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Sharing the heritage

Publication Date : 20-06-2012


The latest spat over national heritage involving Indonesia and Malaysia only affirms the vulnerability of ties between the two neighbours concerning the same cultural roots to even a non-issue of provocation. Sadly, Indonesia tends to make too much about it.

Indonesian media has been infuriated by a statement from Malaysia’s Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Rais Yatim, who told Malaysian news agency Bernama that Kuala Lumpur would soon acknowledge North Sumatra traditional dance Tortor and musical instrument gondang sambilan (nine drums) from the Mandailing tribe as “national heritage”.

It is not the first time that the two nations have been embroiled in a fight for cultural heritage over the past few years. Malaysia played a song known as being of Indonesian origin, “Rasa Sayange”, in its broadcast of its tourism industry advertisement, then moved on to claim batik, the Reog dance, which originated from the East Java town of Ponorogo, and West Java’s bamboo musical instrument angklung.

Malaysia’s challenge was indeed a blessing in disguise, as it prompted the Indonesian government to patent the cultural heritage. Without Malaysia’s provocation, our public and government would not care much about preserving the legacy of past civilisations.

Do we, however, truly need international recognition that certain dance, musical instruments or culinary traditions belong to us in the first place? Even if the UNESCO granted Malaysia claim over the Tortor dance, would it change the fact that the indigenous Batak Mandailing tribe in North Sumatra had created the dance hundreds of years before some of the people migrated to Malaysia?

A patent is simply a document which does not mean anything if the community entrusted to hold the right over a cultural heritage takes no actions to promote and preserve it.

The government could demand Malaysia’s explanation over the Tortor issue, but future claims from Malaysia will emerge due to its cultural proximity with Indonesia.

We would probably better let Malaysia claim everything it wants as nothing that actually differs them from us except for national sovereignty. History says we used to be part of a kingdom called Majapahit anyway.


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