DeMISTYfied in Djogja: Malam Panjang: Long Night in Yogyakarta By Mucha-Shim Q. Arguiza

On arriving at the esteemed royal city of Yogyakarta (Daera Istemawa di Yogyakarta) in Indonesia, my first impression was that of “coming home” to barely remembered past hovering among the ghostly cobwebs of childhood memory. Yogya’s Jalan Kaiurang (Jakal), a modern highway transecting the city from north to south, runs straight along three almost perfectly aligned mystical nodal points: the active volcanic beauty of Mt. Merapi as prominent landmark to the north; the Kraton palatial domain of power of reigning Sultan Hamengkubawana X comprising the midpoint; and, southward, leading to the open seas, is Parangkritis beach where legendary Nya’i Ratu Kidul, Goddess of the South seas, is believed to dwell.

Heightened by the nostalgic appeal of its mystical nature, experiencing Yogyakarta and taking part in its social milieu has seemed like a home-coming to sounds, smell and ambience that are at once warm and familiar that somehow tells me my homeland and homesea in Sulu (south-western Mindanao) must have been distantly related, or perhaps metaphysically interconnected, with this dominantly Javanese abode in the “land below the winds” and, as I would soon discover, glimpses of this long-ago connection was still extant in a vanishing language and fast transforming culture.

Spanning at least a kilometer down the length of the modern highway of Jakal is a vast block of buildings housing various faculties of the famous Gajah Madah University where in its Pascasarjana (Graduate School) I attend a post-graduate program in Inter-religious studies. In the evening, the university belt blooms into life with a motley assortments of “toko” and “waroeng” – shops and stalls – that offer all sorts of foods, light snacks on short order, coffee and tea, mentionable among which, that I am sure many Filipinos would be curious to try, is the “teh botol,” uncarbonated bottled jasmine tea. All these can be had inside the make-shift structures that are instantly erected there “just for the night” which happens to be every night. Diners – mostly young professionals and students – sit squatting on reed or plastic straw mats and enjoy their “makanan siang,” the evening fare, eating with bare hands while ever watchful of the early evening traffic of mostly single motorbikes and recent models of SUVs then building up. Incredibly, this happens daily, rain or star-shine.

Along Jakal kilometer 5, pushing aside nervous pedestrians to gingerly navigate the “devil and deep blue sea” in being forced to choose between the muddy canal and the deadly highway where motorbikes roar and refuse to give way, these tarpaulin-canopied shops precariously balanced along the narrow sidewalk occupying every available parking spaces, and there, squeezed in-between HP (pronounced as “Ha-Pe” for “hand-phone”) “pulsa” (Filipinos simply say “load”) reloading stations and benzene fuel refilling, they cheerfully competed for attention mingling with the laundry shops, electronic and IT stores, videos and movie compact disk sales and rentals, motor parts supply and repairs, jilbab and hand gloves boutiques, “juwal murah” thrift shops of surplus items and used clothings, and various other retailers of fancy goods of sweets and spicy snacks peddled in ambulant stalls and carts: martabak, rujak, bakso, krepes, godeg, sate, boiled corn and bananas, steamed peanuts and green beans, and yes, hamburgers, hotdogs, and bak pao that sometimes opened onto the wee hours.

It would be in these “waroeng makanan” (foodshops) and “toko” thriftshops that I mostly learned and acquired my crude and functional bahasa. Although much regretfully, a year after to this day, my bahasa has remained “sirikit sadja” (very little) and “tidak bagus” (not refined). My passport and convenient opening spiels would, of course, be always an unembarrassed script of: “Maaf, ibuh/bapak, saya tidak bihasa bicara…dari Filipin” (My apologies, madam/sir, I do not speak much [bahasa]…I am from the Philippines) that almost always got the friendly “Oh…ya!” sympathetic nod of understanding and a welcome that was followed by typical “how”s the weather” questions such as where I live in Manila, and requests that would I please say some Tagalog (musically said as to sound like “Taga Log”) that sometimes turn me slightly irate to curtly declare that I am from Mindanao and a Moro. On really interesting occasions, that sometimes almost got their interest that “Oh…Ya!” would then be followed by less impersonal and more eager questions about Mindanao and how the Muslims there behaved or what they ate.

