(by Clifford Geertz)

Since Max Weber's Religions-Sociologie, interest in the relationships between religious commitment and economic behavior has been an important theme both in economic history and in the sociology of religion. The broad relationship he postulated between certain kinds of religious ethic and certain types of economic practice has proved as stimulating as it has proved elusive, and the grand over-all approach which Weber used, the correlation of social structures and religious systems for whole civilizations over the entire course of their history, has left many contemporary students both with a conviction that Weber's basic insight was at least in part valid, that there was "something in it", and that it was nevertheless extremely difficult to tell in a particular situation what it meant, to "pin it down" in terms of specific times and places and to account for the embarassing number of mixed and marginal cases with which it seemed unable to deal.

As a result there has been a tendency, particularly in the United States, to turn to more specific analyses, to deal with smaller social units, less generally considered religious systems, and shorter periods of time, to see whether one might elucidate the relationships involved more precisely. With the post-war appearance of the problem of economic development in the so-called "underdeveloped" countries as a major practical and theoretical concern, interest in more explicit statements of functional interdependence between economic and non-economic aspects of social behavior has become even more intense. At the same time, it is coming to be realized that the industrial revolution as it takes place in these countries, with their varying resource patterns, population sizes, and geographical locations, may not simply replicate the pattern that the revolution took in Europe, especially since the underdeveloped countries, unlike the forerunners of European industrialization, exist in a world already partially "developed". The simple application of European experience to such new si tuations is unlikely to prove adequate, and much of the Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism theory may have to be not so much discarded as refined and reformulated.

It is in such a context that this paper is presented: it is an attempt to lay the ground work for a full analysis of religious belief and economic behavior in a given town in East Java, Indonesi.a. It is preliminary, heuristic, and not intended as a thorough analysis of the situation: it is intended to provide a model for such a thorough analysis and to indicate, if but dimly, some of the results such an analysis might produce.


Modjokuto, a small town in East-Central Java studied by the writer in 1953-1954,1 lies at the extreme eastern edge of a great irrigated rice plain through which a rambling, circular swinging river flows northward towards the Javll sea. A half-day's drive from Surabaja, the Republic of Indonesia's second city and best port, Modjokuto marks the point at which the flat, fertile countryside begins to tilt upward toward the cluster of active volcanoes which tower over it to the east and whose periodic eruptions provide much of its fertility.

A commercial, educational, and administrative center for eighteen surrounding villages, the town has a population of almost 20,000, of whom about 18,000 are Javanese, 1,800 Chinese, and the remainder a handful of Arabs, Indians, or other minorities. Its spatial form is determined by the juncture of three poorly paved, secondary roads: from Surabaja, the provincial capital; from the regional capital fifteen miles to the west; and from a large inland city on the other side of the eastern mountains:

The town is surrounded on three sides by thousands of small mud-walled rice fields, most of them not more than twenty-five yards square. Flooded in the rainy season by means of an age-old irrigation system of gullies, springs, and water traps, improved by Dutch-introduced cement dams and steel sluice-gates, these fields are cultivated almost entirely in rice for six months of every year. In the dry season, which is pronounced in East Java, the land does not lie fallow but is planted in maize, soybean, peanuts, onions, peppers, or yams--usually two or three of these in turn. Almost all land holdings are small--under three acres--and although there is, particularly near the town, considerable sharecrop tenancy, the landlords involved are neither absentee nor are their holdings any larger, with one or two not so very dramatic exceptions, than those of the peasants themselves.

On the fourth side of Modjokuto, the southwest, lies either forest or dry, broken, largely unirrigable land, on which, in the early part of this century, an extensive plantation system, in coffee, rubber, and sugar, was built up. Dutchowned, Dutch-managed, and Javanese-worked, this network of plantations and sugar mills had a heavy impact on Modjokuto's economy before the war. As the town was only founded toward the latter half of the nineteenth century, the interaction between the small-scale, intensive, wet-rice farming system practiced by the independent Javanese peasant and the large-scale, extensive, cash-crop estate agriculture of the Dutch has shaped the region's economic history almost since the beginning.

The Dutch are gone from Modjokuto now, their estate and factory system shaken by the depression and shattered by the war and revolution. what remains is a peasantry very used to both money and to foreign goods, tremendous underemployment, both rural and urban, and an overcomplex economic system in which the Chinese minority controls the main streams of trade. The Chinese form the heart of Modjokuto's economic circulatory system, pressing goods, many of them imported, down through its arteries, pulling back goods, the greater part of them agricultural, through its veins and passing them on to the large urban centers for further distribution; Javanese commercial activity becomes relevant only between the ends of the two channe1s--where they braid out into a complex network of tiny, doubled-over, and marvelously interwound economic capillaries reaching into the small crevices of native life.

Both business districts are lined with small, open-front, wooden stores, almost all of them Chinese run. Inside the stores one finds hardware, home furnishings, various types of food, jewelry, false teeth, automobile and bicycle parts, building materials, textiles, drugs from sulfa to such promising herbs as crocodile tongue and cat' s beard. Even more important in terms of economic power, the Chinese control the trade in dry-season crops grown in Javanese fields, and their mills process the rice from those fields (although for the past few years a great part of the actual buying has been done under government contract, and, nominally, under government control). They own almost all the trucking, almost almost all the string-and-bai1ing-wire jitneys which carry a great proportion (with the busses and the train) of inter-local travel, and almost all the bicycle rickshaws which, Javanese peddled, provide the bulk of passenger transport within the town. The larger small-scale factories in town and outside it--rice, lumber, soda pop, bread, charcoal--are, with a few notable exceptions, in their hands. They own the movie, the theater where the Javanese plays are given, and they manage the carnival when it comes to town. They are prevented from total domination of the economy by only one restriction: they are forbidden, by a Dutch law continued into the Republican period, to hold farm land.

The Javanese stores, almost all of them marginal, number about a dozen, most of them in the secondary business section. But the core of native-run commercial life is the market, where each day hundreds of professional or semiprofessional Javanese salesmen and speculators, both male and female, bargain vigorously in a desperate attempt to earn a living or part of a living out of small-scale person-to-person trade. Textiles, daily food supplies, and dry season crops probably form the bulk of the business, but buttons, dried fish, mats, baskets, perfumes, religious books, cooked food and hot coffee, chairs and tables, nails, ready-made clothing, meat, patent medicines, leather goods, parasols, pots and pans--in fact, almost everything portab1e--are each day passed from hand to hand to someone's (usually small) profit.

In the market you can have your hair cut, your bicycle fixed, and your pants mended while you wait. For an Indonesian quarter you can rent a spot under a tree or a wooden shed and sell cigarettes for a penny more than you just paid for them in a Chinese store across the street. You can buy a basket of corn in the morning and sell it at noon, never leaving the market--getting your profit out of the slight rise in price which every day takes place as the market day wears on (if you are a friend or a paying acquaintance of the man who runs the scales, you may make something out of the greater weight the corn has when you sell it than when you bought it). Or, for two rupiah a day (and a few hundred capital) you can become one of the aristocrats of the market with a three-meter stall of your own, selling imported and domestic textiles for as much more than they are worth as you can wheedle an unwary peasant into paying. For the Modjokuto Javanese, buyer or seller, the market is the very model of commercial life, the source of nearly all his ideas of the possible and proper in economic behavior.

Aside from petty commerce, three other non-agricultural activities play an important part in the Javanese sector of the economy: simple manual labor, independent craft and repair work, and white-collar office work. The manual laborers, if they find work at all, may be employed by the Chinese in their rice factories, lumber yards, or other enterprises, by the government fixing roads, building irrigation dams, or sweeping streets, or by one of the scattered here today, gone tanorrow Javanese cottage industries. A great many are employed by the narrow gauge railroad which runs four short passenger trains a day from the regional capital through Modjokuto to the main Surabaja line fifteen miles northward. Many too are servants for their richer townsmen, though the depar+.ure of the Dutch has markedly reduced job opportunities in this field. The independent artisans-carpenters, chauffeurs, bricklayers, blacksmiths, watchmakers, barbers, tailors-are spread unevenly throughout the town, for they mostly work in their own homes, accepting jobs as they come fitfully to them, and drifting uneasily into unskilled occupations if forced to by economic pressure.

The white-collar clerks, teachers, and government officials form the intellectual and social elite of Modjokuto, inheritors of a political tradition in which the ability to read and write was confined to a hereditary court class, born to rule and venerated for doing so. Many of the old caste marks of the literati are nearly gone now--the variously colored parasols symbOlizing rank, the deep bow of the inferior to touch the knee of the standing superior, the proclamation of pedigree through the use of court title, the tongue-tied shame of the peasant in the presence of the government official--but the general attitude of respect and subservience on the part of the uneducated toward the educated remains.

The number of the educated has been rather rapidly increasing of late with the post-revolutionary expansion of the school system. In Modjokuto there are a half-dozen six-grade government elementary schools, a government technical school at the junior high level, three private junior high schools, a government school for elementary teachers, and scattered other private schools including Chinese and Catholic elementary schools. Further, each of the surrounding villages has a school of its own, and there are still a number of old-style religious schools in the area, recently semi-modernized. The result of this sudden florescence of educational activity is that teachers, on the one hand, and advanced students, on the other, form two of the most clearly defined and dynamic social groups within the society, perhaps the two groups least closely boUnd to the Indonesian past, and whose relationships with the rest of the society are the most ambiguous.

