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Census, ‘Bang’ Rhoma
and our demographic record

Last weekend, officials from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) kicked off the nationwide census, a program that has taken root since 1930 during the Dutch colonial administration.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his family became the first household to be visited by census officials. The President, well-mannered as always and neatly dressed in brown batik, was accompanied by his wife Kristiani Yudhoyono and son Edhie Baskoro.

They welcomed the census fieldworkers to their spacious home in Puri Cikeas, Bogor, West Java located southeast of the capital.

It must be the best time for the media to check the authenticity of the demographic record about the President, be it his religion (rumors swirling during last year’s campaign period had it that his wife was in fact a Christian), his education or even details of his marriage. But none of the publications appeared to be interested in such issues.

As far as I can remember, the first time I came across the word “census” was in 1980, three decades ago to be exact.

As an elementary school student, my memory of the census was nothing more than a white-and-blue sticker attached to the front window of my parents’ house. It read sensus penduduk, or population census, with a few scribbles by census officials on it.

“The census was a way to record information about the nation’s population as a foundation for the government to set national policies,” elderly people usually told me. Back then, I did not really understand what they were talking about, but I listened attentively to what they said.   

In fact, my understanding of the census did not come from those old folks. Oddly enough, it came from Rhoma Irama, the flamboyant dangdut singer who released an album with a fairly weird title — 135,000,000.

The art cover of the album was no less eye-catching. It showed the singer, dressed in black garb with his guitar and his hands up as if attempting to embrace all. The album hit stores three years before the 1980 census.

One song on the album contained the following lyrics: “Seratus tiga puluh lima juta penduduk Indonesia (Indonesian has 135 million people)/terdiri dari banyak suku-bangsa itulah Indonesia (comprising many ethnic groups, that’s what Indonesia is)/ada Sunda (We have Sundanese/ada Jawa (Javanese)/Aceh (Acehnese)/Padang (Padang)/Batak (Batak)/dan banyak lagi yang lainnya (and many more).”

As kampong kids, we tried to sing like the self-styled “King of Dangdut” complete with the fake beard we drew on with charcoal. His song has served as an undying reminder to the nation of the ever increasing population.

Three years after the album was released, the 1980 census recorded that the population had grown to 147.5 million, with the province of East Java having the highest population with 29.18 million people.
A decade later, the 1990 census saw the population increase to 179.37 million and the province of West Java took over top spot with 35.38 million people. East Java had 32.5 million people.

It was not really known whether the rapid increase in West Java’s population was a result of migration or because of an increase in birth rates. One thing for sure, Sildenafil citrate, more popularly known as Viagra or the blue pill, was only available since 1998.

In 2000, another census was launched. Recording a population of more than 205 million. West Java remained in top spot with more than 35.7 million people. Meanwhile, West Papua, a new province established in 1999, had the lowest with around 530,000 people.

The years in which a census was conducted hold a special meaning for me. I first came across the word census in 1980. I graduated from high school and enrolled at one of the country’s best universities in 1990. The last census was in 2000. It was the year I met the woman I would later marry. From the marriage, we have two children, my contribution to this nation’s growing population.

Since I first learned from Bang Rhoma about the country’s population, there has been a steady increase in the population. Today, the population is estimated to have reached more than 230 million people.

We all hope that the result of this year’s census will not remain a meaningless demographic figure. The data serves as valuable information from which the government will draw policies that will benefit the whole population, just like the old folks used to say.

— Kurniawan Hari

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