On lucky days, I would encounter a more engaged audience that would indulge me with interesting queries: hushed question about Abu Sayyaf, Imelda Marcos and her fabulous collection of shoes; the infamous Philippine typhoons; and, yes, popular among the youngsters, Christian Bautista (young Filipino singer presently doing a movie here). Otherwise, for the shopkeepers — old ibuh or bapak, or young “mas” or blushing “mbak”, I generally was just one of those mundane uninteresting “bule” who was made even less interesting because I looked “just like us” with my black eyes, brown skin, turong and long loose blouse. At best, they might find in me a useful opportunity to test their proficiency in English. Those, and the sure supply of kindly encouragement and gentle coaching from my friends and kost-mates from Sulawesi: mbak Ria, mbak Lia, mbak Tetenk and mbak Ani — constantly boosted my confidence that I could finish a generous bowl of richly spiced (or should I say, “spiked”, and I”d seriously translate this as “really hot”) soto – another famed socializing food here – and could still as cheerfully accept another serving, and made myself at home for the rest of the school term.

The bits and pieces of words and phrases I barely made out and picked are those that clicked into what I meant to be that interconnection through sound and smell with home. Along Jalan Kaliurang, one of the more abundant snack stalls would be the “gorengan”. The chunky fritters are famous street-food of vegetables, rootcrops and fruits generously spiced and fried deep in coconut oil as gorengan pisang (banana), singkong (cassava), ube (sweet potato), and, Indonesians’ chief source of protein, soya (i.e. gorengan tempe or tahu). A yummy special is an all-veggie recipe called gorengan sayul, a potpourri of crunchy leaves (usually cabbage and spinach) mixed, salad-style, with thin stripped carrots and jalapenos. Peppered with fragrant spices and smeared in sticky flour and rolled into patties or neatly wrapped in thin dough, these are dropped into the sizzling oil and fished out as soon as one side turns a golden blush. This particular last piece reminds me of our Filipino lumpia (with or without the wraps) and ukoy and is especially taken with a bite of “peddas”, fresh chilli pepper, that Indonesians must be proudly notorious about.

The infinitive “goreng” (to fry with oil) sounds near to our “guling”, noting that the Sinama (language of ethnic Sama of Sulu) usually replaces r’s for l’s. Interestingly, these fritters for the Sama people are called “juwalan” which then brings another connection between sinama and bahasa in “juwal”, meaning goods, and of “juwalan”, a place of goods or simply “store”. Incidentally, as in bahasa, the Sama also say “barang-barang” (assorted things), “bungkus” (cover or wrap the food “to go” or take home), “halgah” (cost or costly) and generally count the way Indonesians do: issa (satu), duwa (duwa), t’llu (tiga), m’pat (mpat), lima (lima), n’nom (nam), hatus (ratus), ibu (ribu). We also have the same words for house (rumah/lumah), sea (laut), land (tanah), village (kampong), hand (tangan), etcetera, although, I sometimes find myself “hanging” (as it means in computer-lingo), confused in connecting “rambut” with hair since we say “buun” in Sinama or “buhok” in Filipino, except perhaps if I visualize “rambutan”, that hairy fruit that Davao City is famous for, or, perhaps more likely subliminally connect this to silky soft hair that we say, “buhok na malambot” (Fil.) which makes sense anyway since I usually encounter the word on television shampoo commercials! Of course, there are more of these confused translations as well: pisang for banana (bahasa) is pineapple in Sinama; bunga for flower (bahasa) is unripened and inedible fruit in sinama, while buwa (fruit in bahasa) means mature fruit in sinama.

There are yet many other words and terms that bahasa and Sinama share in common. For instance, “malam” is evening in bahasa and usually said in Sinama to modify Friday as in “malam jumaat”, that, in lunar calendar, is the eve of Friday and in Gregorian calendar is Thursday evening – is held to be most spiritually auspicious night of the week, such that where Indonesians say “malam panjang” literally as “long night” to mean chronologically that “time” spanning from magrib (sundown) and lasting until fajar (sunrise) the Sama take this to be “deep” formal and orthodox term mostly used to refer to that “space” or experience of special nights associated with traditional and socio-religious observances.

