“Pila?” how much, I asked in Visayan to the old lady selling sweets in the street corner of Jalan Panjaitan. I am not sure if she understood me but surprisingly she replied, “Lima libu.” five thousand each. I handed the bill and smiled gratefully. “Terima Kasih,” thank you, said the old lady as she takes the money. I wanted to reply back by expressing the same gratitude in my language. But this time I hesitated because she might misunderstood my word “Salamat” as “Selamat”, which means differently in Bahasa.
Upon landing in Indonesia a few days ago after coming from a conference in Bangkok, the scenery of Yogyakarta that greeted me seems familiar – I felt like home. The temperature, smell, faces, textures etc. reminds me of my idyllic hometown near the shore – Tacloban. I can even understand a few words spoken in Javanese and Bahasa.
With all the familiarity I felt like I belong to the place, however, I am also aware that I’m within arms-length between me and the place. The awareness of distance become more visible every time I was confronted by anxiety and difference. So I negotiated with my identity in every encounter whenever I am mistaken as an Indonesian and a foreigner. Fortunately, the idyllic nature of central Jogja is an important factor in processing consensual negotiations, however, only to come up with another set of anxieties to resolve.
I believe this is the dynamics of multiple identities that is always in the process of making and remaking. To bypass this process is to enable a social construction of a rigid and constrained identity, which Anthropologist James Scott in his study of ungovernable Southeast Asian people described it in two related facts: first, “minority identities are first imagined by powerful States”; secondly, invented identities combined with self-making of a heroic kind becomes a badge of honor (Scott, 2010).
This simplified authoritarian process of identity-making is signified by the Sultanate who rules over Yogyakarta by putting forward above else Java identity. This is further reinforced by the modern nation-state of Indonesia who modeled its grand narrative from the greatness of Java with the residues of Dutch colonialism. In this circumstance I ask these questions: how do different ethnicities deal with this homogenization? What are the possibilities when different cultures negotiate with local ordinary Javanese? Is identity important to negotiate with others?
The square (Alun Alun)
One afternoon I walked around Mantrijaron and found my way to this archaic structure that resembles the colonial forts found in Hispanic Manila. I went inside the fort and saw an empty square they call Alun-alun. It was already dusk when I came in and there were many people inside, perhaps from different ethnicities and class background. For me, at first, it was just a public square or a plaza that signifies the Sultanate iconography. But to my surprise it was more than a public square; It was a indeed a multi-layered space where people from all sorts of background converge, sit together on the floor and eat local street foods served by informal vendors.
However behind this informality and precariousness in my observation is a stable ecosystem. Its stability is defined by layers of differences overlapping each other in the manner of how Focault would describe the non-hegemonic space and place as Heterotopia. But how could I be so sure that Alun-alun is without hegemonic power structures when the royal Sultan built the space itself to reproduce the meaning of its Sovereignty?
There are different power structures at play behind Alun-alun. These layers of power define an ecosystem; that I dare to say, reproduces the power structure of Yogyakarta in relation to the Sultanate and the identity of the Java people. But I wanted to understand Alun-alun to map the traces and nodes of subjectivities that make, on the other hand, another power structure that is precarious and heterotopic. From which identities are more fluid, trans localized, distributed and multiple.
However, I can only do this by withdrawing away from the square and escape the black hole of power control. Felix Guattari describes this concept of escaping as finding “fresh intersection of artistic constellations, existential territories, social flows and abstract ideas.” (Holmes, 2015).
Moreover, these intersections of different existential territories are set of vectors where the actual and virtual come to meet, which also defines Guattari’s concept of Schizoanalytic Cartographies.
Outside the Alun-alun around the Mantrijaron area, there were spaces of encounter that I believe activates different subjectivities. I slowly walked away from the square and went to see these interesting spaces.
>> Kunci, Lifepatch, Warung Ramah
To be continued…