Cultivating modern energy with the perspective of Javanese kids’ song “Lir-ilir”

The modern era is full of excitement distracting young people from their cultural heritages and philosophies inherited from their parents and grandparents. In fact, the young generation is likely to believe the scientific facts and follows contemporary culture that they think is more compatible with the current condition though it is not completely correct.

Culture is still very important as its values are timelessly relevant to today’s situation. The implication of cultural values on a society should be suitable since culture is the product of that society. An undeniable example of a cultural product is language which should be perceived as an identity that reflects the way of thinking and behaving. Since language is a genuine example that reflects cultural advancements, all products that are related to languages should also have a significant reflection that should be timeless and relevant advice even in the mid of modern life.

The ethnic group of Javanese which is the greatest group in Indonesia has been known for its richness of cultural heritage including songs, poets, and other literary pieces. There are countless pieces of evidence yet one that attracts wide Indonesian audiences, mostly the Islamic religious entity, is the children’s song “Lir-Ilir”. Many believed that this song was written by the early Islamic missionary in Java, Sunan Kali Jaga, which was dedicated this song to introducing Islamic belief in the Javanese grassroots community, yet there is still some controversy about the real writer. 

The lyric of “Lir-ilir” is very poetic with rhyming verses. The song is generally using figurative language and was picturing the socio-culture at that moment when most people relied on the farm to sustain themselves. The literal transcription of the song is as follows:

Lir-ilir, tandure wis sumilir  

(Hi! Wake up. The rice sways gently in the breeze.)

Tak ijo royo-royo tak sengguh temanten anyar  

(So green and beautiful just like those newlyweds.)

Cah angon, cah angon, penekna blimbing kuwi

(Hi, you! The shepherd boy, will you climb that bilimbi tree?)

Lunyu-lunyu penekna kanggo mbasuh dodot ira

(Even so hard, climb it up so you can wash your clothes.)

Dodot ira, dodot ira kumitir bedhah ing pinggir

(Oh, dear! Your clothes were torn and split.)

Dondomana jlumatana kanggo seba mengko sore

(Please mend it and stitch it, thus you’ll come before the Lord tonight.)

Mumpung padhang rembulane, mumpung jembar kalangane

(Now that the moon still shines bright in the clear sky)

Yo surak a… surak iyo…

(Let’s cheer and shout yay!)

The interpretation of this song was generally associated with the responsibility of a man to lead his family and community toward better lives, particularly in religious thought. However, it actually preserves a wider interpretation that is still relevant for today’s people. 

Lir-ilir interpretation in the modern context

Lines 1 and 2

Lir-ilir” is a call to wake someone up in the Javanese language. The idea is not only limited to waking up someone from sleeping, but it also has wider implications such us to bring someone to realize something or disenchanting someone from daydreaming.

The next phrase in the first line is “tandure wis sumilir ” that in English can be translated as the plants growing and swaying. The interpretation would be about the new era that has come or the next phase of your life has started. The second line is still in the same entity that is connected to the first. The line mentions the visualization of the growing plants which are green and the author used the imagery of the newlyweds which looks fresh and happy.

Thus, the first and second lines of the song are actually a call to someone to see the world that has been changing. The advanced civilization is interacting with each other as everyone can meet without visual borders using technology. It has been swaying with the newfound socio-culture that we should embrace. Keeping in mind, that doing nothing or ignoring modernization will hold anyone from process and progress. These lines are also a reminder about the importance of discipline character and awareness of the change in surroundings.

Lines 3 and 4

In the third line, the line could be translated as an order to a shepherd boy to climb a bilimbi tree and take its fruits. At that time, bilimbi fruits were used to wash clothes, house hardware, and furniture. The acid substance of the fruit was effective in cleaning any dirt before detergent was invented. In the next line, the song mentions the risk and difficulty of climbing the tree before it mentions the purpose of picking the fruits which are to wash the clothes (or robe as the literal translation of “dodot”). 

Thus, these lines imply a call to young people to decide and pursue their purpose in life. The third and fourth lines of the song also imply a message that the young generation should never give up on pursuing their dreams. Success is about the feeling of achievement and reaching the dream. Someone should be able to decide the stages and handle the risk and challenges before they can really have whatever they want. 

Lines 5 and 6

While the third and fourth lines are about the challenge and effort of attaining a goal, then the fifth and sixth will tell the reader about the possibility of another challenge after the first goal of washing the clothes was accomplished. The literal translation of these lines are presenting the condition that the robe is torn so the song asks the boy to mend it immediately so he can wear it to meet the king tonight.  

In this context, the writer seems to imply that the journey to success is full of challenges. When the first goal is achieved, there is probably another problem that comes before the second goal. However, these lines seem to show the final journey or the last dream that is about to come at the correct moment.

Lines 7 and 8

The last two lines are the conclusion of the entire lines that shows one simple piece of advice. As the lines are telling about the right timing or the opportunity that does not always present every day, the song asks the boy to seize it and celebrate the moment of glory. This line is really interrelated with the previous stanza which mentions the moment to meet the lord (the king). 

In the customs that existed at that time, meeting the lord was such a rare moment for the common people. The song asks the young boy to wake up, get prepared, and tackle every challenge that might appear since that night was the only correct time to meet the lord. 

While in the past this story was associated with the effort in keeping the e faith in the lord (God), in the current time, this song is still relevant to explain the stages for attaining a successful life. The steps could be varied according to the different purposes and goals, yet discipline, struggle, and faith are the basic attitudes toward anything which are very important to grant successful living.

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