Keeping the Indonesian Culture Alive

Literally meaning “ a peanut that forgets its shell”, the Indonesian proverb “kacang lupa kulitnya” reminds us that no matter how far we go, we should always remember our origins.

Being the largest archipelago along with 4th most populated country in the world, it is no surprise that Indonesia is culturally diverse. With the increasing trend of globalisation that shows no sign of stopping, the slow erosion or diffusion of culture is inevitably a threat that the government has tirelessly strived to prevent.

Below are some attempts that the government has made to maintain the longevity and livelihood of the Indonesian heritage:

Redistribution of budget for the cultural sector
In 2018, the government provided 1 trillion Rupiah exclusively for the cultural sector. This is contrary to the usual where allocation is shared between the Ministry of Education and Culture’s department. The money has mostly gone to the revitalization of museums. 119 museums across Indonesia are now nationally recognized, with almost a total of 30,000 collections being accessible online through the ministry’s official website.

The allocation has also prioritised to preserving culture in hopes of being able to register them under UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. So far, Indonesia already has 9 heritage accredited by UNESCO which includes batik, keris, wayang, angklung and saman dance. Pinisi, the art of boatbuilding that originated in South Sulawesi, has also recently made the list in 2017 while Pencak Silat is still being reviewed.

Strategic Expansion of Market for Tourist
The government has set a target of reaching 20 million foreign tourists in 2019. In 2018, Indonesia only reached 15.8 million foreign tourists, reflecting a 12% increase from 2017 where numbers only hit 14 million. According to the data published by BPK(The Audit Board of the Republic of Indonesia) so far, it seems like things are going positive given that there has been another 11% increase in the number of tourists in January 2019, from 1.09 million to 1.21 million, compared to that of January 2018.

In an attempt to accomplish the goal, Tourism Minister, Arief Yahya, has highlighted three strategies:Border Tourism, Tourism Hub and Low-Cost Terminal. These strategies were laid out to attract tourists from neighbouring countries while also allowing more layovers in Indonesia. Through layovers, the market for tourism in Indonesia is expected to rise given that more tourists would be inclined to extend their trip to include Indonesia as a destination. Additionally, the government has also relaxed the visa requirements by allowing residents from 169 countries, previously 84, to travel visa-free to Indonesia.

Though one might argue that bringing more tourists to Indonesia will diminish its culture, it also enforces the practice of it. Gendeng Beleq, a traditional dance originating from Lombok, is an example of a cultural heritage that would not otherwise be practised anymore if it weren’t marketed as a tourist attraction. Now performed to welcome tourists, Gendeng Beleq used to only be performed on rare occasions such as when the local custom had won a war.

Advertising of Usage of Local Dialects
Indonesia ranks as the second country with the highest number of languages after Papua New Guinea. On average, Indonesians speak at least 2 languages with Bahasa Indonesia as a mother tongue followed by a local dialect. Out of the 668 recognized dialects in Indonesia, 11 of them were declared extinct in 2018. To prevent further declaration of extinction, the government has incorporated the use of local dialects into the education system. In Papua, the use of local dialects as the language of instruction has been enforced by the curriculum in a number of schools.

Appreciation of Local Films
Another effective way to showcase Indonesia’s culture is through film. Through local movies, Indonesian culture and stories are authentically portrayed as they are crafted through Indonesian perspectives.

The inclusion of local sceneries can also help promote Indonesia as a tourism destination. Following the release of Laskar Pelangi, a local movie shot fully in Indonesia, there was a reported increase in the number of tourist arrivals in Bangka Belitung, the main setting of the movie. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of tourists arrival in total had increased from 223 thousand to 301 thousand.

As of 2011, 97% of the movies played in cinemas are imported. By the end of July 2018, the number went down to 60% – almost half of the movies played are now local. In fact, the total number of views on local films has risen from 16.2 million to 50 million since 2015. Local films have also seem to be getting more international recognition given that more of them have been included in international festivals. For the first time in 2016, an Indonesian movie, titled Prenjak, was awarded during the Cannes Film Festival – specifically the Leica Cine Discovery Prize.

Celebration of National Dishes
A large part of culture is most often its food. When one thinks of home, it would not be surprising if a specific dish comes to mind rather than a person or a place. In 2018, the Tourism Ministry set five national dishes to promote Indonesian cuisine: Soto, Rendang, Sate, Nasi Goreng and Gado-Gado.

In 2017, CNN published “World’s 50 best foods” that ranked Rendang in first place with Nasi Goreng coming second. In attempt to upkeep Indonesia’s reign over the world’s best-loved cuisines, the ministry of tourism had also set 100 Indonesian restaurants from across the world as ambassadors of the “Wonderful Indonesia” tourism program. These restaurants are required to serve at least two out of the five national dishes. 17 of these 100 restaurants are located in Melbourne, including Ayam Penyet Ria and Pondok Rempah that are both located in the CBD area.
The government can come up with a thousand new laws in hopes of preserving Indonesian heritage but it would be of no use unless we all take part. It comes down to us – the future generation of Indonesians – to preserve our heritage.
Celebrating one’s heritage doesn’t have to require a big effort. It can be choosing to go for an Indonesian meal once in a while, reading Indonesian literature or participating in an Indonesian festival. A lot of these can be easily incorporated into one’s daily life.
To reflect, when was the last time you made a conscious effort to connect with your heritage?