Rajah – The Untold Javanese Practice
Traces of the tiger have united Macan Mt. with Lodaja — an art cooperative from Solo, Indonesia. Together we explore the untold Javanese practice "Rajah". Through the aesthetics of Rajah, we bring alive Dutch-Indonesian memories of Macan on garments and art prints. These lucky charms of the vanishing Javan tiger are released in Indonesia and the Netherlands.
Cotton banner with Ali as a tiger, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, 1776 AD.
What is Rajah? This Javanese form of collective memory illustrates the amalgamation of beliefs in Java through calligraphy — from Animism and Hinduism to the entry of Islam. A mixture of cultural symbols is inscribed on talismans (or lucky charms) mainly for good fortune. Islamic forms of Rajah at times illustrate a lion to refer to Ali (the victorious lion of the Creator). As the lion is absent in Indonesia, Ali is usually transformed into a tiger (macan) or leopard (macan tutul).
1️⃣ "Rajah in the shape of Macan"
The practice of Rajah has been a constant subject of debate. Historically, Rajah fortunes and amulets have been inscribed on pieces of paper, the human body (as tattoos) and on leather. This varies from deer and cow skin, but at times also involves tiger skin. Supposedly these skins also possess spiritual power, thus writing Rajah diagrams on them intensifies the virtues it can bring to the holder. This quest for good fortune is paradoxical as Javanese people often view tigers as sacred animals who embody ancestors. Hence tigers are usually addressed as “Mbah” (grandmother and ancestor) or “Kyai” (religious master). The artwork on the T-shirt above visualises this paradox by transforming Rajah scripts into the shape of a Javan tiger. This talismanic tiger is difficult to decipher on purpose. Alike the vanishing Javan tiger, Rajah requires secrecy and sacredness.
2️⃣ "Rajah as a diagram"
Rajah in Java often includes Arabic or Islamic calligraphy as symbolic interpretations of Qur’an verses. This practice remains a puzzle considering that some Muslim communities think that believing in amulets is shirk (that is, accepting other divinities alongside God). Though Rajah makes sense from a Javanese perspective. Rajah talismans produced in Java represent a hybrid form of collective memory through which one can trace the various beliefs that shape Javanese culture.
Our interpretation of a Rajah diagram reflects on this fluidity. It is a synergy between cultural and natural perspectives. In-between Indonesia and the Netherlands. The diagram artwork fuses Javanese, Arabic and English symbols to represent the myths of the mountain. The tiger ("Macan") and leopard ("Macan Tutul") are highlighted in the diagram, since they are the Southeast Asian placeholders of Ali. We praise these animals for protecting the mountainous forests.
3️⃣ "After Years of Tiger"
“After Years of Tiger” looks behind the fences where Rampog Macan was once held in Solo, Central Java. This controversial spectacle (in Dutch known as Rampokan) was a traditional Javanese tiger fight that was usually performed once a year. Rampog Macan, fortunately, no longer takes place. Nowadays, the grass fields of these central gathering squares (known as “alun-alun”) are a place for festivities and night markets. Though the traces of the tiger remain. Below you see the art print “After Years of Tiger”. This artwork juxtaposes the past and contemporary presence of Macan during the alun-alun festivities. Macan is still running
Lodaja and Macan Mountain
"After Years of Tiger", screenprint on 300 gsm paper, Lodaja Lodaja, 2023
Project, design and research: Macan Mountain and Lodaja (Fauzan Abusalam, Faheem Tahira and Praaditya Rakasiwi Sudibyo)