Pitung is a legendary figure and hero for Betawi people in Jakarta. He is believed to be a silat master yet so pious and humble. With his skills, he fought for ordinary folks that were oppressed by the colonial Dutch. He robbed those who became rich by being the colonial government’s henchmen, and distributed the loots to common people. He is known as “the Robin Hood of Betawi”.
Up to today, Betawi people believe that Si Pitung did live and fight for them, and that he was buried in Marunda, North Jakarta. Here is a story of the legendary hero.
At an afternoon, Pak Piun was sitting around on the porch. He had just been working all day long at his farm; that time he wished to relax with his family. Bu Pinah, his wife, sat on a bamboo bed while touching her puffing belly. She was going to be a mother within days. Pak Piun smiled calmly, praying that his soon-born child be a useful child.
All of a sudden, one of his three children who surrounded Bu Pinah asked him.
“Father, why did you let Babah Liem’s hatchet men took the crops you just harvested?”
Pak Piun remained silent for a moment, then answered in a low voice.
“That’s all right, Son. We still have some.”
In truth, Pak Piun was mourning at heart. He did not expect his crops to be plundered. A commoner like him could not have done anything about it anyway.
Rawabelong, his kampong, was part of Kebayoran Private Land. Liem Tjeng Soen became the landlord after purchasing the land from the Dutch government on a condition that he would pay the tax.
In controlling the land, Babah Liem hired some strong men from the neighborhood. Their job was collecting taxes from the people, who would not dare to fight a group of coldblooded men like them. The people would only stay silent when they took their chicken, goats, crops, and everything else.
Several days later, Bu Pinah gave birth to a son. Pak Piun named his new-born child Pitung and called him Si Pitung. Like other Betawi kids in general, Pitung was raised in his own family. He learned manners, recited Quran, helped his father at the farm, picked coconuts, and collected grass for their goats. Oftentimes, he voluntarily lent a hand to his neighbors.
Pitung observed God’s commands, prayed, and fasted and always talked politely. He had great respect for his parents, too.
As he grew up, Pitung learned religion, silat, and other martial arts from Haji Naipin, an esteemed ulama from Kampong Rawabelong. The boy showed he was an assiduous and loyal student, making him dear to his master. To him, Haji Naipin passed on all of his skills with a hope that Pitung would be a useful man for others in the future. Haji Naipin even taught him the pancasona ability that would make him invulnerable to any weapon. Haji Naipin said to Pitung, “This ability is for you to fight for the powerless against injustice. Don’t use your power to do bad things to others!”
It was an honor for Pitung to be Haji Naipin’s dearest pupil, yet he stayed humble. Pitung treated others kindly all the time. But he was, anyhow, a young man with a flaming passion. He had a relationship with Aisyah, a pretty girl in the neighborhood, and promised her a marriage once they both came of age.
One day, Pitung saw with his own eyes the heartlessness of Babah Liem’s hatchet men. They came to a man’s house to plunder his chicken, goats, coconuts, and some crops from his rice barn. The young man was irritated. He wanted to teach them a lesson. But his mother held him back.
“Don’t you do that, Tung! They have control over this place. Be patient, they will get a punishment themselves.”
Obeying his mother, Pitung stood poised. On the other day, though, when he was stopping by a neighboring kampong, again he saw Babah Liem’s men taking things from a man’s house by force.
Pitung ran out of patience and came over to them.
“Losers!” shouted Pitung. “Why taking things from this powerless man? Here, you have a real opponent to fight!”
One of the men turned his face to Pitung and smiled with disdain. Apparently he was the chief.
“Boy, I am pretty sure you don’t know us.”
“Sthuuew!” Pitung spat onto the ground in anger. "Six big men harassing one guy? I don’t need to ask anyone to know you are losers.”
The chief became furious. He attacked Pitung rampantly, thinking that the young man would be easy to knock down. Surprisingly, Pitung managed to seize his arm and slam him hardly. With the man passed out, the others hurried to surround Pitung. Very quickly, Pitung attacked them first. One by one, he hit them in the face, making them faint or moan in pain. Those who were conscious rushed to carry their fellows away. They ran off.
“Be ready, young man! We’ll report this to our boss,” they said.
Several days afterwards, Pitung was widely talked in Kebayoran. But he did not feel proud of it. In fact, he tried to avoid answering questions about the fight.
One day, Pak Piun asked his son to sell two goats to Tanah Abang Market. Pitung took the animals to the market right away. Without him realizing, two scary men were following him. Pitung sold the goats quickly and put the money in his pocket. On his way home, he stopped by a small mosque. It was a hot day indeed. Pitung wanted to take a rest for a while. He took off his clothes and got in a nearby river. The stalkers moved closer quietly and took the money from Pitung’s clothes.
Pitung did not realize that until he got home. Angrily, he walked back to Tanah Abang Market to find the thieves. When he did, they were hanging around with some people in a tavern at the time.
