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A Question Of Identity

A Question Of Identity




Who were the Indigenous Inhabitants of Southeast Asia before the Austronesians?


A Question Of Identity written by an Indonesian around the 90’s

I kept asking about this word when I had the experience in Scotland on summer, August 2001. Scotland is one of the countries where people are so proud of their identity of being a Scottish. A guide girl from MacBackpacker Tour on the first day of my tour in Edinburgh introduced herself very proudly that she was a real Scottish. She said some greetings to us before we took a walk-in-tour around the old town of Edinburgh and told us her name, “My name is Carol and I am a real Scottish, yea!!!” She yelled and smiled and showed us her full energy of enthusiasm.

I still wondered why and didn’t realize that besides a Japanese girl, I was also the only Asian in our group, the others were young-age-western backpackers, and white. One of the backpacker girls showed her enthusiasm when we visited a front of a kindergarten and took a picture. I smiled at her and asked why. She told me that it reminded her the time when she had to wear uniforms like those kilt they were wearing. Every single thing about Scotland seemed to really fascinate her, although I reckoned that she was American. I also still didn’t realize that most of them come from Anglo-Saxon countries such as USA, Canada, Australia or South Africa. What I recognized from them was just their fluent English, which proved that they were native English speakers.

Everyone in Scotland seemed to be so proud of their ancestry. Many street sellers sold antiquities, which looked like, from the Stone Age, such as antique bracelets, necklaces or earrings, and ear piercing. Later I realized that those were some of the things that come from Vikings and that it connected the time of ancient Scottish when they were still under Vikings. One of the shops displayed a mannequin of a warrior with a traditional Scottish costume, which looked like a real person to me. Most of the shoppers were fascinated by those exclusive souvenirs which are really hard to find anywhere outside of Scotland.

Our tour guide to the Isle of Sykes trip, a beautiful island off shore Scotland, always wore his kilt and was really proud of being Scottish. He was also very fond of many historical events that occurred in Scotland, a real distinguished guide, I must say, compared to other guides in Germany or even in London. He was also eager to make a personal contact to us, asking about our origins and so on. His name was Graham and he told us that he bore Andersen clan.

Unfortunately, I’ve made a mistake when on our bus taking us from Edinburgh to the isle, he asked loud where I came from. Maybe he was curious, because I didn’t look like any of the types of common races, neither Caucasian, Mongolian, Black nor Arabic. Besides one of a Chinese guy, I was the only non-white people on our tour. I answered his question and said that I came from Indonesia. “What?” he asked once more, “Malaysia?”. “No, INDONESIA,” I said it out loud one more time.

And he was quiet for a moment. I found that was strange because he was the guide who was always giving funny comments about our origins, whether American, Canadian or Australian, didn’t seem to know about Indonesia. So I added, “I hope you know that!” without any meaning to get him embarrassed because of his lack knowledge of geography.

“Is there a war in Indonesia???” he said it out loud again, making sure that the other on our tour could hear that. I was really surprised by his query, and spontaneously said,” No!”

“Aha,” he didn’t seem to believe what he heard, and kept asking,” Are you sure about that?? How is the current situation, when did the last time you call your family??”

Wow, this kind of question seemed to get no end, so I was just quiet but felt uneasy. The person sitting beside me had a little laugh about that. And I felt uneasy. Why people always got wrong information’s about my country? That kind of question happened also to be asked from my professor in my university when I made a presentation about Indonesian’s Economy. And actually, he asked more direct: about a religious war in Maluku, which seemed to have no end. And every time I introduce myself, people -who are curious- always asked about the trouble that happened in my country. I think it’s really embarrassing when you were recognized by people as coming from a troubled country. And I always feel that after that question, I am not treated, or to the extreme case, respected the same way because of the condition in my country.

There is no war, there isn’t!

I am just I; I am not responsible for what happened in my country.

That feeling also struck me a lot, when I found a book being displayed in a very easy way to look in Nürtingen Library: INDONESIA; LAND OF TROUBLE. What a shame! Every time I saw that book, I always turned or hid it back, afraid of other people who just happen to catch that word.

