On homeland and history

December 23rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

East Indies

What is a homeland? How does one define the place where one belongs? Why does one feel to belong there in relation to others who share this homeland?

Existential questions are inevitable when you try to understand a country as geographically, culturally, linguistically and historically diverse as Indonesia. The diversity of the archipelago now commonly known as Indonesia is immense, even beyond belief. In fact, many of those who proudly claim to be Indonesian may not quite understand this diversity.

Right in the heartland of Java, there’s animosity between the Sultan of Yogyakarta, and his supporters, and the central government, stemming from a government-initiated bill that the Sultan’s side accuses would take away the ‘specialness’ of the Special Province of Yogyakarta that has been recognized since Indonesian independence.

The major media seem to have been firmly behind the Sultan in this case as headline stories appear daily to offer the comments of experts who accuse the government of forgetting history, by which they mean how Yogyakarta came to be special in the country’s formation.

Selective memory is nothing rare, really, and those who accuse others of this error may not even realize that they are guilty of the same.

When the experts tell the government to learn their history, for example, are they telling them to learn about how Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX declared his domain part of the Republic of Indonesia when the nationalists proclaimed independence, or how his predecessor Hamengkubuwono I sided with Dutch colonialist powers to double cross his rebellious fellow Mataram royalty Mangkunegara, more commonly known as Prince Sambernyawa, to claim the region today known as Yogyakarta as his own?

People have been conducting mass rallies recently in Yogyakarta to show their support for the infallibility of the Sultan the recognition of the special status of the region. Some have even suggested the idea of an independent Yogyakarta state.

There is irony in this, as in other regions of the country different groups of people have been struggling for the same idea of independence for a long time and have been forced to endure war and oppression because of this. In fact, in these regions simply uttering the idea of independence or exhibiting any separatist symbol has got people in jail and torture chambers.

So they are telling people to learn their history. How about the history of South Maluku, where Dutch-trained Moluccan soldiers consistently defied the ragtag Indonesian troops who tried to force the entire archipelago to conform to the idea of a unitary state, and in fact managed to proclaim an independent South Moluccas Republic in 1951?

Also, let’s learn about the history of the western part of Papua or Irian island in which preparations for an independent state had to give way to annexation/incorporation into another state because of Cold War politics?

To many people from core Indonesian regions such as Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan, the idea of Indonesia as an expansionist project may sound silly if not outrageous. They really can’t be blamed, though, since history is taught in schools strictly in keeping with the state-sanctioned narrative. The history of Indonesia, in the state’s narrative, is of separate peoples on separate islands in the archipelago that are bound and united by the shared history of rising up from being under the oppression of Dutch colonialism.

Prince Diponegoro, for example, is always an Indonesian nationalist hero against Dutch colonialism, despite the legitimate question on whether or not he would rise up to lead the mass revolt against the Dutch if he, instead of his younger brother who was favored by the Dutch, was allowed to succeed his father’s throne, or on whether or not the Javanese nobility would support his cause if the Dutch had allowed them to extract rent on their land. Another question worth reflecting is whether Diponegoro’s defeat was caused by Dutch military supremacy, or simply by the fact that the Javanese nobility and peasants that had supported Diponegoro were given a better offer by the Dutch?

“History is a pack of lies we play on the dead,” according to Voltaire. Little wonder then that historical events are omitted from history books if they do not conform with the official narrative.

Rumah kita

December 22nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Rumah Kita (Our House)

Hanya bilik bambu tempat tinggal kita
Tanpa hiasan, tanpa lukisan
Beratap jerami, beralaskan tanah
Namun semua ini punya kita
Memang semua ini punya kita, sendiri

A bamboo hut is all we have for home
No ornament, no painting there
The roof is grass, the floor is soil
But they are all ours
Indeed they are all ours, our own

Hanya alang-alang pagar rumah kita
Tanya anyelir, tanpa melati
Hanya bunga bakung tumbuh di halaman
Namun semua itu milik kita
Memang semua itu milik kita, sendiri

Tall grasses are all that fence our home
No carnation, no jasmine there
Poison bulbs are all that grow in our yard
But they are all ours
Indeed they are all ours, our own

Haruskah kita beranjak ke kota
Yang penuh dengan tanya

Must we leave for the city
Where questions abound

Lebih baik disini, rumah kita sendiri
Segala nikmat dan anugerah yang kuasa
Semuanya ada disini
Rumah kita

It’s better to be here, our own house
All the bounties and blessings of the Almighty
All are here
At our house

Jam Karet

November 25th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Jam Karet

Interesting discovery. Apparently, among the things that we Indonesians surprisingly manage to export is the concept of jam karet. There is a progressive rock band based in California named Djam Karet; a soundtrack from the American TV series Ally McBeal is titled such; and probably most advisory manuals for traveling into Indonesia such as this one will warn foreigners against expecting Indonesians to be on time.

