Mon, 04 Sep 2000

Yogyakarta Palace employees do not work for the money

Text and photos by Tarko Sudiarno

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Shining coins are spread out in front of 83- year-old Prawirodini. The old man looks fondly at the coins, collected over many years.

Assisted by his children and grandchildren, he piled up the coins one by one and counted them. It came to Rp 57,300. The money was not much, but for the man's big family the value of the coins was much more than their actual sum, since he earned the money as one of Yogyakarta Palace's employees, or abdi dalem.

Proudly, Prawirodini distributed the money to his entire family, hoping they would treat it as a charm that would give them prosperity and good fortune.

After serving as an apprentice abdi dalem at the palace for seven years, Prawirodini just received his promotion. He is no longer an apprentice, but now has been given the responsibilities of a tenured employee.

During these seven years, he saved his salary from the palace. He only recently gave the money to his family during a thanksgiving ceremony at his house in Umbulharjo to celebrate his promotion.

"My salary has been raised to Rp 3,300 a month. I have to work twice a week," Prawirodini said.

He also plans to save his new salary. He explained that most abdi dalem saved their salaries because they believed the palace's gift would bless them.

Satisfaction and blessings seem to be the main rewards people such as Prawirodini get from their jobs at the palace.

Currently, there are some 2,500 abdi dalem serving in the palace alone. They have various ranks and tasks, such as gardeners, guards and caretakers of art works.

The number of abdi dalem in the palace does not include some 5,000 abdi dalem trah kaprajan, or local government civil servants who work voluntarily for the palace; and 1,600 abdi dalem trah kaprajuritan, or the palace's military force, whose main duty is to take part in a parade held three times a year during the Gerebeg Maulud, Gerebek Syawal and Gerebeg Besar celebrations.

Although the abdi dalem are only paid a small sum of money, that does not mean they work only when they want to. In fact, they are all extremely dedicated to the palace. They often come voluntarily to the palace on their scheduled days off.

"Officially, I have to work at the palace only once every six days. But because the palace needs me, I come to the palace almost every day," said Mas Lurah Budyo Nararyo, 63, whose task is to clean the Gedong Jene building in the palace compound.

Like other abdi dalem, Mas Lurah Budyo Nararyo works without considering how much money he is being paid. With his rank of Lurah Anom, the father of seven receives Rp 9,000 a month.

"It's not a problem for me. I only received Rp 1,025 a month when I served as an apprentice. But I was able to raise my seven children just fine," said Nararyo, who has been working for the palace since 1972.