There are two major government offices in Modjokuto, for it is both a district and a subdistrict capital. The subdistrict, the lowest level to which the wholly appointive national bureaucracy reaches, administers eighteen villages all lying wi thin ten miles of the tow.. The district administers four contiguous subdistricts, including that of Modjokuto itself, and is in turn subordinate to the regional government. In addition, the regional headquarters of the central government police force is in Modjokuto, as are the government pawnshop and the government hospital for the area. Offices concerned with the repair of roadways, the building and maintenance of irrigation systems, the improvement of agriculture and the administration of the market fUrther swell the total of white-collar workers employed or underemployed by the government, as do the Post Office and the office of the local representative of the Ministry of Religion.

These five major occupational types--farmer, petty trader, independent artisan, manual laborer, and white-collar clerk, teacher or administrator--represent the Javanese population of Modjokuto, grouped according to their economic activi ty. The crystallized typology of work patterns reflects the underlying organization of the economic system of the town of which it is an outcome. Similarly, the same population grouped according to their world outlook--according to their religious beliefs, ethical preferences, and political ideologies--yield three main cultural types which reflect the moral organization of Javanese culture as it is manifested in Modjokuto, the general ideas of order in terms of which the Javanese farmer, laborer, artisan, trader, or clerk shapes his behavior in all areas of life. These types, being so essentially Javanese, need Javanese terms to name them, terms the Javanese themselves apply: abangan, santri, prijaji.


The great majority of Modjokuto Javanese pronounce themselves to be Moslems. Within this more general category, however, they make a clear distinction between the santri, the pious Moslem who takes his Islam seriously and attempts to keep it freeof local adulterations, and the abangan, whose main adherence is to what is often miscalled "the Javanese religion" agama djawa). To understand this "Javanese religion", one must understand its history, for abangan beliefs are the outcome of a centuries-long synthesis of animistic, Brahman-Buddhist and Islamic belief within the strictly organized, comparatively self-sufficient agricultural village of pre-twentieth century Java. They are a symbolic reflection of the demands of simple rural living, a balanced mixture of native conceptions and foreign suggestions, nicely adjusted to perpetuate a relatively undifferentiated social system without serious change and without widespread individual dissatisfaction within an environment unmarked by sharp variation in economic conditions.

The abangan world outlook views the individual. human being as but a small part of a wider natural-social world, and social prescription is felt to flow directly from metaphysical necessity. The order of social life is fixed because it is a part of a general order of nature, which, mys terious as it may appear in some of its aspects, is ultimately regular and invariant. For the fully adult Javanese peasant, man, his society, and his natural environment strike a harmony almost mathematical; children, madmen, simpletons, foreigners, and rebels are "not yet human" because "not yet Javanese". To "be human" is to be Javanese, to submit to an unusually precise system of social and linguistic etiquette which constrains individual behavior into patterns emphasizing inter-familial cooperation, emotional restraint, orderliness, and self-effacement. These are the values religious ritual and belief dramatize and those which control everyday behavior in each area of the common life. For the most part, Javanese village life tends to be cooperative, quiet, predictable, and colorless.

The religious elaboration of the abangan outlook includes agricultural ceremonies, folk tales, curing practices and a theory of disease, witchcraft, numerical divination systems, rites of passage, and a belief in spirits; but the central ceremony in the traditional Javanese religious system is the communal feast, the slametan. The slametan and the beliefs surrounding it not only draw together all of these separate strands of abangan religion, but they provide both a clear picture of the way in which Indian and Islamic elements are blended with local concepts in traditional Javanese ceremonial and an example of the manner in which this ceremonial strengthens the central values of village society.

Slametans are given on almost every occasion which has ritual significance for the Javanese: pregnancy, birth, circumcision, marriage, and death; calendrical Moslem holidays such as Lebaran and the Prophet's birthday; to prevent illness, witchcraft, or theft; as harvest ceremonies; when one is to go on a journey, change one's residence, or begin a new enterprise; and, annually and communally, to pacify the village guardian spirit. But although the details vary--the foods served, the words chanted, the associated symbolic acts and objects--the general form and purpose of the slametan is invariant. It is a sacred communal feast of close neighbors designed to insure the general well-being (slamet) of all those who participate, most particularly of the host.

Slamet, being untranslatable, has been variously translated: well-being, safety, health, prosperity. What it actually indicates is a state of stasis, a state in which, literally, "nothing happens" to one (gak ana apa-apa). To be slamet is to be safe, in the sense unbothered by either natural difficulties or supernatural annoyances. It indicates a kind of abstract well-being marked only negatively by being free of extraneous and disturbing influences from this world or the next. In the slametan, the Javanese asks not for joy, for an increase in wealth, for excellent health, but merely that nothing should happen to upset or sadden him, to impoverish him, or to make him ill. He does not request the spirits to do anything for him, but merely pleads with them that they do nothing to him--he seeks a tranquil independence of natural and supernatural contingency. When I left Modjokuto, the mother of the Javanese family with whom I had lived did not wish me a pleasant, comfortable journey and great success in my future life, but said she hoped I would get home without disaster and urged me to repeat slamet, slamet, slamet, over and over again during the whole trip so that nothing would happen to me.

If a man wishes, for whatever reason, to give a slametan, he will usually hold it in the evening just after sunset. He will call in all the male neighbors in the houses immediately surrounding his own, notifying them of the event only a few minutes before it is to take place. They assemble immediately, squatting in formal Javanese fashion on the floor along the edges of the main living room. In the center of the room is the food which the women of the house, now concealed in the kitchen, have spent the whole day preparing. The food is much more elaborate than the daily fare--rice pyramids, cooked meal dishes, various special kinds of vegetables, meats, fishes, most of them bearing some symbolic significance.

After all are gathered, the host (or some aged man appointed by the host) makes a very formal speech in high Javanese. He states the reason he is giving the feast, requests God, the spirits, and some Hindu deities thinly disguised as Moslem saints not to "bother" him or his family, describes the meaning of the various foods and the purport of the ceremo~, and thanks his neighbors for coming, begging their pardon if anything is lacking in his preparations or if he has been in any way impolite. Then either he himself if he is able, but more usually one of the guests who has been to a religious school, recites a prayer in Arabic which ne i ther he nor his auditors unders tand. This pers on chants for a few minutes, while the assembled gues ts hold their hands out, palms upward, in Islamic supplication and murmur "amen" at appropriate points. When the prayer is complete, the food is dished out by one or two of the guests. Some of each type of food is put into banana leaf dishes and handed to each individual, with the exception of the host, who does not eat out of politeness' sake. The host bids them eat, and they each take four or five small handfuls, gulping the food in the quiet, hurried, embarrassed manner typical of the Javanese. Within five minutes they excuse themselves, wrap up the remainder of the food, and take it home to share with their families. With this the slametan ends, and the incense which has been burning since its beginning may be extinguished. What has happened is that the spirits have eaten the odor of the food, the humans merely its substance. Hopefully, both are satisfied.

This brief, undramatic, formal, and almost furtive little ceremony is but a micro-model of the wider social order, a religiously distilled essence of the ethical "oughts" with which, in the secular life, the Javanese attempt to coerce both inner needs and environmental pressures into human patterns. In the slametan the dependence of neighboring individuals upon one another and upon the crops or-their fields is symbolized, and the necessity for inter-familial cooperation, behavioral predictability, and de-emphasis of individual peculiarities are underlined. What food the group has is shared equally, whatever deep-going emotions the participants feel are carefully concealed under a bland exterior, and everyone is committed to a politely genteel behavior which can provide no surprises for anyone else. All are united in the fervent wish that the environment, personified in spirits and gods, will provide no surprises either--that all will be regular and that "nothing will happen".

As in any society, these ideal patterns of behavior, religiously consecrated or not, do not always get applied to actual behavior with undeviating firmness: Javanese, too, are often stingy or quick-tempered, and they have been known to forget their manners on occasion. In the traditional village it seems likely that this happened rather less often than it does in either the present day village or, most particularly, in a semi-urban community such as Modjokuto. These ideal patterns are the result of a constant adjustment of ethical prescription, social organization, and technical development to one another over a long period in which change on all sides was slow and undramatic, and so the fit between them and actual practice probably grew rather close and precise by the middle of the nineteenth century. However that may be, the marked and rapid economic and social change in Java this century has thrown them rather suddenly into a social environment to which they seem to be much less suited.

The results have been various: cultural backsliding on a wide scale, what has come to be called anomie; the development of new types of ethic based either on adoption of culture patterns external to the system or on differentiated parts of the traditional system reorganized to function more adequately in 'the new context; or, finally, a more or less compulsive clinging to the older patterns with only minimal adjustments to changed circumstances. It is this last result that the abangan pattern in Modjokuto represents, and its economic implications are discernab1e in all the main aspects of economic life in present day Modjokuto-in agriculture, in petty trade and craftwork, and in what scattered small-scale industrial organizations Javanese entrepreneurs have been able to set up in and around the town.