In case you don’t know, jam karet simply means rubber watch, originally referring to the cheap plastic watch that people usually buy for their little children as a toy. When somebody is late for something, people will say he has a jam karet (or ngaret to say it as a verb) as a way of mocking him.

Now, reading the way the Djam Karet band explains what their name means in their biography page, however, I’m suspicious that some of the foreigners who have only heard the phrase but never been to the country may think it is some exotic eastern philosophical concept about the elasticity of the space-time continuum, instead of a way of describing slackers.

What everyone who writes in Indonesian should know

November 23rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

But apparently doesn’t, which can be pretty frustrating for an Indonesian editor, is that di as a prefix is not the same as di as a particle.

Where it serves as a prefix to a verb it constructs the passive voice, meaning the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient of the action. You do not introduce any space between di and the verb. Examples: dicari, dilakukan, disuruh, dikerjakan, dimarahi, diampuni, etc.

Di is also a particle that generally indicates place, in which case you insert a space between di and the noun that follows immediately after. For example: di kantor instead of dikantor, di rumah instead of dirumah, di luar instead of diluar, di atas instead of diatas, etc.

And yes, this is elementary school language class.

No amount of money is worth it

November 19th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

liputan haji-penganiayaan-tkw-15

Kompas ran a heartbreaking story today about the plight of Indonesian women migrant workers in Arab Gulf states. The backdrop of this story is a recent case of torture of an Indonesian maid by her employer in Saudi Arabia, and another more recent case where another maid was not only tortured but also had her throat slit and her dead body dumped in the garbage.

The journalist who wrote the story met a group of about forty of them at Dubai international airport as they were about to board a flight back home.

Wati, Ngatmi, dan puluhan perempuan di ruang tunggu itu pantas merasa lega. Mereka telah bekerja sebagai PRT rata-rata tiga bulan sampai dua tahun lebih di Dubai, Arab Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon, dan beberapa negara lain di sekitarnya. Rasa kangen terhadap kampung halaman sudah membuncah.

(Transl.) Wati, Ngatmi and tens of the women waiting in the departure terminal rightly feel glad. They have have been working as maids anywhere from three months to more than two years in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, and several other countries in the area. They deeply miss their homes.

And in my opinion they should just go home never to return. This is why:

”Saya sudah ganti enam kali majikan selama 2,5 tahun di Kuwait. Kadang karena tidak kerasan, terus minta ganti majikan. Penyebab tidak kerasan terbanyak ya soal kekerasan dari majikan,” kata Sa’diyah (38), warga Cimahi.

Ketika pembicaraan merembet ke masalah kekerasan, wajah-wajah para penyumbang devisa bagi Indonesia itu pun langsung mendung. Dari sekitar 40 tenaga kerja perempuan yang Kamis itu akan menuju Jakarta, hampir semuanya pernah merasakan kekerasan selama bekerja.

(Transl.) “I have switched employers six times during my 2.5 years in Kuwait. Sometimes it was because I did not feel comfortable with my employer. Why uncomfortable? Most of the time the reason was the violence of my employer,” said Sa’diyah (38) of Cimahi.

When the conversation switched to the topic of violence, the faces of these contributors to Indonesia’s foreign reserve turned dark. Of about forty women migrant workers who were leaving for Jakarta that Thursday, nearly all of them had been subjected to violence in their job. (emphasis mine)

I never realized that the violence problem was so widespread in these countries. I remembered after reading the piece that our new maid had also worked in one of the Arab countries before coming to work for us. I asked her about the violence, and she confirmed that the mother of her employer had once banged her head on the wall for some unclear mistake.

