The Jakarta Post, Surakarta Sat, July 07 2012
Indonesians should learn from the Dutch colonials in promoting the country’s tangible and intangible heritage, including preserving the main purpose of watercourses, said historians at the 22nd Conference of the International Association of Historians of Asia (IAHA), held from July 2 to 6 in Surakarta, Central Java.
Achmad Sunjayadi, the coordinator of the Dutch Study program of the School of Cultural Sciences at the University of Indonesia (UI), said Indonesia’s tourism promotion projects had been initiated by the Dutch during the colonial era.
This included the promotion of tangible objects, such as palaces, statues and monuments, as well as intangible objects such as the keris (Javanese dagger), batik, gamelan (classical instruments), wayang (leather puppets) and traditional dance costumes.
“The Dutch had promoted the country’s culture and heritage since 1908,” said Achmad on the sidelines of the conference, attended on Wednesday by hundreds of local and international historians.
The promotion was carried out by the Vereeniging Toeristenverkeer (VTV), an institution that has focused on tourism promotion and development. In 1908, VTV, for instance, published guide books titled Java Wonderland and Gids voor Java, and later a tourism magazine in 1934.
VTV also held selection of more than 12,000 photographers for photo shoots and used the chosen images for guide books and postcards.
“The Dutch were very serious in promoting Indonesia’s tourism [industry] during the period,” Achmad added.
He said that the Indonesian government should carry on the good things that had been started by the Dutch colonials, but the fact was far from ideal, as some cultures were apparently to be “abandoned”.
“Take wayang. During the Dutch colonial period, there had always been wayang and traditional dancers in every traditional event, but today, most people consider that such performances are not too catchy, so people opt to shift to non-Indonesia shows,” said Ahmad, who finished his research on “Tangible and Intangible Tourism Objects in Colonial Indonesia” in 2011.
He continued that this might sound ironic, as Indonesia is the owner of its own cultures. Among ways in developing the country’s potential are either by continuing the development of the current culture or exploring new potentials.
“Everything has been available in the past. The easiest way is to continue preserving it,” said Achmad.
Yogyakarta Archeological Center archaeologist Gunadi Kasnowihardjo also highlighted the urgency of reserving watercourses, expressing his concern over the current situation of rivers across the country.
Lakes back then were considered as sources of life and were well connected with surrounding plantations and forests, Gunadi said.
Gunadi has done research on lakes in East Java and came up with a result titled “The Future of an Ancient Lake: Studies of Ancient Settlement Patterns in the Lake areas in East Java, Indonesia” in 2011.
Lake Bethok drew his attention, as it was believed to be the main watercourse and source of life in the ancient period, following the findings of a number of artifacts in the area. The lake is now drying up.
There is now only 1-meter of water in the lake during the rainy season, while throughout the dry season it is used even for farming.
“From now on, it is necessary to revive the ancient philosophy on water and forests, raising awareness that they are sources of life in a bid to save the future generation,” said Gunadi, suggesting to include education on environmental awareness in the current curriculum.