Why Indonesia Should Stay Diverse?

Redaksi Suara Mahasiswa · 24 November 2022
8 menit

Indonesia has always been prominent for its archipelagos and diverse cultures. Indonesia comprises around 6000 inhabited islands, 240 million citizens, 300 ethnic groups, six recognised religions and other beliefs, and 740 languages and dialects. (Soekarba, 2018) Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika play a significant role in keeping harmony amongst diverse Indonesians. However, in the last decades, movements have disagreed and aimed to distort Pancasila and reject pluralism. With such a significant number of archipelagic and cultural allures, Indonesia should avoid homogeneity, as this nation was born with one of its roots; diversities. Therefore, this paper strongly believes that Indonesia should keep embracing itself as a “unity in diversity” country.

History recorded the archipelagic notion of Indonesia when Ken Arok mentioned the word Nusantara in a copper plate called Pararaton. More specifically, the history dated back to 1305 and belonged to the Javanese manuscript, when the Majapahit and Singhasari Empires ruled Java. The term Nusantara appeared in later inscriptions, such as Sejarah Melayu and Negarakertagama. (Evers, 2017)

The term ‘Nusantara’ has been long associated with South-East Asia’s history. It originated from two Sanskrit words: Nusa, which means ‘island,’ and Antara, which means ‘in between’ or ‘including.’ (Evers, 2016) It is based on the Javanese language, and when Nusantara is translated from its indigenous language to the international language – the English Language – it may translate to ‘between islands.’

Concerning the diversity, Indonesia was connected to mainland Asia during the Pleistocene era – around four million BC – inhabited by ‘Java Man,’ a moniker for Pithecanthropus Erectus. This human species first inhabited mainland Asia significantly two million to 500,000 years ago, which evolved over time. As for the origin of the Indonesian population, it all began in the Malay-Indonesian archipelago. The civilisation parallels the South-East region, primarily the Nusantara realm. This includes the islands of Indonesia, Malaya, Borneo islands, the Philippines, and Singapore, which contain two communities: Proto-Malay and Deutro-Malay. (Anas et al., 2019)

Proto-Malay is the ethnic ancestors which emerged around 2,500 years ago, consisting of the Seman (Negrito), Temiar (Senoi), Jakun, Sakai, and other ethnicities that are based on Mon and Khmer ancestors. They are also considered based on their stone tools. Hence Thai, Cambodian, and Laotian have pertinence regarding ancestry. Deutro-Malay is more recent than Proto-Malay since it occurred a millennium after it. As evidence, the tools they used were made of bronze and metals. Some creations of the devices were gongs or drums, axes, vessels, weapons, ceramics, and beads. (Anas et al., 2019)

Furthermore, not only are they divided geographically, but the people are also of varying ethnicities, like the Chinese, the Indians, and the Arabians. We also found heterogeneous beliefs, cultures, and customs with the multiple races and ethnicities in the Nusantara. The two most common beliefs before Buddhism and Hinduism entered Indonesia were animism – beliefs in souls and spirits that can dominate humankind – and dynamism – which believes there is a greater power in nature and unliving things. (Utama et al., 2019)

The first religious diversity began when Indonesia developed into organised empires based on religions – in this case, Buddhism and Hinduism. It lasted from ancient history to the 15th century. Indians first arrived in Indonesia in 100 to 200 AD, teaching and spreading Buddhism. The spread of Buddhism was followed by the emergence of Hinduism in Indonesia, with its most prestigious and prominent empire, the Majapahit empire.

One of the respected figures during the Majapahit empire, Hayam Wuruk, a Hinduism follower, lived with his mother, Tribhuana Tunggadewi, a Buddhist. It was an excellent example of how both believers – Buddhism and Hinduism – embrace Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. The term was created by Mpu Tantular in his book and based on the ancient Javanese language, ‘berbeda-beda tetapi tetap satu jua,’ which translates to ‘unity in diversity.’ We can see that with this principle, tolerance had a pivotal role in preventing religious conflicts in those days. (KOMPAS.com, 2022)

Islam arrived in the 13th century when Gujarati and Persian merchants sailed to Indonesia. As the Hindu-Buddha empires began to decline during the 14th-15th centuries due to internal conflicts, the Islamic empires began to rise through trading and marriage. Hefner (2000) argues that Islam followers are compatible with democratic values; therefore, tolerance and equality were applied within the differences. Centuries later, the Europeans – Portuguese and Dutch – landed in Indonesia in the 16th century, with one of its aims, spreading Christianity. This religion was spread through missionary activities and the fact that the Netherlands colonised Indonesia for over 300 years (Goh, 2005).