I’m not sure what this indicates. Is it possible for people in these different countries to have some overwhelming propensity for violence? I mean you can’t even consider this a crime. It’s pathological.

Here’s one worthy cause to pursue: STOP SENDING OUR WOMEN TO BECOME DOMESTIC WORKERS IN ARAB COUNTRIES. Any amount of riyal or dirham is just not worth it.

Indonesia a development miracle?

November 18th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Harvard economist Dani Rodrik writes:

Which are the countries that have improved their human development indicators the most since 1970 relative to their peers? You’d be surprised, as I was, to find that the top 10 is dominated not by East Asian superstars, but by Moslem countries: Oman, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. This year’s Human Development Report is full of neat analysis and results, including this one.

Noting that not all of them have had high economic growth, he said that their success is due to expansion of educational opportunities and health access and creativity to come up with developmental approaches that fit their own conditions.

However, what’s interesting, and in contradiction of what U.S. President Barack Obama said about economic development and political freedom in his speech in University of Indonesia a while ago:

What is somewhat puzzling, as Rodriguez and Samman also note, is that these countries have not made nearly as much progress in democratization.

Is UNDP affiliated with the Chinese?

Croc on the roof

October 16th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Depletion of mangroves seems to have driven saltwater crocodiles in Bandung, West Java, to intrude into people’s homes with their usual preys such as birds and frogs virtually gone from estuaries along the coasts of South Java.

Or actually, a naughty male croc pet named “Koing” went loose from his cage and took a climb up to a nearby roof to enjoy his little moment of sunbathing. Koing’s owner is a longtime West Java councilman, Yoga Santosa, who had a little problem recently when his opponents alleged that his high school diploma was faked. The allegation was proven to be false, apparently.

Jakarta does not have floods, idiot!

October 9th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Flood in Muara Baru, Jakarta

Governor of Jakarta Mr. Fauzi Bowo has been very kind to point out to us that Jakarta does not have a flood problem. The excessive dampness you are seeing in the streets is a bit of water puddles here and there. Let’s not mix things up here folks. You know you’d be foolish to say the city is flooding when all that’s been happening is just some water that doesn’t drain quickly enough.

I guess when you ran on the platform of ‘Leave it to the experts’ for election, you have to constantly convince everyone that you are an expert. You really shouldn’t let the people judge you by what you’ve been doing. They are not smart enough to be able to differentiate between incremental improvements you have been making and a total mess of a city anyway.

Fokeexpert So here are some ideas. The people say you have failed them? Tell them there is difference between failing and not delivering. They are just not the same. Or they say you are not following through on your campaign promises? Tell them they are not looking hard enough!

Granted this may not make you look emphatic, especially when you’re quoted in the media. But so what? The media do not make people smarter anyway. They’re only good for sound bites right? They are no place for enlightened teachings on city planning jargons that you have to offer.

And of course saying these things may invite your opponents to say some foul things about you. But, pay no mind. If haters are not dissing you, who else will?

So please keep those inspiring words coming, Mr. Governor. Who knows, some of us idiots may end up learning enough from your wisdom that we can also be a governor like you!

Where does violence come from?

October 7th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


The genius Isaac Asimov noted through his cunning character Salvor Hardin that “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent,” and maybe this is an accurate explanation for what is happening around the country lately.

Witness the rage of two ethnic communities in Tarakan, East Kalimantan, as they battle each other to seek what they seem to think to be justice. Or look at how some unverified hearsay provoked a community in Bogor, West Java, to attack their own neighbors and turn their houses and place of worship into rubble. Another example is the unfathomable scene of members of two ethnic gangs dueling in the street in front of the building where justice is supposed to be upheld, despite the presence of a significant number of policemen nearby.

Some scientists say that evolution has given us humans with a survival mechanism that tells us how to respond to a threatening situation. They say that our so-called limbic system dictates three modes of response of freeze, flight and fight when we are faced with danger. The first response, to freeze, is easily seen in animals who will suspend their motion, or even play dead when they see a predator. The flight response, on the other hand, comes into play when we sense that the freeze response does not eliminate the danger and tells us to flee for safety. When freezing and fleeing cannot save us from danger, then, the only alternative left is to turn our fear into rage as we switch to attack mode.

The evolutionary perspective seems to indicate that violence is really the product of desperation. We don’t usually resort to violence when less risky options are available, and really shouldn’t in the interest of our own survival.

