Post D: Collectivism in Indonesia

Collectivism is the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it. Through an analysis of Indonesian culture it becomes evident that a collectivist mentality is at the core of the Indonesian social structure. By looking at social structures such as the Kampung, groups such as Taring Padi and the Wayang or shadow puppet performances collectivist mentalities are identified.

Collectivism in Indonesia is not new. A Kampung translated into English is a hamlet or village. However, Kampung’s function on the idea of Gatong–royong (communal work). Anthropologist Robert A. Hahn writes, “There is respect for those who contribute to the general village welfare over personal gain. And the spirit of Gotong –royong … is promoted as a cultural value.” (Hahn 1999). However, with colonisation came capitalism and individualist ideals. Yet, Gotong-royong was still popular. This is evidenced by the strength of the communist party from 1945 until 1965.

Kampung Naga, Salawu District, Western Java (Demming 2002)
Kampung Naga, Salawu District, Western Java (Demming 2002)

Despite capitalism prevailing collectivist ideals remained. Core to Indonesian culture and learning were the Wayang (shadow puppets). The Wayang have existed since the first century CE and are still popular today. The shows teach social, cultural and religious values. They can last up to nine hours and are often put on by older members of the community, taking turns to tell the story to the younger generations. The act of sharing the load in the dissemination of information highlights a collectivist mindset and it is not uncommon to see an entire Kampung join together to keep this tradition alive.

Wayang or Shadow puppet performance (Meili 2015)
Wayang or Shadow puppet performance
(Meili 2015)

Additionally, in a modern context we see the Taring Padi group practice strong collectivist mentalities. Alexander Supartono writes that the groups founding ideals were “progressive, inclusive and militant”. (Supartono 2011) Its founding members believe that if the group is to survive an environment would have to be established that “verifies the collective’s organisational inclusivity”. (Supartono 2011)

Collective carving (International institute of social history 2002)
Collective carving
(International institute of social history 2002)

They believe in collective ownership. These ideals are a culmination of a thousand years of collectivist thinking. Supartono talks of Taring Padi’s use of “animalistic mystification of antagonistic figures” (Supartono 2011). Here they may have drawn inspiration from the Wayang.

Taring Padi artwork (International institute of social history 2002)
Taring Padi artwork
(International institute of social history 2002)

Collectivism is an idea that is central to Indonesian art and life. It permeates through every aspect of their lives and I believe it is integral to understand this if one wants to begin to understand the day-to-day habits of the Indonesian people.

References

Dyne, J. 2009, Taring Padi Artist Collective, GPL, Yogjakarta, viewed April 20 2015, <https://jaromil.dyne.org/journal/taring_padi.html>.

Hahn, R. 1999, Anthropology in Public Health: Bridging Differences in Culture and Society, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

International institute of social history 2002, Posters by Taring Padi, Institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Indonesia, viewed April 17 2015, <http://socialhistory.org/en/collections/posters-taring-padi>.

Meili Go. 2015, Dive into the new bag collection, van ‘t leven producties, Amsterdam, viewed April 17 2015, <http://www.meili-go.com/news>.

Supatono, A. 2011, ‘Pendahuluan/Introduction’, Taring Padi: Seni Membongkar Tirani, Lumbung Press, Yogjakarta, Indonesia, pp. 7-23.

Demming, R. 2002, Kampung Naga, viewed April 21 2015, <http://rdemming.home.xs4all.nl/Travel/Indonesia/>.

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2 thoughts on “Post D: Collectivism in Indonesia

  1. Hey Sean, great post. After having completed my own research report its nice to come back and read such a concise explanation of ‘collectivism’ which resinates through so much of what I’ve been looking at. Your final paragraph addressing the centralised nature of this practise and the necessity in understanding this, to understand Indonesian culture, highlights the holistic nature of the practise.

    Collectivism is evident in many cultures on a global scale. The initial example thats comes to mind is Australia’s own Indigenous culture. The way in which a child is raised, taught and cared for by the wider community in conjunction with the continual inclusion and care toward elderly members, summarises much of what collectivism stands for.

    Having grown up in a individualist culture I can critically understand my own values as alining with this: awarding social status, personal achievements, innovation and individual wealth. Interesting that capitalism- an attributor of individualist culture- which I generally understand in the contact of our ecological status, can so dramatically shape our values, ambitions and interactions.

    You might find this TedTalk by Fred Weiner interesting. Its called ‘Capitalising on the Collectivist Culture of Deaf Community’. It deconstructs some of the more primal aspects of collectivism within a minority group as pose to ethnic culture.

  2. Hey Sean, great post. After having completed my own research report its nice to come back and read such a concise explanation of ‘collectivism’ which resinates through so much of what I’ve been looking at. Your final paragraph addressing the centralised nature of this practise and the necessity in understanding this, to understand Indonesian culture, highlights the holistic nature of the practise.

    Collectivism as a practise is evident in many cultures on a global scale. The initial example thats comes to mind is Australia’s own Indigenous culture. The way in which a child is raised, taught and cared for by the wider community in conjunction with the continual inclusion and care toward elderly members, summarises much of what collectivism stands for.

    Having grown up in a individualist culture I can critically understand my own values as alining with this: awarding social status, personal achievements, innovation and individual wealth. Interesting that capitalism- an attributor of individualist culture- which I generally understand in the context of our economical status, can so dramatically shape our values, ambitions and interactions.

    You might find this TedTalk by Fred Weiner interesting. Its called ‘Capitalising on the Collectivist Culture of Deaf Community’. It deconstructs some of the more primal aspects of collectivism within a minority group as appose to ethnic culture.

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