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Tolerance and tradition

A Tengger ethnic man walks along the hilly road next to vegetables fields in Bromo. Indra Harsaputra/The Jakarta Post

Publication Date : 16-10-2012


The beauty of Mt. Bromo is inseparable from the traditional activities of the Tengger ethnic community inhabiting the area around the volcano, which rises to an altitude of 2,392 metres. To date, Tengger people have continued to preserve their lofty cultural values and the environment of the mountain, located in Probolinggo regency, East Java.

Drums were sounded at several mosques to mark predawn meals for fasting Muslims in the settlement of the predominantly Hindu Tengger ethnic group. Known as the descendants of exiles from the Majapahit Kingdom, Tengger people were preparing Galungan, a Hindu religious ritual, early that morning.

Mohammad Soleh was one of the dozens of Muslim Tengger community members performing their religious duty during the fasting month, while Ki Dukun Pandita Sri Romo, a Hindu Tengger communal leader, was arranging the ceremony with the help of other local Hindus, who put up festoons and read Sarasamuccaya verses.

"The majority highly respect the minority," Ki Dukun Pandita Sri Romo told The Jakarta Post recently. Most of the Tengger population belongs to the Hindu Mahayana faith, which knows no castes like Bali’s Hinduism. Galungan, meaning the victory of virtue, is held before Kuningan, a ritual for the spirits of ancestors.

Very little archaeological data reveals the history of the Tengger tribe.

An inscription found in Walandhit village dating back to 851 Saka (Javanese calendar) or 929 AD indicates this village was a scared place for Hulun Hyang, people who spent their whole life devoting themselves to gods.

Tengger people have remained convinced they are descendents of Majapahit supporters. The story, handed down through generations, is also based on the account that the hermitage of Majapahit prime minister Gajah Mada is located in Madakaripura, Sapih village, Lumbang district, Probolinggo.

"The Tengger ethnic group is obliged to maintain traditions that manifest the grandeur of Majapahit Kingdom. Tengger means Tengering Budi Luhur [landmark of noble character]," explained Ki Dukun Pandita Sri Romo. The power of the Majapahit empire spanned the region from Malaysia to Brunei, and Gajah Mada was also famous for his Palapa Oath to unite the archipelago.

Majapahit people liked Chinese and Middle Eastern products such as blue ceramics, gold-studded silk cloths, junipers and various beads. The king of Majapahit regularly sent his emissaries to carry goods from Java to be presented to the emperor in China.

A cultural expert from Jember who had once lived with Tengger people for five years on the slopes of Mt. Bromo, Ayu Sutarto, described the Tengger community as a miniature nation of Indonesia adhering to the principles of the Pancasila state ideology. While accepting pluralism in faith, this ethnic group is hospitable and open.

"Though they strictly observe traditions, they remain very tolerant of differences. There has been no conflict over religions, no isolation of Tengger residents choosing to profess other faiths like Islam and Christianity," noted Sutarto.

Interfaith harmony among Tengger people is also noticeable in Yadnya Kasada, a ritual of offerings to mountain Gods, which is joined not only by Hindus but also by Muslim and Christian Tengger group members. In the last three years, Kasada has even coincided with the Ramadhan fasting month.

"There's no day without ketupat [rice cakes in coconut leaves]," said Achmad Zaini, 35, a resident of Ngadisari village, Sukapura district, Probolinggo. Though not a Hindu, he and dozens of Hindu men and women were weaving young coconut leaves for Galungan. Like the Hindus in Bali, ketupat also serves as offerings in pura (temples) or in front of Tengger homes.

Meanwhile, Sri Mukti, 50, a strawberry grower from Wonokerto village, Sukapura district, Probolinggo, said many Tengger people had used strawberries as alternative medicine to reduce cholesterol and lower hypertension. Strawberry roots are also said to cure some internal diseases. About 3 kilometres from the sand plain of Mt. Bromo, strawberry plantations also attract tourists, who can pick and buy the fruit.

Ngadisari village head Supoyo Supoharjo said the Tengger community had also used various traditional herbs from around the mountain such as Tengger tamarind for respiratory ailments, dringu for common fever and eucalyptus for lowering high body temperature. Tengger youths, however, prefer buying drugs to preparing herbs.

According to Sutarto, while preserving the cultural values of their ancestors and managing Bromo's natural resources, the Tengger ethnic group today lives amid a consumerist, materialistic and hedonistic modern civilisation. "It's hard to predict how long the Tengger cultural inheritors will continue to maintain Tengger traditions," Sutarto added.

As farmers, Tengger people cultivate their land in terraces to prevent landslides and erosion due to the steep slope of the mountain.

"They don't dare to cause forest damage and hurt animals. They fear the effect of karma. Tree falling is also prohibited because they believe the forest and trees have souls," Supoharjo pointed out.


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