Back to the story of my trip in Scotland. I just wondered why our tour guide asked me such a shameful question. And my second mistake was when I was called to go to see him and had a bit conversation. This time he was quieter and asked me, “Is there really a war in Indonesia?” and I answered,” Well that was a couple years ago, but things are getting better now”.

And he asked me a very common but interesting question, whom should I ask if I got trapped on a lift at a high building. Spontaneously I answered him that I would ask McGyver for help because ‘he seemed to have all of the solutions’. He laughed and seemed amused. But the other question made me a bit uneasy. He asked me whether I would find a job here in Europe after finishing my study. Knowing this type of question, and knowing also the type of answer that would make Westerners happy to hear, I answered calmly (but not from my heart), “No, I won’t work here. I’ve already worked before in Indonesia.” Bingo! He seemed to be happy again to hear my answer. Without any other reason than just to make a little joke, I asked him back,” Does MacDonald come from Scotland?”

“What? The hamburgers? No, it’s American’s” he replied. “But there’s a name of MacDonald in Scotland,” I kept insisting. “Yes, but they don’t come from Scotland,” he replied. But this time he didn’t seem to be happy to hear my question.

I didn’t realize that mistakes until suddenly I heard about his poignant critics about MacDonald, which according to him (and actually also to many other people in Germany), symbolizes the ugly-junkie-food of America. So I think he got a bit upset being reminded that this ugly-junkie-food bears the name of one of the Scottish great clans. MacDonald, just like McGyver is Scottish clan and later I just realized that most of many famous names bear Scottish clans. Just name it: McDonnell (the inventor of McDonnell Douglas aircraft industry), Andersen (Andersen Consulting), MacArthur (World war II General), Amstrong (Neil Amstrong, the first man on the moon), Barclay (Barclay’s Bank), MacLaren (Calculus), McKenzie (Consultant), Carnegie (Andrew and Dale Carnegie), Campbell (Campbell’s soup) etc, you name it ! So it is also really embarrassing for him to realize that Big Mac bears the name of a Scottish clan.
But I still didn’t come to conclusion, why Scottish are so proud to be Scottish.

But lately, the answer came into my mind. When we visited a tomb of Flora MacDonald, a folks woman who bravely supported Prince ‘Bonnie’ Charlie in Jacobite rebellions against the crown of England in the 18th century, Graham told us about many sad things that happened to his homeland.

He told us that he comes from the Isle of Lewis, and bears the clan of Andersen. He told us also about many fights between the clans, sometimes just because of the romance of sons and daughters of different clans could incite a very brutal war, including beheading just like in the movie ‘Highlander’. But the others were also because of Catholics-Protestant conflict that happened along the history of Crown of England.

One of the valleys that we visited, called ‘The Pass of Glencoe’, had the history of violence conducted by a captain who bore Campbell clan –under the order of William of Orange (the King of England who was Protestant)- to massacre MacDonald clan of Glencoe. Many died in the snow, but about half of the MacDonald clan survived. The Scottish Clans book says that ‘this was not only a hideous crime, but it was a deliberate mockery of that Highland tradition whereby hospitality was offered to even an enemy’. The English got rid of the clash between clans in order to keep Scotland under England’s rule. And sadly enough that most of the clans still believed that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. So they invited English to defeat their enemy, other Scottish clans, who supposed to be their country fellow men before.

Although since King Jacob I hold on the crown in 1603 he already ruled both of England and Scotland (that’s why the flag of Britain is until now called ‘Union Jack’), some of the conflicts still happened. I must admit that the Scottish have a great pride of being a member of a clan, but these conflicts were also easily incited because of that. Even when we visited the Museum of William Wallace (a great Scottish hero whose character tried to be depicted by Mel Gibson in ‘Braveheart’), our guide told us that the defeat of Wallace was not because of his loss in power, but because of betrayal of Scottish nobleman to him.

“It was not only because of Longshanks (King Edward I of England) that Wallace was defeated, but it was because of our own mistakes,” Graham said sadly.

At this point, I started to realize, that Scottish long bitterly war history has in some way the similarity of what has happened in Indonesia. The Dutch defeated us easily not because of our weakness, but mostly because of our own betrayal. When you remember the movie of ‘Tjoet Njak Dien’ you would see there, that the surrender of her was made under her own general’s order. We were also so susceptible to rumors and other things that were made to provoke a war just like what is happening in Maluku. Some people were proud to have their dead enemy’s head on their hands, they were too proud to even to restrain from the violence of war.

