That day was the end of Pitung’s life, but because of his good deeds towards those in need, Pitung will always be remembered as the defender of the wong cilik (litt.: “little people”: the poor). However, those who were ever robbed by him, will always regard Pitung as a crook, who deserved to be rewarded with bullets. (Rahmat Ali : 7)
The philosophy of “noble conduct” as the basis of the martial art-form Pencak Silat
In Melayu culture (including Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei) human beings are regarded as individuals in the physical world, as social beings belonging to a certain group, as a community belonging to a greater universe, and as a creation of God. In line with this conceptual framework, the teachings of pencak silat are also conveyed through the articulation of values related to these four human roles, that is, individual, social, universal and religious values. It is believed that strenghtening and developing these values will eventually lead to individuals who uphold the goals of achieving goodness and doing virtous deeds, and to the formation of a peaceful, prosperous society based on solidarity among community’s members and responsibility before the Supreme God (PB.IPSI :3-4).
This philosophical teaching of “noble conduct” forms the essence and the source of inspiration for the use of pencak silat. According to the Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia (IPSI; Indonesian Pencak Silat Organization), by practicing pencak silat, a person can become someone whose life and conduct strive to achieve the ideals of takwa (being faithful to the Supreme God), tanggap (being sensitive), tangguh (showing perseverance), tanggon (standing up for justice, honesty and thruth) and trengginas (being creative and forward-thinking), or a human being who is capable of protecting himself from physical and moral evil (Idem:5).
In this way, the tradition of pencak silat as a form of humanitarian education continues to this day. It requires that any practitioner of silat has a strong sense of humanity, honesty and goodness, and will not be led astray by feelings of self importance, but will, instead, be sensitive to the suffering of others, striving to alleviate it. Only when one has mastered all these elements, is able to apply them and put them into practice can a student of pencak silat be called a true “master”. Although specific details vary by region and by teacher, the overall thought is that to study pencak silat means not only mastering its techniques and physical skills, but also to develop one’s “inner self”, a process which involves learning about strengthening one’s soul, the faithfulness of one’s heart and controlling one’s emotions.
This is symbolized in many of the movements. Thus, for instance, blocking with the hand in front of the face symbolizes the resisting of negative influences as seen by the eyes, heard by the ears or spoken by mouth. Certain hand movements in front of the chest signify that one is patient, calm and able to maintain one’s sense of balance (or, in Javanese: tepa selira; Olah Raga :7).
The techniques of self-defense should only be used in emergency situations, for example when and if another person attacks us and when such an attack cannot be avoided:
If one is about to be attacked, with either words or a direct action which may injure him/her, one should not let oneself be provoked by an angry reaction, or respond instantly with an offensive attack, by striking out and such. It is better, at first, to try using gentle persuasion and negotiating, soothing the attacker, who, in other words, should be made aware about the consequences of his/her attack and be given the opportunity to reflect on his/her behavior (Olah Raga :1)
If all efforts at peace-making fail, only then should a practitioner of the martial arts physically respond to the attack. This should be done without any display of anger or self-importance, and one must never go so far as to seriously injure or, worse, kill the opponent. It is enough to disarm and restrain the attacker’s movements so that he is rendered harmless or immobile. Such attitude is commented upon, albeit half-jokingly, by the Great Guru Pamor, Hasan Habudin from the city of Pamekasan on the island of Madura. He was once asked “Who is a master?” to which he replied as follows:
A master comes in different types: there can be a master crook, a master of ignorance or stupidity, a dead master and a genuine master. A master crook is a master who fights until all parties involved are dead. A master of stupidity is a master who declares himself a master. A dead master is a master who does not fight back when he is hit. Finally, a genuine master is someone who defends himself without injuring the other person .
The ideal of wanting to achieve goodness and doing virtous deeds can be found in many human actions. In many cases humans will try with all their might to do good, to help where help is needed and to give where there is need. However, in everyday life it is often very hard, sometimes even impossible to escape from the temptations, trials and tribulations we face, both as individuals and as a community. Is it possible to apply ideological norms to a reality that is far from ideal?
