This controversy was not highlighted much in our media, but across the Straits, our Indonesian friends, fueled by media reports in the printed press and also on TV, the issue has been blown out of proportion.
In short, what happened was that a documentary series produced by KRU for Discovery Channel entitled Enigmatic Malaysia, was being promoted on the cable channel. In the short, maybe 20-second promo, the montage had a fleeting image of a female dancer, presumably influenced by the Balinese Pendet dancer, which in truth doesn't exist on our shores.
In fact, the nearest Malay dance form that maybe considered similar would be the the tarian asyik, which again may also have had Siamese influence. Nevertheless, the dancer image used does look very much like a pendet dancer.
Anyway, this promo was screened a few weeks back, and a few people in Indonesia saw it and immediately accused the Malaysian government of stealing their dance form and henceforth their culture, and promoting it as if it exists in Malaysia.
It spiraled out of control with the Indonesian media immediately taking potshots at our government and Malaysia as a whole. We were accused of being 'malings' meaning thieves.
The Tourism Minister from Indonesia also demanded that we apologise for the abuse of their cultural icon.
During this brouhaha, the apologies presented by Discovery Channel for the 'mistake' of using the Balinese image was ignored by the media. The Malaysian government also apologised eventhough it was with a proviso saying that it was not an official or government promo and that it was also produced by a private agency outside Malaysia. The producers of the series, KRU, also stressed that point.
However, the Indonesian media went even further and said that the promo was actually this year's Malaysia Truly Asia promo, produced by the Malaysian Tourism Authorities.
After this, the media went totally amok scrapping the barrel's bottom and started to accuse Malaysia of being serial cultural thieves. It seems, according the the mainstream Indonesian media, we stole and claim as our own such cultural rights to the batik, the keris and even the song Rasa Sayang Eh (which was evidently used in an earlier Tourism Malaysia promo some years back).
One station even went on to analyse the similarities of our national anthem, Negara Ku, with an Indonesian recording of a song entitled Terang Bulan, and said the Malaysians can't seem to create anything original and keep stealing from Indonesians.
We can actually refute each and every one of this accusations - but no one seems to be doing it 'scientifically' and officially over here. No Malaysian anthropologists took up arms to defend our country against this accusations. Or at least none publicly.
No one tried to explain to the Indonesians what cultural diaspora means, and even point out that most of their own traditions and culture had actually originated from the middle East and from India centuries ago.
Furthermore, we Malays cannot be deemed to have stolen something that is intrinsically something that is already part of our own diverse heritage. It is already established that most of the Malays in Peninsula Malaysia are descended from the Bugis, the Minangs, the Javanese, the Boyans, the Acehnese and who knows where else. And this wasn't a recent event. This diaspora began hundreds of years ago when there were no United Nation sanctioned borders, well before Indonesia actually existed as a republic.
Indonesians seem to want to forget that they were or are part of the Malay archipelago which was once ruled by the great Majapahit Kingdom and before that the Srivijayan Kingdom (which gave Bali most of its Hindu traditions).
Even our kings came from the Palembang, the Minangkabau and the Acehnese lineage.
Through these historical osmosis, Javanese, Riau, Minang and Bugis culture became part and parcel of the various Malay communities in the Peninsula.
Batik, musical traditions like the gamelan and wayang kulit, fighting styles like the silat and their weapons which include the keris, our culinary heritage, and even religion grew to evolve in parallel to our Indonesian counterparts'. Bali, however, being geographically distant and being uniquely Hindu hardly had any cultural impact on the now Islamic Peninsula society.
Meanwhile, the Indians and the Chinese also came to the Malay Peninsula and til today their cultures and traditions have become totally intertwined with the Malaysian experience. Malaysia is today globally known as a melting pot of many Asian cultures.
What the Indonesians fail to understand is that through time, these cultural icons like batik and keris has evolved into a uniquely Malaysian art and culture. Malaysian batik is totally different and distinctive form from the Indonesian batik. As for the keris, connoisseurs of the Malay weapon, can easily identify the differences between a Malay keris and that from Java or from Sumatra.
Why too the sudden interest in suddenly trying to prove that Negara Ku is 'stolen' from Terang Bulan? If historians have got their facts right, the song is not even of Indonesian origin..it is actually French in origin, came to Malaysia by way of Seychelles and offered to Perak as their state anthem, and instead was offered to Tunku to accept it as our national anthem but with new lyrics. Meanwhile, someone in Indonesia adapted the song to become Terang Bulan, just as someone else in Hawaii turned the song into an evergreen hit entitled Mamula Moon. Even the song Rasa Sayang Eh's Indonesian origin is debatable. Is it a song written by a Moluccan just after the Second World War or a foreigner who brought the song to Moluccas. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter. It is a folk song. I have sung it since my childhood days and during scout Jamborees and not really caring where it originated from. Even songs like Burung Kakak Tua can be considered a Malay song eventhough it is a Dutch folk song landing here by way of Indonesia.
If this debate rages on, there's actually no stopping the Indonesians, especially their media from creating more confusion and may even accuse us of stealing more of their national heritage including the Malay language - saying that the man who perfected the Malay language that we use today, was a Riau royalty.
Someone in Malaysia has to step up and tell the Indonesian media and their government not too get too carried away by such trivial matters. Let clearer heads rule and lead.
If they want to start their witch hunt again, they may even start accusing Singapore of stealing their national flag design. They might even renew their claims over Sabah and Sarawak.
There's no end to this if not checked.
More efforts should be made to instead have more inter-cultural dialogues and activities between Indonesia and Malaysia - we have so much in common.
What would happen if Malaysians get so fed up with the constant attack on our cultural sovereignty that we might just say.."Fuck it..enough is enough" and just ban everything Indonesian - these includes keretek, caddies, maids, unskilled labor, movies, television programmes and nasi padang. Also stop all monies transferred back to Indonesia monthly from various sources and this includes investments - both private and governmental. Let's also boycott all the Indonesian owned businesses here like Ayam Penyet and Sari Ratu restaurants while we are at it.
For example, not going back to Indonesia anymore for leisure or business is not a big deal to me. I can always relocate my focus to Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and even China. Golf courses in these countries are as good if not better than those found in Bogor.
If this is what the Indonesians want or are contemplating, maybe we should also consider it.
As it is, we have not even taken them to task for the many deaths caused by them on our shores during the Confrontation decades ago.
But I hope it doesn't come down to this even when stupid calls to "Ganyang Malaysia" again has resurfaced in the past weeks in light of this controversy.
Nevertheless, what we as Malaysians should do is to make sure that our elected representatives speak out rationally and intelligently against these unfounded accusations and attacks, and defend us instead of hoping that this matter finds its way under the carpet sometime soon.
Come on Malaysians! Defend our cultural rights. Malaysian batik is Malaysian. Malaysian keris is Malaysian. Malaysian satay is Malaysian. Malaysian wayang kulit is Malaysian. Malaysian gamelan is Malaysian. Take back and protect our heritage. Don't let them hijack it claiming that everything Malay is theirs by right. If we allow them to do that, who are we as Malaysians? Without our own culture and traditions, we are nothing.
Unless of course, this is a battle only for the Malaysian Malays. Will Malaysian Chinese and Indians stand by the Malaysian Malays in times like this? Shouldn't they too be supporting and voicing their disgust against the Indonesians? Shouldn't they show such solidarity in view of the 1Malaysia policy?