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The Javanese are an ethnic group native to the Indonesian island of Java. They are predominantly located in the central to eastern parts of the island. At approximately 85 million people (as of 2004[update]), it is the largest ethnic group on the island, and also in Indonesia.

The Javanese are of Austronesian origins whose ancestors are thought to have originated in Taiwan, and migrated through the Philippines, reaching Java between 1,500BCE and 1,000BCE.

Who are the Orang Jawa?

The Orang Jawa ('people of Java', also known as 'Javanese') migrated from Central Java, Indonesia, to Malaysia from 1880 to 1930. They migrated to seek a new life away from the Dutch colonists who ruled Indonesia at that time.

The Javanese were traditionally concentrated in the provinces of East Java, Central Java and Yogyakarta, but due to migration within Indonesia (as part of government transmigration programs or otherwise) there are now high populations of Javanese people in almost all the Indonesian provinces. (The province of West Java is home to the Sundanese, Indonesia's second largest ethnic group who are ethnically distinct from the Javanese).

The Jawa language is being spoken less and less among today's younger Orang Jawa. Most of them have either never learned it or cannot remember how to speak it.


There is diversity within Javanese religious practices. Although most Javanese are Muslims, the wide variations in Islamic beliefs and practices are associated with complex factors such as regional history and social class. In Jawa Tengah Province, for instance, the ultrarefined Javanese aristocracy has a strong aesthetic, even mystical element, to its spirituality. Religiosity is expressed through plays employing wayang kulit (flat leather shadow puppets), gamelan (Javanese orchestra) performances, dances, and other arts of the courtly tradition. Santri--many of them merchant-farmers in East Java--hold more tightly to the moralistic tone of Islam and express the fundamental universalism of its teachings. They may make a pilgrimage (hajj; haj in Indonesian) to Mecca, teach their children the Quran, and work for the social, spiritual, and even political advancement of the ummah.

Most Javanese peasants, however, particularly those in Central Java, resist the universalism of Islam and its political connotations. They favor a more moderate blend of Islamic practice with an indigenous Javanism, expressed in household feasts, pilgrimages to local temples and shrines, and belief in local spirits. For many Javanese peasants, the spiritual world is richly populated with deities who inhabit people, things, and places, and who are ever ready to cause misfortune. Believers seek to protect themselves against these harmful spirits by making offerings, enlisting the aid of a dukun (healer), or through spiritual acts of self-control and right thinking.

What are their lives like?
Recent generations of Orang Jawa who live in cities have assimilated with the general Malay culture. In the past their parents were farmers, construction workers and timber workers. Now they also work as bankers, pilots, engineers, accountants, and politicians. They are known to be efficient and industrious. Some Orang Jawa in Selangor work as Islamic religious teachers.

In some villages, the Orang Jawa maintain their identity and traditions. People from other Malay people groups who marry into an Orang Jawa family sometimes call themselves Orang Jawa, or Jawa Peranakan. Apart from growing their own vegetables and raising poultry, some villagers have also started their own tourism programs to promote the Javanese way of life.

The Orang Jawa are a very hospitable people, usually inviting visitors to share a meal with the family. Families are often quite large, some having between 10 and 17 children. Marriages are grand affairs that sometimes last up to three days. The giving of love gifts to the newlyweds is common. Emphasis is placed on helping one another during weddings rather than receiving large sums of money. As the Orang Jawa have become more successful in life, their desire to recover their cultural Javanese roots has grown.

"We established our civilization more than Malay do.Before Malacca,Majapahit is the strongest nation ever!" -Adryan Adi Worjoyo

Javanese in Malaysia

"Javanese-Malays" refer to Malaysians with legal status as Malay-Malaysian but have retained a strong consciousness of their Javanese origin. The Javanese-Malays have not been fully studied probably because they have become relatively invisible, a condition engendered by the omnipresence of their "Malay" status. They are also invisible in comparison to the recent legal, and illegal, migrant workers whose number is estimated to be as many as 1.2 million in 1997, the overwhelming majority of whom are from Indonesia. The Javanese-Malays described in this paper are differentiated from the recent Indonesian migrant workers by their Malaysian citizenship, at least officially.

Moreover, because of their "Malay" status, the Javanese-Malays also tend to be overlooked in the context of ethnic politics in Malaysia. The existing multiethnic society, originally created in the nineteenth century during the colonial period, has always been defined in terms of the three "officially" recognized "races", namely, Malay, Chinese, and Indians

Javanese-Malays and the recent migrant workers from Indonesia are described as "migrants of similarity" because they follow Islam as the Malay people, speak languages closely related to Malay and have similar customs. Although integration into Malay society has been easier compared with the Chinese and Indian immigrants, Javanese-Malays, nevertheless, have not always become Malay without any difficulty.

