Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Baweanese (Boyanese)

The Baweanese (Boyanese)

Baweanese are not Malays. They are people originated from the Bawean Island situated in the Java Sea. This tiny Island belongs to the Republic of Indonesia and is also widely known as "Pulau Puteri" which literally means ''Island of the Woman'', referring the island belongs to the women. There are more women than men living in the island because most of the men have gone ''Merantau'', leaving their homeland in search of opportunities abroad.

Hence, the traditional homeland of the Bawean descent from all over the world, wherever they are today -Malaysian Baweanese, Singaporean Baweanese, Australian Baweanese, etc., is Bawean Island. The forefathers of these Baweanese were immigrants in the country they are residing now.

A large number of Baweanese men heve left the island to become merchant sailors. There is a saying on Bawean to the effect of "You are not really a man until you have spent several years abroad." It is not uncommon to find Baweanese who have been to Europe, China, Japan, and even North America and South America. Baweanese migrants to Singapore were a prominent part of what are now considered to be the Malays in Singapore, working as horse cart drivers and later as motorcar drivers and giving their name to the area known as Kampung Boyan.

The Baweanese were originally from Pulau Bawean (Bawean Island) in East Java Coordinates: 5°46′S, 112°40′E (Located approximately 200 km north of Surabaya in the Java Sea)

Map of part of East Java: Region Gresik

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Map of Pulau Bawean (Bawean Island)

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Bawean Island

Bawean Island is quite unheard of in Indonesia and it administered as part of the Indonesian region of Gresik in Surabaya. I’m sure you’ve read about the history of the island where King Babileono got defeated by Umar Mas’ood. since then, Bawean Island has turned into an island inhbited with Muslims. However, I also heard that many Boyanese still believe in animistic beliefs as the inhabitants before Umar Mas’ood’s success in obtaining the island believed strongly in animistic beliefs and shamanism.

The Bawean homeland is a 200 square kilometer island 120 kilometers north of Surabaya (East Java) in the middle of the Java Sea. Bawean has been known as the "island of women" because the majority of its inhabitants are women. This is because the men tend to look for employment in other lands. A man from Tanjung Ori village who worked for 20 years in Malaysia said, "A Bawean male is not considered an adult until he has stepped on foreign soil." Merantau (going to distant lands to seek success) is a major aspect of Baweanese culture, and it influences most every other facet of their society.

Bawean is an island of Indonesia located approximately 150 km north of Surabaya in the Java Sea, it is administered by Gresik Regency of East Java province. It is approximately 15 km in diameter and is circumnavigated by a single narrow road. Bawean is dominated by an extinct volcano at its center that rises over 650 m above sea level. The island's population is around 65,000. Approximately 40,000 live in the capital of Sangkapura and the rest live in small villages scattered around the island.

The name of the island comes from a Sanskrit name which means "there is sunlight". In Indonesian, it is known in full as Pulau Bawean (Bawean Island). In Singapore and Malaysia, where many Baweanese migrated, the island is known as Boyan and its natives as Boyanese. Bawean is also called the "Island of Women" because of the large number of men that become merchant sailors and leave the island.

Bawean island is dominated by an extinct volcano at its center that rises over 650 m above sea level. The island’s population is around 65,000. The island is divided into two parts, Kacamatan Tambak in the north and Kacamatan Sangkapura in the south. Approximately 40,000 live in the capital of Sangkapura and the rest live in small villages scattered around the island.

Merantau (going to distant lands to seek success

A significant number of the Baweanese reside in Malaysia. In fact, the Baweanese population there far exceeds that found on the island itself, which numbers 60,000 inhabitants. Other areas of Baweanese migration include Singapore, where they are known as the Boyanese people, and Perth, Australia.


The Baweanese or Boyanese came from the Bawean Island in the Dutch East Indies. They built the Kampung Boyan (Boyanese Village) by the banks of the Rochor River, between Jalan Besar and Syed Alwi Road since the time of Munshi Abdullah. Most of them came to Singapore in the late 19th century until the end of Second World War. The majority of them worked as horse cart drivers and later as motorcar drivers. They could not be considered poor as their lands in Bawean were fertile; they had come in search of cash earnings. They wanted to purchase jewellery made of gold and goods that they could bring back to their villages. Some also wanted to build a better life for themselves in Singapore.

Most of them were young men who came and supported themselves, living in communal houses( pondok). There were several such houses built in Singapore. They were found in places like Adam Communal House in Ann Siang Hill, Teluk Dalam Communal House in Dixon Road and Dedawang Communal House in Sophie Road. There was also a village within the town area that was inhabited by the Baweanese called Kampung Kapur (literally ‘Lime Village’) in the western part of Kampung Boyan (Boyan Village). A mosque called the Masjid Bawean Kampung Kapur (Bawean Mosque of Lime Village) located at Weld Road was built in 1932. There was also a communal house that became the gathering point for writers and their friends from the literary group called Jejak Kembara (literally ‘Wandering Steps’) in the late 1970s.

Many of them found jobs as drivers and horse-trainers. Some were seamen & midwives/traditional masseur. They lived in communal houses called pondoks.

Due to the fact that they shared the same religion and were closely related racially, both the Baweanese and the Javanese were able to mix freely and even intermarried with the Malays.In time, this caused the differences between them to be less obvious and more Baweanese and Javanese began identifying themselves as Malays.

Contemporary music scene exposure in Germany:

In 1967 a Singaporean "Pop Yeh-yeh" band called Kassim Slamat and the Swallows found success with their Baweanese hit number. Among those on the list, the song La A Obe, remains the best as it was once listed in the German hits chart in 1967. Kassim recalled, "Actually, we had no idea why the Germans like our song La A Obe, perhaps our Boyanese language has some similarities with theirs, I suppose. We were even offered to perform in Germany for three months, but we had to decline as some of us has a family, apart from the difficulty in getting halal food there."

Kampung Boyan can be found in Aulong near Taiping, Perak, Malaysia. Interestingly, there is another Kampung Boyan in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. However, any sort of Baweanese influence or heritage is blurry due to mixed marriages being common among the people living in Sarawak.
There are some Boyanese living in Penang.

Malacca: Orang Boyan normally lived near to town, Kampung Mata Kuching, Klebang Besar, Limbongan, Tengkera dan kawasan sekitar Hospital Besar Melaka.

Klang valley : Ampang, Gombak, Balakong ,Shah Alam. Mereka membeli tanah dengan cara berkongsi dan membina rumah seperti rumah-rumah teres.

Penang : Gelugor, Pulau Pinang, at least 2 families of orang Bawean.


Perth -

Related articles/blogs/websites:
1. The Baweanese Corner, http://endahvision.blogspot.com/
2. Christian Missionaries to Bawean Island,http://www.missionfrontiers.org/1989/10/o895.htm
3. Indonesia's Bawean Island: The Magic of Faith, http://www.thingsasian.com/stories-
4. Baweanese songs by Kassim Slamat & The Swallows, http://www.geocities.com/hassnyaq/
5. The Baweanese (Boyanese), by Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman|Marsita Omar, National Library Board Singapore, http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1069_2007-06-20.html
6. Bawean, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bawean

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