Oct 28, 2011

Indonesian Youth Pledge (Sumpah Pemuda)

Every 28th. October, Indonesia commemorates Youth Pledge Day, or Hari Sumpah Pemuda. On this day in 1928, some 78 years ago, Indonesian youths, hailing from different ethnic groups and islands in the then Netherlands East Indies, convened a 2-day Youth Congress in Batavia - present-day Jakarta. At the end of this historic meeting these youths pledged their commitment to: One Homeland " Indonesia (meaning the territory of then Netherlands East Indies), One Nation " the Indonesian Nation, and One Language " Bahasa Indonesia.

Jong Java

At the time, the archipelago was still a colony of the Netherlands, and Indonesia was a new word. But still the youth pledged to fight for that one dream homeland, and the creation of that one nation called Indonesia.

As for a national language, in 1928 the Indonesian islands had no common language, each of the more than 300 ethnic groups inhabiting this archipelago had its own language. Nonetheless, the Congress chose Bahasa Indonesia, which was based on the Malay language,- to be Indonesias national language, for two reasons " so explained Prof. Sunario, my father, to me as a child.

Youth Pledge

Firstly it was a language that many understood, since the rough variety was commonly spoken in trade and commercial negotiations throughout the islands. But secondly, and most importantly it was democratic. The natural way out for the youths would have been to choose the Javanese language to be Indonesias common language, since the Javanese ethnic group was by far the largest compared to any other ethnic group, while the Javanese language and culture are very sophisticated and refined. However, the Javanese language was not at all democratic, since it consisted of different levels of language depending on ones social status and the status of the person one spoke to. Thus, for the sake of democracy, the new Bahasa Indonesia was chosen to be Indonesias national language.

Who were these patriotic youths?

These young people, who later came to be the founding fathers of the Republic of Indonesia were no upstart students. Many were young university graduates, young lawyers, economists, doctors, engineers, who had graduated from prestigious universities among which were Leiden and Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Stovia in Batavia (now Jakarta) and the Technical Institute in Bandung.

Moehammad Yamin, a Youth Pledge stalwart, later reported that the meeting had brought together youths who had grouped themselves into associations called Java Youths, Sumatra Youths, Islamic Association Youths, Batak Youths, Celebes (now Sulawesi) Youths, Batavia Youths, and the Association of Indonesian Students, - all these attended the Youth Congress held on 27 to 28 October 1928 in Jakarta

But the historic Youth Pledge that remains the foundation of the Republic, did not emerge out of the blue during two days of discussions.It had been thought out and discussed long before. Dr. Asvi Warman Adam, Indonesian historian, writing in Kompas of 28 October 2002 , said that Sartono Kartodirdjo once explained that in 1925,- three years prior to the Youth Congress, - the Indonesian Association students union (Perhimpunan Indonesia) in Holland had issued a Political Manifesto, expressing the aspiration to establish a modern Indonesian nation built on unity, equality and liberty for all the people of the archipelago. This Manifesto had inspired the Youth Pledge of 1928.

One personality who, according to Warman Adam, played a major active role at both these historic events was Prof Mr Sunario. At the 1925 meeting in Holland, Sunario together with Mohammad Hatta (later to become co-Proclamator of the Declaration of Independence in 1945 and Indonesias first Vice President) were in the leadership of that student union. Sunario was then Secretary II, and Hatta was Treasurer I. After graduating in Law from the University of Leiden, Sunario returned home. In Jakarta, Sunario continued to defend Indonesian activists in the Dutch colonial court and further pushed the convening of the 1928 Congress. At the 1928 Youth Congress, Sunario was legal adviser and speaker, said Warman.

The Youth Pledge thus became the cornerstone in the formation of the dream Republic: the Indonesian archipelago that consisted of more than 17,000 islands, inhabited by more than 300 ethnic groups, and variously colonized by the Dutch in the course of three centuries. This was going to become the homeland for all people inhabiting the islands - united as one nation " the Indonesian nation, united in the one State " the Indonesian State, and speaking one common language " Bahasa Indonesia.

Therefore, analyzing the above principles, we can ascertain that the youths of that time were already very much aware, that in order to create a country and a nation, there must be a territorial claim, and a united multi-ethnic people to oust its colonizers. These youths were, moreover, determined that the Indonesia of their dreams must be a democratic, pluralistic and unitary Republic, not a nation that is based on feudal power and feudalism.

It was only 17 years after the 1928 Youth Pledge, at the close of World War II, on 17 August 1945, when Soekarno and Hatta, on behalf of the people of Indonesia, finally proclaimed the Independence of Indonesia. And, based on the Youth Pledge principles and spirit, there emerged the 1945 Constitution, the 5 Principles of State, Pancasila, and the Indonesian national slogan :Bhinneka Tunggal Ika " meaning Unity in Diversity.

What is a Nation?

But how can peoples from so many different ethnic groups and backgrounds form one nation? And how can such a nation hope to receive international recognition?

Prof. Sunario, in a speech to the Jakarta Rotary Club in 1984, entitled The Meaning of Sumpah Pemuda (the Youth Pledge) for Our National Existence and Survival, explained as follows: According to (earlier) theories (but) now regarded as being out of date, a nation is a large group of people of a common a) racial composition, or with a same b) religion, or c) culture, or d) same language.

