Anak Jakarta



Solita Sarwono*)


“Saya (dia) anak Jakarta” is a remark often made referring to someone with the characteristics or attributes typical of the youth living in Jakarta. Sometimes one also hears a remark : “Dia sudah jadi anak Jakarta” describing a young person who has come to live in Jakarta and who has shown the anak Jakarta characteristics.

But what exactly are the characteristics or attributes so typical of the youth in Jakarta? How does one acquire these characteristics that become one’s identity? What factors influence the formation of the identity? And how important is this identity to the youth themselves?

This paper gives a sketch of the youth in Jakarta characterized by certain attributes, like the appearance (clothing, way of walking and talking), the language used and the lifestyle, which may or may not be different from the youth elsewhere. This sketch is not derived from a deep study but from discussions with different groups of youth and parents in Jakarta, directly and via the internet, supported by observations and personal contact with the youth. This paper is written to further stimulate discussions and studies on the youth identity in Indonesia.

Youth and identity

Youth is a stage of life experienced by every individual: a period characterized with spontaneous, adventurous, non-conservative, changeable and rebellious acts. Youth subcultures are seen as being implicitly rebellious (especially among the younger youth), stemming from a desire to reject the generation that went before them.

There is a variation of definition of the age of the youth. This paper uses the term youth in a broad and general sense. It refers to young people, from teenagers to those aged 25 years, married or single, who still feel young and behave like the youth.

The youth are susceptible to new ideas, norms, values and foreign cultural practices. They are perceived as the part of society that is most likely to engage in a process of cultural borrowing that is disruptive of the reproduction of traditional cultural practices.

Young people, the teenagers in particular, tend to non-critically adopt foreign cultural practices that they see representing modernity. They do not question the suitability of these foreign cultural practices to their own culture, nor do they want to learn about the essence or background of those practices. They just copy them all. Imitation characterizes youth behavior.

As the urban youth has broader access to the world, the process of imitation and borrowing the foreign culture goes faster among the urban youth than among those living in the rural areas. The more cosmopolitan, the faster the youth are influenced by other cultures. Next to be used in adopting foreign cultures, imitation is also used by the youth in search of role models. Popular role models among the youth are famous figures, film stars, sinetron-and rock stars, as well as football players.

In the youth development process there is a set of basic personal and social needs, which comprise the needs to feel safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful and be spiritually grounded, in addition to the need to build skills and competencies to function and perform in its life. To meet the needs young people tend to seek support from the peers and the adults. This social support provides them with a sense of safety, security and belongingness and it gives them a feeling of self-worth and self esteem. It is very important for the youth to feel accepted by the peers. The strong need to conform to the peer’s norms results in some kind of uniformity among the youth. The looks, language and lifestyle of members of youth groups are very similar, leaving little room for personal uniqueness.

Individual youth also needs to get recognition, and to receive responsibility and autonomy from the adults. Youth do not want to be treated as children. At the same time, they are reluctant to take full responsibility of their actions. This phenomenon is more common among the youth in their teens and young university students. As they get older, they generally take more responsibility and become less dependent on others.

Clothing styles

The obvious thing distinguishing the youth from the children and the adult is their clothing style. The youth wear the latest fashion of outfit, accessories and hairstyle, which change rapidly following the changing fashion in the West. The youth are pioneers in fashion. Indonesian youth tend to follow the American fashion, which they copy from the movies, video clips, internet and youth magazines. Young film stars from Hollywood as well the Indonesian film- and sinetron stars and the pop-music rock stars become the idols for the youth in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta.

The teenagers have an ‘international-look’, namely slim postured girls wearing tight and short blouse or t-shirt, showing the navel,  miniskirt, sharp pointed shoes, with long straight hair or very short hair, sometimes dyed in reddish color, and wearing make up and perfumes, that is the image of female youth in Jakarta. The boys like more casual a look: jeans, loose shirt, sport shoes, sometimes with a baseball cap and long hair. Tattoos are also popular, so is piercing. Inseparable from the youth is the cellular phone, popularly known as the hand-phone. Even this item is also changed, each time a new model comes in the market. Youth prefer trendy colors and models of hand-phones.

The youth in Jakarta can immediately recognize youth from other cities by looking at their outfit. Some of them tend to show condescending attitute toward youth from outside Jakarta. The condescending remark is also made to comment the youth who have migrated and are now living in Jakarta. Migrant youth quickly adapt their mode of dress to the style of the Jakarta youth in order to be accepted by their peers and to obtain a social status.

An important element in driving the middle class to consume new products is the gengsi, ‘prestige’. Through gaya gengsi (‘prestigious lifestyle’) the middle class can distinguish itself from the rakyat (the common people, masses, proletariat) and at the same time camouflage the difference with the elite.

