A cultural storm in a tea cup
Posted on July 1, 2012, Sunday
THE Communication and Culture Ministry’s statement that the Tor-Tor dance and the Gordang Sambilan (nine drums) music would be added to the Malaysian National Heritage Law had stepped on cultural toes in Indonesia.
The news to that effect, carried by the national news agency, sparked strong reactions from Indonesian lawmakers with some of the country’s netizens turning to Twitter to vent their anger.
According to the Jakarta Globe newspaper, one Indonesian lawmaker had called for a special caucus to resolve the differences between Malaysia and Indonesia over several issues on claims to cultural heritage, saying when dealing with such issues, there should be smooth and sincere communication between Indonesia and Malaysia to avoid hurting the feelings of the peoples of both countries.
While this lawmaker advocated peaceful negotiations, another from North Sumatra reportedly urged Indonesia to use “hard diplomacy” to defend its cultural heritage, going so far as to say “they (Malaysia) will keep oppressing us. There’s no need for diplomacy – they always find excuses.”
Such unfriendly words are uncalled for as issues – even contentious ones – facing both countries have always been resolved amicably and with equanimity through the proper channels.
Malaysia and Indonesia had had disagreements over cultural heritage issues in the past, including the traditional lion dance from Ponorogo, East Java, and the song Rasa Sayang.
As these differences have always been settled peacefully, the storm that blew up in a tea cup over the Tor-Tor and Gordang Sambilan issue should be calmed in like manner. It is a cultural hiccup too trivial to be allowed to cause a rift in cordial bilaterial ties.
Putting the situation into perspective, Indonesia’s Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring had said it was far-fetched to assume Malaysia had any intentions of claiming the two cultural items.
He explained Malaysia was just acknowledging the existence of the Mandailing community in the country as well as its arts, including Tor-Tor and Gordang Sambilan which are considered on par with other arts in Malaysia such as the Barongsai (dragon dance) from China.
Indeed, the 50,000-strong Mandailing community, originating from North Sumatra, have been living in Malaysia for centuries – and Malaysia’s affirmation that it has no interest in claiming Tor-Tor and Gordang Sambilan as its own represents an important diplomatic headway towards further strengthening of relations.
Tifatul hit the nail on the head when he said neighbours did not always see eye to eye and “as we’re Malaysia’s neighbours, problems can appear any time” but it did not mean they could not be resolved with rationality and diplomacy.
Most Indonesians agree with Tifatul. And in an apparent reference to the demonstration in front of the Malaysian Embassy over the Tor-Tor and Gordang Sambilan issue, a blogger in Jakarta said “only childish twerps demand war at every minor slight or misunderstanding.”
Indonesian Consul General Djoko Harjanto had also said in Kuching at midweek the attack on the Embassy was the work of only a small group and there was no cause for alarm.
He expressed confidence that with the excellent relationship between the top leaders of both countries, relations will not be affected by the 50-odd protesters who burned the Malaysian flag, threw eggs into the Embassy’s compound and also reportedly attacked a security guard at Malaysia Hall and hurled stones and pieces of wood at the building.
Here, it’s pertinent to ask whether there is any credible reason for the protesters to kick up such a big row over something they themsleves had paid only scant attention to all this while.
A writer from the Jakarta Globe perhaps answered the question best when he asked how many of his fellow countrymen knew from which province Tor-Tor originated or even watched the dance before the controversy erupted?
He said if he asked this question a month ago, a lot of Indonesians would have scratched their heads and said “I don’t know.”
Without mincing words, he concluded: It’s all right when you just sit there in your house making negative remarks about this controversy but when you start insulting Malaysia on the Internet, when you start burning photographs of the prime minister, that brings our self-respect down as a country. It’s incredibly unclassy and stupid.”
Both Malaysia and Indonesia have passed many milestones since the troubled 1960’s, and gone on to establish peaceful relations amidst political stability and economic growth.
It is, thus important to look beyond our different views on Tor-Tor and Gordang Sambilan – which, incidentally, will always rightly belong to those who come from North Sumatra – and embrace our rich cultural heritage and traditions to further enhance existing close ties and friendship.