Komber and Simin are best friends who enjoy each other's company for years. They have been friends since childhood and seem unseparated by any means. They would spend important moments together in most occasions. Not a day passes without them being unitedly that people say they resemble "tumbu oleh tutup". 

When two persons or objects seem unseparable, they are tumbu oleh tutup.  

Tumbu is a woven bamboo container that is designed in two pieces with one being the container and the other as the cover. When placed together, tumbu can hold objects normally found in the village. Traditionally vilalgers use tumbu to contain nasi berkat or rice package presented in an important feast. Tumbu is then used to carry fresh meat during Idul Adha as well as to keep herbs and spices for later use.


When two people or two objects are said to be like tumbu oleh tutup, the expression indicates that the two supplement each other. It is like when two lovers who have different characters but complete any flaws. It's not necessarily lovers, but any pairs that help sustain each other that other people see an impossibility of separation.

Are you and your best friend or couple like tumbu oleh tutup?

Another Javanese expression that has similar meaning to obah, mamah is ubet, ngliwet. Not only are they similar in meaning, but also presented in ngoko language. Ngoko is the lowest level of expression in the three degrees of politeness in Javanese. Ngoko is the most widely used by peers or people with no social attributes that require veneration.

Ubet literally means to exert oneself, to make every possible effort that matters. The word involves hard work to the level one can no longer imagine. Ngliwet means to cook some rice simply with boiling it in water instead of steaming it. While the result is not exactly the same, ngliwet may be the most popular as it does not need further process or energy.

Getting more relevant

Cooked rice by liwet is always special among Javenese and this constitutes energy and optimism. 

During the pandemic ubet, ngliwet has become even more relevant. It is probably difficult to make a living today but one should be assured that one million opportunities are available out there. Economy may be collapsing, as shown by imminent recession, but we cannot give in without doing our best. More people are laid off and forced to do odd jobs in order to feed their family. Competition is getting more fiercer while needs remain unchanged. 

However, please do not underestimate yourself since you were born a victor and will always find a way out of crisis. The Javanese expression sometimes appear in different version with sopo preceding the word ubet: Sopo ubet, ngliwet!. The addition, however, does not change the fundamental meaning of the expression as sopo ubet, ngliwet means he who ubets, ngliwet

Still another version appears as ora ubet, ora ngliwet that clearly states: he who doesn't ubet won't be able to ngliwet! The three versions thus have similar meaning in essence. They strongly imply that hard work (and optimism) is of vital importance. The words signify how mindset is actually a series of complex attitude. Javanese people have long recognized that there's always a way when you have a will, as evidently imprinted by ubet, ngliwet.

The pandemic has been going for seven months now, particularly here in Indonesia. The deathly virus has significantly impacted both health and economic sector of global scale. Not only have people been distressed at their endangered wellness but also by the likely collapsing economy. Making money is getting more difficult today. Things have been spinning around fugazi, making everyone to be uncertain of future that they make ends meet even more onerously.

However, people in Javanese villages have not seemed to be concerned about the hazardous virus as they have something to cling on. It is neither material belonging nor a matter of physical presence. It is a belief that is nurtured from a popular catchphrase. Obah, mamah is a prevalent expression among Javanese as it constitutes spiritual strength and confidence.

Obah, mamah literally means to move, to chew, that indicates a physical activity. Javanese believe that in times of crisis opportunities are still numerous. We live in a bountiful earth and so there's always a reason to live in great optimism. As long as we're willing to act and do something that exert ourselves -- coupled with determination -- we'll certainly find something to eat (mamah).

While threatening our life viciously, the pandemic has undoubtedly presented a major economic problem to us. Physical distancing and limited interaction have no wonder become hindrance that keeps economic activities jammed. This leads to several consequences that are somehow unparalleled to what we have faced before, with or without serious anticipation. 

So whenever you find yourself in impossible situations, be assured there's always a way to elevate your life with one condition: you must coerce (obah) yourself into doing whatever it takes to allow you to eat (mamah), for you and your family.  

Ojo geme-geme is used to imply that someone needs to be cautious as well as preserve great care in handling something -- a job or a task. The sentence is likely to indicate a soft warning or prevention against potential danger or mishap.
Ojo geme-geme implies impending threat. 
One day you were teasing a friend of yours who happens to be a daughter of a very important person. You made fun of her not knowing that agonizing consequences are imminent as her dad typically avenges what one does to his daughter. He takes mockery very seriously even if you did it out of mere fun.
"Ojo geme-geme, koen!" One of your buddies strongly told you, reminding that you are likely to experience something bad due to your action to the girl. You may be entitled to punishment you've never anticipated. That's what ojo geme-geme is relevant.
The expression conveys a serious message that you can't underestimate what you have done. Beware of what you're doing as it may lead you to troubles. Next time you're about to commit something bad, be alert and please ojo geme-geme!

