Jakarta

Traditions of 'Cina Benteng'
still alive, well in Tangerang

TANGERANG (JP): Those who consider Chinese Indonesians identical to middle and upper-class society would be surprised to learn that much of the ethnicgroup lives in several suburban areas of Tangerang.

The community of the Cina Benteng (literally Chinese of the Fort) -- as many people call them -- have their own way of life and characteristics, entirely different to those of other Chinese in greater Jakarta area.

It's even quite difficult to differentiate them from indigenous Indonesians as most of Cina Benteng have dark skin and don't have almond-shaped eyes.

It's unclear where the words Cina Benteng come from. But locals and the community itself agree that it refers to rugged Chinese Indonesians from udik (remote villages).

They are also regarded as speakers of the rough Betawi (native Jakartan) dialect.

But the Cina Benteng say they don't object to this negative image since it is a fact that no one can doubt.

""It is our way of life, what else can we say,"" said community figure TjanLian Hong, 43, who has a Confucianist temple in the yard of his house in the Sewan Kebon area.

Chinese Indonesians can be found in several suburban areas in Tangerang, about 30 kilometers west of Jakarta, such as Sewan Kebon, Rawa Kucing, Kampung Melayu, Tanah Cepe and Tanah Gocap.

""I think the Chinese people can be found in any of the villages in Tangerang,"" said Lian Hong.

There have been no official figures on the number of Cina Benteng. But 70percent or 80 percent of the entire population in areas like Sewan Kebon are dominated by Cina Benteng, he claimed.

According to an expert on Chinese architecture, Edison Yulius, from Tarumanagara University, the communities are the offspring of escapees fromthe walled city of Batavia (Kota in West Jakarta) during the 1740 Chinese revolt.

""Some of the Chinese escaped to several areas in Tangerang and (other parts of) Java,"" he said.

The word benteng, he said, comes from the fact that Tangerang was home tomany forts built by the Dutch colonials at the time.

In the past, most of them worked as farmers. Today, the Cina Benteng havevarious kind of jobs, from casual workers to businessmen.

Some of them work as employees at private companies in Jakarta, retainingtheir unique characteristics.

According to Lian Hong, their wedding ceremony is slightly different to those held by the other Chinese, who have luxurious and ""modern"" wedding fiestas, and often hire bands.

""I like modern music but I won't hire a music group for a wedding celebration. People in my community can't accept it as they consider it tacky,"" he said.

The Cina Benteng, instead, enliven the ceremony with Cokek dances and Gambang Kromong music, Lian Hong explained, referring to an erotic dance inwhich all guests join the dance while drinking beer, followed by the Betawian Gambang Kromong music orchestra.

The celebrations usually take place at Rumah Kawin (wedding halls), run by local business people. Most of them are named after the owner, like thatin Rawa Kucing: ""Rumah Kawin Lim Liang Hok"".

The hall is actually just a simple big ""hut"" with a wire-netting veranda.A wedding fiesta along with the dance usually lasts for at least two days, according to Lian Hong.

Like many Chinese Indonesians, the Cina Benteng bride and groom wear western shirts and gowns for the wedding ceremony.

""But they still follow the rituals,"" Hok Kiang said.

In almost all houses in the community there is traditional Chinese paraphernalia adorning the entrances and also shrines inside the houses.

Most of their houses are modest with sago palm as their roofs.

""There are also rich families who like to have modest houses, but they have an abundance of valuable wealth inside,"" Hok Kiang said.

Like Lian Hong and Hok Kiang, many of the community members prefer to useChinese names.

""Some of us have, indeed, Indonesian names in our official letters but the name is not used during our everyday lives,"" Hok Kiang said.

About their dark-colored skin, many Cina Benteng believe that it is either because their ancestors worked as farmers and were under the sun or as a result of mixed marriages. (ind)

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