It is really plausible that human-based discussion is a never-ending matter. The emergence of a series of disciplines focusing on all things related to the physical and spiritual aspects of such a creature shows how complicated humankind's performance and characters are. For instance, Anthropology as a part of Social Science concerning human interaction in a society will never complete its task to elaborate a variety of phenomena encountered in its area of study since the life on the earth is always dynamic and still continuous. However, a particular discussion about a specific topic will be more interesting since it may provide a deep comprehension of a certain case in certain time. I would say that Geertz, for example, has successfully described a rich tradition of Java in his book, "The religion of Java" for he has developed a reality of such a region within its complexity. As Javanese, I sincerely appreciate his findings and feel somewhat "jealous" by asking why such "an outsider" greatly succeeded in delineating my culture more than whoever did. Perhaps, my compliment to Geertz may be too generous but it is as I could learn much my Javanese culture from his recording work. Nevertheless, in this paper, I want to portray a particular matter related to dichotomy of santri-abangan variants in his book which is eligible to reconsider since there is a significant change in Javanese society dealing with their religiosity which may result in the collapse of that compartmentalization, especially between abangan and traditional santri.
Geertz's Tri-Partite idea of Javanese Society
Before having further discussion, it might be very useful to present the fundamental idea of Geertz. There are, according to him, three different groups of people in Javanese culture, particularly in Mojokuto as his place of research, in terms of their religious life. First, abangan. This category represents a stress on the animistic aspect of Javanese syncretism and the peasant element of population. Santri as the next group can be described as representation of Islamic aspects and the trading element. Finally, the priyayi group is the representation of the Hinduist aspects and bureaucratic element. Some people, nonetheless, argue against that tri-partite categorization since Geertz does not include the grass root (wong cilik) group. It is comprehensible that in Javanese society there are actually four groups of society which are divided into two kinds, religiosity and social status. In terms of religiosity, santri and abangan are the two poles which are contrasted each other; santri is the more purely religious while abangan is more syncretic and less religious. On the other hand, there is priyayi-wong cilik dichotomy showing that the former has a higher position in social structure whereas the latter is of the lower one. In response to such a reproach, Geertz will reply that he does not mean that wong cilik is absent in Javanese community, but he just employs those three words representing particular characters of each group, i.e., in the view of religious belief, abangan is more animistic, santri is more Islamic and priyayi is more Hinduistic. Hence, wong cilik may become a part of abangan or santri group as the the character of wong cilik is non-bureaucratic.
Rethinking Santri-Abangan Dichotomy
This piece of writing will concern a problematic problem between santri and abangan variants that today should be reconsidered. To begin with, Geertz nicely describes two variants which are different from each other. The first discrepancy between both is a concern for doctrine and apology, meaning that abangan people are intentionally performing their religious life by adapting the classic belief of Javanese. For instance, slametan (a kind of feast) is a common ritual done by this group in order to worship the almighty God. They do slametan when one wishes to celebrate, ameliorate or sanctify, i.e., birth and marriage. It may be inferred that the abangan embrace Islam but they cannot leave the old rooted tradition called animism. The santri people, on the other side, have a pattern of beliefs ascribed from Islamic doctrine. Their ritual stresses much the five pillars of Islam, i.e., praying, alms giving and pilgrimage. This variant actually can be divided into two kinds, the modern and the traditional. The modern group which may be represented by Muhammadiyah has a character of pure Islam while the traditional with Nahdhatul Ulama (NU) as its pioneer is more syncretic.
However, the word "slametan" which is associated to abangan is derived from Islamic terms, namely "salam" which means "peace" or "safety". Moreover that slametan constitutes a kind of prayer ceremony for asking God to give peace and prosperity to people. It does not only then belong to abangan but also to santri, especially the traditional ones. Hence, we may infer that slametan is a general feast done by people, both santri and abangan in praying to God.
Secondly, the abangan and santri differ from one another in their social organization. The basis of social unit of former is the house-hold. In the program of cleansing of the village (bersih desa), for instance, all the food contribution is coming from the separate kitchen brought together rather than from a common kitchen. In contrast, santri people have a more universal sense of community (Ummah) for Islam is not related to a certain group of society but to all human beings who embrace Islam. When a person confesses that he is a Muslim, he directly belongs to the worldly fraternity of Muslim.
However, the following question will be: "Will the dichotomy of santri-abangan remain stable forever?" Since the nature of universe is always changing, I completely doubt such a notion. We may say, quoting Sartre's idea, that "human is what he is to be" or "existence precedes essence". The abangan people today is probably the santri tomorrow. Hence, that dichotomy as well as its characters should be rethought to some degree. To understand the social phenomenon, according to Wright Mills as quoted and explained further by Pranowo, there are four different components which should be reconsidered since their influence to a phenomenon is really great, i.e., history, culture, structure, and critical component. For this paper is a kind of a critical component, we still have to elaborate the other three components which are taken from Pranowo's arguments as I mostly agree with.
First, historical component. This point will uncover a place of standing of individual or group in certain community related to history. In the 20th century, Indonesia has been identified by the more established modernist Islamic movement as well as the "purer" Islam. But, this phenomenon is a dangerous fact which may potentially lead people to turn away from Islam to the other religion. Fortunately, after the explosion of the 30 September movement (G 30S/PKI) in 1965, the fear of a significant turning did not occur as universal phenomenon in whole Java.
