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Living Dangerously, Again

This month saw the swearing-in of Jakarta's newest governor, Anies Baswedan.  At least once or twice in the ensuring weeks, Anies has declared Jakarta to once again be in the hands of the pribumi, or pre-colonial, people.  One must assume that Anies is either deliberately inciting trouble, or he is woefully ignorant of Indonesian law and history.  In the eyes of some commentators, he is both.

It is the habit of some demagogues here to declare that Indonesia is (once again) Muslim in a kind of "tent revival" analogue to the waves of Sillyanity that sweep the US on occasion.  Anies is one of them, and has made noises of allowing Islamic prayer in the governor's mansion, a proposition I am not entirely opposed to, as long as the Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, and Taoists are allowed the same facility.  There are, in fact, six contitutionally-protected religions in Indonesia.

When I hear these demagogues rail about the colonial days and how this is a Muslim country in the same breath, it makes me laugh.  That has got to be one of the most ridiculous assertions an educated person can hear, at least here.

The name Jakarta is a conflation of two Javanese words: jaya and karta.  The term jaya karta can be translated as "city of prosperity," and was coined sometime in the 17th century.  The city's most direct lineage traces back to the Hindu Kingdom of Sunda, which dominated western Java for centuries. 

Arab invades colonialized a significant part of what is now western Indonesia and Malaysia, coming both directly from the Arabian peninsula and via conquests in India.  The invaders brought Islam with them and forcefully subjected any peoples they met along the way, demanding adherence to Islam or offering death.

By the mid-1600s, Islam had conquered much of eastern Java (the Jawa kingdoms), but the Sunda had put up quite a fight, preferring their native religion - a variant on Hinduism - to the harsh rule of the Islamic invaders. 

At roughly the same time, Portugal "discovered" the archipelago in its quest to control the spread of Islam and find new trade.  The natural wealth of the islands, both in things like gold and the unusual array of spices and flavors of food, with a year-round growing season, as well.  The Portuguese and Sunda king made common cause against Islam, and the Portuguese fleet needed a safe port in the area, as well. 

The first treaty ever executed between powers in Europe and the islands was done here in Jakarta in the late 1600s, memorialized on a large carved stone that was only recently recovered during a construction project in the old city.    It details an agreement between the Sunda king and Portugal, whereby the fleet would receive safe port while they helped to defend the Sunda from the Jawa/Islam invaders.  Elements of Portugal's presence are still found in northern Sulawesi and Ambon, Flores, and Timor L'Este, where the wholly different culture of Portuguese architecture and lifestyle led to bloody suppression and the deaths of hundreds of thousands when Indonesia tried to force Islam on the eastern half of the island.

As a bonus fact, Timor L'Este is just the words for "east" in the local language and Portuguese.  The name literally means, "East East."

A very long story short, the archipelago has roughly 1,000 inhabited islands, out of about 17,000.  Some of the islands have been inhabited since Hono Erectus took up digs here, well over a million years ago.  We can't forget the Flores people, too, who are commonly referred to as the Hobbits.  If recent discoveries and research bear out, there are pyramids here in West Java that are 20,000 years old, on top of all else.

Since the dawn of humanity, wave after wave of people from all over Asia have colonized these islands.  Aboriginals in Australia either came through here on their way south, or more controversially, worked their way north.  Some research says people from Taiwan were the first modern humans here.  The Chinese and Arabs have had a go at it.  Most recently, Europe, Japan, Britain, and the US have all had their hands in the resources found lying about the place.

For any group of the hundreds of cultures found across the archipelago to claim pribumi status is thus demagoguery or just plain, unvarnished ignorance.

In 1965, the Year of Living Dangerously, Jakarta had its first Christian governor, Henk Ngantung.  He was deposed by the coup d'etat that unseated President Soekarno.  Jakarta had its second Christian governor in Ahok, who was deposed this year after being railroaded for blasphemy only because he is a Christian of Chinese descent.  This led to the election of Anies, who has declared a victory for Islam.

This is dangerous talk, Pak Anies.  Every time it has happened before, a lot of people died.  Furthermore, there are SIX protected religions in the Constitution, not to mention dozens of ancient and indigenous religions practiced across the archipelago.

Are we headed for yet another Year of Living Dangerously?  Or perhaps the goal is more localized, along the lines of the 1998 Riots, or perhaps Timor L'Este?  Fascism is born of intolerance, and is no stranger to Indonesia.

This is a republic, Pak Anies.

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