Betawi people, or Betawis (Orang Betawi in Indonesian, meaning “people of Batavia”), are an Austronesian ethnic group native to the city of Jakarta and its immediate outskirts, as such often described as the native inhabitants of the city. They are the descendants of the people who inhabited Batavia (the colonial name of Jakarta) from the 17th century onwards. However, the term “native” itself is questionable, since the Betawi people emerged in the 18th century as an amalgamation of various immigrant ethnic groups into Batavia.
The Betawis are one of the most recently formed ethnic groups in Indonesia. They are a creole ethnic group in that their ancestors came from various parts of Indonesia and abroad. Before the 19th century, the self-identity of the Betawi people was not yet formed. The name Betawi are adopted from the native rendering of the term “Batavia” city which is originally named after Batavi/Betuwe, an ancient Germanic tribe. Originally, circa 17th to 18th century, the dwellers of Batavia were identified according to their ethnics of origin; either Sundanese, Javanese, Malays, Ambonese, Buginese-Makassar, or Arabs and Chinese. This was shown in the Batavia census record that listed the immigrant’s ethnic background of Batavian citizens. They were separated into specific ethnic-based enclaves kampungs, which is why in today’s Jakarta there are some regions named after ethnic-specific names such as; Kampung Melayu, Kampung Bali, Makassar, and Kampung Ambon. These ethnic groups merged and formed around the 18th to 19th centuries. It was not until the late 19th or early 20th century that the group – who would become the dwellers of Batavia, referred to themselves as “Betawi”, which refers to a creole Malay-speaking ethnic group which has a mixed culture of different influences; Malay, Javanese, Sundanese to Arabic and Chinese. The term “Betawi” was first listed as an ethnic category in the 1930 census of Batavia residents. The Betawi people have a culture and language distinct from the surrounding Sundanese and Javanese. The Betawis are known for their traditions in music and food.
Language The Betawi language—also known as Betawi Malay, is a Malay-based creole language. It was the only Malay-based dialect spoken on the northern coast of Java; other northern Java coastal areas are overwhelmingly dominated by Javanese dialects, while some parts speak Madurese and Sundanese. The Betawi vocabulary has many Hokkien Chinese, Arabic, and Dutch loanwords. Today the Betawi language is a popular informal language in Indonesia and used as the base of Indonesian slang. It has become one of the most widely spoken languages in Indonesia, and also one of the most active local dialects in the country. Society Due to their historical sentiment as a marginalized ethnic group in their own native land, Betawi people form several communal organizations to protect themselves from other ethnic groups and strengthen the Betawi solidarity. Notable organizations include the Forum Betawi Rempug (FBR), Forum Komunikasi Anak Betawi (Communication Forum for Betawi People, Forkabi) and Ikatan Keluarga Betawi (Betawi Family Network, IKB). These organizations act as grassroots movements to increase the bargaining power of the Betawi people whose significant part of them are economically relegated to the informal sector. Some of them hold a significantly large number of followings; for example, as of 2021, Forkabi has a membership of 500,000 people across the Jabodetabek region.
Religion A substantial majority of the Betawi people follow Sunni Islam. Islam is one of the main sources for the formation of the Betawi culture and identity, and as such these two cannot be separated. The element of Islam can be seen in many parts of Betawi society. There are Betawi people who profess the Christian faith. Among the Betawi ethnic Christians, some have claimed that they are the descendants of the Portuguese Mardijker which intermarried with the local population, who mainly settled in the area of Kampung Tugu, North Jakarta. Although today Betawi culture is often perceived as Muslim culture, it also has other roots which include Christian Portuguese and Chinese Peranakan culture. Culture The culture and artform of the Betawi people demonstrate the influences experienced by them throughout their history. Foreign influences are visible, such as Portuguese and Chinese influences on their music, and Sundanese, Javanese and Chinese influences in their dances. Contrary to popular perception, which believed that Betawi culture is currently marginalized and under pressure from the more dominant neighbouring Javanese and Sundanese culture—Betawi culture is thriving since it is being adopted by immigrants who have settled in Jakarta. The Betawi culture also has become an identity for the city, promoted through municipal government patronage. The Betawi dialect is often spoken in TV shows and dramas.
