Indonesian Awakening Still in the Making


“Indonesia is still in the process of becoming,” said a rector of a reputable national university in Jakarta last month. Hundreds of students from several universities in and around Jakarta sat mesmerized by his fine oratory and body movements, hearing him speaking without understanding just what he meant.

The meeting facilitated by an NGO took place just 5 weeks before the 100th celebration of National Awakening Day on May 20.

I tried to understand his meaning; but which Indone-sia was he referring to? Was he referring to the Indone-sian state proclaimed on Aug. 17, 1945?

Or the Indonesian nation envisioned by a handful of our youth, led by Dr. Wahidin Sudirohusodo and supported by Dr. Soetomo, Gunawan and Suradji, who jointly declared the formation of “Boedi Oetomo” on May 20, 1908?

Or perhaps he was referring to the termwhich was suggested in the 4th volume of the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia (Singapore, 1850) by the Scottish lawyer James Richardson Logan (1819-1869).

The term “Indonesia” for our nation is less than two centuries old. The Republic of Indonesia is a little more than 60 years old. If the making of our nation is stretched back to the “national awakening” in 1908, then we are just a century old.

If that is the case, then perhaps the scholar quoted above is correct. Indonesia is still in the process of becoming; it is not yet final.

Interestingly, many of our politicians today think along the same lines. No wonder they and their parties, backed by NGOs and religious institutions, are even trying to change our constitution.

Some discreetly, others openly, not only promote but work zealously to introduce a different system of government based on religious doctrines.

A nation that is still in the process of becoming is an unripe nation. And such an unripe nation can be taken advantage of by anybody. It can be exploited, even destroyed. The question is, are we really unripe as a nation? The answer is “yes, if we are just a century old”.

The fact is, however, we are not a century old.

National Awakening Day is not the birthday of our nation. The word kebangkitan in Indonesian, which is now attached to Boedi Oetomo, can have several meanings. It can be translated as “resurgence”,”resurrection”, andI prefer to use the word “reawakening”.

After the decline and subsequent fall of Majapahit around 1578, Boedi Oetomo was the first movement tothe spirit of this nation – the spirit that had gone to sleep for almost 330 years.

There had been movements before Boedi Oetomosuch as the one led by Prince Diponegoro of Java – but they remained regional. They could not grow into national movements. Boedi Oetomo did.

As such, one of our founding fathers, Bung Karno was not wrong in connecting the movement with the awakening, or rather “re”-awakening, of the nation.

Bung Karno, as did Historians Muhammad Yamin and Sanoesi Pane, firmly believed we were already a nation long before the Boedi Oetomo. We were a nation in the times of the Srivijayan Empire; we were a nation in the times of the Majapahit Dynasty. But we lost that spirit of nationhood, when we succumbed to groups of traders and merchants who used religion and religious sentiment to cut us off from our cultural roots.

We disintegrated as a nation, and the rest is history.

In the second volume of his monumental trilogy on Indonesia, From Majapahit and Sukuh to Megawati Soekarnoputri, Canadian Scholar Victor M. Fic advises us that “the best guide to the future of the Indonesian people would be their past experience.”

He further wrote that as long as our “government, political parties, religious groups, other organizations and individuals respect the seven principles of continuity and change in multifaceted pluralism, avoid religious and political extremism and keep the country’s political system open to adoption and adaptation of new ideas and innovations, the country will be in a good position to meet the challenges and uncertainties of the first decade” of the 21st century.

“Jangan lupa sejarah” (do not forget history), said Bung Karno. I do not know how many of our politicians and people’s representatives realize that currently we are being pushed by outside forces to make the very same mistakes we made in the past.

We are giving in to the demands made by the very same merchants and traders from the foreign lands, using religion as their masks, and supported by our ignorant brethrens.

The Boedi Oetomo movement in the past and subsequent developments in the fields of education initiated by Ki Hajar Dewantara and in the field of economy by Muhammad Hatta “woke” us up to our past mistakes. We realized our shortcomings; we stood up and saidmore”.

Hence, we did not select a religious platform to rebuild our nation, we selected a cultural platform. Interestingly, the platform we chose was even appreciated by member states of the United Nations.

Bung Karno was appla-uded by one and all when he spoke of building the world anew based on those principles.

Alas, lately we have been slumbering again. The 100th celebration of National Awakening Day this year, therefore, calls for a national “reawakening”. This is no time for sleep. This is the time to work.

We all must work together to strengthen the platform this nation has built its modern state upon. Let us learn from our past mistakes, as Victor M. Fic reminds us, if we do not learn from them, we shall be condemned to repeat them.

Actually, there are not too many rules to follow. First and foremost is, “unity in diversity”. Second:we stand, divided we fall.” Third: “Promoting a value-based education system”. Fourth: “Cooperation, not corporation”. Fifth: “Peace, prosperity and justice for all”.

Let us all commit ourselves to the reawakening of the spirit of our nation, our nationhood. Let us take pride in the belief of our forefathers that our past has been glorious, but our future shall be brighter!

This article is also publish on Jakarta Post | Mon, 05/19/2008 11:50 AM

Please follow us: