The Javanese Health Philosophy

Learn about the Javanese approach to health and the meaning behind different ingredients

By Indonesia Gastronomy Network

Indonesia Gastronomy Network incollaboration with ACARAKI

Mbok JamuIndonesia Gastronomy Network

“where the mind goes, the body will follow.”

In Javanese there is a saying “Mangan arep mlaku gelem…Batin karep raga nututi…". These two lines stated above embody one of the philosophical perspectives of Javanese people on health. The saying can be translated as “the desire to eat food, [and] the willingness to walk” [or to engage in physical activities is a sign of health and well-being] so much so that “where the mind goes, the body will follow.”

Buying Jamu by JamupediaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Being healthy refers to well-balanced state in body and mind

In other words, the ability to eat food and the ability to perform one’s work well implies that the body is not being attacked by disease-causing agents. Therefore, the body must be in a state of good health (Murniatmo, 1992 in Gardjito et. al. 2019).

Copy of Serat Centhini Manuscript Collection of Reksa Pustaka by JamupediaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

'Being healthy' is thus understood by the Javanese, and is also defined in the ancient manuscript Serat Centhini, as the physical and spiritual state of a person that is free from disorders or diseases.

Copy of Serat Centhini Manuscript Collection of Reksa Pustaka by JamupediaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

As far as illnesses are concerned, this particular Javanese literary work that has been dubbed 'the Javanese cultural encyclopedia' classifies illnesses into two distinct categories according to what causes them.

Copy of Serat Centhini Manuscript Collection of Reksa Pustaka by JamupediaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

namely, illnesses due to physical factors (such as physical violence, accidents, poor eating habits, exposure to disease-causing agents, poisons, etc.) and illnesses due to non-physical factors (such as negative supernatural powers and evil, dark forces).

Wilwatikta Symbol by AcarakiIndonesia Gastronomy Network

In the cosmology of the spiritual world of Javanese mysticism, humans (a microcosm) are under the influence of the great powers of the universe (as a macrocosm) such as the earth, stars, planets and their environmental surroundings (Kraton Jogja, 2002).

Each of these elements has both 'a force and a life' which, when coexisting and interacting with each other harmoniously, creates an equilibrium. 

Dr. Seno Sastroamidjojo (1962) stated that ideally, microcosm and macrocosm should always be kept well-balanced and in a state of being, a single unity. 

Any disruption in the equilibrium results in a clash between that which is 'inside the body' and that which is 'outside the body' which eventually leads to illness.

Pisang Sanggan offering by JamupediaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

We often find pisang sanggan offering consisting of a comb of raja banana, betel leaves, gambier, three types of flower (red rose, white rose, and kantil), and lawe thread at traditional Javanese wedding ceremonies.  Each item on the offering has its own philosophy and meaning that becomes the hope for the wedding.

Tumpeng Cutting Ceremony by Agung PrasetyaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Tumpeng becomes a part of certain celebrations. The cone-shaped tumpeng resembles the shape of a mountain where the meru (mountain) is a representation of the cosmic system (the universe). Various vegetables and side dishes that are arranged around tumpeng  symbolizes the meaning of human life (plants, animals, and humans).    

Nasi Kuning (Yellow Rice) Offerings by DananjoyoIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Yellow rice is closely related to thanksgiving celebration. It symbolizes prosperity, wealth, or fortune that you want to achieve. Likewise, the side dishes served along with yellow rice have similar meanings. In fact, the decoration of red chilies (usually  made into blooming flower) symbolizes illumination that can provide many benefits for others.    

Sea Offering Ceremony by DananjoyoIndonesia Gastronomy Network

The Javanese coastal community is familiar with the sea alms (sedekah laut) tradition. This ceremony is an expression of gratitude amongst the coastal community for the sea catch and welfare. In addition, the sea alms ceremony is also intended to ask for protection from the dangers that may arise from the sea.    

Bersih Desa Tradition by DananjoyoIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Humans and nature are a unity that cannot be separated from each other. To care for the symbiosis and harmony between nature and humans, the Javanese people perform bersih desa (lit. cleansing) ritual. Bersih desa ritual is the expression of gratitude  from the people for the harvest, health, and welfare for one year.    

Fasting and Praying Process Before Concocting Jamu by AcarakiIndonesia Gastronomy Network

The use of magical powers to heal a sick person

Sometimes we find cases of spell casting that cause someone to become sick. This is sometimes complemented with a shamanistic ritual to free the sick person from being subjected to incoming doom (Bratawijaya, 1997) as in the ruwatan tradition of Banten people in West Java.

Prayer and Offering by DananjoyoIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Such rituals are performed religiously and complemented with prayers and offerings. Very often, the offerings are ceremoniously put into the river or the sea as a symbol of putting away and removing malign influences. 

Tumpeng Cutting Ceremony by Agung PrasetyaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Religious offerings are also presented ritualistically as an expression of gratitude to the universe for bountiful harvests and for the avoidance of outbreaks from a deadly disease (‘pagebluk’).

Various Kinds of Jamu by shutterstockIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Natural healing method

The natural healing method generally refers to therapeutic massage and bodywork healing methods which usually involve the application of a concoction of herbal and medicinal plants that have been crushed and made into a paste and then mixed with coconut oil to facilitate massaging and rubbing down the body.

Pilis (2020-08-18) by Prawoto IndartoIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Another healing method in the naturalistic system involves the use of jamu (herbal concoctions normally consumed via ingestion) and topical medication. Regular consumption of jamu is believed to improve the immune system and the balance. Topical medication in the form of ‘pilis’ (a herbal concoction in the form of a paste that is attached to the forehead/ the temple) or ‘parem’ (watery ointment to be applied to the sick body part) is used to stimulate nerve cells and enable them to function optimally in order to restore the balance and bring back the state of health to the body.      

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Spice Up The World
Learn the 1,000-year history of Indonesia's spices, meet the makers and see the unique dishes
View theme
Google apps