This week the Origin class listened to a lecture about Igniting Change: In search of the “origins” of national identity in Indonesia. Arnout van der Meer gave the lecture.

Throughout the lecture we looked at the national identity formation in colonial Indonesia. It was very diverse in Southeast Asia because there were lots of influences from the outside. Soemarsono, a key player in mobilizing people in Indonesia to work against the colony. Soemarsono compared the situation with an oil lamp. The wick of the lamp represents the hindu Buddhist heritage. The lamp oil also came from Islam and Islamic modernism. The lampshade was given by the Dutch (western culture). The metaphor is that they (Indonesians) have to light the oil lamp themselves.

Soemarsono radicalizes very quickly and it causes him trouble with his superiors. He just wanted the socio political emancipation of the Javanese. This lead to the overhaul of the system of cultural hegemony. Everyone wanted to embrace modernism. Meer argues that this all occurred before world war 1.

So who was Soemarsono? Born in 1887-?. He helped spark a national awakening. He was wealthy and well respected. He received western education in Batavia. He was Muslim and fluent in Dutch.

Problems start to arise within the colonies in Southeast Asia. The boundaries of the colonies in Southeast Asia were drawn the second half of the 19th century by these European colonizers. This causes problems for the young nation states. Their entire history is shaped by people coming into the area, therefore agriculture, colonizers, Indian influence on culture, decolonization and the cold war all affected Southeast Asia.

How does one find the root of the national identity? The onion theory –to get to the core of national identity you can peal away one piece of the onion at a time. However, it doesn’t allow for change over time. It is interesting to apply the onion theory to the built environment of Indonesia. One can look at specific examples of where these onion layers are very close. For example in Indonesia you can see a massive Cathedral and a Mosque. You can also see these relationships in language and clothing as well as many other products of cultures.

One can look at the Origins of National Identity in Indonesia and see where and when influences entered Indonesia. We can see that western colonialism effected Indonesia in the 16th-20th century. Later we see the influence of the spread of Islam 1200- present. Also, the Hindu Buddhist past 100-1200. So what are the actual origins?

The relationships between all of the colonizers and the native Southeast Asians are bizarre. It seems like a scramble of cultures. It is very difficult to try and find the origins of Indonesia’s national identity. However, one can see where they are at today, which is a nation that could perhaps surpass the imperial states that infiltrated their culture in the first place. The new national identity includes western concepts. Soemarsono created a new identity for the Indonesians connecting the past and the modern. They believed in Asian modernity, chose to adopt western science and technology, chose Islamic morality and ideas about democracy and equality.