Javanese community



The Javanese are one of the larger Indonesian ethnic groups that migrated to Singapore in various waves starting from the early 19th century. People of Javanese ancestry in Singapore are now regarded as part of the larger Malay/Muslim community.

Historical background

Singapore began to attract waves of migrants from various parts of the Malay Archipelago shortly after the founding of a British trading settlement on the island in 1819. In the 1825 census returns, 38 Javanese were recorded as residing in Singapore.1 The earliest Javanese migrants were believed to have come as craftsmen and merchants, and they established a trading centre in Kampong Java.2 The Javanese craftsmen worked in metal and leather crafts, while the merchants traded in cloth, spices, religious texts and other goods.3

The number of Javanese migrants increased in the latter part of the 19th century. In 1891, some 8,541 Javanese were recorded to be residing in Singapore.4 There were several reasons for the increase in Javanese emigration. First, the conditions in central Java then were tough; there was a population explosion, poverty and scarcity of land.5 Second, the Javanese were actively being recruited to work as contract labour for large-scale plantations and the mining industry in the region. The Javanese were seen as an alternative source of labour to the Chinese and Indians. The recruiters believed that the Javanese would assimilate better with the local Malays and would be good at clearing jungle foliage because they lived in rural areas.6

Malaya (including Singapore) was the first territory to import Javanese labourers and therefore was where the largest number of Javanese immigrants was found.7 Between 1886 and 1890, around 21,000 Javanese signed work contracts with the Singapore Chinese Protectorate before being posted to work in various locations.8 These Javanese were recruited by agents who paid their travel expenses. In return, these Javanese labourers were contracted to work for an employer designated by the agent for a set period of time.9

In addition to economic reasons, many Javanese came to Singapore in order to undertake the Hajj or Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.10 Due to travel restrictions placed by the Dutch colonial government, it was difficult for Javanese pilgrims to proceed directly from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) to Mecca. The majority of Javanese pilgrims had to travel to Mecca via Singapore, where British travel requirements were less stringent.11 Between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, around 2,000 to 7,000 Javanese made the pilgrimage to Mecca annually via Singapore.12 The Javanese pilgrims would often work in Singapore and Malaya for months, or even years, to earn sufficient funds for their pilgrimage. On the return journey, some Javanese pilgrims would settle in Singapore or work on the island for a few years to settle their debts.13

During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese brought in about 10,000 Javanese conscript workers.14 Following the end of the occupation in 1945, some of these workers returned to Java while others chose to settle in Singapore.15 In the post-war years, young Javanese men or whole families of Javanese descendants living in Malaya migrated to Singapore for better job opportunities.16

By the 1960s, many of the Javanese living in Singapore had assimilated into the larger Malay/Muslim community.17 Through living with the Malays and other ethnic groups, many Javanese lost proficiency in their mother tongue. In addition, English education and religious reforms eroded many traditional Javanese practices that were part of their ethnic identity.18 The Javanese in Singapore now generally regard themselves as part of the Malay/Muslim community as they broadly share the same religion, language and cultural practices.19

Places
The first Javanese settlement in Singapore was Kampong Java (or Kampong Jawa). In addition to being a trading centre, Kampong Java was the place where new Javanese migrants headed for upon arrival in Singapore. Here, they would be hosted for a few days before finding long-term accommodation elsewhere.20 Kampong Java was located in what is now the area of Arab Street and Haji Lane.21 A possible reason for the Javanese residing in an area designated for the Arabs was that the Javanese formed the crew of many Arab-owned vessels that operated out of Java.22

In addition to Kampong Java, the Javanese settled in other parts of Singapore. In the 19th century, there were large numbers of Javanese in the kampongs (Malay villages) of Tempei, Pachitan, Bukit Chermin and Chantek, as well as in settlements along Bukit Timah Road.23 Kampong Java Road, which links Bukit Timah to Newton Circus, was so named due to the large number of Javanese living along the road. In these areas, the Javanese lived alongside the other ethnic communities. In the post-war years, the Javanese began to leave these settlements to live in other parts of the island.24

Occupations
The Javanese worked in various occupations. The early Javanese migrants were craftsmen and traders, as well as plantation labourers. Later Javanese migrants worked at other occupations such as drivers, watchmen, gardeners, jockeys and domestic servants.25

Cultural practices
When the Javanese came to Singapore, they brought along their language, arts and cultural practices. Some older Javanese in Singapore continue to speak Javanese at home, but many younger generation Javanese are more fluent in Malay, which they study in school as their mother tongue.26


The Javanese have a rich artistic tradition which includes Javanese dance, shadow puppetry known as wayang kulit and gamelan music.27 Some of these traditions continue to thrive in Singapore although there are only a small group of practitioners left. Traditional arts group Tedja Timur helps to keep these traditions alive by conducting lessons in wayang kulit, wayang orang (dance drama) and Javanese folk dance. The group also performs a traditional Javanese art form known as kuda kepang: a gamelan-accompanied dance where performers fall into a trace.28

The Javanese have similar social and cultural practices to the Malays due to their shared religion and adherence to traditional Malay customs known as adat. As Muslims, they abide by Muslim codes of conduct in terms of food and dress. They also observe similar ceremonies for life events such as pregnancy, the birth of a child and death.29

