The Cia-Cia’s Adoption of the Korean Alphabet: Matters of Identities and Regional Autonomy in Indonesia

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The Cia-Cia’s Adoption of the Korean Alphabet:

Matters of Identities and Regional Autonomy in Indonesia1
Seung-Won Song (Hankuk University oh Foreign Studies)

In August 2009, Amirul Tamim, the mayor (2003-present) of Baubau City on Buton Island,2 announced that the Cia-Cia ethnic group in the region had just adopted Hangul, the Korean alphabet, as its writing system. This ethnic group, with a population of about 60,000, has lived mostly in the Buton District and on its nearby islands. One third of the ethnic group now resides in Baubau. This export of Hangul was initiated by the Hunmin Jeongeum Society in Korea,3 which has attempted to export Hangul to a number of remote areas in countries such as China, Nepal, and Thailand. Since July 2009, an elementary school in the Sorawolio sub-district, the major residential area for the Cia-Cia community in Baubau, has been teaching students above the 4th grade the Cia-Cia language with the Hangul script. In addition, the street signs in this area are now written in both Roman and Korean characters.

This adoption of Hangul represents a unique incident for both Indonesia and Korea. Since its creation in 1443, the Hangul script had only been used for the Korean language. In the case of Indonesia, some Indonesian kingdoms in the classical ages borrowed parts of the Indian and Arabic alphabets to write their own languages. In the beginning of the 20th century, nationalists in Indonesia adopted the Roman alphabet for Bahasa Indonesia (the national Indonesian language). The successive adoption of these scripts was the result of the age-old connections between these regions, such as trade, religious networks, immigration, and colonial control. In this regard, the import of Hangul is perplexing because the two regions (Baubau and Korea) had never had any contact prior to this case.

Furthermore, this is the first breakaway from the language policy of the previous New Order regime under President Suharto (1966-1998), whose primary goal was national unity through centralization. Under this social mode, Bahasa Indonesia was emphasized as the national medium while local languages were not able to be properly preserved. Bahasa Indonesia was also one of the symbols of nationalism, as represented in the national slogan “satu bahasa, satu bangsa, satu negara (one language, one people, one nation).” Bahasa Indonesia has been regarded by the Indonesians as an absolute value system. Thus, it was absolutely not likely to happen during the New Order period that a region adopted a foreign alphabet without any sanction from the center.

This paper aims to increase understanding of the dynamics behind and the internal requirement for, the adoption of Hangul in Baubau city. The Hangul project was drawn up by the local elites in Baubau as the means to fulfill more essential political and economic goals. This study has significance because the Hangul project in Baubau is not merely an accident of history, but rather a prism through which observers can understand the social changes taking place in the peripheries in the post-Suharto period. Particularly, it reveals how the relationship between the central and local regions in Indonesia has experienced rapid changes, and how these peripheral regions have developed survival methods in the era of regional autonomy.

Several questions will be addressed. First, under what socio-political contexts was Hangul imported? Second, who were the main forces behind its adoption? Third, what are the eventual goals of Baubau city by adopting the Hangul script? Fourth, how did the people of Baubau, especially the Cia-Cia people, react to this project? Finally, what are the implications for current regional politics in Indonesia?
Brief Introduction to Baubau City and the Hangul Project

Buton Island was a part of the Buton Sultanate, which was lasted from the 15th century to 1960.4 When this region was integrated into the Indonesian republic, the territory was turned into Buton District, which had been subjugated into Southeast Sulawesi Province (Propinsi Sulawesi Tenggara) in 1950. Later in 2001, with the introduction of the new revision of administrative districts, Buton District was divided into four districts (Buton, Buton Utara, Wakatobi, and Bombana) and the autonomous city district of Baubau.

In Baubau, which was formerly the administrative center of the Buton District and before that the capital of the Buton Sultanate, there are six ethnic groups, namely the Cia-Cia, Wolio, Muna, Suai, Kalisusu, and Moronene, of which the Cia-Cia and the Wolio are the two most dominant in the region. Since 1491, the major religion in this region has been a form of Islam containing an amalgam of Shia and Sunni sects as well as other facets borrowed from other religions and beliefs such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and local animism. The most prominent feature of the city’s cultural heritage is its fortress, with its 3 km long walls. This fortress was divided into inner and outer areas, functioning as the administrative center and the area in which the commoners and slaves lived, respectively.

