A Ritual for Seven Months of Pregnancy
Tradition grows in line with the cultural progress of society. In Java, especially Yogyakarta and Central Java, all stages of human existence pass through slametan (a ritual held as a token of gratitude for surviving danger or bad luck and to ask divine blessing).
The Javanese culture indeed inculcates the community with the principle of golek slameting dhiri (pursuing safety in life and salvation of the soul hereafter), so that all forms of thanksgiving aim at personal, family and communal safety.
One of Java's traditional rites which still exist is mitoni, for the safe passage of a woman's first seventh-month pregnancy.
The Javanese believe that a seven-month-old infant has got a soul, whose security should be celebrated. And the first child is said to bring good luck to the family and other siblings. Like other traditional ceremonies, mitoni is practiced in different fashions in different regionalities, as the saying goes 'so many places, so many customs'.
The outdoor ceremony symbolizes the common people's humble attitude and their expression of gratitude to God. They belong to the lower class and live in simplicity, while only those of the royal family or nobility deserve indoor or court rituals.
It starts with a kenduri (ritual gathering with meals and religious prayers), attended by neighbors. Its leader sits cross-legged on a wooden pestle for pounding rice, representing the removal of evils and disasters, and the woman have a seat at the side of the gathering.
Among the uba rampe (offerings) served on the occasion are traditional snacks, red and white taffy (reflecting physical strength), and two yellow-hulled coconuts bearing the pictures of wayang (shadow puppet) figures, the famous pair Arjuna and Sumbadra.
This pair symbolizes the parents' hope for the appearance and traits of their coming baby: if it's a boy, he should be handsome and chivalrous like Arjuna and if a girl, she should be beautiful and faithful like Sumbadra.
Following the kenduri, the pregnant mother is guided by village elders for a bathing ritual with water from seven wells -- her own and her neighbors'. It's a symbol that the baby, upon its birth, is blessed by the whole family as well as all neighbors.
The two coconuts offered are thereafter split and part of their water was drunk by the expectant mother, in the hope that the good characters of Arjuna and Sumbadra would be absorbed by the infant's soul. Virtue and security are what this ceremony is all about.
The same tradition has diverse forms in different areas. Both in Yogyakarta and Central Java, mitoni accommodates the same gist but it is manifested and furnished in different ways. In Bantul, for example, this rite is more popularly called tingkeban.
In this Bantul-style ceremony, lasting from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m., the woman and her spouse are bathed first, before being dressed in separate places like a royal lady and a prince, with unofficial costumes.
Both are later brought together for a janur (young coconut leaf) cutting. The wife wears a janur wreath round her neck, and the man approaches her to slash the leaves with a kris. Their dresser immediately tosses an egg, amid the audience's applause.
Kulonprogo has just about the same tingkeban, the only difference being the additional procession prior to the janur cutting. The couple is taken round the ritual place accompanied by petal-strewing, which is conducted by an elder or dresser for the purpose of purging the house of evils.
In spite of the wide variety, the seventh-month pregnancy ritual forms have the same essence, that is to seek material and spiritual salvation for the pair, the would-be child and the whole family.
Whatever manifestations may be, they eventually point to the fact that Javanese cultural wisdom always fosters equilibrium between pursuits of the body and the soul. Mitoni or tingkeban, therefore, serves as evidence of the Javanese community's determination to maintain this wisdom, notwithstanding the lack of accommodation in modern life.