There is a difference, however, in the reasons given by migrant youth from different levels: the youth from the working class see the adjustment to the local norms as a method for survival, whereas the youth from the growing middle class do it to socially be accepted by the ‘gangs’ or small groups. Moreover, by following the group’s dress mode they increase their social status (gengsi or prestige).

The youth tend to ignore or even reject tradition as it symbolizes rigidity, non-modernity if not backwardness. Modernity gives the prestigious status, whereas tradition is considered out-dated (kuno), which shows less status. They invest energy and money in their outfits and the wearing of ‘brand names’ is part of the modern Indonesian youth. Even the act of making a purchase becomes part of the group experience of lifestyle-shopping and the place where the objects of consumption appear is a social space where people meet, display themselves, communicate and interact. The favourite hang-around places for the youth in Jakarta are the shopping malls, McDonald, Pizza Hut and other American franchised restaurants, café’s, play stations, amusement centres and the parks.

Anak Jakarta live in western lifestyle and use hi-tech equipments. Internet, emails, chatting, mobile phones, computer games and so on have become primay needs to them. They read youth glossy magazines such as Gadis, Cosmo girl, Seventeen (both in Indonesian), Hai, Kawanku, and AnekaVideo, movies, MTV, disco and rap music fill their daily life. Even the Indonesian pop music is strongly influenced by the western pop rock. Other music styles, such as dangdut, popular with the masses, and keroncong are usually considered low class and kampungan, unless played in the parties of the elite.

The youth like to have free time. Free to do anything they like, which often serves no purpose other than being with their peers and being away from personal obligations (homework, help the parents at home or at work, etc). The need to have free time drives some youth to cut class, play hooky and go to the shopping malls or just sitting, chatting and smoking at the food tents near the school. Boys and girls in school uniform wandering on the streets or in the malls during school time is becoming more common a view in Jakarta.

Part of the youth characteristics is the need for recognition, especially by the peers. In gaining recognition the male youth often show their power by having physical conflict with their peers. Getting into a fight will increase their macho image. There is a tendency, however, to have a fight in groups rather than individually. Fights between youth gangs or school students (popularly called tawuran) are becoming more common a sight in Jakarta. Often times a simple misunderstanding between two persons, which is blown up out of proportion by the peer groups, triggers the fights. Being involved in a tawuran, gives the youth the feeling of pride and gengsiTawuran has become the identity of anak Jakarta, particularly among the teenagers.

Other things the male youth sometimes do to get attention are making graffiti and vandalism. Graffiti for them is an art and they are proud of it. It is even a challenge for them to be able to make graffiti on the places difficult to reach, like on the side of the bridge or on the walls of the houses in the elite area that is usually guarded. Graffiti is an expression of freedom, they say. Vandalism is often done to public properties. This act canalises frustrations and social jealousy. But sometimes the youth destroy objects just for fun or to display their courage and power to the peers.

Included in the concept of modern and prestigious (gengsi) for the youth is to have an education, to get titles, diploma’s, degrees and certificates to show that they are knowledgeable.  In order to obtain the symbols of education young people of the middle and upper classes are sent by the parents to educational institutions to obtain the highest diploma available. Some families choose schools and universities with high status, if possible overseas, as diplomas from foreign countries are more prestigious and give better access to employment, although the quality of the university is not always better than in the country. Others do not even bother to take the trouble to follow the study program to get the diploma. They just buy it.

In Jakarta one can find two contrasting groups : on the one side the new very rich, who live in the ‘cosmopolitan’ lifestyle, and on the other side, a continuing inflow of migrants trying to make ends meet at the bottom line of the social scale. For the poor there is a strong social pressure to present oneself with a lifestyle matching to that of the middle and upper classes in order to increase their social status. To achieve this goal the poor invest very much money and energy in consumptions, often times beyond their economic capacity. This group, especially the migrant poor, would do anything to up grade their appearance and lifestyle in order not to be called orang kampung or orang udik (both terms refer to people from the rural areas). Migrant parents do not entirely agree with the new adopted values of the youth in Jakarta but they feel pressured to meet the demand of their children to facilitate the process of adaptation to the new social environment.


The youth in Jakarta use bahasa Prokem developed in the 80’s and the more recent bahasa gaul. Although calledbahasa (language) they are more of a dialect than a language. Both dialects, which are more informal, intimate and less structured than the bahasa Indonesia, are used to communicate with other youth in privacy, outside the control of the adults, so that they can have the freedom to share their thoughts and feeling with their peers, without parental interference.

