Thu, 25 Mar 1999

Indigenous people

When I picked up The Jakarta Post of March 22, 1999, and read on page one "Indigenous people take united stand," I was so happy I could have jumped sky high with joy. To be sure that I had the right interpretation of the word indigenous, I consulted an English-Indonesian dictionary, and what I found confirmed my optimism, because indigenous means pribumi in Bahasa Indonesia.

We are all pribumi; a country of about 200 million pribumi. And the indigenous people taking a united stand can only mean that at last there is unity, and the days of fighting and quarreling are over. We are all facing a peaceful period, with no arguments, no murders and no fighting against each other. At last, we have all come to our senses and realized how foolish it was to fight each other and cause suffering on a scale we never experienced before.

Then I started to read further, and the more I read, the sadder I became because what the Post classifies as indigenous does not mean pribumi in general, which comprises North Sumatrans, South Sumatrans, Javanese people, Madurese, Buginese, Minahasa people, Dayak, Irianese, etc., in short Indonesian people from Sabang to Merauke, but just a small fraction of the whole Indonesian people, who are spitting out their bitterness in a five-day meeting. What a waste of time and energy.

They find that all investors, the Indonesian government and the military are threatening their livelihood and they ask that their sovereignty be recognized. If the Indonesian government does not recognize their sovereignty, then they will not recognize the state. I think there is a misconception of political terms -- like sovereignty of the indigenous people -- which needs clarification, because as far as I know there is no such term as indigenous sovereignty.

My joy and happiness at reading the title of this article disappeared completely and feelings of fear and uncertainty took over. After more than 50 years of independence, there are still things which create different interpretations, which can be detrimental to the unity of the Indonesian people.

I hope that our political leaders will pay attention to this phenomena and consider the seriousness of this "proclamation". There is still time for action.

My disappointment was healed slightly when I opened Kompas daily of March 23, 1999, page 11, where I clearly read that this activity was held by an alliance of traditional communities of nusantara, which in my opinion has less political content than when we compare it with the title of meeting of indigenous people. The term indigenous points to a birthright, while customs and traditions grow out of the habit of the people which can change with time and development. Indigenousness is permanent.

Once a Javanese or an Achenese or a Batak or an Ambonese or an Irianese, you remain so for life. Of course, there can be changes in your legal status, but indigenous remains indigenous.

Although this week-long meeting contains certain political elements and aspirations, the name of the meeting itself is more directed to a desire that the central government should pay more attention to the customs and traditions of the people in this archipelago.

What a relief!