November 7, 2017
Igniting Change: In Search of the “Origins” of National Identity in Indonesia
Arount van der Meer
I found Professor van der Meer’s use of imagery throughout his lecture extremely helpful and beneficial to his argument. The first image he presented was that of the oil lamp that Soemarsono used to describe the Javanese situation. The image of the oil lamp and the understanding of its parts helped connect the foreign and novel messages being conveyed to the relatable and familiar object of the oil lamp. Images are often useful in this way because, perhaps by connecting the novel to the familial, one can relate back to original thoughts, understandings, and feelings.
The other image that Professor can der Meer used was that of an onion. In describing Soemarsono’s identity, he described an onion with many layers. Each layer is crucial to his identity, and to get to his true core every layer must be peeled back and considered. However, I believe that it is very rare and extremely difficult for most to acknowledge their true and full identity. Soemarsono does not deny any of his layers and rather embraces them all, but I highly doubt that most could say the same about themselves.
Origins are so crucial to one’s sense of self and outward presentation of identity, yet many people are not entirely open about who they are and where they come from. Even with close friends, peers and colleagues, people tend to refrain from disclosing a full sense of identity, refrain from revealing all of the layers of their onion, and rather pick and choose who knows what about their identity. Alone and separated from a family history known by others, one has the power to create the identity he or she wants to portray. However, in a situation such as a small town or a reputable family, one loses the ability to shape their own history and is rather tied down by their origins. Thus, origins can tether one to a certain identity if known by others, but can be either partly entirely irrelevant to shaping identity depending on how much of one’s origins are known by the public.
Whereas Soemarsono was completely open with his origins, such as his Hindu beliefs and his Buddhist past, others can choose to disguise their origins behind lies or simple failure to acknowledge pieces of identity such as religion, nationality, personal experiences, and family history. I found it a shocking realization to compare Soemarsono’s openness to the at least semi-disguise most others hide behind. Most people refrain from sharing at least some part of their origin story with others for a variety of reasons, from fear to simple shyness. It is interesting to consider how different relationships and society at large would be if everyone were as open as Soemarsono about their origins. Perhaps people would better understand and respect each other, or perhaps such an open society would leave people more vulnerable to attack, stereotypes, and criticism. Regardless, the image of the onion is a valuable one to consider when thinking about origins and identity.