Commentary: Jokowi’s Powerful Message on Nationhood

The unprecedented parade of Indonesian-ness on Aug. 17 was also a splendid aesthetical declaration, making us all see witness the beauty and richness of our sartorial tradition.(Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitasari)

By : Hamid Basyaib | on 9:59 PM August 21, 2017
Category : Opinion, Commentary

The desires, aspirations and anxieties that fill the hearts of the elites and the majority of our society amid heightened religiosity have probably been exaggerated recently. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo brilliantly updated it all on the best date possible – the anniversary of Indonesia's independence on Aug. 17. The location too, the State Palace, could not be better.

The result: a scene witnessed for the first time in Indonesia's history. So many leaders, former state officials and ordinary people clad in traditional robes celebrating our independence with joy and pride – their excitement, spreading over to many regions, has surpassed similar "actions" usually undertaken by electoral committees at polling stations.

It was a very strong cultural statement, resounding much louder than all those regular speeches on the importance of upholding the Republic of Indonesia, far stronger than the slogan "NKRI harga mati" ("The republic or death").

This unprecedented parade of Indonesian-ness was also a splendid aesthetical declaration, making us all witness the beauty and richness of our sartorial tradition.

All that was the work, or innovation, by young designers from Flores, Aceh, Minang, Java, the lands of the Sundanese, Bugis and many others (sorry, we are too rich!), who are highly skilled artists, although referred to as "craftsmen" – which lowers their status, despite all the artistry.

Look at these photographs; look again, and see the atmosphere of exuberant joy accompanied by proper elegance. Sitting or standing, the officials keep on chatting; people take "wefies" with them – everyone is wearing those mesmerizing robes, dominated by bright hues and pastels.

The proud and cheerful faces of the wefie participants, who are not intimidated by the presence of the high-ranking officials, add to the overall splendor of the photographs. The images are also a rare visual sensation that should be documented as a historical moment, uniting actors representing all professions, classes, positions.

In this way, politically, Jokowi, Vice President Jusuf Kalla and their team menang tanpa ngasorake (have won without humiliating their enemies). They did not threaten or ridicule those who wore different attire. They only presented themselves among the people in traditional clothes from Aceh to Papua.

One does not need to be a worshiper of tradition or traditionalism to be able to appreciate such strong and elegant cultural gesture. The traditional clothes were indeed beautiful and unique. Behind them stood technical skills and the aesthetics of tradition, which produced the colorfulness and richness of design.

This feast of diversity should indeed become the convention of the annual celebrations. In all its aspects, the brilliant cultural gesture was a complete message on nationhood – precisely because it was not delivered in the form of speech.

See you again at the national fashion show next year.

Hamid Basyaib is a senior journalist and social commentator.

This commentary was first published in Indonesian by Qureta. 

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