Friday, September 30, 2011

Indonesia: A ‘Multicultural’ and Dynamic Society?


 An Introduction.

“Cultural diversity”, that is the most prominent feature of the Indonesian nation. “A nation of unity in diversity (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika)”, that is the national slogan established at the time Indonesia proclaimed her independence in 1945. Long before the independence, in 1928, a group of young Indonesians declared the unity of their future nation: “One country, one nation, one language, Indonesia” (Satu nusa, satu bangsa, satu bahasa, Indonesia)”. It is interesting to note here that bahasa Indonesia was cited as the ‘national language’ at the time Indonesia was still colonized by the Dutch. It is more interesting to know that those young Indonesians consciously chose bahasa Indonesia as the lingua franca among the existing hundreds local languages spread over the archipelago. In his article: Notes on Cultural Diversity in Southeast Asia (2004), Fox argues for the use of language as a means of indicating diversity in Southeast Asia instead of the concept of ‘culture’ as used by the earlier anthropologists. I agree that using language as an indicator of diversity is straightforward, though—as also argued by Fox (2004:18)—various dialects can make up one single language as he found among Rotenese in Eastern Indonesia. As Fox (2004:18) says: “Where exactly to divide up the dialects of Rotenese and decide on what constitute separate languages would be both difficult and arbitrary.” It is not at all easy to define the demarcation of each language, and so also is the reality with hundreds of cultures in Indonesia. This is only one issue to deal with such a complexity. Various other aspects of people’s life, for examples religion, kinship, and economic-social-political system also vary from one group to another.

By considering the total number of languages in larger islands and regions only, excluding the small islands, as many as 701 languages are spread throughout Indonesia (see Fox of his quotation on the number of languages in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Java and Bali, Nusa Tenggara, Maluku and Papua as quoted from Ethnologue: Languages of the World [Grimes 1992 in Fox 2004:15]). If language is used as an indicator of cultural diversity, it means that only from the larger islands and regions, there are seven hundreds cultures in Indonesia. We could thus imagine how enormous the diversity in Indonesia is. In such a situation, if bahasa Indonesia can function as the lingua franca, to what extent could the national identity and sense of belongingness function as the ‘tie’ of more than 200 millions people with their heterogeneous cultural identities and backgrounds? It is not at all a simple and easy thing to realize.

Referring to Furnivall (1948a, 1948b), Suparlan (2000a, 2000b) argues for Furnivall’s hypothesis that Indonesia is, in reality, a ‘plural society’ consisting of a large number of social groups who do not have any intricate relationships one another, nor do they have the same interests as members of a nation. The colonial regime of the Netherlands-Indie forced them to be together under their rule on the basis of economic interests. Economic interests became the means to build up network and relation in and through the market. Again, economic and political interests underlined the rule of the previous old regime of Soeharto where the ‘unity’ of Indonesian nation was forced strongly above its ‘diversity’ for the sake of their interests. In 1984 the Soeharto regime issued censorship on some sensitive areas, i.e. ethnicity, race, religion and inter-group issues, locally known as SARA that stands for Suku (ethnic group), Agama (religion), and Ras (race). As Budianta says (2004:21), “The SARA censorship betrayed the underlying tension beneath the State pluralistic motto of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (Unity in Diversity).” The reality that we live in diversity with all its consequences should not be raised in public domain for the sake of ‘stability’ and ‘security’ issues as one nation. The ‘unity’ dimension was thus being forced to overcome the real ‘diversity’. Moreover, the rights of local communities to live in their own ways and own their properties in peace were neglected for the sake of the central regime’s maximum exploitation of natural resources (see Suparlan 2003). In the wake of Reform (from 1998 onwards), as Budianta (2004:21) argues, the pendulum swang from centralistic unity towards the needs to recognize diversity which further accelerated the resurgence of ‘multiculturalism’ issue. The euphoria was to turn down the centralistic control and heavy emphasis on unity to give rise towards a greater freedom of the regional and local people to control their own rights and resources in its diversity. Despite such euphoria, the question is, are we, Indonesians, really moving from a pluralistic society—in Furnivall’s meaning—towards a ‘multicultural’ society?

Suparlan (2003:31) argues for the meaning of multiculturalism as an ideology that praises cultural differences, or a belief that recognizes and enforces the formation of cultural pluralism as a form of societal life. How to operationally implement such an ideology in everyday life? How to put into action the praise of differences and the belief to enforce cultural pluralism? Fay (1996:241) argues against a too restrictive and too static a slogan of multiculturalism as only ‘recognizing, appreciating, and celebrating difference’. ‘Engaging, questioning, and learning’ are better captures the synergistic character of genuine multicultural interaction, as well as the dynamic character of social science (Fay 1996:241). Looking at the long history of the development of Indonesia as a nation, I argue that it would be a long way for the Indonesian people to form and reach the genuine multicultural interaction among the very heterogeneous people. This is the great challenge for both the people and the academia. Yet, this is the reality the people face in their everyday life. Like a pendulum, the swing is moving back and forth between the ‘forced plural society without any genuine multicultural interaction’ to the great interests to form a multicultural society, yet still in the midst of facing various problems, hardships and challenges to reach the other end of the pendulum: the multicultural Indonesia. Such is also a portray of how dynamic the nation is from the period of pre-independence up to this recent modern time through the struggle of sustaining independence, and the unity of the nation amid the very diverse conditions, people, and interests. On the other hand, the Indonesian nation has to struggle of reaching prosperity in the midst of prolonged poverty, while facing vast changes through modernization and globalization. Indonesia is also an archipelago with diverse degrees of contact between and among the people, within and between neighboring islands and foreign countries. The mobility of people within and inter-islands has also been going on since the colonization period up to recent times. In such a complex society, how do the families sustain their existence? To what extent do the family members exercise their decisions and strategies in transmitting ‘cultures’ which are so diverse, and by doing that, also sustaining and at the same time, changing ‘cultures’? Yet, within one nation having one language as the lingua franca, to what extent do the national language and ‘culture’ play important role in the ways the family transmit the ‘cultures’? In a heterogeneous society like Indonesia, could the genuine multicultural interaction take place where the family members do engage, learn, and question one another and with those belonging to the ‘others’? Referring to the main theme of the conference, is this the kind of ‘education’ the members of a ‘family’ perform and hence would support, or otherwise, jeopardize the efforts to create a multicultural Indonesia? Yet, what kind of ‘cultures’ do they, through what is called as ‘education’, transmit, sustain, and change in the midst of such a complex and dynamic Indonesia? These are not easy questions to answer. I will not be able to provide the answers of all those questions in this brief paper. Yet, a brief examination of the ongoing features of those phenomena will be discussed. Though the family as a social entity becomes the main focus of this conference, I would pursue my perspective in examining the ‘family education’ in Indonesia from theagency perspective and the situational and processual approaches instead of the emphasis on the system with the underlying essentialism point of view (see Bourdieu 1977;Giddens 1979; Ortner 1984; Vayda 1986; Ahearn 2001; also see Moore 1987, 1994;Vayda et al. 1991). Before examining these issues further, it is urgent to have an understanding of what constitutes a ‘family’ in a nation like Indonesia and what are the features of ‘families’ in a heterogeneous Indonesia.

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