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The Strange Familiar

As a child I was always fascinated by the dagger on the wall at my grandparents’ place.  There was something mysterious about it, something dark. If I looked at it long enough, the snake on the handle would stare back at me all evening. It was said that the dagger could be alive.

When I visited my grandparents a few years ago, we spoke about traditional Javanese culture. When talking about batik fabrics, my grandfather ran upstairs to change. He came down in a Javanese outfit and asked me to take a picture. “Wait!” Grandpa said suddenly. He returned upstairs and came back with the blade. I asked him, “What is that thing?” To which he responded, “the Keris”.  

The Keris started to interest me more and more. A year later, I asked my grandfather if I  could photograph the object again. To my surprise, he’d thrown it away. “Why?!” I wondered. He told me that the church leader had said that it wasn’t compatible with the Christian faith, not even as a decoration; that it could have dark powers.

I decided to find my own keris. During the search, I met a dukun, a traditional Javanese healer. From the very first moment, it felt like home. The objects and symbols I came across there gave me a feeling of nostalgia, stemming from my childhood. As a child, I spent half my time with my Javanese grandparents. They took me to all kinds of celebrations with family and friends. Javanese culture was once my reality, but it slowly disappeared. When I asked my mother why her generation isn’t interested in their roots, she replied: “Probably because that history is not so beautiful.”

My story focuses on a search for community and belonging; I want to rediscover an abandoned heritage in the hope of connecting with my sacred past. It’s a story for the next generation, without the tragedy and suffering. By performing rituals according to Kejawen, such as a spiritual cleansing, I find peace and acceptance in where I come from.

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