Various proverbs and sayings in our culture give the impression that in everyday life, any practitioner of the martial arts is always ready to fight. Thus in the community of Minangkabau (Sumatra), there is a saying that “Musuh tidak dicari, tetapi jika bersua pantang dielakkan”, which means: “Enemies are not sought out, but if they are encountered, one should not run away”. In Betawi (the region known in colonial days as Batavia, or, nowadays, Jakarta) one often hears: “Kalau lu jual, gua beli”, meaning: “If you ‘sell’ (i.e. make a challenge), I will ‘buy’ (rise to the occasion)”. Moreover, historical analysis indicates that in many cases pencak silat skills were not used at all as a mean to attain noble goals or as a guide for noble conduct, yet instead they were often misused to perform actions of violence and crime. As I will show in this paper, this dualism is reflected clearly in the character of the so-called jago, pencak silat practitioners who played a unique role during the Dutch colonial times from the 18th century onwards. Although the oral, written and visual tradition of the jago character has it that he is a defender of the rights of the poor and the powerless (in Javanese: wong cilik) against the oppression of the Dutch, it will be shown here that jago were also employed by the local and colonial authorities, becoming an extension of the colonial system, whereby their mastery and use of the martial arts was put to suppress and control the same wong cilik they were supposed to defend.
The jago in literary tradition: upholding the ideal image of pencak silat
Before beginning the discussion of jago and the role they played in the colonial period, we must first explore the meaning of the term “jago” itself. According to the General Indonesian Language Dictionary, the term “jago” has various meanings, including, “rooster older than 12 months”; “main candidate in an election”; “front runner”; “champion”; “the favorite to win” (Yandianto ). Generally speaking, a jago is regarded as someone to be respected by the community because of his gifts or talents, a person with posture and social status, somewhat like a prize rooster. Exactly where and when this expression originated cannot be confirmed. However, from examples in literature, epic stories and colonial government reports it is hypothesized that the term jago developed amidst the communities of Central Java, East Java and Madura during Dutch colonial times, more specifically from the time when the so-called Cultuurstelsel (the colonial system of forced cultivation or “sistim tanam paksa”) was first instituted. At the same time, other Dutch terms, such as ondernemer, sinder, opas, and kontroleur were introduced and found their way into the local languages, illustrating that new social positions were emerging, due to changes in the colonial hierarchy.
Part of a person ‘s ability to be regarded as a jago, is an outstanding command of martial arts skills, often with an additional belief in that person ‘s supernatural strength:
Why and how does a person become a jago? Until now, this question remains unanswered. There could be a possibility that someone will become a jago by ancestry. However, here it is argued that physical strength, bravery, and mastering certain types of (esoteric-) knowledge are the key criteria for becoming a jago. A person can be called a jago if he can endure a long period of training. This training consists of serving other, experienced jago in their daily activities and assisting them with their activities and their burglaries. Furthermore, a would-be jago is required to do ngelmu, meaning to be a loyal apprentice and to acquire knowledge from a guru or kiai (master teachers). Ngelmu here applies to any kind of learning from a teacher or a scholar. Besides ngelmu, one could also increase one ‘s skills by acquiring self-defense techniques such as pencak silat.
Although many young students go through this process, each would-be jago follows a specialized type of ngelmu, in accordance with individual needs, and which often have to do with the super-natural. Thus there is ilmu sirep, or the science of hypnosis, panglimunan (how to make yourself or others invisible) and ilmu kekebalan or the science of becoming invincible and/or invulnerable to attack. After having studied with various guru, the would-be jago performs a closing act in the form of spending a period of time alone, secluded, as a hermit. After succeeding all this, an initiation ritual will be performed as well (Schulte-Nordholt :668; see also van Till :23)
In many poems and folk tales one finds a highly stylized image of the young jago, studying the Al Qur’an, and practicing pencak silat in the monastery as an eager youth. Then, after mastering the skills and knowledge, the jago rises to the role of opposing the Dutch, by becoming a marauding bandit who steals from the rich and distributes the spoils of this thievery to the poor, sometimes donating it in order to build a village mosque. In many aspects these iconoclastic and rather romantic descriptions resemble the famous Robin Hood-stories. In some cases the legend of these “Robin Hoods of Java” have become well known and their actions are described in Malay and Indonesian literature, some of them in the form of popular comic books. The adventures of Sakera (a hero from Madura), Sarip Tambak Yoso (a jago who won Surabaya), Sawung Galing (a jago from Pasuruan) and Si Pitung (a jago of Batavia) have spread far and wide in the Indonesian archipelago, with many of their stories being passed on orally from generation to generation, and some even being adapted for cinema and television.
