Is it Orion or Waluku?

“I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.” – Wisława Szymborska

In 1856, Sultan Pakubhuwana VII from Java, created an agricultural calendar using the conspicuous hunter figure in the sky, Orion.

In the northern hemisphere, Orion is a broad-shouldered hunter who is ready to take down his prey. Betelgeuse, one of the brightest, matured red star is the hinge in the shoulder; the source of power, and the three equally sparse stars are his belt where Orion keeps his weapon and also, a pocketful of nebulae. Orion is a remarkably noticeable constellation from anywhere in the world throughout the year, hence it’s often the starting point for newbies to browse through the sky.

But in Indonesia, Orion lays down, resting above the lush tropical forest with his back facing the sky. The Javanese didn’t see it as a man ready to hunt, but a farmer’s plow, a traditional tool that finances and supports their livelihood. Now laying and facing down, his body is the body of the plow and his leg is the handle.

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On Nietzsche’s God is Dead

Nietzsche’s God is Dead is perhaps the single most provocative statement that permeates common understanding and makes every young and modern atheist drool like Pavlov’s dogs. Used in pop cultures like worn out concert tees enduring ages of torments and misunderstandings, this statement sparks debates or ends discussions when done by folks who are unfamiliar with the context.

In Nietzsche’s 1882 collection The Gay Science, he proclaimed God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” after seeing that god and religion had been killed by science. The post-enlightenment era saw the dawn of a new thinking where humans get to decide who they are and what their purpose is. At least, that was how scientific explorations put us in perspective against the unbiased, vast universe. Yet humans, small and fragile, lose meanings altogether, falling into a dark existential crisis where the purpose of life feels so distant and detached to our everyday life. And while juggling between the ambitious scientific pursuits and the quiet pull of the solitary minds, we feel the heavy agony of finding meaning unto life without a meaningful death. Continue reading “On Nietzsche’s God is Dead”

17,000 Islands 7,000 Rice


Our generation has largely forgotten that we used to grow around 7,000 different types of rice. White rice doesn’t just dominate our plates, but it also dominates our minds and fosters the belief that this is the common thread over Indonesia’s proudly standing 17,000 islands. But upon a closer look, we know there’s nothing very common among these islands.

The wisdom of Indonesia contains in the land. The immense and dizzying range of fruits, the colorful and fragrant spices, the unique kinds of rice, all cultivate a diverse culture, beliefs, and thoughts across the archipelago.

Understandably, Indonesia’s dramatic contour gives rise to a huge variety of rice, vastly different from Sabang to Merauke. Yogyakarta alone produces a wide range of rice, such as Menthik Susu (fleshy, juicy, sweet, fat in shape), Jowo Melik (indigenous black rice), Cempo Merah, Andel Abang, among many else. Another more modern example that results from an innovative farming approach is seaweed rice (beras rumput laut).

Sadly we are content with plain white rice on our plates!

However, this isn’t completely our fault. How we came to assume that white rice is ‘our thing’ was a result of mind-shift that happened between the 70s and 80s.  In the 70s, Soeharto launched an initiative to unify our plates, a plan of ‘nasinisasi’ the whole nation. In an attempt to solidify the nation, it seems that Soeharto slightly missed the fact that our diversity is and will always be our strength.

Decades later, white rice is expected in our plates and has become the major staple food of our nation who consumes 60 kg/year per person.

Currently, there are 300-400 types of rice Indonesia produces, but most of these ancient grains are yet to be common on Indonesian’s plates.

Our food, including rice, is a reflection of our own diversity and complexity. A visit to different regions in Indonesia will be marked by distinctive aroma and flavors in the air.

Now, we have largely forgotten about the richness underneath our feet and we settle with a ‘manufactured’ knowledge and understanding of what Indonesia land is capable of producing. Our natural relationship with nature had been damaged. It’s not so far-fetched, then, to say that this leads to misunderstanding and intolerance that prevail in our country.

Complement this with a book forthrightly called “Indonesia Amnesia” by Baltyra.

Whatever happen to formal Indonesian language?


Visit any hip (or hipster) spots in your town and you’ll likely to eavesdrop on a young Indonesian mixing Indonesian and English in a sentence. Many people do it so casually, effortlessly, and fluently, often times switching Indonesian and English back and forth without thinking, giving some people a bugging question what’s behind this funny phenomena in the first place.

Many Indonesians, especially those who have been abroad, even admitted that they prefer to write in English than in Indonesian because it’s somewhat easier. This is obviously an amusing answer, but this preference of English over Indonesian is an epidemic. From Balinese poet to established writers, many will confidently state their conviction of using English than Indonesian in some of their writing.

