Tag: nation

Pealing The Onion


Professor Arnout Van Der Meer had a lot of knowledge of the Southeast Asia and more so Indonesia and his research on Soemarson. Professor Van Der Meer said he is interested in continuity and change of cultures and wanted to see how it changed overtime. This was an interesting aspect of his study. He introduced us into Southeast by giving us the background information, back before the colonial time, into the struggle for their independence from the Dutch. His model of passing his information using pealing of an onion and lighting the lamp were great ways of communicating with the audience. What then makes a nation’s or world’s history? This were interesting questions that were going through my mind during the two sessions we had with him.


The identity of the region had a lot from the interaction of the region with the outside world, through religion and maritime trade. In the 1300s the two universal religions, Theravada Buddhism and Islam, got into the region. From the assigned readings, we saw that around the 14th century, Muslim merchants, mostly Arabs and Indians, spread Islam along the Indian Ocean along their trading routes. This period of trade and religious network, Southeast Asia became more connected to the Southern and Western Asia, Europe and Africa. All these interactions with the outside world lead into the European conquest in the region.



How is the identity of a nation made? Professor Van Der Meer introduced the metaphor of pealing the onion. It is evident from Southeast Asia that there are a lot of layers of each region or a country. To know much about any country or a nation, we need to peal each part of the onion and find out what happened at a given time. Pealing the onion of the Indonesian struggle for independence and its independence, we see that Soemarsono played a big role in it. There were a lot of layers that made Soemarsono an influential person in driving for the independence. From the pictures that Professor Van Der Meer showed us, Soemarsono got European education as he was the only non-white person in the school picture. This then made him an educated individual and could stay on the same table with the White because he could understand them better. He embraced the western knowledge and science but maintained the Indonesian identity. Through the Western knowledge that Soemarsono had, he lit the oil lamp for the Indonesian struggle for independence.


This brings me to how my country, Kenya, as well got independence. Kenya was colonized by the British from the late 19th century until mid 20th century. During the struggle for independence, people who had opportunity to learn the European education were at the front line fighting for independence. The British had provided education to these people with an aim of getting better governance of their colonies by using people who understood the language and cultural practices of the communities from all the Kenyan regions. The British choose educated people from the eight provinces to represent each province in the legislative council. These people, later lead in the struggle for independence and even the first president being one of the person whom the British wanted to help in heading their colonies. Like Soemarsono, Kenya’s independence was fostered by the colonialist themselves.







The complexity of nationality

As a student growing up in East Asia, other regions in this continent always seem both mysterious and somehow connected to me. Therefore, it was a great pleasure to have Prof. Arnout van der Meer from the history department to come to our class and talk about the origins and history of national identity in Southeast Asia. Particularly, I found his onion model and his analysis on the relationship between world history and regional history very inspiring, both of which reflect the complexity of the origins of national identity.

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American Origin of Nationalism: An etymological approach.

This past week, Professor Arnout Van Demeer, come to discuss the origins of nationalism in Southeast Asia. While I could summarize the tale of Soemarsono igniting change and deconstruct the analogy of the oil lamp, I feel more compelled to search for our origins of nationalism. Now, to be clear, “our” refers to the American origins of nationalism, and that in itself contains a number of complications. So I care to ask, just as I have scrawled in my notes: can we be nationalistic despite not being a native. Yet, though not a native American (note how I’m not capitalizing native), I am still an American national. This of course, opens a further can of worms, stemming from questions of national identity. Thus, I’ll start at the root: ‘nat’.

‘Nat’, as in nation, nationalism, and native directly means ‘to be born’ or ‘to spring forth’. Yet, the majority of our country has familial roots spanning multiple nations, thus ‘international’ and ‘internationalism’ seem a better. Therefore I question that, unless you are indeed a native American, wouldn’t it be better to refer to your nationalism as internationalism. With such a minute percentage of native Americans, isn’t then nationalism re-branded internationalism under the guise of a unifying umbrella nation? Perhaps the suffix clarifies this ambiguous derivation…

The suffix ‘al’ is simple, meaning “of a kind or pertaining to”; therefore ‘national’ means ‘concerned with or pertaining to a nation’.1(<<apparently I cannot superscript) Does that not therefore deem my previous assessment of nationalism invalid? The final suffix, ‘ism’, is merely means “the distinctive doctrine or theory of”. Therefore, nationalism is the doctrine pertaining to a nation, and I care to argue that my previous logic is actually backwards. Instead of nationalism being exclusive to those tied to the nation from birth, perhaps nationalism, in a way, ties those who share the unifying ideals of a nation regardless of birthplace as ‘nat’ suggests. Of course, this is only an etymological view of nationalism, but it seems to suggest that anyone — immigrant, national, or otherwise — is as much as an American as those born in America*.2

Now where does this fit in with the larger theme of origins? I’m not sure if it does…yet

With such a large uprising in nationalism” surrounding the recent elections, it’s hard not to notice the hypocritical rhetoric that helped our president into Washington. Threats of deportation and slogans of “make America great again” don’t exactly mix with the idea that Americans are any people who agree with core “American values” (and yes I do put this in quotations because, I believe, ideals of equality and freedom aren’t exclusively American). However, I do believe that we, as Americans, in the upcoming years must bring this issue of inclusive nationalism to light, and find order in our self-referential chaos.

* The fine print here being: as long as they share the ideals of the nation as a whole.

  1. Sidenote: Notice how ‘foreign national’ is one who does not belong to the nation where they preside. Yet, when taking the root ‘nat’ literally, every immigrant, citizen or not, is a foreign national.
  2. Revisiting the preceding footnote: With the understanding of national and nationalism I have just derived and ignoring legal classifications, a ‘foreign national’,  is not so different from ‘immigrant’. More reading here: https://medium.com/reportedly/the-language-we-use-foreign-vs-immigrant-4e70f955f56b