In the collective fantasy the legendary jago is characterized by a special imagery: they wear a dark colored, simple costume, with their shirt and trousers, all black, loosely flowing, with a scarf knotted around the forehead, with their long hair blowing in the wind; their fingers are adorned with many rings, they wear bracelets made of akar bahar (black coral), they have a heavy moustache and around their waist they wear a sash to hold a sword or knife (Rahmat Ali :9).
As the story goes, armed with these weapons, the jago faces capture and subsequent punishment by the Dutch, namely to be brought before a firing squad. Although the jago’s enemies (i.e. armed Dutch troops or police) will, as a matter of fact, carry far more sophisticated weapons than our jago, they let themselves be overpowered and become very confused, because the jago seems to, miraculously, escape time after time; they suffer many material losses before they are, finally, able to regain control of the situation and restore law and order. In the end, however, the Dutch, usually a small platoon or armed company, will eventually, aided by very precise trickery, succeed in capturing and executing the jago.
The message conveyed here is that a smart character, who has mastered the skills of pencak silat, will die a noble death, defending God and the Truth, as a hero. What is also interesting is that even after death, a jago can still strike fear into the hearts of those in power, as can be seen from the poem “Rancak Si Pitung”:
… Pitung is dead, and his relatives have been told
His bier was carried from Krekot; he was buried in Penjaringan
I know someone in the hospital, who spread the story
That his guts were preserved in spirits
At his funeral the police provided an escort
The grave of champion Pitung was guarded
Those keeping watch over Pitung’s grave through the night
Were forbidden to leave until their reliefs had arrived
For the night guard
Had told the story that Pitung ‘s had come to life again in his grave
The convicts in chains who had to dig him up said it was very hard
Even though pick and shovels had been provided
They had to dig him up because the commissioner was suspicious
Looking into the grave with a telescope they saw that it was still Pitung’s corpse
You could clearly see that it was Pitung’s body
It was printed in the newspaper, of the news agency
That his ribs were shattered where the bullets had struck
When Pitung died, Mr. Hinne ordered a feast at Tomang
To which hordes of people came
And where all kinds of games were permitted
The feast was to go on for seven days and nights
The aim of organizing such a feast was to catch Pitung’s band of men
It was a plan to capture Pitung’s band… (Grijns :25-7)
In order to get a better understanding of the jago, the motivations and the use of martial arts skills, the author here presents a summarized version of Pitung’s story:
One day, Pitung was ordered by his father to go to the market at Tanah Abang to sell two goats. On arriving at the market, the well-fed and healthy goats were quickly sold, and Pitung returned home. However, as he approached his house, he noticed that his money was no longer in his pocket. After thinking hard, Pitung remembered that a group of men, perhaps bandits, at the market had held him in conversation; one of them might have picked his pocket. Immediately he returned to the market, where he found them. He confronted them with his misfortune, accusing them of stealing his money and soon a quarrel ensued, which ended in a fistfight. Pitung, who was learning how to develop his skills as a practitioner of martial arts and who trained with Haji Naipin each day after evening prayers (isya), succeeded in avoiding the punches directed at him by his attackers. The more they tried to hit him, the more agile his leaps became, quickly twisting and turning while avoiding their attacks. Only if he was cornered he would return their punches, but even then he wouldn’t use his full strength. This resulted in knocking some of the bandits back, crying out in pain. Hoping that they would not organize their attack more effectively, Pitung kicked out to the left and right, and used his elbow to block their punches, whereupon the defeated crooks rolled back, unconscious. Finally three of his attackers ran away and two surrendered. Luckily, they still had his money and Pitung could take it home with relief.
