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  • Gita Maharsi

Tumpeng: Bringing Community and Culture Together

As a vast archipelago spanning from Sabang to Merauke, Indonesia is made up of various ethnic groups that each have their own unique culture. Diverse heritage articles are located in many corners of the island. Such customs can be found in Java, with its tumpeng tradition. Tumpeng is one of the Javanese people’s traditional dishes, and rites exist even nowadays. The word itself is an acronym derived from the saying ‘yen metu kudu mempeng’, meaning that when you set out to do something, make sure that you do it thoroughly. Meanwhile, tumpengan is the noun that has the suffix 'an', so it indicates something to be eaten.


Tumpeng takes the form of a conical shape consisting of either yellow or white rice, served atop a tampah (woven bamboo plate) that is layered by banana leaves. In its surroundings, side dishes such as freshly picked urap, savory fried chicken, softly boiled egg, crispy ground nut, and other variations are always present in the arrangement. There has to be at least seven, or pitu (the word for seven in Javanese), kinds of accompaniments as a symbol of Javanese philosophy. The number pitu comes from the abbreviation of ‘pitulungan’, a teaching that emphasizes social harmony in which every human In a society, people must live side by side, helping one another.


The triangular shape of tumpeng has a long-lasting history, dating back to prehistoric times when mountains were considered a sacred landscape as a dwelling place for the ancestral spirits and a site for conducting sacred rituals. Thus, abundant offerings were made to obtain the spiritual force that governs life. Entering the Hindu-Buddha period, the use of the triangle as a symbol became more significant due to Mahameru mythology, namely a cosmic mountain that acts as the center of the universe. At its peak, there exists a place called Loka, the abode of the gods. This myth was then adapted into the Javanese culture recorded in the script of Tantu Panggelaran.


When Islam came to Nusantara, a process of assimilation occurred. A shift has happened in how people value the tumpeng. Its merit is now based on Islamic teachings. In the serving process, In Tumpeng, it is mandatory for older people to take their portion first. Only after that can the young ones take their fill. This is a tradition that has been consistently passed down from one generation to the next, to ensure that children will always pay proper respect to their elders.


In more modern times, like now, tumpeng is not only served at sacred affairs as a means to express wishes or prayers, but it can be brought out anytime, on any occasion. From the commemoration of independence at Istana Merdeka to the weddings and even birthdays of loved ones, tumpeng prevails as one of the traditions that just can’t be left out. It still holds a dear and close spot in the hearts of not only the Javanese but also the Indonesian people as proof of gratitude and enjoyment. It is truly a dish that brings people and cultures together.

The above article was written by a guest contributor.

About the Contributor

Gita Maharsi Kusumawardhani, born on February 8, 2003, in Depok, is currently pursuing her undergraduate studies in visual arts at Institut Teknologi Bandung.

Gita has a keen focus on art research and exploration, particularly in the realms of art theory, mythology, pre-modern art, and the evolution of artistic expression.


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