The Buton sultanate gained prosperity as a transit port in the sea route to reach the Maluku islands (the Spice Islands) during the Europe’s involvement in the Indian Ocean Trade. Unlike other fortresses found in Southeast Asia, which were constructed by the European trading forces, the Baubau fortress was built by the local people in order to defend themselves against the expansionism of the nearby kingdoms of Gowa and Ternate. While the kingdom of Gowa was a constant enemy, the relationship between Buton and Ternate did fluctuate. When Gowa expanded its power over its eastern part of the region, Buton and Ternate cooperated with each other to defeat Gowa’s attacks. When Gowa was silent, however, Buton was forced to yield to Ternate’s demands for slaves or territories.5 Eventually, in the 17th century, Buton became part of the military alliances of Bone (under the legendary hero Arung Palaka) and the Verenigde Oost-indische Compagnie (VOC, the Dutch East India Company), both of which were the fervent enemies of Gowa. This alliance then defeated Gowa in 1669.6 Following this, Buton enjoyed its status as an independent kingdom at the time of Pax Netherlandica until the 19th century.7 At the same time, however, Buton had to deal with VOC’s demands on unequal treaties. In 1906, with the Asyikin-Brugman Treaty, Buton became a Dutch colony.8 Until the formation of the Republic of Indonesia, Buton remained a local area under Dutch authority.

Following a suggestion from Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, the Sultan of Buton decided to integrate the region into the Indonesia republic, which resulted in the abolition of the Sultanate in 1960. Unlike regions such as Makassar, Ambon, or Ternate, which emerged as the central regions of East Indonesia during the republic era, Baubau remained a remote and unknown city to most Indonesians until recently. In the absence of any major industries aside from the asphalt and nickel mines and the export of trepang (sea cucumber), the region remained marginal and seriously underdeveloped. Cargo ships deliver most indispensable industrial products from Surabaya or Makassar regularly. The once prosperous region and the hub of the spice trade during the Buton Sultanate has now been reduced to a poor area, with employment restricted to farming and fishing.

The Hangul project began with the inauguration of the 9th International Symposium of Manuscripts (Simposium Internasional Pernaskahan Ke-9) on August 5-8, 2005, in the city. This symposium was the first international event in the contemporary history of Baubau city. The participants of the symposium included Chun Tai-Hyun, a Malaysian language specialist from Korea. During his city-tour after the symposium, this specialist made a joke to mayor Tamim that a local language that he had just heard was similar to Korean in sound. Tamim explained that it was the Cia-Cia language, which was on the verge of extinction partly because it did not have a writing system.

The causes of language extinction are various, but most often include dominant economic and cultural influences of the nation-states. Due to any combination of various external pressures of differential economic power, military takeover, globalization, cultural expansion, differential food resources, immigration, or religious conversion taking place in the boundary regions of a nation-state, small-scale societies cannot depend on their traditional ways of living but are forced to adopt certain cultural elements of the mainstream ethnic group to survive.9 Accordingly, they also have to learn the official language(s). Inevitably, they go through a transitional period of bilingualism. Yet, in most cases, this period does not last long and the ethnic languages soon become extinct. In Indonesia, where there are about 700 local languages, the matter of language extinction has also been regarded as a serious concern. In addition, the mono-language policy in Indonesia and especially the new curriculum introduced in 1975, which suspended the education of local languages, accelerated the extinction of local languages. Although local language education was revived in 1989, the Indonesian Ministry of Education also passed a law that enhanced English language classes. As a result, local language education began to decline again. Furthermore, the centralization of the New Order regime rendered voluntary efforts implemented in local regions to preserve local languages difficult.

Since the 1990s Hunmin Jeongeum Society, a private organization composed of Korean linguists, had been trying to export Hangul to ethnic groups such as the Lahu in the border area of Thailand and Myanmar, the Oroquen and Luoba, the Evenks in China, and some others in remote areas of Nepal. However, in every case these projects failed, often due to the indifference of local authorities, and in the Northeast China Project stalemate occurred after authorities there attempted to claim as their own the histories of the early Korean kingdoms of Gojoseon, Koguryo, and Balhae,10

In 2005, when Chun Tai-Hyun, the then deputy Chair of the Hummin Jeongeum Society, suggested that Hangul script be used for the Cia-Cia language, Amirul Tamim immediately responded positively. Later, in August 2008, Chun brought the representatives of the Hunmin Jeongeum Society, including the Chair, Lee Ho Young, also a language specialist, to Baubau. They signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with mayor Tamim regarding the utilization of Hangul in Baubau and the training of several Hangul teachers. Based on this MOU, Lee invited one English teacher in Baubau to Seoul on December 2008 and began to develop a Hangul transcription system for the Cia-Cia language and the creation of teaching material entitled, Bahasa Cia-Cia I. After 6 months, Lee and his colleagues brought this teaching material to Baubau and read out the Cia-Cia language from Hangul script in front of the representatives of the Cia-Cia ethnic community. The Cia-Cia representatives were satisfied to hear that the words of Cia-Cia language were being almost correctly delivered without the loss of meaning in Hangul.