The rejection to Islam in favor of other religion might emerge in some places in central and eastern Java. But, in most districts in Java there were not serious physical conflict between PKI and their rivals. The antipathy towards Islam did not happen. In the case of people in Tegalroso, located at the base of Mount Merbabu, Pranowo, as a researcher, clearly shows us that most population of this region were the active supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI), but they are good Muslim now somehow. This phenomenon clearly demonstrates some important points. First, people in Tegalroso did not embrace Islam since they had a principle of Islamic teachings such as mosques and places of reciting Qur'an (pengajian). Nevertheless, since 1965, there has been a good transformation of Islamic tenets and facilities in that region promoting people to be better Muslims (langkung sae Islamipun). Thus, we see the dynamic of Islam in Java as a continuing process of Islamization. People who received Islamic teaching in the very beginning later developed to become santri whereas people who experienced less intensively teaching of Islam became abangan. However, the abangan villages before 1960s has changed their performance to be santri village or at least cannot be differentiated much from the santri villages. This indicates that the situation of being abangan is not fixed identity, they still have the chance to choose their essence, santri or abangan, throughout their life.
Secondly, cultural phenomenon. Culture is a central element of sociology and anthropology. It is very important to be used in order to show the non-biological aspect of social life including customs, beliefs and values. In Javanese culture, it is conceivable that Islamic teaching has become a part of Javanese way of life as the power of kingdoms when in charge had a very significant role of play in spreading Islam all over Java. For instance, the name of the day and month have been influenced by Islamic spirit.
The phenomenon of priyayi has also experienced a significant change. Geertz states that most of priyayi especially for who live in keraton are associated by Hindu-Buddhist mysticism. However this idea has been challenged by Woodward as quoted by Pranowo saying that Geertz has ignored some important aspects in Javanese society due to his lack of dynamic, Islamic knowledge. It is not surprising that keraton people such as Hamengkubuwono X and Sri Paku Alam performed haji in Mekkah which according to Geertz is the character of santri. Priyayi then become more santri. Also, so many functionaries; civil, militer, who are regarded as abangan undertake pilgrimage to Mekkah. Moreover now many manufactories provide financial support for their employees or workers to complete their hajji ritual. This situation will result in the reduction of santri-abangan dichotomy.
Finally, structural component. After the 30 S/PKI 1965, the tention between santri and abangan actually emerged. The old order introduced the notion of NASAKOM (Nationalist, Religious, and Communist) to create the unity of power. However, the situation shows that NU (Nahdhatul Ulama) was associated as religious party with the support from santri people. Meanwhile, the abangan people support the nationalist or communist party. Therefore, this difference promoted the tension within society.
Furthermore, the new order introduced the conception of "floating mass" in the political arena stating that the political organization was only allowed to the level of regency. The political competition among people in the village therefore, automatically decreased. In addition, Pancasila (five pillars) which was initiated by the New Order become more religious since the government placed the conception of takwa (piety) in the important position. Takwa is derived from Islamic tradition that makes people be aware of whatever their activities. It should be implemented in all aspects of life including the army forces, civil servants, and students which may promote santrinization in society.
The following question will be "how is the situation of piety in the reformation era?" Perhaps, it is not easy to answer since this era just began ten years ago. However, we may take the result of research done by PPIM (the Center for Study of Islam and Society) of State Islamic University "Syarif Hidayatullah" Jakarta into account indicating that the santrinization is still going on in society. With 2000 samples from sixteen provinces including all province in Java, as quoted by Pranowo, the research reveals that 81.4% of respondents do five time prayer each day, only 2.2% perform ritual offerings. Most respondents feel that religion may give guidance for their life. Thus, we may conclude that the level of religiosity of people is increasing and tends to have an onward trend over the time while the religious tradition of abangan is declining.
It is worth noting that Geertz's book is really a good guidance to see the religion of Java in 1960s. His tri-partite categorization of society; abangan, santri, priyayi, nevertheless, has been challenged by some scholars, e.g., Pranowo. One of the fundamental reasons is that Javanese society has shaped a new style of life post 1965, particularly after the New order introduced the notion of "floating mass" in political sphere. I see, however, that challenge is not a kind of strong reproaches since it is reasonable that the different time may create the different evidence. In addition, Pranowo does not concern the dichotomy in santri variant, i.e., modern and traditional santri. The fall of dichotomy perhaps only happens between abangan and traditional santri, not the modern one. Therefore, we are still able to appreciate his work as the description do Javanese society in 1960s besides our consideration to some different points of view.
My opinion about the collapse of dichotomy between abangan and traditional santri is interestingly supported by the recent political issue in Indonesia showing that Megawati as a representative of Abangan group (PDIP, The Struggle Indonesian Democracy Party) and Hasyim Muzadi as a leader of NU (Nahdhatul Ulama, representation of tradional santri) promoted themselves to be the candidates of president and vice president for general election in 2004. Some people, e. g. Nurcholish Madjid, are of the opinion that NU should avoid getting involved in political arena since they proclaimed to go back to their basic principle (khittah) to be outside government. Muzadi, however, replies that it is the right time to show that dichotomy between abangan and santri does no longer exist. He tries to persuade people that the followers of both PDIP and NU are in the rural area consisting of wong cilik. We may then conclude that the matter of abangan and santri is still a considerable issue amongst elites.
The idea of santri-abangan dichotomy may be no longer valid. It is possible to happen due to the dynamic process in social life. Nevertheless, I believe that the fall of such categorization does only occur in abangan and traditional santri, not the modern one. In addition, there is an error made by Geertz when deciding only three groups of Javanese society; santri, abangan, and priyayi, because in fact there are four categories of people in it, wong cilik as the forth element. Finally, we may see that abangan-santri is still an interesting matter, even for the politicians who want to win the sympathy of people. Nevertheless, besides the basic different they may have, I am not afraid to propose a notion of compromise which suggests santri and abangan people to go hand in hand with one another to build a strong and powerful nation as the main goal of all Indonesian people.