This blog post is a translation of this.
Indonesians know we are a nation ashamed of itself.
Of course, many of us are despicably behaved. But, many of us are ashamed because of things I consider trivial: ashamed of our own heritage.
Let me show you two example cases.
On a food-related Facebook post, a foreign citizen of Indonesian descent said she disliked Indonesian cuisine due to the strong and “imbalanced” flavours of spices. That’s why she preferred Indian and Thai ones. She only liked Indonesian foods made abroad.
She also said Thai cuisine was more “sophisticated” than the Indonesian one, hence why there is an abundance of Thai restaurants everywhere.
On Youtube, I made a comment about how invisible Indonesian culture was on the world stage. Not long after, a fellow Indonesian told me the lack of popularity was caused by the lack of aesthetic originality.
He said our ancestral cultures were just carbon copies of Arab and Chinese cultures. He believed that was the reason why foreigners were more interested in Malaysian, Thai and Filipino cultures.
If take a close look, none of their arguments make sense.
The first person said she didn’t like Indonesian cuisine due to the strong and “imbalanced” spices. But, she also liked Indian and Thai cuisines….. which are also known for strong spices.
The second person said Indonesian cultures were just copying foreign ones. But, he also praised Malaysian, Thai and Filipino ones…. which were also influenced by foreign ones; even the end results look similar to the Indonesian ones.
They criticise Indonesia for something…. and praising other countries which also have the same thing. It is obvious they can like something, as long as that something is not Indonesian.
They also said the lack of popularity was caused by its low quality. This also does not make any sense.
If we analyse every single worldwide cultural phenomenon one at a time, we will find a common thread: marketing. That can be done either by governments for diplomatic purposes or by corporations for profit’s sake.
Like it or not, the most effective way to globalise a culture is to showcase it on the world stage. Diligence is not enough; we also have to believe in the quality of the products we are selling.
Try remember: how often we hear news about Indonesians actively promoting our cultures abroad? I am certain the answer is either “rarely” or “never”.
Never mind culture, even our tourism campaign is pathetically sporadic. In 2019, Indonesia was visited by sixteen million foreign tourists. Singapore in the same year? Nineteen millions. We – -the fourth most populous country on earth and the most in Southeast Asia – are defeated by a petite country with frankly unimpressive cultural diversity when compared to Indonesian one.
Besides, if popularity is evidence of high quality, why is junk food popular all over the world? Why is Indomie instant noodle more popular than Indonesian traditional dishes? With that logic, does that mean junk food and Indomie are foods of the highest quality?
Years ago, I was just like those two people, especially when the Indonesian language was involved.
I used to think the Indonesian language – especially its standard register – was a language with rough and flat pronunciations, shallow and insubstantial vocabulary and simplistic grammar; hence why I prefer to blog in English. Nowadays, my opinions are still the same…. except in one aspect.
I still think grammatical tense is useful in decreasing temporal ambiguity. But, from grammatical standpoint, I finally acknowledge one thing which makes Indonesian better than English: the affixes.
Unlike in English, affixes in Indonesian (and Malay in general) are more extensive and consistent. Just by adding prefixes and suffixes, we can change a word’s meaning and decreases the risk of ambiguity. Unlike in English, we rarely encounter commonly-used words with multiple meanings.
I have rambled too much.
The point of my rambling is we – as Indonesians – have the right to dislike anything Indonesian. Not suitable to our tastes, low quality, lack of emotional attachments, morality, any reasons are valid…
… As long as they make sense. In those two cases, the reasons definitely make no sense.
Let’s recap: they criticise Indonesia for one thing and then praising other countries despite having the exact same thing. They also think the lack of popularity is a sign of its low quality, despite the fact that there are low quality foreign cultures which are popular all over the world.
They dislike anything Indonesian simply because those things are Indonesian. If they are foreign citizens with no Indonesian lineage, we would have considered them as prejudiced human beings.
But, those two human beings clearly have the lineage and they have definitely been exposed to life in the country. It is obvious they are ashamed of their own identities. If they have the choice, they would have swapped their ancestors with ones from other countries.
At the same time, they are aware that their honesty would provoke anger of Indonesian nationalist wannabes. As a result, they always find excuses to hide their true feelings.
But, no matter how hard we try hiding the carcasses, no matter how much perfume we use, the stench will seep through eventually.
If those two don’t feel ashamed of their lineage, I am certain their dislike of anything Indonesian would have been more reasonable and wouldn’t unfairly criticising the country.
Oh, and when I am say nationalist wannabes, I am referring to Indonesians who express pride when their country is insulted or sharply criticised and yet, in other times, they refuse to do anything to elevate their country’s esteem.
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