History and the Vicissitude of Betawi Ethnicity: Indigenous Batavian Population and the Origins of Its Tolerance Towards “Otherness within” in Contemporary Jakarta

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 10:54 AM
Room: F202
Oral Presentation
Shohei NAKAMURA , Department of Sociology, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan
There has been a presupposition in the explanation of ethnicity as sub-groups of a nation-state that there exist persistent, if not fixed, boundaries between these groups. Many scholars have postulated that the modern nation-state imposes homogeneous notions of groups that people eventually accept, resulting in rigid social demarcation within the population.

The case of Betawi ethnicity, the “Batavian Indigenous” who emerged as a creole in the colonial setting, illustrates a distinct contradiction to such conventional wisdom. Betawi people basically accepted the state-sponsored definition of ethnicity, yet they emphasized the similarity rather than the difference between cultural features of different groups and those of “Betawi culture” officially defined by the government, so that people of different group-consciousness could tolerate each other within one broader category. The category of Betawi has come so far as to subsume those of foreign origins who were once labeled as non-Indigenous/Inlander and excluded from the category of Indonesian Nation/Bangsa Indonesia. Today this ethnicity exhibits the potential for delegitimizing the persistent and exclusive human classification of “Inlander” or “Bangsa Indonesia” which has long been promoted and imposed by colonial authority, as well as by authoritarian rule.

Such notable tolerance to otherness cannot sufficiently be explained by the sole fact that Betawi started off as a creole. The presenter investigates the origin of this tolerance by describing Betawi’s genesis as Creolization, where different groups are intermingled and fused; and the group’s vicissitude under state cultural policy as Amalgamation, where various ideas of group-consciousness are reorganized and reconsolidated under a broader singular category. The transition of Betawi ethnicity instantiates a paradoxical consequence: universalistic rhetoric of difference that the state has constructed along with the flat-faced demarcation of geographical units in turn become the principle for partial deauthorization of supposedly rigid boundaries and incessant inclusion of different senses of belonging.