Pitung came to them and said, “Give me back my money.”
The people were surprised, then burst into laughter.
One of them said, “You can take your money for sure. But you have to be one of us.”
“I cannot think of myself becoming a filthy thief,” said Pitung rudely.
Offended by Pitung’s word, they set on Pitung all at once. But their opponent this time was the man who beat up six Babah Liem’s men all by himself. One by one they got hit by Pitung.
Since that day, Si Pitung decided to dedicate his ability to help the weak. He could not stand seeing their misery, being oppressed by landlords and the colonial government. Some hatchet men he once trounced turned into his fellows. He gathered them and formed a group of bandits. Together, they robbed rich people houses and distributed the loot for the poor and helpless.
Pitung’s name had been a talk among the people. The landlords and rich people who took advantage of their own people by siding with the Dutch were very much concerned. They reported the problem to the colonial government.
The Dutch office in Batavia commanded their staff to capture Si Pitung right away. Schout Heyne, the kontrolir of Kebayoran district, ordered his personnel to find out where the fugitive was. He offered a big amount of money for anyone telling him Si Pitung’s whereabouts.
Knowing he was sought by so many people, Pitung moved from one place to another, down to Marunda. In that time, he continuously ransacked from rich people’s houses, tyrant local rulers, and landlords. He gave what he took to the people in need, to those suffering from colonialism.
But one day, Pitung and his gang got set up by the police. That time they were breaking in into a district head’s house. The police seized the house while Pitung was inside. He surrendered to the police to let his friends run away. He was soon confined at Grogol.
Nonetheless, it did not take long for him to plot an escape. One night, he got out of his prison through the roof, sending whole jail into a sudden panic.
“Where is Pitung, boys?” they asked Pitung’s cellmate.
“I don’t know. He just disappeared,” answered the prisoner.
The escape of their most dangerous enemy caused concerns for the Dutch and local rulers. Schout Heyne ordered his men to arrest Pak Piun and Haji Naipin. He tortured the two old men to tell him where Pitung was. They did not speak a word and were sent to jail at Grogol.
Pitung did not slack his action until he heard his father and master were in the police’s hand. He sent a message to the Dutch that he would give in if they released the old men. Schout Heyne agreed.
On the given day, they took Haji Naipin to a court. Pak Piun had been released free before. On the court, a troop of policemen pointed guns at Haji Naipin. Not long after, Pitung showed up. He was alone. When Schout Heyne asked him to surrender, Pitung requested that his master be let go first.
Haji Naipin was freed. Pitung came forward to Schout Heyne. The policemen now turned their guns to Pitung.
“Finally, Pitung,” said Schout Heyne arrogantly.
“Yes. But, trust me, I will run away again. I won't refrain from my action no matter how many of you guys are,” answered Pitung with a smile.
Pitung irritated Schout Heyne. The kontrolir was running amok. He took a few steps back quickly and told his men to ready their weapons. Haji Naipin, who was still there, was tying to stop them. The policemen fired their guns somehow. There, on the ground, Pitung fell down covered with blood.
Pitung was buried several days later. Hundreds of people came to the funeral of their hero and prayed for him. They would always remember Si Pitung, their defender and protector.
A couple of months later, Schout Heyne was fired for having gunned down a man who did not resist when being captured.
Although in the end, Si Pitung gets killed by Dutch’s bullets, he dies as a hero and is always remembered by the people that way. This story conveys a message that a person who dares to stand up for justice and truth will bring goodness for himself and others. A coward like Scout Heyne will do anything to quiet his opponents but somehow he gets what he deserves.
The life of Si Pitung develops to be a folklore story in some different versions. Besides told in books and magazines, the story has also been made into popular films, such as Titisan Si Pitung (1989, directed by Tommy Burnama) and Pitung 3: Pembalasan Si Pitung Ji’ih (1977, directed by Nawi Ismail).
In 1982, the Provincial Government of DKI Jakarta bought a house at Jakarta Coast, Marunda, that was believed to be Si Pitung’s house. However, Jakarta Post (10/23/1999) declares that the house actually belonged to Syafiudin, one of Si Pitung’s “victims”. This somehow proves that Si Pitung is always considered a model to follow by the people.
Translation: Reza Daffi
Story is adapted from:
Rahmat Ali, 1993. Cerita Rakyat Betawi. Jakarta: Grasindo.
-------, “Legend surrounds Jonker, Si Pitung,” on http://www.thejakartapost.com/, retrieved on June 16th, 2009.
-----, “Si Pitung,” on http://www.jagoan.or.id/, retrieved on June 16th, 2009.
Source: 366 Cerita Rakyat Nusantara, Yogyakarta: AdiCita Karya Nusa in cooperation with the Center for Research and Development of Malay Culture, 2008.
 Kontrolir: head of regional government in Dutch Colonial Period