pusaka again

John Bowden john.bowden at anu.edu.au
Thu Mar 14 07:45:27 UTC 2002

It has been pointed out to me that the last query I sent on behalf of John Miksic was somewhat lacking in background information. I'll repeat the original question and then add some more background beneath. Please remember to respond directly to John Miksic at seajnm at nus.edu.sg

John B.

Dear friends,
I am an archaeologist with an interest in ideas about the relationship
between people and things.  In my preliminary inquiries, I have not found an
explanation of the origin of the word "pusaka".  If anyone can enlighten me
regarding the probable origin of the word, I would be grateful.

Pusaka is a common word in modern Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa
Melayu.  It does not appear to occur in any pre-Islamic texts from the
region. The word refers in general to objects inherited from ancestors which
are believed to confer protective power.  I used the word as the title for a
book I edited on the collections of the Museum Nasional of Indonesia (Pusaka
Art of Indonesia.  Singapore: Archipelago Press 1992.	
[French edition:  Pusaka Arts d'Indonésie,  Singapore: Les Éditions du
Pacifique, 1994, ISBN 2-87868-015-7]
[Dutch edition:  Pusaka: Indonesische Kunstschatten.  Alphen aan den Rijn:
Tripolis, 1994.  ISBN 90-61130729-2]).

Following is John Miksic's translation of a Dutch entry on the word in the Encyclopedie van Nederlandsch-Indie, and an allied entry on the subject of royal regalia (royal pusaka/loosely glossable as "heirlooms", but with much more specific cultural associations). (Anyone not interested in this question can stop reading now!)

Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch-Indie vol. 3, s.v. "Poesaka":
[trans. by JNM]

	This name throughout most of the archipelago is generally understood to mean holy or benefit-bearing heirlooms, which are treated with great respect and often worshipped with offerings, mostly of incense or food.  This worship is an expression of fetishism, and a pusaka is then also actually a fetish, to which the soul or spirit of people from long ago is believed to be connected permanently or temporarily, and who can be counted for on for assistance and aid in exchange for offerings and worship.  Thus it follows that the most mixed objects, things of all sorts, can be pusaka and that is indeed the case.  Both a manuscript and a stone, a lock of hair or a weapon, a cloth or a domestic item can be found as pusaka.
	Not all pusakas contain similar beneficial power; most have only insignificant importance for the owner and his descendants, but there are also those which are denoted as patron saint, as helper in sickness and need, as fulfiller of wishes and desires.  If the normal pusaka is defined as family fetish, these could be called folk-fetishes.  Examples of the latter are the bowls and tempayan, jawets or balangas (earthen pots, see POTTEN) of the Dayak, the barang pamanahan of the Malays, the pinggan pasu (holy bowls) of the Batak, as well as the preceding, objects of some age, of uncertain origin, and also the mastikas or bezoar stones.
	Pusakas, to which people ascribe great beneficial power, are usually carefully put away usually in the upper part of the house, in a small attic and not brought out without many solemn-nities on special occasions or whenever their assistance is to be requested on a particular occasion.  Usually they are set in water or covered with water, and that water is used to sprinkle the fields to ensure a good harvest, to bathe the sick in order to restore them and for the healthy as a means of keeping them well. But also setting down the beneficial object, whichever kind it may be, or when it touches the sick person, is done with great respect, usually accompanied by an offering of incense.
	The royal regalia (which see), kabesaran,  belong to the most important pusakas.  They are handed from king to king and are not simply considered as the patron saints of the kings, but possession of them is thought to be connected as it were to the complete exercise of royal dignity. Nevertheless there are instances in which the rights of the kings were recognized without the regalia.  Also to the pusakas belong the most mixed objects; the most common are weapons, such as krisses, spears and swords, in general objects with which earlier kings were in close contact.  That also these pusakas obtain their value from being thought of as relics inhabited by the souls of those kings, appears primarily from the fact that among them are found pieces of clothing worn by the kings, even parts of the body, such as hair from the head, or the placenta of an earlier king, wrapped in his hair.
	This idea is always connected to pusaka:  transfer from the earlier line of descent to the present, and although the word is used in the general meaning of inherited object, still not every-thing which is inherited is pusaka in the sense intended here, nevertheless it can become that through one set of circumstances or another.  On Java the normal inheritance portion is not called pusaka, but warisan.  The Malay of Sumatra's west coast on the other hand contrasts it with harta pencarian: the objects one obtained oneself (see Menangkabauers, Dl. II, bl. 490), harta pusaka all undivided inheritance, such as fields, forests, houses, cattle, weapons, valuabales, all that which is under the supervision of the head of the family, and is intended for the sustenance of its members.  The same idea of luck bringing by acts of the spirits of the ancestors who live therein, probably lies at the base of this, but at present the Malays make a firm distinction between the harta pusaka in !
general and a pusaka as a fetish.
	Also the hereditary title of the Menangkabau Malays, of which e.g. each family has one, which is transferred from the youngest brother to the oldest sister's son, is called galar pusaka.

