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Silat Betawi- Past and Future

February 6th, 2009 0 Comments

The martial arts styles found in the area of Jakarta (previously known as Batavia) have played an important role in the development and dynamic of this city since before it became a the modern metropolis it is today. Historically, Jakarta has been the melting pot for various cultures and nationalities from all over Southeast Asia as well as India, China, The Middle East, Portugal, Holland, and others.

In 1527 a general named Fatahillah took control of Sunda Kelapa (Port Sunda in North Jakarta) for the East Java kingdom of Demak and created the city of Jayakarta. The city’s spelling may have changed, but the anniversary of this event is still celebrated every year on the twenty-second of June as the city’s birthday. Jakarta’s long history is still relatively unknown to the masses. According to University of Indoneisa Anthropology Yasmin Zaki Shahab MA, it is estimated that the ethnic group Betawi was formed sometime around 1815-1893. [Betawi is derived from Betavia which was the Dutch name for the city that is now Jakarta] For this reason, the Betawi people are considered relative newcomers to the area.

This new ethnic group was born out of the melting pot of various cultures that had been living in the city of Jakarta such as the Sundanese, Javanese, Arab, Balinese, Sumbanese, Ambonese, and Malaysians.

[Betawi is derived from Batavia, the name given to Jakarta by the Dutch during the period of colonialization]

This fusion of different cultures led to an exchange of art, culture, customs, and fighting techniques. The different fighting techniques developing at this time are now referred to as silat but were previously called “Maen Pukulan” (To play at striking). Silat is thought to have been present in the area of present-day Jakarta, since the 16th century. At this time demonstrations of silat where more artistic in nature and where performed at weddings and circumcisions (sunatan). This strengthened the suggestion that Silat didn’t function only as a method for fighting, but had become a social contruct, a cultural art form rooted in daily life.

Pencak Silat has colored the Betawi people’s life, where practicing silat or “Maen Pukulan” (literally: to play boxing) was considered obligatory. The Betawi silat styles are known for the villages or areas where they developed. According to Professor Dr. Parsudi Suparlan, this is because “the Betawi people in daily social life, referred to themselves in terms of the location where they lived like Kemayoran people, Senen people, or Rawabelong people.” At that time awareness of a new Betawi ethnicity hadn’t yet taken root with the people. Then in 1923 Moh Husni Thamrin and figures in the Betawi society established Perkumpulan Kaum Betawi (The Betawi Social Collective) which made all Betawi people realize that they were a distinctive group (an ethnic group as well as a social and political unit): that they were all Betawi people.

Silat Betawi styles were named after their place of origin like Silat Kemayoran, Silat Tanah Abang, Silat Rawabelong, and many others. The leaders (jago-jago) in each area (kampung) were the progenitors of these fighting systems. When investigating further into the old Betawi urban village (kampung), in almost every place there could be found leaders (jagoan). They were not a simple security force. They were community leaders and were given high status because their actions were praised. The Pesilat (silat practicioner) or jago ‘maen pukulan’ made use of self-defense knowledge for the purposes of ‘amar ma’ruf nahi mungkar’, which means to invite man to the true path and away from tyranny. According to H.Irwan Sjafi’e, elder of the Istitution of Betawi Culture (Lembaga Kebudayaan Betawi), there presence was well respected and their relationship with the alim ulama (muslim scholar) was very firm thus they were the two most respected individuals in Betawi society.

The heroism of the Jago Silat in these early times is quite interesting to observe. For the public, they defended the ‘little people’ and protected their village-area (kampung) where they lived. Just mention Sabeni, the legendary pendekar (warrior) from Tanah Abang who lived before the 2nd World War. Sabeni was born around 1860 in Kebon Pala Tanah Abang. His parents were Hannam and Piyah. According to Bang Izul (one of Sabeni’s grandchildren), “Sabeni became a famous name after Sabeni was able to face another jago from Kemayoran who was nicknamed “The Tiger of Kemayoran.” The challenge came when Sabeni proposed to the daughter of the Kemayoran fighter. Sabeni’s activities training ‘maen pukulan’ to the Betawi people disturbed the colonial government and a Dutch offical named Mr. Danu brought a Kuntao expert from China to Defeat Sabeni. The Chinese fighter was defeated in what is now called “The Battle of Princen Park (an area in Jakarta which is now called Lokasari)”. Sabeni’s most phenomenal success was defeating Judo and Karate experts from Japan who were brought to Indonesia just to challenge Sabeni in Kebon Sirih Park (now the Gedung DKI area). At the time Sabeni was eight-three years old.

