Reflecting on Indonesia's heritage

With pieces from the museum stolen and accusations of another country stealing cultural heritage – does Indonesia do enough to protect its cultural heritage? This editorial reflects on the state of heritage in Indonesia.

The lost artifacts
Jakarta Post, 1 Dec 2007

News of the events in Surakarta only serve to underline the almost complete lack of concern here for the nation’s historical legacy. The stone statue of the goddess Durga Mahisa Suramardhini that has been left uncared for at the Bandung Zoo is just another example of this lack of care.

Perhaps it’s our own fault when Malaysia lays claim to Indonesia’s cultural heritage, since we aren’t doing anything to protect it. Our absence of respect for the country’s historical legacy will cost us more of our heritage, be it a statue or a traditional dance.

A quick glance at the country’s museums, which are nearly empty every day, says a lot about our indifference toward national assets that serve as evidence of past civilizations. That the collections of the museums are not well maintained in general should also raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to preserving the past.

Although, I should be quick to point out that this situation does not apply only in the case of Indonesia. I see a trend, particularly among postcolonial nation-states for letting heritage take the back seat over development, and of course more ‘bread and butter issues. Any suggestion to cut back on development and channeling the money towards heritage conservation is not going to be practical or even successful.

I suspect that if you’re going to build a culture that cherishes its own heritage, you’re going to need to build it from ground up – start with education in school, and continue with kid-friendly initiatives to spark interest in local heritage there.

Related books:
Icons of Art: The Collections of the National Museum of Indonesia by J. N. Miksic
Indonesia – 2 Vols.; Political History and Hindu and Buddhist Cultural Influences by K. L. Hazra
Museum Treasures of Southeast Asia by B. Campell
The Art of the Lesser Sundas by A. F. Granucci
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage
Indonesia: Peoples and Histories by J. G. Taylor
Cultural Sites of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia by J. Dumarcay and M. Smithies

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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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