Saturday, April 14, 2007


Fans of the scifi opera Starwars might conjure up images of small creatures in brown hooded robes and glowing eyes that yell "Ooteeny!" to the droids they just salvaged from the desert. While I think it would be fun to drive a Sandcrawler on Tatooine and dodge Imperial Troopers I am not one of them.

In the Saudi vernacular the term "Jawa" refers to a person of south east Asian descent. It comes from the name of Indonesia's main island Jawa (known in English as Java) where most of Saudi Arabia's Indonesian immigrants come from. Like many general use terms it's not exactly accurate. Many Indonesian immigrants come from one of the other islands (there are more than 17,000), I myself am half Sasak half Madurian. Close to Java, but no clove flavored cigar :). And the term has also been expanded to include other East/South East Asian races such as Malaysian, Thai, Philippino and Chinese.

While the term can be used in a derogatory manner, it is not considered in general to be an offensive one. Compare to the use of the word Black to refer to a person of African descent. While considered offensive by the overly politically correct (I'm not) it is still the general usage and mostly inoffensive, as opposed to using the N word or Chink or Gook.

Since most Jawas have arrived in Saudi Arabia as result of Hajj (pilgrimage) most of them reside in the Hijaz region and Makkah in particular. Makkah is a true melting pot of the Muslim world, compromised of people from all over the globe that include Asians, Arabs, Africans, Turks, East Europeans and others. All of these people also brought their own distinctive cultures, languages and foods, resulting in the unique Hijazi culture that is quite different from anything you might find elsewhere in Saudi Arabia.

As consequence of becoming part of the homogeneous whole most young Jawas rarely speak the languages of their countries of origin, this is also true for other ethnic groups. But parts of their Asian origin still prevail. Indonesian cuisine is an integral part of the Meccan culinary landscape. Many Indonesian words have found their way into the Meccan vernacular as well. Say "Apa Kabar?" (How are you?) to a Meccan and chances are he'll smile and reply "Alhamdulilah" (Praise be to God).

So have a skewer of Satay on me and enjoy your stay :)


John said...

I really look forward to reading your blog. You're certainly in a position to provide a unique perspective on Saudi Arabia, its people, and its culture.

Saudi Jawa said...

Wow that was fast. Thanks a lot for passing by, its an honor to have you here. As you can see from my links list your blog is among my favorites.

annoos said...

Ya waad ya Saudi Jawa enta, mo ma3gool blooger o Makkawi o Jawa kaman :D

It's exciting to see such a blog :)

Keep it up man (thumbs up)

--Some Makkawi dude

Sulaiman said...

Hey man ... nice blog
and good to see people from different backgrounds telling us about their culture ...

I come from the east cost and don't have many Jawi's there. So it has been really interesting to read about your culture.

Keep on the good work

Anonymous said...

I am a Jawa borned outside Jawa ( in singapore ) and now living in Malaysia.

Nice meeting you here :)

Maha Noor Elahi said...

Nice blog, Jawa!
you somehow have the same background that I have.
I think you will enjoy reading my biography of a Saudi Fraud.