Rijkssieradan, ornamenten.  (p. 474-475)
[trans. JNM]

	This is how one denotes the objects of very miscellaneous nature, which all the peoples of the Archipelago describe as the patron saints of their kings, the symbols of their might, and which are attended by exceptional respect.
	They distinguish a special category - the most important - of pusakas, which are inhabited by the souls of the dead, and the heirlooms which are handled with due care.  These pusakas, which are the inheritance of the king, men believe that they were used by an earlier king or or, as parts of the body etc. originate from him and now, inhabited by his soul, are the mighty councillors of the present ruler.  Just like the honoring of the usual pusakas is also that of the Royal Regalia consequence of the animism deeply rooted in all peoples of the Archipelago.  (Cf. also: Pusaka and Heidendom).  They are thus in the first place of great weight as beneficial protectors of the royal family itself, but they are in no less measure for its subjects, who then do not fail to come and request help and advice on all sorts of occa-sions of course after having made offerings to the souls of the deceased rulers to make them well-disposed to themselves.  Be-cause they are also the symbols of!
 the might of the kings, often the simple possession of the Royal Regalia of a certain small state has been enough to have his authority acknowledged, e.g. in the Toraja calns along the lake of Posso acknowledged the Datu of Luwu as their master because he possessed some objects which in ancient times must have belonged to a ruler of Posso.  Among the Makassarese and Buginese of Celebes the respect for these heir-looms is so great that usurpers often tried above all to get their hands on them, while on the other hand frequently just the display of holy objects was enough to put down disorder and overcome resistance, e.g. in the beginning of the 19th century occurred several times in the kingdom of Gorontalo.  There are rare examples of the recognition of the authority of a ruler who did not hae possession of the Royal Regaia, such as in the case of Goa, whose royal pusakas were in the hands of Boni, which they had to submit to the English in the war of 1814 and 1815.
	In Malay the Royal Regalia are called kabesaran, from besar, big, which thus means: "greatness".  On Sumatra, just like the normal pusakas, they are kept in a small attic in the house of the king, usually covered with a colored cloth, and from which they are brought out only with ceremonies, such as the raising of banners and the burning of incense.
	On Java they bear the name of upo coro, and the individual objects mostly have their own name and are spoken of, especially in the Princely Territories, as "kyai".  Especially on Java and Madura, but also in Palembang and for a few kings of Celebes their prevailed the custom that these objects, or at least some of them, were carried by male or female followers whenever the king appeared in public.  The female berers in the Princely Territories were called keparak.
	On Celebes the royal pusakas were called kalompowang by the Makassarese, and rajang by the Bugis, both of similar meaning as the kabesaran of the Malays (from the root words lompo and raja which mean big).  These peoples distinguish among the Royal regalia the gaukang, the most powerful among those of each small kingdom, and that said to be animated by the founder of them.  In these territories the Europeans call the Royal Regalia ornaments.  They were kept in the dwellings of the kings, hung with yellow colored cloths, in small rooms, some also inside nicely carved wooden chests, and special priestesses, called pinati, designated for their service, bring at set times offerings of rice and sirih to the holy objects while incense is burned and songs are sung.  Very often in the small rooms are kept burning some candles, called kanjoli.  Also on Celebes the subjects of the king bring to the ornaments very many offerings, some even consisting of karbows or goats, in order to o!
