Monday, February 20, 2017

The Unsung Hero of Integration: Hoo Eng Djie from Makassar

Makassar's Chinatown

Chinese people has been living in South Sulawesi for several hundred years now. They’ve been there even before the arrival of the Europeans in Southeast Asia. The prosperous port city of Makassar is the core of their existence in South Sulawesi peninsula, during colonial time they were allowed by the authority to run business and build permanent residence at what is now known as Pecinan of Makassar.


Like other typical Dutch-administrated city in colonial East Indies, Makassar was split onto several resident-districts based on racial division. The European stick with their own kind in a beautifully paved neighborhood called Vlaardingen. The natives are spread around the port area, jostling at Kampong Wadjo, Kampong Djawa, Kampong Maloku, Kampong Butung (Buton) and others. The Chinese stayed next to Vlaardingen in a kampong not too far from pasar (market). Although lived separately from one-another, just like other trade-based town, interactions between these racial groups were common. On the eve of Indonesian Independence, the Chinese community in the city of Makassar, made an important statement which mark their existence in the history of Indonesian nationalist movement.

In Java around the same time, some Chinese people still kept their identity as foreigners (vreemde oosterlingen). Meanwhile in Makassar, the Chinese-Makassarese people proudly referred themselves as Makassarese, or as the citizen of Makassar. The spirit of integrity was shown by their community. In his dissertation (The History of Chinese-Makassarese from 17th — 20th Century, 2013, Ecole francaise d’Extreme-Orient and KITLV Jakarta) Yerry Wirawan mentioned a name: Hoo Eng Djie, who is a poet, a musician and also an activist supporting the integration of Chinese-Makassarese to Indonesian society. Hoo Eng Djie is a brilliant example of how art and culture was used to play important role on Chinese-Indonesian nationalism.

Born in 1906, Hoo Eng Djie showed his stance against Dutch colonial government on many of his arts. He spread his idea through poems, speeches and songs. He was remembered as a “maestro” of Buginese traditional music instruments and also as the composer of the famous “Ati Radja” which is nowadays regarded as traditional song from South Sulawesi. In 1940 he already produced 20.000 records on traditional songs from Sulawesi. His idea about nation was simple: an integrated Chinese-Makassarese community with the rest of other ethnic group in Indonesia and the independence of Dutch East Indies.

Although coming from a purely Chinese blood family, instead of involved in Kuomintang (a local party which had close relationship with Chinese government and was suspected by the Dutch government for spreading propoganda among the Chinese-Makassarese people to always remain loyal to their ancestral land), he grew up learning Malay, Bugis and Makassarese language. He was mentored by Incik Baoe Sandi at Malay Quarter (Kampung Melayu) in Makassar. He didn’t see himself as a Chinese people who lived in Makassar, but simply as a Makassarese with Chinese heritage. He still paid homage to his ancestral land as the rest of Chinese-Makassarese did, though. In 1914 the Chinese-Makassarese community collected 1.000 guilders to help victim of flood in Shandong province and later received a medallion of honor “Tjoei Liok Puan Tjiong” from Chinese government. He contributed for the donation too. Japanese expansion to China also caught his attention. In this sense, while deeply rooted to local culture, Hoo Eng Djie saw himself linked to the greater connection in Asia and was aware of the current world situation.

His main objective as an activist was to support Chinese community integration to Indonesian community, in this case specifically Makassar. He saw the Chinese-Makassarese as one entity as other ethnic group in Indonesia, hence supported the idea of Indonesia as an independent state. Through his music group, poetry club and philanthropy organization, he gained public attention. He spread his idea at events such as wedding ceremony or huge holiday gathering with audiences ranged from Chinese-Makassarese to local Makassarese. His actions lead to prohibition from speaking in public in 1931 by the Dutch government. He was once jailed for awhile due to his involvement in an anti-Dutch movement. He resisted against the Japanese occupation in 1942, and showed his support for the Republic during Dutch military aggression in later years through his art.

To me, Hoo Eng Djie is still significant. In time when hatred towards certain ethnic group and minorities is popularized by Indonesians against another Indonesian-fellas, we need to take a seat and see what history has in store. Colonial rule that was based on racial prejudice and class stratification could produce spirit of integration and the longing for unity among the Chinese and the native people. Why then, after having a free democratic republic run by ourselves we can be so easily provoked with hate speech with issues on race and ethnicity? What makes us better than the not-independent East Indies then? Don’t fall to the same pit of ignorance twice.

In spirit of Chinese New Year, Gong Xi Fat Cai!

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