E PLURIBUS UNUM. The experience from my high school times has redefined my view of nationalism, with my Chinese-Indonesian friends acting as the unlikely teachers who taught me the true meaning of Unity in Diversity.
Could anyone be able to mention any nation in earth whose diversity is greater than Indonesia?
No one could. With more than 17,000 islands scattering across the archipelago, in where around 300 local tribes roaming around with each of whom speaking their own local languages; the diversity of Indonesia is definitely unrivaled.
Indonesia’s vast diversity, however, is a two-edge sword and sometimes becomes the major constraint for its citizens to unite and have a mindset as one nation. Since the arrival of the first colonialist –that was the Portuguese in 1512–, it took more than 400 years for Indonesia’s massively-diverse citizens to unite as one nation and declare its independence from the colonialists.
Certainly, the key to our unification was the declaration of Sumpah Pemuda (the Youth Pledge) on October 28 1928, where jongs or youths from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds (Jong Sumatranese, Javanese, Bataknese, Ambonese, and even Chinese) gathered together and vowed to eliminate the great divide of their racial barriers and all declare themselves as Indonesians.
It is the oath that became a keystone in uniting Indonesia’s massively-diverse citizens and later proved to be pivotal for Indonesia to finally unshackle itself from colonialism.
Fast forward eighty two years, it is worth reflecting the values of Sumpah Pemuda once again when we look upon the situation of Indonesia at present.
Violence on behalf of the interest of specific religion and racial groups erupts in many parts of the region, with hatreds and resentments toward each other eclipse the aphorism of “unity in diversity” that is tightly gripped by the Garuda bird as one important part of Indonesia’s national symbol.
While in the past Jong Ambonese worked hand-to-hand with other Indonesians regardless of which part of Indonesia they came from, today there seemed to be no love lost between the Ambonese and Flores people at the street of Ampera when they exchanged blows and spilled each other’s blood.
And while in Merah Putih movie we can watch how a Moslem school teacher fought the Dutch colonialist shoulder-to-shoulder with a Christian farmer and an obedient Hindu soldier, today the religion intolerance in this country can only grow larger than ever following the stab of two church leaders at Bekasi, allegedly did by Moslems who opposed the presence of the church’s activities in the area.
If only our founding fathers who proclaimed Sumpah Pemuda could see what we are doing at the moment; they would surely be very ashamed to have us as their descendants.
Why, as I am deeply puzzled here, do such racial barriers and differences have to matter? During my high school times, my school was mostly dominated with Chinese-Indonesian students with very rich family background, yet in reality they never look me different despite the fact that I am a Moslem Javanese who merely come from middle-class family background.
And regardless our racial, religion, and social status differences; we are still Indonesian at heart.
“You know, I was very impressed by the way you guys enthusiastically sang your national anthem together,” said an Irish teacher who taught high-school students in United States, as he paid a visit to our school.
“In the United States, young people in your age don’t even memorize [the lyrics of] their own national anthem,” he added.
Indeed, it is ironic why those ethnic-group people should look down against each other’s roots, while back then in high school times all my friends always identified me as “Indonesian”, nothing else matters. During that time, my Chinese-Indonesian friends frequently offered me ride home, jovially invited me to their houses, and on occasions even introduced me to their parents who later cooked me dishes so we could have dinner together.
Did those specific ethnic groups say that they did it merely for retaliation, because of one or two things which some Bataknese or Ambonese did in the past? Then they really should learn to forgive and bury the hatchet: When I sat with my friend’s parents around the dining table, I was sure that they had not forgotten how the Javanese people brutally treated their Chinese relatives during the 1998 riot either.
Revenge is never-ending; forgiving each other and living together in such harmony look to be a life more comfortable living. For massively-diverse citizens of Indonesia, it is indeed a better option to choose rather than fulfilling your revenge now and living life full of insecurity later.
Amidst recent clashes involving religion and ethnic groups in Indonesia, this is the day when I miss the moment when a foreigner was in awe and felt really timid seeing Indonesian high-school students from different religions and ethnic groups singing Indonesia Raya sincerely together.
Ask the then Dutch colonialists at this date eighty two years ago, and that’s the same feeling which went through their spines when those Jong Sumatranen Bond, Jong Ambon, Jong Batak, Jong Java, as well as other Indonesian youths from different backgrounds, all ignored their differences and stood as one to sing Indonesia Raya with all their heart.
This article was published in The Jakarta Post on Thursday, October 28 2010