Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/April 1882/The Javanese Calendar

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THE Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans regulated their most important field-labors, the sowing and gathering of their crops, etc., by their observations of the movements of the heavenly bodies, as the rising and setting of the stars. It is obvious that this system gives only an approximation to the true time; for not only the time of the rising and setting of the stars, but also the relative situation of the stars to each other, is changed by the precession of the equinoxes. Notwithstanding this, this system is still used by some of the less civilized peoples of the East Indies; and, although the Dutch Government employs the Gregorian calendar exclusively in its colonies, the Javanese agriculturist goes to this day by his own calendar, which is based upon the position of Orion and the Pleiades, and the length of the shadow at noon. The geographical situation of Java is such (mean latitude 7° south), that the sun stands at 301/2° north of the zenith on the 21st of June, and at 161/2° south of it on the 21st of December. The shadow, on the 21st of June, falling in a southerly direction, is nearly double the length of the shadow on the 31st of December, which falls in a northerly direction. The shadow requires six months to pass from its greatest length toward the south to its greatest length toward the north, and a year to return to the same position.

If the length of the shadow on the 21st of June is divided into four equal parts, and the length on the 21st of December into two equal parts, we shall have six equal measures of length corresponding with six unequal intervals of time; these intervals may then be distinguished according to the length of the shadow. The Javanese avail themselves of this peculiarity of shadows in their country to adjust the division of their solar year, the first day of which corresponds with the 21st of June of the Gregorian reckoning. They divide the year into twelve unequal months (mangsa), which are respectively 41, 23, 24, 25, 27, 43, 43, 26, 25, 24, 23, and 24 days long. Independently of this division, the farmer plants his rice and other crops according to the height of Orion and the Pleiades above the horizon. This height is taken either at night-fall, half an hour after sunset, or in the morning, half an hour before sunrise. The following are the names of the calendar months, and the most important observations and farmers' rules that are connected with them:

First month (Kasa), forty-one days, from the 21st of June to the 31st of July inclusive. Orion and the Pleiades are visible in the east, respectively 25° and 45° above the horizon. The sun turns back toward the south; a man's shadow at noon reaches four feet south. The fresh-water fish iwak bettik has one spot on its head. It is time to plant the second crop of rice.

Second month (Kara), twenty-three days long, from the 1st to the 23d of August. The Pleiades are in the zenith, Orion 70° above the eastern horizon. The iwak bettik has two spots. The sun goes farther toward the south. A man's shadow at noon measures two feet south.

Third month (Ketiga), twenty-four days, from the 24th of August to the 16th of September. Before sunrise the Pleiades are 70° above the western horizon, Orion in the zenith. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The iwak bettik has three spots. The course of the sun continues to be in the north, and the noonday shadow measures one foot south. The second crop of rice begins to ripen.

Fourth month (Kapat), twenty-five days, from the 17th of September to the 11th of October. Before sunrise the Pleiades are 50° and Orion 70° above the western horizon. The glattiks, or rice-birds, fall upon the fields in multitudes in search of food. The fruit-trees have new buds and fresh leaves. The randoe fruits are ripe, the cotton appears and begins to fall. The sun rises in the east and casts no shadow at noon. Harvest begins.

Fifth month (Kelima), twenty-seven days, from the 12th of October till the 7th of November. The medical plants called lempoeygang begin to put out new roots. The swallows called maog terrik collect on the slopes of the mountains to feed upon the winged ants that fly out at that time. The chirping birds called tjekithoets sing more than usual. The iwak bettik has five spots. A man's shadow measures a foot north. Plant maize.

Sixth month (Kanem), forty-three days, from the 8th of November till the 20th of December. Heavy rains begin. Plant rice. Orion is visible in the eastern horizon immediately after sunset. Woodcocks appear and resort to the ponds for food. The beetles (kowangaus), which were not visible before the rainy season, come down from the mountains to lay their eggs on the green herbage which is half covered with water. The spiders called kemlandingaus, which before this time of the year spun their webs horizontally, spin them now vertically. The fruits begin to ripen. The iwak bettik has six spots. The sun advances toward the south, and a man's shadow measures two feet north.

Seventh month (Kepitoe), forty-three days, from the 21st of December till the 2d of February. Orion and the Pleiades are respectively 25° and 45° above the eastern horizon. Rice-planting is continued. The distillable herb, wood-ivy (ouvi), is ripe. The eggs of the beetles open. The iwak bettik has seven spots. The sun turns back toward the north, and the shadow measures nearly three feet north.

Eighth month (Kerraloe), twenty-six days, from the 3d to the 28th of February. Orion is in the zenith, the Pleiades are 70° above the west. Rice-planting is completed. The iwak bettik has eight spots. The glagahs begin to bloom. The sun rises in the east.

Ninth month (Kesauga), twenty-five days, from the 1st till the 25th of March. Orion is in the zenith at six o'clock in the evening, the Pleiades 70° up in the west. The iwak bettik has nine spots. The flowers of the glagah fall. The sun crosses the equator.

Tenth month (Sepoeloch), twenty-four days, from the 25th of March till the 17th of April. The Pleiades are 45°, Orion 65° up in the west. The spots of the iwak bettik have disappeared. The rice is ripe and the harvest begins. The sun is in the north, and the shadow measures from one to two feet south.

Eleventh month (Destha), twenty-three days, from the 18th of April till the 10th of May. The rice-harvest everywhere. The nights are cold and the days are the shortest in the year. Orion is visible 16° up in the west at half past six in the evening. The Pleiades are invisible. The randoe-trees begin to bloom. The sun goes toward the north and the shadow measures three feet south.

Twelfth month (Sada), forty-one days, from the 11th of May till the 20th of June. The Pleiades may be seen at half past five in the morning, a little later Orion. The rice-harvest is finished, cotton and indigo are planted, and the ground is prepared for maize. The shadow measures three feet south, and the sun goes to its northernmost point.

Such, according to our Dutch author, is the calendar of the Javanese. It furnishes a series of careful observations such as we meet only among a primitive people. It also affords numerous examples of the peculiarities not only of the starry skies of the tropics, but also of the meteorological conditions and the properties of tropical vegetation.—Die Natur.

  1. J. A. C. Oudemans, Mededeeling betreffende de sterrebeelden, wier hoogte boven den Horizen, op een bepaald oogenblick van den nacht, door de Javanen ten behoewe van de lanbouw geraadpleegd wordt. Amsterdam, 1881.