The Sultan and the Soup: A Javanese Cultural Response to COVID-19

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  • Maila Rahiem UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta
  • Husni Rahim School of Graduate Studies, UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta, Indonesia



coronavirus, culture, herbal medicine, indigenous, Javanese, Indonesia, COVID


During the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Indonesia, a poster claimed to be a suggestion from the Sultan of Yogyakarta Hamengkubuwono X (HB X), who is also the governor of the Yogyakarta Special Area (DIY), to cook and eat sayur lodeh (soup) together to help repel the plague, was circulated through WhatsApp (WA) and Social Media. The Office of Public Relations and Protocol of DIY later refuted this message. This study investigated what sayur lodeh is, what messages were contained in the poster, and how the Javanese perceived these messages within the COVID-19 context. This study used qualitative content analysis as the research method. The researchers made inferences on the meaning inside the message from HB X using cultural perspectives. The data reveals 1) Sayur lodeh is a traditional Javanese dish that includes various nutritious vegetables that are stewed in coconut milk; 2) the order to cook sayur lodeh indicates the Javanese people's high trust in the Sultan in difficult times, the hopeful and constructive attitude to the adversities, the family support, and community’s unity to resolve difficulties, and God's belief in moving forward; 3) the Javanese cooked sayur lodeh immediately, as most of them believe that it might help them escape misfortune; this assurance has been passed down from generation to generation. This study demonstrates how culture plays an important role in cultural communities, such as the Javanese, who respect and listen to cultural leaders more than other authorities. People could also obey orders against rationale or the rule of government as they have powerful cultural convictions. This study encourages the participation of cultural figures in emergency or health crisis measures, and any interventions should consider the cultural context of the population


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Author Biographies

Maila Rahiem, UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta

Assistant Professor

Department of Early Childhood Education

Faculty of Education

UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta

Husni Rahim, School of Graduate Studies, UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta, Indonesia

Professor of Education at the School of Graduate Studies, UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta. Formerly Secretary of the National Higher Education Accreditation of the Republic of Indonesia (2003-2011) and Director General of Islamic Education at the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Indonesia (1998-2002). His fields of study include the Palembang Sultanate in the colonial era, the history of education, the administration of education and moral education.


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How to Cite

Rahiem, M., & Rahim, H. (2020). The Sultan and the Soup: A Javanese Cultural Response to COVID-19. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 8(1), 43–65.



Original Manuscript