Sat, 16 Sep 2000

Betawi preservation project begins

JAKARTA (JP): The construction of a Betawi cultural reserve began on Friday with a groundbreaking ceremony attended by Governor Sutiyoso.

The project in Srengseng Sawah subdistrict in Jagakarsa, South Jakarta, is part of efforts to preserve the traditions of native Jakartans.

Costs for the project, targeted for completion in about 10 years and reaching Rp 308 billion (about US$34.6 million) are mostly derived from the city budget.

Governor Sutiyoso said the first phase, costing Rp 1.5 billion, would consist of building a meeting hall and an open theater facing the lake in the area, Situ Babakan.

Representatives of Jakarta natives have repeatedly called for recognition of their heritage in the face of the capital's larger population of migrants.

Sutiyoso added that a traditional Betawi house at the location would be renovated.

"Hopefully, it will be a gathering place for Betawi people in the capital, and will provide more of a chance to study and preserve the indigenous culture," Sutiyoso said.

There are about two million residents of Betawi descent in Jakarta, living in the city's kampongs, especially on the outskirts.

The 150-hectare area of Srengseng Sawah was chosen for the project due to the large population of ethnic Betawi living near and around the area.

The project is another effort after an earlier one in Condet, East Jakarta, among others, was abandoned, because many residents sold their land, saying they needed money.

Lack of funds also was a constraint in the Condet project. Traditional homes could not be preserved given the high cost of timber and maintenance.

The plan for the area in Srengseng, currently home to some 34,000 people -- half of whom are Betawi -- would also require residents to build and renovate their houses using classic Betawi architecture.

Some residents in Srengseng Sawah said they had never heard of the project while others said the plan sounded "good".

According to the head of the Jagakarsa district, H. Zainuddin Tohir, land appropriation for the project has covered some 35 hectares of area around Situ Babakan Lake, which includes four subdistricts.

Residents who had either lived there or owned property, including Betawi people, had received compensation, he said.

Head of the Betawi Consultative Body (Bamus) A. Syukur said the open theater would host Betawi arts, such as Gambang Kromong or the Portuguese-influenced Tanjidor musical groups.

He added that festivities would be maintained along with Betawi traditional clothes, such as the long kebaya and sarong.

Restoring other lakes, planting and preserving local fruit trees and other plants, and building a museum is part of the long-term plan.

During his visit to the settlement, Sutiyoso also handed over some 2,000 seeds of various fruit trees, 35 goats and funds to poor families. (07)