IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 19 | Theme Tourism

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Tourism to Holy Sites and Pilgrimage to Hotel Rooms in Java

By Judith Schlehe

The motivation of both international and domestic tourists is highly complex, stratified and multidimensional. Pilgrimage should be understood to be just as diverse as tourism. Furthermore, the distinction between tourist and religious significance is not always clear. In Java, where the pilgrimage to Mekka is highly important for Moslems, there is also a great and even growing number of people going on pilgrimage to tempat keramat ('holy sites'), for example to graves of religious or national heroes, and to potent places where spirits are believed to dwell or are said to appear. The latter places are usually situated in the natural surroundings, but they can also be in man-made environments. The motives for travelling to tempat keramat near and far are manifold. There are always people in search for spiritual enrichment, but even more visitors pray and make offerings hoping for practical support or material rewards. For instance, pilgrims going to certain places at the south coast of Java, preferably on special nights, often perform the rituals - meditating, praying, making offerings - in order to get help in everyday problems (in business, employment, health, local politics, etc.) from Ratu Kidul, the mythical Queen of the South, or her spirit followers. The spirits are 'modern', they defend the people in the threatening world of labour and politics.
During my field research on the beliefs and rituals connected with Ratu Kidul, besides those serious tempat keramat pilgrims, I observed the emergence of a considerable number of people, often young, coming to these sites for amusement, curiosity, or in search of a love affair. Some of them are like the post-modern tourist or the flâneur characterized by Bauman (1996), without any specific purpose, just strolling around. But still, it is no coincidence that they come to such places on these special nights. Many of them expect some general positive influence on their lives just from being there, even if their behaviour is entirely profane. If they get the chance to pick up some offerings, considered to have already been accepted by the spirits, they hope that this will bring them good luck. However, these two categories - 'serious' pilgrims and 'frivolous' tourists – are not the only sorts of Javanese people at holy sites on special nights. Many pilgrims actually combine different purposes. Going to a tempat keramat in order to make offerings to the spirits is also an opportunity for travelling and leisure, for both and women, and it leaves time for chatting, looking around or buying trifles from vendors who usually show up at these nights. Thus, a considerable number of pilgrims will perform the proper rituals first, and then enjoy their nocturnal jaunt to the beach.
Conversely, it is interesting that not only is tourist behaviour intruding itself into holy places, but popular religion is entering the environment of modern tourism as well. As early as 1966 the Samudra Beach Hotel, a luxury hotel in West Java, permanently reserved a hotel room for Ratu Kidul. To date there are often visitors who stay in this room for meditation or inspiration, and newspapers regularly write about prominent people (such as actors and politicians) who achieved supernatural permission endorse their activities while in this room. A few years ago the Javanese sea goddess was even presented with a tourist bungalow complete with furnishings, garments, and three meals per day on Bali, at the famous Bali Beach hotel. Hence petitioners can visit her there as well - and as a spin-off the hotel receives publicity. Thus, considering the interrelationships between spirituality and tourism, and between belief and commercial goals, here we find an example of the vivid blending of elements of tradition, modernity, and post-modernity.


Judith Schlehe is Professor of European Ethnology at the University of Bremen, Fachbereich 9 - Kulturwissenschaften, P.O.Box 330440, D-28334 Bremen, Germany.

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 19 | Theme Tourism