For defeating them single handedly, the bandits much admired Pitung’s skills in martial arts. Their leader, Rais, suggested that Pitung become his successor as head of the pickpockets at the market. Pitung was very angry and refused this offer, because pick pocketing is dishonest, violent and ethically unacceptable, albeit at that time the Dutch and their cronies were also squeezing the community dry. Pitung held fast to the teachings of his pencak silat guru, Haji Naipin in order to defend the greater good. “Then how can we help the suffering, Pitung?” Rais asked. Pitung’s friends in the village Rawabelong also threw out the sama question, “How can we save and help those in trouble?”
One quiet night, Pitung was meditating, thinking and introspecting, trying to weigh the pro’s and con’s of his options. Finally Pitung came to a decision. With the help of his most trusted friends, including Rais, Ji’ih and Jebul, he began a career as a robber and a thief, stealing from the houses of the rich, that is, the European and Chinese land lords in particular. The gains of their robberies were partly given to the orphans, partly divided among the wong cilik, the poor, many of whom were enslaved by debts to the landlords.
During these actions, Pitung used both his martial arts skills and his much admired ability to enter houses quietly and leaving without a trace, as if he were invisible. Every time he did this, the night guards swould be stunned, and found that it was as if they couldn’t move, nor draw their weapons. However, his burglaries never involved other acts of violence and he never resorted to murder or even drew a single drop of blood.
Pitung and his friends never operated in their own villages and their actions were directed against rich individuals from other, neighboring communities. Thus their targets for robberies were to be found in the area of Lima Bridge, the city of Angke, and, even further afield, in Marunda. However, as time went by, Pitung’s band ran wilder and wilder. Each day, as evening drew near, fear would begin to grip the communities.
All of this made the Dutch authorities more and more worried. A number of heavily armed men, guards and policemen, perhaps as many as several platoons were charged with pursuing and capturing Pitung. Finally, after having studied the way Pitung usually worked, the Dutch chief of police, Schout Heyne, succeeded in catching Pitung and throw him in jail at Meester Cornelis. However, in just a few days, Pitung managed to escape from the prison by climbing out through the roof. He was chased and shot at, but was not hit, or rather, in some mysterious way it seemed as if the bullets wouldn’t pierce his body. Overcome with anger, Schout Heyne ordered the arrest of both Pitung’s parents as well as his guru. Due to heavy torture Haji Naipin was finally forced to reveal the secret of Pitung’s invincibility.
Pitung was finally tracked down and found when he was hiding at the house of his fiancee in Kota Bambu. Schout Heyne and his troops surrounded the house and there followed an uneven, heavy bout of fist fighting between Pitung and a great many number of attackers; many victims fell. After a long while, when Pitung found himself desperately fighting alone, one of Schout Heyne’s men, following the instructions of Haji Naipin, suddenly threw a rotten egg in Pitung’s direction, while at the same moment Schout Heyne ordered all his troops to fire simultaneously. As it turned out, this was the trick that would finally end Pitung ‘s strength and agility. Pitung fell, face-down, on the ground, bleeding heavily; he was mortally wounded after having been shot over and over again in the back. (adapted from Rahmat Ali :3-7).
Several elements in the story of Pitung illustrate the jago’s efforts of honoring the afore mentioned principles of noble conduct which are central to the practice of pencak silat: he tries to defuse confrontation, attacking only in case of an emergency, and is very careful in avoiding any unnecessary violence or even killing anybody. Even though violence can’t always be avoided when facing an enemy, it should only be used for a just cause and as a means to alleviate the suffering of others.
