Friday, August 24, 2012

Mitoni is some sort of baby shower for Javanese. In most part of Indonesia, the ritual is known as "Nujuh Bulan," referring to the seventh month of pregnancy where the ritual is usually held.

Most the times, Javanese people living in Jakarta would skip this ritual for the sake of efficiency, but not with my friend Adhi. He threw this ritual for his wife, Arnin, about a month ago, and asked me to cover it. It took me few days to learn about the ritual. I had no idea what it was like and also I needed to know the run down so as not to miss any single moment of it.

Thank you for coming.

Pre Ritual
Anyone covering a ritual ceremony would love to shoot the backstage activity. That morning, Arnin, the future mother, had to do her own make-up before finally got someone to dress her hair. And like always, the mirror became my favorite object to shoot.  Prior to the ritual of Mitoni, a group of women would recite the holy Quran and say prayers for the baby and the mother. Meanwhile, I captured some items that I thought might be the details of Mitoni.

Siraman (Shower)
After the recitation of holy Quran, Arnin returned to her room for final make up before showing up in front of friends and families who had gathered outside the house.

The ritual was begun with Arnin asked for blessings from the elders (her parents, parents in law, grandparents) and her husband. It was hard for her to do that while bending over on her knees, considering the pregnancy.

A big bronze jar of water, filled with flowers was placed next to the chair where Arnin was going to sit on for the shower. There were totally seven people who would shower her with the water. Each shower came with a whisper, hoping to cleanse and purify the soul of the future mother. 

All the rituals following the shower stressed more to the process of the labor. By breaking an egg, by dropping it down through the white cloth that covered the future mother, the baby was expected to be delivered easily without hurting the mother too much. After that, a white thread was cut off by the future father as a symbol of cutting off the umbilical cord, followed with a young coconut leave as a symbol of getting rid of all the obstacles that might come during the labor.

Symbolizing the baby, two green coconuts, called Cengkir Gading, were dropped down carefully one by one, passing through the white cloth that covered the mother and then caught up carefully at the bottom by the future grandmother. As if those had been real babies who had been just born, the grandmas cuddled them and sing a song to calm ‘the babies.’

Coming from Semarang, Central Java, Adhi’s mother sang a Javanese song that I had never heard before, but somehow I felt familiar with that song. It was more like a hum and it was simply tranquilizing. I guessed I had heard it in – perhaps – my previous life. As for Arnin’s mother, coming from Jakarta, this thing was challenging. She couldn’t sing a Javanese song. So, she came up with a popular Indonesian song, Nina Bobo, commonly sung to put a baby to sleep.

For Javanese, ideal figures picturing a beautiful woman and a handsome man were Dewi Kumoratih and Kamajaya. Both were deity figures from Hindu mythology. Each figure was painted on each coconut, in a hope that the baby who was going to be born in the next two months would be either handsome or pretty.

The mood became more festive when the master of ceremony brought out seven colorful clothes of batik with different motives. Each motive represented different meaning that would hopefully be the character of the baby. Those were: Sidomukti (happiness), Sidoluhur (nobleness), Truntum (positive value), Parangkusuma (the never-give-up attitude), Semen Rama (the everlasting love), Udan Riris (well accepted), and Cakar Ayam (Self determination).

Each cloth would be paired with a kabaya which also came in seven different colors. They were put together one by one on the future mother.  It was more like a trial. Everytime a cloth was paired with a kabaya, the MC would ask the guests: “are these matched?” And as it had been set up, they would say: “no…” Seven clothes, seven kabayas, and seven times they said no.

At the end, the future father picked up a batik cloth with a motive of Lasem, paired with a kabaya of Dringin, and put those together on the future mother. All of sudden, the guest said: “yes, those are matched.” They believed that the baby would like the father to pick up the kabaya and the cloth for the mother.

Long before the invention of ultrasonography, Javanese people had already had their own way to figure out the sex of the baby while it was still in the womb.

Adhi, the future father, picked up one green coconut which had been painted with deity figures from Hindu mythology from his back.  The one he picked happened to be painted with the picture of Kamajaya. So, it’s a baby boy then. If he had picked Kumoratih, it would have been a baby girl.

He split the coconut with some sort of machete to extract the water which was later poured into a glass and handed it to Arnin as the future mother.

This following part of Mitoni was perhaps what most guests had been waiting for since the morning. I didn’t have a clue what the particular Javanese term for this, but it was very well known as “Jualan Rujak & Dawet,” roughly translated as selling rujak and dawet, with Adhi and Arnin as the seller. It was not a real trade for money of course. They used artificial currency, traditionally made from clay. Every guest received the ‘money’ from Arnin before lining up to buy either rujak or dawet.

Apparently for Javanese, an offering is a must in every ritual or ceremony. But since most Muslim Javanese don’t practice syncretism any longer, the offering, which commonly comes in the form of food, is today made to be consumed.

A set of Nasi Tumpeng (rice cone) was placed at the centre piece. Adhi and Arnin, took turns to cut a piece of it, and dedicated them to their parents as the symbol of respect. Each of the parents spoon-fed each other as the symbol of love, followed by Arnin and Adhi as the future parents. That was the last part of the ritual. Few weeks after the ritual, Arnin gave a birth to a baby boy which came few weeks earlier to this world.

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  1. Thank you very much for the story and the pictures. You give me a new knowledge of a Javanese practice I have never known before.

    1. Pak Eko, I have for so long recognized this ritual as nujuh-bulanan, but now I know that it has a term, and it is more than just a shower.

      You're very welcome.