Arriving as newcomers, they had, and still have, to cope with establishing relationships with the local Malay society in one way or other. Often, they were alienated by "Malay" people because of their humble jobs and less orthodox attitude towards Islam. They thus have to seek their niche in Malay society and adapt themselves to it as "others" when gradually integrating into the larger Malay population. And in the integration process, the Javanese-Malays used their stereotyped images, both imposed and self-made, as their "cultural resource" for gaining a certain position in Malay society.

During the British colonial period, although the official census included people from Indonesia under the "Malay" category, it did until 1921 mention their place of origins.(5) In the post-colonial regime, however, in part because the differences between Javanese-Malays and Malays are no longer discernible and in part for political reasons, the place of origins of the Javanese-Malays, and of Indonesian immigrants who have attained Malaysian citizenship in general, are no longer specified in the official census.(6) Nevertheless, although no detailed data is available, the Malay people definitely include a substantial proportion of people of Javanese (Indonesians in general) origin.

(source: Javanese-Malay: Between Adaptation and Alienation, by Koji MIYAZAKI, SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Vol. 15, 2000).

Today the Orang Jawa live throughout Peninsular Malaysia in parts of Perak, Selangor, and Kedah. There are also isolated communities in coastal areas of Sabah. Some Jawa have even gained influential positions in society. The former Chief Minister of Selangor traces his roots back to Orang Jawa ancestors.

Javanese in Sabak Bernam ( to be continue)

Javanese in Singapore
Javanese came from Java in the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia). In the 1931 Population Census, the number of Javanese in Singapore was 16,063. The 1981 Population Census, however, showed that they made up 6% of the Malay population. However, many Javanese had actually registered themselves as 'Malay'. It is likely that the actual percentage of the Javanese within the Malay population was much higher. The Javanese came to Singapore in stages. In the mid-19th century, they came and worked as ironsmiths, leather makers as well as spice merchants and religious books dealers. There were also a group of Javanese printers and publishers in the Arab Street area. There were also community of pilgrim brokers that played an important role in encouraging the migration of the Javanese to Singapore.

The political situation in the Dutch East Indies created by the Dutch government caused many Javanese go through Singapore to travel to Mecca to perform the hajj. From the mid-19th century until 1910, between 2,000 to 7,000 Javanese travelled to Mecca through Singapore until the regulations were eased (Roff 1967:39). Usually, these pilgrims would work in Singapore for several months or years before or after performing the hajj to earn money or pay their debts to their pilgrim brokers. Many of them stayed on in Singapore and became part of the Muslim community in the city (Roff, 1967:43).

A number of Javanese also came to Singapore with the help of the pilgrim brokers. They came voluntarily and a majority of them were young men who stayed in the lodgings of the pilgrim brokers until they found work. They worked as food sellers, gardeners and provided labour for the pilgrim brokers to build lodging homes for them. The pilgrim brokers also took in bonded labourers who worked for Malay or Javanese employers to clear forests to set up settlements in Johore, Malaya (Roff, 1967:37). The activities with these bonded labourers continued until the 1920s. From 1886 till 1890, as many as 21,000 Javanese became bonded labourers with the Singapore Chinese Protectorate, an organisation formed by the British in 1877 to monitor the Chinese population. They performed manual labour in the rubber plantations. After their bond ended, they continued to open up the land and stayed on in Johore.

After the Second World War, the total number of Javanese coming to Singapore continued to increase. The first wave consisted of conscript labour that were brought by the Japanese and their numbers were estimated to be about 10,000 (Turnbull, 1976:216). The second wave were those who moved to Singapore through Malaya. The 1970 Population Census showed that a total of 21,324 Malays who were born in Malaya (later Malaysia) had moved to Singapore in the years 1946-1955; and as many as 29,679 moved to Singapore from 1956-1970 (Census 1970:262-3). Interviews conducted showed that a majority of them were young men of Javanese descent from Johore who wanted to find a better life in Singapore. Most of them were not educated and not highly skilled and worked as manual labourers in the post war years.

Famous Javanese in Malaysia

1. Former Selangor State current Chief Minister (Khir Toyo bin Toyo)
2. Johor State current Chief Minister (Abdulah Ghani)
3. Former Information Minister and one-time Umno secretary-general Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat(1938-2010)
4. Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed , MP for Pulai, Johor

Related articles:
1. The Orang Melayu and Orang Jawa in the ‘Lands Below the Winds’(2005), by Riwanto Tirtosudarmo, CRISE WORKING PAPER 14,
2. Huzrin Hood Orang Melayu atau Jawa? by PM Sitohang ,
4. A Preliminary Report on the Javanese in Selangor, Malaysia(1988), by Teruo Sekimoto, South East Asian Studies Vol 26 No2, Sept 1988,
5. Javanese-Malay: Between Adaptation and Alienation(2000), by Koji MIYAZAKI, SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Vol. 15, 2000).

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