The Origin of Jamu

Find out about the ancient roots of this traditional health drink and where its name comes from

By Indonesia Gastronomy Network

Indonesia Gastronomy Network incollaboration with ACARAKI

Reliëf van de Borobudur (Boroboedoer), nabij Magelang, Nederlands-Indië (ca. 1895 - ca. 1915) by Kurkdjian, OnnesRijksmuseum

The tradition of concocting and consuming jamu as a Javanese health drink as well as for medicinal compresses and body detoxing was actually developed during the Hindu-Buddhist era.

Borobudur Temple by JamupediaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Karmawibhangga reliefs is at the ground part of Candi Borobudur. Karmawibhangga reliefs, 160 panels, symbolizes people that are still bound by lust and subject to the law of karma.

Karmawibhangga Relief by JamupediaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

Artifactual data on Karmawibhangga reliefs of the Borobudur Temple in 8th century (on panel 19) shows that a man (visibly) ill being messaged from the head down to the chest with traditional herbs. There were also people who brought jars filled with the Jamu concoction to drink. Furthermore, there was an atmosphere of gratitude for one's healing.

Karmawibhangga Relief by JamupediaIndonesia Gastronomy Network

In addition, some reliefs showed various types of plants such as nagasari (Mesua ferrea), areca nut, jamblang (Syzygium cumini), pandanus, and kecubung which are known as plants that are often used to concoct jamu. Reliefs with similar descriptions can also be  found in temples around Indonesia such as: Prambanan, Penataran, Sukuh and Tegawangi (Karsiati, 2017).    

Column (14th–15th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the Majapahit Kingdom era, Prabu (King) Hayam Wuruk had arranged in detail the practice of healing. In the book 'Kutaramanawa' it is mentioned that the practice of healing cannot be carried out by just anyone, it clearly states the following requirements:

Figure Figure (14th–15th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"... if a person treats without knowledge or how to treat an illness, but (he/she) still tries to cure the sick just for the sake of wages, that person can be treated as a thief."

Seated Court Lady (14th-15th century) by Indonesian (East Javanese)The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

"... The king in power has the right to order a death sentence for those who try to heal a Hindu Brahmin, but he/she died instead." (Muljana, 1967).

Figure (14th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Balawi Inscription (1305 AD), during the Majapahit kingdom era also mentioned the professions of tuha nambi (medicine man), kdi (female shaman), and walyan (traditional healer). 

Mask (14th century)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

While the Bendosari Inscription (1360 AD) mentioned 'janggan' for the name of the village traditional healer. Jamu mixer and seller appear in the 'Madhawapura' Inscription with the name 'acaraki' (Moelyono, 2018; Ullen Sentalu, 2020).

Fasting and Praying Process Before Concocting Jamu, Acaraki, From the collection of: Indonesia Gastronomy Network
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At that time, an ‘acaraki’ before concocting jamu had to carry out ritual processes such as fasting, praying including meditating to obtain guidance and positive energy for healing.

Prayer and Offering, Dananjoyo, From the collection of: Indonesia Gastronomy Network
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Beeld van een zittende Boedha in een varada mudra. (1866-12 - 1867-01) by Kinsbergen, IsidoreRijksmuseum

The Kingdom of Kediri era

Before the word ‘jamu’ became widely known, various Old Javanese manuscripts referred to jamu as oesada or 'jampi'. These two words was mentioned in the Gatotkaca Sraya scripture by Mpu Panuluh in the reign of Raja Jayabaya era of Kediri Kingdom. (Sukini, 2018; Tilaar, 2014)

Sea Offering Ceremony by DananjoyoIndonesia Gastronomy Network

The word 'oesada' closely refers to health, while 'jampi' is a representation of a mixture of medicinal plants either as a drink or external medicine practiced completed with a prayer to help the healing process.

Pounding Jamu Using Pestle by Michael ChristiawanIndonesia Gastronomy Network

In the 'Serat Kawruh Bab Jampi - Jampi Jawi' explains that the use of the word 'Jampi' is used by the royal circle, in this case is the Surakarta Palace. When introduced outside the palace by the monks and shamans, according to the social strata and kromo madya grammar and ngoko, the word 'JAMPI' is changed to 'JAMU'

Relief in Trowulan Site by Prawoto IndartoIndonesia Gastronomy Network

 The same thing applies to the word 'JAWI' from the kromo hinggil grammar until it’s used outside the palace so it’s changed to the word JAVA. Thus it can be concluded that the origin of the word JAMU comes Javanese ethnic community. 

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