On 17 July, the Jakarta Post ran an interesting opinion piece by Endy M. Bayumi on what it means to be indigenous in Indonesia. The question arose because Miss Indonesia, Nadine Chandrawinata, doesn’t look sufficiently “indigenous.”
It was a coincidence that around the time she gave this interview, the House of Representatives last week unanimously endorsed the new citizenship bill that cleared up the legal definition of “indigenous”.
The bill defines citizens of this republic as Indonesia asli, or indigenous Indonesians, and it goes on to define “indigenous” not by one’s race or ethnicity, but rather by one’s being born on Indonesian soil, and never having taken up any foreign citizenship….
Prior to this law, Indonesians of Chinese descent — and to a lesser extent those of Arab, European and Indian blood — have had to put up with discriminatory treatment because they were not considered indigenous, although they may have been born here or their families may have been here for many generations….
The term “indigenous” itself is a misnomer.
The Malays in Indonesia may lay claim to being the indigenous people in the western part of the country, but the Melanesians (with a darker complexion) dominate the eastern part of the archipelago. So we have two indigenous groups in this country.
But can the Malays in Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi truly claim to be Indonesia asli? Shouldn’t that claim belong more to the aborigines, like the Suku Anak Dalam in Jambi and others whose existence is on the verge of extinction?
One theory has it that the Malays currently inhabiting much of mainland Southeast Asia and the archipelago are descendants of people who migrated south down the Mekong River many thousand years ago. [Or ancestral Austronesian speakers came off the south coast of China, or out of Taiwan, down through the Philippines. So what? Malay dialects spread throughout the Indonesian archipelago much more recently—hundreds, not thousands, of years ago—probably spreading with Muslim traders along the coasts and up the major rivers of island Southeast Asia.–J.]
The Malays therefore are not Indonesia asli. But they can claim to be “more indigenous” by being here first, long before the Indians, Arabs, Chinese and Europeans came to this part of the world.
Malaysia, being a federation of sultanates, claims that all land belongs to the rulers, and thus to the indigenous Malay and Muslims. Non-Malays (the Chinese and Indians) are guests of the land and treated as second-class citizens with fewer rights.
Thankfully, Indonesia was a republic from its inception, and the land (and the water between the islands) belongs to the republic and its people, and not to any exclusive race or religious group.
The new citizenship law thus essentially recognizes that we are all indigenous, irrespective of the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the religion we follow.
This land is our land. If some of us want to claim to be more indigenous than others, let them be, but don’t expect the law to treat them differently.
And as for Nadine, she has as much right to represent Indonesia at Miss Universe 2006 as anyone else who is an Indonesian by blood and by law.
I don’t care at all about Miss Indonesia, but the new citizenship law sounds like a good thing.
via Colby Cosh
My favorite restaurant in Indonesia’s Ambon City during my academic junket in 1991 was named Pondok Asli, a place fancy enough to be translated Maison d’Indigènes rather than Native Hut. It was destroyed, like most of urban Ambon, after the Laskar Jihad invaded in 2000. Our Fulbright group tour was housed with host families in Poka and Rumah Tiga, near Pattimura University, which was also utterly destroyed by foreign jihadis. I’m not sure how many of our host families were slaughtered in the process. I have fond memories of eastern Indonesia, whether Muslim or Christian, but I scorn anyone who tries to make excuses for the jihadis.