All these historical facts prove that Indonesia had been diverse even before its independence. Diversity has already been a part of Indonesia since the prehistoric era. Therefore, with pluralism in Indonesia, there are three essential things to describe how Indonesian nationalism was then created. Firstly, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika has been a prominent motto for fellow Indonesians to live in pluralism and in harmony since the era of the Majapahit empire in the 14th century. (Kompas.com, 2021) This writing is also embedded in Indonesia’s coat of arms, the Garuda, to show the main characteristic of the Indonesian nation.

Secondly, Sumpah Pemuda is another fundamental aspect of Indonesian nationalism. It was an acknowledgment of pluralism unification, declared by the Indonesian youth from various ethnicities and religions on 28 October 1928. Lastly, Pancasila is Indonesia’s central ideology, which shows Indonesia’s five main principles: beliefs, humanity, unity, democracy, and social justice. Pancasila was officially born on 1 June 1945 as an agreement of the Indonesian founding fathers despite their diversities. (Britannica, 2013)

Although Bhineka Tunggal Ika, Sumpah Pemuda, and Pancasila have become the basis and adhesive of pluralism in Indonesia, the reality remains problematic. Along with the diversities, conflicts and disputes are not imminent. Such examples as follows: the Tanjung Balai incident that happened on 20 July 2016, a Buddhist temple was set on fire by Muslims (Mahadi, 2022); The Sampit tragedy, an ethnic dispute between the Dayaks and Maduras, transpired on 18 February 2001. (Hasugian, 2015) One of the most devastating events in Indonesia was the May 1998 incident, where countless Chinese-Indonesians – a minority in Orde Baru Era – were maltreated, subjugated, marginalised, and killed. (Gerry van Klinken, 2002)

The downsides of pluralism are the emergence of extremism, radicalism, and the most dangerous, ethnocentrism. Nationalism, according to Moore (2002), a normative argument that confers moral value on national membership and on the past and future existence of the nation and identifies the nation with a particular homeland or part of the globe. On the contrary, ethnocentrism is the opinion that one’s culture and way of life are the correct way of living. Ethnocentrism can basically be elucidated as the next step of nationalism.

A solution to overcome these issues is the creed of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is an ideology to respect, protect and promote human rights with regard to culture and traditions. More significant than pluralism, which solely acknowledges the differences of race, ethnicity, and culture in a particular area, multiculturalism is an ideology that aims to achieve cultural equality and diversity. According to Reed (1997), multiculturalism is akin to a mosaic, one big area formed by smaller areas with different cultures; therefore, Indonesia is a mosaic.

Nevertheless, how can Indonesians apply the multiculturalism principle, so Indonesia remains a diverse nation-state? There are two solutions to offer. Firstly, people with authority should implement affirmative action, which is an action that sustains minority groups throughout their everyday life. Justice and equality principles are essential in this particular aspect. In the United States, in the late 1960s, a promulgated new regulation prohibiting white people from discriminating against people of colour. Thus, promoting equal rights toward people of colour – the minority group. The Indonesian government can take an example from the US by promulgating a law to protect minority groups.

Secondly, education provision needs to be enhanced concerning pluralism, multiculturalism, ethics, and morals from a young age. For example, Civics is one of the subjects that teach elementary students morals, norms, ethics, multiculturalism, and pluralism, so they can acknowledge their surroundings and the importance of varied cultures in Indonesia. Teaching these at a young age can shape a student’s mindset, which might remain in one’s mindset when one exits one’s toddler stage.

In conclusion, pluralism is embedded in Indonesian society. It is an inevitable reality which had happened ever since a millennium ago. Hence, instead of denying that Indonesia is a pluralistic state, Indonesians should embrace and celebrate their diversity. To achieve that, Indonesians must meet these conditions: justice, mutual respect, and tolerance. Therefore, I believe that Indonesia should stay diverse while continuing to build on the necessary conditions to celebrate it.

Teks: Keenan Jeremy Kusuma, FISIP UI
Editor: Dian Amalia Ariani

Pers Suara Mahasiswa UI 2022
Independen, Lugas, Berkualitas!



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