The history of Indonesia is as detailed, colourful and elaborate as the batik fabrics, the chiselled leather shadow puppets and the intricate temple carvings … each pertaining to a number of different cultures and cosmologies, which are laid before and sold to foreign tourists. Visitors are presented with a treasure, a puzzle, a cultural melange which challenges any outlander to understand ‘what goes on here’?. Who will take up the challenge of meeting Indonesia?
Of the 14 thousand islands comprising the archipelago nation of Indonesia, I have as yet visited only one. But I have some facts. The islands are volcanic. The climate is tropical, the flora and fauna seen in Indonesia appear only in the centrally heated interiors or zoos of Europe and North America.
I loved it, my one island being Java … a place where life goes by, oozing and meandering, ocassionally lashed and flashed by torrential rain into spurts of heat-fuelled growth.
I understand that the colonial period … Oh, let’s wave a watercolour brush over four or five hundred years … was tumultuous. After the fact, it seems that many Indonesians harbour a secret melancholic wish, that the British had stayed and left them with at least a railroad.
In as yet limited reading, I understand that the period of Independence – covering both instances – has been marked by bitter bouts of settling scores and jockeying for political position and financial advantage.
It is likely that my naivety and my foreignness will prevent my ever understanding the complexity of Indonesia. However, my untrustworthy – by dint of being disembodied and confused – senses sensed that the Sultanate of Yogyakarta is something apart.
Yogyakarta seems both more relaxed and less modernised … and in that, more civilised … than the sardine-can streets and soulless ‘pack ’em high’ corporate headquarters, hotels and apartment blocks of Jakarta.
Indeed, the Sultanate is deemed a ‘Special Region’, and it seems that the people trust the Sultan and feel safe within this protectorate. The words humming in my mind – in English translation – are from Bach’s Cantata ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ … “If the Sovereign wisely ruleth, ever peace and plenty floweth, and the land reward shall reap”.
I have unsteadily ridden a bicycle through rice fields, visited the Sultan’s Water Palace which had a curious semblance to Spain’s Moorish palace, the Alhambra, and successfully navigated the path between the Banyan trees behind the Sultan’s palace in the quadrangle of Alun Alun Kiddul.
In the province, where the land falls in a tapestry of green, there is an abundance of natural beauty. Smart move to market outdoor pursuits … trekking, foraging, white-water rafting. But, after all, for Western warmth seekers, this is not really a bikini-tastic destination. Read my next blog about ‘Bikinis VS Culture’.