62th Indonesian Independence Day

Today, 17 August 2007, Indonesia celebrated the 62th year of independence from Dutch colonial rule. Although my 3rd time in Indonesia, it’s the first time I am in the country during hari kemerdekaan (freedom day). A great day to do some fieldwork on (playful) identity construction ?.

Together with Lisa & Dini, two girls from my rumah kos, I went to Monas (national monument) in the morning. Under a blistering sun we walked to the Istana Negara (state palace), just north of Taman Merdeka (freedom square). Along the road we saw military units parading. At the palace, young people from all current 33 provinces were present, wearing regional ethnic costumes, featuring on pictures, and busy taking pictures themselves.

Ethnic and national identities at Istana Negara (1)

Ethnic and national identities at Istana Negara (2)

Ethnic and national identities at Istana Negara. Mobile devices all over the place to capture “unity in diversity” (Indonesia’s national motto). Tradition and modernity go hand in hand.

After that, Lisa and I went to kampung Melayu, one of the poorer areas in Jakarta. Some friends of her organize a three-day series of festivities in the neighborhood of bukit duri, as part of an effort to make freedom day a real people’s festival. All kinds of traditional games here, vaguely reminding me of the kind of ludic activities that take place on Dutch “koninginnedag” (queen’s day). These kids compete to run three slippery eels from one bucket into the other as quick as possible.

?Eal race in kampung Melayu

Eel race in kampung Melayu. In the background an activist painting claiming the rights of poor people in Indonesia. The proclamation in the painting reads “Children of poor families are the responsibility of the state. Children at the edge [referring also literally to bukit duri’s location near the Ciliwung riverside] are not sewer rats!”. The painting is part of a campaign in the neighborhood to voice social and economic awareness and identity, as the slums are planned to be cleared due to recurrent floodings.

Pre-paid cards for sale in the kampung
Pre-paid card infrastructure has penetrated deep into the kampung!

Meanwhile, a bit further uphill, young guys try to climb the greasy pole, in the hope of getting one of the handphones dangling from the top as a reward! I somehow got the sense that in this image, some central notions in my research (identity, play and the mobile phone) come together and lose some of their slipperiness…

?Climbing the pole to win mobile phones

Play in front of the quarter’s main Mesjid (mosque) on national freedom day: who wins the mobile phone?

In talking about identity, I feel like adding a more personal note. Today has also been a day to consider my own history and relation to Indonesia. A week back or so I was in a book shop at Taman Ismael Marzuki, and picked up a Soekarno (Indonesia’s first president) biography by Bob Hering. Paging through the book, I noticed my great grandfather figures as one of the prime informants. He apparently was very well-acquainted with many of the key figures who founded Indonesia, and who are commemorated today. From the scarce stories, I know he spoke several indigenous languages fluently and was part of the so called ‘ethical’ movement which tried to reform colonial rule. Yet still part of Dutch colonial system… 62 Years after Indonesian independence, I cannot help but feel both continuity, by temporarily living here and becoming close to this country, as well as rupture, for I am here in a completely different situation and role, as the paths of Holland and Indonesia have split.

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