04 Agustus 2003
EVERY belief system will be visited by a Gatholoco—a negative figure. In Javanese Islamic tradition, his name comes from a long, controversial narrative poem.
Sometimes he is described as a scrawny man, with curly-hair, a pockmarked face, and squinting eyes. Crooked teeth jut in his small mouth. His ears are huge, he has a deformed chest and bulging belly. His dirty skin looks scaly, and his breath is gasping.
In other words, Gatholoco appears as someone extremely difficult for people to accept. And this is what happens in this tale, when three learned Islamic men from the Pesantren Rejasari meet him on the road to the Islamic school of Cepèkan. They immediately dismiss Gatholoco as something unbelievably ugly, comic, and damnable: all the while the Gatholoco creature keeps his eyes steadily on his opium pipe.
"Astagfirullah!" the kyai exclaim, one of them asking the man's name and origin.
"My name is Gatholoco" he replies calmly and confidently. "I am the Perfect Man, and my home is the center of the universe."
Upon hearing this odd name, the three kyai laugh, and Gatholoco, unperturbed, goes on to explain. "Gatho", he says means "hidden head" (riah kang wadi) and "loco" means "something for rubbing".
So it appears there is an association between this name and the phallus, and the kyai know there is something rude—shameful and dirty in its sexual association—in the expression Gatholoco. The name is not only disgusting, but, as "haram, najis, lan mekruh", something polluting and forbidden. In other words, Gatholoco is one whole contravention: a rejection.
And that is what he does—or this is what the writer of the text does. Our hero proudly states (to himself) that he enjoys debating knowledge, "ingsun seneng bantah ilmu", and he does not shy from debating learning, "ora mundur bantah kawruh". Particularly with the orthodoxy powerful in Muslim circles, epitomized in this text by the kyai of the Islamic schools.
What Gatholoco's own religion is really, is not very clear—and maybe, as a contravention of all that is clean, straight and precise, it has to be unclear. Sometimes he expounds the longing to restore authentic Java-ness, a kind of cultural "nationalism" which often appeared in Javanese discourse up to the mid-20th century.
"The religion of the Prophet Mohammed", he says, "is an Arabic religion". And Java has been destroyed along with its old religion because it is under the sway of foreigners (kabawah mring liyan jinis) …
But elsewhere, the author quotes the Prophet as a force with power over his self: "Pangucap pangélingingsun, pangganda pamiyarsa, déné lésan lawan dhiri, kabèh kagungané Rasulullah". "My speech and memory, my sense of smell and my sight, my sense of taste and my sense of self….All belong to the Prophet." In mystical literature, or suluk, "Mohammad" or "Nur Mohammad" are often referred to as the inner or spiritual force in which man discovers his self longing for union with Allah.
The Gatholoco-like spirit is often seen in mysticism, even in Christian and Jewish history: an urge or desire to turn faith into a totally internal event, once religion has become a kind of institution regulating people's behavior. For "behavior" is merely something external—the one and only thing that can be scrutinized and regulated with laws.
This is also what Gatholoco says to the kyai criticizing him. To Gatholoco, who believes himself superior in knowledge to the learned kyai, praying with careful observance of the determined prayer times is no attitude of obeisance to God, but rather just "obeisance to time" "mung mangéran marang wayah". When Kyai Hasan Besari of Pondok Cepèkan remarks on his guest's non-observance of prayer, Gatholoco deftly rebuts, "My obeisance is perpetual". He bows before God with his breath, his words, not merely when ordered on schedule.
The Gatholoco discourse is difficult to retell. Conversation about mystical experience is problematic in when languaged. When language moves more in the direction of its communicative nature, rather than its expressive nature, then the most inner experiences are inarticulable.
The Javanese sung form of poetry for Gatholoco's journey is actually a form not fitting for what is being expressed here—namely, a debate. Debate assumes that there are shared conventions about the bestowal of meaning. In other words, there is a fixedness that can be pinned down. But in poetry, often words do not follow a subject sovereign in determining meaning; often words move according to poetic "impulse". Poetry contains something mad.
Gatholoco himself is mad and he knows it. But, he says, "ingsun edan urut margi, nunut margané kamulyan". "I am mad along the way, following the path of excellence". "Mad along the way" signals something confused and confusing—not a direction to be reached routinely and steadfastly. But there is something excellent there: a longing for The All Truthful that is not replaced by the regulation-posters. With all their good intentions, the regulators want to save mankind. But they merely replace God with Regulations. And at that moment, all faiths will get a visit from a Gatholoco.