During his famous speech on April 6th 1977 in Cultural Institute of Jakarta (IKJ), the author and journalist Mochtar Lubis named the six traits of Indonesian people. They are: hypocritical, irresponsible, feudalistic, superstitious, artistic and lacking character. Expressing such thoughts in New Order era forced him to deal with the authority and while the generalization was not entirely true, there was some undeniable truth in it.
Mochtar passed away in 2004 but had he still lived today, he would have wanted to add another entry in his list of Indonesian traits: being reactive, instead of proactive.
When the news of how the Malaysian government reportedly trying to “claim” the Tor-Tor dance and Gondang Sambilan as their cultural heritage broke out earlier this week, we already knew how the story would develop and how the reaction in Indonesian would be.
Cue the instant jingoism of how culturally superior our nation is compared to our neighbor across the Malacca strait which, once again, made way for the come back of outdated nationalist phrase of “Ganyang Malaysia!”(Crush Malaysia).
Demonstration in front of the Malaysian embassy was subsequently arranged as it is one of the regular Malaysia-bashing menu, followed by dreadful behavior of burning the Malaysian flag. Considering the last time such demonstration was held, they were throwing human dung to the embassy, this time it’s quite civil for them.
Twitter-loving Indonesians echoed the same sentiments and made themselves heard in social media by putting hashtag #tortormilikindonesia (“Tor-Tor belongs to Indonesia”) on the top of worldwide trending topics. Condemnation of Malaysia were circulating on the net and politicians and lawmakers who seemed like they were short of excuses to make themselves looked appealing to public found a nice reason to appear like they’re supporting people’s cause.
Somehow it looks familiar. We’ve been here before. Much like when batik was claimed a part of Malaysian heritage which provoked the anger of a nation and triggered a batik renaissance among Indonesian people. There was a period of time when batik was not really fashionable until another country thought that batik was actually fashionable and we ought to think likewise.
Indeed, the claim of batik by Malaysia united Indonesian people and promoted batik to the culturally-ignorant generation of our people – but batik was a rare example. Remember the anger when Malaysia also claimed the Reyog dance from Ponorogo, East Java? How many people had watched Reyog performance before it was claimed by Malaysia and how many have watched it after the claim? Yet these people were enraged by the claim of something that they have never seen in their entire life because they’re obliged to do so.
This cultural debacle left me questioning a couple of things. One of them is an old question that has been asked since the forming of the republic, what is actually an Indonesian culture? What can be counted as Indonesian culture and what is not?
Coming from a Batak descent, I regard Tor-Tor dance as part of my ethnic culture as it’s been featured heavily in our traditional rituals, but do people from other ethnics also regard it as their culture? Or do they regard Tor-Tor not as their traditional culture but a part of national culture which is considered to be the pinnacle formed by traditional culture?
Another question is, can a culture be claimed by a country, therefore other countries cannot claim it as their own? My layman understanding finds it hard to understand how a country could claim something whose origin predates the inception of the nation. Tor-Tor dance, like batik and Reyog, was already there before the nation of Indonesia and Malaysia declared their independence and formed a sovereign state. Not to mention that in the case of Tor-Tor dance, Malaysia was actually trying to legally recognize the dance instead of claiming in order to get national funding on the cultural preservation as it was asked by the Mandailing Batak diaspora in that country.
Speaking of preserving the culture, the budget allocated to that matter is said to be only 0.3 percent of the national budget on Educational and Cultural Ministry yet we have hundreds of cultural heritage waiting to be preserved and recognized. How the ministry will do its work on such a dwarf budget leaves a big question mark.
As we have seen in Reyog’s case, I don’t think the Tor-Tor dance dispute will have a similar effect to batik. It’s highly unlikely to see that this debacle will spark Tor-Tor mania and make it a next popular urban dance after shuffling. The fact that we are mad because what we think is ours claim by others doesn’t mean that we actually care about it.
What is likely to happen in the future is the continuation of the “claim-unclaim” relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia and our reactive being will see us on the receiving end again. Then we all know the drill. Cue instant jingoism, mass demonstration in front of Malaysian embassy, and shout “Ganyang Malaysia”. Put it on repeat.