Several official explanations have been provided by Baubau city and Hunmin Jeongeum Society concerning the easy acceptance of Hangul. The first was the effectiveness of the Hangul script.11 Hangul is a phonetic symbol system, which is thus very easy to learn and transcribe. In addition, they argue that Hangul is more appropriate to transcribe the Cia-Cia language than the Roman alphabet. The Cia-Cia language uses implosive /p/ and /t/ sounds, while Bahasa Indonesia does not. Thus, if these are transcribed using the Roman alphabet, these make plosive

or sounds. For instance, the Cia-Cia word /popa/, written in Roman script as /popa/ is confusing to the Cia-Cia community because it can be read either with a plosive /p/ or implosive /ɓ/. If we transcribe this word in Hangul, /popa/ can be transcribed as /포파/, the implosive /p/ sounds.12

However, there were also limitations in transcribing every pronunciation of the Cia-Cia language in Hangul. In order to solve these problems and to be able to transcribe these particular pronunciations, Lee and his colleagues revived the old Korean characters, which are not used in the current Hangul system. The examples included the /r/ and /v/ sounds. As Hangul does not clearly distinguish between /r/ and /l/ sounds, it can cause serious confusion in transcribing these sounds. Accordingly, Lee suggested the utilization of /ᇐ/, a defunct letter in the Hangul alphabet, to transcribe /l/, while using the letter /ㄹ/ to only represent the sound of /r/. The utilization of /ᇐ/, though, caused a further problem because current computer keyboards do not provide this letter. Accordingly, as a temporary solution, /ᇐ/ is being transcribed in Hangul as the addition of the script /을/, which can be transcribed in Roman as /eul/. For instance, /lima/ is transcribed in Hangul as /을리마/, which can be transcribed in Roman as /eul li ma/. In another example, Lee and his colleagues revived the letter /ㅸ/ from the older Hangul alphabet to represent the sound /v/, as there is no /v/ sound in current Korean language.

A third explanation for the easy adoption of the Hangul script was that as a phonetic system, Hangul is very convenient to use when working with computers. As one of regional development plans proposed by mayor Tamim was the creation of a ‘cyber city,’ the potential effectiveness of Hangul as an electronic medium was regarded as highly beneficial.13

In addition to these functional reasons, the positive images of Korea held by the Baubau people have also affected their decision to adopt Hangul. The first contributor to this image has been Hallyu, the Korean wave, which landed in Baubau in the early 2000s. Originating from the popularization of Korean dramas and pop music, Hallyu has resulted in a keen awareness and appreciation of Korean popular culture, and Korea in general, across much of Southeast Asia, The other important factor regarding the country’s image is Korea’s rapid economic growth. Korea has been regarded by many Southeast Asians as the model country in terms of economic development. These factors are counted as the major reasons why Hangul was accepted in the region without considerable resistance.

Even so, all these factors are somewhat superficial and do not adequately explain the following fundamental questions. First, the adoption of a foreign script does not easily match with the local strategies in current Indonesian socio-political settings. One of the major characteristics apparent in the peripheral regions is the voluntary effort to enhance ethnic and regional identities, and in this regard Baubau is not exceptional. Yet, the adoption of a foreign writing system can be regarded as the weakening force for regional or ethnic identities. Second, as addressed earlier, Bahasa Indonesia (as the form written in Roman alphabet) has been an important mechanism used to promote Indonesian nationalism. Accordingly, when the news on Cia-Cia’s adoption of Hangul was released, the general response of the Indonesian government can best be described as an anxiety over the possible breakdown of the Indonesian’s national unity. Indeed, Nicholas Dammen, the Indonesian ambassador to Korea, questioned the necessity of the utilization of Hangul and said that the Cia-Cia people could have used the Roman alphabet instead of Hangul. He also added that this adoption of Hangul could arouse possible ethnic jealousy among other nearby ethnic groups if Korea’s support for and interest in the Cia-Cia increases.14 This concern was shared by the Korean government, which was reluctant to support the project fully, although many Koreans expressed their great pride over Hangul being used for another ethnic group and willingness to support it. The Korean government was afraid that its support might ruin diplomatic relations with Indonesia.15

The importation of Hangul by Baubau officials was thus a sensitive issue. Nevertheless, it is apparent that its perceived benefits outweighed any potential disadvantages. Baubau’s desire to adopt Hangul must have arisen from the internal socio-political dynamics caused by the launch of the regional autonomy in the early 2000s.

Regional Autonomy as the Background of the Adoption of Hangul

During the New Order era, the Indonesian government controlled the whole nation not only in administrative and economic spheres, but also in the cultural realm. In this highly centralized administration, the New Order regime reinforced the dependence of regional governments in virtually all matters concerning administration, finance, and legal systems. During this period it was simply unthinkable that an ethnic group or a city would be able to adopt a foreign script without any consultation with the central government.

What enabled Baubau to proceed with the Hangul project was the promulgation of regional autonomy, which fundamentally changed the Indonesian society after the collapse of Suharto’s rule. Regional autonomy started with the passing of a series of regional autonomy laws during the short presidential period of B. J. Habibie (May 1998-Oct. 1999), who had replaced Suharto after his resignation. By guaranteeing the freedom of the Press and allowing the formation of political parties, Habibie also set in motion a referendum in East Timor on its independence, as well as allowing increased autonomy in Aceh in order to placate the fervor of demands for separation from Indonesia. This brought similar demands for autonomous rights in other regions, which resulted in a nationwide call for decentralization.

