Indonesia and Its Iridescent Feudalism

Feudalism. By definition, it is a system in which a noble stand atop a hierarchical pyramid. A pyramid which does not limit itself upon social matters, but extends into economic and political as well. On paper, Feudalism is something that has thought to be long gone, an almost ancient system conducted by societies of the past.

Although the term itself came from Europe, factually, every region in the world with a system of monarchy or monarchical history have had their fair share of this particular arrangement, Indonesia amongst them. Long before Soekarno stood and read the Proclamation of Independence, Nusantara had subjected itself towards monarchs, numerous of them, spanning parts of the archipelago. 

Then came the Europeans, bringing with them their tradition and set of systems. Feudalism had existed in Indonesia before they came of course, albeit in a different form and term. The coming of the colonialists jump-started authentic forms of Feudalism in Indonesia, and by the time Indonesia Raya was sung on 56th East Pegangsaan Street, it ended. Or did it?

The times of the land lords, the meneers, and the nobles may have come to an end. But the seedlings of Feudalism still seep into the everyday lives of Indonesian today. We can still see it on a daily basis. A good example is when you’re driving a vehicle in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta, you will almost definitely find yourself near the presence of a government vehicle. Whether it is military, police, ministry or all of them together in one convoy, you’ll always have to move aside. Every single time a civilian is on the road and sees one of those vehicles on their rear-view mirror, there’s always an obligation to change lanes and provide clearance for that vehicle behind them. This obligation may come from a self-induced state, but in some occasions, government vehicles would continue to siren out the vehicle in front of them so they can have a clear path ahead. 

Sure, if it’s state official business they’re attending and they have to arrive in a nick of time, it’s a must to provide such thing, but in some occasions, that is not the case. The focus of that example is on license plating vehicles bear on their front and rear side, if the license plate is green/blue/black/red with golden numbers or with “RFS” on the end of it, it’s somehow an obligation to clear away. 

Again, for us civilians, it’s hard to tell whether or not the individual riding on said vehicles are actually in a very important task or not. So, it’s basically up to the officials to not conduct such improper misuse of government property. Truth be told, the vehicle, the sirens, and the gas burning inside it’s engine are all paid by civilian taxes. Let us not further concede the good image of our state officials. 

The example mentioned above is just one of many feudal-esque incidents happening in Indonesia. If we can ever trace back this matter, it would basically start from a psychological factor embedded within Indonesians themselves. From the early ages of monarchical civilization, Nusantara’s majority is always those of the lower class. This lower class follows a chain of hierarchy where the highest in order is that of the monarchs. 

This lower class-mentality had already been molded for centuries when the colonialists arrived, and then it was further solidified, as the hierarchy becomes more complex and their mentality becomes more insufferable. They had become too accustomed; they didn’t even try to ask questions. But in the later years of the Dutch’s reign, they decided to give a small portion of this lower-class majority education, the seedlings of which helped provide Indonesia it’s progress towards independence. 

Still, there are many whom are not touched by proper education, and the mentality stayed within them. Then Indonesia freed itself in 1945, as Soekarno began his 20 year-reign as president. Education of course, was evolving and further developed, but still not enough. As Soekarno’s ambition laid waste to economy, more and more started to live a life full of hardship, education was again abandoned. 

After which Soeharto came to power, this is when the real fun began. Soeharto’s three-decade reign of power was the defining factor of how feudalism survived. It evolved, as the poor and helpless in the past served those with royal blood and land ownership. Now they serve those with guns and safaris. Soeharto’s reign left behind an education so thick in symbolism and indoctrination, it basically lived on until this day. 

Of course, it is no secret that Soeharto had the Army enforce his way to the top and through all during his era, but this enforcement saw the downfall of free will and free speech in Indonesia. As the media was controlled by the government and the government and its subordinates were made into an all-powerful institution. The administration gave way to a specific mindset that the ones with the weapon are the ones in power. 

As the Army and Police was inserted into civilian domain, people started to view the armed forces (ABRI) as their indirect superiors. The Indonesian Army was organized into the smallest of civilian regional structures, even to administration of small villages. Its presence was over bearing, and it was present in that way for a very long time. ABRI had seats in the People’s Administrative Council and had personnel in every single regional aspect of the country. 

This supremacy given to the armed forces was even enlarged as government executives were filled with active armed forces personnel for every level of administration. From governors, town mayors, ambassadors, and even heads of government-owned companies. For 32 years Indonesians were being fed with this, indoctrinated that the armed forces were heroes and patriots, an ever-present force necessary to ensure that every aspect of civilian life was in accordance with the Pancasila (as it was the main focus of New Order indoctrinations).

Eventually, people got smarter. They’ve had enough of this improper use of power. Soeharto fell, and President Abdurrachman Wahid disbanded the Dwifungsi ABRI system, which was the base for the earlier-mentioned extensive armed forces roles. But the scars and the mentality that it had moulded within the people will not disappear any time soon. The question remains, can the remnants of the ABRI fully throw away its previous improper indoctrinations, or will they succumb to it?

Feudalism in Indonesia is not what it was long ago, it still exists, albeit in a more subtle way. We’ve gone through a lot to be liberated from the chains of the powerful, sure we suffered, but the commitment and persistence is key to every success. Look at where we are now today, almost fully shedding the imbecilic hierarchy that existed just over a decade ago. Fear not those with guns in their hands, start realizing who we are, and for those in uniform, start realizing who you are. We are the people, it is our obligation to respect and contribute to the administration and the institutions surrounding it, and it is theirs to serve us with kindness, not with an iron fist. Remember, our heroes are not ones with weapons, yet the ones who work tirelessly for their children at home, fighting through the busy city from nine to five, the ones in the rice fields under the heat of the sun, the ones that went early in the mornings to fish at sea, the ones that wept tears to feed their family. Those are the real heroes, ordinary people, never glorified, never publicized, but ever-present at Indonesia’s side. 

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