One of the traditions that can serve as a teacher for learning how to organize diverse life is the “Slametan,” which is particularly popular among rural communities. While not exactly the same, it’s similar to a feast but conceptually distinct from charity.
Clifford Geertz depicted, and we ourselves may have often participated in, that the Slametan or feast follows a consistent pattern: a group of people gathers in a house (usually in the living room or guest area), sitting in a circle facing each other with offerings in the center. They include neighbors, relatives, colleagues, and family members, all of whom are men. Diverse individuals come together at a place to weave a “consensus,” or at least that’s what it appears to be from the outside.
No prominent differences are observed among them; farmers, laborers, employees, officials, organizational leaders, politicians, traders, entrepreneurs, devout individuals, less devout individuals, old, and young. They possess equal rights and recognition. If a religious leader, prayer leader, or kiai has unique blessings or, in some places, is given an envelope containing money, it’s because they are leading the ceremony and prayers, not due to any particular socio-cultural status.
“In every Slametan, each person is treated equally. The result is that no one feels different from the others, no one feels superior to the others, and no one desires to isolate themselves from the others,” Geertz expresses in “Santri, Abangan, and Priyayi.”
Furthermore, in a concise yet captivating manner, Andrew Betty (in “Variasi Agama di Jawa”) describes the Slametan as a “totality,” a communal ritual that maintains the acceptance of differences.
The enchantment of this “totality” is that, even as a communal event, it fails to define the community explicitly. In the Slametan, everyone agrees, but there is no assurance that everyone agrees on every part of it.