However, there are notable variations in beliefs and practices between the Javanese and Malays, especially in the past. Anthropologist Judith Djamour observed that the Javanese in the 1940s and 1950s were stricter about matters of rank and status than the Malays.30 She also observed that the Javanese had a strong belief that if a child was born on the same day of the week as its parent, either one of them would die. To avoid this fate, the Javanese would get a friend or kinsman to adopt the child and then entrust the child’s upbringing to the biological mother.31



Author
Stephanie Ho



References
1. Marriott, H. (1991). The peoples of Singapore. In W. Makepeace, et al. (Eds.), One hundred years of Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 355. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE -[HIS])
2. Li, T. (1989). Malays in Singapore: Culture, economy and ideology. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING 305.899205957 LI)
3. Li, T. (1989). Malays in Singapore: Culture, economy and ideology. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING 305.899205957 LI)
4. Marriott, H. (1991). The peoples of Singapore. In W. Makepeace, et al. (Eds.), One hundred years of Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 259. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE -[HIS])
5. Lockard, C. A. (1971, April). The Javanese as emigrant. Indonesia, 11, 44. (Call no.: RSEA 959.8 I)
6. Lockard, C. A. (1971, April). The Javanese as emigrant. Indonesia, 11, 46. (Call no.: RSEA 959.8 I)
7. Lockard, C. A. (1971, April). The Javanese as emigrant. Indonesia, 11, 48. (Call no.: RSEA 959.8 I)
8. Roff, W. R. (2009). Studies on Islam and society in Southeast Asia. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 79. (Call no.: RSING 297.0959 ROF)
9. Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore 1819-1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 97. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
10. Roff, W. R. (2009). Studies on Islam and society in Southeast Asia. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 79. (Call no.: RSING 297.0959 ROF)
11. Roff, W. R. (2009). Studies on Islam and society in Southeast Asia. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 80. (Call no.: RSING 297.0959 ROF)
12. Li, T. (1989). Malays in Singapore: Culture, economy and ideology. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING 305.899205957 LI)
13. Roff, W. R. (2009). Studies on Islam and society in Southeast Asia. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 80. (Call no.: RSING 297.0959 ROF)
14. Turnbull, C. M. (1977). A history of Singapore 1819-1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 212. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)
15. Abdul Aziz Johari. (1961). The Javanese people of Singapore. Unpublished Academic Exercise, Department of Social Studies, University of Malaya, p. 27. (Not available in NLB holdings)
16. Li, T. (1989). Malays in Singapore: Culture, economy and ideology. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 95. (Call no.: RSING 305.899205957 LI)
17. Chia H. H. J. (1992–1993). A history of the Javanese and Boyanese in Singapore. Unpublished Academic Exercise, Department of History, National University of Singapore, p. 52.
18. Chia H. H. J. (1992–1993). A history of the Javanese and Boyanese in Singapore. Department of History, National University of Singapore, p. 53.
19. Tham S. C. (1993). Malay family structure: Change and continuity with reference to Singapore. Singapore: Department of Malay Studies, National University of Singapore, p.1. (Call no.: RSING 305.899205957 THA)
20. Abdul Aziz Johari. (1961). The Javanese people of Singapore. Unpublished Academic Exercise, Department of Social Studies, University of Malaya, p. 25. (Not available in NLB holdings)
21. Imran Tajudeen. (2010). Kampong Gelam, Rochor and Kallang. In A. T. Lau & B. Platzdasch (Eds.), Malay heritage of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media in association with Malay Heritage Foundation, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING 959.570049928 MAL -[HIS])
22. Imran Tajudeen. (2010). Kampong Gelam, Rochor and Kallang. In A. T. Lau & B. Platzdasch (Eds.), Malay heritage of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media in association with Malay Heritage Foundation, pp. 63–64. (Call no.: RSING 959.570049928 MAL -[HIS])
23. Abdul Aziz Johari. (1961). The Javanese people of Singapore. Unpublished Academic Exercise, Department of Social Studies, University of Malaya, p. 28. (Not available in NLB holdings)
24. Abdul Aziz Johari. (1961). The Javanese people of Singapore. Unpublished Academic Exercise, Department of Social Studies, University of Malaya, p. 29. (Not available in NLB holdings)
25. Barnard, T. P. & Khairudin Aljunied. A century of hope, experiment and change. In A. T. Lau & B. Platzdasch (Eds.), Malay heritage of Singapore. Singapore: Suntree Media in association with Malay Heritage Foundation, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING 959.570049928 MAL -[HIS])
26. Masuri S. N. (1993, August 9). Hope must never die. The Straits Times, p. 2.Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Java. (2007, July 6). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved from New World Encyclopedia website: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/java
28. Shaffiq Alkhatib. (2013, June 24). Keeping culture alive. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
29. Djamour, J. (1965). Malay kinship and marriage in Singapore. London: The Athlone Press, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 301.42095957 DJA)
30. Djamour, J. (1965). Malay kinship and marriage in Singapore. London: The Athlone Press, p. 70. (Call no.: RSING 301.42095957 DJA)
31. Djamour, J. (1965). Malay kinship and marriage in Singapore. London: The Athlone Press, p. 94. (Call no.: RSING 301.42095957 DJA)




The information in this article is valid as at 25 July 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Ethnic groups
Clans--Singapore
Social groups
Javanese