Until age eighty-four Sabeni still taught maen Pukulan (he taught almost all corners of Jakarta typically travelling by foot) until he died in peace surrounded by his children and students on Friday August 15, 1945, only two days before Indonesia’s Independence was proclaimed. He was buried at Jalan Kuburan Tanah Abang (Tanah Abang Graveyard Road). Afterwards, the name of this street was changed to Jalan Sabeni (Sabeni Road) by the regional government.

There are other well-known Silat practitioners coming from “Tanah Abang” such as Rahmad, Ma’ruf, Derachman Djeni, Habib AM Akhabsji, Satiri, and others. Silat practitioners from other areas frequently came to the Betawi region from other areas in order to study the local silat techniques. In addition to studying the fighting science, they also often formed fellowship or brotherhood (bersilaturahmi). According to Bapak Oong Maryono (a Pencak Silat researcher)

“Many pendekars from Sunda (West Java) collaborated and exchanged information with those in the Betawi region.”

Pencak Silat personalities from Sunda influenced silat in the Betawi region. For example, Raden H.Ibrahim (1816-1906), a practicioner of the Cikalong style, had studied with bang Kari and bang Madi. These individuals were quite famous in their time for their knowledge of Silat. The Madi style was known for arm breaking with its pulverizing techniques while bang Kari was known as a pendekar fom Benteng Tangerang (near Jakarta) who was also an expert in throwing techniques. To this day these two individuals are considered legends and it’s noted that they both came from the Betawi region. Raden H.Ibrahim, before learning with bang Kari and bang Madi, had studied with another Betawi pendekar named Ma’ruf in the Jakarta neighborhood of Karet.

Another famous pendekar known to the Betawi people is Pitung. Pitung came from kampung Rawabelong Kelurahan Sukabumi Utara in West Jakarta. He studied silat and Islam with H.Naipin. His Silat skills made him quite famous as well as his bravery in defending the ‘little people’ (rakyat kecil). He helped the poor by robbing the elite (merampok) and distributing their money to the poor people who needed assistance. Pitung is so famous that a dissertation was recently been written in Holland called “In Search of Si Pitung, the History of an Indonesian Legend,” (Margreet van Till, 1996). The Dutch colonial administration targeted Pitung because of his activities. He was betrayed by a friend and shot by Schout Van Hinne on October 16, 1893 and died a day later.

There are many famous Betawi Silat teachniques such as Cingkrik, Gie Sau, Beksi, Kelabang Nyebrang, Merak Ngigel, Naga ngerem, and others. Silat Cingkrik is already quite well known. This style has even deviated in several regions so that today it has many different derivations. O
ne of these derivations is Cingkrik Goning, which is named after its founder Engkong Goning, a fighter from Kedoya. His knowledge was passed to Bapak Usup Utay, who then taught Bapak Tb. Bambang who is now teaches it today. There are only 2 versions of the Cingkrik style being taught openly today. These are Cingkrik Goning and Cingkrik Sinan. The difference between the two is that Cingkrik Sinan uses “ilmu kontak” (a kind of telekinetic power that knocks people down without touching them) while Cingkrik Goning only handles the physical body. “The strategy of this style of silat is trying to enter and ‘lock’ the opponent so that a lot of time isn’t spent trading punches or kicks,” said Pak Bambang to the author while training at the

Padepokan (training hall) not long ago.
The variety of Betawi Silat styles were enriched by sources (latarbelakang silat)
from other areas like Syahbandar, Kuntau, and other West Javan styles. During the process of assimilation, a new style might be made. The most unique feature of and tradition in Betawi Silat is that the jurus (movements, forms) still remain strong. Look for instance at Mustika Kwitang which was established in the Kampung Kwitang neighborhood in central Jakarta. One of the proponents of this style is H.Muhammad Djaelani, who was referred to as Mad Djaelani. The style Mustika Kwitang is now entrusted to his grandson and student H. Zakaria. The acculturation of Chinese fighting methods with Betawi wasn’t considered strange at all. Consider silat Beksi, or bek (defending) and Sie (‘four’ in Chinese) which means “Defending in four directions.” Three Beksi masters (H.Gozali, H.Hasbullah, and H.Nali) and a Chinese person named Ceng Ok, developed this style in Jakarta. It’s thought that the Beksi style is the most widely spread in the Jakarta at this time.

