Thursday, September 3, 2009


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 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?


kamalariffin said...

baca sini

anwardi said...

thanks for the link kamal, tapi apa kenamengena dengan issue kita ni? Nak kata kita lebih influence oleh orang Siam? Tu sebelah utara jer...sebelah selatan semua terikat dengan majapahit dan kerajaan Riau dulu.

Shaz said...

Thank you very much for your very insightful comments. I would very much like to share your insights if you'd allow it?

anwardi said...

Shaz, comments are most welcomed. I hardly censor any comments or reply made in my blog. Those that are not published usually verge on the nonsensical, the rude and the politically insensitive.

Muhammad said...

I am quite alarmed that virtually no Malaysians stood up against the unfair attacks by the Indonesians. I am not from Malaysia but I feel that it is my obligation to remind my brethren to protect our culture from being enslaved from this entity called Indonesia. Most of the arguments by the people (who are blinded by national pride) can be easily dismissed by historical facts and rhetoric. Please, jangan malukan Bangsa Melayu. Sudah masanya untuk Orang Melayu bangun dan lawan balik untuk mempertahankan Bangsa Jati kita!

Shaz said...

Thank you very much for that. I'd love to post a link to your blog on my FB or Twitter page as you have managed to explain the scenario very well. There are a lot of people who are not even aware of the whole story behind the Pendet Controversy.
Personally, I'm quite appalled by the fact that the people involved in the production of the promo for the Enigmatic Malaysia series have overlooked this issue. I understand that it has also been blown out of proportion by the Indonesian mass media, but Discovery Channel and KRU Productions could have done a better job. I was also shocked to see the lack of professionalism shown by Tourism Minister of Indonesia who went on a rampage to smear Malaysia's name without first, investigating the story behind the issue. As a Minister, he should be more aware that his actions could very much affect bilateral relations between both countries. I also agree strongly with your notion that Indonesians have failed to understand that both our countries,having been part of the Malay Archipelago would naturally share a lot of similarities in our culture and heritage. So, how can you steal something that was also yours in the first place? However, I think that Indonesia has always been wary of Malaysia, this feeling of "tak senang hati" is perhaps a product of envy. Malaysia, being younger is however, a more developed nation. It might be ignorant for me to say such things but perhaps there is some truth in it. And yes, Malaysia has to be more assertive in dealing with such matters as our cultural sovereignty is under attack. In regards to your last few comments, well, I have already seen some comments made by non-Malays stating that this is not their fight & that Malaysian Malays deserved this for their ignorance. Hopefully, it is not a sentiment shared by the rest of the non-Malay population. Thanks!

anwardi said...

Shaz,am honored if you'd link my blog to yours. Feel free to do so.
Thanks for your comments.

Razlan Isa said...

As a batik artist, I'm afraid the Indonesians would be very embarrassed about the origins of batik. I've been told that only Indonesia sent an application for batik to be recognised as their heritage by Unesco. Why didn't any other country send an application? Because no one wants to claim it, that's why, simply because it cannot be claimed.

There has been no historical records that showed batik originated from Indonesia. Let me try to explain my point of view.

Batik is a technique, not a design. In the true artistic technique, it is called wax painting or more technically, wax resists technique. Almost every culture in the world has their own resist technique. Some us rice (Japanese), some use mud (African), some use cassava paste, and some use wax. The word "batik" is probably, probably Indonesian invented.

Resist techniques have been found in Egyptian mummy catacombs. Yes, that's right. Way before the first Indonesians arrived from Peninsular Malaysia (yup, Indonesians probably came from the Asian mainland, which makes sense doesn't it?)

The earliest recorded wax resist was documented in China during the Han Dynasty about 2,500 years ago.

So, why can't batik originate from Indonesia. Firstly, one needs fabric. In this case, silk or cotton. Indonesia does not and never had any silk or cotton production history. It has to be imported, from India, Middle East and China.

Secondly, wax is required. Indonesia does not and never had any beekeeping culture even until now.

What may have happened is, during the early silk road days, Chinese traders sailed the "sea silk road". The followed the coast south bringing with them all the wares they had including the "wax resist" fabric, usually using indigo dyes. Every port they landed, barter trading was done, usually for spice. They eventually landed in Kota Bahru. Went south to Johor Baru (named Ujung Tanah" during that time. Some vessels probably ventured into Java and Sumatera. Most went to Melaka, enroute to the Middle East.

It was at these ports that the wax resist fabric (now known as batik) was a great hit. Too great that the Chinese even taught local how to produce it. Now things gets easier for the Chinese traders, they only need to bring raw fabric.

So that is why even in Cambodia and Laos we can see "batik" being made but mostly using Indigo (bluish purplish) as their dyeing agent.

The word "batik" was probably an Indonesian invented word. However, some historians mentioned that the word batik was probably a word coined by port handlers in Amsterdam when the Dutch sent these fabric from Indonesia. I can't remember exactly where I read it, but it sure made sense.

So, batik as an Indonesian heritage? Nope, I don't think so. But who am I, anyway.