Jakarta. By most estimates, 80 percent of infrastructure development taking place in Indonesia at the moment happens in the country's richer western regions. Add to that statistic the fact that the four poorest provinces in the country are located in its eastern parts and have a Human Development Index (HDI) below the national level. Can eastern Indonesia ever catch up?
Speakers at the Indonesia Development Forum 2018, held by the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) at Ritz-Carlton Jakarta on July 10-11, argued that culture can play a big part in reducing the development gap.
Hilmar Farid, the director general of culture at the Education and Culture Ministry, argued that while it is a good thing overall that infrastructure construction has been sped up in rural areas in the past few years, people should keep in mind that development is more than just about access.
"Connectivity is improving but connecting people is not just a matter of making them meet. If culture isn’t taken into account, there will be a new kind of dominance and hence a new kind of disparity…. We want to be the world’s maritime axis, yet our perspective and attitude are very mainland," Hilmar said in a session called "Reducing Disparity by Optimizing the Role of Culture in Eastern Indonesia."
He said strategy for development in eastern Indonesia should not copy the strategy for Java and Sumatra. Instead, the government should look into the specific cultural assets of each region in eastern Indonesia.
In a separate interview with The Jakarta Globe, Hilmar said Indonesia's Advancement of Culture legislation (Law No. 5/2017) provides the legal framework not just to protect but also maximize the potentials of the country’s cultural traditions.
He said, though, that the rich cultural assets in eastern Indonesia have not been systemically documented.
This is despite the legislation mandating that cities and districts list their "Pokok Pikiran Kebudayaan Daerah" ("Fundamentals of Regional Cultures," or PPKD) to be compiled in a provincial and national catalogue.
"Ambon [in Maluku] has already given us their list. Many regional heads probably think the PPKD is an unwelcome extra assignment, but we will help them complete it," Hilmar said.
Several other cities and districts in North Maluku and West Papua are already making good progress in compiling their PPKD.
Hilmar pointed out that "activating" cultural heritages ("benda cagar budaya") instead of leaving them idle in museums or historical sites will be crucial to their survival and also give the government clues on how to develop regions according to their characteristics.
"They [cultural heritage] are not just inanimate objects. They are endless sources of information," Hilmar said.
The Karmawibangga reliefs at the Borobudur Temple in Central Java, for example, show ancient traditional instruments that can be recreated as tourist attractions.
Lontar (palmleaf manuscripts) in Bali contain many references to herbal plants and their uses for human health.
Hilmar said in Bali the herbal recipes from the lontar can help locals produce food and drink products that can be sold to tourists, especially since the green lifestyle is all the rage at the moment.
"A lot of our economy is based on our intellectual properties. On that front, we have extraordinary treasures that have not been systematically explored," Hilmar said.
Singer Glenn Fredly, another speaker at the forum, said he has been exploring the music of Maluku, his birthplace, to see if it can be used to help entrench the region's identity – to mixed results.
In his session, Glenn sang the famous Maluku song "Hena Masa Waya," that describes the origins of the Moluccans' homeland.
The anthemic song has been passed down for generations, but now the separatist movement Republic of South Maluku (RMS) claimed it as their national anthem.
The group, whose formation was aided by the Dutch colonial administration, was founded in the 1950s in the early years of Indonesia’s independence.
The RMS' claim gives a negative connotation to the song and creates tension whenever it's sung.
"Songs shape people’s minds and [so] the character of this country, that’s why it's important to explore, to understand how our people think," Glenn said.
The government wants Ambon to be one of UNESCO’s Cities of Music in 2019.
The Cities of Music program is part of the Creative Cities Network, a global effort to spearhead culture-led sustainable urban development through collaborative projects.
Glenn became one of the initiators for Indonesia’s first National Music Conference taking place in Ambon in March 2018. The conference resulted in a 12-point declaration to encourage the local music industry to contribute more to Indonesia’s economy.
In another session at the forum, scientist Herawati Sudoyo, a research deputy at Jakarta's Eijkman Institute, gave a presentation on how culture can actually contribute to the study of Indonesia’s genetic diversity.
She said legends and languages can provide the basis for genetics research – and there are over 600 ethnicities and 700 languages in Indonesia.
"We’ve only studied 130 ethnicities from 19 islands. Each has their own distinct characteristics," she said.
Education Still Key
Two speakers at the forum delivered presentations that touched on the classic problem of development in Indonesia: lack of education. Both argued that education is key to empowering communities.
Stanley Ferdinandus is the founder and advisor of Heka Leka foundation, an educational non-profit based in Ambon.
He said it is ironic that our "spice islands" (Maluku and the surrounding regions), the gateway for the Europeans to colonize Indonesia, are actually now one of the poorest regions in the country.
He said 50 percent of the schools in Maluku have not earned accreditation from the Education Ministry and 40 percent of the classrooms are very badly damaged.
As one of Indonesia’s four poorest provinces, Maluku allocates only 8.4 percent of its budget for education.
Access to schools is also a big problem in Maluku since the province comprises many islands separated by stormy seas.
Maluku residents are also still recovering from the 1999-2002 Ambon sectarian conflict, of which Stanley himself was a victim.
Stanley founded Heka Leka – which means a rebirth from war – in 2011 to empower children disadvantaged by the conflict.
Stanley began by organizing additional classes outside school for young students in Ambon.
Now Heka Leka has extended its reach to other towns in Maluku, providing community-based learning organized by malessy (volunteers), book donation and "Goes to School" workshops and seminars on various subjects, including science, IT, art, sex education and how to stamp out bullying in schools.
Stanley said Heka Leka has already helped 15,897 students and 3,737 teachers in 779 schools and 87 communities across 58 islands.
"My friend told me that the sun rises from the east, and from there Indonesia will be built," said Stanley, who was voted one of Beritasatu.com’s Inspiring Young Leaders in 2014.
Heka Leka also has a partner in Jakarta, Ganara Art Studio, to run a program called "Mari Berbagi Seni" ("Let’s Share Art") for students and teachers from underprivileged regions, including Maluku.
"We met Stanley in 2014 and he asked us to collaborate with Heka Leka. We've maintained a close and active relationship since," Ganara founder Tita Djumaryo said.
Mari Berbagi Seni's Maluku training program started in November 2015 in Saparua Island with 83 teachers. 123 more teachers were trained in Ambon after that, before the program hopped on to other islands.
"In total, we've taught art to more than 1,000 teachers in 3 years," Tita said.
The Mari Berbagi Seni program is focused on visual arts.
In Maluku, teachers are trained to make watercolor and finger paintings using food colorings, which are much cheaper than acrylic paints.
Ganara also taught children under 3 years old sensory play using local produce like nutmegs and cloves.
Tita believes art education isn’t all about having fun with colors and shapes, but also to make people appreciate diversity of self-expressions.
"If you make kids sit in a circle with an object in the middle, they'll see it from different perspectives. They'll draw it from the angle where they see the object. What they do is actually making assumptions about that object. We teach them that having different points of view is okay. There is no assumption that is most correct. This teaches them to think more critically, a useful thing when there are so many fake news and hoaxes now," Tita said.
Tita said Ganara and Heka Leka are already planning to bring Mari Berbagi Seni to East Nusa Tenggara and Papua.