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  • Oktober 2007
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We’ve lost that loving feeling


The extent of Malaysia-bashing in the Indonesian media is mind-boggling, especially when we have always regarded Indonesians as close friends and neighbours.

ISN’T IT the quirkiest of ironies? A folk song meant to express the feeling of love has become a subject of spite and resentment. 

Rasa Sayang has already spread much rasa benci (feeling of hate) against Malaysia among some segments of Indonesian society. And as I found out during a week-long trip to Jakarta and Bandung, there has been no let-up in their aversion to Malaysia.

Things haven’t come to the stage of rekindling acrimony against Malaysia to Konfrontasi (1962-66) levels yet, but what is being written in the Indonesian media about us is alarmingly acerbic.

A shameless thief of Indonesia’s cultural heritage. In a nutshell, that’s the image limned by politicians and media commentators who have been busy vilifying Malaysia.

Indonesia’s Tourism and Cultural Minister Jero Wacikhas threatened to sue Malaysia for copyright violation of Rasa Sayang in the Malaysia Truly Asia tourism promotion campaign.

Karel Albert Ralahalu, the governor of Maluku, supposedly the place where the song originated, has even demanded that the matter be brought before the International Court of Justice for arbitration.

Letters published in Indonesian newspapers reflect the current disposition, like this excerpt from one, which appeared in the Jakarta Post:

“Malaysia suffers from inferiority complex. They have a habit of claiming things which are not theirs. They promote the Twin Towers because they don’t have any ancient monuments to be proud of.”

The discord over Rasa Sayang and two other issues – the assault of Indonesian karate coach Donald Luther Kalapita by Malaysian cops in August and continuing media highlights of Indonesian maids abused by Malaysian employers – have brought our relationship to a low.

Even the mostly nice Indonesians whom I met last week couldn’t resist talking about the song, which they spell as Rasa Sayange. All of them insisted that it is the accepted folk tune of Maluku (also known as the Mollucas isles) and that they had learned it as schoolchildren.

But most Indonesians don’t realise that Malays, who make up the majority of Malaysians in the peninsula, are not “Malay” as in the context of people from the Riau province on the eastern side of Sumatra, which include Batam, Bintan and some 3,200 other islands.

Not many also know that under our Constitution, a Malay is a political rather than ethnic definition – a person who practises the customs and culture of the Malays, speaks the language and is a Muslim.

So, based on ethnic considerations, the majority of Malaysians are in essence Javanese, Bugis, Banjarese, Acehnese, Minangkabaus, Bataks, Makarese, Malukus, Sunda, Bawean, in addition to the Malays from the Riau region.

The roots of these diverse groups are so deep that the languages, dialects and patois are still spoken in enclaves.

So, is it really such a big deal if they consider their ancient folk songs as part of a shared heritage?

And what’s wrong if these songs have also been learned by the children of Malaysians whose forefathers came from Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan, Guanxi and other provinces in China or by the descendants of immigrants from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, Gujerat, Bengal or Punjab in India?

We can’t fault Indonesians if they get upset over our ministers making silly statements about bloggers, or over the assault on their karate coach, or over the unlawful detention of an Indonesian diplomat’s wife by a Rela member.

But it’s really a tad wacky for them to get all hot and bothered over the song Rasa Sayang.

If it is really a case of Malaysia stealing a part of Indonesia’s heritage, then Bollywood has been there and done that – 48 years ago.  Legendary Hindi playback singers Mohd Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar recorded Rasa Sayang in a 1959 movie shot in Singapore which starred Shammi Kapoor, with Maria Menado (the acclaimed Indonesian actress who eventually took up Malaysian citizenship) as a guest star.

The chorus in the Hindi lyrics go like this: Rasa sayang re, Rasa sayang sayang re, Hey, pyar ka hee nam? (Hey, is this called love?), Rasa sayang sayang re.

Unlike patented inventions and copyrighted contemporary music, it is not easy to determine the ownership of traditional songs that are common to the cultures of a region, just as it is not easy to claim ownership of cultural heritages that have been adapted or assimilated from the influences of more dominant civilisations.

For example, would it be fair to argue that many aspects of Indonesia’s heritage – like its ever-present symbol of Garuda, the imposing statues of Ganesha or Bhima which stand outside buildings, or the majestic sculpture of horses pulling Arjuna’s chariot in the middle of Jakarta – belong to Hinduism and India?

Just how would Indonesians feel if they were accused of “stealing” from India’s much richer cultural heritage?

The extent of Malaysia-bashing in the Indonesian media is rather mind-boggling. Whether or not the Indonesian media or its politicians realise it, Malaysians have always regarded Indonesians as their close friends and neighbours.

We have always loved their music and appreciated their composers and singers, whether or not they have embraced ours – besides P. Ramlee in the past and Siti Nurhaliza now.

Peter Pan, Dewa, Samsons, Ruth Sahanaya and Anggun are household names in Malaysia today, just as D’lloyds, The Mercy’s, Broery Marantika, Bob Tutupoly, Hetty Koes Endang and Diana Nasution were for my generation.

Indonesians already make up the largest number of foreigners in Malaysia, far exceeding the population of the Indian community and other minorities. There are now some two million Indonesians working in the various sectors. As for the number of those who are in the country illegally, it is anybody’s guess.

It may not sound polite to mention this but whenever Indonesia faces any calamity, Malaysians are usually among the first to empathise and extend help.

Indonesians might also want to note that Malaysians don’t raise a hue and cry, or resort to demonstrations or flag-burning, when faced annually with hazardous haze from the burning of forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

So, the message to all the bapak-bapak and ibu-ibu out there is: Let’s bring rasa sayang back into our relationship instead of arguing over whether the song is yours or mine.

You can be rest assured that Malaysians will never claim ownership to Benci Tapi Rindu (Hate but still miss).

M. Veera Pandiyan, Deputy Editor, New Media, is a great admirer of the late A. Riyanto, one of Indonesia’s greatest composers and musicians.



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