The jago has a strong feeling of solidarity with the oppressed community and uses pencak silat-skills to defend the rights of the so-called “wong cilik”, or the poor and powerless, against the abuse of power by, in this case, the rich foreign (i.e. European) landlords and the colonial government. The theme of the jago’s role as a heroic defender of the rights of the wong cilik is found in various forms of theatre, particularly in Java. For example, in the Ludruk-theatre in East Java the stories and actions of local jago, like Sakera, Sarip Tambak Yoso, or Sawung Galing are staged. Similarly, in Lenong Betawi (a form of popular theatre found in Jakarta and the surrounding areas) the stories of a number of regional jago, among others Si Jampang, Si Pitung and his band, Mat Item, Ronda, Si Angki, Si Panjang and Mira (the female lion from Marunda) are performed.
The pencak silat-movements shown in Lenong-theatre performances are quite different from the typical elements of other performances, which are more based on dialogue and singing only. Usually the scenes and movements follow an almost standard pattern: the traditional, but free-flowing style of silat-dance movements or kembang silat are staged in the opening scene, performed by the first character; this can be either the jago-character, in his role of the defender of the people, or the guard character, who plays the role of the protector of the landlords. When the jago begins (solo), he will then suddenly ask: “siapa lu”? (” who are you?”), upon which the other, defeated character will answer with his name. This short conversation sets the tone for their interaction during the rest of the performance.
Each actor or character (tanjak) in this traditional art form usually masters one certain branch or style of pencak silat. Most choose Pek si, or other styles, like Kotek, Cimande, Hai kun, Cikalong, Kelabang Menyebrang, Protok, Bading, Jiret, Tok sai, and Cimonyet, while Silo Macan is also popular. The choreography of kembang silat is almost always the same and will usually begin with a rotation towards the center of the stage. Both characters will display their silat-skills as they move about from one edge of the stage to the other, until at some point they meet and begin to fight (Kleden-Probonegoro :59-61). The traditional movements of the duel, which can be described as maut, seram, seru and menahan nafas are sometimes combined with “new and surprising” techniques of pencak silat (Mertju Suar ), and are also developed for television.
Since the early days of cinema, in the 1930s, the film world has been drawn to the idea of films about the jago. Because of the popularity of jago, stories that feature them hold a strong attraction and have a high commercial value. One of the first folk stories about the jago, filmed by the Wong Brothers, was released in 1931: this was the film “Si Pitoeng”, a film enthusiastically received by audiences especially from the urban lower- and middle classes. It’s not surprising that in 1971 there was a re-release (by P.T. Dewi Films) with the new titles “Si Pitung Banteng Betawi” (Pitung, the Bull of Batavia) and “Pembalasan Si Pitung” (The Revenge of Pitung) (see illustration). In the film, Pitung -played by the actor Diky Zulkarnaian- portrayed the defender of the wong cilik, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. All through the film, from beginning to end, the audience enjoys the skillfully performed martial arts fighting sequences. The whole film made a realistic portrayal of Batavian/Jakartan pencak silat, while trick photography was only used for the scene where Pitung disappears from the prison. In this particular scene, the famous skill of the jago in frustrating the powerful Dutch is clearly portrayed, as can be seen from the following excerpt:
Heyne: Don’t talk about this Pitung business. He’s been put out of action and behind bars. I just want to relax tonight. (There’s a knock at the door)
Heyne: Damn. Who is it ..? Haven’t you got any manners!! Well, what is it?
Policeman: Pitung, sir… Pitung… escaped from prison…
Heyne: What? Pitung…escaped? You must have been asleep, yes… the lot of you..!
Damn it… sod off ..! It’s more than anybody can stand… Pitung..!
(Script of “Si Pitung”, 1970:67-8; van Till :468)
The instant success of this action film was like a breath of fresh air to the national film industry motivated – and continued quality improvement – of martial arts films. On television too there were frequent serials which centered around the story of a jago. By means of the modern electronic media, the heroic actions of the jago and the use of pencak silat in defending the principles of noble conduct, are still alive today. In this context, it is interesting to ask whether the existence of the ideal jago, as portrayed in folk tales, theater and film, was actually documented in history.