Still considerable are a number of mostly senior members in my clan, and, I could say generally, of the Sama people of Sulu, remaining traditional and continually maintaining what modern Muslims sometimes pejoratively call “folk” Islam, which is a synthesis of indigenous monistic and Islamic theistic beliefs that the first sufi teachers must have brought to our shores in the 10th century CE (common era). Concretely, this is manifest in the faithful observance of universal pillars of Muslim faith, namely, oral declaration of the One-ness of God, five-times-prayer, ritual cleansing of wealth through sharing and offering of the “poor’s due”, performing pilgrimage to Makkah, fasting during Ramadhan, and the system of beliefs including belief in Allah, the Holy books and the prophets, belief in the angels and (good) jinns, and in the last day of judgment. Alongside, these are elaborated with islamically-harmonized rituals of ancestral reverence and commemoration of the silsilah/salsila where one’s clan and progeny is constantly reminded to link back to the house of the quranic/historic prophets, to the local saints and the holy progenitors of Muslims and to Islamic teachers.

In ritual observances called maulud, these are celebrated coinciding with Muslim maulid/eid and are beheld as “long nights” such as the nights of the month of puasa (Ramadhan), the eves of eid where socio-religious celebratory or commemorative offertories and festivities are held, i.e., amon jaded, birth of the prophet, nisfu shaban, isra wal mi’raj, feast of shura, eidul fitri, eidul adha, among others. Among “less islamized” and more traditionally indigenous Sama Dilaut of Sulu (ethnically akin to orang bajo in Indonesia), these Muslim calendrical observances have been integrated into their own traditional calendars such as the first day of harvest (of grains, corn, banana or major food crop), the waning and waxing of the moon, the full moon and musim (monsoon). Interestingly, secular yet social matters such as “hinang” (lit. event) for the dear departed (janazah), “jaga” or vigils accompanying an expectant mother in labor or awaiting the birth of a new baby, as well as “libuhan” pre-nuptial and post-wedding rituals are also conducted into the long nights and are considered by the Sama to comprise the malam panjang.

Indeed, much of bahasa-derivative words may already be lost or else considered “old” by today’s modern standards and no longer colloquial as to be comfortable for use in ordinary conversations. Besides, most of us of the younger generation would have already been “born to” to modern and purist Muslim religion hence preferring to be called mainstream Muslims that looks upon the Arabist rather than Malayu cultural expressions and manifest traditions of our faith. Many of us believe that to be true Muslim is to have conveniently rid ourselves of ancestral reverence and its attendant “fancy rituals” that many would now denounce as form of “shirk” (idolatry) or regard social celebrations such as “hinang” and maulud as frivolities, if not islamically censured as “bid”a” or innovations. Consequentially, on the other extreme, many among the young ones would not be familiar anymore as it has long replaced with the Filipino or western counterpart such traditional concepts as “malam panjang” that in modern consumerist capitalistic contexts would now translate to this generation’s notion of long nights as “Sabado nights” (from Spanish-Tagalog Sabado or Saturday) or to its more west-oriented version of TGIF (“Thank God Its Friday”) nights which many yuppies (young professionals) would look forward to in long fun-filled evenings of “gimmick”, of “bottomless” fun and of “seamless” good-time, promenading and dancing, shopping and socializing, that commercially-driven new generation paradoxically considers a form of rest and recreation and a respite from a week’s hard work.

[Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their experiences in their adopted countries. Mucha-Shim Quiling Arquiza is an ethnic Sama from Laminusa, Siasi, Sulu, Mindanao. She is presently working for her Ph.D. in interreligious studies at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies at Gajah Madah University in Yogyakarta. Mucha is secretary general of the Asian Muslim Action Network in the Philippines (AMANPHIL) and the founding directress of Lumah Ma Dilaut, a school for living traditions of the Sama Dilaut (or Bajau) in Zamboanga and Basilan waters. Email:]