It is not surprising that the culture of the Bawean people is similar in many ways with that of the Malays (here I am referring to Malay ethnic group i.e. the Malays in Singapore, Malaysia and Riau Lingga including part of Sumatra). The Baweanese and the Malays originated from the same ancestors (i.e. from the people of mainland Asia) and practiced the same belief (i.e. Islam)! According to history, the evidences that have been uncovered by archaeology clearly showed that in prehistoric times, the Malay Peninsula formed part of a land bridge for successive waves of migrants moving southwards from the Asian mainland towards Indonesia and Australia.
(Two relatives related by marriage met during Eid - One Javanese and the other a Baweanese wearing a Mandarin Collar button-up shirt)
In a history text book, "Jessy: Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei 1400-1965" by Joginder Singh (2nd revised edition 1974, Publisher: Longman Malaysia Sdn Bhd, Kuala Lumpur), it mentioned that the first of these migrants may have been living in the Peninsula for as long as five hundred thousand years B.C. Then a new group of people arrived from the Indo-China in about 8,000 B.C. Their descendants are the Senoi and the Semang aborigines of modern Malaysia. Following that, there were the migrants from the north from Southern China about five thousand years ago, bringing with them an advanced Stone Age culture. They are known as the Proto-Malays (i.e. Melayu asli) and they are the ancestors of the present Malays (Deutero Malays -i.e. the Malays with mixed blood) of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
Hence, sharing the same ancestors, the Baweanese and the Malays (ethnic group) are the likeness of two cousins sharing the same grandfather! It is the same too for the other ethnic groups in this Nusantara region such as the Achenese, Bataks, Bugis, Minangkabaus, Banjarees, Javanese, Balinese, Ambonese and etc. However among the above ethnic groups, generally the Achenese, Bugis, Minangkabaus and Banjarees are Muslims. [Take note: the Malays (referring to the Malay race) in the Philippines are majority Catholics/Christians - Filipinos too belong to several Asian ethnic groups, grouped within the Malay or Malayo-Polynesian speaking people, who speak Austronesian languages. The concept of Malay race is not the same as in the concept of Malay ethnic group]
Sharing the same religion is another reason for the similarity in culture between the Baweanese and the Malays. For example, 'Aqiqa, Qurban, Eid, Aqad Nikah, Circumcise, Thanks-giving (Doa Selamat), Tahlil, etc… are derived from the Islamic culture. However, the way they are being performed varies.
For example, the Baweanese regard 'Aqiqa as necessary even though they knew it is not compulsory in Islam. 'Aqiqa is a ceremony for a new born baby. Usually it is being held grandly to express one's gratitude to Almighty Allah for the gift of life. Often during this ceremony there will be ''Berzanji'' (the reciting of the History of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w). This is to commemorate the struggles and sacrifices made by Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. Generally, the Baweanese people are strong believers of Islam and they want to emulate closely the good act of the Prophet s.a.w. They are very good in "Berzanji" and most of them were blessed with good reciting voice. Most of them are proficient in reciting Al-Quran with perfect "Tajwid". Many among them are "Hafiz" (a term used to describe those who memorise the entirety of the Quran).
Likewise the Bugis, Javanese, Minangkabaus and others, the Baweanese and the Malays shared the same culture and traditions with minimal differences -the likeness of the similarity in appearance of two cousins due to sharing the same grandparents but not parents. For example in the art of self-defence, the Bawean people called it “Pokolan” and use the “Parang” while the Malays called it “Pencak Silat” and use the “Keris”. Look at their dishes; the Malays called the red chilli soupy gravy, ‘Asam Pedas’ but the Baweanese called it ‘Kela Tomes’ –the dishes look the same but taste quite different due to the portion of ingredients used.
(Notice the Baweanese teenage wearing green Baju Kurong while behind her, is a Baweanese woman wearing the kebaya with sarong batik -photo taken in 1990s)
How about their attire? –the traditional older generation Baweanese women prefer Kebaya with sarong batik rather than the Malay Baju Kurong. Often, the young Bawean ladies wear Baju Kurong thinking that it is the traditional dress. However, this is not true. The traditional costume of the Baweanese ladies is the kebaya with sarong batik and for the Baweanese men is the Mandarin collar button-up shirt (influenced by the Dutch colonialists in Indoneasia) with sarong 'pelikat' or pants –there is no 'kain samping'…. just like any other typical traditional Indonesian attire!
Gradually through the years, the differences in culture between the Baweanese of Singapore and the Malays of Singapore (as well as the Baweanese and Malays of Malaysia) lessen due to intermarriage between the people in these two ethnic groups. This is another reason for the similarity in culture between the Baweanese and the Malays. The same happened to the other ethnic groups living in the Malay community. Today the differences in culture between these ethnic groups are so minimal that some of them in this community identify themselves as Malays, especially to the Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and foreigners. The reason given behind this is that, it saves them the trouble of explaining their true ethnicity backgrounds.