The situation in our neighborhood has recently been a complete chaos. Neighbors in my block have seemed so easy to be instigated into hostility. Hostile remarks were made during a long chat on the local WhatsApp Group a day ago.

The aura of enmity was obvious when they were chatting. One member suggested another turn the lamp on just in front of her house during the night. The host refused to do so arguing the recently installed lamp post has outshone hers. This way she saw no urgency of keeping the light on at nights. She would do as told only if the new lamp be turned off.

One who tends to charge emotions aggressively will find hunger for more attacks. 

This small request and light topic led to a harsh conversation that drew everyone into antagonism. A tiny matter that should be resolved by contacting the neighborhood chief was finally morphing into a terrible bedlam no one could bear. My wife remained calm as usual, witnessing the havoc going on. It was really unnecessary.

The one refusing to turn off her light was reprimanded with words and stickers containing fierce censure. When reading how the chat was exchanged, I barely believed it took place in a Javanese setting where social civility is normally maintained. It was totally abusive and those people lambasting were toxic at its worst.

"Menungso taek!" was contained in a sticker addressed to her. She's literally considered a piece of turd. This means the woman who sent the sticker doesn't respect her as compared to a stinking piece of human feces. 

This reminds me of a Javanese idiom, entek ngamek kurang golek. The clause literally means getting more when out of stock and seeking more when lack of supplies. The people caviling in the chat have seemed to know every word of agony to make her suffer. They attacked aggressively using every possible expression to undermine her personality.

She eventually left the group after telling the reason. That she no longer benefits from the group that tends to disgrace others instead of empowering with meaningful messages. Entek ngamek kurang golek, then, that's when one lashes out someone else without giving him/her the opportunity to defend due to aggressively orchestrated argument of unfounded suspicions.

What a terrible conversation -- and neighborhood after all!     

Becicik ketitik, ala ketara is a very famous idiom in Javanese and frequently used in many situations including the present time. The idiomatic expression never cease to be popular due to their significance and powerful message it conveys. To understand what it contains, let us read the following story -- a true one.

The village secretary in where my mom lives has long seemed incapable of doing his job. Not only is he irresponsible for what he's assigned to, all he has always cared about is making money outside his main task. Villagers have grown furious to find him leaving his office continuously that leads to important issues unattended.

Truth will find its way.

They are involuntarily driven to compare the village officer with my father who previously held the post. They say my dad was a more reliable person and may be a paragon of virtue in what he is doing. From my point of view, I need to tell that my dad was kinda extreme when carrying out his job. He seemed to have cared more about local villagers than his own family. He tended to spend more time with his people than with us at home.

However, villagers do not have the guts to confront the incapable secretary. They opt for keeping it a public secret and to some degree submit it to God for him to handle. And time speaks up. The despotic was finally doomed. He was met with inevitable adversary. 

One sunny day, a wedding feast was held in a villager's house. The village secretary attended the occasion as well. Out of the blue, a man approached him and scolded him for presumably having an affair with the man's wife. The village officer denied and rushed to attack the man complaining. 

To make story short, the village secretary was then questioned in the sub-district police station. He had to lose a lot of money during the process including his beloved automobile. Now that he has no more time to spend on making money in the port like usual. He is assigned to a new post in the sub-district center which is more strict and disciplined. He has no choice but to keep attending the new position whereas he may be unable to enjoy it.

In Javanese the idiom becik ketitik, ala ketara is an ideal portrayal of what has happened to the village officer. The idiom clearly means that what is true shall be true and the bad will appear the way it is. No matter how hard we're trying to conceal lies and deception, it's only a matter of time before everything is made ostensible. 

This way we need to be true to ourselves and remain just in what we do regardless of what role we are playing. Do you have a similar idiom of your native language?      


I WAS BUT shocked when a fellow member of NBC (Nasi Bungkus Community) told me one Friday morning, "Masbro, sampean ketiban sampur ya. Dadi ketua panitia kurban." This is how her sentence would sound in English, "Ya bro, you're ketiban sampur. You've been appointed to be the head committee of kurban."

Our short conversation reminds me of a long forgotten idiom in Javanese. Ketiban sampur is a Javanese idiomatic expression that denotes a condition when someone is assigned to carry particular responsibility which he does not desire or expect. 

The origin of ketiban sampur 

Ketiban sampur is derived from a dance party known as tayub. The phrase is composed of two main words: ketiban and sampur. Ketiban indicates an unexpected windfall whereas sampur refers to the shawl worn by female dancers in the tayub. The narrow and long shawl is normally placed over their shoulders or tied to their hips when dancing.
Accompanied by traditional instrument called gamelan, the dancers will be dancing through the party and randomly pick a male guest to join them. The selection is made by placing a colorful shawl around his neck. The one receiving the shawl is called ketiban sampur as he has no idea he'll be selected.

Whenever you are assigned to something you must handle or a duty to complete but you actually never expect it, then you are ketiban sampur. While you can typically deny it, completing the task will be of great value.