The jago and pencak silat as tools of social control in the Dutch Indies
The role of the jago in the Dutch colonial period is closely related to the social-economic situation during the 18th and 19th centuries in Java and its impact on pencak silat. At that time, pencak silat spread across Java via mass (trans)migration, which resulted from the development of transportation and infrastructure, as well as from changes in the agricultural economy. In 1808 hundreds of thousands of farmers from the whole northern coast of Java were mobilized as forced laborers (kuli or coolies) to build a highway, known as the “Grote Postweg”, stretching from Anyer (in Java ‘s westernmost point) to Panarukan (on Java ‘s east coast), covering approximately a 1000 km (Koentjaningrat 1994:66)
In the very little spare time they had, the kuli from each region who were involved in the construction, entertained themselves and each other by practicing and showing off their pencak silat-skills. Their expertise in self-defense was, clearly, also useful for them in facing conflicts or robberies, which often arose amongst the different groups of laborers or against their often tyrannical overseers and work-bosses. So it happened that different, regionally based styles of pencak silat, in this case various Javanese branches of pencak silat, became mixed. This eventually resulted in the creation of new pencak silat styles.
The opening of the new highway in Java further hastened the acculturation process by enabling the intermingling of rural populations. Until the end of the 18th century, the infrastructure and facilities in inland areas of Java were difficult to reach, mostly because of the bad condition of the roads as well as the many bands of robbers and highwaymen who made these roads unsafe to travel. The bulk of inter-regional trading was therefore conducted by sea, not only all along the Javanese north coast but also along the Solo River and Brantas River. However, with the completion of the Grote Postweg these trading routes were soon supplemented by the development of land trade, and this was followed by a relocation of farming communities bringing new areas under cultivation. (Lombard [1996/1]:134-139). Because of their regional specializations and culture, including the art of self-defense, introduced into these new areas by these migratory communities, the spread of pencak silat in the whole of Java was inevitable.
The Grote Postweg also created a single economic region between Pasundan (West Java) and the rest of Java and enabled the commercialization of colonial products. These economic changes were also related to the so-called Cultuurstelsel (the forced cultivation system), implemented by the colonial government to overcome the severe economic crisis of the 1830s. Within this system, each farmer was either forced to cultivate certain types of crops for export, such as sugarcane, indigo, coffee, tea, and pepper, on one-third of their land, or work on a government plantation for as many as 66 days each year (Koentjaningrat : 67) In this new colonial economic structure pencak silat was used as a means of social control of the agrarian workforce in the villages. As a matter of fact, to exercise control over the workforce the Dutch colonial authorities often used local martial arts experts as so-called “opas” (from the Dutch word oppas, meaning guard) or “controleur” (head; manager) at the plantations. These heads and work-bosses were selected from among those individuals who were already known and trusted by those in power. The first government plantations opened in Tangerang (West-Java, near Batavia) and were subsequently extended east- and southeastwards, towards Bogor, Sukabumi, Puncak, Cianjur and Bandung, and the experienced controleurs came from this region. Controleurs were frequently expected to move to areas where new plantations were developed. Most of them were pencak silat masters since at the time physical strength and self-defense skills were the main means of controlling the laborers.
Many opas married local women and settled down near the plantations. Gradually they passed on their expertise – especially the pencak silat-styles of Cimande, Cikalong and Cikaret – to the local population. After the opas gained a growing number of local followers, their original pencak silat-moves became more and more adapted, depending on the origins of the students. In West Java, penca movements were always accompanied by gendang pencak, a form of musical ritme, played by two large drums (indung) and two smaller ones (kulantir), one small gong and one trumpet. However, since these instruments were not always available at the new settlements, the pencak silat-masters replaced them with various other instruments. For example, in the East Java plantation area, the opas used instruments that were brought by the migrants from Madura and Bawean, who comprised the majority of settlers. Their instruments consisted of six short drums, a trumpet, and jidur (in Batavia/Jakarta: beduk). The results of this acculturation process can still be seen in the former plantations of Besuki Residence, where the originally West Javanese branch of pencak silat, integrated with Madurese styles, grows and develops until today.