btain health for the sick, fertil-ity to the fields, or another sort of assistance.  How great is the respect for these objects here appears from the fact that earlier rebellions against the royal authority lost the fertility of their fields, which were ornament fields, whil they themselves became ornament slaves, ata kalompowang, and that i.a. also slaves could be protected against the opression of their masters by acknowledging that they wanted to become slaves of the orna-ments.  One still finds many ornament fields there, the harvest of which is for the use of the ruler.
	Especially in south Celebes, when great epidemics occur, ornament fests are often held, in which the Royal regalia, laid under a canopy and flanked by priestesses and armed guards, in ritual procession is raised up and born round a shrine in which men, to avert evil spirits, offer a monkey, a pig, an iguana and a turtle.
	Also to heal the sick, the holy objects were washed with water, which is then drunk, and in Rejang existed the custom of taking oaths on the regalia of the village chiefs and drinking water in which they were first rinsed.  The objects which could be Royal Regalia consisted of a very varied group.  IN the first place are found among them all sorts of weapons:  krisses, spears, shields, shirts of armor, old guns, etc., the power of which was usually ascribed to the fact that they made the bearer invulnerable and invincible.  Further: pieces of clothing, of which men related that they only fit the true ruler, sirih boxes, cuspidors, clay and metal pots, walking sticks with gold or silver knobs, opium pipes, richly decorated muilen [?] etc, objects intended for the use of the ruler, but also: gold statues which represented mythical beings, for example in Yogyakarta, Surakarta and Bantam, or all sorts of wonderfully shaped or colored pieces of stone or wood, such as the gaukang!
s on Celebes, or mustikas, small stones found in the bodies of animals, often on Sumatra, or some parts of bodies of earlier rulers. Finally one finds in some places old pieces of cannon, which are respect-ed as Royal Regalia, such as at Surakarta, where the principal one bears the name kyai satomi, at Batavia where one calls it kyai satomo, describing it as animated by the husband of the woman who lives in the former; it is especially respected by childless women, for one finds a representation on it which is reminiscent of phallus worship, at bantam and in several other places.
	The payongs of the Javanese chiefs, the cloths and flags of the many chiefs of the outer possessions, which are possessed with the permission of the Government and which are not surround-ed with a religious aura, must not be counted among the real Royal regalia, but rather have the character of marks of submis-sion (see Onderscheidingen).
	Literature:  G.A. Wilken, Het animisme bij de volken v.d. Ind. Archipel, Ind. Gids 1884, II, p. 56; A.L. van Hasselt, Volksbeschrijving v. Midden-Sumatra, p. 86; Marsden, The history of Sumatra, p. 203; J.J. de Hollander, Handleiding, I, p. 593; P.J. Veth, Java (1st ed), III, p. 660; P.J. Kooreman, De feite-lijke toestand in het gouvernementsgebied van Celebes enonderhoo-righeden, Ind. Gids 1883, I, p. 174, II, p. 138; Newbold, Politi-cal and statistical account of the British Settlements in the Straits of Malacca, II, p. 193; L Groneman, Javaansche rangen en pajoengs, Tijkds. Ind. Aardr. Gen. afl. IV, p. 1; G.J. Harrebo-mee, Een ornamentenkist van Gantarang, Med. ned. Zend. GEn. 19th Jrg. p. 344; Notul Bat Gen 1877, p. vi, 1887, p. xxiii

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