A true Javanese should know about Wayang and the stories of wayang. One of the wayang stories laden with spiritual values ​​and Javanese philosophy is Dewa Ruci. Dewa Ruci tells the story of the journey of Bimasena, the strongest of the Pandawa brothers, searching for Tirta Amerta or the Water of Life. Thinking that he has not made any achievement in his life, Bimasena challenged himself to search for Tirta Amerta, the sacred water, which if drunk can make the drinker strong and unmatched, physically and mentally.

Tata Survi (paling kanan), salah satu panitia JHSIIP

During the journey, Bimasena met with Dewa Ruci, who forged and trained Bimasena mentally and spiritually. In the end, Bimasena found out that Lord Ruci was himself, and Tirta Amerta was the spirit and inner strength he always had to help and protect the weak and the outcast. Everything is possible when you know your true self.

As the Cradle of Javanese civilization, Jogjakarta holds the key to different aspects of education. That was why we chose this beautiful town to run the Jogjakarta High School Indonesian Immersion Program (JHSIIP) every year. Running this program was similar to running a Wayang Kulit show performing the story of Dewa Ruci. We were all the dalangs (puppeteers), gamelan players, pesinden and patehan (tea server) who ran the program together, preparing all the instruments including the wayangs, the screen and the blencong (lighting).

As the plane was descending, ready to land at Jogjakarta’s Adi Sucipto airport, we always looked to the north towards Mount Merapi. That was the epitome of starting a shadow puppet performance, when the dalang put the gunungan in the middle of the kelir (screen) to indicate that the performance is about to start.

Similar to the story of Dewa Ruci, there were many challenges and preparations that we had to do together. Many people envied us for having the luxury of running this program. If only they witnessed what we did. Preparing the JHSIIP takes forever. The nature and content of the program change constantly, depending on the newest and latest Study Designs of Indonesian programs in Australia and the participants’ levels of competency. This demands different strategies, activities and teaching and learning methods every year. Different parties need to be contacted, documents and letters need to be written and sent, and meetings to be held. And as different requirements were applied, some training and PD programs had to be carried out. Starting from 10 years ago we ran Duty of Care information meetings, curriculum information meetings and anaphylaxis information sessions for host parents and teachers.

Belajar membatik

We started the program 13 years ago from scratch, when we personally funded the program in its entirety. That was when we found our team in Jogjakarta who shared the same spirit: “To foster and promote friendship, understanding and good relations between the peoples of Indonesia and Australia.” Cliché, some people might say. But we kept the spirit alive. And that was perhaps the luxury we enjoyed: friendship, a widespread and strong network, and witnessing the JHSIIP participants become “new young people” by the end of each program. The two weeks program made them more mature, independent, confident and broad-minded. In addition, their language skills went ahead by leaps and bounds. They had found the Tirta Amerta! Most of them maintain their contacts with their host families and pay an annual visit to them to this day.

The 2020 JHSIIP emphasised and focused on viewing, observation and involvement, reflecting the new Australian curriculum. From Day 1, the participants were challenged. They were immersed in a variety of different activities in their original settings and involving face to face interactions with ‘real’ people. They interacted with tukang becak, asking them to take them to specific destinations and bargaining with them. They also visited a kampung, spending a day visiting a traditional market with the ladies of the kampung, shopping for ingredients that they would then prepare and cook for lunch. They enjoyed the whole experience, and found everybody in the market very friendly, helpful, and patient, encouraging them to speak in Bahasa Indonesia. On their return to the kampung they cooked Javanese traditional dishes with the village ladies, using the ingredients they had bought.

The following day they visited a local pottery maker and learned how to make pots from a lump of clay in the traditional way. They had to follow instructions and suggestions in Indonesian, and ask for explanations and clarification.

With a group of local university students, they rode motorbikes [pillion, of course] to sample  Javanese street food of Jogjakarta, helping to prepare it under the guidance of the stall-holders, and visited a famous bakpia factory to observe the process of making bakpia cakes. They did not only observe, they asked questions and interacted with the people there. We not only teach our program participants how to make batik, but they also gain a deeper understanding of what batik means to the Javanese, and Indonesians in general. Each batik motif holds a special meaning, a blessing for whoever wears it on a special situation or event. The participants gain this knowledge through both observation and verbal interaction. Ask the girls [this year the participants were all girls] about what gringsing, ceplok, wahyu tumurun, parang, kawung or truntum motifs are, and they will tell you not only the special characteristics of each motif but the philosophical meanings they have.

The host families have a crucial role in making sure that the participants really immerse themselves every day in Indonesian life. We entrust the participants to the families and long before the program starts, the communication between the Indonesian and Australian families develops. We can never thank these fabulous people enough. Each family signed an agreement that they would only speak in proper Bahasa Indonesia to the kids. Traditional languages may be introduced, but only incidentally. As the end of the program grew closer, we noticed how sad they girls were becoming. They had lived a full life in the Indonesian way for more than two weeks and had become betah (to feel at home).

Mempelajari budaya tradisional bangsa secara langsung

The peak of the program was the Kenduri celebration hosted by Ibu Sri and Pak Bowo, a wonderful batik artist couple, in their house in Desa Jodag in Sleman. This is the couple who funded our tenth anniversary of JHSIIP three years ago by involving the whole village to hold a day-long festival. Kenduri or Kenduren in Javanese is a banquet to mark or commemorate an event, ask for blessings or give thanks for the safe and successful implementation of an event. The practice of celebratory feasting already existed before the entry of outside religions into Indonesia. A special dish at this ceremony is nasi tumpeng (cone shaped rice) served in a tampah (a rectangular bamboo tray).

This kenduri feast not only marked the completion of JHSIIP 2020, but also the completion of the work that we have carried out for thirteen years under the auspices of the Australian Indonesian Association of Victoria.

For thirteen years we have been assisting young Australians in their search for identity and personal understanding, while improving their language skills and learning to understand Indonesian people and their rich culture. We will miss this extraordinary program, but the gunungan has been placed on the kelir (screen) to mark the completion of the performance. It’s time to take a bow and pack up. Where next? One thing is certain: we are starting our journey to search for Tirta Amerta! Selamat tinggal JHSIIP.

T. Survi and K. Da Costa
Former organisers
The Jogjakarta High School Indonesian Immersion Program