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ODIK E PONTHUK (LIVING IN PONDOK)


29 November 2016


REMINISCENCE OF PONDOKS

In the late 1970s, 87% of pondoks (communal residences) were pulled down to make way for new developments in Singapore. The scene of one of the 22 pondoks left standing in Singapore is described in an article: 

"...the pondok, usually a sprawling compound house, is a somewhat dilapidated, overcrowded building. Broken chairs, makeshift tables and piles of planks, potted plants and debris take up a corner of the sandy playground."

Pondok Pagerbung in Buckley Road is a seedy old-styled house that looks completely out of place. In the past similar compound houses with spacious grounds dotted the neighbourhood; now the pondok is hemmed in by terrace houses, luxury flats and pricey bungalows. 

The grounds in front is almost half the size of a football field. A bunch of boys were dribbling a ball when I walked in. To the left, washing hung on a long line under which chickens ran helter-skelter. Nearby stooda sleek limousine; the scene reminding one of a wizened watchman of the Island Country Club proudly sporting his badge of office. Posh cars and pondoks go hand in hand. Many of these people are still working as chauffeurs and most afternoons one or the other will bring a car back. 

The tattered house is flanked by lean-tos and other roughly erected structures. The general appearance of the exterior is of a section of a kampong. That, of course is what a pondok strives to be In Indonesian parlance a desa. 

Steps lead up a verandah from where a doorway opens into a huge cave the unlit interior with most partitions removed.

At the doorway, I was literally on the threshold of the whole dok world. Before me the hall. The place where the lurah or headman held court. Important meetings took place here. Guests were received here. TV viewing in the evening was done here. In other pondoks this would be their prayer hall too. But here the verandah was used for religious purposes. 

All around the open space, backed against the wall, were cupboards, all shapes and sizes, topped by boxes and packages. In between the cupboards or in a long unbroken row were pillows, blankets, mattresses and Dutch wives. At night, all the beddings were pulled out, spread across the room which becomes a big dormitory. 

On the way to the back is the main building's only bathroom and toilet. On the door hangs a blackboard with a list of names with a certain amount of money against each name. There is the PUB (Public Utilities Board) bil being shared out. The average monthly bill is about $600. 

Behind this building stands the kitchen, crammed with cupboards, stoves, a large old fridge, tables, chairs, and P clothes, clothes, clothes Beyond this are numerous shacks, each with the barest minimum of furniture. At odd corners are stoves, cupboards, pots and pans, wooden platforms on which people eat and sleep. 

Everywhere outside, behind the main building, it is the pots and pans that engage one's attenti n average day this house cooks enough to feed 200 mouths three times a day." (Our People from Bawean, Citizen, 7 (18), 16 Sep 1978: 7).

Pondok Pagerbung, one of the biggest pondoks, was not a typical pondok in terms of size. However, every pondok is crowded with at least more than 100 people. Pondok, which literally translates to hut, functions like a boarding house equivalent to the Chinese kongsi. At its height in the 1950s, there were 150 pondoks in Singapore. Many of these pondoks were concentrated along Sungei Road and Jalan Besar, two areas with the highest concentration of Baweanese pondoks. Many Baweanese also lived in Kampong Kapor. 

FUNCTIONS OF PONDOKS 

As the purpose of the pondok was to serve as many members as possible, Baweanese families would b housed by removing partitions and constructing more smaller-sized cubicles. More resident members joined the pondok through marriage or migration. In some pondoks the property of a family was placed as a border around the cubicle that served them. Hence, the backs of cupboards bedsteads and tables formed the partition with mats and curtains filling in the gaps. The single men were usually at the front and the first floor of the pondok, while family units occupied the second floor. Strict decorum between the sexes was observed.

Organisation of the pondok was based on how the Baweanese ived back in their homeland. They lived in desa (village) made up of thirty households clustered together. Some of these villages formed a bigger area called the kelurahan. A salaried government official called the lurah would supervise this area. In Bawean lsland, the Pak Lurah is the chief of several desas, of about 100 to 120 households, and he would be assisted by 3-4 nominated headman of these desa The lurah for the kelurahan is by villagers whereas the lifetime position of the headman of the desa was inherited from father to son Services of the headman of the desa was voluntary. 

