Freedom for Ethnic Chinese To Dance Returns (Indonesia)
- News for Anarchists & Activists:
from the February 04, 2003 edition -
or ethnic Chinese, the freedom to dance returns
For the first time in 32 years, the Chinese Lunar New Year
is a legal holiday in Indonesia.
By Dan Murphy
Chinese culture is exhausting Ronald Sjarif.
On Friday night, the eve of the Lunar New Year, he and his
teenage troop of lion dancers performed in seven locations
in 10 hours. Saturday, they crammed in 12 performances and
Sunday they had three more, including two live appearances
on Indonesian TV.
But he's not complaining. For 32 years, Mr. Sjarif an ethnic
Chinese Indonesian, couldn't publicly perform - or even see
a public exhibition in Jakarta of the barongsai, an
acrobatic, bounding Chinese dance.
But Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri made this
Imlek, as the new year celebration is called in the Hokkien
dialect spoken by most of Indonesia's Chinese settlers, the
first in Indonesian history to be a public holiday. As a
result, Jakarta is now swept by New Year's mania, with the
city's glitzy shopping malls vying with each other for the
most lavish red and gold displays, dragon dances, and
Megawati's decision is the high water mark for a Chinese
cultural renaissance that began with the fall of the
Indonesian dictator Suharto in 1998, and one of the clear
signs that Indonesia's democratic era, despite its growing
pains, is bringing more freedom to its citizens.
"I still have trouble believing this is happening, that we
can honor our culture this way again," says Sjarif, whose
Kong Ha Hong Foundation is reviving long-dormant Chinese
traditions here like the flamboyant lion and dragon dances
and the use of mandarin. "I'm just so grateful that the
government has changed."
Discrimination against Indonesia's ethnic Chinese - who
number about 10 million of the country's 220 million
population - dates at least to the 17th century, when the
Dutch ruled much of modern-day Indonesia. After anti-Chinese
riots in 1740, most of Jakarta's Chinese were forced by
decree to live in the city's Glodok neighborhood, which
remains the center of Chinese culture today.
When the former General Suharto came to power in 1965 at the
head of a virulently anticommunist counter coup, all ethnic
Chinese were seen as likely communist sympathizers and
potential enemies of the state. Suharto's government passed
laws banning Chinese newspapers and books, Mandarin-language
schooling, and the use of Chinese names in official
But as the dictator's grip on power grew, he also allowed
the Chinese to flourish economically, giving a select few
monopolies on basic commodities such as wheat and cement in
exchange for bankrolling his political machine. That
economic strength, in turn, increased resentment felt by the
country's largely poor ethnic-Malay communities.
"For us it was pretty clear: Business yes. Politics and just
about everything else, no," says Herman Suryanto, a 60-year
old rice trader and part-time caretaker of the Hian Thian
Siang Tae Bio temple, which is one of Jakarta's oldest
Confucian Buddhist temples.
Sjarif remembers what it was like to live with severe
government surveillance. He was a good barongsai dancer in
his youth and was part of a small group of community leaders
who tried to keep the tradition alive even in the darkest
years of the Suharto regime. He recalls secret practice
sessions in warehouses around Jakarta during the 1970s.
"This was quite simply against the law, and if we danced in
public, we could have gotten in a lot of trouble."
Since 1998, barongsai teachers have visited from overseas
and Mr. Sjarif's dancers have traveled to Taiwan for
competitions. He's happy with the progress, but notes that
most of the anti-Chinese regulations, though ignored, remain
on the books. "The government now has to make sure that all
of its citizens have the same rights and responsibilities,"
he says. "That's going to make this a more prosperous and
peaceful country in the long run."
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News for Anarchists & Activists:
Said Smygo, the iconoclast of Zothique: "Bear a hammer with
thee always, and break down any terminus on which is
written: 'So far shalt thou pass, but no further go.'"
--Clark Ashton Smith