Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Commodification of Betawi Culture

It is said that "Jakarta's cultural richness and dynamic growth contribute significantly to its growing importance as one of the world's leading capital cities" from Indonesia Tourism website.

However, I wonder if its the culture and traditions of
the place becoming the main attraction that resulted in the increase in tourist
activities in the city or is it the other way round, whereby the increase in
number of tourists to the city is the stimuli to flourish the culture and
traditions of the place?

In an article written from the Jakarta Post:Betawi culture a mix of many, it mentioned about Betawi culture now being attacked from all sides. With Jakarta undergoing modernization process, the culture and traditions of the native is under threat from the city's more recent resident's tradition and also the increasing trend of western pop culture.

Influences from all over the world have seeped into every pore of Jakarta's identity, that it is easy to forget that you are in Jakarta. There is a strange mix and incredible energy in the city. One can ride down to one of the many shopping malls in Jakarta to enjoy the latest Hollywood movies, have an Hagen-daz ice cream or splurge on a favourite Italian meal. This, to me, is the result of globalisation. So what is to happen to Jakarta's identity?

Betawi's culture and tradition in Jakarta is under a constant threat as Jakarta immerse herself in the benefits of modernization and globalisation. Its inevitable that a country will be affected from modernization be it positive or negative impacts. Today, Jakarta's skyline is covered by modern highrises. The many state-of-the-art shopping centers, recreation complexes and toll-roads have become hallmarks of the city. The quality of life and the general welfare of its inhabitants have improved considerably with the city's fast pace of development. These are just some examples of the benefits of modernization.

What is to become of native Betawi culture?

An expert on local culture, Yasmine Zaky Shahab of the University of Indonesia, said “The Betawi culture now has a new face as it has been adopted by the industry and treated as a commodity." Yasmine said that as a result of the commodification, people of other ethnic groups in Jakarta had adopted it. Betawi culture is being commodified not only due to tourism but also due to the changing local taste and preference. “In spite of modernization, the culture is now being practiced by those who are of differing ethnicity and is being treated as a commodity,” Yasmin said. (Information adopted from Jakarta Post - What to become native of Betawi Culture?)

Part of Betawi culture are being commodified to meet the changing preference of the locals. For example, the spread of pop culture in the city such as dangduts are replacing the traditional betawi culture in terms of entertainment in special events.Somehow, commodification of the betawi culture is becoming more of a need in order to sustain it and not cause the culture to totally be extinct.

An official with the Jakarta Regional Planning Board, I Made Karma Yoga, said the administration had done enough to preserve the culture and he mentioned that they are not able to see the motivation and involvement of the natives themselves in preserving their own culture. On the other hand, tourism also plays a part in the commodification of Betawi culture. Cultural symbols are being commodified into mass-produced handicrafts and souveniers in order to meet the needs of the tourists. Consumerism has resulted in the usage of traditional cultures as a gimmick at times, to lure tourists to pay for the cultural products. Commodification often results in the issue of authenticity. When cultural products are transformed into another simplified form, it loses its meaning and will no longer be significance. For example cultural performances are often shorten to accomodate more to the tourist needs and preference.

So who is responsible for the commodification of the Betawi culture?
It is difficult to solely point fingers as culture is very complex. In fact, traditions can often change due to modernization. It is inevitable, as time changes, the preference and taste of its people also changes. As commodification often result in the loss of meaning of the cultural product, it is difficult to measure the authenticity of the experience and products that a destination could provide.

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