Malaysia’s claim to two dances steps on Indonesia’s toes
JAKARTA, June 19 — Datuk Seri Rais Yatim’s call to include two Sumatran dances into the country’s cultural register has sparked condemnation from the Indonesia’s Batak community and a Sumatran lawmaker to respond with force while others ask for clarification.
The information, communication and culture minister had said last Thursday that Tor-Tor and Gordang Sambilan would be added to the 2005 National Heritage Act, according to state news agency Bernama.
Rais (picture) had said the dances were part of the country’s diverse culture and should be “performed regularly in front of [Malaysian and international] crowds.”
But the news riled Indonesians and The Jakarta Post quoted Indonesian Education and Culture Ministry spokesman Ibnu Hamad as saying his office would seek confirmation from the Malaysian government about the report.
“We will recheck that information,” he said. “If it’s true, I hope the Malaysian government will not forget all the earlier cases of claims that sparked protests from the Indonesian people, which are counterproductive for the relationships between Indonesia and Malaysia.
“It’s best that Malaysia clarifies the real purpose for putting Tor-Tor on their national heritage list. If they want recognition as the owners of the dance arbitrarily, we definitely can’t accept that.”
Ibnu said both dances were part of the Batak Mandailing culture and performed in honour of their ancestors, making the dances part of Indonesian heritage.
Saleh Salam Harahap, chairman of the Batak Mandailing Customary Institute, told the Tempo.co news portal that migrants from Mandailing had long settled in Malaysia, bringing their culture with them and leading the Malaysian government to lay claim to the dances.
“The culture has been around in Mandailing for 500 years,” Saleh said on Sunday. “There are two Mandailing customary communities in Malaysia — I know both of their leaders. There’s no way the Mandailing leaders in Perak and Kuala Lumpur will keep quiet about this.”
Lawmaker Ruhut Sitompul, whose family hails from North Sumatra, said Indonesia must use hard diplomacy to defend the country’s cultural heritage.
“Once in a while, I think it’s necessary that we bomb [Malaysia] as a form of shock therapy,” the Democratic Party politician said. “Otherwise they will keep oppressing us. There’s no need for diplomacy — they always find excuses.”
In 2007, Malaysia claimed the traditional lion dance from Ponorogo, East Java, by posting an image of the costume used for the dance on its heritage website heritage.gov.my.
That year, the Malaysian Tourism Board also released a tourism commercial featuring the song “Rasa Sayange”. The board claimed the song originated from Malaysia, although the lyrics were not in Malay but in a Maluku dialect.
Two years later, the board featured the Balinese Pendet dance in one of its “Visit Malaysia” commercials. Malaysia claimed it was mix-up, blaming the production house that produced the commercial.
Malaysia has never retracted its claims on the Ponorogo lion dance and “Rasa Sayange” song.