Every September, a month after the Eid holiday exodus that nearly empties the city, Jakarta returns to its normal crowded self. Afterwards, though, the Indonesian capital has around 68,000 more residents.
Every year thousands of people move to Jakarta with the return flow of the holiday exodus. These migrations are often reported negatively in the media, who would mix up the term “migration” with “urbanisation”.
Like many countries, Indonesia has an annual tradition of travelling to one’s home town during religious holidays. In Indonesia, it is called mudik. This year, around 3.6m people traveled from Jakarta to their home towns in Java and other parts of Indonesia, according to a survey by the University of Indonesia Demographic Institute.
Mudik reflects the strength of social cohesion amid the change towards a post-modern industrial society. During mudik, the social and geographic distance between groups of different professions and economic status become shorter. Almost everyone, from the bank CEO to the streetside vendor, goes on mudik.
When the holiday is over, they return to Jakarta. Some bring their relatives or friends with them.
The media often describe the process of urbanisation in Indonesia only through the phenomenon of new migrants to Jakarta. But this is an incomplete representation of urbanisation. Migration can be part of urbanisation, but it isn’t always.
Urbanisation means the changing way of life from rural to urban living. It also means the changing characteristics of an area from having qualities of village life to city life.
Urbanisation does not always entail someone moving from the village to the city. Pondok Cina, a sub-district next to the University of Indonesia’s Depok campus on the outskirts of Jakarta, was once a rural village area. Now, the population density has increased to more than 5,000 people per square kilometre.
Less than a quarter of the residents farm. And it has urban facilities. Pondok Cina has turned into an urban village.
From an economic perspective, urbanisation is often linked with progress and economic development in an area. Therefore, it is concentrated in a number of locations, especially in big cities and more specifically in national capitals.
Young people looking for work move to Jakarta, which is booming with new constructions. Image: EPA/MAST IRHAM.
The danger of misrepresentation
When people understand urbanisation wrongly, they can make wrong conclusions, and policymakers might create bad policies. Many city administrators say they want to prevent urbanisation. They actually mean they want to prevent migration from rural areas to the city.
Before Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo became governor of Jakarta, the city administration held yearly ID raids on bus terminals after the Eid exodus. Those who don’t have IDs would be bused back to cities in Central or East Java.
Jakarta has stopped the practice, but other cities still do it. Almost always, the poor become the target of the raids. Their social and physical mobility are confined.
Migration as a symptom of urbanisation should be seen as a positive thing. It happens naturally and it is normal for an area that is undergoing urbanisation.
Jakarta is one of the cities in Indonesia with rapid progress and economic development. Moving to big cities such as Jakarta is a rational choice for young people: those who move to big cities usually have better skills and education levels than those who stay in the villages.
Jakarta’s nearly 10m registered residents include 4m lifetime migrants, according to the 2010 census. These are people who were born outside Jakarta, but live in the city at the time of the census.
According to the 2010 census, Jakarta had just 3.5m lifetime migrants. This means that 500,000 people have moved to Jakarta in 10 years.
The movement of people from villages to the city is the biggest factor that influences the urbanisation process. Often people from the villages move temporarily to the city to stay for less than six months. These new migrants come to the city and live with family, relatives or friends. They look for additional income through off-farm employment.
People living in villages often earn their income from traditional farming, which would not be enough to sustain their lives. Migration from village to cities for work should be seen as a mechanism to distribute wealth from the cities to the village.
Urbanisation in Indonesia is most obvious in Jakarta; but other cities are changing, too. Regions that have high urbanisation rates such as North Sumatera and Riau have higher GDPs than those with low urbanisation rates. There is a positive correlation between urbanisation rate, economic progress and population growth.
The urban population in Indonesia has increased from 14.8 per cent in 1971, to 49.8 per cent in 2010. By 2025, around 68 per cent of the population will be living in cities; by 2045, it’ll be 82 per cent.
Mudik perpetuates the urbanisation process in Indonesian villages. A couple of years from now, people could find their once-rural village has transformed into a small city.
Chotib Hasan is a researcher with the Demographic Institute at the University of Indonesia. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.