Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Beautiful Meaning of Nusantara

I wonder about how a country known to the world known as "Japan" proudly call their own country as "Nippon", just like Germany call their country "Deutschland", Moroccans with their own "Al Maghribiyya". What about Indonesians?

Where did the name "Indonesia" come from? In the old colonial time, there were times when the people in this territory were called as Dutch East Indians. The term somehow wasn't favored by intellectuals, some of them tried to find other terms which they thought more agreeable. In 1850, an English ethnologist came up with the name Indunesians and Melayunesians to replace that term. "Indus" means India, and "nesos" means island. Actualy he preferred the term "Melayunesians", "Melayu" which means Malay and "nesos" which means island.

Not surprisingly, academics from the Netherlands were not really fond of these terms, but they couldn't do anything as the term "Indonesia" became really popular in academic circles outside of the Netherlands. Nationalist groups from the island looking for ways to express their political standings finally adopted the name. Ki Hajar Dewantara (Suwardi Suryaningrat) was the first Indoensian scholar to use the name "Indonesia" in his press bureau Indonesisch Pers-bureau in the Netherlands (1923).

Let's put aside the fact that "Indonesia" has already been established as our official name. The name "Indian islands" is a very incorrect way to call our archipelago. Even "Malay islands" would not suffice either, as the people in the eastern part of Indonesia has got nothing to do with the Malay. What is the right way to call our beloved archipelago, then? Didn't we have any term to call our cluster of islands back then? When you ask an Indonesian what alternative names does s/he got for Indonesia, you might come up with "Tanah Air" (which means Land and Water) and Nusantara. Now, what is the meaning of Nusantara?

To find the answer, we might have to dig into the ancient feudal times of our islands, to the history of the glorious Majapahit Empire to be exact. The Majapahit Empire which had a very big power over the islands had special terms for the areas under their sphere of influence. These terms were made famous by an otah made by a prime minister of Majapahit Empire, Gajah Mada, who vowed to unite "Nusantara". The terms are:

1. Negara Agung , the grand state, the core kingdom which covered the whole East Java and its surrounding areas.

2. Manca Negara, countries surrounding Negara Agung which receive strong influences from the Javanese culture that could even be perceived even today. This includes the entire Java island, Madura, Bali, and maybe some parts of Sumatra (such as Lampung and Palembang).

3. Nusantara, "nusa" means island and "antara" means other. It referred to the areas under the influence of the empire but were not exactly under its government, kingdoms which paid tribute to the empire.

Even though areas under the term "Nusantara" consisted of almost all of the areas now parts of Indonesia (and beyond, as it included parts of what is now Malaysia and the Philippines too), it still couldn't satisfy the need of a proper term as this term had a negative expansionist nuance in it and it doesn't cover the whole Indonesia either.

Still, "Indian islands" remained an annoying term. In 1920, Ernest Francois Eugene Douwes Dekker (who preferred to be called Setiabudi) introduced a new term for the country which had no word "India" in it, the name presented was "Nusantara". But this term is not the same with the 14th century one, it has a new spirit and meaning in it. Dr Setiabudi used the term in a non-agressive way, "Nusantara" is just the way he referred to the archipelago from Sabang to Merauke, an area of extend what is now known as Indonesia.

Furthermore, his version of Nusantara has a new meaning, as it does not have the meaning of "other island" like the one in Majapahit's time. His Nusantara is derived from the Javanese word "nusa" which means island, and the new "antara" was not taken from Sanskrit "antara" (which is a foreign word), rather, it came from a Malay word which means "between".

A fusion between the Javanese word and the Malay word created the new meaning of Nusantara, "islands in between". Yes, our archipelago are islands in between, between two continents (Asia and Australia), between oceans (Pacific and Indian), between cultures....

And what a beautiful name he came up with! A name that we could and proudly and full of affection say to ourselves: our islands, our country, our beloved Nusantara :)

source: Budaya Indonesia

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