Boedi Oetomo – National Awakening: Indonesia

Sunday, the 20th of May, 1908: A handful of young Indonesians, led by Wahidin Sudirohusodo, and supported by Soetomo, Gunawan and Suradji — declared the formation of “Boedi Oetomo“, laying the foundations for our independence. The movement would awake Indonesians to Indonesia — to its rich cultural heritage, and age-old values. It was not a decision made in haste. The group had made a thorough study of our history to find the missing thread that could possibly reunite us into one nation.

They found that missing thread in our cultural values, so they decided on the name Boedi Oetomo for the movement. “Boedi” or “Budhi” is the product of human mind properly cultivated. It is the discriminative faculty of the mind that can separate right from the wrong. “Oetomo” emphasizes further the quality of such cultivated mind.

Boedi Oetomo” means awareness, consciousness.

It is being aware of our potential, at the same time being conscious of our shortcomings and past mistakes in order to correct them, to rectify them. It was, rather it is, not an ordinary movement. It is the essence of all religions; it is the religiousness of religions. It is 100 percent pure spirituality.

By 1928, the movement was already flowering, when our youth dreamnt of One Nation, One Country, and One Language. Before that, in 1922, Ki Hajar Dewantoro had started the first indigenous educational institution, Taman Siswa — the Garden of Students. Education and the education system were rightly conceived as tools for achieving the end result — a free country, independent Indonesia.

The Proclamation of Independence made by Sukarno and Hatta on Aug. 17, 1945, must therefore be seen as the fruit of hard work.

It is the 100th birthday of Boedi Oetomo. So, this year we are celebrating the 100th birthday of Boedi Oetomo, or the 99th anniversary.

We have been celebrating this day as Hari Kebangkitan Nasional, or National Resurgence Day. The time has come for all of us to rightly understand the meaning of National Resurgence Day and its implications.

First, National Resurgence should not be defined as the “Birth of the Nation”. We, as a nation, were not born on that day. Alas, my people, even the scholars and elders I truly respect, often make the mistake of defining it as such. If we were born on that day, then we are just a century old, and therefore the crisis of identity that we are facing today is understandable. In which case, it may not even be a crisis of identity; it is the search for identity.

Many of us today, are indeed searching for identity.

Some of us are finding our roots in the deserts of Arabia, some in the high and low lands of China; some are keen to associate themselves with India, or even the West. We forget that we have roots in this very soil. We do not have to go anywhere to find our roots.

National Resurgence should be understood as the revival or resurrection of our nationalistic thoughts, feelings, ideals and principles. It is not the birth of such thoughts and feelings, or ideals and principles.

It is indeed our misfortune that we often suffer from such crises of identity. We are a nation suffering from acute amnesia. It can occur at any time.

A couple of centuries back, we suffered such amnesia in the days of Sultan Agung. And the Sultan revived our memory by showing us our roots: Bende Mataram. He connected his kingdom with that of King Sanjaya, a millennia back. They saw the archipelago as the manifestation of Mataram, or Mother. And, Loving Service to the Motherland became the first and foremost duty of the whole nation.

Bende Mataram, meaning “My Humble Salutations to the Mother“, was no ordinary slogan. It could unite those with ears to hear, with eyes to see, with minds to think, and hearts to feel into one nation.

The Mother Land or Mataram was also seen as manifestation of Mother Earth, Gaia, and referred to as Pertiwi. Our nationalism was no ordinary nationalism. It was part of internationalism.

So, as also admitted by Bung Karno, we did not become a state or a nation on May 20, 1908. This very important day in our history should be celebrated as the day we got out of our centuries-old amnesia. On this day, we rediscovered our identity. We were a nation and a state for more than 8 centuries in the times of Sriwijaya. We were nation and state for more than 4 centuries in the times of Majapahit. We lost it, when we tried to replace culture with religious values as the binding force. It did not work. And, within a century we became slaves to foreigners.

Indeed, the foreigners used religious differences to divide and rule over us.

Alas, history is repeating itself.

“Those who do not learn from the history are condemned to repeat it.” Indeed, we are repeating the same history.

Today, our local political parties with foreign affiliations and endorsements of foreign values are doing the job that once those foreigners did themselves. By creating rules and regulations based on certain religious values, they have planted time bombs everywhere in this archipelago. Our hearts are already beginning to divide and if this is not stopped immediately, the division of territory will not be stopped either.

National Resurgence Day this year calls for national awakening — the awakening of our hearts and our minds, the awakening of our souls and spirits — the awakening to our cultural roots and age-old heritage. This awakening is urgent and imperative. Without such an awakening, I am afraid we shall be heading toward disintegration both as a state and as a nation.

We, Indonesians, must hold on to the common platform on which we all can stand together. That common platform is the cultural platform. Our politics, our economics, our social norms, even our religious beliefs must be culture-based. Much damage has been done to this base in the last couple of decades, especially in the last decade. This base must be repaired, and to do that we must once again review our education system. Is it awakening us, Indonesians, to Indonesia — or to something else?

We have a long day ahead, there much work to be done.

So, wake up my friends, my brothers, my sisters… Arise, and let us work together to build Indonesia anew!

The writer (Anand Krishna) is an interfaith nationalist. He has authored more than 90 books (