Decentralization brought changes in local leadership patterns. Previously in the New Order regime, as a centralizing strategy, serving or retired military officers were appointed as regional governors, city mayors, and leaders of rural districts in areas outside their hometowns. However, following the passing of Law 22/1999 local elites were no longer nominated in Jakarta but directly elected by regional parliaments. This heightened regional autonomy was aimed at bringing “more accountability to the local levels and develop policies to reflect local interest.”16

The most remarkable aspect of the decentralization process was pemekaran, which literally means ‘blossoming.’ This is the practice in which the central government allows the division of provinces and districts into small administrative units, when requested by regions themselves, and if their demands are assessed to be reasonable and helpful for the local management. Due to pemekaran, numerous new autonomous provinces, districts, and sub-districts have been created17 including the changing of Baubau’s status to an autonomous city. In these changed center-regional relations, the few remaining responsibilities for the central government included “national defense and security, foreign policy, fiscal and monetary matters, macro-economic planning, natural resources, justice and religion.”18 Meanwhile, regions could have autonomy with regard to “public works, education and culture, health care, agriculture, transport, industry, trade, investments, environmental issues, cooperation, labor, and land.”19 Among those categories, the inclusion of “education and culture” in the realm of regional autonomy should be emphasized. This signifies that there should be no official (central) hindrance to Baubau adopting Hangul as an aid for the preservation of local languages as this falls under the category of education and culture. This allowed Baubau to adopt Hangul without sanction from the central government.

However, as Nordholt and Klinken have noted, decentralization did not mean Indonesia was becoming a so-called “night watch state,” because a regional dependence was maintained on the central government. Nordholt and Klinken highlighted the fact that Law no. 25, which was passed together with Law no. 22, maintained a centralist character as it allowed the central government to maintain its grip on the main sources of revenue of the regions, “namely 80 % of the income tax, value added tax, import duties and export taxes, and foreign aid, while it still controls a sizable number of government enterprises.”20 Nordholt and Klinken further argued that current regional autonomy was not centrifugal in character as the cases in the 1950s, when various regional revolts and central factionalization caused great chaos:

“…behind the fervor of local identity movements lay not a desire to secede but rather to outdo rivals in loyalty to Jakarta, which was still the source of cash. Indeed Jakarta offered new provinces as perks to loyalist in the regions in order to outmaneuver the separatists.”21
In this light, the current move to regional autonomy is still attached to the strong notion of Indonesian nationalism, with unity as its strong value. The local position in this regard answers the question of whether the adoption of Hangul reflects the local reaction against the New Order regime’s centralism, which was resented by most of the outer islanders as only benefiting Java, and thus has some anti-governmental characteristics.

Indeed, there are cases, elsewhere in Southeast Asia, of a local region or an ethnic group importing a foreign culture as a reaction against a central government. For instance, there has been a recent sharp decline in the practice of Akha traditional religion. Many of the Akha people, who have lived in the remote highlands in Thailand, recently abandoned zah, its traditional religion, while accepting Christianity, which had been introduced decades ago but was neglected. Kammerer analyzed the reason for the change in religion and argued that, while the economic lives of the Akha were increasingly difficult and they suffered some financial burden to sustain the worshipping ceremony of their ancestors, finally the Akha recognized the need to adopt the Thai way of life.22 Kammerer went on to examine the reason why the Akha did not adopt Thai Buddhism after its traditional religion had disappeared. She argued that the Akha recognized a certain inequality between themselves and the Thais residing in the lower valley, and as a reaction against this mainstream of the Thai society, the Akha adopted a foreign one.23 While adopting Christianity, the Akha continued to sustain the Akha language, traditional costume, and patriarchal tradition, which means that the adoption of the foreign religion does not necessarily mean the ruining of its ethnic identity.

Indeed, as in the case of Akha, the relationship between Baubau and the central Indonesian government has not been favorable, although this is not a unique case at all, as can be observed in the histories of peripheral regions during the New Order era. Aside from the reason for Baubau being the collaborator with the VOC, which was considered a national enemy of Indonesia by the nationalists, there are multiple reasons why the status of Buton was marginalized during the republic era. Initially, in the process of suggesting to the last Sultan that Buton be integrated into the republic, Sukarno promised that he would establish the Buton Province, and that its border would be delineated according to the sphere of influences of the previous Buton Sultanate. However, this promise was never kept. Furthermore, Baubau, which had been the administrative center of the Buton Sultanate, had to yield its central position in the newly-established Sulawesi Tenggara Province to Kendari (a city located on southern part of Sulawesi), which was never economically and culturally a superior or more developed than Baubau.24 Regarding this matter, a rumor circulated that a military officer originating from Kendari was involved in the process of choosing the provincial capital, and this incident is still remembered by the Butonese as the starting point for the regional’s subsequent underdevelopment.25

