Maintaining Indonesian Tradition in Contemporary Form

Jan 09, 2017

Maintaining Indonesian Tradition in Contemporary Form

May 21, 2016 – Posted in: History

Tradition, along with culture, is a heritage of the civilization of mankind that is passed by a generation and inherited by the present or next generation. The form of tradition itself is established after undertaking various changes and transformation for generations. Some of the traditions thrive and are able to adapt and endure drastic changes in society, especially in modernization, and continue growing and spreading its influences. Other traditions, however, are not that lucky and wither away as it is not able to appeal the ever-changing mass.

Maintaining and preserving tradition are now the challenges that Indonesia must undertake to ensure that all Indonesian traditions and cultures would not lose. The Indonesian government has tried to make tradition preservation programs that involve Indonesian people such as wearing batik on Friday. The programs, however, do not work as it is intended as it becomes an enforcement and obligation, like wearing school uniform; ideally, the programs should be able to appeal Indonesian people to apply their local traditions and cultures in their daily life and they do it with their own free will. Fortunately, there are many methods to make local traditions popular among Indonesian people.

One of the challenges that the government and culturalists must face is the advancement of information technology as it will be a double-edged sword; the governments and culturalists can use the technology to preserve Indonesian culture and spread cultural awareness, but at the same time it is much easier for Indonesian people to be exposed to foreign cultures. However, exposed to foreign cultures is not necessary a bad thing. We can learn many things regarding how foreign cultures are represented, analyzing the defining characteristics of the cultures that appeal Indonesian people and incorporating it into Indonesia preservation program.

We may follow Japanese’s strategy in incorporating their traditional cultures into popular culture. Japan has a big accomplishment in dominating and influencing the world with their cultures. They use every technology and media available to integrate and popularize their cultures and lifestyle. Many Indonesian youths adore and are familiar with everything related to the cultures of Japan. Kimono, sushi, kabuki, pachinko and so on are no longer foreigner traditions for them. To make it more interesting, most of them can learn about the traditions without even having to step into the country. They learn the traditions from their hobbies, such as watching anime (Japanese’s animation), reading manga (Japanese’s comic book), playing video games, listening to J-Pop (Japanese Popular song) eating sushi and bento and so on.

Japan’s accomplishment in incorporating their traditional culture into popular culture is cannot be achieved without the help from their creative industry. The industry delivers a really huge creativity driving force that empowers the whole nation. The reasons the product of the industry is immensely popular among the people of the world are they are never running out of wild imagination and they offer something new that people have never seen before. For example, Gegege no Kitaro (Kitaro of the Graveyard), a manga created by the late Shigeru Mizuki, tells the story of Kitaro and his relationship with Japan’s folkloric creatures and monsters from other countries. Based on the story alone the manga is a niche work that would only appeal a small segment of the market. However, the manga gains big popularity and spawns numerous anime and live-action adaptations, proving that no matter how cliché the work is, there will be a way to find and create a market for the work.

Indonesia, with its rich cultures, traditions and folklores, would not have a big difficulty in finding materials that can be adapted and incorporated into popular culture. Do we have the resources to adapt the story of Romeo & Juliet or The Lord of the Rings into a shadow puppet play? Yes, we do. Can we adapt the story of Si Buta dari Gua Hantu into a space opera? Absolutely. There are many ideas inspired by Indonesian local traditions that can be developed to support the progress of our preservation program and creative industry. However, it takes a time to develop both the industry and the market, thus full support from the government is needed.

While we already have numerous artists who dedicate their life to develop contemporary work that is based on Indonesian traditions and cultures, we only have a small segment of the market that we can reach. Creating and developing market are the challenges that our artists face as their works are still regarded as a niche, and it is harder for them to reach the audience that they need while competing with foreign works that are imported to Indonesia. Other obstacles that the artist have to deal is disagreement from conservatives that uphold a belief that certain traditions must not be transformed or altered into other forms. It is understandable that the conservatives may not take the transformation of their traditions and cultures well as they have spent a lot of their time preserving their traditions and cultures, albeit with a limited preservation method.

Adi Nugraha in his book, Transforming Tradition: A Method for Maintaining Tradition in a Craft and Design Context (2012), argues that there are “many terms that seem to have a close connection with the idea of maintaining tradition, such as sustaining, preserving, protecting, conserving, reviving, revitalizing, restoring, and transforming” (2012: 123). He divides those terms into two main groups: “Conservationism” and “Transformism”. The terms of preserving, protecting, and conserving fall to “Conservationism” group, while the terms of sustaining, reviving, revitalizing, restoring, and transforming fall into “Transformism” group. “Conservationism” is an “act of careful preservation and protection of tradition, which aims to prevent the exploitation and destruction of the tradition in question” and to preserve “what is already established, and protect the existing situation from any possible change.” “Transformism”, on the other hand, suggests “continuous development and change” and proposes that “to be sustainable, things have to be constantly revived, revitalized, restored, and transformed to suit the real word; with the change” (2012).

To employ his idea of “Transformism”, Adi Nugraha creates various crafts that draw inspiration from Indonesian traditions and cultures. One of his works that he has developed successfully is Animal Series which he conceives in collaboration with Kriya Nusantara. The work is inspired by Indonesian animal figures and it wins UNESCO’s Seal of Excellence in 2007. The award proves that “Transformism” is a method that can be applied to reach a wider audience and market without losing the true essence of the tradition or the tradition itself.

Kriya Nusantara is also one of the Indonesian pioneers that have been transforming local traditions and cultures into contemporary craft for 20 years. One of Kriya Nusantara’s finest work is Cawang Art Radio that gains immense popularity in Indonesia and other countries. Previously, Cawang Art Radio, formerly known as Tjawang, produces only classic radios that do not have any defining characteristic except its sound quality. Kriya Nusantara then collaborates with Cawang Art Radio to create radios that not only have a great audio system but also have local traditional value embodied in it. The products receive critical acclaim from Indonesian and foreign audiences and it becomes Kriya Nusantara’s finest product.

Transforming tradition is a matter of love rather than economic; we transform our local tradition because we want to see it thrive and can be enjoyed by a lot of people and our future generation. It takes time and requires dedication to materialize our desire to make our tradition accessible and appealing for a lot of people. However, as long as we have dedicated artists who work tirelessly to promote our tradition in contemporary form, the dream is not that hard to be achieved.