Architecture Traditionally Betawi people are not urban dwellers living in gedong (European-style building) or two-storied Chinese rumah toko (shophouse) clustered in and around Batavia city walls. They are living in kampungs around the city filled with orchards. As Jakarta become more and more densely populated, so do Betawi traditional villages that mostly now turned into a densely packed urban village with humble houses tucked in between high rise buildings and main roads. Some of the more authentic Betawi villages survived only in the outskirt of the city, such as in Setu Babakan, Jagakarsa, South Jakarta bordering with Depok area, West Java. Traditional Betawi houses can be found in Betawi traditional kampung (villages) in Condet and Setu Babakan area, East and South Jakarta. On coastal area in Marunda area, North Jakarta, the Betawi traditional houses are built-in rumah panggung style, which are houses built on stilts. The coastal stilt houses were built according to coastal wet environs which are sometimes flooded by tides or floods, it was possibly influenced by Malay and Bugis traditional houses. Malay and Bugis migrants around Batavia were historically clustered in coastal areas as they work as traders or fishermen. Today, the cluster of Bugis fishermen villages can be found inhabiting Jakarta’s Thousands Islands. An example of a well-preserved Betawi rumah panggung style is Rumah Si Pitung, located in Marunda, Cilincing, North Jakarta. Betawi houses are typically one of three styles: rumah bapang (or rumah kebaya), rumah gudang (warehouse style), and Javanese-influenced rumah joglo. Most Betawi houses have a gabled roof, with the exception of the joglo house, which has a high pointed roof. Betawi architecture has specific ornamentation called gigi balang (“grasshopper teeth”) which are a row of wooden shingles applied on the roof fascia. Another distinctive characteristic of the Betawi house is a langkan, a framed open front terrace where the Betawi family receive their guests. The large front terrace is used as an outdoor living space.
Art & Culture The Gambang kromong and Tanjidor, as well as Keroncong Kemayoran music, is derived from the kroncong music of Portuguese Mardijker people of Tugu area, North Jakarta. “Si Jali-jali” is an example of a traditional Betawi song. The Ondel-ondel large bamboo masked-puppet giant effigy is similar to Chinese-Balinese Barong Landung and Sundanese Badawang, the artforms of masked dance. The traditional Betawi dance costumes show both Chinese and European influences, while the movements such as Yapong dance, which is derived from Sundanese Jaipongan dance with a hint of Chinese style. Another dance is Topeng Betawi or Betawi mask dance. Betawi popular folk drama is called lenong, which is a form of theater that draws themes from local urban legends, foreign stories to everyday life of Betawi people. Silat Betawi is a martial art of Betawi people, which was not quite popular, but recently has gained wider attention thanks to the popularity of silat films, such as The Raid. Betawi martial art was rooted in the Betawi culture of jagoan (lit. “tough guy” or “local hero”) that during colonial times often went against colonial authority; despised by the Dutch as thugs and bandits, but highly respected by local pribumis as native’s champion. In Betawi dialect, their style of pencak silat is called maen pukulan (lit. playing strike) which is related to Sundanese maen po. Notable schools among others are Beksi and Cingkrik. Beksi is one of the most commonly practised forms of silat in Greater Jakarta and is distinguishable from other Betawi silat styles by its close-distance combat style and lack of offensive leg action. During a Betawi wedding ceremony, there is a palang pintu (lit. door’s bar) tradition of silat Betawi demonstration. It is a choreographed mock fighting between the groom’s entourage with the bride’s jagoan kampung (local champion). The fight is naturally won by the groom’s entourage as the village champs welcome him to the bride’s home. The traditional wedding dress of Betawi displays Chinese influence in the bride’s costume and Arabian influences in the groom’s costume. Betawi people borrowed Chinese culture of firecrackers during weddings, circumcisions, or any celebrative events. The tradition of bringing roti buaya (crocodile bread) during a wedding is probably a European custom. Other Betawi celebrations and ceremonies include sunatan or khitanan (Muslim circumcision), and Lebaran Betawi festival.
Cuisine Finding its roots in a thriving port city, Betawi has an eclectic cuisine that reflects foreign culinary traditions that have influenced the inhabitants of Jakarta for centuries. Betawi cuisine is heavily influenced by Peranakan, Malay, Sundanese, and Javanese cuisines, and to some extent Indian, Arabic, and European cuisines. Betawi people have several popular dishes, such as soto betawi and soto kaki, nasi uduk, kerak telor, nasi ulam, asinan, ketoprak, rujak, semur jengkol, sayur asem, gabus pucung, and gado-gado Betawi.