SINGAPORE - Mention the Baweanese, and some within the Malay community will think of magic and bomohs (shamans).
Even when she was younger, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob admitted being influenced by this stereotype. She recalled how she used to take a longer route home to avoid a Baweanese enclave after people told her to stay away.
But she soon realised these fears were unfounded, she said on Saturday at the opening of the first exhibition on the Baweanese in Singapore. The exhibition, launched by the Malay Heritage Centre in partnership with the Baweanese Association of Singapore, traces the group's history and growth.
The Baweanese first arrived in Singapore in the early 19th century, many by sailing ships, from Pulau Bawean, a small island off the north-eastern coast of Java. Until the 1980s they lived in "pondoks" - large communal houses which accommodated as many as 40 families.
"People tend to associate the Baweanese community with the use of magic, but that's a wrong stereotype... We must discern fact from fiction," said the association's president Faizal Wahyuni, who estimated that there are 80,000 Baweanese in Singapore today.
They are the second-largest Malay sub-ethnic group here after the Javanese. Other groups include the Bugis, Minang, Banjarese and Mandailings. Exhibitions on the other sub-groups may be in the pipeline.
The Baweanese exhibition, which runs until Aug 3, includes more than 40 objects and archival materials.
Film-maker Sanif Olek, who is Baweanese, said the exhibition is a good showcase of the group's culture and development in the country. "Not many Singaporeans and even Malays know about our ethnic roots."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.