Throughout the years in my blogposts, I have written about the people I have argued with, ranting about their narrow-mindedness, poor moral integrity and their lack of brain usage.
Sometimes, I don’t talk about specific individuals, more about groups of them. When I do talk about specific individuals, their worldview and behaviours aren’t uniquely theirs; I have encountered others just like them.
But, in this case, I am a bit overwhelmed.
Online, more than once, I have criticised westerners’ ideas of diversity and multiculturalism. While I do acknowledge pogroms are non-existent in the modern-day west, I despise the wide-held belief that diversity and multiculturalism only exist there; I also criticise some westerners’ try-hard attempts to be multicultural, which end up as tokenism rather than genuine acceptance.
I also assert that many Indonesians have strong experiences with interethnic and interreligious relations… while admitting the latter is more flawed than the former and our race relations still have lots to desire.
And the reactions are predictable.
Conceited westerners get too defensive, accusing me of demonising the entire west and whitewashing my own country’s image. Every time I talk about genuinely good things about Indonesia, self-hating Indonesians start making weird criticisms about their homeland: they accuse Indonesia of being “guilty” of certain things… while also fawning other countries which are also “guilty” of those same things.
In this particular case, this person is one of those self-hating Indonesians; they rebuke me by asserting Indonesia’s proneness to sectarian violence. I cannot deny it because it is unfortunately true.
But, I also state that acceptance in the west is also far from perfect and the COVID pandemic proves it; in some countries, there was an increase in hate crimes against people of Chinese descent… or anyone perceived as such.
This person says that’s BS. Not only the increase was exaggerated (as if a threefold increase was nothing), they also said determining how bad sectarianism should not be based on how fearful the minorities are, but based on how many tourists and investors still flocking into the area.
Then, it went downhill even further.
I live in Batam and when I said it is very diverse, they said its diversity was due to its location in Java, which this person insinuatingly considers to be the country’s only diverse place.
Wrong! Not only Batam is not located in or near Java, it is an island city which is a part of an archipelago located east of Sumatra, South of Singapore and Malaysia.
They also said the people of the city of Banjarmasin were being intentionally provocative… simply for using words differently, as if this person’s dialect is the objectively correct one.
And I still haven’t talked about the weirdest part.
They also believe Indonesia is not multicultural because it suffers from Malaysisation AKA domination of Malay culture. Their evidence? Our national language — Indonesian — is one of the standardised registers of Malay language.
I told them our national language is Malay-derived because, prior the Europeans’ arrival, Malay had already been used as a lingua franca in the region for centuries.
This person said it wasn’t a good enough because the language was used only among traders. When I asked which language they think deserve to be the national one, they gave me two: Javanese and Sundanese. Why? Simply because ethnic Javanese and Sundanese are the biggest and second biggest ethnic groups.
While they are indeed the biggest, there is a problem with that: their languages were never used as lingua francas.
They were never used as mediums of interethnic and intercultural communications. They don’t have experiences catering to other cultures. While old Javanese was used outside Java, it was mostly used as a literary language of the educated elite. Because the ethnic Javanese form around forty percent of the country’s total population, declaring their language as the national would culturally suffocate the other ethnic groups.
Malay? While it is based on the native language of one ethnic group, it has been used interethnically and interculturally for centuries; it has many years of experiences catering to different cultures.
In fact, there are at least twenty Malay-based creoles found all over the region, including the eastern part of Indonesia. Malay also has some influences in even more faraway places; Sri Lanka has an endangered Malay creole language, there is a practically extinct language in western Australia called Broome Pearling Lugger Pidgin which uses significant amount of Malay words and, prior the Spanish colonisation, Malay was the lingua franca of the Philippines.
The standardised register is different from the one used in Singapore — where Malay is mostly used by ethnic Malays — and in Malay-majority Malaysia and Brunei.
Indonesian has some loanwords from the regional Indonesian languages and, from all of them, Javanese is the biggest contributor.
Unlike the ones in the other aforementioned countries, which still retain their melodious sounds, the standard phonology in Indonesia is very flat and clipped; even though it does sound lifeless and bland, it is a type of accent which anyone can easily acquire. It is also normal to hear public figures — including our current president who is an ethnic Javanese — speaking Indonesian with noticeable regional accents.
Not to mention the most widely-used informal register of Indonesian is a creole natively spoken by ethnic Betawis, adopted by non-Betawi Jakartans and any Indonesians who heavily consume the national pop culture. Different regions also have their own informal registers of Indonesian, which are basically Indonesian infused with words from the local languages.
Basically, our standard Malay has mutated so much, it no longer becomes a “purely Malay” tongue.
I have a controversial take: if I have to choose between Dutch and Javanese, I would rather choose the former as our national language.
Yes, it is the colonial tongue. But, because of its entirely foreign origin, it doesn’t take side with any of our indigenous ethnic groups. In the context of Indonesian unity, it can be neutral.
And let me reveal this person’s most outrageous claim: Indonesia suffers from Malayisation. It is outrageous because, even if our standard Malay is still a “purely Malay” tongue, it is still the only Malay thing about our national identity.
None of our patriotic songs have Malay-influenced melodies and arrangements; they tend to sound like marches more than anything. Every time the country is represented in overseas performance arts events, Javanese and Balinese music and dance are prevalently represented, Malay ones barely exist.