A more fundamental reason for the backwardness of Buton in the Republic order was related with the allegation that this region was the stronghold of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (Indonesian Communist Party), which brought violence and various sanctions on the people and region since 1969.26 With the arrival of military forces in the region, the Butonese had to deal with numerous killings and tortures, including the murder of the then district head, Kasim.27 After the purge of the alleged communists, the Butonese were forced to suffer from various long-lasting oppressions. Many Butonese were dismissed from their jobs, and important administrative positions were dominated by Suharto’s military men who were mostly from Makassar or Medan.28 The Butonese believed that these military men, particularly those from Makassar, intentionally stifled the development of the region because of the historical resentment regarding the earlier subjugation of Gowa.29 In response to the oppression and various sanctions, many Butonese emigrated to other regions and changed their Butonese names to Javanese ones in order to avoid any disadvantages due to their background.30

In spite of this unfavorable history, however, it would be inappropriate to simply conclude that the adoption of Hangul is an indirect expression of anti-government sentiment, because for Baubau, sustaining a good relationship with the center is very important, particularly in light of its continuing budgetary dependence. In addition, current regional politics, as discussed earlier, are not centrifugal in their character. Rather, the motive for importing the Hangul script is related more with economic and social issues, which will now be investigated.
The Mission of Regional Pembangunan and the Idea of Establishing the Buton Raya Province

At the heart of Baubau’s adoption of Hangul was certainly an economic aim of developing the region. This economic mission is comparable with the New Order’s pembangunan (development) policies in many regards. Suharto’s development-oriented regime prioritized pembangunan over all other social issues such as democracy and human rights. Ariel Heryanto has said that “pembangunan” was a keyword of the New Order, the other being Pancasila.31 The New Order’s concept of pembangunan can be defined as a state-led development project, based upon the ideas of modernization, secularism, and national unity, which were represented by the ideal of Pancasila. Pembangunan also represented an effort to lead the marginalized societies into the mainstream of the development of the state.32 Pembangunan did not only refer to something related to the economic achievements, but also covered virtually almost everything including cultural values, as represented in the 6th Five-Year Development Plan (1994-99) in which the idea of “culture” was broadened to include “values.” According to this plan, “cultural endeavors” should support development, while foreign values that threaten development and national identity and unity should be rejected.33 From this standpoint, Bahasa Indonesia, the official language, formed not only the symbol of the national unity, but also the strong agenda of pembangunan.

In the new era of regional autonomy, however, the meaning of pembangunan has been, for the first time in Indonesia’s history, turned into something that is determined by the local people, even if it cannot be applied to all areas of life. The Hangul project is understandable as a part of local pembangunan projects, revealing their aims and characteristics. In the period of regional autonomy, the matter of survival emerged as the primary concern for each individual region. Yet, not every region has been able to adopt such a successful approach. After being independent from the central control over the budget and money, the economic gap between rich and poor regions widened by 50 times.34 Economically less-tenable regions inevitably became dependent on the central government, or sometimes were forced to demand to be subject to the previous province. To the contrary, the rich regions have widened their opportunities for achieving active economic success. These regions often make trans-national networks and source foreign partners and funds in order to attract foreign investment. These social modes were certainly not the norm during the New Order period, when people in the regions were merely the recipients of the national development projects. In this sense, it is undeniable that the Hangul project was motivated by Baubau’s economic interests in attracting Korean investment to the city via making this cultural exchange. Baubau’s officials repeatedly expressed their desire to have closer relations with Korea, especially in terms of economic support.35

Yet, there is another strategic importance for Baubau in developing an international network with Korea. Baubau has a bigger ambition than merely positioning itself successfully as an autonomous city: it wants to achieve one more step of decentralization within the pemekaran process by newly establishing the Buton Raya Province (the Great Buton Province), which was the previously equivocal to the concept of the Buton Province. More importantly, Baubau wants to be nominated as the administrative center of the new province. With this scheme, the Butonese want to develop their region in order to emerge as the center of the eastern part of Indonesia.36

In order to fulfill this scheme, Baubau city needs to appeal to the central government by demonstrating its successful management of the city as proof of its capability of running the new province successfully once it is created. Most new regions created through pemekaran have failed to run their regions successfully, and since 2007 the central government has intensified the screening process and restricted pemekaran applications. Under these circumstances, the Hangul Project has a deeper meaning for Baubau because it is its first international project since gaining autonomous status. Such international events form an important criterion for the central government when judging whether a region can successfully run autonomously. Indeed, many local areas are eager to hold international events and establish international relationships in order to keep their autonomous statuses and survive in the competition with other local areas.37

It is still early to estimate the economic fruits borne by the Hangul project. Nevertheless, Baubau has gained some remarkable changes and benefits from it. Firstly, the city of Baubau and the Cia-Cia ethnic group could make their names known to the world press.38 Second, this project ignited the fervent nationalism of the Koreans, which resulted in their tense interest in the region. Many Korean companies, academic institutes, and individuals then have promised to provide economic benefits to the Cia-Cia ethnic group, for instance, by establishing the Korean Center in Baubau, and providing computers and books. Third, Baubau is now making numerous exchange programs and signed MOUs with various institutions including the Metropolitan District of Seoul. As an example of such MOUs, the Rural Development Administration in Korea has published a book on the traditional agricultural methods in Baubau, which was written in Indonesian, English, and the Hangul-transcribed Cia-Cia language.39 In addition, traditional artists from Baubau were invited to cultural festivals in Seoul and the Cia-Cia people were able to visit Korea through various invitations from universities and Seoul City. Third, the network with Korea brought new dreams for the people in Baubau that one day this cultural exchange would bring greater economic chances, such as working or studying in Korea. Such trans-national networking, could have never imagined in Baubau before 2000.

