Indonesia moves to protect heritage

The move by the Indonesian ministry of Culture and Tourism may seem more sparked by the episode in which Malaysia appropriated a traditional Indonesian song for its tourism campaign (another amusing story in its own right), but I was more interested by the comment about the searching the Negara Kergatama documents in identifying more aspects of Indonesian Heritage.


22 October 2007 (Jakarta Post) – The move by the Indonesian ministry of Culture and Tourism may seem more sparked by the episode in which Malaysia appropriated a traditional Indonesian song for its tourism campaign (another amusing story in its own right), but I was more interested by the comment about the searching the Negara Kergatama documents in identifying more aspects of Indonesian Heritage.

The Negara Kertagama (or Negaraketagama, or Desawarnana) was an epic poem written in the 14th century to commemorate Hayam Wuruk, who reigned during the height of the Majapahit Kingdom centred in Java. Besides being an extended eulogy to the founder, the Negarka Kertagama provided numerous descriptions about the kingdom’s territory, rulers and rituals which gave a new and detailed insight into the role of Hinduism and Buddhist in the kingdom. Much of the groundbreaking translations were made by Dutch scholars in the 20th century after the manuscript was rediscovered in 1896.

Ministries to cooperate on local heritage

The Culture and Tourism Ministry will soon sign an agreement with the Justice and Human Rights Ministry in an attempt to protect the nation’s cultural heritage.

“In order to avoid other countries claiming aspects of Indonesia’s heritage, we approached the justice ministry about listing our heritage with them,” Mukhlis Paeni, director general for culture, art and traditional movies at the Culture and Tourism Ministry, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

He said the ministry had started to conduct research into the heritage of some regions in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“We are currently looking further into the Negara Kertagama documents, which are an important part of Indonesia’s heritage,” Mukhlis said.

The Negara Kertagama transcript was written in the 14th century during the Majapahit period and details the kingdom’s success in achieving good governance and a people-based economy.

Mukhlis said due to the sheer volume of significant historical documents on Indonesia, the ministry could not work alone to achieve its target.

“We have conducted joint studies into heritage and folklore with several universities,” he said.

The ministry also hoped other ministries and private companies would eventually become involved in efforts to preserve the country’s heritage, he added.

Indonesia’s claims to its heritage and folklore have been challenged in the past, with Malaysia having made claims to the Rasa Sayange traditional folk song and several batik designs, as well as the angklung (bamboo musical instrument).

Prahasto Wahju Pamungkas, an Indonesian intellectual property rights representative with the International Development Law Organization, said Malaysia could not have patented batik.

“Patents are only for the invention of new forms of technology,” Prahasto told the Post.

He said the responsibility to copyright folk songs with no known creator fell with national governments.

“But if a song has been modified, the copyright for the modified version belongs to the people who modified it. And this is permitted as long as it does not harm the original creator,” Praharso said.

He said efforts to search for, collect and list aspects of Indonesia’s cultural heritage should be followed up by registering them with the intellectual property rights directorate.

“This will require a huge amount of money and time. The government should involve the public in its efforts to preserve the country’s heritage.

“Forging cooperation with non-governmental organizations could be a good start,” he said.

Related Books:
Indonesia – 2 Vols.; Political History and Hindu and Buddhist Cultural Influences by K. L. Hazra
Java in the 14th Century: A Study in Cultural History the Nagara-Kertagama by Rakawi, Prapanca of Majapahit, 1356 A.D. by R. Prapantj
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage
Majapahit by J. Boisselier
A Story of Majapahit by S. Muljana

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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