Just Plain ‘Subuh’


David Week


The Problem:

By calling Pak Subuh ‘Father’ and Ibu Rahayu ‘Mother’, we end up looking like those Hindu guru movements where the leader is called Baba (father) or Amma (mother).


The Solution:

Let’s just call people by their names, as we do in a modern, open society. If we can refer to Gandhi, Einstein and Jefferson, we can surely call Pak Subuh Sumohadiwijojo by his name: Subuh. Where Indonesians have long, complex names, the first element is the most important, and they are normally addressed by it (the forename Muhammad excluded). In modern Indonesia, Pak Subuh would just be addressed as ‘Subuh’.


The Details:

Where did the practice of calling Subuh ‘Bapak’ come from?


Many Subud sites suggest that ‘Bapak’ is an affectionate form of address in Indonesia. This is not quite right.


The term ‘Bapak’ is used in two ways in Indonesia. First, it is used as a formal form of address, as we might use ‘Sir’, or ‘Mister’. The boss of an office or company is referred to as ‘the bapak’ of the office. And anyone possessing even the slightest authority is addressed as ‘Bapak’.


The other use of the word is to mean — literally — ‘father’.


So how do we get to the point at which ‘Bapak’ has become Pak Subuh’s proper name, replacing his real name, which is ‘Subuh’? Pak Subuh even refers to himself in the third person as ‘Bapak’. Even the President of the Indonesia doesn’t do that. He refers to himself as ‘I’, when speaking.


In fact, the only time in which an Indonesian will call himself ‘bapak’ in the third person in this way is when he, speaking as a father, addresses small children. We do something similar in other languages as well.


If we look at Pak Subuh’s earliest published talk, we see that he adopts just this form. Not only does he refer to himself as ‘Father’ in the third person, but he addresses the audience as ‘children’.


Now, I don’t know what the history of this form of address is. But we can say this: it is wholly inappropriate to the modern world. You see it in the way that Indian devotees address their gurus (also as ‘father’ or ‘mother’), in the way Catholics address priests and nuns, and that’s about it.


If we want a Subud that is at home in the modern world, and cannot be confused with a cult, then we need to drop such an antiquated form as calling the founder ‘Father’. In cult studies, such a form of address is associated with infantilisation of the members, and the offer of ‘instant family’.


In fact, we have already dropped other aspects of this archaic form of language. Subud is no longer a ‘brotherhood’, and it’s increasingly rare to hear ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ used as a form of address. All such terms make Subud sound like some eccentric religious community.


And while we’re at it, let’s drop other antiquated honorifics, such as Y. M. Bapak (‘Honoured Father’), or the even more ornate Y. M. Raden Mas Bapak Subuh Sumohadiwijojo (‘Honoured Golden Prince Father Subuh Sumohadiwijojo’). Even in Indonesia, now a Republic, people do not use such terms of address.


In his Autobiography, Subuh recounts how he was a sickly child until a passing dukun gave him a new name: Subuh. Let’s pay him respect by using it. Implementation is simple: just start doing it today.