The traditional Javanese agricultural system was one in which the chief technical problem to be faced was that of labor organization. With a relatively small population (at least up until the time of the Dutch forced culture system in the mid-nineteenth century, a period from which nearly all rapid economic change in rural Java can be dated) a remarkably fertile volcanic soil and an adequate water supply, neither access to land nor questions of the differential employment of capital were serious issues. The central issue was how to organize the comparatively large rural labor force needed to work wet rice in irrigated terraces.

To meet this problem, there callie to be built up a set of land and work distribution mechanisms by means of which intensive labor could be brought to bear on particular fields at the necessary points in time, as well as mechanisms of communal distribution of the harvests from these fields, which would be able to maintain individual subsistence in periods of low labor demand. Complex landownership rotation systems, communal work requirements, elaborate reciprocal labor lending customs among both kith and kin, sharply defined rights to work on lands of one's relatives, and specifically outlined payments in kind for specific contributions of labor made possible an agricultural system demanding periodic applications of intensive labor from a relatively small and immobile population.

The abangan village came to be comprised of a group of approximately equal status subsistence farmers,--each with more or less identical political, social, economic, and religious rights and duties, all locked together in an intricate system of mutual aid and assistance in order to make efficient wet rice agriculture possible. The remarkable characteristic of traditional village agriculture in Java--aside from the double growing season--was (and is) the narrow margin between overpopulation and underpopulation. With the given techniques (of which a good example is the method of harvesting rice stalk by stalk with a knife the size of a razor), the number of people required to open a new wet rice field and work it adequately nearly equaled the number who could subsist from its output at a level the peasant would accept as decent, and both numbers were rather large.

In such a situation the tendency will be to provide for small increments in population by increasing the intensivity of the cultivation rather than by extending cultivation to new landS, thus slowly narrowing the gap between over- and underpopulation still further. In any case, the possibilities of absorbing a larger population through bringing more land into wet rice cultivation was limited in Java from the beginning because tropical land untreated with volcanic ash is rather infertile, and much of the southern part of the island is porous limestone. In addition, the peculiar form in which the Dutch cast their economic impact upon Javanese rural society further stimulated both population growth and the tendency to absorb that growth through increasingly intensive farming. By attempting to force Javanese peasants into producing export crops on their own lands in their own manner, rather than intrOducing a self-contained plantation system complete with imported labor (as the British did, for example, in Malaya), the Dutch both sharply stimulated Javanese population growth and provided the agricultural means, through introduction of new plants and growing methods from their own intensive farming background, for greater intensification of traditional Javanese farming.

But, intensification, too, has its limits, and so the Javanese village has come into this century with a rapidly increasing population, now clearly too great for its agricultural foundation, a set of values which commit those who hold them to a communalistic rather than an individualistic approach to economic problems, and methods of farming no longer able to increase output significantly. Unable either emotionally or teChnologically to reorganize agriculture on an extensive plantation basis, and unable too to increase output through further intensification, the abangan has been forced to solve his population problem by lowering his standards concerning what he will accept as a decent level of living for one of a set of equally privileged peasants. Rather than the rapid concentration of wealth and the formation of an impoverished, alienated rural proletariat as one finds in so many other "underdeveloped" areas, we have had in East and Central Java a process of near equal fractionization of land holdings and of the wealth which they represent. Thus the farmer has been able, by and large, to maintain his religious, poll tical, social ,and economic equality with his fellows, the the level of living of all concerned has sunk. This general pattern of response to a worsening economic situation through a division of the economic pie into smaller and smaller pieces might well be called "shared poverty". The abangan, committed to world outlook which emphasizes a close interdependence among separate families in the same village, tends to share food equally when he has it and share its absence equally when he doesn't have it, not out of a general commitment to humanitarianism or to cooperation as such, but out of a traditionalized mode of solving problems. Java's twentieth century impoverishment lacks some of the tense drama and spectacular injustice of countries with great wealth differences and large-scale landholdings, but the impoverishment is just as real, and so, ultimately, is the inju~tice; it is merely that Javanese do all things quietly, subtly, politely, and communally--even starve.


The effect of this "shared poverty" pattern is clearly evident in Modjokuto. In the village at the edge of town in which I lived, somewhat more than half of the peasants were nominally landless, yet even with the relatively heavy urbanization, the long contact with foreign influences, both Dutch and Chinese, not more than 10% of the land was held by individuals non-resident in the village itself, and there was only one landholding which could be called at all large, and it ran only to about 30 acres. Almos t all the res t of the holdings were between one and three acres, and yet a large proportion of these small holdings were sharecropped on a half-half basis.

Actually, the relationships between nominal ownership of the land and working of the land wer':l enormously more complicated; both sides of the equation were usually further fractionated. The owner might rent the land to one man. This man would then find a tenant to work it for him on a half-half basis (actually, the system of tenant payment was rather complicated and varied according to location and type of land, responsibility for various capital equipment--most particularly seed--length of time tenant and landlord had been associated, and the like; but the half-half arrangement was both the norm and the mode). The tenant in turn would then subcontract out blocks of the work on either a cash payment or a further share arrangement. A man and his wClllenfolk might be found to plant, weed, and harvest for 1/5 the crop; a man and his oxen might be hired to plow for 150 rupiah, and the harvest was always accomplished by a mass of people, each receiving 1/10 of what they harvested as a share. Thus the fractionization of output of these small pieces of land grows to rather fabulous proportions, with a whole series of people making a poor living rather than one or two making a good one.

Further, there is a strong moral obligation on a man, particularly if he has a job in town or if he has more than two acres or so, not to work his own land but to hire a tenant. The one large landholding is split into small holdings and tenanted out, even though the owner admitted that a foreman-worker system would have been far more efficient. The reason given was that if a labor system were used the tenants in their revenge would destroy the harvests or steal them, as they had on a number of other occ~qions when land was worked on a foreman system. The tenant too was obligated to farm out certain blocks of the work, particularly to relatives, and even if he paid wages in cash, the amount of the wages was tied directly to the amount of rice it would buy so that there was, in many cases explicit and conscious, an attempt to maintain a "fair shares" relationship in terms of the output of the land in kind between the various claimants to that output. In short, the land tenancy system is, in part, an attempt to replicate rural village patterns in a more urban situation and is supported by the same ethic which had supported those patterns in the simpler past.

Even in the wholly urban, non-agricultural context of the market, the same replication occurs. To understand the Javanese market, one must see it not merely as a specific geographic location at which daily trading takes place, but as a patterned type of economic activit,y, with its own peculiar formal characteristics, a pattern of economic activity only partly localized in the market proper. Javanese sell things to other Javanese on street corners, in homes, at sidewalk stands, in stores, over a cup of restaurant coffee, on village roads, in fact, everywhere. The market is merely the concentrated center and the visible model of a trading institution much wider than itself, and so when one says "market", one refers to the whole range of Javanese small trading activities.

The goods flow into this "market" from various sources, but very few of them have not at one point or another passed through Chinese hands, and the local products--almost entirely agricultural--come to them in the end as well. Not in all cases, however, are the Chinese involved locally. Much of the cloth is bought in Surabaja by the Javanese directly, from Chinese stores there; a few larger-scale native traders sell crops directly to urban wholesalers; and Chinese from the cities and larger towns come often to Modjokuto (or send agents) to trade with the Javanese market people.

Once the goods enter the wholly Javanese market complex they do not go directly to the ultimate consumer, but circulate among the professional traders, each transaction nibbling away at the profit margin; the economic return for passing the goods from the large Chinese distributors to the ultimate consumers, small enough in the first place, gets divided among several people. Further, most of the capital these petty traders employ is in the form of credit extended by the Chinese wholesaler, the latter being unwilling to lend cash now that the Dutch are no longer present to enforce contracts. The Javanese trader keeps a running debt balance with the Chinese trader, a balance carefully managed on both sides not to grow so large as to encourage flight on the part of the Javanese and not shrink so small as to leave the Javanese without any control over the Chinese. In sum, the complexity of economic structure for a fairly simple economic function is surprisingly great.

In a sense the same subcontracting pattern which fractionates the returns from land operates here to fractionate the return from retail distribution. The main Javanese traders are those who have debt balances with the Chinese, the larger the balance the Chinese allows the larger is the scope of the trader's activities. But it is only in the exceptional case that the goods derived from this relation to the Chinese go directly into consumer hands. Almost always they go into the hands of other Javanese traders who hold a smaller debt balance. with the larger trader. And so it goes all the way down the line. The goods pass from hand to hand, their course regulated by debt manipulations, leaving only a very small profit behind at any point along that course. Again, the moral obligation upon the Javanese trader to cut others in on a good deal shows that this response is not wholly rational, wholly economic, but is supported by a motivational pattern rather deeply ingrained in many Javanese individuals. It is, in fact, the commercial interpretation of an ethic originally created as a response to purely agricultural demands.

Finally, the "industrial" sector of the Modjokuto economy is a very thin reed indeed, but even here one can see the power of the abangan ethic. One of my informants set up a cigarette factory in a shed behind his house. He began with two workers--gir1s--rolling the cigarettes by hand, in corn sheathes provided by the workers themselves. The factory grew to employ a work force of twenty girls, the number being determined not by economic considerations but by the entrepreneur's and the girls' notions of the "correct" number which should be employed, given the amount of work involved. The result was an extremely uneconomically operated factory. Unable to accumulate enough capital to provide sufficient tobacco to keep twenty girls working even six hours a day at full capacity, the entrepreneur merely apportioned out regulated quantities of the available tobacco to each girl each day, and the girls worked at a very slow speed, producing only 1000 cigarettes in a working day where they might easily have produced 1500-2000.