So from this point on, I’ve realized why Graham asked me about the war in my country. He was already accustomed to the conflict between clans, and maybe he was just interested in knowing about the root of the clashes that happened also in Indonesia. And in some points, I also felt that the situation in my country was not so different with what has happened between clans in Scotland. Betrayal, easily-provoked community, susceptible to rumors and pride for our only own-selfish perception are just some things why we were so much involved in conflicts. Not to mention that there was a ‘third party’ or provocateur who would also like to get rid of these characters and situations.

The Scottish people, who were hard working and feeling sick of not being ‘masters in their own land’ under the England’s Crown, tried to emigrate to some places. At first, they emigrated to Ireland, tried to do farming there. But because of the crop’s failure in Ireland resulting in a great famine and poverty, many of them moved back to Scotland.

But most of the Scottish people, even those who already been in Ireland, found their ‘promised land’ in many of British Colonial’s land: North America, Australia, and South Africa. Nova Scotia, a region in Canada (which means ‘New Scotland’ from Latin) was one of the points where they first arrived in a new world. Some of them who were labeled ‘rebels’ by Englishman was sent to Australia, and some of them who would do evangelist missions moved to South Africa.

I realized this thing only after I came back from my trip to Skye. I went to Scottish Museum in Edinburgh and spent some time there to satisfy my curiosity about this beautiful land of Scotland (the story of my trip to Skye would be described separately not in this essay). There I just realized that almost 50% of all of the immigrants in North America before the 19th century came from Scotland. This also clears my question why the soundtrack of the movie ‘Titanic’, a disaster movie, which also depicts a romance between a rich girl and a poor boy immigrant to America as a background story, is a kind of Scottish-Irish folks music. Not only because the traditional music of Scotland is really beautiful, but also I suppose it is because of the movie’s director, James Cameron who bears Scottish clan of Cameron. This is also answering my question, why Scotland is so popular nowadays as a tourist place, especially for people, old and young from America, Canada, Australia and South Africa to trace back their ancestry here.

When the first time I heard that John F Kennedy made his pilgrimage journey to Ireland ‘as other people in America do’, I still didn’t believe that most of the people in America made at least once in their lifetime to go to their ancestor’s land. I thought that American people have already forgotten their ancestors and mixed to flourish a new culture. But here in Scotland, I believe that since I found many of the people from Anglo-Saxon nations were coming here to get remembrances of their ancestry. An American guy in our tour was called Ryan, which is a Scottish-Irish name. The girls from Australia come from Melbourne, which is a common point of arrival for the Scottish immigrants. Some of the people in our tour come from South Africa. It’s just because in a natural way people are always asking about their roots, their origins, their memories and remembrances to that.

That’s why maybe some of the people in Scotland were just wondering why people from Asia like me and other couples of people from Japan and China went to Scotland. Maybe they thought that our trip here was useless. And sometimes their pride of having the perception of being the root of all ‘the most civilized nations in the world’ hurt people who do not come from Anglo-Saxon or other Western cultures.

I just take some examples here:
-I remember an experience when I was window-shopping on the traditional Scottish store in Edinburgh trying to find the cheapest souvenirs to buy. Most of the people were so attracted by the traditional things of Scotland, and not thinking much about the price. But I found out that on the other side of the city, where there were a lot of stores selling souvenirs with lower prices, happened to be owned by Indians or Pakistani people, not by original Scotts people. In one of the stores, I even heard people wondering ‘why these Indians and Pakistani could sell things cheaper than others’. The owner of the shop, wearing a traditional Sikh headdress seemed to feel uneasy to what they said. But to my surprise, these people were saying directly to the Indian shop owner that ‘there was no reason for you to come to Scotland and sold these traditional Scottish souvenirs’! Yes, these people might think that this Indian guy was crazy enough to open his shop, not to mention with a lower price, selling Scottish souvenirs in the heart of Scotland.

