage and the wisdom imparted upon me primarily by my late mother...has only gotten stronger as I've grown older. The heritage and teachings that I too impart on my son so that he does not become completely lost in this quagmire of cultural identity.  But mostly so that he fully understand his roots and appreciates the cultural diversity that makes up our nation. For with this knowledge comes tolerance and without which comes ignorance. 

Now how we can keep our cultural identity alive and thriving....that is the big question and a challenge we should all help in preserving.

To leave a comment, please sign in with
or or

Comments (0)