Instead of trimming his work force to fit the dimensions of his industry, my informant, the entrepreneur, decided quite consciously--that twenty workers was a "fair" number to employ. If he employed less than this number, the girls would always be demanding he hire a relative or friend of theirs; as soon as the number of workers was "high enough" in the girls' eyes, he could refuse such demands without fear of criticism. He thus increased his overhead and cut his profits (and his workers wages, as they were paid piece rate). The outcome was typical: twenty workers and an entrepreneur made a semi-adequate living, and no one made a goou one, with the added consideration in this case that this economically ineficient operation reduced even further the opportunities for the entrepreneur to amass enough capital to increase output and hire more workers. As a matter of fact, the business failed after awhile, and the Javanese entrepreneur fled his Chinese creditors.

So it is that the abangan ethic affects the whole range of economic activity in Modjokuto. In agriculture, in trade, and in manufacturing, it emphasizes and legitimizes a pattern of economic behavior derived from past experience in a different setting; it organizes new experiences in old forms and meets new challenges with old responses. But it is not the only ethic extant in Modjokuto, for not all village Javanese projected rudely into the twentieth centur,y have clung unreservedly to old beliefs, nor, as Java has been civilized since shortly after the time of Christ, has the background of all Javanese been wholly rural. The santri world view reflects an attempt to readjust and reinterpret the village ethical terms of considerations derived both from foreign religious influence and from a longer experience in trade, and the prijaji world view has grown up in an urban environment focused on the great Hinduized court centers of East and Central Java.


Islam, it has been said, lies on Java like a veil, concealing little and shaping nothing; where Hinduism brought a civilization, Islam brought but a religion. The degree to which this aphorism has become progressively untrue over the past fifty years is a measure of the degree to which one can speak of a santri, as opposed to an abangan, world outlook in Javanese society. The self-conscious, religiously sophisticated, exclusivist Moslem is a child of this century, although Indonesia has been nominally Islamic since the sixteenth.

Until the latter part of the nineteenth century, the religious system of Java struck a balance between Islamic, Hinduistic, and animistic elements, in which the man who had memorized a little Arabic, or did his prayers somewhat more regularly, or went blindly and incomprehendingly on the pilgrimage to Mecca, was was but a slightly differentiated specialist, useful to chant at a slametan or a death, or to organize the local version of the annual religious tax, or perhaps to provide a particularly exotic and efficacious remedy picked up in some crowded Meccan dormitory. Slightly more well-to-do perhaps, somewhat more serious religiously, maybe, a little more powerfuly magically, quite probably, his interest in Islam was but a personal interpretation of the general village beliefs. As his less interested neighbors, his religious concern was both mystical and cabalistic and magical and materialistic; of the Moslem law, theology, and ethics he knew little and cared less. He was but another abangan, going more regularly to slametans than to mosques.

In time, this all changed, but the process by which the present day santri group has come to be rather sharply set off from the non-santri groups has not been a wholly rural one, but rather has found a basis in both the rural and urban sectors of the society. The recent history of Islam in Java has been one of the appearance of a still embryonic rural yeomanry on the one hand, and of a small class of free urban traders on the other, and their increasing inter-relationship legitimized in terms of a common religious bond. Since about 1910 both these groups, the rural and the urban, have been progressively influenced by reformist ideologies streaming out of the great Islamic centers of learning in the Middle East, and so there has arrived upon the Javanese social scene a still small, precarious, and fragile middle class of slightly weal thy peasants, small shopkeepers, and weak independent entrepreneurs, largely comprised of rather pious, selfconscious, agressive, and often quite religiously sophisticated Muslim modernists.

The rural part of this development owes its existence to the fact that the problems connected with Western stimulated economic change were not always met in the villages by a simple reassertion of traditional values. In many cases they were met, instead, by increasing emphasis on the more Islamic elements of the traditional religious system at the expense of the other elements in the system, together with an attempt to justify a new social and economic ethic in terms of this altered religious emphasis. Two particular Moslem institutions--the system of rural religious education and the pilgrimage to Mecca--played an especially important role in this process. A shift to increased concern with things Islamic as opposed to things more generally Javanese led to a greater interest in the teaching of a more purely Islamic tradition and the provision of content for such teaching naturally depended upon increased contact with the center of the Moslem world. In turn, the necessity for accumulating wealth to go on the pilgrimage led to economic and social consequences which further strengthened the preference for things Islamic in the group to which they accrued.

Speaking concretely, the financial demands of the ever more attractive pilgrimage induced into the santri family a distinct emphasis on a value the Javanese call gemi. Gemi, which means obsessive thrift, was if anything disvalued by the abangan, who usually despised the santri as a solemn miser hoarding his money merely to gain useless prestige from having completed a fool's errand, but for the santri it was a central concern. For him it was a source of pride to work hard, dress simply, eat sparingly, and to avoid large ceremonial and festival expenditures. A man who by such means saved enough money to go to Mecca for a year or so at the age of fifty or sixty was immensely respected by the rural Moslem community.

Upon his return, the hadji (as Meccan pilgrims are called) became the center for a kind of local cult, for not only was he more holy for his trip, but he was more learned in correct Islamic practice as defined in the capital of Islamic civilization. A local Moslem school (pondok) was likely to form about him as a teacher, in which each morning and evening youths aged six to twenty-five chanted books in an Arabic they did not understand, books brought back to them by the returned hadji who as often did not understand Arabic either. These pondok varied in size from small one-room bamboo shacks where boys came only in the evenings to chant for an hour or so to large stone buildings built on land deeded officially to God, in which the students lived continuously, chanting up to five and six hours a da;y. In time there would grow up a kind of religious complex of mosque, school, teacher, and students, the latter--many of them come from goodly distances--living ascetically, doing their own housework and earning their way by working in the surrounding fields, either those of the Hadji himself or of other well-to-do supporters of the school.

Now, there have been religious schools of this general sort scattered throughout the Javanese countryside for centuries. In nearly every village there was an old man who considered himself learned in some mystical or magical art, nominally Islamic, who had set himself up as a teacher to his neighbors, and it was out of this general tradition, originally Buddhist, that the santri community elaborated the explicitly Moslem pondok. In an effort to distinguish it sharply from other types of religious schools, which they came to hold as kaffir (a concept of religious exclusiveness rather foreign to traditional Javanese "theology", which, if not always tolerant in practice, was usually relativistic in theory), they created a sub-culture around the pondok which took on a definitely Near Eastern cast. Arabic music, dances, and religious dramatic performances were introduced and Hindu-Javanese art forms rejected; imitation of Arabian clothing and some types of Arabian food became popular; and the young santris developed the kind of cult of body development, strength displa;ying, and masochistic endurance testing which is so often associated with semi-secret fraternaties around the world. The abangans called them Arabs--whom they didn't like either--and said that like their Near Eastern cousins they were interested more in getting rich than religious.

However that may be, this valuation of individual effort, thrift, and simplicity--combined with a tendency to avoid land fractionization and easy accessibility to a labor pool of non-landowning students--did yield the hadji and his supporters a larger personal fortune than was possible for the general run of peasant. The rich hadji, surrounded by a group of satellite landholders and young laborer students, could build up a system of agricultural production (often with home industry attached) which took the form of a kind of small-scale plantation. For the most part these small plantations, if that is what they should be called, did not grow so very large, nor did the Hadji and his followers become so very rich, at least in the Modjokuto area. But the system had enough of an impact to create a fairly sharp economic distinction between abangan and santri which supported and strengthened the cultural distinction. Almost all the more wealthy peasants around Modjokuto today are santris or sons of santris, and "rich man" and "hadji" are nearly synonymous terms.

The urban side of the santri development may be dealt with more briefly. In the large cities, that p~the distributive trade which was not in Chinese hands tended for a number of reasons to fall into Moslem ones. In the first place, most aristocratic, non-Moslem urban Javanese managed to attach themselves in one form or another to the Hinduized courts and to the colonial bureaucracy, becoming civil servants rather than businessmen. Secondly, up until the second world war the immigrant Arab community played an important role in non-Chinese petty urban trade and consequently had a rather strong ideological impact on the Javanese traders. And lastly, the tradition of Moslem trading, which, in a sense, formed the basis of the Islamization of the archipelago in the first place, never completely died out or got wholly absorbed into the predominantly agricultural Javanese economy. Particularly along the north coast, in such Islamic enclaves as Cheribon-Indramaju in West Java, Semarang-Demak-Kudus in Central Java, and Bondjonegoro-Gresik in Eastern Java, there continued to exist a native commercial tradition associated with an explicit Islamism.

The relations between the peasant Moslems and the urban ones grew more intimate as time passed because of their common ideology, because the Moslem peasants were from the urbanites' point of view more significant economically than the poorer abangans and because, in an attempt to avoid the fractionization of landholding entailed by an equal division inheritance system, some hadjis sent their younger sons into business. In this way, part of the urban santri trade came to be capitalized with rural wealth, and the mutual dependency between the groups increased.

