In this essay, I write about ethnic group and why we cannot define an ethnic group by their cultural elements such as language, religion, customs and so on. I write this essay because there is a question about why we cannot define an ethnic group by their culture, whereas culture are one elements of an ethnic.
There is problem of seeing ethnic groups as cultural groups; “the mere fact that two groups of people are of different culture does not necessarily imply – as has nearly always been assumed – that they belong to two quite different social systems (Leach 1954: 17), “Someone is Lue by virtue of believing and calling himself Lue and of acting in ways that validate his Lueness” (Moerman, 1965:1219), First of all, I want to tell what is ethnic group.
Before ethnic groups, anthropologies who study colonial subject and society called society they studied as ‘tribe’ and people they studied as “tribal people”. The word “tribe” was replaced by the word “ethnic groups” by the 1960s because; a tribal society is not as isolated as being assumed, tribal societies interact with one another, and the word tribe reflects Eurocentric views, a sharp qualitative distinction between ourselves and the people we study. There is a problem when we seeing ethnic groups as cultural groups because there will be a different in their practice.
For an example, ethnic Java Banyumasan or Banyumas at Indonesia with Orang Jawa of Malaysia. Basically, they are an specific ethnic. But due to geographical differences for example, they have different practice, language, religion and others. In the field of demography, we can see Jawa Banyumasan usually live in the southwest of Central Java. Technically, Jawa Banyumasan is one of the subgroups of the Jawa people groups, but they have their own cultural variations which differ from other Jawa peoples.
While The Orang Jawa, (Jawa of Malaysia) has migrated from Central Java, where the same place of Jawa Banyumasan, to Malaysia. This migrations due to Dutch colonization at Indonesia from 1880 to 1930. The Orang Jawa live in peninsular Malaysia in parts of Johor, Malacca, Perak, Selangor, and Kedah. Jawa Banyumasan have typical Javanese dialect. Usually, easy for Jawa Banyumasan to understand conversations with other Jawa dialects.
Level of javanese are likely family tree. The higher you go the more similarity or standardization there is. But the lower you go the more variety. However, many other Jawa groups difficult to understand the Banyumasan dialect because of the widespread of Banyumasan vocabulary. While the younger Orang Jawa who use Jawa language being less among them. Most of them cannot remember how to speak it or never learned about it. In their daily live, Most of the Java’s Banyumasan live as a farmer. When we compare with other tribe in Indonesia, Banyumasan have an advance in the way they farm.
Other than have a fertile soil, they cultivate the land well and they also have modern equipment to do their farming. Banyumasan also have their own small industries for example woven bamboo and brown sugar. To meet other needs, this commodity is sold to other regions. For Orang Jawa (Malaysia), their new generations who live in city have assimilated with the general Malay culture. Now they also work as a bankers, pilots, accountants, politicians, and also engineers.
They well known as a efficient and industrious people. In Selangor, some of Orang Jawa work as a Islamic religious teacher. Orang Jawa who live in villages, they still maintains their identity and traditions. People who are not Jawa but come from other Malay group, when they married with Orang Jawa, they also claimed or called themselves as Orang Jawa, or Jawa Peranakan. Other than grown up their own vegetables, and livestock, they also involved in tourism activities by make their way of life as a tourist attraction. Orang jawa well known as a friendly people.
They usually will invite visitors to share meal with their families even though they often have a large family with some having between 10 to 17 children. Marital affairs is a big thing to Orang Jawa. Sometimes, they celebrate marriages last up to three days. Giving gift to the newlyweds are also a common thing for Orang Jawa. They more to help each other rather than during weddings rather than receive a larges sum of money. In their belief, or religion, majority of Java’s Banyumas are Muslims.
However, around 80% of them are “Muslim identity card” (abangan). While the other 20% were devout Muslim (students), who are pious Muslim and lead Islamic teaching seriously. Other than that, some of Java’s Banyumas still believe in animism. They also believe with spirits such as bujungan, jangkrong, and dhemit. Places like grave, mountains, caves and sea it is considered sacred. When they sick or being disturbed by spirits, they will using shaman to help them.
They often hold ceremonies with mantras and offerings to their areas protected by disasters. While the Orang Jawa are usually Sunni Muslims. During wedding ceremonies and circumcision, they perform the jedur, a songs of praise to the Prophet of Muhammad which have been compiled in a book called Silawatan.
They will also perform the kempling, a type of dance to giving praise to Allah during religious occasions. During the performance, they will use tools where made of lambs wool and wood. Before and after the dance, Quran is being read. It takes a group of ten to twenty people to perform it. The kempling performance is a time for people to get together to build ethnic solidarity and unity. They also will share problem to the other members during the performance.
As a conclusion, due to differences in their cultural elements such as language, religion, customs, way of life and so on, we cannot define an ethnic group by their culture. The cultural boundaries do not always correspond with ethnic boundaries. Like Edmund Leach, Political systems of Highland Burma: A study of Kachin Social Structure (1954) said; “the mere fact that two groups of people are of different culture does not necessarily imply – as has nearly always been assumed – that they belong to two quite different social systems (Leach 1954: 17)
Assuming that ethnic groups are cultural groups will fail to address various aspects of ethnic phenomena.” Other than that, Ethnic groups cannot be defined by culture. An ethnic group is a group of people who believe that they share the same ancestry, history, cultural traits such as language and religion which are distinct from other groups.