As with most cultures, traditions can be traced back to a mixture of religious and cultural sources. The Javanese tradition of the Mitoni Ceremony is one of these. Although based on a Hindu ceremony, it has survived and been adopted by those of the Muslim and Christian faiths as a Javanese cultural tradition rather than a religious one. It is a beautiful event layered in symbolism and I was thrilled to be able to attend one today.
I belong to the Indonesian Heritage Society and the daughter-in-law of one of our members is now seven months pregnant. She arranged for us to be able to join her son and daughter-in-law in this very old Javanese ceremony.
Also known as the Seven-Month Ceremony, it is performed when a woman who is pregnant with her first child reaches the seventh month of her pregnancy. It is thought that at this time the baby’s chance of survival is high and it is a safe time to celebrate. Gifts are not given to an expectant mother before this time. The ceremony is only done with the first born child. The husband and wife are joined by their families for this ceremony. Usually it is held at the mother-to-be’s parents house and is done in the morning before noon as the rising sun is a good omen for their lives rising and moving upward. It is only done for the first child because this will be the one that binds the two families by blood rather than marriage as they will share the same grandchild.
First the expecting parents kneel in front of their parents or elders and ask for their blessings. This can be done with prayer, poem, songs, or simply words. I felt myself tearing up watching the mothers bless the soon-to-be parents. It was so sweet. After the blessing the families and guests process to the backyard pool for the next blessing. They have a platform that is covered in a mat made from old and new coconut leaves, green and yellow, symbolizing ying and yang. Also on the platform was an umbrella and a large bowl of water with flowers inside. They use seven different flowers and the water comes from seven different sources.(Ideally it would come from seven different springs in the area but this is the city and seven different people brought water from their houses for this part.) There was a scoop made from a coconut shell. They use a coconut because everything from a coconut tree is useful and it is in hopes that the baby will be a useful person.
There are many special offerings around and all have meaning. Some are meant to honor the ancestors. There was a bowl of foods that came from under the ground (potatoes and nuts) and above the ground (bananas and pineapple). This represents the harmony with nature and is to appease the spirits below the earth and above the earth. (Religious people accept this as a cultural tradition rather than a belief.)
The mother-to-be sat on a chair covered in leaves. The types of leaves all have significance. She wore a “shawl” woven of melati flowers. She was blessed by seven people, usually it starts with her grandfather and grandmother. They were not there so her mother, mother-in-law and several honored woman from good marriages took turns offering blessings and pouring the water over her. Last her husband came and offered his blessings as well. They were such a cute couple.
After she had a chance to dry off we all came back inside. Then they dressed her in seven different batik sarongs, one at a time. Each one has special meaning and wishes for the baby. Some of the meanings were for the family to be full of love, for the baby to have a good position and be a role model in society, prosperity, many children, and that the parents will always guide the child. As each is put on the guests are asked if this is the one and to each we replied “No” until the last one. Then they piled all the sarongs on the floor and had her sit on them and they called it “hatching”.
At this time they took a string made from seven different colored string and had the husband cut it to show that he was going to take care of the family. They wrapped another piece of material around her and the husband dropped an egg through it as a sign of easy birth. Then the mother-in-law dropped a coconut through the material and the mother caught it to symbolize that the two families will help take care of the child. The coconut was painted with two Javanese goddesses that represent good luck. With all of the explaining going on the mother wasn’t paying attention and didn’t catch the coconut the first time. I am not sure what that means but they did it again and everyone was happy. Then the husband takes the coconut and cuts it with a sword. If the water inside shoots up then it will be a boy. Looks like baby blue is in their future!
After all of this there is food served, starting with honored guests. There is meaning in the display of the seven cones of rice. The number seven is significant as it is the seventh month. Finally there are two desserts offered. One is fruit salad made of seven fruits that represent the colors of their lives and a sweet drink made from coconut, brown sugar, and green rice pudding that symbolizes that the baby will be pure (white of the coconut) and have a sweet life (brown sugar) and will be fertile (green). The dessert is served by the mother-to-be with her husband standing with her holding an umbrella over her head. This symbolizes that he will care for her and their family and protect them.
Needless to say, it was awesome. The symbolism and the old traditions are really interesting. Much different than the baby showers I have attended in the U.S. It is almost an extension of their marriage ceremony. I was very glad that I was able to go.