But the gulf remained, nevertheless, quite wide. The urbanites, in closer touch both with the local Arab community and with influences from the Middle East generally, had a far more accurate idea of the actual requirements of Islam than was possible for the more isolated peasants and so tended to look on the latter as at best only half Moslem. Also, the new economic pressures introduced, or at least intensified, by the twentieth century played more directly, at first, upon the trading population than the agricultural, driving their interests apart.

So, while Islam in the countryside remained focused in relatively isolated, independent, and often mutually antagonistic mosque school complexes, a demand arose in the cities and towns for a wider and more closely knit religious movement which could harmonize new economic and political interests with an unadulterated Islamic tradition. The traders found the rationale for such a movement in the doctrines of the Islamic reformers who wrote, taught, and preached in Cairo and Mecca during the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, impulses of whose thought began to reach Indonesia through returning hadjis and immigrant Arabs around 1910. By 1920 a surprisingly large scale "back to the Quran" movement was underway in the larger Javanese cities, a movement demanding economic protection against Chinese competition and political freedom from colonial rule in the same breath with fundamental religious reform.

The reformers centered their attack, insofar as it was religious, not upon abangan beliefs as such, but rather upon the series of compromises with that system which rural and uneducated santris had come to accept as a legitimate half-

way covenant. The modernists attacked not only the modified form of the slametan spirit-pacifying cult these santris had decided was sufficiently orthodox for everyday purposes, but they went so far as to criticize the rural religious school system itself as perpetuating a merely formal worship at the expense of fundamental religious enlightenment. They rejected not only the clearly heterodox Indian mysticism but the nominally Islamic Near Eastern as well. The nearly exclusive reliance upon the secondary religious commentaries of Arabic scholastics and upon the most conservative of the Moslem law traditions, the shafi'ites, they pronounced mere medievalism. Revealing themselves as the true puritans they in fact were, the reformers demanded that all compromises with traditiona1ised sin and sanctified heterodoxy be abandoned; that a true understanding of the meaning of the Glorious Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith)--rather than local habit or medieval Islamic theory--form the basis for Indonesian Islam.

For the slametans at birth, circumcision, marriage, and death, they would substitute simple prayer and contributions to religious foundations and mission work to the poor. For mysticism they could substitute the clear perception of the otherness of God in all his Mid-Eastern majesty, power, and glory and the necessity for absolute submission to and trust in the purity of his will, reflected in the individual experience as predestination. For the pondok and its meaningless chanting they would substitute modern schools where religious subjects (including the translation of Arabic) would be taught side by side with natural science, economics, and history, and where the content of Islam would be transmitted as well as the form. And, for the medieval law book they would substitute a flexible use of the whole of the Islamic tradition--of all four law books and most essentially of the Quran and Hadith unadorned with scholastic fretwork--in an attempt to adjust Islam to the modern world, to make it relevant to contemporary social problems and to build in Indonesia's green and tropical land a true Islamic state--the Kingdom of God on Earth.

The attack of the reformers was therefore inward; it was directed primarily against the rural and more backward part of the santri community itself rather than against the abangan who could be expected to regard it with indifference. It was a genuine attempt at internal reform, at self-purification and the building of a unified santri community and the initial reaction of the rural santris, attacked as they we~their most sensitive point--their religious orthodoxy--was violently antagonistic. From about 1915 to the Japanese occupation in 1942, a sharp ideological struggle took place between a modernist urban group of reformist Moslems, best symbolized by the well-known religious welfare organization Muhammadiyah, and a traditionalist rural group of orthodox moslems, organized into the powerful league of religious teachers, the Nahadatul Ulama.

But the modernists had time, the direction of social change, and organizational proficiency on their side. The traditionalists were forced more and more to copy modernist forms of organization in order to compete effectively. To articulate their own orthodox message they had increasing recourse to such modernist innovations as the Friday sermon in the Mosque, small evening prayer meetings at which religious points are discussed and explicated, travelling lecturers, the translated Quran, and schools organized on more Western lines to provide capable leadership. And so, insofar as the organizational side is concerned, the modernists have achieved a near total victory: even conservative Moslem leaders in Modjokuto today support Western educational forms, socio-re1igious organizations, and active involvement in everyday affairs by the pious. On the ideological side the victory is less unambiguous; much of rural Islamic reorganization is old wine in new bottles. But, in general, the postwar gap between the urban centered modernists and rural centered traditionalists is much less than it was before the war. If the two groups still do not always see eye to eye on the theological legitimacy of certain details of religious practice and belief, they have grown sufficiently close organizationally to be able to submerge these differences in the interests of a general defense against the increasingly sharp antagonisms of the rest of the Javanese community. The battle more or less won inwardly, the santris have turned outwardly toward the wider society with their message and have found there an even sharper antagonism.


In the twenties and the thirties the Modjokuto countryside was dotted with pondoks. Ranging in size from ten to three hundred students, many of these little monastery-like institutions formed small independent agricultural enterprises in which religion and rice growing were but part of a single activity often supplemented by small-scale home industry, such as cloth-dying or brickmaking.

The perpetuation of this pattern of semi-extensive agriculture was further stimulated and strengthened by the manner in which the Dutch sugar growing system impinged upon the village economy. Rather than planting cane in fields bought outright from native landholders, the sugar factories rented irrigated land from the peasants on a contract basis. Each village was obliged to rent one-third of its rice lands each year to the factory, the actual owner of the land being paid in money for giving up the use of it. Sugar matures, conveniently enough, in a year, and so each year a different third of the village land was rented out and the two-thirds planted by the peasant in his regular crops. The factories worked the land extensively with a seasonal labor force organized under foremen, although parts of the job, particularly in harvesting and transportation of cane to the factory, might be subcontracted to peasants who could organize, capitalize, and manage the labor force required. The result of this rather intricate and unusual system was rapid monetization of the peasant economy, enforced diversification of agriculture, increasing entanglement of the peasant economy with the Western, a proletarianization of much of the peasantry, and differential economic growth of that part of the population which had a degree of familiarity with money, a strong motivation to accumulate it and which also had access to pools of labor and the skill and capital to organize them. To an extent, although not a very great one, the somewhat rich got somewhat richer and the slightly poor got slightly poorer. And--for the most part--the somewhat rich were the santris.

So, many members of the rural santri community in the years before the depression were able to maintain an increasing prosperity in a generally declining village economy because they were equipped with the rudiments of a social and economic organization capable of taking advantage of the enforced contact with Western forms of agricultural enterprise. In addition, the most famous Javanese pondok of the time led by the most famous religious teacher of the period was in the same general area as Modjokuto at Tebu Ireng. It was at Tebu Ireng that Nahadatul Ulama, the organizational reply to the modernists, was founded in 1915, and so the Modjokuto area was plunged into the orthodox-reformist conflict from the beginning. The battle raged hot and heavy for a while but, as nearly everywhere, the modernists at length won, so far as methods are concerned, and today the emphasis in the area has shifted away from the pondok system toward the Western-type school. A number of pondoks still remain, two of them quite large with about 150 and 300 students respectively, but the students bring their tuition from home and the work-study system has decreased nearly to the vanishing point.

Why, then, supported both by Dutch ecnnomic intrusion and by local ideological stilllu1ation did not the santri pattern of agriculture grow even stronger? Why did the santris not develop into great plantation landlords employing--or exploiting--large masses of proletarianized peasants? In the first place, the Dutch colonial government, reacting against the excesses of the culture-system, hemmed the sugar concerns in by a series of uneconomic welfare regulations which were designed to minimize the impact of those concerns upon the peasant economy and protect the forms of traditional village society frcm disruption. Secondly, the world-wide collapse of commodity prices in the thirties removed even this blunted stilllu1us from the Javanese scene. Thirdly, nationalism, war, and revolution have turned Indonesian interests away from the economic field toward the political, and economic means for achieving ideal ends have been replaced by largely poli tical ones; for the moment almost all the energies of the society are engaged in a simple struggle for political power on the assumption, as one religious teacher and political leader told me, that "if your party gets elected, the rest is easy".

But perhaps the most important factor which has limited the growth of santri economic power is that the santris, particularly the rural ones, are, after all, Javanese. If they have turned away from the abangan ethic they have not turned so very far. The appeal of the old values of inter-familial cooperation, of restraint of individual aggressiveness, and of the minimization of open acquisitiveness is still quite strong for the santri. The average santri has been unable to bring himself to disinherit his younger sons by explicitly adopting a primogeniture pattern in place of the time-honored equal-inheritance system; he has proved insufficiently hard-shelled to resist kith and kin demands for economic aid or to reject totally the traditional festival obligations; and he has proved unwilling to exploit the available labor without regard for the traditional norms and prescriptions regulating its employment and remuneration. The rural santri has not had the heart--nor perhaps the skill--to become a real landlord.

