Being traditional

The Stammering Dunce
5 min readMar 31, 2024


Also published on Wordpress.

Food is something virtually everyone can be easily traditional about. At least, that’s what I observe.

In Indonesia, despite the constant barrage of foreign influences, we still can retain our traditions to some extent. Even though traditional arts are no longer widely embraced, Indonesians — including the modern ones — still love eating fried rice, sambal, soto, tempe and the likes, we still love our chillies and other spices. Despite the modernisation, despite the cultural cringe, traditional foods are still our comfort foods

In the United States, thanks to the genocides, its indigenous people have been reduced to a tiny minority. Ten million people with indigenous lineage aren’t much when they form about three percent of the country’s total population; not to mention only four percent of them still speak their ancestral languages regularly and fluently.

I don’t know how much they eat traditional foods in their daily lives. But, the indigenous influences (along with the west African ones, mind you) are still prevalent among many classic United States dishes. Without them, Americans would not eat cornmeal-based dishes like cornbread and hush puppy and they definitely would not eat ingredients like turkey, blueberries and cranberries.

From all aspects of cultures, foods seem to be the among the most resilient. I attribute them to being one of mankind’s basic needs. Between foods and the arts, the latter is the one which humans can physically survive without.

But, I don’t understand the obsession with “traditional values”.

For one, how do we know they are even “traditional”? How do we know they are not results of our misunderstanding (or dishonest perception) of the past?

In the American context, conservatives love to pretend their country was founded as a Christian one, even though the literal first sentence of the first amendment calls for the separation of church and state; when they cite the first amendment, they always conveniently skip to the second sentence (which itself is about freedom of religion, not about establishing a theocracy).

Even if we accept they are 100% traditional, I still don’t see the purpose.

Here’s something that is isn’t obvious to some of us: some values deserve to be left behind.

If a value demands us to be dismissive of anything simply because they are “foreign”, prevent girls from getting education, filter out any new knowledge because it is deemed “blasphemous” or see people of other ethnicities, races and religions as subhumans, then it deserves to be left behind. Any reasonable minds won’t tolerate such things.

I also notice something interesting about those “traditional value” people: values are the only “traditional” things they embrace.

With some exceptions to certain places, they have very “modern” outward appearances. They no longer wear traditional outfits in their day-to-day lives, they wear tees and denims. Their languages are often full of unnecessary loanwords. They also don’t have any interests about preserving their tangible and intangible ancestral heritages; in fact, they think such endeavour is a waste of time.

While I admittedly don’t have good examples of this, I do believe you can embrace “modern” values while still embracing your ancestral heritage.

I mean, use your common sense.

I am an Indonesian and I am “modern” compared to many Indonesians I know. But, does that mean I vomit every time I eat traditional dishes? Bleed profusely through my ears every time I hear gamelan and angklung? Spontaneously combust every time I put on a batik shirt? Obviously, the answer is no, no and no.

Older aesthetics feels conservative NOT because it inherently is, but because our minds associate it with conservatism. It is a connotation. It is definitely flexible and arbitrary.

I am clearly not a fan of embracing traditional values just for the sake of it and not contemplating about their benefits and drawbacks. If you believe that’s the life path for you, power to you.

But, if values are the only traditional things you embrace, then you are in a massive disadvantage.

No matter how anti-progress you are, if you are still in tune with your ancestral heritage, you still can stick out. You still have genuinely unique cultural things to offer on the global stage.

But, if you are traditional while adorned in modern aesthetics? Not only you are left behind from even the most beneficial changes, you are also very culturally invisible. Why should anyone take interest in you when you are both close-minded and culturally uninteresting?

Ideally (I am sure you could see it coming), I believe the good balance should be having “modern” values and traditional aesthetics at the same time. You can enjoy the progresses….. while staying afloat amidst the increasingly strong waves of cultural globalisation.

If you agree with me and you want to achieve such societal goal, it is not enough to have an educational system that goes beyond rote learning, has well-trained and well-paid teachers and has well-rounded curriculum (having a balance of STEM, social sciences, humanities and practical skills like home economics, first aid and finance AKA both the useful and the so-called “useless” knowledge).

Traditional arts and knowledge (e.g. folktales, myths) should be mandatorily taught; if they are only included in electives or extracurricular activities, it sends a message that getting in touch with one’s heritage is optional, that one’s heritage is just a mere hobby and potentially a waste of time.

You need to expose the masses to their ancestral heritage as much as possible.

Obviously, I am talking about strict categorisations which rarely apply to real life. Humans are full of shades of grey; it is very hard to find people who are 100% this or that.

But, I still rant about it because I have encounbtered so many fellow Indonesians who quickly dismiss new ideas….. simply because they are “un-Indonesian”, forgetting they themselves wear denims and tees, listen to western-style pop songs and watch Hollywood flicks.

I guess, if I have to be fair to them, they have been exposed to western aesthetics all of their lives. It is already a part of their identities, a part of their mundane lives, which means it rarely challenges their existing worldview, if ever.

But, the lack of self-awareness is still infuriating.



Admittedly, I have my own definition of “modern”. While it is generally synonymous with anything brand new, I prefer to define it as “culturally and socially sustainable”.

When I choose which values to embrace, I don’t give a damn about how old or new they are, how “Islamic”, “Indonesian” or “western” they are. I don’t care about their “identities”.

What I care about is whether they benefit us in the long run and not biting our asses in the future. That’s what the word “modern” means to me.






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