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Mudik and Our Cultural Wisdom

The current social media buzz surrounds the term ‘mudik’ (homecoming) for Eid al-Fitr 2024. If we consult the Great Indonesian Dictionary (KBBI), we’ll find the word ‘mudik.’ ‘Mudik’ is a verb. The first meaning is to return to the hinterland or the headwaters of a river. Secondly, it refers to “going back to the hometown” and is an informal verb or not standard language. KBBI equates ‘mudik’ with ‘pulang kampung’ (going back to the hometown).

Every year, Indonesian society often encounters and uses the expression ‘mudik Lebaran,’ a term that refers to the tradition and social identity of the community. Mudik can be described as the journey of people who seek fortune in the city to return to their hometown. This annual tradition is a social phenomenon that reflects layers of culture, values, and collective identities formed within society. From a cultural perspective, ‘mudik Lebaran’ is understood as a manifestation of a distinctive concept and can be interpreted as a cultural space within Indonesian society. Eid celebrations are both religious rituals and significant cultural events that are eagerly awaited and respected and contain cultural significance in the social reality of Indonesian culture.

As a cultural event, mudik is a construction of rituals and traditions that shape the collective identity of its supporting community. The long and heroic journey of the mudik travelers from various cities to return to their hometowns goes beyond mere physical movement and the presence of where they are. This cultural event becomes like a romantic, dramatic ritual that strengthens the emotional and social bonds between mudik travelers and their families in their hometowns.

This cultural event depicts the complexity of social structures in Indonesian society. People from various social and economic backgrounds come together in the same experience, cultural identity, and cultural solidarity that they build and long for. The struggles and fatigue of the journey seem to vanish upon arriving at their hometowns. To reach their hometowns, mudik travelers also use various modes of transportation according to their abilities and needs, from motorcycles, private cars, and public transport (buses, trains, and boats) to airplanes.

In “The Interpretation of Cultures” (1973), Clifford Geertz explains the symbolic meanings in cultural practices. Geertz emphasizes the importance of understanding cultural practices in local contexts. Regarding the phenomenon of mudik Lebaran, Geertz’s thoughts on symbolic meanings in cultural practices can provide profound insights. He highlights that cultural practices are not merely physical actions but also carry rich and complex meanings for individuals and the communities where these cultural practices take place. Mudik travelers are not just undertaking a physical journey from one place to another but participating in a ritual rich with social and cultural significance.

In this cultural event, it is essential to understand the symbolic meanings behind actions such as visiting relatives, seeking forgiveness, and celebrating Eid al-Fitr in their hometowns. Furthermore, Geertz also emphasizes the local context in understanding cultural practices. The cultural practices mean we must understand how these traditions are uniquely carried out in various regions of Indonesia.

By understanding Geertz’s perspective on symbolic meanings and local contexts in cultural practices, we can see how mudik travelers are not merely related to physical or practical needs. Eid contains deep social, cultural, and spiritual meanings for Indonesian society. Mudik travelers long for Eid prayers in the village where they grew up, exchanging greetings, visiting graves, enjoying ketupat and opor, and reminiscing about memories.

The Javanese people also recognize the term tetirah. This Javanese term has entered the KBBI as one of its words. Tetirah is one of the concepts of local wisdom (local genius) reflecting the cultural identity of the Javanese people. Tetirah is a verb that expresses an action, existence, experience, or other dynamic meanings. Javanese people who work and live in cities still have a connection with their hometowns but cannot go back anytime they want. For them, the village is like an imaginative door that does not easily open and close at any time. This imaginative door has a schedule of when city people can enter and be welcomed like honored family members, such as during Eid al-Fitr, nyadran (ritual visit to ancestral graves), or village almsgiving. For city people, mudik during Eid al-Fitr is often used as a moment for a brief tetirah. The Javanese interpret Eid as a moment of “returning to zero point.”

Author: Dr. Sukarjo Waluyo, S.S., M.Hum. (Chair of the Indonesian Literature Department, Faculty of Humanities, Diponegoro University)

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