Alcohol on pre-Islamic Java (800-1500 CE): Cultural, social and ritual uses of an ‘unholy’ brew

Alcohol on pre-Islamic Java (800-1500 CE): Cultural, social and ritual uses of an ‘unholy’ brew by Jirí Jákl, IIAS Lunch Lecture

In this lecture, Jirí Jákl will discuss five selected themes pertaining to the use of alcohol in Java, Indonesia, before 1500 CE. Each theme reflects one of the five chapters of his book project on a sociocultural history of alcohol and its use in pre-Islamic Java, studied in comparative perspective with the discourse on alcohol in medieval India.

Alcohol is extremely controversial in contemporary, Islamic, Java, and was an ambiguous substance even in pre-modern times. Texts in Old Javanese (800 – 1500 CE), in particular religious works and codes of ecclesiastical rules, present intoxicating drinks as forbidden, addictive, and impure. Other sources, including literary prose and poetry, law texts, texts on eroticism, and historical accounts, describe and represent alcohol as arousing, nourishing, and important in a variety of cultural and political contexts.

Apart from analysing Old Javanese and Sanskrit textual discourses on alcohol, additional insight has been gained by contextualising the pre-modern tradition with the uses of alcohol documented from modern Bali, a mainly Hindu society where palm wine and other fermented and distilled drinks continue to be consumed by many, and where alcohol has a great number of ritual uses, some traceable to pre-Islamic Java, some obviously of local pedigree.

In the lecture, Jirí will first briefly introduce an array of fermented and distilled beverages known and consumed in pre-modern Java, and discuss in more detail drinking comportment, vessels, and other paraphernalia associated with the consumption of alcohol. Then, he will give some details on the consumption of alcohol among the gentry, peasants, and inhabitants of urban centres. Adressed next, is the consumption of alcohol among the religious communities, and its use in ritual. Finally, Jirí will adopt a modern perspective and discuss the uses of alcohol in modern Hindu Bali, in secular as well as in ritual contexts.

Jirí Jákl (Palacky University, Olomouc, Czech Republic) is an affiliate research fellow at IIAS from 15 March 2017 – 15 August 2017.

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