But Ernest Renans definition in his famous address in 1883 at the Sorbonne University in Paris entitled: Quest ce quune nation? (What is a Nation?) changed this concept which also has application in international law.

A nation " according to Renan " is a large group of people who have a common desire to live together (le dsir de vivre ensemble) and to form a nation state on the ground that they had a long period of a shared lot together, in particular (because they had experienced) the same sufferings.

Renans theory was then enthusiastically accepted by our students in Holland in their struggle for Indonesias independence, continued Sunario, and also during the same time of the Sumpah Pemuda. Our sense of belonging together proved to be the best way to fight the divide et impera policy of the Dutch, Sunario said.

Therefore, to aspire to become one nation, the Indonesian people did not need to be of the same race, religion, culture or language. What was required was the will of the people to form one nation, together, based on common sufferings experienced during a long period in history. Thus, the Youth Pledge was a social contract pledged by ethnic groups inhabiting Indonesia, and embracing various religions, who expressed the wish to become united in one nation, based on the fact that they had commonly suffered through centuries under the yoke of Dutch colonialism.

Nonetheless, continues Sunario: Next to our Pancasila ideology which implies tolerance among ourselves in spite of religious and other differences, (but which is )also aimed at universal peace, (today) we have to remain conscious of the fact that the world still exists everywhere of competing nation states We, still in this phase of underdevelopment as the result of foreign domination, are therefore compelled to consistently preserve and strengthen our national unity, identity, and independence and of course our preparedness to defend ourselves against foreign interference, intervention and oppression.

In this most difficult period, Sunario continued, National unity, economic and military strength but also good diplomacy are felt imperative as the four most important and most needed elements for our national strength and the preservation of our national interests and ideals. Let us therefore bear this in mind : Sekali bersatu- tetap bersatu, sekali merdeka " tetap merdeka " (Once united, for ever united ; once free, for ever free).

A private footnote here. For my family, the 1928 Indonesian Youth Pledge Day on 28 October 1928, holds a special place in our hearts. For this was also the moment that my father, Sunario, then a young Moslem lawyer, age 26, newly graduated from the prestigious Law University in Leiden and hailing from East Java, set eyes on and immediately fell in love with my mother, Dien Pantouw. Dien was Christian and came from far away Manado, but on this historic day she portrayed on stage the beautiful Ibu Pertiwi, Mother Indonesia. My father, already imbued with ardent nationalism and the idea of creating an independent Indonesia, could not help but fall in love with this lovely personification of Indonesia.

This event also showed that even in those very early days, men and women, boys and girls fought the struggle of independence together, side by side, - without any gender discrimination.

Is the 1928 Youth Pledge still relevant in todays global world?

78 years later, in the age of Reformasi, globalization and liberalization, what relevance holds this event for young Indonesians today?

In its Editorial of 28 October 2006, Media Indonesia rues the fact that there is such a wide gap between the old and the young generation, since todays youths have no inkling of how hard were the sacrifices and struggle for our parents and grandparents to wrest freedom for this nation from oppressive colonialism.

Youth Pledge Museum
As a nation also, Indonesians today seem to be suffering from amnesia, having apparently erased all past memory of our history, writes Media Indonesia.

Whereas, at the birth of the Republic, our founding fathers recognized that there will be differences within national unity, nowadays it seems that it is these very differences that are emphasized and become reasons for horizontal conflicts. The ongoing conflict in Poso, is one example. Corruption, illegal logging, the setting ablaze of our precious rainforests, all continue with little regard to the lot of the common man.

Explaining this phenomenon in an article entitled: The Meaning of the Youth Pledge in Building the Indonesian Nation, Prof. Sunaryati Hartono is of the opinion that because of global communication today, plurality within Indonesian society will become even more complex. Therefore, it is natural that this condition is seen to threaten national unity and cohesion. And, if at Independence, Indonesians were grouped by their ethnicity, religion, customs and traditions, in todays globalized world, Indonesian society is now further divided into professional groups, political parties, etc. that tend to awaken premordialism.

The 1928 Youth Pledge was a consensus, a social contract on national unity and solidarity. Thus, if each citizen holds fast to this consensus, our national unity can not be shaken by differences in ethnicity, religion or political convictions. But only for as long as we all adhere to the national consensus made through Sumpah Pemuda, Pancasila, and our national slogan: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Unity in Diversity.

The pledge

In Indonesian, with the original spelling, the pledge reads:

    Kami poetera dan poeteri Indonesia, mengakoe bertoempah darah jang satoe, 
    tanah air Indonesia.
    Kami poetera dan poeteri Indonesia, mengakoe berbangsa jang satoe, bangsa Indonesia.
    Kami poetera dan poeteri Indonesia, mendjoendjoeng bahasa persatoean, bahasa Indonesia.

In English:

    We the sons and daughters of Indonesia, acknowledge one motherland, Indonesia.
    We the sons and daughters of Indonesia, acknowledge one nation, the nation of Indonesia.
    We the sons and daughters of Indonesia, respect the language of unity, Indonesian.

(Sources: Speeches by Prof. Sunario, Kompas, Media Indonesia) (Tuti Sunario, Indonesia Digest)


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