Besides the opas, the colonial authorities also needed people to suppress the local population, if necessary by physical violence and force, and preferably in such a manner that they would realize that any form of protest would be futile. Local strongmen exercised control over the population; they were feared, like the opas, but also, at the same time, respected as “jago”. Some would say that the jago functioned as an extension of the colonial system into the rural areas. However, in my view the role they played was certainly more complicated. On one hand, jago were used by local officials (regent) to defend their interests, thus functioning as a local police force. Using their skills in and knowledge of self-defense, they provided protection for “their” villages from attacks by other jago’s since in those days there was no police force in rural areas. Besides providing local security, jago were also charged by the administration (pamong praja) with collecting taxes, as dictated by the Dutch, and securing the right numbers of forced laborers from among the farmers, if necessary by using physical force. Based on the success of the work of the jago, the local government officials would subsequently be rewarded by the colonial government. In exchange for his services, the jago were not obliged to either work or pay taxes to the landlords or the administration in the way the other villagers were required to do.
On the other hand, outside their own village, local jago would use their men and pencak silat-skills to terrorize the countryside. They would conduct criminal acts such as stealing goods, especially livestock, burning homes, even torturing their victims. Because of these strangely intertwined, violent behavior or “dual” function, a jago would be regarded, both as a hero and a villain at the same time. For although they were often seen as heroes in their own communities, in other villages they were greatly feared (Schulte Nordholt ; see also Onghokham ).
The appeal of the jago was not limited to the island of Java, but can also be found in the other islands of the archipelago. The most famous example is probably that of parewa in Minangkabau (Sumatra). The term “parewa” comes from the word prawira, meaning soldier, in particular the armed men from the kingdom of Pagaruyung, which was supported by the Dutch government during the war between Padri (the Muslim faction) against Keselarasan Bodi Chaniago. At the end of the war, the parewa were employed by the Dutch to control the local population and to collect taxes. Although they commanded respect as martial arts masters among the local community, their violent behavior was also regarded as breaking the traditional social norms (adat). According to one description, parewa were
… a group of people who did not follow tradition and by the orthodox community were considered to be an affront to the teachings of Islam. However, they were entrusted with the duty of guarding the mosque. Parewa made a living through gambling, cock fighting and possessed a wide social network. Parewa from different villages respect and admire each other. They would defend their allies until death (Anderson :8)
The phenomenon of the jago or parewa is interesting to study because they reflect the most basic characteristics of pencak silat, even though they do not fulfill its formal ideology. Historical accounts of their role force us to admit that supernatural powers and the art and skills of self defense were not always used in the interests of the greater good and human spiritual perfection, but on the contrary, often misused for superficial, personal material gains. The ideal practitioner of the martial arts, as the defender of life’s sacred values, was not always realized during the colonial era of the Dutch East Indies, because most of the martial arts masters were more eager to side with the colonial authorities than with the weaker local communities. Even though in literature they are honored as popular heroes, defending the poor and the powerless, in reality they were often employed as hit men by the government and their violent way of behavior and actions defied local values and traditions. Such a development is not unusual and can also be found elsewhere. In China, for example, after the war with the kingdom of Chungkuo martial arts experts became redundant as a result of the introduction and subsequent use of guns and other weapons and started to work as bodyguards and hit men to oppress the people. Even in present-day Indonesia the appeal of the jago is still strong and expressing itself in various local forms, such as preman and prokem (Jakarta), jeger and jawarak (West Java), gali (Central Java), bromocorah (East Java) and others, representing adaptations to social change and modern society. It is also sad to notice that suring the May riots in 1998, it were pencak silat schools that took the road to defend the status quo and attack reformist movements accusing the new President Habibie to be only a “poppet” of Suharto.
In other words, pencak silat has a dualistic character, so in investigating its development, other than stressing the philosophy of doing right and “noble conduct” (budi pekerti luhur) we also have to note the misuse of pencak silat for crime and injustice. Only by unraveling the many layers of romantic folklore, regional legends and traditional rhetoric, we can begin to understand the various social, economic and political factors that have influenced practitioners of the martial arts to misuse and disobey the noble and restraining normative principles of this art form. Though such comprehensive understanding we can intervene to prevent that the good name of pencak silat will be irreparably stained in the years to come.
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