Turning to the urban side of the picture, the santri community wi thin the town of Modjokuto was originally made up not of local peasants forced off the land, but almost entirely of migrant traders from larger urban centers, men whose families had been in small trade for at least two or three generations. They came to Modjokuto in the first place as young men, travelling out as agents of their father, of their uncle, or their cousin, who had an established business back in Demak or Gresik or Kudus. Actually, they were not true agents, but small independent traders, for the santri method of introducing young relatives into the business, even sons, was neither to take them in as junior partners, nor to provide them with an initial lump of capital sufficiently large to s tart a going business, nor to employ them as commission or salary salesmen; rather they presented them with a half dozen pieces of cloth (pairs of shoes, cartons of cigarettes), marked them down on the books for a debt corresponding to an only slightly preferential version of the local retail price of the merchandise, and then sent them out to sell the goods for as much as the market would bear. In time, the capital got returned and the boy began to buy his own cloth, shoes, or cigarettes out of his miniscule profits. It is the hard knocks school of business education, a sink-or-swim method, and whatever its shortcomings it innured the apprentice to living perpetually on the economic margin; it equipped him with the psychology necessary to survive in a petty capitalist society.

But with six pieces of cloth bought at retail a young man could not survive among the old hands in Kudus. The apprentice traders were driven out to the more marginal towns and small cities toward the South and East where distance from canmercial centers and ports, low intensity of competition, and local ignorance combined to pemit a higher profit margin. Travelling light, they learned the ropes from older traders and from their co-religionists, the Arabs. "They used to say we were just like Arabs", one old santri trader said gleefully. "We dressed in rags, ate one meal a day of rice--and corn with no trimmings, and walked for miles peddling our stuff every place we had a chance. We weren't liked much, but we all got rich". Fiercely independent, they moved back and forth between their home base and Modjokuto less and less frequently, and in time tended to settle permanently in MOdjokuto, perhaps marry a local girl (usually from a rural santri family), and go off only now and then on buying trips to the larger centers. Often partly specialized according to origin (Kudus men sold cigarettes, Gresik men sold fish, and Bawean men sold cloth), the urban santris formed a rather tight in-group, set off (residentially as well as socially) from both the peasants and the government clerks and progressively disliked by both.

Stimulated by the market the Dutch factories and plantations provided, this little group flourished up until the depression. In the twenties there were nearly a dozen native stores in town, some of them rivaling the Chinese in the size and diversity of their inventories--almost all santri-run. The santris controlled the cigarette, cheap cloth, and small hardware-bUSinesses, and, except for luxury textiles, they dominated the fairly extensive trading that went on among the various local markets in the area. They built restaurants, started repair shops, tailored clothes, and cobbled shoes, and some even owned a truck or two. Some of the larger stores were able to apply, in part, more "rational" pricing mechanisms than those provided by bargaining over each individual item, to employ salesmen to go out into the countryside and sell the peasants in their homes, and to keep written books. Economic development and religious reform went hand in hand: by 1930 Islamic modernism with its attendant economic and political ideologies was well rooted in the santri community. Each of the various phases of the national movement (as we~of the counter-movement) found its counterpart in Modjokuto, lOhere there occurred a remarkable efflorescence of associationa1 1ife--among all groups, as a matter of fact--which has continued on into the present day.

The depression and the consequent departure of Dutch capital stunted this development half-grown; a number of the stores and restaurants failed, the Chinese muscled in on the cigarette trade, and a flood of landless abangans, released from jobs as Dutch servants and seasonal agricultural workers, pushed into the town to engage in commercial activities previously in largely santri hands. The pattern of economic life changed somelOhat from one of sharp competition between aggressive and independent entrepreneurs running businesses with a certain degree of elaborated economic organization toward one of mutually interdependent impermanent traders set directly in the general all-over market complex without any mediating structure at all.

But the santri element, built for survival, has remained rather strong, considering the circumstances. There are today perhaps seven Javanese establishments worthy of the name "store" left in Modjokuto--six are santri owned. Much of the cheap textile business is still in Islamic hands, but on-a-rather smaller scale. And, not only are there a number of santri free craftsmen--shoemakers, tailors, barbers, bike repairmen--but a certain amount of small sweatshop industry continues to flourish under strictly Moslem management. In fact, in Modjokuto town today one can find a continuum of types of Javanese retail trading activity ranging from the "market complex" type to that might be called the "store complex" type, and this continuum correlates remarkably well with variations in religious belief from an abangan to a santri pole. As one moves toward the store complex, santri domination of economic activity grows steadily greater, although, as in any society, many of the cases are mixed ones and embarrassing exceptions occur.

The market is, of course, patronized by everyone, but most particularly it is oriented to rural and to lower class town trade; the informality, the bargaining, the generally cheaper quality of goods sold, all are directed, ultimately toward bit selling to a generally poor clientele. On the other hand, the best Javanese stores (they sell shoes and textiles mostly), situated among the Chinese in the main business section, are generally directed toward the upper-class town populace or toward the few rural rich. Their formality, their tendency toward fixed prices, their fancy glassed-in display cases, and their more expensive line of goods are adjustments to a clientele beginning to feel slightly superior to the jostling commonness of the market. In the secondary business section, particularly along the outside of the market in shops rented from the government, there are a few "transitional" stores which try to combine selling to both publics, the rural and the upper-class urban, but which are still in large part inside the market complex.

Within the market, the poorer santris do engage in the small scale momentto-moment hawking of hardware, food, cigarettes, and the like already identified as an abangan pattern, but, given santri preferences, it is a rather lowering thing to do, and most of them tend to avoid it for small craft work, if at all possible. Most significant santri activity in the market is concentrated in the cheap textile trade--which they almost completely dominate--in the buying, selling, and processing of the so-called kain kasar which forms the staple Javanese dress. These cloth salesmen sell not only cheap bulk cloth, but ready-made underwear, trousers, shirts, coats, and sometimes fancier cloth as well (although luxury textiles have had a rather special commercial history in Java which, until recently, has kept them, in part, out of santri hands).

As a result, the market stalls these salesmen operate are often merely the largely wholesale distributing outlet for a wider enterprise which includes a small garment factory and a "transitional" store outside the market, as well as numerous abangan satelli te sellers within the market proper and out in the villages. Against the relatively homogeneous background of abangan market trading one can see a development of differentiated economic structure ranging from cheap cloth trading and processing in the market, to transitional stores which, while connected more or less directly with the market, try also to attract some of the urban non-market business, to fully developed "pure" stores wholly adjusted to the tastes of a small group of highly urbanized clerks and teachers. And one can see also that at each point this development is almost wholly owned, managed, and capitalized by men explicitly adhering to a revivified Islamic ethic.

In the area of small industry one also finds a sharp contrast between santri and abangan patterns, contrasts evident in what is perhaps Modjokuto's largest wholly Javanese-run industry: garment making. Most of the well-to-do urban population have their clothes made to order by one of the dozens of independent tailors (almost all of them santris) who work their own machines in their own homes. But to serve the rural and lower-class market, there exists a number of independent cottage industries in which from two to fifteen tailors are organized into a small garment factory producing ready-made clothes of the cheapest variety: hats, coats, shirts, women's blouses and brassieres, trousers, underwear, socks, and even head shawls for Moslem ladies. Almost entirely santri owned, managed, and staffed, these small garment factories are not organized on the make-work pattern of abangan industry, but are rationalized according to the structure of the work task, carefully budgeted in terms of shrewd estimates of future market conditions, and operated at costs minimized by means of careful planning, close overseeing, and sweatshop exploitation of the labor force.

The father of one of my informants ran such a factory. Originally from Kudus, this man employs from two to five tailors, according to the season (the market for clothing being dependent upon the agricultural cycle and to a degree upon the ceremonial calendar) and sells their production in the market. The entrepreneur, as is usual in such factories, does all the designing himself. About four or five 0' clock each morning he cuts the cloth according to pattern, lays it out for the tailors, and then leaves for the market with the previous day's output. The tailors work through the day at his home on machines he owns; in the afternoon he returns to check what they have done and arrange his accounts.

In rush seasons, the tailors may specialize on types of clothing for greater efficiency and sometimes may even divide the work of the more complicated jobs in production line fashion, but in the off-time there is no division of labor and they merely work at whatever is next to be done. They work from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., from 2:30 until 5:30, and from 7 until 10 p.m., a common pattern generally, particularly in the peak period. They are paid piece rate, laid off when there is no work, and, unlike workers in abangan-run enterprises, they are given no extras such as food and cigarettes.

This particular entrepreneur does not pay his workers their wages as they earn them. Rather, he pays them a steady five rupiah a day (barely a living wage; low wages and long hours combine to give Javanese tailors a reputation for a short life expectancy), irrespective of how much work they have done, and keeps records as to the amount he owes them according to their output and the amount he has so far paid them in "salary". As their output is almost always more than five rupiah (in the rush season it may reach fifteen for an excellent tailor), he is usually in slight debt to each of them. This enables him to have greater leverage over his labor force as well as greater control over their spending habits; the system is also designed to prevent the tailors from attempting to borrow money from the entrepreneur in difficult times.

On the distributive side the entrepreneur has three itinerant sellers who travel as far as twenty miles to sell his clothing to the plantation area people. These sellers are in constant debt to him--reversing the tailor arrangement--according to a rather complicated system which maintains the indebtedness of about one-half' of the seller: s daily turnover. On the other hand, the entrepreneur buys his cloth from a Chinese who comes to Modjokuto two or three times a week from the regional capital, and is in fairly heavy debt to him. In the market, most of the entrepreneur's seiling is to other smaller sellers--also on credit-though both his wife and his daughter maintain stalls selling directly to the public (his family also cooperates to make buttonholes for him in the evening). Obviously, this man is the center of a fairly complicated set of financial arrangements and productive and distributive facilities. It is little wonder that he works twelve to fifteen hours a day, is rather disliked by his sons, is well-todo, and that he is secretary-treasurer of the oldest modernist Islamic organization in Modjokuto.


