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Today is Wednesday. But for some Indonesians, it’s not just any Wednesday, it’s “Pon Wednesday”.
Pon Wednesday exists in the Javanese calendar and has been chosen three times by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, to announce his cabinet reshuffles.
Jokowi also chose this particular day to revoke Indonesia’s COVID-19 pandemic status in 2023.
Pon Wednesday is considered a good day according to the Javanese calendar. Jokowi was also born on this day.
Like many former Indonesian presidents, Jokowi is Javanese and experts say Javanese culture plays an important role in political decision-making.
So what is “Pon Wednesday” and why is it so special?
Javanese calendars used to determine ‘neptu’
The Javanese, originating from the island of Java, recognize several calendars.
These include the seven-day Gregorian calendar, Monday through Sunday, and a five-day week called Pasaran.
The Javanese names for the days of the week in Pasaran are Legi, Pahing, Pon, Wage, and Kliwon.
Both calendars are culturally significant and read simultaneously to determine a person’s fate.
Therefore, every day is not just a “Wednesday” or “Pon”, it is a combination, so Pon Wednesday.
Also, each day of the two calendars has been assigned a value, derived from the traditional Javanese bible.
For example, Monday in the Gregorian calendar was given the value four.
In the Pasaran calendar, days also have corresponding values, as shown in the table below.
Javanese people use these calendars to predict the success and suitability of marriages, career, fate, fortune and luck by calculating their “neptu”.
A person’s “neptu” is determined by adding two values: the value assigned to the day of the week you were born on the Gregorian calendar and the corresponding value on the Pasaran calendar.
For example, if you were born on Wednesday, July 26, which corresponds to Pon in the Pasaran calendar this week, your neptu is 7 + 7 = 14.
There are about eight variations of “good” and “bad” neptu, according to Javanese culture researcher Dr. Dhoni Zustiyantoro.
In one variation, the numbers five, 14, 23, and 32 are considered lucky. And four, 13, 22 and 31 are considered unlucky.
Dr. Zustiyantoro said P’s Wednesday was considered a particularly “good day”.
“The birth day that falls on ‘Pon Wednesday’ is thought to be linked to distinctive brain qualities such as tenacity at work, hard-working qualities and responsibility in completing tasks,” he said.
Calendars can also be used to determine if a couple is right for each other.
Dr Zustiyantoro said Javanese couples had gone so far as to annul marriages when they discovered that the value of their neptus added together resulted in an unlucky number.
He said Javanese culture had a long tradition of reading and interpreting signs and calendars.
“The Javanese people, for hundreds of years, have observed the actions and characters of people born on certain days,” he said.
“They then associated them with incidents and phenomena related to the universe.”
How Javanese Culture Impacts Political Decision Making
When Jokowi’s decision-making is viewed through a Javanese cultural lens, including the announcement of some of his cabinet reshuffles on ‘Pon Wednesday’, Dr Zustiyantoro said Jokowi may try to impart ‘Pon Wednesday’ qualities to his subordinates.
“He tries to convey [these qualities] to whoever, who in this context would be his subordinates, the ministers, the coalition and others with whom he wants to work,” he said.
The Javanese people and culture also play a larger role in how Jokowi makes political decisions.
The Indonesian president is a very popular politician among Java voters, who make up around 60% of the national vote.
In the 2019 elections, Jokowi won most of his votes in four provinces in Java.
Jokowi is “very dominant in Java”, Dr. Zustiyantoro said.
“I think he is fully aware of [that] and considers Javanese culture as an important part of a political strategy,” he said.
Dr Sri Margana, a history researcher at Gadjah Mada University, said Jokowi’s Javanese culture was very visible in the way he faced or treated his rivals.
He said Javanese tend to be “anti-conflict”, and Jokowi appointed politicians who were previously against him as his vice presidents during his first and second terms.
Another example, when Jokowi won his second presidential election against another candidate, Prabowo Subianto, and proceeded to his appointment as the country’s defense minister.
“The characteristic of the Javanese people is their flexibility in the face of various attacks from foreign cultures or enemies,” he said, adding that he prefers to create harmony.
Joanes Joko of the presidential personnel office told the ABC that the president’s decisions could be part of a political strategy, but there were also other explanations as to why he announced major decisions on Wednesday.
“Why midweek? Because normally there are a lot of schedules at the beginning of the week, especially Monday and Tuesday, so it’s usually easier to schedule midweek,” Joko said.
However, Mr. Joko agreed that Jokowi’s Javanese culture played a role in his decision-making.
“Everyone has religiosity, even for ourselves, we have certain days to reflect and introspect and other days to start a momentum,” he said.
“The president probably thinks ‘Pon Wednesday’, which was his birthday, could be the impetus for a first step towards something he wants to achieve.”
Indonesian presidents of Javanese descent
Indonesia has had seven presidents since declaring independence nearly 78 years ago, and all but the third president were Javanese.
The third president, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, was part Javanese and came from the province of Sulawesi.
Dr Zustiyantoro said he considered Suharto, who ruled for 32 years, to be “the most Javanese” of all presidents.
“In his various national or even informal speeches, whether on camera, on TV or on the radio, he often used Javanese terms,” Dr Zustiyantoro said.
“He often created terms in Javanese which were incorporated into his ministries, either at the national level or at the district level.”
Gatot Nugroho, director of the General Suharto Memorial Museum in Kemusuk, said he believed all Indonesian presidents after Suharto, including Jokowi, followed in Suharto’s footsteps as leader of the nation.
Mr. Nugroho, whose father served as a corporal under Suharto’s command during the military offensive in Yogyakarta in 1949, witnessed how Javanese culture was deeply embedded in Suharto’s life.
He said that since serving in the army until he became president, Suharto had compiled many Javanese philosophies which were later turned into a book titled Butir-butir Budaya Jawa (Seeds of Javanese Culture) by his daughter.
“The book contains the cultural philosophies of Javanese culture summarized by Suharto, which he learned verbally from the Kyai religious teachers or the kings of Java or all of Nusantara,” Mr Nugroho said.
The book also detailed how Suharto strictly adhered to Javanese calendars and rules when it came to deciding the timing of inaugurations and projects.
Dr Margana said that while Suharto’s government was accused of bad practices like nepotism, nepotism was considered “a common thing” in Javanese culture.
“Nepotism in Javanese feudal culture was actually not considered a crime, although it is in modern economy, democracy and good governance,” he said.
“In Javanese culture, nepotism was seen as a form of kinship, friendship and social solidarity.”
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