Jakarta’s population is a mosaic of ethnicities, each having its own language. The young generation born in or migrate to Jakarta, nevertheless, hardly speak their native language. At school they learn the official language, thebahasa Indonesia. Unlike in other provinces throughout the country, the local dialect (bahasa daerah) is not taught in primary schools of Jakarta, perhaps due to the large variety of ethnicities living there. In social life the youth communicate with each other in the local Jakarta dialect, bahasa gaul or bahasa Prokem which they learn from the peers. They only use the correct Indonesian when speaking to the teachers, writing essays or doing school examinations.

Ethnic identity is normally manifested in several aspects, such as cultural tradition and practices (wedding ceremonies and other rituals, music), culinary, names and language. In Jakarta it is difficult to trace the ethnicity of its inhabitants as the cultural aspects have been mixed through inter-ethnic marriages and also mixed with foreign cultures. Take for example the Javanese youth. The Javanese language, the strongest ethnic identity for this group, is no longer spoken by the youth. Learning the Javanese dance or playing the gamelan instrument hardly interests them. Preparing typical Javanese dishes or snacks may be done by the older generation, not the youth. The only way to trace the Javanese identity among anak Jakarta is the name, although this has also become more difficult to do because many Javanese people select modern non-Javanese names, whereas the non-Javanese sometimes use Javanese names. Interestingly, when it comes to weddings, the Javanese families follow the rituals of the Javanese ceremonies, sometimes very elaborately, much more elaborate than the traditional rituals. Van Leeuwen calls this phenomenon as ‘reinventing traditions’ with ‘fantasy rituals’ (van Leeuwen, 1997).

Special youth group: ABG

Within the youth culture in Jakarta a sub-culture has emerged in the last decade and has gained its characteristic as typical anak Jakarta. This sub-culture is developed by youth aged 11-16, popularly called the Anak Baru Gede or ABG for short. Most of these teenagers grow in a world filled with modern technology and western lifestyle. Their lifestyle and clothing attire are clearly influenced by the western styles and they are very brand names-minded.

Based on the above description it is easy to assume that the ABG group belongs to the middle and upper class families, who can afford to provide them with those luxuries. Some of them are engaged in the use of narcotic drugs and teenage prostitution. This ABG phenomenon, however, can also be observed among youth of the lower class, who copy the clothing and style of their well-to-do peers, using lower quality of materials. They will settle with duplicates of famous brands, locally made. What matters is the appearance. These boys and girls also hang around in shopping malls and visit the play stations, to feel belonging to the group.

In order to strengthen the group feeling and to maintain secrecy the ABG youth communicate with each other inbahasa Prokem and bahasa gaul. Although Prokem and bahasa gaul are common among the youth in general, it is more often used by the ABG, observed Lumintaintang (Lumintaintang, 2000). The very large proportion of the usage of the slang language among the ABG has lead to a controversy among schoolteachers concerning the use of this language at school, since it tends to hinder the learning of the correct bahasa Indonesia. But it is inevitable that the youth would continue speaking in slang language as the teachers and parents cannot supervise them all the time.

Influencing factors

The formation of one’s identity is influenced by various factors.

1. Family upbringing

The education and formation of a child’s character start at home. From the parents and the siblings a child learns about and internalizes societal and religious norms and values. Indonesian families usually consist more than parents and siblings only. Grandparents, relatives as well as servants and baby sitters also play an important role in the formation of a child’s personality. Family up bringing comprises schooling, religious education and training in etiquettes, discipline, social norms and rules.

2. Social contacts

People are social beings who need social contacts. For the youth the social contact is very important as it provides security, feeling of belongingness and it prevents alienation. Parents can punish the youth by prohibiting them from seeing their friends and taking away their free time by giving them work to do. This type of punishment affects the youth more than angry words or physical punishment (push ups, locking them up in their bedroom, etc.) But today’s youth are not easily cut off from their peers thanks to the telecommunication devices. Through hand-phones and internet they can remain in contact with the outside world. Only when the parents close down all telecommunication channels will the youth then be socially isolated.

3. Peer group

The youth are very close with their peers, maybe even closer with their peers than with their parents. The influence of the peers on individual’s decision is much stronger than the parents’ advices, suggestions or instructions. The youth, especially the adolescence, follow the peer group’s behavior, norms and values, almost blindly. When given sensible advices by the adults (parents, teachers or older siblings) that contradict the behavior or norms of the peers, they would reject the advices and label them as kuno (old fashioned).

Group solidarity is often used as a reason to exercise power, as manifested in the group fights, vandalism or criminal acts. On the other hand, group solidarity can support and increase group cohesiveness, helping and defending each other. The functioning of youth groups is determined by their (formal and informal) leaders.