Prijaji in the narrow sense signifies someone who can trace his ancestry to kings and who consequently is permitted to write his name with a title before it, but it has come to be applied more generally to government officials, clerks, and, to an extent, to teachers--in short, to the whole of the literati. This little group, originally comprised of relatives and retainers of the Hindu-Javanese sultans, was the chief native agency of colonial government, the chosen instrument of indirect foreign rule, and so has been deeply affected both by the mystical aesthetics of pre-Islamic court culture and by the functional prerequisites of the hierarchical, paternal, bureaucratic, and remarkably efficient political administration introduced by the Dutch. The progeny of this ideological miscegenation turned out to be a carefully ranked caste of obsessively polite literate administrators and educators combining an inward-looking pantheistic imagination with a status-worried bureaucratic conscience.

The prijaji ethic ties together a series of moral preferences consecrating the kind of world outlook such a caste requires. The preferences involved are for the intense cultivation of the inner man and the intense formalization of the outer; for a highly refined sense for the nuances of status and a polished skill in expressing them in external behavior; for an interest in purity of descent and a concern for the well-made marriage; for a highly sophisticated formal art with mystical overtones and allegorical interpretations; for an attitude of paternalistic support; reserved distance, and amused condescension toward the uneducated masses; for an education system emphasizing literature, music, and philosophy at the expense of economics and technics; and for making one's living, insofar as it is necessary to work for it, in white collar occupations rather than in either farming or business. Literati, gentry, patricians, brahmans, aristocrats--whatever you wish to call them--the prijaji are the Javanese version of a social type seemingly universal in non-industrial civilizations: the men who are able to write.

Religiously, the prijaji have been particularly interested in neither slametans nor the Quran. Rather, they have been concerned with a search for ultimate mystical enlightenment, with elaborate philosophical and mythological speculation upon the nature of man and the basis of his spiritual life and with secret systems of mystically supported prophecy and moral exhortation. Phenomenalists all, their religious patterns have been more intellectual than ritualistic, more psychological than physicalistic, more private than public. With neither the fixed forms of collective ritual behavior of the abangans nor the logically articulated dogmatic beliefs of the santris, prijaji religious belief and behavior shows a wider internal variation than that of either of the two other groups. But this greater range allowed for individual interpretation is merely a surface phenomenon: at base the prijaji religious orientation is a well-defined as the santri and abangan and at least as carefully adjusted as the underlying moral commitments it is supposed to legitimize.

The core of prijaji religious belief is individual affective experience. Largely uninterested either in the movements of the stars in their courses or in the vagaries of the natural environment, the prijaji pays rather strict attention to the state of what he calls his "heart", by which he means the general tone of his emotional life. For the metaphysical astrology of so many of the world I s religions he has substituted an allegorical psychology, and for their naturistic omen reading he has substituted systems of mathematical divination based upon mystical insight. Mystical insight--itself an indescribable emotional experience --is, in fact, the core within the core of his religion, and, like power, prestige, and beauty of character, it flows from the top of the social and bureaucratic hierarchy down to the bottom. It is not cleanliness but high office which is close to godliness.

This, at least in the past, was nearly literally true. The belief in the divine king, a belief widespread in Southeast Asia, formed a fitting capstone to religious theory which held that access to God through mystical experience was directly correlated with one's rank at the court and later in the colonial administration. An ascending scale of purity of heart and excellence of character found its climax in the concept of a king who was not merely an exalted servant of God, but, in some vague sense, was God. Around the king clustered the great philosophers, poets, musicians, andldancers--accomplished IlI3'stics all--who provided the content for the religion of a whole caste out of the fuzzy intuitions of prolonged spiritual meditation. This content, as well as the music, the dance, and the poetry, flowed outward and downward from the court centers to the prijaji manning the lesser outposts of government, roughening and coarsening as it went. The lower the man, the more partial his own religious experience of God must inevitably be and the less capable he must be of understanding that of others higher than himself, either in pure form or clothed in a spiritualized art. The Javanese have two words to indicate the two poles of this cultural continuum which are crucial in understanding the prijaji world outlook: alus and kasar.

Alus means pure, refined, polished, polite, exquisite, etherial, subtle, civilized, smooth, and then again it doesn't. A man who speaks flawless high Javanese is alus, a piece of cloth with intricate, subtle designs painted onto it is alus, an exqisitely played piece of music or a beautifully controlled dance step is alus; so is a smooth stone, a dog with his hair petted down, a farfetched joke, or a clever poetic conceit. God is, of course, alus (as are all invisible spirits) and so is the experience of him; one's own soul and character are alus insofar as one emotionally comprehends the ultimate structure of existence, and one's behavior and actions are alus insofar as they are regulated by the intricacies of the complex court practiced etiquette. Kasar is merely the opposite: impolite, rough, uncivilized; a badly played piece of music, a stupid joke, a cheap piece of cloth. Between these two poles the prijaji arra:.ges everyone from peasant to king.

Prijaji religious organization is part of the same general pattern. It consists of a series of independent sects, sometimes merely local in occurrence, sometimes more widely spread throughout Java, but with little over-all organization. Each local sect is headed by a teacher who transmits a set of concrete religious beliefs, usually concerned with the metaphysical implications of individual emotional experience and almost always accompanied by specific (but rather simple) yoga-like techniques for the achievement of oneness with the One. The original center of such a concrete set of religious beliefs and practices is almost always some famous king or high rank scholar at the king's court who evolved them out of his inner consciousness by means of years of quiet meditation, usually in the woods or at the top of a volcano. Both the techniques and the true knowledge achieved by them were then taught by this original teacher to disciples, who in turn taught them to lower disciples, and so on down the line. The sects are often secret, the teachers usually favored with gifts, and the students ranked according to their mystical abilities. It is always well understood that approximation to the mystical success of the original teacher, and often even to that of the local teacher, is not to be expected. These things are high and difficult and take time as well as a certain amount of breeding. For those "Who believe in it, reincarnation offers some hope for long-range improvement of a significant sort, but for many merely a certain small increase in spiritual understanding is possible.

The content of these various self-contained religious movements varies widely. Some are concerned with allegorical interpretations of traditional mythological material, with reading between the lines of classical Javanese poems, or with psychological glosses on the ever-popular puppet plays. Others have described various stages of mystical advancement and developed meditation techniques appropriate to each. Still others have worked out physiological theories based on phenomenological considerations and derived curing practices from these, and yet others are concerned with such problems as the nature of the self, the validity of mental ideas, and the transempirical sources of human unhappiness. But their general outlook is identical: all are pantheistic, all are mystical, and nearly all draw explicit moral conclusions from their metaphysical assumptions, conclusions which celebrate the alus over the kasar.

There are in present-day Modjokuto about six major sects of this sort and a number of unaffiliated people with independent "religions" of their own, derived from the works of one scholar or another or studied originally in some other town. Of the major sects, four have their sources in the great inland culture capitals of Central Java, one is a Javanese version of the international theosophy movement of Annie Besant and also has its headquarters in one of these court centers, and the last had its origin in West Java and has turned into a communistdominated politico-religious party directed more toward abangans than prijajis. The membership of these sects, with the exception of the last, is mostly prijaji, but some are more completely so than others. Particularly since the revolution, but even before it, some of the court-evolved religious systems have filtered vaguely down to the abangans, being rather corrupted as they went into magical recipes and ritualistic spirit cults. The sect movement, while predominantly a prijaji affair, has not been entirely so. With the weakening of the nearly absolute pre-war caste barrier between prijaji and non-prijaji, and the growing solidarity of all non-santris in the face of what they conceive to be the Moslem menace, the penetration of sophisticated prijaji philosophical systems into abangan society has increased.


In considering the pr1JaJ1 economic position within the Javanese society generally, one immediately cmes to wonder "Why they are so unlanded an aristocracy, relatively speaking. Their economic base lies, even today, almost "Wholly in the government bureaucracy. A few have accumulated a little land, a small number may have fairly extensive holdings, and the king has always had his estate, but by and large, Java's traditional ruling class has not been able to build up a truly feudal relationship to the peasant masses. In Modjokuto, although some prijaji have managed to buy a dozen acres or so as an economic cushion, there no tendency for the urban clerk to develop serious property interests rural hamlet. Now, as in the past, the relations between the village town are almost wholly administrative and commercial.

The reasons for this situation are to be found wholly in history, a history still insufficiently clarified. The degree of political development reached by native Javanese "states"--if any such there were--prior to the coming of the Hindus; the form the contact with the Hindus took--whether the immigrants were mainly traders or priests, whether they settled mainly on the coasts or moved quickly inland, whether they were many or few; and the degree to which the early courts were integrated into the society generally, are still all moot questions. But it seems clear that at no point have the ties between the courts and the people been well defined and stable ones. Whatever bonds have existed between the villagers and the nobles have been brittle and opportunistic rather than permanent and traditionalized. As the courts rose and fell the villagers shifted allegiance from one kingdom to the next, giving temporary allegiance to the one at the moment most able to provide maximum protection in return for taxes paid or services rendered.

