Five Largest Chinese Tribes in Indonesia: Brief History and Culture

In Indonesia, the largest Chinese tribes are Hokkien, Khek or Hakka, Tio Ciu, Hainan and Cantonese, whose origins are from mainland China. Everyone has their own language, food and culture.

Hokkien is from Fujian province in southeast China. The Hokkien people are also known as the Minnan people or the Hok-lo people. Usually the Chinese in Medan are considered Hokkien.

The Hokkien bring a lot of vocabulary to our everyday language, such as gua (I), lu (you), loteng (granary), toko (shop), gudang (warehouse), imlek (Chinese New Year), bakmi (noodles ), kue (cake), bakiak (wooden clogs), becak (becak), lumpia (spring rolls), teko (tea cup), kuli (worker), amsiong, bakso (meatballs), bangsat (big words), mak comblang (matchmaker), gotong (cooperate), jok (motorcycle seat motor), and many more.

Longevity Noodles

The Hokkien in Indonesia are concentrated in the regions of Pekanbaru, Jambi, Palembang, Bengkulu, Medan, Surabaya, Bali, Banjarmasin, Kutai, Makassar, Kendari, Manado and Ambon. In Jakarta, you can usually find them at Muara Karang, PIK, Kelapa Gading and surrounding areas.

Hokkien food focuses on umami flavor, the cooking method often uses steaming, boiling, braising and stewing processes.

Khek or Hakka
The Khek or Hakka people are known as or kèji? persons, which means “host family”. While other subgroups of China are named after their region of origin, these Hakka are known as nomadic immigrants. The origin of the Hakka people is not yet known.

The Hakka were once the target of discrimination and hatred from other ethnic Chinese. In the Qing dynasty, there was an anti-Hakka genocide that killed 30,000 Hakka a day. Then there was the Punti-Hakka clan war which killed up to 500,000 Hakka. This conflict between Cantonese and Hakka lasted from 1855 to 1867. A similar conflict at almost the same time also occurred between Cantonese and Hakka in Perak, Malaysia.

Tu Lou (Traditional Hakka House) - Photo by XinHua.
Tu Lou (traditional Hakka house)

In the past, the name “Hakka” had a negative connotation, in the same way medieval Europe called people “gypsies”. Many refer to the Hakka as Chinese “Jews”. During a wave of immigration from 1850 to 1930, the Hakka were the poorest of the Chinese immigrants.

The Hakka are scattered in Aceh, Belitung, Bangka and West Kalimantan. The Hakka people of Jakarta generally live in parts of West Jakarta. As another subgroup, the Hakka people living in Jembatan Lima, Glodok, Krendang and Jembatan Besi are known as “Chinatown” and generally work as shop and restaurant owners.

Hakka cuisine generally tastes salty and is very oily or greasy, and is dominated by savory stir-fries. Understanding how the Hakka were so persecuted, their cuisines are mostly fermented, meaning they were able to preserve food during a crisis. To try Hakka specialties, you can go to the Krendang district in West Jakarta. Popular dishes to try include mixed rice, kincipan and srikaya bread.

Despite such a history, many Hakkas have become famous political figures, from Sun Yat Sen – head of the Kuomintang, Deng Xiaoping – Chinese leader from the 70s to 90s, and Lee Kuan Yew – Singapore’s first prime minister. Meanwhile, famous Indonesian Hakka people are, according to Wikipedia, singer Agnez Mo and badminton athlete Susi Susanti.

Tiociu or Teochew
Tio Ciu or Teochew (??) comes from Chaoshan. In fact, the Tiociu dialect is very similar to Hokkien. This dialect developed from the Cantonese-influenced Hokkien dialect.

Beef Flat Rice Noodles - Unsplash
Beef flat rice noodles

The Tiochiu people in Indonesia are concentrated in North Sumatra, Riau, Riau Islands, Jambi, South Sumatra, Pontianak and Ketapang. There are many Tio Ciu in Pontianak and Singkawang. In Jakarta, the Tiociu colony mixes with the Hokkien.

Teochew cuisine is also a fusion of Cantonese and Hokkien cuisine. The dish has a soft texture as it is normally steamed and boiled. Most Tio Ciu prefer beef to pork. An example of their well-known dish is fried flat noodles.

Originally, Hainan was an immigration society. In ancient times, there was no one who lived here. About 3,000 years ago, the Yuegubai ethnic group left the two provinces of Guang for the island of Hainan.

Hainam Chicken Rice | Photo by TheSmartLocal

The people of Hainan in Indonesia are concentrated in the regions of Pekanbaru, Batam and Manado. Hainanese chicken is the most popular cuisine of the Hainan tribe.

Cantonese is a dialect of Yue Chinese spoken in Hong Kong and Macau. Meanwhile, in Guangdong and Guangxi, Mandarin is used as the official language in schools and offices. For daily communication, they use Cantonese.

In Indonesia, Cantonese are scattered in Jakarta, Medan, Makassar and Manado. The language usually spoken in Hong Kong films is Cantonese.

Dim Sum - Unsplash

When they arrived in the archipelago, the Cantonese first worked as carpenters, tailors, launderers, restorers or photographers. For culinary purposes, the most famous Cantonese cooking style is dim sum.

Cantonese personalities in Indonesia are Willy Dozan, Baim Wong, Lindswell Kwok and Albertina Ho.

Let’s go through the language, shall we? Numbers first
*Hokkien: It, Ji/No, Sa, Si, Go, Lak, Cit, Pek, You, Cap (that’s exactly what money is)
*Hakka: Jit, Nyi, Sam, Si, Ng, Liu, Chit, Pat, Kiu, Sip (similar to Sino-Korean numbers)
*Hainan: However, Ji, Ta, Ti, Ngo, Lak, Siet, Bui, Kao, Tap
* Cantonese: Yat, Yih, Saam, Sei, Ngh, Luhk, Chat, Baat, Gau, Shap

Regarding the clans, whether it’s Hakka, Hokkien, etc., it’s always the same, both use the Chinese clan system. The pronunciation of the dialect is very different, but Chinese is still the same. For example, surname “CheÆn”, Hokkien is “Tan”, Cantonese is “Chan” (Jackie Chan), Hakka is “Chin”.

It is only a subgroup of Han Chinese (the majority ethnicity of the mainland), while the others include many other ethnic groups such as Zhuang, Hui, Manchu (formerly Jurchen), Uyghur, Miao, Yi, Tujia, Tibetan and others.

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