-On a sunny day in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, I heard a traditional music played by a Chinese man. It was really a beautiful song, and he had a poster written ‘Chinese traditional music has a thousand years of history’ and there were many people admired him. The next day when I came there, I found the same Chinese musician who played his song, but just close next to him, a Scotsman was playing his traditional music instrument at the same time! To me, they both looked like fighting each other to get people’s attractions. Some people might think that this Chinese musician was crazy enough playing his traditional Chinese music at the heart of Scotland because what the tourists here would and must hear was just Scottish music, wasn’t it?

Despite the above actions, I think the Scottish deserved to be really proud of them especially nowadays. They have the most beautiful traditional music in the world, the most unspoilt land and islands and their whiskeys are very good (to those who like to drink). And Graham, our tour guide, once told us that he thought the Scottish were so fortunate these days, the time when many people admired their traditions, whereas in the past it was even forbidden to play their traditional music instruments on the street. Yes, they deserved that when we acknowledge that their history was so bitter and gloomy, and despite their misery past history, most of them were so successful to get a new life in a new world!

In my overall experience in England and Scotland, I got the impression that the Scottish respect people more if they come from other Anglo-Saxon nations. Hey, that’s logic. You speak the same language, you have the same first or even family names, most of them have the same religion (Protestant) and they actually come from one land: Britain, so it’s really logical that they tend to welcome Anglo-Saxon people warmer than others.

But sometimes they kid each other too. For example, it was a bit clear that Graham, our tour guide was a bit resentful with some of Americans character. When we were about to climb a very steep rock, he told us that we should be careful and take care of ourselves. It would be so bad if the accident happened since the nearest hospital was about 2 hours drive, so we should climb and come back safely. But also he mentioned that he didn’t want us to be so spoiled that asking for help for everything. He said,” I once had the experience with American tourists who always complained and said ‘….but I have the American passport, you should be responsible of me then…..’” he said and made up his voice just like a notorious American bad accent. Hmm, I didn’t mean that Americans have a bad accent, no, not at all. I really enjoy hearing them speak, easier to understand than most of the British, so to say. But sometimes it is just really funny to hear them speak just like in the TV series ‘The Nanny’.

Graham also kidded a lot the American guy in our group, Ryan, who comes from Alabama. “What Alabama? Aha, Forrest Gump is from Alabama”, he said and then made a sound like Tom Hank’s retarded voice in that movie. “My name is Forrest Gump, people call me Forrest Gump”. And then we cried imitating Forrest’s girlfriend when they were kids,” Run Forrest…. run…” It was really funny!!

Once when we met a bunch of sheep’s passing through the streets (there was a lot of time when I saw the signs ‘Please beware of sheep’s passing by’), Graham told us,” Wow, just like in Australia! But you guys love so much your sheep’s so they outnumber your people!” The other time when I was in Tower of London, there was a gate called ‘Traitors’ Gate’, and the tour guide there told us that in the past every prisoner conducting betrayal should pass under this gate. Since this gate was located in a waterfront of Thames, he said also jokingly that this gate was known as “Watergate”, a painful joke to the Americans who would remember that their Nixon-president has committed such an embarrassing act in the past. The tour there also commented that most of the prisoners going to Australia were embarked from this gate. And he asked loudly, ”Where are our lovely guests from Down under??” When some people raised their hands, he shouted, ”Aha! Feels like home, baby!” And we were laughing knowing that these Australian tourists were still being called as the descendant of prisoners from Britain!

So, the British still actually made a lot of jokes to their brothers and sisters who have been living in other Anglo-Saxon countries.

Those Anglo-Saxons youth and old were actually questioning their origins. The questions such as ‘Where does my family come from?’ ‘I am actually not the native of my lands’, and so on were still haunting them.

Once Ryan, the American guy in our group, was a bit upset of all the time jokes he got. And he told us,” I don’t like when people are asking about our origin. Actually, what is the meaning of that? We are all the same!” But another time, he said that we should be proud of where we come from and this American guy really meant it. Every time we laughed at his ‘Alabama accent’ he just spoke more with more accents and made it clear that it seemed he could only speak with that accent, without a good, formal English one. But the other time he also said that ‘no matter where you are, you should adapt to the land where you live, then everything will be easier for you’. And the other time he also told us that he bears Scottish-Irish origin, and just be proud of that.

