SOME IMPRESSIONS OF INDONESIA—
In 1942 the Dutch were defeated by the Japanese. The Japanese made greater use of Indonesians in government administration than the Dutch had done, and as the tides of war turned against them they were forced to accede more and more to the demands of the Indonesian nationalists. With the defeat of the Japanese, President Sukarno and other leaders pressed for full independence. Not all the indigenous folk were in favour of independence, in fact some fought on behalf of the Dutch. The Dutch, assisted by the British, attempted to regain control of Indonesia. The nationalists resisted, and bitter fighting followed. Eventually the nationalists triumphed, and on 17 August 1945, President Sukarno proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia.
The Revolution was against the Dutch colonialists in the first place, but it was also against the old traditional and feudalistic way of life represented by the princes and chiefs. Since 1945 the energies of the Indonesian people have been directed toward overthrowing the old feudalistic way of life, resisting colonialism in every form, and building a new nation. The tasks confronting them, then and now, are tremendous. Technicians, administrators, teachers and doctors had to be trained, for under colonialism few Indonesians had had the opportunity to acquire training. Furthermore the numerous ‘suku’ (ethnic groups) had to be welded into a single nation, and this is a tremendous task in itself.
Many Different Languages and Customs
Indonesia consists of many islands, and each island group has its own language, traditions and customs. For instance, in Sumatra there is a group of people known as the Batak peoples. Within this group there are five subgroups, each with its own language and customs. Besides the Bataks there are in Sumatra other ethnic groups, such as the Minangkabau and the Atjeh. These also have their own language and customs.
West Java (including Bandung) is the territory of the 15,000,000 Sundanese people. Sundanese language and customs and traditions
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differ from those of the people of Sumatra and also from those of the 60,000,000 Javanese. Altogether there are over 360 different ethnic groups or nationalities in the Republic. If you recall how difficult it has been for us Maoris to forget our tribal differences and work together, you should be able to appreciate the difficulties which confront President Sukarno and his advisers.
A New National Language
One of their first tasks was to choose a national language. This is Bahasa Indonesia, which is now used by the government and taught in all schools. Formerly the folk from different ethnic groups could communicate with each other either with difficulty or not at all, but today they can do this. Thus Bahasa Indonesia has been a means of knitting the peoples of the Republic together.
Bahasa Indonesia is a fairly ‘new’ language, and is still growing. Consequently there are some who find that it is inadequate to express their deepest feelings and thoughts. I was takling to a gentleman who said, ‘While we understand and speak Bahasa Indonesia, we like to use Sunda too. Sunda speaks to our heart, and is sweet to our ear’. His statement reminded me of comments often heard from our own kaumatua regarding the Maori language.
In Central Java I visited two ancient temples. One (Borobudur) is a Buddhist temple, and the other (Prambanan) is dedicated to the Hindu god Cewa. Both temples are colossal stone structures, intricately carved. And both temples were erected between 700-900 A.D., which is a very long time ago. Other ethnic groups have an equally long history behind them, so it is not surprising that there should be rivalries between them. Despite the differences, President Sukarno has welded the people of Indonesia into a nation, and he has done so with the minimum use of force.
Young People's Determination and Drive
The young people with whom I have contact are determined that Indonesia will become strong economically, culturally and militarily. In order that they may contribute to the building of their nation they seek education at the highest level with a determination and drive which puts us to shame. If we had half their drive, enthusiasm, and willingness to sacrifice, our universities would be crowded with Maori students. Economically the majority of New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, are better off than the average Indonesian family. It isn't opportunity or means we lack, but vision. These young people have a vision, and they are prepared to undergo all manner of privation that their vision may become a reality.
This doesn't mean that they are always serious and never gay—far from it. They are as gay and friendly a people as can be found anywhere. When we arrived in Bandung we were for a time in charge of a student hostel. In the evening the boys would sit out on the back verandah with their guitars, and sing the songs of Batakland, of Sunda, Java, and the Celebes, with a few of the latest American hits thrown in for good measure. They enjoyed teaching our two children to sing Indonesian songs and it sounds strange to hear our children bellowing the Indonesian national anthem at the top of their voices, when they do not know the New Zealand national anthem. I must confess that I cannot help them much in this matter, because I am not sure of it myself. It would be a good thing if we New Zealanders heard a little more of our own national anthem (I know we have one) and much less of ‘God Save the Queen’. Maybe we would then be able to persuade the peoples of Asia that we are indeed a people distinct from the English, with a mind of our own, and not simply errand boys for England.
However to get back to the subject, the boys also indulged in the more serious recreation of chess. They would sit for hours at the chess-board, pondering move and counter-move. Other sports were volley-ball, badminton and soccer — although I don't call playing soccer in this heat a sport.
Interested in the Maori People
Like all students, the boys liked to talk. They were interested in all we could tell them of New Zealand generally, and of ourselves in particular. Until 1945 the Indonesian experience of contact with Europeans was that of master (European) and servant (Indonesian). The students here asked me how we, the Maori, fared under ‘colonialism’. I've tried to be as honest as I know how, and have said that while some of us have certain grievances against our European countrymen, yet on the whole we have no pressing reasons for wanting to see them depart. Hope I'm right!
Bandung is sometimes called the ‘Paris of Indonesia’. The girls are graceful and very chic, especially the Indonesian-Chinese, who usually have the means to indulge their clothes-sense. All the students usually wear Western-
style dress, but on formal occasions they do wear their national costumes, the sarong and kebaja. In the villages the women wear sarong and kebaja all the time.
Rice is the Staple Food
In West Java rice is the staple food, garnished with vegetable and spiced with sambal. Sambal is a concoction of various peppers and chilis which is guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of non-Indonesians. Meat is available at a price, as is also fish, fowl and other temping morsels, but rice is the mainstay. With the increase in population (1,500,000 a year) rice supplies are becoming inadequate, and the government is trying to persuade people to accept such substitutes as corn. However it is not an easy matter to change the eating-habits of centuries. One man said to me, ‘We may have half-a-dozen tasty dishes, but without rice we don't feel as though we've eaten’.
An Enlightening Experience
Our stay here has been an enlightening experience. Until a year ago I knew Indonesia only through such sources as newspaper reports. The picture I had was of a strange, unpredictable people given to violence, living in a land of snakes, tigers and buffalo. Well, the snakes, tigers, monkeys and buffalo are here, and certainly the language and customs of the people are different. Indonesia is indeed a land of contrasts; out in the paddy-field one may watch a man ploughing with oxen and ancient wooden plough, while in the skies overhead jet-fighters dive and twist. Shepherd boys with their sheep hug the grass verge of the street, while Mercedes Benz, Chevs, Dodges and Chryslers flash by. Palatial homes cling to the cool slopes of the hills, while on the flats the poorer people crowd into one room or prepare to spend the night under a bridge. Yet despite all the differences, Indonesians are much like you and me; like us they desire a full and happy life, and the opportunity for all to use their talents to the fullest extent.
The Rev. Lane Tauroa was born in Russell. He obtained his B.A. degree at Auckland University in 1953 and later did some advanced study in New York. Before leaving New Zealand he was pastor in the King Country Methodist Circuit, living at Te Kuiti.
He and his wife, formerly Mavis Dickie of Dunedin, have two small children.