But of course it would be wrong to say that violence is only a type of reaction to a perceived threat. After all there seems to be people who take pleasure in seeing others (and probably themselves) suffer. However, this is a type of pathology and doesn’t seem to fit the communal type of violence as we see here. The only way that this has anything to do with the recent string of violent clashes is if somehow there’s somebody behind the screen that is orchestrating the whole thing. Which is a really scary thought.

Naturally the question is then if what we’re seeing is a wave of desperation all over the country, or is it the work of some really sick individuals pulling all the strings in the shadows?

Democracy is ugly, but is all we have

March 22nd, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

logo-pemiluElection day is nigh, and this would be utterly obvious at least to anyone living in Jakarta for they have had to endure the horrid experience of playing hide and seek with rowdy campaign crowds and the traffic debacle that would almost certainly transpire since the hunting season officially kicked off last week.

Isn’t democracy wonderful?  At least it should be to most of us who are too busy trying to make ends meet–or to pay off the loan on that glittering new SUV now perched peacefully in the garage–to be properly informed about our foremost civic duty.  If it hadn’t been for democracy, nothing would have forced our ignorant souls to pay any inkling of attention to whatever the legislators-to-be have to say about how a sprawling archipelago nation of 245 million is to be governed.  Nay, there is nowhere to escape the constant onslaught of political newspeak delivered right to our face; not the television as all the big networks are contemptuously coveting the title of “the election channel,” not any of the scandal sheets where all the most insidious perversions of our nation’s crème de la crème have been laid bare for all to see, and certainly not the internet where online political ads have turned up even on the most seemingly unassuming sites.

votingIf you think this is a prelude to a sarcastic rant about the failings of democracy in a  perennially developing nation such as our beloved Indonesia, you would be wrong.  I celebrate the fact that it took me 2 extra hours to get to a meeting with the most challenging client in the middle of an unforgiving tropical storm.  I’m grateful about seeing political talking heads rattling off the most unbelievably thoughtless analyses about the candidates’ chances of winning enough votes to secure a seat in the parliament, or their takes on what VP Jusuf Kalla’s run as a presidential candidate means to his cohabitation with President SBY.  And yes, I enjoy seeing haphazardly prepared candidates unbecomingly turning a TV debate show into an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway, even though they were not supposed to be funny.

I believe in the oft-repeated wisdom of the general election as the time to celebrate our newly found democracy.  Indeed, campaign seasons were almost certainly a big quinquennial bash with music shows–and political sermons–served to political constituents eagerly blessing any candidate who was willing to pony up the highest amount of rupiah.  If political rallies seem to have become more subdued nowadays, that doesn’t mean no celebration is taking place.  Don’t take my word for it; just look at the polychromatic exhibition of candidates’ banners persistently adorning our streets.

Yes, democracy is brute, noisy, traffic jam-inducing, and most certainly ugly as Plato would readily attest to.  But it is also the only way to let the politicos know that they don’t mean a penny without us.  At least once in every five years, the honorable parliamentarians whose utterances are law and incomes are far beyond what us mortals can dream of will be focusing hard, devising illegitimate trickeries, hiring the most attractive campaigners they could find, manipulatively scheming solely to get our valuable votes.

model-kampanyeYou may be lamenting that when campaigning, the candidates should be offering the most sophisticated sounding economic arcana to get us through the global credit crisis or peddling the most convincing ideological platform with which voters can identify, but these are all beside the point.  In fact, the whole point of democracy is neither to ensure that our nation becomes a land flowing with milk and honey and streets lined with gold, nor to cater for our ideological inclinations.  Rather, democracy means that nobody can have exclusive claim over the fate of our land, and specifically for us Indonesians, it is quite possibly the only thing in which we can say we are far ahead of our neighboring nations.  Sure, other nations in our neighborhood can boast better living standards, higher incomes and faster internet connection.  Yet as democracy continues to take roots in our land but falter in theirs, none of them can claim to be a nation of free and desperately optimistic people.

So shut your eyes, close your ears while the politicos bombard you with their nonsense, their operatives stubbornly surround you with their likenesses for the next month or so.  On April 9, go to the voting booth or don’t, and be glad that whatever you do you have the freedom to choose.