Tag: nationality

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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