Youth often react emotionally, which makes them vulnerable. When a young individual lives in a group of a-social juvenile, he/she will likely turn into a person with similar a-social behavior. Only a few of young people have the courage to resist peer pressure and bear the consequences of this resistance. How much the peers can affect individual youth depends on how strong the norms (social, cultural and religious) and the sense of discipline have been internalized by the individual before he/she reaches puberty or adolescence.

4. Mass media

Youth culture is strongly influenced by the mass media. The globalization of western youth culture is done through the media. Examples of modern lifestyle are spread out throughout the world via television, internet and print media. Films and music from MTV are downloaded and saved, so that everybody can enjoy it for a long time. The youth in Jakarta copy from the television the lifestyle of Hollywood, Bollywood or Latin American telenova film stars, as well as that of the sinetron stars. On the other hand, through films and sinetron the Jakarta youth disseminate their lifestyle to other youth across the country. It seems that youth films and television series are becoming quite popular in the last five years, putting the ABG in the lime light.

The media has also been crucial in popularizing the language of anak Jakarta accross the country. People in the periphere see Jakarta as the center of power, wealth and modernity. The behaviour of the people of Jakarta has become the model for others. This includes the use of the slang language commonly spoken by the youth. In order to be seen as modern, youth outside Jakarta prefer to speak bahasa Prokem or bahasa gaul to speaking their native language or the correct Indonesian language. Talk shows on the tocal television and radio programs are considered ‘not-in’ without using the slang language of anak Jakarta.


The youth in Jakarta, like their peers all over the world, show characteristics typical of people in that life stage, namely spontaneous, emotional, adventurous, free, informal, rebellious, disliking rules and traditions, attention seeking, eager to try and adopt new things and technologies, status conscious, fashion minded and consumptive. The youth search some role models from what they perceive to be symbols of modern life to develop own identity. The group solidarity among the youth is strong and they maintain exclusivity by using a code language not understood by the adults or other youth groups. The peer relation is very important to the youth. The peers determine the social norms and values in the youth culture. Strong group solidarity sometimes results in a-social behaviours such as group fights, vandalism and cutting class.

What can be called as typical of anak Jakarta are: the language used (bahasa gaul and Prokem), the outfit, brand names mindedness, the habit to hang around shopping malls and to go to the play stations, the ABG group and thetawuran. Jakarta youth culture is a blend of various ethnic characteristics and western cultures. Ethnic identity is difficult to find in anak Jakarta. The native language (bahasa daerah), as the basic element for ethnic identity, is no longer spoken. The bahasa gaul and Prokem, a language developed from the Betawi dialect and the code language of the under world, have become the mother-tongue of anak Jakarta . The Jakarta youth are trendsetters for fashion, language and lifestyle. Other youth copy this style and image learned from the mass media.

The media is the most powerful factor in the dissemination of youth culture. All information on the most recent happenings and lifestyle are brought into the living room of each household across the country and in the world. In this era of high technology the youth can easily maintain contact with young people all over the world. Consequently, the identity of anak Jakarta can easily be adopted by the youth in other cities and in the rural areas with access to the media and internet.

Migrant youth in Jakarta feel it essential to adopt the style of anak Jakarta to be accepted by the local youth, to increase their social status, be more cosmopolitan or to be able to survive in the hard life of Jakarta metropolitan. For the youth with low purchasing power, this adjustment often leads them to debts.

The process of developing self-identity among the youth is very strongly influenced by the peers. The youth in Jakarta can seldom resist the pressure of their peers, fearing for ridicule, humiliation and social exclusion. The demands of the peers are more important than the words of the parents and teachers. How much the peer pressure affects the youth depends on parental upbringing and discipline.

Parental attitude towards youth behaviour and culture differs. Not all parents are supportive of the youth consumerism, particularly the more traditional families and the middle and low-income groups. But other parents stimulate the youth to reach the highest social status and therefore encourage consumerism.

Since the youth culture keeps changing responding to new development, the identity of anak Jakarta will also change over time. Portrait of anak Jakarta keeps changing. This identity will be copied and adopted by youth in other places as a prototype. Indeed the core characteristic of anak Jakarta is trendsetter for the Indonesian youth.  As trendsetters, the Jakarta youth will continuously come with new style and new language. Further studies are needed to explore the changing patterns of the identity of Jakarta youth over a period of time.


*) The author is a psychologist, sociologist, health educator and gender specialist in The Netherlands

The paper is presented at the European Social Scientists Java Network (ESSJN) workshop in Nijmegen, Netherlands, April 2005.

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