Through a ritual to give something to others, giving implies a desire to recognize / recognition and for the recipient, as the door to enter into a social relationship. In accepting the gift, the recipient acknowledges and is willing to enter into a social relationship with the giver, but the willingness is not only just that. In the words of Mauss: “A gift is received with a burden attached.” To receive a gift is to reflect one’s acceptance to undertake a challenge: to prove that one can reciprocate, implying that one accepts the challenge or obligation to render the ‘honor’ one day in the future.
In contrast to gifts, a bribe is a payment or promise of payment for a service. Typically, this payment is made to somebody in power (often an official) in exchange for violating some official duties or responsibilities. “Bribes are payments made to agents by people who are not their principals, in return for a well-understood quid pro quo. In a bribery exchange, the individual sees the immediate return of the investment (i.e.the money given by the briber) as a final achievement. The immediate reciprocal nature of the transaction has paid off the debt. The briber and the bribee have “exited” the relationship, even though they might be bound by mutual silence following the transaction.
Many, including the man on the street, will say that bribery is a purely cultural phenomenon, and that it is one form of gift-giving to express an appreciation of a relationship in Java. Moreover, business people are using gifts to enhance their relationship with suppliers and clients, and where grease money is necessary to obtain something and to keep the gears of business moving, most will not hesitate since “that is how business is done here”. It is also very interesting to note that the Javanese and Indonesian languages do not have precise translations for the English words ‘bribery’ in terms we used ‘suap’ word.
The fact that those gifts are hidden, and that those “under the table payments” are not legally allowed, nor morally accepted by a majority of the citizens. If these ‘gifts’ were really proper, they would be above the table instead of below it. The transgression from gift to a ‘disguised gift’ – or bribery – is possible because of their similarities. Due to both a gift and a bribe is based on reciprocal relationships where trust and reputation play an important roles.
With a growing urbanization, weak functioning institutions and the birth of the ‘individual’, traditional ‘gift’ products have been transformed into ‘marketable objects’. Currently, there seems to be a tendency in almost all cultures nowadays to condemn bribery as harmful to society. Likewise, the majority of Indonesians wants high profiled corruptors to be sentenced and put in prison. However, empirical data indicate a ambiguity about payments made to local officials for services rendered. Many Indonesians in this case feel that such payments should not necessarily be perceived as corrupt or a ‘bribe’, but rather as ‘normal’.
Traditional social relationships gradually shifted to a form of ‘exchange’ in modern Java and thus became more economic than social in nature. Alliances in this economic or commercial framework assume an immediate reciprocity where the rights and duties of each party are equal, whereas social alliances or gift relationships are “not strict, not immediate and unintentional”.