Betawi: A Blended Culture

The word “Betawi” is etymologically derived from the word “Batavia”, the Jakarta’s Dutch colonial name. Betawi people are the descendants of the people living around Batavia from around the 17th century. Betawi people during colonial times were a product of a melting pot of immigrants and mixed marriages involving people from Javanese, Sundanese (West Java), Melayu (Malays), Makassar, Ambonese, Bugis tribes, Chinese, Indian, and European.

Local immigrants from other areas in Indonesia mostly brought 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 local women. In the 19th century, people in what was to be Jakarta began to refer to themselves as “Betawi” children. Betawi people live between two enormous cultures: Sundanese and Javanese, but they have their own culture and language.

The Betawi language is a Malay-based creole language. It is closely linked to Malay. Betawi vocabulary has large amount of Hokkien Chinese such as the first-person pronoun gue (I or me) and second-person pronoun lu (you) and numerals such as cepek (a hundred), gopek (five hundred), and seceng (a thousand), Arabic such as ente (you) and ane (me), and Dutch loanwords. Nowadays, Betawi dialect is a popular informal language in Indonesia and used as the base of Indonesian accent.

Betawi people are mostly muslims. Islam teachings, culture and traditions are easily found in their culture and social system. They are led by Ulama or Kyai (a local religious leader) in their society. However, there is also a small community of Christian Betawi in Tugu area, Kampung Sawah, and Depok.

The artform of the Betawi people exhibits the influences from many different cultures. The Ondel-ondel (a large bamboo masked-puppet) is similar to Chinese, Balinese and Sundanese artform of masked dance. The traditional wedding dress of Betawi shows Chinese influence in bride’s costume and Arabian influences in groom’s costume. The Gambang kromong and Tanjidor music orchestra have Chinese influence. The betawi’s tradition for the groom to bring roti buaya (crocodile bread) for the bride during wedding ceremony is probably a European tradition. They have also Pencak Silat as a popular martial art of Betawi people.

Betawi people have several popular traditional cuisines such as kerak telor (a glutinous rice cake cooked with egg and served with shredded coconut and a dried shrimp topping), soto betawi (beef entrail soup with diced tomatoes and slices of fried potato) and asinan Jakarta (pickled vegetables). Betawi cuisine is mostly influenced by Peranakan Cuisine of Chinese Indonesian, Malay cuisine, Sundanese and Javanese cuisine.