Essay: Divine rejeki! What a wonderful windfall

Published: Aug 09, 2022
How can you get rejeki? Like everything else about rejeki, the answer is something of a mystery.

Nicholas Herriman, Greg Acciaioli, Monika Winarnita

How can we deepen our appreciation and understanding of Indonesia’s societies and cultures? One way is to focus on concepts that for many Indonesians stand at the centre of their aspirations and what they hold dear. Rejeki is one such concept.

What is rejeki?

Take the example of Monika (one of the authors of this essay). She fell pregnant and then shortly after, found a new house for her growing family. When Monika told her Malay friend Eli the good news, Eli was so excited that she exclaimed ‘rejeki!’. For Eli, Monika getting pregnant was rejeki, which then brought more rejeki in the form of a house. So how can we translate this rejeki?

Let’s say you inherit a large amount of money. This is also rejeki. In this case we can roughly translate rejeki using several English terms. Inheriting money is rejeki in the sense that it is a ‘windfall’, that is, unexpected earnings. It also relates to the English word ‘fortune’. In this example rejeki is a ‘fortune’ both in the sense that it is an abundance of wealth and that you are fortunate to have it!

There are other English words we might use to describe rejeki. These include ‘bounty’, ‘bonus’, ‘bestowal’, or ‘blessing’. Say you buy a house. Come summertime it turns out that the apple tree in the backyard that you hardly noticed before, is now covered in apples. It’s a delight, it’s a bounty, it’s a bonus from God; it’s rejeki. Another translation of rejeki is ‘livelihood’. Rejeki is what enables you to maintain yourself and significant others.

‘A Prayer for a Halal Rejeki… O Allah, suffice me with what You have allowed instead of what You have forbidden, and make me independent of all others besides You.’ Some Indonesian Muslims use this Arabic prayer as a way to get rejeki / Supplied

But ‘livelihood’, ‘fortune’, ‘bounty’, ‘windfall’, and other such terms still don’t fully encompass the meaning of rejeki. That’s partly because it is tied up with divine will and the cosmic order; rejeki is not simply a random occurrence.

Consider an article in the Indonesian-language newspaper Bali Express given the title, ‘Yang lumpuh bisa berjalan, rejeki hingga karir juga dilancurkan’ (‘The lame can walk, [you get] rejeki, your career gets going’). Steeped in Balinese Hinduism, the article describes how a magical knife provides health, career, a good position and rejeki. Whilst it’s fair to say that not many Indonesians are convinced that magical knives will do the job, many will still try to unlock the secrets of rejeki. It’s not just Hindu Balinese who look for rejeki. Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Confucians and other Indonesians also understand the world and their fate in terms of rejeki.

For Muslim Indonesians rejeki is connected with their Islamic beliefs. Rejeki is understood as coming from God (Allah); if He has decreed it as your fate (nasib) then you will get rejeki. But each culture seems to have a specific take on it.

Minang people in and around Padang, Sumatra believe that rejeki can be obtained somewhere out in the world - but you might have to go looking for it. Minang men do not inherit land. They can’t easily obtain a livelihood in the region they were born in, so they need to look elsewhere for their rejeki. This inspires them to travel (merantau) to other parts of Indonesia and the world to find their rejeki. 

In some of the local languages of Indonesia rejeki translates in ways that are easy to recognise, such as rizki or rezeki. In other languages, the word looks and sounds very different. In Bugis, the word is dalle'. The Bugis people have, since at least the 1600s, emigrated and traded throughout the Indonesian archipelago. They head out in search of wealth for a variety of reasons, including social status (siri’). Nevertheless, they often explain their decision as ‘masappa dalle’ (‘searching for good fortune’).

A meme identifies eight kinds of rejeki, those which come from a guarantee, from hard work, from gratitude, as a surprise, from seeking forgiveness, from marriage, from having children, and from being charitable / Supplied

Rezeki is also commonly used as a name. Words don’t only describe things; they have a supernatural power to change fate. The British navy currently has a ship called ‘Victorious’; naming this ship the ‘HMS Failure’ probably wasn't an option. It is for the same reason that Indonesians might name their shop ‘Sumber Rezeki,’ which means something like ‘Source of Wealth’.

By a similar logic, some Indonesians name their children Rezeki or variations on it. If you name your child Rezeki, you hope they will survive and thrive, but you are also doing something more. You are acknowledging the providence of God. You also hope that your child will bring you even more rejeki. But that's no guarantee, of course.

So how can you get this wonderful rejeki? Like everything else about rejeki the answer for how to get it is a mystery.

‘If God says it’s not our rezeki, that means it wasn't meant to be’. A fisherman casts his line into the ocean. It's crowded with fish that are biting. But the fisherman won’t catch any fish unless God wills it. It’s the same with rejeki; opportunities for wealth might abound, but you won't see any of it unless you have rejeki / Twitter

What is accepted, though, is that your thoughts and actions can help. In a simple sense, if you do good there’s a possibility that ‘nanti dapat rejeki’, that you ‘might get rejeki’. Our friends, Haji Adam and his wife adopted a daughter. Adoption is good and because of that they got rejeki: Haji Adam’s wife then became pregnant and they had a child. Also, if you are a devoted wife, you might get a baby. In cultures where having a child is important for a married couple, a child is rejeki.

‘Don’t be perturbed or worried about your rejeki, it’s in God’s hands’. People need to be reminded of this because it is quite normal to be perturbed or worried about rejeki / Facebook

For the Bugis, to obtain dalle’ (rejeki) you need to be humble and exhibit other worthy traits. You must remember your place. You must maintain correct emotions in balance with the universe, and you must work to open up the sources of good fortune. Then, and only then, you just might get your dalle’ (good fortune) and be able to look after yourself and others around you.

‘Rezeki is a test. You might live in luxury, but that doesn’t mean you’re a saint. Similarly, if [your budget is] limited, that doesn’t mean you are condemned. The two keys to getting us over the line are being grateful and patient’ / Facebook

But, no matter how hard you work, ultimately, it’s up to God. He will provide rejeki if it’s your fate (nasib). So, a principle of detached acceptance is counselled: remember rejeki is out of your control. It is God who determines it, so don’t worry yourself too much. Just be sure you are in the right state to receive it if it comes, and be thankful when you do get it. These days people dispense this kind of advice through memes as a reminder to others.

'Rejeki's a mystery; you work hard to accommodate yourself to it, and still you fail one day, the next day you run away; you're rejected one day, the next day your [management] is sought after' / Supplied

In many Indonesian cultures rejeki and similar concepts like the Bugis dalle’ are crucial to how people go about living their life. Although we don’t yet fully understand rejeki, the more we try the greater our insight into the Indonesian cultures we study.

Nick Herriman lectures in Anthropology at La Trobe University. Greg Acciaioli is Senior Honorary Research Fellow at UWA Oceans Institute. Monika Winarnita lectures in Humanities at Deakin University and the University of Melbourne.

Inside Indonesia 149: Jul-Sep 2022
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