SOLO AND SURAKARTA
Contemporary Indonesia is in the throes of
modernization, and a kind of urban continuum
stretches from Jakarta to the country (desa).
Jakarta, a city of more than five million
inhabitants, is modernized and westernized, with
an alienated, isolated and fragmented population
that tends to be polarized into the very rich and
the awfully poor. Life bustles in Jakarta, which
seems both very modern and obviously unJavanese.
This vitality both attracts and repels the rest of
Indonesia which views it on television and in the
movies, in that it represents a kind of freedom
that also entails isolation.
The next grade down the continuum includes big cities like Surabaya, Semarang and Denpasar, and though not as rich as Jakarta, they have many of its characteristics and acquire more every day; they are all big, modern cities with all that implies.
Moving down the urban continuum again, one encounters cities like Solo and Yogya, typified by a more obvious and wide-ranging contrast between traditional society and overlay of Jakartanese and Western glitter. Most of the Western element comes from the young; youths are reminiscent of American teenagers in the 1950s, although the motorcycle is the symbol of freedom in Java rather than the car. Young people see these times as demanding a fresh perspective, or more specifically, their perspective. They are optimistic, exuberant, modern and clearly distinguished for the traditional folk both in their attitudes and consumer goods. Every morning the streets are literally covered with uniformed children on bikes or motorcycles going to school.
As the continuum carries on from Solo/Yogya type cities out to the desa, there are less and less of the trappings of modernization, until out in the deep desa, except for the hissing lantern, the style of life appears unaltered for a thousand years. There is no electricity in most areas, and though motorcycles have made some inroads, they remain less than common.
Solo and Yogya are Central Java's two traditional
court centers, with Solo being slightly older and
registering a population of 444,221 in the 1978
census. Solo is a traditional city awakening to a
new economic, social and political reality. The
city's main streets have recently been widened,
and the stores and houses lining them are
generally new and modern. These houses and
businesses (often contiguous) are often owned by
Chinese merchants, whose acumen and international
outlook are far in advance of the local Javanese.
A second section is the former Dutch district, where homes are large, spread out and Western in style. This area tends to house a modern, progressive, wealthy and often non-Solonese group.
A third part of Solo is made up of houses of the at least formerly wealthy, which are built in the traditional format, meaning that a home's only visible feature is a dirty whitewashed wall. If the gate is open, a court can be seen and beyond a kind of squarish covered porch (pendapa), the traditional place to receive and entertain guests. A pendapa can be large; in fact, a couple of tennis courts would easily fit into the ones at the palaces. These wealthy homes tend to be large, and shifts in the fortunes of their owners are often apparent in their rundown state.
A fourth part of Solo is made up of traditional areas (kampung), where houses are very close together, with narrow lanes wandering among them. These homes are often built in a scaled-down traditional form. Kampungs are not noted for offering much privacy, and still boast a certain amount of mutual assistance (gotong royong), though modernization tends to choke this off by breaking up the long-standing community structure. These areas range from middle class to very poor, with the only toilet in the most destitute kampungs being the slow-flowing trench along the side of the alley.
A fifth category of housing has built up on the outskirts of Solo organized on a Western model, with wide access streets and some land around the houses. Generally these houses take a more modern form.
Another curiosity concerning housing in Solo is that though similar kinds of dwellings tend to cluster together, there are many big, new houses that have been built inside the middle class kampungs, that are frequently owned by Chinese entrepreneurs.
Solo's official name is Surakarta, and the city is the administrative center of a province that is also called Surakarta. For clarity's sake, I will call the city Solo and will refer to the province as Surakarta. Surakarta is about the size of Rhode Island. There are six other notable cities in the province -- Boyolali, Klaten, Sukoharjo, Wonogiri, Karanganyar and Sragen -- which are all smaller and more provincial than Solo but still enter into the same class on the urban continuum. Besides the cities there are hundreds of small hamlets (desa) where traditional farming is practiced.
Surakarta's southern region is arid and poor, and life is very hard there; the area's social pyramid is simplified by the absence of wealthy land owners. The region produces corn and cassava. Sometime ago the region was covered in trees, but virtually complete deforestation, has left with severe water problems, especially during the dry season. For example, in Eromoko water is rationed, with people receiving only four large vessels a week.
The land is richer and gets more rain to the east, south and west of Solo, and there is considerable rice and tobacco production. Rice paddy terraces climb Mount Merapi, Mount Merbabu to the east, with Yogya lying beyond, while to the west, terraced paddies cover the slopes of Mount Lawu. All of these mountains are volcanos and suffer tremors from time to time, though Mount Merapi is the only one still technically active.
Solo is Surakarta's commercial as well as its
administrative center, and produce from the
surrounding desa fills the markets every day. Solo
produces cigarettes, herbal medicines and various
other light-industry products, but batik is
far and away the most important manufacturing
activity in the city. Batik is a
traditional textile working process involving the
use of wax to cover the cloth in patterns and thus
control the areas affected by dying. In the
traditional process, batik tulis ("written
batik") hot wax is applied with incredible
patience and skill with an instrument that looks
like a pipe but is used like a pen. The women and
girls sit circled around an often smoky little
burner that heats the wax.