However, such economic determinism does not fully explain why the Baubau elites adopted Hangul, especially because, at first glance, the idea of adopting Hangul does not appear to fit into the region’s efforts to reconstruct regional identities. In the next section I examine the relationship between the concepts of modernity and regional identity as expressed through the Hangul project.
Regional Identities and the Adoption of Hangul

The first apparent aim of the local pembangunan seems to be the strong aspirations to reconstruct regional identities and revive local traditions. These identities are, not surprisingly, based on primordial ties, such as ancestry, religion, and ethnicity. As such, regional and local identities were once defined as anti-Pancasila during the New Order period and their public and cultural expression was suppressed due to a fear that they would possibly break up the nation. However, nowadays, such identities are freely expressed and have even contributed to the formation of new political identities in local regions.

While ethnicity and religion are symbols of regional identities in many regions in Indonesia, in Baubau this does not seem to be the case. Here the mix of religious homogeneity based upon syncretic Islam along multiple ethnicities has not caused serious social cleavages in society. Instead, the ideology of the regional identities is ancestry and the historical memory of the Buton Sultanate, as represented in the recent ceremony held on May 21st 2011. On the day, local elites held a historic event to revive the Sultan and nine traditional legislatures, which had been abolished in 1960. This indicates that, in line with the scheme to create the Buton Raya province, the basis of the Buton Regionalism is centered around the Butonese rather than smaller ethnic or regional groups.

At first glance, this kind of revival of traditional identities seems to run against the adoption of Hangul, which is a foreign cultural element. Nevertheless, this did not seem to bother the Baubau elites, for two apparent reasons. First, the revival of traditional identities in current times does not necessarily mean the simple return to the past itself. Rather, current regional identities in local areas in Indonesia are evolving towards a combination of the return to the ‘traditional’ and the achievement of modernity. Furthermore, in some cases, local elites use tradition to achieve modernity. A similar case is found in Minako Sakai’s study on the social changes after the launch of regional autonomy in the Sumatran provincial capitals of Medan, Padang, and Palembang. Sakai argued that in regional autonomies, local elites have enhanced the identity of the Malayness based upon Islamic identity – the identity of the dominant group of the past – in order to attract an investment from the Malay communities in Malaysia and Singapore.40 This means that these elites in Sumatra seek a trans-nationally shared identity for economic gain.41 Sakai noted that anti-Javanese sentiment, especially the resentment against the nation-led development during the New Order era, enhanced the expression of Malay identities in the region.42 In other words, Sumatra’s efforts are an outcome of the resentment towards the fact that the state was inefficient in the attention it paid to local people and the resolution that their welfare will, in the future, be taken care of by themselves.

The rise of the Sultan in Baubau is comparable to Sumatra’s enhancement of the Malay identity. As in the case of Sumatra, the local elites in Baubau do not seek a simple return to the purely traditional past. These elites have an aim to grow the city as a cosmopolitan modern city, such as Seoul and Hong Kong, which symbolize modernization, by attracting investment and emotional exchange. This trend is easily understood by analyzing the nature of the leadership of local politics in Baubau. The leadership is now dominated by the traditional aristocratic group, of whom mayor Tamim is one. These elites once lost their privileges as the dominant and controlling class in society when the Buton Sultanate was integrated into the republic. Even so, during the republic era they continued to sustain their inherited lands and comparatively good economic position compared to other societal groups. The elite class received a higher education in urban areas such as Jakarta, Yogyakarta, or Makassar, and made strong connections with the army officers in the local region and the capital. When Baubau became an autonomous region in 2000, they dominated administrative positions. Yet, it should be noted that these elites were also the products of New Order’s education and pembangunan policies. While emphasizing their ancestry and tradition as the centripetal force for the regional development, these elites are simultaneously trying to embody the core of a national Indonesian middle class culture.43

The adoption of Hangul can be understood in this regard as the regional elites in Baubau seek to establish transnational networks with Korea by adopting its writing system (even if this came about through a chance remark made by visiting Korean linguist). The enthusiastic local response to the Hangul project was made possible because of Korea’s present day image as a modern, technological, and cosmopolitan urban area, to which Baubau aspires. In other words, behind the adoption of Hangul, this socio-economic context was the most important factor. This case also implies that the New Order’s pembangunan failed to accommodate peripheral regions other than Java into a successful nation-state. This incident is also an implicit reaction against the Java-centric pembangunan, if not a reaction against the Indonesian nation-state itself, and its emphasis on Bahasa Indonesia and the Roman alphabet. Rather, it is an expression of willingness to define a region’s own ways of development in the realms of culture and local languages.

