Feeling a Little Merdeka

I am really feeling the buzz of Indonesia Independence Day this year more than any other. I don’t know if it’s the joy of a public holiday, the excitement of the kids playing traditional games outside or the resounding cries of “Merdeka” blasting out from the houses in my area as the Indonesian anthem plays on repeat. Merdeka after all means “freedom” and, in a time of quarantine, who doesn’t want to celebrate that? 

When the red and white flags come up in the weeks before Indonesia Day to decorate the city, I feel a sense of excitement and the chorus of the national anthem starts ringing in my ears: “Indonesia Raya, merdeka, merdeka!”. It’s one of those anthems that feels like a bit of a party song that could get you pumped up before a night on the town. 

It feels strange to me to be celebrating something so patriotic, as in many ways, I fear patriotism as so often it can be bound up in the fear of the other; in building walls both literal and metaphorical, in deciding who does and doesn’t belong and how you can treat them once this decision has been made. 

But today I dressed both of my children in red and white and watched as my neighbour taught them to salute the flag. It was so weird to watch and strange to know that my children’s identity will be bound up so much in a country that isn’t my own, and their life experience will be based on being caught between these two worlds. 

It’s something of a contradiction in me to feel that patriotism can be a dangerous political tool, and at the same time I want my own children to feel proud to be Indonesian. Part of it comes from the idea that on a global scale Indonesia has been unfairly considered to be one of the “lesser than” other countries; it has been categorised as “Third world” or “developing” thus always considered to be playing catch up. It is considered as a source of cheap labour and cheap resources. It is judged as having a corrupt government and as it sits right on top of Australia with a huge population bursting at the seams, often in the Australian imagination it becomes a fearful teeming mass of brown people who want to come and take all of the “First World” and “Developed” benefits that Australians have amassed. 

Certainly during this time of uncertainty with the fear of Indonesia about to explode into chaos according to the media, the Australian government seems to be buying large weapons to protect themselves from this possible threat. The fear of an “Asian invasion” is bound up in so much of Australian history.

So in some ways, for my daughters to take on national pride of being Indonesian is akin to them ignoring an entire system set up against them; the same one that is going to try and teach them that their value is caught up in the whiteness of their skin, the thinness of their waists and their ability to do it all while making it look effortless.

Maybe a part of the main reason I feel good about Indonesian Independence Day is because there is no cognitive dissonance in wanting to celebrate it. No one was harmed in the genesis of this day and instead, it represents freedom from oppression. It represents a day when Indonesians succeeded in kicking out the colonial masters who had been sucking them dry of resources and getting rich off their poverty for 150 years. It’s so damn cool to think about the first Indonesian president, Sukarno, leading the fight against the system which had told them how shit they were for years, and in winning, creating a new system around the core principles of the Pancasila (the 5 principles of Indonesia) which unified the islands of Indonesia into one country.

When I think about what the lessons that my children are going to learn about identifying as Indonesian, I hope that they learn to be present in the here and now, to enjoy food in abundance and to be able to laugh at themselves and not to take it all so seriously. To be told that they look fat without creating an instant eating disorder, to know that their community will be there for them when the shit goes down. Maybe Indonesians learned this on days like today when they played the traditional games of their childhood to celebrate Independence Day such as being challenged to climb up a pole covered in oil while the whole neighbourhood watches and laughs, or tried to eat a giant krupuk dangling from a string, hands free. And food. There is always food.

And for those downunder who have a fear of Indonesians coming to take all of your freedoms, please know that this fear is unfounded. If you need proof of this, watch an Indonesian at an Australian BBQ. Watch as their excitement at experiencing something so “iconic” turns to despair when they are handed a plate with a sausage in bread and some tomato sauce. I have been a witness to this occasion many times. A country that prides itself on an outdoor BBQ and then serves meat on bread with sweet tomato sauce and nothing else clearly has issues and is safe from invasion.

Maybe if you have sambal at your BBQ there might be more danger.

You are safe!


Published by lostinthealleywayscom

I am a feminist, mother of two, Australian, married to an Indonesian, lover of all things Jakarta (well apart from the pollution and rubbish and corruption and...well you get the picture). I want to share my stories of exploring Jakarta and raising my two daughters in the big city.

3 thoughts on “Feeling a Little Merdeka

  1. No fear here, we would love for you all to come to Australia.. please and bring more Gado Gado, Mi Goreng, Nasi Goreng and Tofu please… with lots of Sambal! Happy Indonesian Day… enjoy the celebrations


  2. Beautiful reflection Treen, and I think you touch on the possibility of different patriotisms, the phallic patriotism that subordinates others and is built historically at the expense of others and possibly a benevolent patriotism that brings together and includes. I don’t know enough of the complexities of ‘Indonesian’ identity to be able to speak to it and compare it to Australian iterations of belonging and identity and patriotism though I do know and understand the layers of patriotism and identity here, and it’s malevolent to brown and black bodies, to sanctioned cultures and languages and to poverty and third-world looking bodies. At its heart is white supremacy and Aboriginal subordination and dispossession and this is threaded throughout in its foundational iterations. It’s a threatening patriotism that is phallic and excludes. So I think your concerns about patriotism in its external manifestations to other countries is one dimension of patriotism and its impact on others.


    1. You are way smarter than me at being able to intellectualise these things. But yes so much of it is white supremacy and I recognise in myself how many of the values of white supremacy that I myself carry and need to work on. So much is embedded deep within us but now is the time to spew it up because our supposed ignorance of it does nothing to support those we are treading on.


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