Monday, September 28, 2009

Opinion Piece

Say no to culture and tourism war – ­­­and yes to peace

by Geeta Ariani

Coming to study in Kuala Lumpur, metropolitan city of the Petronas Twin Towers, having many good Malaysian friends and experiencing a taste of great cultural diversity have provided me with a wider perspective on issues and helped me see how people from different parts of the world have different ways of approaching life. But when one of my friends in Indonesia suddenly mesmerised me with his dramatic tale, writing on my Facebook wall: “Malaysia just stole our Pendet dance. Ganyang Malaysia! (English: Invade Malaysia!)” – the stealing claim went right over my head and made me a little upset.

My friend’s Facebook posting enticed me to “google” the controversy. I was flooded with news stories about Malaysia’s claim over the Pendet dance, splashed across the front pages of the online edition of Indonesian newspapers. It must have hit the headlines in my country, but seemed to be ignored by the Malaysian mainstream media since I found only one Malaysian online newspaper covering the story. Furthermore, I didn’t hear a single word about it in any Malaysian newspaper.

Is it just Malaysia’s authoritarian press system in which journalists have very little rights when it comes to criticising the government, or is there anything fishy going on? Anyway, the situation in Indonesia that time was in marked contrast to the media’s silence in Malaysia.

About a month ago, many Indonesians protested the image of two Balinese dancers performing the Pendet dance that appeared in the promotion of the series Enigmatic Malaysia aired on the Discovery Channel. The issue also sparked an emotional debate among Indonesian culture experts, political scientists and artists, with Malaysia being condemned as ripping off the traditional Indonesian dance. Shortly after the protests, this fact was brought to light: Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific was at fault for using the image of the Balinese dancers to promote their documentary series Enigmatic Malaysia. Apparently the image itself was sourced from an independent third party that had nothing to do with the Malaysian government’s tourism ads. Fair enough.

But it did not stop there. The Indonesian people went further in accusing Malaysia of claiming Wayang Kulit and Batik as their own. Perhaps many Indonesians do not know that the leather shadow puppet, also known as Wayang Kulit, took root in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Kelantan, more than 250 years ago. The origin itself remains a mystery, as the puppet show today is widespread throughout Asia in various guises. How about Batik? This ancient art form took root and reached its golden age in Java, Indonesia. During industrialisation, Indonesian immigrants brought Batik with them to Malaysia; therefore the Malays learned the painting and dyeing techniques and adopted the designs.

Please note, Indonesia and Malaysia shared the same culture and language many years ago, as most Malays in Malaysia originated from Indonesia. No way are we going to blame our ancients for this pointless polemic between Indonesia and Malaysia on the claim over cultural heritage. Because at the end of the day, it will never address the main issue but cause a serious deterioration in relations between the two countries.

After all, it’s time for us to let bygones be bygones. It is not a breeze, but this issue may serve as a challenge and wake-up call to my fellow Indonesians, particularly the younger generation, to start preserving our very own culture instead of blindly aping western culture. Last, hopefully peace will always reign in the two countries and there won’t be either tourism or culture war anymore.

P.S. This opinion piece is part of my 'Advanced News Writing' assignments.


Fadil Wimala said...

Nice writing. Need permission to repost, hehe. I know we share almost the same culture. But Telling the whole world that batik originated from malaysia without even mentioning the word java is annoying. The mentioning of java came later after the indonesians made a protest. And also the song 'rasa sayange' was used in malaysia tourism ad, what the hell? Well, may peace be with us.

GeetaAriani said...

Haha merci, Dil - still trying to improve my feature writing skill.
Regarding the batik, I'm not sure about the 'telling-the-whole-world' thingy, but I know that it's pretty much annoying, like twisting your melon or sth, lolz. But again, let's ponder on its roots for a moment - we know tht batik isn't originally from Java, like the technique itself might have been introduced in India, or maybe some other Asian countries. But will ppl in India accuse Indonesia of stealing their ancient art technique?
And remember, we've stolen other countries' cultures too, esp. western culture. Well, I've taken this view not because I've been studying in Malaysia - even if it was another country, I might probably say the same thing. What I'm trying to say is that we shouldn't be easily provoked and sit back afterward. Hopefully we will be able to take action at least without pointless riots and protests :)
Once again, thanks for the comment, really appreciate it. Wish we could contribute something to our beloved country, hahaha

Ling said...

Gege, sayang.
My opinion of the issue as a normal human being (nationalities aside, people >.<) is that as much as each of us should by patriotic right, be proud of our country's culture, tradition and whatnot... we should also have an open mind about things like this.

Things aren't as simple as 'you stole our dance/song/batik, wth?' or 'dude, batik's ours. Stop telling people batil's your property!'

All i have to say to that is 'chill, peeps!'

Whether or not whichever country has or has not a copyright on said dance/song/batik/whatnot, country crisis aside, nationalities aside, race, religion and culture aside and most importantly patriotism aside... we're all the same. Problems of... such patriotic claims (about what belongs to who and who is to blame for the 'stealing' of whatnot) should not be a barrier between us, between friendship!

We are the same!

We're human beings who enjoy the company of other nice human beings. No man's an island after all.

I might be a Malaysian, i might be a huge batik fan, i might be (a self-acclaimed) Channing Tatum's wife, i might be a kitty-loving-prat but I'm also Geeta Ariani's friend.

Regardless of whatever the crisis is between Malaysia and Indonesia, Gege is my sayang, my best friend, my squeeze-able pillow, my 'poker' partner, my 'ayam penyet' associate and my mafia 'brother'.

That said, I don't care where the pendet dance originates from or who came up with batik, i would not and i sternly refuse to view Indonesia or Indonesians any less! They're good people too! And I'm dying to go to Bandung or Bali dammit! Hahahaha.