Living Jakarta: Musicians perform traditional Betawi music as one of the Betawi arts being showcased at the capital city’s art center in the coming months. JP/Dina IndrasafitriA number of Betawi-related arts, such as music and stage comedy, are to be showcased for free at the capital city’s art center in the coming months.
Betawi-ness, which can manifest in various forms such as language and art, is commonly regarded as iconic in Jakarta.
Various events involving Betawi culture will likely mushroom in the city, which is about to celebrate its official 485th anniversary on June 22.
On Sunday, a crowd gathered to watch a Betawi comedy titled Si Gobang in the “plaza” open space near the entrance of Taman Ismail Marzuki, known as the center for arts and culture in Jakarta.
Si Gobang’s audience, which ranged from young children to those with beards and grey hair, emitted peals of laughter at the spontaneous — and, at times, crass — jokes cracked by the actors on stage. The dialogue often alternated with songs and exaggerated dance moves.
A group of musicians called Batavia Akoustic took the stage on Monday night to play Samrah music, whose sound is visibly influenced by Portuguese sounds as well as Malay tones often present in several types of traditional music from Sumatra. The show kicked off at around 10 p.m., despite the scheduled time being 7:30 p.m.
A discussion of Betawi culture was held earlier in the day. Historian Ridwan Saidi said that among the subjects discussed were the appropriateness of June 22 as Jakarta’s birthday, for to him it was the day when many suffered from attacks by Fatahillah from Cirebon.
Elfan Gomez from the Indonesian Societal Development Foundation (Yayasan Bina Kemasyarakatan Indonesia) said the Betawi music performances would carry on until June 21, while Betawi plays, such as Tonil and Lenong would be held from July 1 to July 5. Betawi fasting and Lebaran, which will include a discussion, is scheduled for August 18 to 24.
He said the events were held partly to encourage the country, and residents of Jakarta, to respect and uphold Betawi culture, which, according to him, has gained respect and recognition overseas partly due to the Indonesian-Dutch who exited the country in the 1950s following the end of Dutch colonial rule.
Elfan, who was born in the 1940s, said he missed the friendly and safe Jakarta he grew up in.
Forgetting Betawi culture has led to a rise in violence in the capital, he said. “Betawi-ness is open and non-violent. So it is wrong that there is more violence now in the city,” he added.
Elfan said that although one of the traits of a Betawi person is having the skill to main pukul, or perform martial arts, the other two are morality or piety — visible in the form of being skilled at reciting the Quran, for example, and intellectualism or being “cultured”.
The traditional music of Jakarta, for example, reflects an open, outgoing attitude, Gomes said. “We should return to culture. If we return to culture, morality will return,” he added.
Esulindo, one of the speakers at the Monday discussion, said Jakarta culture is known for being open to influences and knowledge from outside.
He cited an example of a main pukulan or silat school named Beksi, which originated from the teachings of a Chinese immigrant named Lie Cheng Ok, who had three kyais, or religious leaders, as his students.
“That proves that Betawi people, despite being religious, do not differentiate teachings based on where the teachers came from, that’s why it is resilient and can be the root to unite the cultures of Indonesia,” Esulindo said.
Betawi artist M Urip Arphan said young people right now should listen to various types of music such as rock or pop, “as long as they don’t hate Betawi culture”.
He added that he respected artists who chose to take on Betawi images, such as language, as their signature style and who develop Betawi arts despite not traditionally categorized as being “Betawi”.
Esulindo said that as a Betawi, he would accept further changes in Jakarta’s culture, including that from the Korean culture craze among the young.
“As long as it is Betawi-Korean culture, not just pure Korean culture,” Esulindo said.