There are no remnants of Silat brought from other areas of Southeast Asia like Sahbandar, which was brought by Mamak Sahbandar from West Sumatera. Mamak Sahbandar, whose was also known as H.Mohamad Kosim (1766-1880), came from Pagaruyungan in West Sumatera. Altough the Sahbandar silat style is now established in Cianjur (West Java), it was actually developed further in the Betawi region. H.Mohamad Kosim died at the age of 114 and was buried near Wanayasa, Purwakarta.

The Betawi Silat styles generally focus on attacking with fast empty-hand techniques. Around the year 1896 M.Toha and H.Odo established a school to teach their style called Sin Lam Ba. This style introduced Tenaga Dalam (inner power) and typical Silat jurus (movements) as well. This style is still being taught in Jakarta now. There are in fact many other Silat styles like Serak and Gerak Rasa that are quite well known in Jakarta.

After Indonesian Independence (1945), Jakarta became the destination for immigrants from all over Indonesia. According to census data from 1961, the Betawi ethnic group included more or less 22.9% of the 2.9 million residents of Jakarta at that time. They expanded to the outskirts of the city. It’s not surprising that the Betawi Silat styles had students from other styles that had been pushed out of their village (kampung). This made local people aware of local Silat styles and they made efforts to pass on this knowledge to their family and students locally and abroad.
Preserving Betawi Silat

Pencak Silat represents the artistic and cultural richness and is so valuable that it should be preserved for the promotion of genuine cultural consciousness. In 1972, “The Association of Pecak Silat Betawi” (Persatuan Pencak Silat Putra Betawi) and among the style represented were Sapu Jagat, Sahbandar, Sutera Baja, Mustika Kwitang, Genta, Sikak Mas. This organization was even visited by then President Suharto in 1973.

Entering the new Millenium, there are more than 50 Pencak Silat styles classified as originating from the Betawi region. Not all of these styles were easily accessible at the same time so a process to encourage camaraderie. Despite these efforts, several styles in the organization had begun to disappear from the Jakarta area. The Internal Betawi Silat Championship (Kejuraan Internal Silat Betawi) and Festival Silat Betawi were two events designed to help stimulate interest in the Indonesian martial arts and keep them from disappearing altogether.

In the future, The Putra Betawi organization is planning a Championship for Betawi Silat styles. “We are trying to watch over the uniqueness of this kind of Silat, when compared to Silat championships done by IPSI which have a more national character and focus on athletic performance,” said Deddy Suryadi (General Head of PPS.Putra Betawi). Thus the Putra Betawi organization is trying to elevate Silat as a symbol of pride for the Betawi culture. In August 2006 the Festival Silat Betawi was held and no less than 23 Silat groups participated in this event. One of the goals of the event was to visually document the original Betawi Silat forms so that they could be reintroduced to the younger generation.

Documentation and The Internet
The Internet has proven to be a great asset in helping to preserve Indonesia’s Martial Arts heritage. A group called The Traditional Silat Enthusiasts and Preservers Forum (Forum Pecinta dan Pelestari Silat Tradisional) was formed by Silat enthusiasts using the Internet to exchange information. This group’s agenda is to research, preserve, and promote traditional Silat style through modern media including video and books.

According to the goup’s coordinator Eko Hadi Selaku “the first step was processing all the different schools or Silat styles that are still found in the greater Jakarta area, we chose this region because our groups members live in or around Jakarta. Maybe in the future we can have representatives from other areas,” he said.

As a pilot project, the members of the Forum chose to begin documenting three different Betawi Silat styles: Silat Cingkrik Goning, Silat Pahaman, and Silat Sabeni. These three Silat styles have already been documented and this has led to public classes being opened at the Pencak Silat Training Center in Jakarta.

The goals of the Forum are to introduce encourage participation in traditional Silat through practice. Another important activity is sponsoring monthly discussion meetings that are open to the public so interested parties can find out more information in a more direct manner.
This Forum is open to the public and public participation is encouraged in order to achieve the Forum’s goals. The public can access information about this group on their website In addition to information about traditional Silat, information about upcoming events in Indonesia can be found. There is also an email-mailing-list which can also be useful for the Pencak Silat community in Indonesia in order to share information.

We should be proud that Pencak Silat has already spread to as many as twenty countries on five continents. Still, unfortunately the development and promotion of Pencak Silat outside of Indonesia seems superior to the efforts made in the art’s homeland. With hard work, hopefully enthusiasts of Pencak Silat in Indonesia will be able to bring forth a new image for this precious relic given to us by our ancestors adalah multiple search engine popular

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