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Jakarta Post

Weekly 5: Myths of the Betawi

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Fri, June 7, 2013   /  10:55 am

Just like many ethnic groups in Indonesia, Betawi people also recognize a number of folktales, the main characters of which they believe were the heroes and heroines of their time.

'€œBack then, Betawi people lived in villages each led by a respected figure who excelled in martial arts to protect them from troublemakers. That'€™s why most Betawi legendary figures were experts in martial arts,'€ Betawi observer Yoyo Mochtar told The Jakarta Post.

Here are five of those stories that are popularly known across the country thanks to movies and TV series.


Si Mirah, the Marunda lioness

One day, Mirah, a daughter of a well-known jawara, Bang Bodong, vowed that she would not marry until she found a man who could defeat her. Mirah was popular for her skills in martial arts, as well as for her beauty.

Mirah, who was called '€œthe Marunda lioness'€, helped her father protect their village from robbers and troublemakers.

A number of men proposed to her but were met with rejection, until a jawara (one who excels in martial arts) of Kemayoran, Asni, unexpectedly defeated her in a fight. Mirah eventually acknowledged her defeat and married the man.

On their wedding day, a failed candidate, Tirta of Karawang, created chaos in retaliation, forcing the newly-weds to fight to protect their village yet again.

Si Pitung, Betawi'€™s Robin Hood

Si Pitung of Rawabelong village (now a subdistrict in West Jakarta) was believed to have lived at the end of the 19th century. Pitung, born Salihun, spent his childhood witnessing cruel landlord Liem Tjeng Soen taking his parents'€™ rice and cattle. He grew up to be a jawara . Pitung decided to join a group of thieves, with whom he robbed the rich who worked for Dutch colonial masters. Pitung and his group later gave away the stolen goods to the poor. He was shot and killed by a golden bullet belonging to Dutch official Scout Heyne.

Ariah, from Ancol bridge


The story of Ariah, a poor girl who fell victim to abuse, was believed to have occurred in the 1860s. After her father passed away, Ariah lived a humble live with her mother, Mak Emper, and her bigger sister in a small house adjacent to a house of a rich man who owned hectares of paddy field in Kampung Sawah, Kramat Sentiong, Central Jakarta. Ariah and her family worked for the land owner for living.

One day the poor girl was gang raped in Ancol, North Area, and died defending herself.

The story was adapted into a soap opera, Si Manis Jembatan Ancol (Sweet girl from Ancol bridge), which became a popular ghost story in the 1990s.

To enliven the celebrations of Jakarta'€™s 486th anniversary, the Jakarta Cultural and Tourism Agency is organizing a musical performance titled Ariah, which was inspired by the story.

The free performance will be staged at the National Monument (Monas) Park in Central Jakarta on June 29 and 30.

Kwee Tang Kiam of Kwitang

Kwee Tang Kiam was a Chinese trader and martial arts practitioner who resided in an area in Senen, Central Jakarta, which is now known as Kwitang.

Kiam taught local residents the martial art that he had mastered, which was called '€œKwee Tang'€™s silat'€ by the people. The book Martial Arts of the World by Thomas A. Green and Joseph R. Svinth said: '€œaccording to an alternative account, the style arose after a local martial arts practitioner married Kiam'€™s daughter and then learned the Chinese skills as a member of Kiam'€™s family.'€

Si Doel, the Betawi kid


Doel was an imaginary Betawi figure created by author Aman Datuk Madjoindo in the 1950s. He was a native Betawi boy, religious and skilled in martial arts, who fell for a girl from a rich family and was willing to adapt to a modern life for her.

Director Syuman Djaya adapted Aman'€™s novel into the movie Si Doel Anak Modern (Doel, the Modern boy) in 1976. Actor and director Rano Karno, now Banten deputy governor, made a TV series about Doel that became a hit in the 1990s. '€” JP

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