Baweanese living in the same desa in Bawean sland ered close relationships among themselves. They may or may not be related by blood or through marriage Work such as raising communal horses, digging wells, crop harvesting, building houses and boats were done through gotong royong (doing things co-operatively). The Baweanese usually lived among people in their own desa. They hardly interacted with those from other desas as people who do so were regarded with suspicion. As a rule, only family visits from other desas were tolerated. 

When the Baweanese first migrated to Singapore, only the men came. They came together due to similarities in dialect, customs and religious practices. By living close to one another, they hoped to recreate the atmosphere of the homeland through the establishment of pondoks As not all desas were represented by the migrants, some of these pondoks accommodated to people from the same kelurahan, while others serve Baweanese from their specific desa. the early days of migration, Baweanese In from different kelurahans would live in the same pondok. 

As the years went by and there was an increase in immigration, the Baweanese began to spread out and re-divided themselves along the groupings of their own kelurahan found in Bawean Island. When sufficien numbers from a desa of a particular kelurahan existe orm a pondok, these Baweanese formed separat Pondoks over time. When the numbers of a pondok from a particular desa became too large, they formed two or more pondoks. 

ROLES AND RESPONSIBLITIES OF PAK LURAH 

In Singapore, unlike in the Bawean Island, the owner of the pondok was called the Pak Lurah. He was both known as the lurah and the headman in the pondok. He was the chief administrator of the property of a pondok, collecting rent from the rest of the tenants and ensuring that the property was maintained. He also managed the affairs of members of the pondok. The lurah was also responsible for the personal affairs of the pondok such as marriages, death, sickness as well as disagreements and fights between members. A pondok is a reflection of its lurah: The ups and downs of a pondok depend on the intelligence, capacity and abilities of the lurah (headman) in administering its members. (Berita Minggu, 14 September 1975: 3) 

Based on interviews of lurahs by the Malay papers, in the 1975, the lurah is nominated by virtue of his personality. Like the elected lurah in Bawean Island who is elected by the kelurahan, the lurah in each pondok was nominated by residents living in the members. To be a lurah, one needed to display intelligence, a high degree of honesty and capability, a sound financial background, conscientiously carry out religious and spiritual obligations as a Muslim and be highly respected within the community. 

Over time, there were also some changes to the post of the lurah in Singapore. Previously, the lurah had total authority over his members. If members of the pondok had done things without consulting his lurah, it would have meant that the resident had broken the rules of the pondok. The offender would have been given a first warning. This rule was law for members. The lurah's post was a lifetime position or until he was too old to carry out the responsibilities of the post. When he died, his son would have inherited his position in the pondok. 

However, this concept of total authority of the lurah soon broke down in some pondoks. A urah who did not carry out his responsibilities could get fired automatically. This time, his son would not be entitled to his father's position Some of the pondoks which showed more democratic leanings were administered by a committee of office bearers. The lurah of the pondok concerned would have to be one of the first to agree to such a system. The lurah in such cases would be assisted by a chairman, a secretary and his assistant, and a treasurer. With the effectiveness of such an appointed committee, there were no complaints with regards to misappropriation of funds. Moreover, members were happy with such governance.

The lurah also paid for his share of the rent and utilities which was not a practice before. As a result of the Pak Lurah's expansive list of things to do, his wife als played an important role in the pondok. The wives of the Pak Lurah were usually called the Mak Lurah. They were the ones that the women folk would turn to. The roles that the husband and wife played were usually a sacrifice of their time and energy, as a service dedicated to the betterment of the welfare of the pondok members. 

Before a pondok was set up, the lurah would have already consulted other lurah especially those pondoks in Singapore which served the area he came from in Bawean Island. The other lurahs' permission was vital before a lurah could proceed to set up a pondok. If no such pondoks existed for him to consult, his intention to serve his area would be very much welcomed by other which had been providing for people who did not belong to the kelurahan.

In addition, the lurah enforced a strict moral code especially with regards to the interaction of the sexes. The worst offence a resident could commit that could lead to his expulsion from the pondok was to "disturb other people's wives". Criminal offences such as murder, robbery, theft, etc. could also lead to such expulsion. Crowded conditions in the pondok provided opportunities for the interaction between the sexes, and although innocent conversations were possible, a close relationship with the member of the opposite sex was highly regarded with suspicion. Adultery was considered a most despicable act and if discovered, the man would be expelled from the pondok after being given a sound beating from male residents of the pondok.

