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.