On November 7th, Professor Arnout van der Meer focused our Origins discussions in on the national identity of Indonesia, and how the country’s history makes it rather difficult to nail down. He talked specifically of Soemarsono, a highly educated Indonesian youth who played a key role in the history of colonial Indonesia. In 1913, Soemarsono was transferred and began working in the countryside of Java, a very harsh environment where he was required to crouch in the presence of, speak with a certain manner, and present gestures of respect to his leaders at specific times. Being caught in this situation that he did not want to be, Soemarsono began to rebel, and he found himself in the middle of a movement against colonial rule. This mobilization of people against their rulers was so significant because it marked the beginning of pushback in a society defined by its peaceful tendencies until this point.
In addition to the power of this resistance, Soemarsono also provided a very powerful message in the comparison he drew between their circumstances and an Oil Lamp in 1913 at the rebellion’s five year anniversary party. He compares their situation to an oil lamp, where, at it’s most basic layer, the wick represents their hindu-buddist heritage. Their heritage is what they came from and what gave them certain tools to reach the point they were at. The lamp’s oil represents Islam and Islamic modernism, and the lampshade represents the dutch culture. Even the western scientific and technological aspects brought them to this point. Each of these aspects were given to them, and they all were brought together at that moment. Soemarsono argued that if you bring all these aspects together, it creates something, like the oil lamp, but they finally need to light it. This comparison created by Soemarsono, marked the beginning of the movement against colonialism and Indonesian’s beginning to stand on their own two feet. Furthermore, this message applies to the origins theme and how we connect to certain elements from the start, and that then gives us the future that we can use to make something from ourselves.
Soemarsono ignited change with the socio-political emancipation of the Javanese, which let to a complete overthrow of the system of cultural hegemony in 1913 with the hormat-circular. As the civil servants finally received proper respect, fair demands, and freedom, a massive cultural movement began that created a completely new beginning to Indonesians. Professer van der Meer called this a “Sociological revolution” and argued that it can be considered the origin of a national awakening in Indonesia. It’s interesting to again see the idea of revolutions appear again in this origin story. How important are revolutions in origins? Every revolution seems to have an origin, but does every origin have or create a revolution? In this context, Professor van der Meer argues that we all define origins differently based on how we focus on the people who had key roles and were “digging up change.” Defining origins all depends on how we look at these layers and what they mean to us. He argued that Soemarsono is the key player in igniting change and defining the origin of Indonesia’s national identity, and I strongly agree that there’s no right or wrong, clear, cookie cutter way to define an origin.