Indonesia Etc – A Must Read – An Indonesian Perspective of the Book

Hardly ever I say to anyone I know: You must read this, or you must watch this. I obviously share my thoughts on things, but would recommend books only if I am asked. I have however been recommending Indonesia Etc by Elisabeth Pisani to anyone that is interested in Indonesia. Whether they are Indonesian abroad, or people I met here that has some interest in the country, and even new people I met in Indonesia.

Like language, understanding your own culture is somewhat inate. It feels that things are just the way they are, just like that, unexplainable.

I think Elisabeth Pisani, describes and contextualise Indonesia, in a brilliant way. Her link with the country started in the 1980, working from then on a multitude of research in culture and health. I would even hazard saying that she knows the country better than a lot of Indonesian, especially those who grows up in the comfort of the metropolitan Jakarta, like me. From simply having lived in more remote areas, interact with more diverse Indonesian tribes and social classes.

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In this book she travels in more than 1 year across Indonesia, using boats, motorcycles, busses, staying in people’s houses, under tarpaulin, Indonesian style b&b. She was adopted by some families, goes to all sorts of traditional ceremonies, from wedding to funerals. Interwoved with her stories are Indonesian political history and situation, social cultural changes that she sees being in the country in different moments between 1980 to 2013 when the book is first written and published.

The book title came from the speech that our forefather declared on Indonesian Independence day on 17 August 1945. Where Soekarno said

We, the people of Indonesia, hereby declare the independence of Indonesia. Matters relating to the transfer of power etc. will be executed carefully and as soon as possible.

In Indonesian

Kami bangsa Indonesia dengan ini menjatakan kemerdekaan Indonesia. Hal2 jang mengenai pemindahan kekoeasaan d.l.l., diselenggarakan dengan tjara seksama dan dalam tempoh jang sesingkat-singkatnja.

D.l.l is the Etc. She reckons that the Etc seems to still be unsorted, this point continues on as the thread in the book. Some would argue that no country is ‘sorted’, every country in this world is continously trying to sort themselves in one way or another. I think by the time you read this book, you can see what she means, that Indonesia has it unique way of chosing to be in a state of permanent Etc or Dan Lain Lain.

Indonesia is such a complex country, I quite often struggle to define my feelings about it. When people ask me whether I would go back to live there, whether I miss it and what I love about it, they are really hard questions for me. Elisabeth thinks that her relationship with Indonesia is similar to being in a relationship with a really beautiful and fun but Bad Boyfriend, that you love so much but really frustrating to be with, I would say it is the most apt and honest description of my feelings towards my home nation.

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There were a lot of things that I came away from reading this book, but there is one thing that I concluded about her trip, perhaps with a hint of jealousy is that: I (me an Indonesian women) could have never done what she did, travelling alone, being welcomed in different houses and families. She has the advantage of being both foreign and fluent in Indonesian. I would emphasise on her being foreign. Sure, she had a moment when she realised that people distanced themselves when they thought of her being as a women had brought a mythical bad luck to an alligator shaman’s fate. Being a ‘native’ women, I would have not even come close to experience that, they would have not been welcomed in the first hand, not that I want to, it is a bit too scary.

What? hold on, an aligator shaman? Yup. I am sorry I can’t tell you any more. You just have to read the book.

After you read it, let me know what you think. I am really interested from Indonesian living abroad, do you feel the same? From Indonesian living in Indonesia, what do you think is right and what do you think is not? Do you think we are still in the Dan lain lain state? From those who are foreign nationals, does it give you a good understanding of Indonesia?