Other pondoks would be disinclined to accept him as a member because of his reputation. His personal friends would tend to avoid him. The woman involved in the adultery would not be dealt with by the pondok but by her husband if she is married or her father if she is unmarried since this would be regarded as a domestic issue. 

The lurah also made all the necessary arrangements for a member to travel to Bawean Island. He helped when members found difficulties to return to Singapore either due to visa issues or financial issues. He was also responsible for the general welfare of his members. As a result, the lurah is 'referee, mediator, judge, jury and Godfather" all rolled into one'.

JOINING THE PONDOK 

On must be a Baweanese to join the pondok, however, there were a couple of exceptions to this rule. Malay seamen and their families were known to join the Baweanese pondoks. The families of these seamen would be looked after by the pondok when they were at sea. For the single seamen, they lived in the pondoks when their ships were at harbour. Their homes were usually in Malacca or up north. They would pay their monthly subscription fee and when they were away, their belongings would be packed, labelled and kept aside. A second exception was a non-Baweanese who married a Baweanese. Such non-Baweanese were welcomed to the pondok and not compelled to join as members if they did not wish to do so. As the Baweanese practised the custom of matrilocal residence where the husband joined the pondok of his wife upon marriage, many non-Baweanese husbands were welcomed to their wives' pondok. 

Secondly, to join a specific pondok, one should come from the same province in Bawean Island. If there is a pondok which served the desa he came from, he would join that. If not, he would join the pondok that served the wider territory or kelurahan as explained earlier. Generally, pondoks catered to everyone. 

Thirdly, a Baweanese man became a member of his wife's pondok upon marriage. Although the man could retain membership to his own pondo his belonging to two pondoks would have doubled his social obligations to these pondoks. Subscription fee to both pondoks that he needed to pay was small. However, the many obligations of a resident of one pondok discouraged such "dual membership". If a man continued this dual membership, it would be a good back-up plan for a failed marriage as a pondok provided many psychological benefits that a divorcee needed. 

Fourthly, a man would join the pondok to associate with members of the same professional or occupational groups. For example, a motorcar driver would want to establish rapport with members from another pondok who were also drivers. As a result, he would like his relationship to the other pondok to be formalised. His personal details would be furnished to the lurah of the pondok that he wished to join. The lurah, in turn would get more information from the applicant's lurah. He would ask specifically if the applicant has a good record (criminal record or questionable moral leanings as these would reflect his person. 

Lastly, to join a pondok, the person was to be male as well as an earning member of the community. A young boy would be a de facto member of a pondok that his parents belong to. Once he started working and earning a living, he would become a fully-fledged member of the pondok. 

BENEFITS OF PONDOK LIVING 

There were many benefits to pondok living in Singapore. One, with many heads sharing the same accommodation, a family paid only 10% of the usual rental rates. As rental cost was shared, those who occupied the partitions or cubicles paid a flat fee regardless of the size of the family or location of room. Rent for a family could be $4 to $10 whereas a single man would pay $1.50-$2.50 depending on the number of the residents. The cost of household utilities such as water, electricity and conservancy was split into shares. In addition, every member paid $1 for monthly membership fees. As it was not possible for all members of a pondok to be residents the pondok, only those who found difficulties in in getting accommodation would get priority to stay in the pondok. The drivers' living arrangements were usually taken care of by the employers.

The pondok was also a refuge for members who suddenly found themselves unemployed. If these unemployed had no place to go, they were entitled to return to the pondok. Based on the goodwill of resident members of pondok more partitions were added to take in these men and their families, reducing the already crowded space of the pondok. From the time of unemployment until the men found jobs, rent for their families would have been taken care of by the pondok. When the savings of a family used for food expenses ran dry, the lurah and other residents would chip in to their aid. There would usually be a credit arrangement that would be facilitated by the lurah. Due to the co-operation of numerous pondok members, burden to the pondok by the unfortunate family would be greatly minimised. 

Once employment was secured, the debtor was permitted to repay in small regular amounts or a big lump sum Repayment of loan was a serious matter as the debtor would usually ask if the help given was a gift or a loan. A loan was expected to be returned. If a debtor died without fully paying off his loans, his son or family members would settle the loan. In a situation where they could not pay off the loan on the deceased's behalf, the creditor out of the goodness of his heart would be asked to forgive and forget the debt. 

