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Tumpeng: Mountain-Like Dish to Express Gratitude

by Purnomosidhi on 26/08/09 at 4:48 am

People have many ways to express gratitude. People in Indonesia make mountain-like dish from rice to express it.

Tumpeng is exotic cone-shape rice dish like mountain with its side dishes (vegetables and meat). The rice used in tumpeng is usually white cooked rice but it also frequently uses Nasi Kuning (yellow rice) or Nasi Uduk (rice cooked in coconut milk). People in Java, Bali, Madura usually make Tumpeng to celebrate important event. However, all Indonesians are familiar with Tumpeng.

Tumpeng is served on the tampah (winnowing tray)covered with banana leaves. There is no standard of its side dishes. Side dishes for Tumpeng usually represent sea water animals (fishes ), land animals (for example: chicken or beef), and vegetables (e.g.: soybean,legume, spinach). According to Javanese and Balinese tradition, each side dish has traditional meaning.

Image via Wikipedia

People are homo symbolicum. W.J.T Mitchell used this term in his essay on “representation” to say that man, for many philosophers both ancient and modern, is the “representational animal” (homo symbolicum), the creature whose distinctive character is the creation and manipulation of signs – things that stand for or take the place of something else. They have willing and ability to create symbols. Tumpeng is used as ceremonial dish in important event of life cycle, such as: birth, death, and marriage as well as gratitude expression for success and safety. Tumpeng imitates the mountain shape. It symbolizes bless from God through the universe and everything in it. Tumpeng is a symbol of life ecosystem. Its side dishes symbolize the creatures in universe.

Why does Tumpeng imitate mountain shape?

The philosophy of Tumpeng is related to the geographical condition of Indonesia. Java is fertile island. Java island has about 30 mountains, such as Merapi, Semeru, and Slamet. Denys Lombard, a French anthropologist, states that no beach in Java Island is farther than 100 km from the peak point of a mountain. During my childhood, when I was an kindergarten student, in drawing class, most of my friends often chose the mountain as the theme of pictures which they drew because their imagination were close to the mountain image. Due to the fact that the Javanese people are very familiar with mountains since their chilhood, they make miniature of mountain to express their gratitude. They use rice as main ingredients the miniature because rice is Javanese staple food. Top of the Tumpeng symbolizes God, the Lord of Cosmos.

In gratitude ceremony (syukuran or slametan), after the people pray, the top of Tumpeng is cut and delivered to the most important person. He/she may be the group leader, the oldest person, or the beloved one. Then, all people in the ceremony enjoy the Tumpeng together. With Tumpeng, people express the gratitude to God and appreciate togetherness and harmony.

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Aug 26th, 2009

nice informative article.


Aug 26th, 2009

My friend, Thank you so much for sharing this excellent article that showcases your country’s cultural norms. Like it much.


Aug 26th, 2009

a very interesting post where your cultural norm are well presented


Aug 26th, 2009

Oh, so Tumpeng idea is coming from the mountain in Java?…. I didn’t know that, thank you for sharing!


Aug 26th, 2009

Very informative well written article. Good job

Ruby Hawk

Aug 27th, 2009

That is a beautiful dish. We usually make a cake or pie to express thanks.

Eunice Tan

Sep 30th, 2009

Very interesting writing about ‘tumpeng’. I like you comparing two photos: ‘tumpeng’ & mountain:)

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