Monday, September 7, 2009

The Pendet dance: A case for TLC

It seems absurd that Malaysia would lure tourists using the Pendet. This would be the same idiocy as Indonesia inviting travelers to come see the Borobudur using the Statue of Liberty, or Cambodia using the Mona Lisa as enticement to explore Angkor Wat.
What is more preposterous is that Malaysia is alleged to have done the same things on more than one occasion, after supposedly claiming the Reog Ponorogo dance, the Javanese gamelan, the "Kakak Tua" song and others as theirs. Surely such claims disregard any rational sense. Everyone knows that the Pendet, Reog and gamelan are part of Indonesian heritage. Starting from the premise that Malaysians, like Indonesians, are basically sane, there must surely be other reasons behind such moves.
The most obvious explanation is that Malaysians think of themselves as part of the larger Malay race (the Rerumpun Malayu) and therefore have a right to the creativities of that culture. It is a way for them, albeit crudely, to say that they belong to the same ancestry as Indonesians and therefore have equal rights to the same traditional inheritances.
While this may hold some truth, as Malaysians can trace their lineage to the Sumatrans, the objects of their claims are specifically Javanese and Balinese cultural creations. While Indonesians and Malaysians may share the same racial/ethnic background, the cultural artifacts of each race is diverse and varied.
Even among Indonesians, cultural expressions are not homogeneous. A Javanese from Pacitan, for instance, would not dream of saying that he shares ownership in the same Serimpi dance as a Javanese from Yogyakarta. Thus Malaysians err if they mix race with culture.
The other possible explanation may be that since Indonesia has an overabundance of cultural creativity, the irresistible tendency is that claiming or "borrowing" some of them for a while will not matter much, especially as Malaysians may think their owners do not seem to take much care for them.
The idea is, if they can get away with it, why not? Nothing much to risk, except some diplomatic ruffles that will be fast forgotten anyway. This logic tends to lend more credibility to the reason behind Malaysia's bold moves. It is not without ground. We Indonesians seem to indulge more in the current than in tradition and indigenousness these days.
This is obvious in the strong preference especially among the young for, say, Michael Jackson's moonwalk, Arnold Schwarzenegger's screen bravado, the latest American idol's crooning, and Gucci gear, over the gyrations of the Jangger dance, the shadowy movements of the wayang, the rhythm of the Kroncong music, or the symmetrical designs of the Lurik cloth. The trend now is toward globalization and modernization at the expense of the local.
Who is to blame in such circumstances: the Indonesians, who are deprived of their possessions, or the Malaysians, who have allegedly taken from them? Needless to say, the one-sided takers are normally to blame.
However, the Malaysians would most probably not have dared make their bold move had they realized we would have shown greater appreciation and iron-clad resolve to protecting our culture. We should learn from the lessons of the Sipadan-Ligitan case, which saw us deprived of our sovereign territories by virtue of lack of attention and care for them. Inherent racial, cultural and historical territorial ties are no longer guarantees of automatic rights.
Those rights nowadays need to be proven through continuous interaction, care and other such acts of active relationships. If we are to safeguard our valuable assets, be they cultural or natural, traditional or contemporary, we must reassert our ownership of those assets in the most vigorous sense. In other words, we should shower them with TLC (tender loving care).
The world is at a crossroads between globalization and maintaining local identities. Indonesia need not regard it as an either/or proposition. In so far as they deal with matters of technology, systems and efficiency, going global is the preferred way.
However, in terms of culture and tradition, such legacies should be preserved at least in their basic forms, as they represent the national character. Loosing such character would be tantamount to loosing one's identity. What is a nation without its identity? Maintaining this identity through fostering cultural and traditional heritage is not only the responsibility of the government, but of every individual, family, clan and ethnic group that forms part of the Indonesian nation.
This should be done in all imaginable ways, from fully appreciating and daily practicing that heritage, to protecting it through legal patents on an ongoing basis. In a world where national boundaries are fast falling, caring and loving for one's possessions can go a long way in ensuring ownership of them.

The writer is a graduate of Harvard (US) and Leiden (Holland) universities, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (US). He was a member of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR, 1999-2004) and the minister of social affairs under former president Abdurrahman Wahid.
Article by Anak Agung Gde Agung in Jakarta Post

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