Cultural amnesia and the loss of local civilization
The bogey of the loss of precious cultural heritages has haunted many of us following the news on the planned closure of the dilapidated H.B. Jassin Literature Documentation Center, which preserves innumerable local geniuses.
Worse still, it was also reported in the March 27 issue of Kompas that the historical Bung Hatta library in Yogyakarta, which documents some 40,000 personal collections of the first vice president, has been closed to the public since 2006.
All of this should come as no surprise due to the fact that we’ve long been suffering from cultural amnesia — a condition in which appreciation of and respect for the legacy of the past is forgotten and dismissed as valueless.
The dismissal of the value of written historic artifacts has indeed indicated a memory loss regarding the importance of safeguarding local geniuses.
This heralds a loss of local civilization, which undoubtedly augurs ill for the promotion of the nation’s rich legacy to the international fora.
The possible loss of local civilization, as has been envisioned by cultural observers here, seems real rather than illusory. This statement is no exaggeration, however. Due
to a lack of attention paid to the importance of protecting the past’s legacy, it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain written documentation needed for research or study purposes.
Those who are concerned with the fate of the fading historic documentation have in fact cautioned that the government’s and (in general) our people’s lackadaisical attitude of protecting these documents could bring about a devastating effect, in that it could weaken our critical understanding of the cultural politics of identity.
Needless to say, the penetration of foreign cultural imports can be counter-balanced and even resisted through the constant search of the cultural politics of identity.
This is only possible if, first, we are willing to align ourselves with local identities, traditions, values and knowledge. In so doing, we can confidently assess and negotiate any form of cultural determinism imposed upon us.
Nevertheless, we shouldn’t forget that our alignment with local identities, values and knowledge presupposes respect and appreciation of the intellectual legacy inherited by our forerunners.
Furthermore, learning from the past’s legacy makes us eventually cognizant that a solid grip of the local knowledge-making practices manifested through the documentation of historic artifacts enables
us to envision the possibility of making use of our rich cultural resources in, for example, educational settings.
More importantly, such an endeavor enhances our understanding of critical consciousness about local culture and tradition. Cultural resources are an invaluable investment that can represent local interests (through educational practice) in the international fora. This representation can be best reified through the design of the contents of school curricula and of teaching materials that tap the available local cultural resources.
As such, we can diminish our dependence on the dominant educational paradigm imposed particularly by Western education practitioners — a paradigm which tends to lead to hegemonic thinking and to suppress the educational practice conducted in a local context.
It may sound injudicious, however, to lay a claim that the loss of local civilization is merely due to the sheer ignorance of the perseverance of cultural artifacts. At best, this ignorance should be seen as one of the contributing factors.
The other potential contributing factor is the lack of interest in exploring local epistemic richness which had long been initiated by our predecessors.
It is lamentable that concomitant with the gradual disappearance of written cultural artifacts, the practice of understanding and exploring the wealth of local knowledge is becoming a rarity.
The lack of this practice, in turn, further accelerates the death of local civilization.
Efforts to preserve the intellectual literate tradition once painstakingly promoted (through their works) by local noted writers such as H.B. Jassin, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana and Pramudya Ananta Toer, among others have, unfortunately, been languishing and even diminishing in our local context.
It is quite ironic that those having avid interests in valuing local geniuses are often scholars hailing from other foreign countries.
It is the scholars of these countries that are more enthusiastic in preserving and documenting local historic artifacts, and it is they who eventually become knowledgeable about local knowledge-making practices.
It is thus not surprising that more often than not we heavily rely on the expertise of these foreign pundits in our attempts to understand local epistemic practice.
The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta, and chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.