Not only those Anglo-Saxon couples were questioning their origins. I got to know also a guy from Brazil who got excited knowing that I’ve been living in Germany for my study. He said then that his grandmother was from Munich in Germany. And he was thinking about learning to speak German again. Later he told us that he came from a Jewish family and her grandmother was one of the immigrants from Germany who flew with Hindenburg (a kind of Zeppelin balloon-plane) before World War II!

Even a Chinese guy in our group, who was actually a Malaysian citizen but couldn’t speak Malay, told us that he studied in a Chinese school in his country since he was originally from China.

Well, with this guy, I actually have a very interesting story about that. Once when we stopped at a small town in the middle of our trip from Edinburgh to Skye, I happened to ask him where he came from. At that time, I was quite sure that he was from Japan, China or Korea, but surprisingly to me, he said that he came from Malaysia. But when I introduced myself that I came from Indonesia, Jakarta, he said cynically,” Well, Indonesia! I’ve heard quite a lot of that!” And he laughed disdainfully. He also didn’t want to catch my hands when I offered him to shake.

What? I thought. What do you know about my country?

Later I realized that since he heard the comments from our tour guide, that Indonesia was so notorious by its instability and never ending conflicts, he’s got that impression and made him remember again the riot in Jakarta 1998 where it was claimed that several people were dead, mostly Chinese Indonesian.

Okay, now what? Put the blame on me again to that riots? Shall I redeem the sins because my people (native Indonesian) were claimed to have killed several Chinese Indonesian? What the hell is this world we live in? Do we live just to hate each other, just to distrust each other, or even kill each other??

I respect much of what the Brazilian guy did to me. When he asked me what I thought the taste of the whiskey we got in a distillery factory that we’ve just visited, I told him that I am not an alcohol-drinker. He knew then that I am Muslim. At first, he was reluctant to say aloud what his origin was. He just made a clue like, ‘my Grandmother flew from Germany to Brazil with Zeppelin before World War II’, ‘I lived quite some time in USA, in San Diego and Illinois’. But finally he said it out loud that he was Jewish and bore one of Jewish names (that I forget what it is, all I remember is only his first name, Marcel, which was not so common for a Brazilian), that Jewish only have 2 names, not the same like other Latino people who have 3 names. So he is Jew and I am Muslim, but we could get along very well and in fact he was one of the kindest persons I ever met!

Finally, after our 3 days tour in Scotland, most of us had come to our mind, that we should come to realize what our origin was. The American guy had found it to be proud of his Alabama accent and yet he admitted that he was stamped from a Scottish-Irish origin. The Brazilian guy had said it out loud that he was a Jew. The Chinese guy had come to realize that he was Chinese by origin, although he had been living in other places on this earth. People, however, would always recognize us by our origins. Wherever we are, a stamp of our origins is everywhere in our own body, such as appearance, complexions, and in our souls, that are stamped in our mind like the mark on Cain’s head.

Who am I? Where is my origin stamped?

At least I can answer that I was born to this world through a couple of God’s creature, and to our belief, we should make a pilgrimage at least once in our lifetime to a place where God has predestined for the first people on this earth to meet.

On the holy land

But I also realize that my consciousness to the origin should not protect me to see others, to see the variety of people that God has created, to learn and appreciate what others have cultivated in their cultures, custom, and languages.

All of us were stamped by our background, cultures, and traditions where we were raised. But some of those will only create us as a narrow-minded person who would see that this world only belongs to whom we see every day, without any consciousness that our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, or sometimes our ‘strangers among us’ are different.

Identity marks us to be special with others. We are so different, but so what? Na und?

We should be proud of ourselves, finding our own origins, tracing back our own ancestry. But we should also refrain from having ethnic prejudices.

Don’t mention that you don’t understand why English people dislike Indians and Pakistani who live in their land, don’t mention why Scottish are resentful with the Chinese who make a living in their land.

Just look at the never ending clashes between clans, to the community who already live together hand in hand for over thousands of years before.

Just see that Chinese and Malay still distrust each other although they have been living together in the same land.

We’ve been living on the same planet for more than 2 Millenniums, but yet we are still far from a consciousness of living together, hand in hand as God’s creature.

“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors; verily in that are Signs for those who know”.

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