After I said Malayisation exist where ethnic Malays congregate, that person accused me of flip-flopping and being inconsistent. I wasn’t. Malayisation existing in some regions is not the same as it existing on the national level.
But, do you what exists on the national level? Javanisation.
While the Indonesian establishment is very multiethnic, there is no doubt it is dominated by ethnic Javanese. Literally all of our presidents are of Javanese descent (even though, admittedly, Habibie didn’t grow up surrounded by Javanese culture).
Soeharto also implemented a policy of transmigration, in which he sent ethnic Javanese citizens to settle in less crowded places outside their homeland. Whether he intentionally used the policy to Javanise the country or not, it doesn’t matter. It still helped Javanising the country even further.
I have talked a lot about how our national symbols are of Hindu and Buddhist origins. But, recently, I just found out they might be the legacy of Majapahit, an ancient kingdom centered in Java which conquered a huge chunk of modern-day Indonesia, including a small chunk of western New Guinea. The Javanisation started long before the country existed.
When I pointed those facts out to the person (minus the Majapahit one), they said Javanisation is a good thing. Good because it supposedly prevents the spread of Islamic extremism.
Which is, again, more BS!
If that is the case, then why does the country still end up having cases of it? Why aren’t the people raised in Java immune to it? Why does this long-Javanised region fail to prevent its rise? I don’t know if the person answered the question or not, as I got too exhausted to revisit the thread.
Whatever the causes of extremism are, if you pay attention to the world, no backgrounds can make you immune to it, not even the so-called superior Javanese culture.
Now, to sum things up:
I am overwhelmed for various reasons.
That person lost their credibility almost immediately. Batam is not just a village in the middle of nowhere, it is a city of over a million residents, a job opportunities destination for many Indonesians and, due to its proximity to Singapore and Malaysia, one of Indonesia’s gateways to the world.
If you don’t know the location one of Indonesia’s major cities, it is clear you lack even the most basic knowledge about this country. You shouldn’t be that confident when talking about the country.
This person also claims to care about multiculturalism. But, their words clearly indicates otherwise.
In the western context, this person thinks sectarian violence is bad NOT because it makes minorities feel unsafe and unwelcome in their own countries, but because it drives tourists and investors away. Basically, this person believes multiculturalism — in the west, at least — should be about the money, not the minorities’ well-being.
I have encountered people who love exaggerating western countries’ diversity and multiculturalism, while also downplaying and even denigrating the non-western ones’. But, this is the first time I encountered someone who sees multiculturalism solely through the profitability lens.
In the Indonesian context, this person has contradictory views. They believe adopting a national language based on Malay is a symptom of Malay cultural imperialism, even though it is the only Malay thing about our national identity. Yet, at the same time, not only they tolerate Javanese cultural imperialism, they wish it happens more thoroughly.
Combine that with their unreasonable hatred of Banjarmasin dialect, it is obvious their “concern” for multiculturalism is just a mask, a mask to conceal their prejudice against anything non-Javanese, to conceal their sense of Javanese supremacy.
I am not surprised by the existence of such views; everyone here knows Javanisation and Javanese supremacism exist. I am just taken aback someone finally says the quiet part out loud.
*My usage of the word “Javanese” can be interpreted loosely.
Foreigners who know nothing about Indonesia may assume Javanese refers to all people and things from Java. That’s incorrect.
In Indonesia, the word Javanese refers to the ethnic Javanese — who are indigenous to Java — and anything associated with them. If you are referring to someone or something in Java and they are not “Javanese”, you say “of Java” and “from Java” instead.
To make it more confusing, the Javanese are not the only ethnic groups indigenous to the Island — there are also the Sundanese, Cirebonese, Madurese, Betawis, Osings, Tenggerese, Banyumasans — and yet, they have the island’s namesake. For the longest time, I didn’t know why that was the case.
Then, one day, I found a book called A New Spirit (Indonesian: Semangat Baru) by Mikihiro Moriyama, a Japanese scholar specialising in the Sundanese language. He asserted that centuries ago (don’t remember exactly when, probably before the 14th or 15th) Sundanese people were once considered a sub-group of the Javanese. Nowadays, no one consider the two as the same; even their languages are mutually unintelligible with each other.
According Wikipedia (yes, I know), people who identify as Betawis didn’t exist prior the 1800s and, even though Cirebonese identity has existed for centuries, its existence was first acknowledged by the census in 2010. The Madurese are from Madura, which isn’t technically in Java; it is an island located very close to Java.
The Banyumasans, Osings and Tenggerese are considered subgroups of Javanese. I know many Banyumasans see themselves as Javanese. I am not sure about the other two.
For the most part, if you have basic knowledge about the country, what constitutes as “Javanese” should be clear-cut to you. So, what do I mean by the word being interpreted loosely?
The problem is not simply Javanese people dominating the establishment, it is also about how island itself exerts too much power.
Jakarta — the country’s capital, economic centre and media centre — is located in Java. If a national company is not headquartered in Jakarta, it is very likely headquartered in other cities in Java. Most of the top universities are in Java. When a development happens, it starts in Java and other islands may or may not be given the opportunity to follow suit.
Indonesia is not simply Javanised, it is also very Java-centric. Two different, but equally problematic things.
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