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.


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.

  • Sy moves up, Villar enters Forbes list of billionaires
    Sy moves up, Villar enters Forbes list of billionaires

    Eleven Filipinos are included in Forbes’ 2015 list of richest people in the world. Filipino-Chinese tycoon Henry Sy Sr. continues to be the wealthiest man in the Philippines. The 90-year-old SM supermalls, banking and property tycoon ranked 73rd among the world’s richest with an increased net worth of $14.2 billion from $11.4 billion last year. Sy’s net worth was attributed to the continued growth of his SM Investments Corp. and his more recent venture, the City of Dreams Manila resort and …

  • Jolo apologizes to Bong in visit
    Jolo apologizes to Bong in visit

    Cavite Vice Gov. Jolo Revilla wept and embraced his father as he apologized for the “accidental” shooting incident in their Ayala Alabang residence, the family’s spokesman said yesterday. Lawyer Raymund Fortun came out of the private room at the Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Muntinlupa City to speak to reporters, who were barred from entering the hospital compound during the visit of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. …

  • Australian drug smugglers being taken to Indonesian island for execution - media
    Australian drug smugglers being taken to Indonesian island for execution - media

    By Jane Wardell and Beawiharta SYDNEY/DENPASAR, Indonesia (Reuters) - Two convicted Australian drug smugglers were removed from a prison in Bali on Wednesday to be taken to an Indonesian island where they will be shot by firing squad, Australian media reported. The planned executions of Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, have ratcheted up diplomatic tensions amid repeated pleas of mercy for the pair from Australia and thrown a spotlight on Indonesia's increasing use of the death …

  • Another source of SAF execution video identified
    Another source of SAF execution video identified

    The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is still tracing the source of the video showing one of the wounded police commandos being finished off by Muslim rebels during the encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25. A source from the Department of Justice (DOJ) said they have identified two persons who first uploaded the video that went viral over social networking sites. The supposed source of the video was elusive and claimed that somebody just placed it on an external drive. The …

  • N. Korea fires missiles in anger at South-US military drills
    N. Korea fires missiles in anger at South-US military drills

    North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea and vowed "merciless" retaliation Monday as the US and South Korea kicked off joint military drills denounced by Pyongyang as recklessly confrontational. The annual exercises always trigger a surge in military tensions and warlike rhetoric on the divided peninsula, and analysts saw the North's missile tests as a prelude to a concerted campaign of sabre-rattling. "If there is a particularly sharp escalation, we could see the …

  • US billionaire says WWII Japanese ship found in Philippines
    US billionaire says WWII Japanese ship found in Philippines

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday he had found one of Japan's biggest and most famous battleships on a Philippine seabed, some 70 years after American forces sank it during World War II. Excited historians likened the discovery, if verified, to finding the Titanic, as they hailed the American billionaire for his high-tech mission that apparently succeeded after so many failed search attempts by others. Allen posted photos and video online of parts of what he said was the …

  • How Islamic is Islamic State group? Not very, experts say
    How Islamic is Islamic State group? Not very, experts say

    CAIRO (AP) — Three British schoolgirls believed to have gone to Syria to become "jihadi" brides. Three young men charged in New York with plotting to join the Islamic State group and carry out attacks on American soil. A masked, knife-wielding militant from London who is the face of terror in videos showing Western hostages beheaded. …

  • Couple married 67 years holds hands in final hours together
    Couple married 67 years holds hands in final hours together

    FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — After spending 67 years together as devoted husband and wife, there was no question how Floyd and Violet Hartwig would end their lives — together. …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options