Civilizing the Margins and a Desire to be Integrated into the Mainstream of Society

One interesting finding in the adoption of Hangul is that the initiators of this project, namely the mayor and most of his government officers, are the Wolio, a different but closely related ethnic group, while the Cia-Cia have been passive recipients of the project. This fact has some significance in understanding the importance of the Hangul project and the characteristics of the pembangunan policy of these local elites in Baubau.

In Baubau, the Cia-Cia people have been located at the margins of society. In the Buton Sultanate, the Cia-Cia had formed the commoner class (Papara) in charge of defense, and lived outside the fortress, mainly in the mountain areas. In spite of its comparatively large population and the fact that many are now living in the lowlands due to the New Order’s resettlement policy, which enforced mixing of the mountain people with other ethnic groups in the 1970s, the Cia-Cia community continues to be recognized by other ethnic groups as “forgotten beings,” or “the others,” who are talented in the craft of black magic – ‘the weapon of the weak’, to use Scott’s term (1985).44 Most of them are illiterate and living without electricity. One of the reasons why the Cia-Cia community could not have its own writing system was thus found in its marginalized social status from the past to the present. Particularly, in the vortex of such regional misfortunes caused by the region’s regression during the Suharto era, the Cia-Cia people experienced extreme poverty and naturally did not have any chance to send their children to formal schooling.45 This poverty and inability prevented the Cia-Cia from preserving its local languages by adopting a writing system. In an interview, the representative of the Cia-Cia community said that the Cia-Cia community had never tried to transcribe their language into other scripts such as Arabic or Roman.46

Meanwhile, the Wolio were the rulers of the Buton state, the ruling class as well as the people living “inside” the fortress, and its language was used as the lingua franca in the region and was transcribed using the Arabic script.47 In essence, the history of Buton Sultanate was the history of the Wolio. The Buton Sultanate was well known for its strict class system, which retains a strong emotional influence even now.48 There were two aristocratic classes: Kaomu, who were in charge of administration and from which the Sultans were chosen, and Walaka, who were in charge of legislation and the election of sultans. These aristocratic groups then generally refer to the Wolio.49 Some Wolio officials were sent to the Cia-Cia’s kadie (autonomous villages) to control the region, and they sometimes married the Cia-Cia women, which resulted in the mixed blood Kaomu and Walaka groups. Mixed blood was not considered pure and thus people from these groups could not be elected as sultans.

Careful examination of the Hangul project in Baubau reveals that the project reflects the Baubau elites’ aims for pembangunan, one of which is to incorporate the marginalized people into the administrative control under the Baubau’s elites, and to make these minorities conform to the norms of the ruling majority in the region. Pembangunan policy of this kind to form the marginalized social strata as the primary target of pembangunan is a common practice everywhere, and most Southeast Asian governments have been following the same strategies. The difference is that, while these governments aimed at integrating their minorities living at the mountain areas into the nation-state through such pembangunan policy,50 local pembangunan aimed at integrating their minorities into the boundary of local politics.

In addition, as Christopher Duncan has argued, the national development did not only refer to raising the standard of living, but also to raising the level of “civilization” of these marginalized groups through various social engineering projects, which aimed at “bringing indigenous ethnic minorities into the ‘modern age,’ in order to move them from more traditional or ‘tradition-bound’ local worlds into larger national and regional networks.”51 This mission of civilizing the margins includes inducing “fluency in the national language, conversion to a recognized world religion, and entrance into the cash economy.”52 In the case of Indonesia, the policies of educating the children of minority groups in Bahasa Indonesia, converting them to Islam, and integrating these groups into the cash economy were pursued. In these development agendas, the so-called “modernization theory and the myth of the untouched ‘primitive’” are amalgamated.53

The Hangul project is understandable in this sense as the combination of modernization theory and the myth of the untouched primitive. To the local elites, the Hangul project was very promising due to its capability of civilizing the margins and integrating them into the regional political boundaries. Furthermore, this kind of inter-ethnic project also helps to strengthen the Butonese identity. The success of such a policy is important, as the mission to civilize these margins seems to have failed during the New Order period, particularly in an effort to preserve local language. In this regard, the mission to civilize the group by making them preserve their languages will definitely consolidate the leadership and legitimacy of the Wolio as the rulers of the Baubau region.

One possible reason behind the Cia-Cia’s positive response toward the Wolio elites’ suggestion to use Hangul is found in the peaceful ethnic relations in Baubau. In contrast, many other regions in Indonesia such as Maluku, Poso and Ambon experienced bloody ethnic conflicts in the post-Suharto period, which resulted in thousands of casualties.54 These conflicts were the direct result of the ethnic competitions for pemekaran and power dominance in the power-vacuums in the local regions after the collapse of Suharto’s rule. None of the conditions of ethnic or religious conflict appear to have been present in Baubau. The only strong identity found in the region is their identity as the Butonese. Despite certain ethnic distinctions, those identities were already converted into a political identity.