Financially, the lurah could also authorise a loan in a short period of time by relying on a reserve pool of funds collected from members upon their entry into the pondok. The lurah would consider the grounds of the loan such as times of need during sickness, death, marriage or debt to outsiders. A loan application would be rejected if the debtor had incurred the debt because of gambling The loan given would be interest-free and the debtor could pay in small regular instalments or in a huge lump sum Similarly, the pondok also assisted drivers who needed help for fine payments incurred during traffic offences. If a member of the pondok was summoned to court for traffic offences, usually the lurah or his representative would be present to pay the fine if there was one. The lurah and members of pondok may also assist to bail out a Baweanese who had been arrested based on their knowledge of his good character. Not every Baweanese arrested received this kind of help. 

Throughout Malaya, there were pondoks scattered in various towns for any Bawean travellers. They were welcomed at any pondok especially those of their own desa or kelurahan. Guests need not pay for lodging but may pay for board. 

Other benefits include the organisation of religious classes for members and their children. The pondoks, along with the Singapore Baweanese Association (PBS) encouraged the Baweanese to do well in the education of their children. Pondok living was also conducive in inculcating discipline in children with its emphasis on religious education. Attitude towards education was to change gradually over time. Many used to send their children to religious schools. It was hard to find children who were educated in English schools as these English schools were seen as missionary schools. Girls were not sent to schools and even if they were, they usually did not pursue higher education as society at that time perceived that girls' and women's roles were confined to the home. In contrast, boys, whose roles were to work and support the family, needed education to do well in life However, this was to change drastically as parents began to send both their sons and daughters not only to schools but to English schools as well. As a result, man Baweanese held important positions in the government and private sectors as they excelled in schools. 

While these were the benefits to a member of the pondok the member must do the following to fulfil his obligations to the pondok. He must pay a deposit fee to join the pondok, pay for his cubicle space if he is married or pay for his space when he was a bachelor, and pay for his share of the utility bills. If he was not a resident member of the pondok, he paid a $1 monthly membership fee. He is expected to chip in when other members incurred financial expenses that should be helped such as when other members were unemployed, emergency situations when sickness, death or marriage happened, payment of traffic fines by members, etc. 

He was to adhere to a strict moral code, observing his behaviour towards the womenfolk of the pondok. He must refer to the lurah rather than take matters into his own hands. He would participate in all activities of the pondok and live amicably with other members of the pondok.

Such a reciprocal relationship between the pondok and the member validated the existence of the pondok as an organization. However, with many of the lands housing these pondoks reaching the end of their 99-year lease period these pondoks had to make way for urban redevelopments for Singapore. Hence, the pondok faced challenges in staying relevant for the future.

DESTRUCTION OF PONDOK

All of these pondoks were demolished gradually over time beginning in the 1970s. Often, during this period of crises, the lurah and his followers were not prepared to evacuate when the authorities decided that the pondok must be demolished. Members of these pondoks had to be resettled in housing estates. The earlier-mentioned Pondok Pagerbung, whose story of perseverance and determination when broken up in Somerset Road and subsequently formed again as a new pondok in Buckley Road, was an example of most pondoks facing the same fate. The inevitable fate of this pondok reaffirmed that pondok living was incompatible with modern urban life of Singapore.

As the Baweanese were scattered in different estates as these there was no movement towards new groupings Baweanese came face to face with other Baweanese from different groups. Many Baweanese had ambivalent feelings towards the destruction of pondoks. Some viewed the change positively as living in public housing was more comfortable and conducive for families than the Pondok. However, there were those who felt the greater sense of loss especially when all forms of support that previously enjoyed under the pondok was cut off This was especially so with big families with very low income, elderly to support and no relatives in parents public Singapore to depend on. For such people, rent of housing was simply unaffordable. It was some time before they could afford public housing. 

There were attempts to revive the relationships that the Baweanese had fostered during their years in the pondok. Reviving and connecting their relationships to their lurah was key to maintaining the relationships they had. The lurah was often the glue that held members together even though they lived apart. He was the one who helped in members' lives such as providing general advice, being the key person for marriage proposals or even counselling couples in their domestic dispute. The lurah was the one former pondok member turned to in order to get to another member Without such a key person to maintain relationships, relationships could not be maintained throughout by younger generations. This is one key challenge that remains in modern living.

Courtesy of Book " Masyarakat Bawean Singapura La-A-Obe" (Persatuan Bawean Singapore)

Writer: Kartini Saparudin



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