I can admit that there’s a peculiar simplicity in English language that makes it easier to express something complicated than in Indonesian language. English also still sounds heavenly when intermixed with Latin or Spanish words. And it’s an amazingly versatile language that anyone can simply adapt according to their own rules. As a language that has undergone so much history and adaptations, it seems that English has developed admirable feats that fit people’s diverse thoughts.

Some people will argue that it’s Indonesian language’s mechanical sentence structure that makes it less admirable to people, which makes sense if we see our obsessions with acronyms. But I’ve also seen some people having troubles expressing their inner-most expressions, as if Indonesian words can’t quite reach those hidden corners of thoughts.
Continue reading “Whatever happen to formal Indonesian language?”

Why are we so close yet so far?


As I’m writing this, we are (or were) just 2 days after the Independence Day. On Facebook, for what seemingly miles of newsfeed sit various amount of videos reminding us of our diversity, the abundance of talents and natural resources, and the dizzying variance of people, skin color, cultures, and religions, and a message of tolerance in the end.

But seeing the polarizing opinions and ideologies we tend to have now, it seems that how we interact today, is mere reaction rather than conversation. And to me the easiest thing we can do to be more tolerant is to learn, even learning from the opposite sides.

I have to admit as someone who grew up in Jakarta, I’m fearful that I live in a small bubble. Indonesia’s beauty is vast, immense, mysterious, and dizzyingly beautiful, it’ll take time for someone to truly comprehend the important contribution Indonesia has to the world. And as someone who grew up in Jakarta, I’m always reluctant to say that I fully understand what it means to be an Indonesian or comprehend the meaning of ‘tolerance’ when I haven’t intersected with various local people in meaningful ways, haven’t disagreed face to face with local people, or when I’ve always had permanent roof and warm delicious afternoon snacks on dining table everyday.  Most of us are probably the 1%.

Travelling does take you to plenty of places, physically and mindfully, but it takes a more studious spirit and meticulous learning to piece cultural bits together so that we can approach this Indonesian essence in a more empathetic way.
Continue reading “Why are we so close yet so far?”

Why Burung Garuda as National Symbol?


My whole confidence, courage and passion collapse upon learning that Burung Garuda was just…a myth. What could be worse than figuring out that this majestic national symbol is a mere drawing and name on a stone, done hundreds of years ago? Not to mention that plenty of Indonesians weren’t Hindus and Buddhists who might not grow up with a story of Garuda. The critical question arises – how could we then relate to this ancient symbol that unites the nation? More intriguingly, why was this Hindu-Buddhist inspired myth chosen as the national symbol?

In 1949, Sultan Hamid II was assigned to lead a group whose specific task is to design the nation’s symbol. Hamid II was the fourth Pontianak Sultan who spent much of his life in Netherlands. His pursuit for military led to extraordinary achievements; one of them was a special assignment to accompany Queen Wilhemina from Netherlands. He was initially reluctant to join politics in Indonesia, though eventually he was appointed by Soekarno to be one of the Generals. One of his main tasks was to lead the discussion surrounding the design proposal for Indonesia’s national emblem. Ki Hajar Dewantara and Moh. Hatta were also part of this group.

The team came up with two design proposals: one by Sultan Hamid and the other by Moh. Yamin. Hamid came up with a design of Garuda – then still a half-human and half-bird image, while Moh. Yamin came up with a design of a sun. Moh. Yamin’s idea was soon rejected for being too similar to Japan’s flag.

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Tanah&Air: An Introduction

One of the most heartbreaking things growing up in Indonesia is that we are habituated to not understanding our own history. Yes – we had history classes in school. Yes – we know what happened here and there. But we are satisfied to mere knowing than to comprehending our history as a tool of reflection and evaluation for our own present situations.

We have grown aspirations and spirit to improve our country, but we really kinda need to sprint. Our identity is somewhat fractured and our sense of history is weakening. I imagine American kids have to learn 300 years way back into their past and we can’t even recall properly what’s happening within the last 50 years. So many of those events were reconstructed in our history books, true; or they are bluntly removed from our history book, that’s also true.

But history isn’t just contained in events. Its existence live throughout our everyday objects: in our food, crops, clothing, urban spaces, architecture, transportation, music, language, dialects, religion, herbs and medicine, even our own names must have contained a specific history. So every little thing contains a story. History doesn’t need to be primarily political or social to matter. History simply means our story from the past.

When it comes to ‘contributing to the country’ spirit, the least thing you can do is to learn. Even when you do it in private. In fact, contributing without proper basis of learning and reflection might do more harm than good.

So, Tanah & Air is my reflection towards Indonesia’s history and a collection of memorabilia on our diverse, dizzying, complex, ever-changing, ever-evolving identities. Here I’ll talk about our everyday objects and their relationship towards our identities.

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