Selasa, 09 Desember 2008

Forgotten Tengger ritual an untapped tourism goldmine

Indra Harsaputra , The Jakarta Post , Probolinggo

Standing on the peak of Mount Bromo in Probolinggo to partake in the Tengger tribe's karo ritual, encircled by the towering mountains of Banyuwangi, Malang and Kediri, one feels that time can be transcended. 

A sublimity that makes you feel small, powerless, such that you are compelled to doubt your existence and that of the human race. 

The sight has had its effect on the culture of the Tenggerese, who confess during the ritual their nothingness before the Creator -- Sang Hyang Widi Wasa -- who in turn endows upon them eternal life. 

During the religious ritual, Tenggerese praise the one Creator with special food and beverages and remember their ancestors. 

The ritual, which dates back to East Java's pre-Islam culture, has never received much attention from the public or the local tourism industry. 

No foreign or local tourists took part in or witnessed the ritual on the mountain. 

On the day of karo, which is usually celebrated a month after the annual ritual of kasada, hundreds of Tenggerese families, whether Hindhu or not, prepare food and beverages to present to their guests. 

The families treat all visitors as kings and queens, regardless of their ethnic, social, religious or political backgrounds. 

"Come in please and receive your free meal and drinks. This house is your palace where you can have any food or beverage for free and take more for your journey back home," Sukariyadi, a 21-year-old Tenggerese father told The Jakarta Post when it visited his bamboo house following the karo ritual. 

The food and drinks did not only taste delicious but appeared far cleaner and more hygienic than food served in restaurants in many of Indonesia's cities. 

Sukariyadi and his wife ate colorful traditional food and drank bitter coffee and coca while his parents Asih and Orip ate baked chicken flavored with chilies. 

"We are all a big family, there is no difference between Jews and Javanese, whites and blacks. No individualism nor social segregation. We are all one in the same world and on the same earth," said Orip, aged 72, who has many grandchildren. 

Following the ritual, the Tenggerese placed food and colorful flowers packed inside banana leaves on the graves of their ancestors in their gardens. 

Although the majority of those taking part in the ritual were Hindu, there was a considerable number of Muslims and Christians. 

In despite of their religious pluralism, Tenggerese people still perform the traditional rituals that have been integral to their culture for centuries. 

As opposed to Hindus in Bali, Tenggerese tribes are not based on a caste system, but originally were part of the ancient Majapahit kingdom. 

According to the Sundajaya epigraph, the vast mountainous region that once made up the kingdom belonged to Majapahit king Gajahmada, who inherited the lands from king Hayam Wuruk for his dedication to the kingdom. 

Tenggerese believe they are descendants of the last king of Majopahit, who ruled in the 16th century. 

Sutomo, the informal leader of the Tenggerese -- who many believe has paranormal powers -- said the traditional beatings that are part of the karo ritual stemmed from the Mojopahit age. 

During the ritual, youths hit one another's shoulders with bamboo sticks. Anyone who is struck in the tradition is allowed to have their revenge but must first show patience. 

Anderson, a Norwegian tourist doing his PhD about the community, said he was fascinated by the ritual but questioned why the government did not try to promote the tradition as a tourist attraction to tourists who came to climb the mountain. 

Executive director of the Surabaya Tourism board Yusak Anshori said the ritual was not included on its list of Tenggerese annual tribal rituals advertised to international tourists. 

"There is a government misperception about local cultural performances in the Tenggerese community. Karo is a marketable cultural performance by the Tenggerese community that could attract foreign tourists to visit the province. It is an alternative Javanese Hinduism ritual to those in Bali," he said.

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