Chinese Indonesians, Then and Now
A hot issue in Indonesia right now is the gubernatorial race in the Jakarta Capital District. The race pits incumbent governor Fauzi Bowo and Nachrowi Ramli (Foke-Nara) versus Joko Widido and Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Jokowi-Ahok). Ahok is Chinese Indonesian, and Christian. And that has been interpreted by some in Indonesia (like the ridiculous Rhoma Irama) as unacceptable, a fact which I, myself, find unacceptable.
Soe Tjen Marching has a nice commentary in a piece (registration required) on Chinese Indonesians at Koran Tempo, which you can also read for free at IndoPROGRESS. Unfortunately for non-specialists, it’s in Indonesian. Here’s how it starts.
Apa Beda Marissa Haque dan Ahok atau Basuki Tjahaja Purnama? Banyak. Tentunya tidak perlu saya sebutkan lagi. Tapi, apa persamaannya? Mereka sama-sama mencalonkan diri menjadi wakil Gubernur (Banten dan Jakarta). Marissa dengan leluasa menyatakan tentang kakeknya, Siraj Ul Haque, yang berasal dari Uttar Pradesh, India Utara. Bahkan dalam salah satu blognya, dijelaskan bahwa kakeknya adalah orang India asli, sedangkan ayah mereka adalah orang Pakistan. Namun, ini tidak menjadi masalah. Marissa Haque tetap orang Indonesia. Bandingkan Marissa dengan Ahok. Berkali-kali Ahok menekankan bahwa dia adalah orang Indonesia. Seakan dia harus berjuang hanya untuk mendapat pengakuan untuk hal yang satu ini. PR yang tidak perlu dikerjakan oleh Marissa saat ia mencalonkan diri sebagai Wagub.
What are the differences between Marissa Haque and Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a.k.a. Ahok? Lots. I needn’t say much more. But what are the similarities? They both are candidates to be Vice Governor (Banten and Jakarta). Marissa openly notes that her grandfather, Siraj Ul Haque, comes from Uttar Pradesh. In fact, in a blog post, it was revealed that her grandfather was an Indian, while dad was Pakistani. But no problem. Marissa Haque is still an Indonesian. Compare Marissa with Ahok. Over and over again, Ahok emphasizes that he is an Indonesian. He has to struggle even to get people to recognize that. This type of PR isn’t necessary for Marissa as she campaigns to be Vice Governor.
The rest of the piece is an interesting and at times personal commentary on the problems that Chinese Indonesians face in Indonesia today: problems of recognition as Indonesians, problems which other “non-indigenous” Indonesians whose ancestors hail from the Middle East or South Asia never face. She makes a point that the Dutch colonial government’s policy of identifying Chinese migrants as either indigenous (pribumi, at that time Inlander) or Chinese, and forcing them to choose appears to have had a long lasting effect: Rasisme yang ditanamkan oleh pemerintah kolonial Belanda = the racism that was planted by the Dutch colonial government. This despite the fact that many, many Indonesians probably have at least a smidgen of Chinese, Indian, Arab, Persian, Dutch, or Portuguese ancestry.
(I’d emphasize that that is probably even more true in places like Jakarta. For instance, without commenting too much about what we can conclude from people’s appearance, take a good look at Nachrowi Ramli, a typical example of what Indonesians call the “Betawi” or “Batavian” ethnic group.)
But Dutch racism cannot explain everything. The Indies had plenty of non-Chinese foreign populations, and on the whole, these other foreign Easterners (andere vreemde Oosterlingen) have assimilated much more easily. The Chinese are uniquely excluded here, which is exactly why Marissa Haque is an interesting foil for Ahok.
Building on that observation, I have been working over the past months on two projects that look at ethnicity in Indonesia, one which looks at ethnic heterogeneity across the archipelago, and another that focuses on foreign migration to colonial Java. With an undergraduate RA, I recently compiled some data from the 1930s census of colonial Java, which allows me to count, as of 1930, the number of Chinese in any district (today this is approximately the kecamatan). Here are the top five by Chinese population and the top five by percentage Chinese.
|District||Regency||Chinese Population (1930)|
Batavia, now divided between the provinces of Jakarta Capital District and Banten, really had a lot of Chinese people. This is also true in percentage terms.
|District||Regency||Percent Chinese (1930)|
There is, unfortunately, no source of comparable data for the “outer islands.” Within Java, there is a pretty strong correlation between Chinese settlement and settlement by the “other foreign Easterners.” More on this some other time.
But moving ahead, we know that today there are still lots of Chinese, in Jakarta and elsewhere. The 2000 census counted roughly 2,300,000 Chinese in Indonesia, with the most concentrated in the following kecamatan (all urban) areas
|Kecamatan||Kabupaten||Percent Chinese (2000)|
|3.||Taman Sari||Jakarta Barat||15.1|
|4.||Tanjung Balai Selatan||Tanjung Balai||15.0|
Recall that these only count Indonesians
with “Chinese” on their ID card who identify as Chinese rather than something else. There is essentially no mechanism in the census that I’m aware of to allow people to reveal the fact that grandma or grandpa was Chinese, and even if there were, I’m not sure people would want to, or even that everyone knows. (I tried this once in a survey and didn’t get anywhere.)
What I find interesting of the criticisms of Ahok is that they tend not to specifically identify his ethnic background as the problem, although there are some exceptions. Instead, they focus primarily on the fact that he is Christian. I tend not to infer too much from the nasty things that Indonesian public figures say during campaigns—Foke-Nara are behind in the polls, and like all politicians everywhere they have handlers and hangers-on who say ignorant things because they think that they are helping—but it is interesting that the language that the anti-Jokowi-Ahok crowd has settled on is more religious than ethnic in tone. Even if Christian is just broadly understood to be a code word for Chinese in this context, it’s still interesting, because Indonesian politicians have historically not been too shy about speaking out against Chinese Indonesians.
It is also interesting because Jokowi-Ahok is supported by Partai Gerindra, founded by Prabowo Subianto, Soeharto’s son-in-law and a former general who many hold at least partially responsible for the anti-Chinese riots in Jakarta in 1998.