Batik tulis is a kind of physical manifestation of the Javanese character, and is actually seen as such in Solo: a batik has an inside and an outside; the outside is for the world and naturally should be as beautiful as possible; the inside is for you and this should be equally fine. With this in mind, batik is always waxed and finished on both sides. Of course this means twice the work, but it is perceived as being somehow immoral to do it any other way.
This activity used to be performed by a family's women as an expression of their devotion and skill. The process requires at least three months and is largely governed by tradition: the patterns, the colors and even the size of the cloth are all long established. In addition, the details of the technique are virtually inviolable. For example, the requisite rich brown color for fine batik comes from a dye produced by boiling down a special tree bark until it reaches the right intensity. This dye is then applied to the waxed cloth at least 26 times, with a day between dippings for the cloth to dry, before the cloth reaches the desired chestnut shade.
A more recent innovation is the use of a cap, a metal mold used to apply the wax. Finely detailed batik is still done by hand, but batik cap has progressed to the point where an untrained eye would be unlikely to notice any difference from batik tulis.
Many of the larger houses participate in the batik industry, with an area set aside for a covey of from 10 to 30 women and girls, who usually come from the country (desa). Really skilled workers are generally old, and the present level of batik production is not likely to continue in economically developing Java as alternative, less demanding activities absorb more of this cheap labor.
The Javanese are by far the largest of the various
social and cultural groups making up Solo's
population, and they can be divided into two
traditional social classes. The first is includes
the traditional aristocracy, the priyayi,
and the second encompasses everyone else (although
there is a third class involved in trade and
government activities that falls rather outside
The priyayi generally occupy the large, traditional houses and their families stretch back for many generations there. In its narrow, proper use priyayi implies a connection with one of the courts either by blood or appointment; however, in looser usage, priyayi is used to refer to a larger group that has adopted the class's attitudes and lifestyle. Although the power of courts has faded into memory, the royal families maintain many representatives in Jakarta (the new power nexus), reflecting their wealth, position and education. More obvious examples include President Suharto's wife, a progeny of Solo's Mankunegara family of the House of Mataram, and Indonesia's former Vice President, the Sultan of Yogya from the Hamengkubuwana family, an earlier off-branching of the Mataram, while the oldest is that of the Pakubuwana in Solo, the source of our lovely background sentinelle. However, beyond this, narrowly defined priyayi representation permeates the government's upper echelons.
The non-priyayi Javanese are generally much closer to their farming roots: they have often only been in Solo for a generation or two and do most of the heavy work. This is the labor pool drawn on for batik production, construction, servants and all manner of unskilled or semi-skilled occupations. Their primary loyalties center around tradition, family and community, setting the tone of Central Java, and contrasting with Jakarta's individualistic bustle; as a result, Jakarta's modernizing residents generally consider Central Java slow, old-fashioned and a bit backwater, rather like the image of the Old South in the United States.
The Chinese are a third important group, that is conspicuous in business and can be quite wealthy. However, neither their past role as economic agents for the Dutch nor their business prowess much endear then to the Javanese, and they remain rather socially extruded. The Chinese are in just about every business area, owning and running stores and factories of all kinds as well as controlling the gold market. Like most overseas offshoots, the Indonesian Chinese maintain family and clan ties throughout the world, and part of their business fortune no doubt relates to this global information network. Chinese businesses are often family affairs, and they have been adapted to this inconstant market though diversification their holdings and activities: one establishment might include a beauty salon, a bakery and an ice cream parlor.
There are a number of smaller groups including emigres from the Middle East and India, and entrepreneurs or government officials from other parts of Indonesia, but neither their social nor their economic power is comparable to the Javanese or Chinese. There are still a few remnants of the Dutch presence (with some of the older priyayi still being more fluent in Dutch than in Javanese), but beyond the housing and linguistic artifacts, the impact of the Dutch administrative is witnessed to by the fact that their legal code remained in vigor until 1980.
The following figures come from the Government
Statistics Office in Solo, and were collected in
1978. The population of Solo was 444,221. A
breakdown by religion showed 308,168 Muslims,
47,756 Catholics, 49,419 non-Catholic Christians,
4,520 Hindus, 2,557 Buddhists and 31,901 others.
The office did not offer demographic data for the
population's ethnic characteristics; however, the
308,168 Muslims are almost all Javanese, while the
Christian and Buddhist categories cover almost all
the Chinese (as well as some Javanese).
Education statistics show 41,495 as having graduated from high school, 65,791 from junior high school, 108,079 from grammar school, 80,176 who never attended school and 87,825 who have yet to start school. The group that never attended school are probably first generation immigrants from the desa. The large number of children in the population should also be noted.