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Meeting Javanese People in Thailand

Javanese people are the majority ethnic group in Indonesia, and therefore it is not surprising that many Javanese are found anywhere in the Indonesian archipelago. For a long time, people also know very well that Javanese people are also found in Peninsular Malaysia, and they have been in Malaysia from the beginning. Javanese migration to this country occurred during the Dutch colonial period. They are concentrated in Perak, Johor, Selangor in Kedah, even in Kuala Lumpur. Javanese people are also found in Suriname in South America. In Singapore, about 50%-60% of its Malay population has some degree of Javanese ancestry.

However, not everyone in Indonesia is aware of the presence of Javanese in Thailand. In February 2013 A reporter detik.com – the widely read e-news portal was one of the Indonesian journalists who joined a program called Media Familiarization to Thailand. They visited ‘Kampong Java’ in downtown Bangkok. He was amazed when a Thai Javanese named Slamet Dariyat (Slamet is a common Javanese name for humans) greeted him and said (in Javanese) I am a native Thai. My father is from Kendal (Central Java). He welcomed Indonesian journalists to the veranda of a mosque in Bangkok’s Sathorn area.

If we go to Sathorn area by BTS or Bangkok Mass Transit System to Surasak for one trip, and we can find a city of Javanese descent in Bangkok. There are about 3,000 Javanese in this area and most of them are of the second, third and fourth generations, and most of them are Muslims. They live on a plot of land given by the Kingdom of Thailand.

These Javanese originally came to Thailand after King Chulalongkorn’s visit to Java in 1896. At that time His Majesty the King requested help from the Kings of Java to send skilled carpenters and carvers from Java to build the buildings of the new Kingdom. His Royal Highness provided a place to live for them. There is no clear information yet as to why they did not return to Indonesia. However, some people say that they prefer to stay in Thailand because of the colonial era in Indonesia at that time.

Irfan Dahlan, the son of Kiai Haji Ahmad Dahlan – the founding father of Muhammadiyah (indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization) in 1924 was in Pakistan to study but was unable to return to Indonesia, and finally decided to stay in Thailand instead and he joined other Javanese descendants to live in Kampong Java in Bangkok. He once went to Java when Soekarno the first President of Indonesia awarded the National Hero medal to his parents. Marifah Dahlan, the daughter of Irfan Dahlan – who also lives in Kampong Java, told Indonesian reporters that she and her family continued to communicate with her family in Kauman Yogyakarta (her grandfather founded Muhammadiyah in kauman neighborhood – a Muslim neighborhood near the palace of the King of Yogyakarta).

Most of the Thai descendants of Indonesia speak Thai as they are now Thai citizens. However, they still preserve the cultural values of Javanese and Muslims in Thailand.  So, this is an amazing story isn’t it? And by knowing it we are more aware that we are in the ASEAN community not only neighbors but we are brothers.