Second, the Cia-Cia community clearly did not consider the adoption of Hangul as a threat to their community identities. For the Cia-Cia people, the new utilization of a script was considered to be a case of institutional support to sustain ethnic identities while preserving their history and culture, and furthermore to raise their socio-economic mobilities with possible Korean support. In addition, as with the Akha case in Thailand, the utilization of Hangul was not considered as ruining the ethnic identity, but rather as a springboard to vitalize their community activities. This community had never had a community organization, but after adopting Hangul, for the first time in their history, they established the “Cia-Cia Community,” with the aim to preserve their history and culture. The representative of this community organization has since revealed that he had received numerous calls from other Cia-Cia people living outside Baubau, enquiring about the effectiveness of the utilization of Hangul. These people, who had not previously had a strong sense of ethnic affiliation, are now consciously concerned with the issue of ethnicity. 55 Hangul is enhancing the ethnic identity and homogeneity of the Cia-Cia community. They considered the utilization of Hangul as one of the few ways to become included in the mainstream of society.

In summary, the Baubau elites recommended the Cia-Cia people use Hangul as a part of the assimilation effort, in order to integrate the margins into the local political boundaries. This proves that the subjects of the pembangunan policy, which had been dominated by the state during the New Order era, were now transferred to the local elites. The Cia-Cia recognized this and tried to become included in the mainstream of society via the economic and cultural support facilitated by the networks with Korea and the preservation of their local language.

Summary and Some Future Prospects

In an investigation of the reasons for Baubau’s adoption of Hangul, this study has traced local political dynamics in peripheral regions in the era of regional autonomy in Indonesia. Two motives for this adoption were identified. First, the Hangul project is the first international network project of Baubau city, which was one of the pembangunan agendas pursued by the local aristocratic elites in the city. It was therefore the elites’ aim to establish firm international networks by adopting Hangul; the pride of Korea’s cultural heritage. Such a project is important not only for ensuring economic survival, but also for proving to the central government that the elites are capable of running the autonomous area, including the future Buton Raya province. This is a transnational, in some sense, a trans-Indonesian, way of pembangunan.

This project also reflects the effect of the local pembangunan policy on Baubau. The aims of pembangunan are similar to those of the New Order in the sense that it aspires to modernity and cultural development. Yet, unlike the New Order, which emphasized the integration of local areas into the nation-state as the first motto of pembangunan, the focus of Baubau’s pembangunan are on its local identity and integration of the margins into the local political boundary. In the process, the margins (i.e., the Cia-Cia ethnic group), became the primary target of pembangunan. This project also contains an implicit criticism against the central government’s pembangunan, which was focused exclusively on Java, and a desire for regional cultural self-determination particularly in regards to language policy.

Despite the sensitive response at the initial step, the Indonesian government still has not clearly rejected or responded to the Hangul project. In part this is because Mayor Amirul Tamim met some bureaucrats in the central government and explained that learning Hangul was no different from learning English, Japanese, or Chinese. This led to a promise of support from the Language Center of Indonesia (Pusat Bahasa) for the Hangul Project.56 Furthermore, the small scale of the project reduced any potential concern from the Indonesian government. Moreover, some internal conflicts in the Hunmin Jeongeum Society over dominance in the leading roles for this attractive project deterred the project’s expansion. So far, in spite of strong demand in the Cia-Cia community, only two Hangul teachers, including one Korean (who has since resigned from the position) have been employed. This lack of teachers has obviously hindered the Hangul project. In addition, in spite of all the early promises of economic support from the Korean people, no major or institutional support has yet been received.

Language is one of the essential factors in Indonesian nationalism. If the Hangul project runs successfully and becomes adopted by other ethnic groups in Indonesia,57 debate will undoubtedly grow in the Indonesian government, and Indonesian society in general, on whether the utilization of a foreign script should be allowed within the realm of regional autonomy, or should be dealt with as a special category outside the boundary of regional autonomy. This concern is comparable with some regions’ demands for establishing the shari’a legal system after the downfall of Suharto, which resulted in caused intense debate over whether the implementation should be included within the realm of regional autonomy or not. In this case, this was clearly a deviation from the order of Pancasila as established by the New Order regime, of which many Indonesians perceived to be an absolute value system. The local fervor to implement shari’a law has recently weakened, but this is a good example of differences between the center and the Indonesian public over what degree of regional autonomy should be allowed. These differences are understandable in the ongoing process of negotiation to determine the range of regional autonomy

To summarize, the Hangul project in Baubau indicates the diversity and creativity by which local areas respond to regional autonomy. The Hangul project is an example of how regions have tried to form a distinctive entity against the nation – even beyond the nation – in order to emerge as a new center in a decentralized Indonesia, where new power dynamics can be negotiated.

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