With some exceptions, then, true feudalism was never able to get off the ground in Java. The prijaji have been almost entirely an urban class and a permanent rural gentry living on the land has never appeared. Instead the tie between town and country has been a loose one in which temporary occupants of the lower ranks of the urban bureaucracy negotiated with relatively self-contained rural village units for support in exchange for protection, and it was this system the Dutch rationalized by eliminating the competition between bureaucracies. Even today the distinction between local and national regional government is very strong in peasant minds, and the crucially difficult link in government is that between the lowest rank of the centrally appointed and wholly urban bureaucracy and the elected leaders of the various village governments. Now, as in the past, the central government and the prijaji outlook which justifies it sits uneasily in the general social context of Javanese peasant society, with much less actual control over the behavior of the villager than it would seem at first glance to have. Without the intricate ties between the urban and rural gentry one finds, for example in China, or without the deeply rooted, clearly defined, 1and-rightslinked social code of reciprocal obligations of feudal Europe, the prijaji has always found outward submission, exaggerated respect, and placating excuses easier to obtain from the abangan than actual obedience.

At any rate, and for whatever reasons, the prijaji are not today a class of large landholders, and their economic base lies almost entirely in the governmental bureaucracy. To this general statement one not so very important exception must be made. The court culture, with its emphasis on art and on dress gave rise to a native textile craft now known the world over as batik. Produced by drawing designs slowly and carefully in wax onto a piece of muslin and then dying the cloth--and repeating this process several times with different designs and different color dyesubatik was originally worn almost entirely by prijaji. Batik making became, as a result, a rather important home industry in the great court centers. Often these industries were run by wives of lower echelon court attendants and officials whose underpaid husbands were occupied with their obligations to king and country, and so a somewhat peculiar pattern of female-dominated luxury textile industry grew up.

With the development of simpler and faster methods of production and the expansion of the market for batik beyond the court, the santris more and more pushed their way into the industry, until today many of the largest concerns are santri-run; but the low level prijaji, somewhat accidentally in on the ground floor, managed to hold on to a certain part of the business. Before the war in Modjokuto, batik was sold almost entirely by a few prijaji women who bought the material from Central Javanese cities; now, batik is sold mainly by santris and abangans in the market, though for the finest work one has to go to the homes of somewhat more upper-class women who still supplement their husband's meager salaries with a little genteel batik trading.

Thus, prijaji activity in both the rural, agricultural, and urban small trade sectors of the Javanese economy has been rather marginal at best. But with the coming of the twentieth century this group benefited almost exclusively, from greater educational opportunities, from the expanded demand for clerks and technical help induced by the Dutch plantation-factory enterprises, and from the ever expanding role of the government in the country's economic life. The prijaji became the doctors, lawyers, and engineers, as well as the accountants, personal secretaries, and sugar chemists, and when the revolution finally came they became also the civil servant inheritors of a governmental structure which had come to playa leading part in the organization of economic activities in the society in general and in the cities in particular. If the santris were the vanguard of petty capitalism in Java, the prijajis became, more or less accidentally and passively, the group most readily identifiable with the form of large-scale corporation centered administered capitalism which has marked the Western industrial countries in this century.

Not, of course, that the economic structure typical of Western Europe and the United States has appeared to any great degree in Java, or most particularly in Modjokuto, or that the prijaji represent a class of managers in the Western sense. But industrialization of any significant scope occurring today in the Javanese sector of the Indonesian economy is almost inevitably under the aegis of the central government, for the government is the only social institution capable of mobilizing the capital and, perhaps, of providing the directive personnel, and, as a result, larger enterprises are almost always directly or indirectly capitalized by the government and organized along lines similar to those of the civil bureaucracy, from whose ranks their managers are most often recruited.

In Modjokuto, there are two Javanese owned factories whose scale of operation is noticeably greater than that of petty cottage industry--one is a large rice and sugar mill and one a beer crate manufacturing concern. Both are somewhat mechanized, the first with diesel and electrically driven milling machines for both sugar and rice, the latter with electrically run power-saws imported from West Germany, and both employ more than fifty workers. The first industry is owned and run by a man who is at once head of the regional chapter of the Nationalist political party (a largely prijaji organization), a representative on the executive board of the regional governing council, and a man with a marked prijali outlook on life; his chief technical assistant is a former prijaji employee of a Dutch sugar factory. The second industry is run by an ex-official of the very forestry department upon whose decisions the fate and prosperity of his enterprise depends, as it is his ability to obtain wood--almost all of it government owned--at economic prices which enables him to survive.

In addition, both industries were government subsidized in part. Clearly a familiari ty with the methods of the government bureaucracy as well as an ability to manipulate it both in its own terms and by means of personal contacts is a rather more important skill for a would-be Javanese entrepreneur than those one learns in small-scale, self-capitalized trade and cottage production.

The entrance of non-prijaji groups onto the political stage and the growth of a universal educational system since the revolution may serve to moderate this process somewhat, but with a near monopoly of what little advanced technical training the Dutch provided the Javanese, with the highest developed skills of bureaucratic manipulation, and with a majority of the posts in the civil service in their hands, the prijaji are almost bound to play a major role in economic development in a country where the private sector of the economy is not likely to prove able to finance large-scale enterprises. If so, the pattern of industrial organization in Java, if ever it appears at all, may take a fom consonant with the over-all rank conscious prijaji ethic as previously defined and the group of inward-looking ~stic bureaucrats seemingly so unsuited to either agricultural or petty capitalist forms of economic organization may find the more complex phases of economic development more congenial. Or perhaps they will merely suffocate them.


The abangan, santri, and prijaji world outlooks are the major cultural orientations present in contemporary Modjokuto. Not only economic practices and occupational types, but political parties, social organizations, women's groups, residential areas, and familial relations tend to be organized and grouped according to these general rubrics. But it must be understood that these orientations are not hermetically sealed ideological systems, perfectly logical, perfectly articulated, and perfectly realized from which the social, economic, and political structures of Modjokuto are mere deductions. No more than the Westerner's, is the Javanese individual's social behavior but the outcome of his ethical preferences and metaphysical assumptions; as the Westerner's, his actions are always and everywhere the complex result of ideological, religious, economic, political, familial, and wholly individualistic considerations.

In the foregoing analysis I have tried to present a picture of a series of social structural forms--occupationa1 role types, forms of agricultural, commercial, and industrial organization--intersecting differentially with a series of religiously justified social ethics, and ~o indicate the resultant patterns of behavior this intersection has produced. In the broader sense, the whole social organization of Modjokuto may be seen this way: it is a tenuous balance of forces, some ideological, some environmental, some organizational, in which the various factors so far outlined act in practice to produce a series of conflicts, compromises, and pure cases, as well as a number of exceptions to the rule; it is, as Max Weber once remarked, only because things are so very confused in practice that we must make our distinctions clear in theory.

It is also well to remember, though it cannot possibly be demonstrated here, that the three major cultural groups described above are neither wholly discontinuous, one with the next, nor does Javanese social organization take the form of three isolated sub-groups united by mere geographical contiguity. Not only is there a common system of values, a deeper pan-Javanese world view underlying all three of the separate orientations described, but a town such as Modjokuto displays a genuine integration of each of them into a social structure wider than any of them. In a sense, the prijaji world view is but an intellectualization of the abangan, and the abangan a corruption of the prijaji; the santri ethic, for all its Near Eastern pretentions, is still but a slightly dif~iated interpretation of both abangan and prijaji conceptions. And the actual social relationships between individuals holding these slightly separate ethics within a concrete community as Modjokuto is the most crucial study of all, for it can demonstrate the manner in which both social and cultural change occurs, and depict the clash of value and power that forms the content of the historical process.

But even the relatively simple analysis presented here suggests interesting questions for social and cultural theory. What are the crucial factors determining the degree to which a given set of moral commitments finds adherents within a given society? To what degree is a religious system a dynamic factor in economic change ~d to what degree a mere outcome and reflection of it? What are the formal elements of various world outlooks which make them particularly conducive to certain patterns of economic organization? What is the nature of the motivational link between religious behavior and economic behavior? And, is there a tendency toward sequential order in the development of either types of world view or forms of economic organization--is there such a thing as cultural drift and social evolution, and if there is what are its typical stages and what are the selective mechanisms producing it? Such questions are easier asked than answered; but in the microscopic investigation of concrete communities undergoing rapid social change--communities such as Modjokuto--some vague outlines of the replies we may eventually be able to give may be dimly discerned.

Clifford Geertz

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

(1) The town name is a pseudonym. The field work period ran from May 1953 until September 1954, with a two-month gap in July and August of 1953, and was undertaken as part of a cooperative project of six anthropologists and a sociologist under the sponsorship of the Center for International Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A full description of the town, prepared by the entire project, is in the process of preparation. I wish to thank Robert Jay and Neal Smelzer for comments on an earlier draft of this paper.



Religious belief and economic behavior in a central Javanese town: some preliminary remarks, in: Economic Development and Cultural Change, vol. 4 no. 2 (1956), pp. 134-158.


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