Habilitation Project (concluded)
Orang Betawi, Orang Jakarta, Orang Indonesia: Construction and transformation of ethnic, urban and national identity in Jakarta
At the centre of my research are processes of (re)construction and transformation of cultural identity of both ethnic and transethnic reference in Jakarta, which are taking place primarily in relation to the concepts of "Orang Betawi", "Orang Jakarta", and "Orang Indonesia". These processes are being investigated in their historical as well as current social, cultural and political context.
The Orang Betawi and Orang Jakarta are the two categories of people to whom Jakartan culture and identity are ascribed and by means of which Jakartan culture and identity are being differentiated. The notions of "Orang Betawi" and "Orang Jakarta" imply concepts of culture and identity, which - although being associated with specific kinds of people - are not restricted to them. Both "Orang Betawi" und "Orang Jakarta" are related - although in different ways - to the concept of "Orang Indonesia", referring to the national context. Processes taking place with regard to these (interrelated) concepts are linked to questions of (re)configurations of cultural meanings and forms of their social representation.
The Orang Betawi are considered to be the original inhabitants of Jakarta. Many of these people had originally been brought to Jakarta (then Batavia) as slaves by the Dutch colonizers from the 17th century onward. Being descendants of diverse Southeast and East Asian groups of people (including large proportions of Indonesians), they created a new culture and identity of their own through processes of creolization during the period of colonization. As a group they were long considered backward, unwilling to modernize and anti-urban. Most of them had had little access to modern education during the period of colonization and stuck to their traditions more than those in closer contact with the colonial elite. Consequently, it was not the original inhabitants of Batavia who came to be the Indonesian elite in Jakarta after independence but rather people of mostly Javanese origin. As unpleasant reminders of colonization, they were long ignored by both state institutions and other ethnic groups residing in the city. Until the 1970s, especially the urban Betawi were more likely to hide their Betawi identity in public due to the negative stereotypes attributed to them. They often ascribed themselves to one of the other ethnic groups in order to decrease social discrimination and achieve upward social mobility. However, since the early 1970s the Government of the City of Jakarta has changed its attitude toward the Betawi, who have since received both special attention and promotion. Research on their culture was initiated and steps were taken to promote their (folk) culture. Special residential areas were reserved for them in order to maintain their customs and enhance the practice of their traditions. What are the reasons for this change of heart?
I argue that both state institutions and the Betawi themselves have discovered the social and political integrative potential that lies in the creole concept of Betawi group identity and culture. During the processes of creolization many features of the different local cultures - both foreign and indigenous in origin - were incorporated into the emerging culture of the Orang Betawi. This made and makes it possible even for those not belonging to the Orang Betawi ethnically, to identify partly with their culture since traces of their own respective ethnic culture can easily be identified. As well, this mixture of cultural features symbolizes common history insofar as some of the forefathers of the Betawi were at some point in history also forefathers of others, who were not creolized. By promoting Betawi-ness the State promotes the original inhabitants of the nation's capital without excluding the ethno-historical cultures of the other ethnic groups residing in Jakarta, since they are all somehow part of Betawi-ness. Thus, the notion of "Betawi" can - more than any other merely ethnic notion - communicate both ethnic and transethnic reference of culture and identity. Thus it emerges as increasingly powerful in both the multiethnic context of Jakarta and Indonesia.
More important politically is that as a creole group, the Orang Betawi represent both a multitude of ethnicities due to their historical background and demonstrate at the same time the capacity of creating one group on the background of ethnic diversity. This two-fold representation fits the national motto of "Unity in Diversity" (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika) - a vital element of the Pancasila state ideology - very well. It can be demonstrated through the Betawi that ethnic diversity does not need result in conflict, but on the contrary, can lead to integration through the development of one common identity. The Betawi are put forward as body of evidence that "Unity in Diversity" can actually work.
For those in Jakarta, who are neither ethnic Betawi nor Javanese, nor attached closely to another ethnic group, Betawi-ness counter-balances what Niels Mulder has called "this very vital Javanese-Indonesian mongrel culture" of Jakarta, which, notwithstanding its vitality, only serves as a potential source of identification for the urban Javanese. Because of the connection of Javanese culture with political power and dominance in the national context, which is especially visible in Jakarta, Javanese culture, mongrel or not, has its negative connotations and as such cannot function effectively as a pool of either urban or national identification for the majority of people living in Jakarta. Betawi-ness, on the other hand, is not (yet) connected with ethno-political predominance - rather the opposite - but mainly with purely cultural and historical features and events. In combination with its creole character, which gives it both ethnic and trans-ethnic reference, it is much more accessible as a source of identification for all Jakartans without being a threat to other ethnic identifications. It is an alternative to both this Javanese mongrel culture as well as to no Jakartan identity at all. Thus, due to its creoleness, Betawi-ness encompasses both different ethnic backgrounds and specific Jakarta-ness. As such it can serve as a source of both ethnic and transethnic identity for all Jakartans, integrating them as "Orang Jakarta", a form of self-ascription enjoying increasing popularity.
There are many different medial forms that represent the revival and (re)construction of Betawi-ness. The Betawi's contribution to the arts, their role in the maintenance of indigenous culture during the period of colonization as well as their religious virtues as devout orang selam/Muslims, are all revalued in the light of Betawi-ing Jakarta and, to some degree, nationalizing the Betawi. Due to the Betawi's status as the original inhabitants of Jakarta, the Betawi culture also manages to supply the nation's capital with some degree of indigenous and ethnic tradition.
The Betawi themselves make use of their new (privileged) status by eagerly re-interpreting who and what is Betawi in order to gain both in size and influence. As a result of the increased awareness of both the neglect they had formerly encountered and of their political potential as the re-discovered "Orang Asli", the original inhabitants of Jakarta, their engagement is becoming increasingly politicized as well, including demands for positions in the political sphere.