Sun, 05 Jan 2003

Kebayoran Lama Market a symbol of Betawi's glory days in trading

Arya Abhiseka, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Elvis Romadhona, 27, is a particularly interesting person. It's not just because of the romantic sound of his name. The M-09 mikrolet (public minivan) driver, who serves the Tanah Abang- Kebayoran Lama route, looks relaxed and happy working his early morning shift.

"I don't know how my parents came up with the name. All I know is that everyone calls me Elpis," says the longhaired fan of dangdut, a popular music derived from Indian and Arabic music beats, from behind the wheel of his minivan at 3:30 a.m.

Elvis -- or Elpis as he likes to call himself -- explains in a unique and distinct accent that the morning shift is his favorite.

"I don't carry regular passengers, therefore I can listen to my music loud," he says raising his voice to be heard above the high volume of the music coming from the tape deck. It is a song from Alam, known as the prince of dangdut for bringing a new sound to the music.

"Alam is such an inspiration. I bet he came from a poor family like me and made it big in Jakarta," says Elvis. Obviously, he does not know that Alam's sister, Vetty Vera, was already a big dangdut star before he got his start.

Elvis' choice of words seem confirm the stereotypes of the Betawi, or native Jakartan. He makes no attempt to hide this, as if it is a statement of identity.

Elvis comes from a poor Betawi family that has lived in the city for generations and used to make their living at the Kebayoran Lama market.

"I am a Betawi asli, meaning true Betawi, born and raised in Kebon Jeruk," he said.

The Kebayoran Lama market is a traditional market that used to be run predominantly by people of Betawi descent, since many Betawi lived in neighboring areas such as Rawa Belong, Kebon Jeruk, Pal Merah, Cidodol and Kemanggisan.

As Jakarta became a metropolitan city, a great number of Betawi people were marginalized.

Many were forced to sell their land to accommodate the large number of migrants who came to Jakarta and increasingly took control of the city. This same process also took place at the Kebayoran Lama market.

"My family used to sell vegetables at the Kebayoran Lama market and the market was run and dominated by the Betawi communities from Pal Merah, Kebon Jeruk and Rawa Belong. It was like a family-owned corporation," said Elvis.

However, now there are fewer Betawi at the market and more Javanese and Sumatrans. As a result, the market is run differently today.

"My grandfather used to own a piece of land in Kebon Jeruk, where he grew vegetables and fruits. Many other Betawi people used to do the same and they sold everything at the Kebayoran Lama market. It was that straight and simple," said Elvis.

He regrets that most of the Betawi lost their land in the city due to development.

"We lost our source of income, so many Betawi people shifted careers," he said.

Today, many young Betawi people, like Elvis, work as ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers, security guards or simply preman (hoodlums) at the market.

Maybe it was inevitable the migrants would come to predominate the Kebayoran Lama market, as they have easier access to organic produce and information from the areas they come from.

Elvis says his family continued to own a shop at the market for a time. "But after my father died, my mother couldn't organize it and now the shop is gone."

He decided to become a mikrolet driver, serving the Kebayoran Lama route, because the area is familiar to him and offers an emotional bond.

"I spent my childhood here, playing with other kids and tending the family shop. I witnessed many developments in this area, from when it was a simple traditional market along the railroad tracks to the establishment of ruko (shop-houses)," Elvis said.

He chooses to work early in the morning so he can transport vegetable sellers, who buy their produce from the Kebayoran Lama market and sell them in smaller markets.

"If I didn't do this, my income would be inadequate. There are not other people out at this time in the morning."

He said most of the time he had to travel outside of his mandatory route to get passengers. "I provide people with options at a time in the day when transportation is scarce."

Three people get in his minivan, carrying cabbage. They tell Elvis they are going to the Meruya Ilir market.

Elvis says he has no intention of going back to the market. "I like driving better, but I'm only interested in this route, since it reminds me of the old days."

"I don't want to sell vegetables at the market. It would not get me anywhere. I want to be like Alam, become successful in Jakarta, Betawi land, my homeland," Elvis said excitedly, while singing along to Alam's song.