The changing faces of heroism in contemporary Indonesian society
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The definition of hero changes from time to time according to the lives of Indonesian people. However, the government is apt to stick with military connections when it comes to the bestowing of the title of National Hero.
“In celebrating the anniversary of Indonesian independence on Aug. 17 and National Heroes Day on Nov. 10, the government has had a tradition to bestow National Hero titles. Most of the recipients of the National Hero title have been those involved in the struggle for independence,” Nirwono Joga, a specialist in social and architectural issues, said.
The government’s move to bestow National Hero titles on the basis of personal involvement in the fight against Dutch soldiers is no longer relevant today, especially for young people, according to Joga.
“Young people have no emotional connection with the age of colonization.”
It’s no surprise that comic-book heroes such as Spider-Man or Batman are more popular among young people. The figures are solving real, relevant and contemporary issues that confront youth today.
Most young people know of national heroes from their history books from elementary school.
In every celebration of Indonesian Independence or National Heroes Day, the government encourages people to revive past glories, including the legend of Indonesian soldiers winning independence from the Dutch by only using
bambu runcing (sharpened bamboo sticks). Joga said the story was a distortion of the realities of Indonesia winning independence.
“How could Indonesian soldiers with bambu runcing win the war?” he said.
According to Joga, the government should redefine the concept of hero so that young people could understand the true meaning of the word in the context of today’s Indonesia.
Gaining independence should be retranslated into the current situation, such independence from poverty, from ignorance and from environment concerns.
A hero in the context of today’s Indonesia should be spiritual and not physical. Young people should see the good qualities that past heroes evinced.
“For example Gen. Sudirman had a lung problem. Sudirman should be recognized as a figure that did not easily give in, instead of a man who was smart in determining military strategy,” he said.
Former president Sukarno should also get an image makeover, Joga said.
“One should recognize him as a man of principles and strong leadership. He prepared himself by reading lots of books and was engaged in an exchange of ideas, instead of taking short cuts, like many Indonesian people tend to do now,” Joga said.
A hero in the context of today’s Indonesia, he said, was someone who could motivate or inspire young people to do good things and inspire high achievement “so that everybody can be a hero”.
Meanwhile, others say that the spirit of heroism remained relevant today but had to be transformed to meet the needs of the new generation.
The old generation should set an example for the young generation in managing the lives of the people, nation and the state, according to these critics, while the young generation should take all the good qualities inherited from their forefathers.
The word “hero” in Indonesian is pahlawan, which is very meaningful. It means exalted or glorious, beautiful and lofty. A hero is always praised and remembered. A hero is an inspiration for the nation, the people and even humanity.
Pahlawan stems from the words pahala, which means fruit or outcome, and wan, which means a person. So, pahlawan means someone whose work has borne fruit, whether for the nation or the people.
Heroes have also emerged in later years in Indonesia. There are the heroes of the Independence War, of national development and of the Reform movement that overthrew the New Order regime.
What about today’s heroes? Who today deserves to be called a hero? Can the heroes inspire and motivate others in the dynamics of life of a nation, in a new time and with new challenges?