Betawi: Between tradition and modernity

Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - In this day and age, for some it might be hard not to view Betawi culture as a victim -closed, fragile and pure but constantly ravaged by modern culture in its own land, the country's capital of Jakarta.

But an exhibition of Betawi culture held in Bentara Budaya in Central Jakarta is striving to put forward a different image of Betawi culture; one that is open, flexible and persistently present in the metropolitan area.

"Betawi Punye Gaye", which was held from April 20-29 in the venue, features a number of Betawi artifacts such as jewelry, traditional attire, paintings and even household utensils, all in the form of a Betawi house, which even includes a replica of the colorful Betawi house terrace.

Highlights of the exhibition include the collection of jewelry and furniture belonging to Emma Amalia Agus Bisri, who recently received the Makara Utama Award on socio-culture from the University of Indonesia for her dedication in preserving and developing Betawi culture.

The exhibition also features Betawi batik and authentic pictures depicting the lives of Betawi families in the past. Its information booklet even features information written in Betawi language, although in some parts it still contains very formal Indonesian.

Mulyawam Karim from the Indonesian Anthropology Discussion Forum (FKAI) said that Betawi culture's influence remained strong in the lives of Jakartans in its various forms, such as food, fashion and language.

"People always identify Betawi culture as a fading, marginalised culture. We want to show here that it still exists and it's potential for the lifestyle of today," he said during the opening night last Thursday.

One example, he said, was the way people decorated their houses with Betawi accents, even though they might not be of Betawi descent.

"Rich people nowadays, they build nice houses but they want the terrace to be in a Betawi style. We find that happening especially in Jakarta's further areas such as in Pondok Labu [South Jakarta]. So, Betawi is a lifestyle now," Mulyawan said.

Another example is using a Betawi wedding style, despite no family members being from a typical Betawi bloodline.

Real Betawi people have already been consigned to the history books, because the word "Betawi", derived from "Batavia", which had been Jakarta's Dutch colonial name, actually refers to people living in Jakarta during the colonial age, Mulyawan said.

"Right now, they are evolving into Jakarta people, along with other newcomers, but Betawi itself remains a culture source," he added.

According to him, despite the current process of globalisation, cities still need their own identities, and those who were born in Jakarta (despite their parents being from other regions and tribes) might adapt Betawi, or Jakarta, culture, as their own.

However, at times the culture and the city have to adapt to or give way to modernity, with an example being the Palmerah area, where the exhibition once, ironically, housed a thriving Betawi batik industry until the 1970s, when businessmen there sold their land to developers.

Historian JJ Rizal, said that Betawi culture is known for its tolerance and strength to adapt.

According to the exhibition booklet, Betawi people during colonial times were a product of a melting pot of immigrants and mix marriages involving people from Javanese, Sundanese (West Java), Melayu (Malays), Makassar, Ambonese and Bugis tribes, which are from Eastern Indonesia, as well as those coming from further lands such as China, India, the Middle east and Europe.

Immigrants from other areas in the archipelago mostly came to Batavia in the 17th century as slaves to the Dutch Colonials.

On the other hand, European, Arab, Chinese and Indian men came to Indonesia to trade or work and then proceeded to marry locals.

It was only until the 19th century that people in what was to be Jakarta began to refer to themselves as "Betawi" children, the booklet said. Thus, its culture itself is a mix of influences, ranging from Javanese and Sundanese to Arabic and Chinese.

"What is interesting about the Betawi people is their flexibility and how they openly welcome various cultures. They live between two huge cultures: Sundanese and Javanese, but they are neither, since they've picked up elements from Sundanese, Melayu, Javanese and colonial cultures. It shows in their rites of passage. Take their wedding attire, for example," Rizal said, referring to the attire that combines Arabic and Chinese elements, among others.

Therefore, Betawi culture is actually not identical to the xenophobic attitudes and animosity shown toward outsiders that is sometimes displayed in local elections favoring "locals" over "outsiders".

"We have to differentiate between culture and politics. When politics adopt culture, ethnic sentiments will surface and this nurtured sentiment actually shrinks Betawi culture. Politicians do this," Rizal said.

Forums identifying themselves as having Betawi roots engage in violent acts that exacerbate this condition by reducing the culture's image to one of violence and intolerance, he added.

"Betawi has also become identical only with Islam, while its influence is actually much richer," Rizal said.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • ‘Taklub’ wins jury prize in Cannes
    ‘Taklub’ wins jury prize in Cannes

    The Yolanda-inspired film “Taklub” has won a special award at the Cannes Film Festival in France. The advocacy film, which had a successful premiere last Tuesday under the festival’s Un Certain Regard section, is directed by 2009 Cannes best director Brillante Mendoza and top-billed by Nora Aunor. The award cited the film’s sensitive portrayal of individuals and communities in the Philippines fighting to continue living despite natural disasters exposing them to suffering and death. …

  • Orphan tops chemical engineering board exam
    Orphan tops chemical engineering board exam

    A 21-year-old orphan from Capiz topped the chemical engineering board examinations held this month. Remington Salaya, a cum laude graduate of the Central Philippine University in Iloilo, ranked first in the board examinations with a score of 83.30 percent. Out of 405 chemical engineering graduates who took the exam in mid-May, 239 passed. …

  • A sunset party for APEC delegates
    A sunset party for APEC delegates

    Greeted by the beat of Ati-atihan drummers, delegates of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers meeting enjoyed a welcome dinner and cultural presentation at sunset yesterday. Dubbed FuntaSea, Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa’s Banyugan Beach was transformed into a fantasy island, complete with mermaids, fire dancers, and choreographed paraws (sailboat) representing the best of Boracay. With APEC meetings being held all over the Philippines, each presentation is conceptualized …

  • UN chief urges peaceful solution of sea dispute
    UN chief urges peaceful solution of sea dispute

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Friday for a peaceful solution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China’s increased assertiveness has alarmed its smaller neighbors. In Manila, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. appealed to China to respect various international agreements on freedom of navigation and aviation. Coloma’s call came in the wake of an incident Wednesday where Chinese naval forces warned a US …

  • Phl seeks transparency, inclusivity in Asean-China Center
    Phl seeks transparency, inclusivity in Asean-China Center

    Philippine Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Elizabeth Buensuceso has called on participants of the ASEAN-China Center (ACC) brainstorming session to vigorously work on promoting ASEAN-China relations under the principles of inclusivity, transparency and centrality. The brainstorming session, attended by the ACC’s joint council and joint executive board members, also involved a midterm review of ACC’s work since its establishment in 2011. The ACC aims to promote …

  • Lebanon tightens rules on HSW repatriation
    Lebanon tightens rules on HSW repatriation

    Distressed Filipino domestic helpers in Lebanon may find it more difficult to return home. The government of Lebanon has tightened the rules on repatriation of distressed household service workers (HSWs), Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz reported yesterday. Citing a report from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), Baldoz said the Lebanese government opted to re-impose a previous policy requiring investigation into every case of HSWs who ran away from their employers and sought …

  • Army execs face attrition over promotion quota
    Army execs face attrition over promotion quota

    Dozens of Philippine Army officials may be removed from the service due to a promotion quota system in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, according to AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang. In a letter to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, he requested that the 30 percent promotion quota – which means that only 30 percent of those eligible for promotion in a given year will actually be promoted – in the Army be raised to 50 percent. Under the military’s attrition law, middle-grade officers …

  • Philippines backs support for small enterprises at APEC meet

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines' top trade official on Saturday called for support for the integration of micro, small and medium enterprises in global trade, which he said would help reduce poverty and inequality in the Asia-Pacific region. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options