Bhinneka tunggal ika : pluralism and centralism in Indonesian history

TitleBhinneka tunggal ika : pluralism and centralism in Indonesian history
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsReid A, Sedyawati E, Zuhdi S
Book TitleArung Samudera : persembahan memperingati sembilan windu A.B. Lapian
Chapterp. 299-302.
PublisherPusat Penelitian Kemasyarakatan dan Budaya Lembaga Penelitian Universitas Indonesia (PPKB LPUI)
Call NumberM 2002 A 3307
Keywordscentralization, cultural pluralism, Excerpta Indonesica, HISTORY, INDONESIA, political power, religious pluralism

This essay examines the tensions between centralistic and pluralistic tendencies in Indonesian concepts of power. While power has been typically conceptualized ideologically as indivisible and emanating from a single divine source, actual political structures found in Indonesian history exhibit complex balancing systems, dualities, and pluralisms, legitimated by <> or by contract. The best evidence of such contractual Indonesian political systems could be found in the stateless societies of Eastern Indonesia, the interior of Kalimantan, and the Batak and Minangkabau areas of Sumatra. States which did arise in these areas were typically marked by contracts between the constituting communities and lineages, of which the 18th-19th century Wajo (Bugis) constitution is a particularly successful example. The author argues that the importance of Indianization for the rise of more autocratic state types against the older consensual tradition - through the introduction of the notion of <>, the divine king - has generally been overestimated, while the reverse has been true for Islam, which brought with it notions such as <> and <>. The rise of Islam also coincided with a great increase in trade and presence of foreign powers, which encouraged the absolutism of 17th-century autocrats like Sultan Iskandar Muda of Aceh, Sultan Hasanuddin of Makassar, Sultan Ageng of Banten, and Sultan Agung of Mataram. However, these autocratic rulers eventually destroyed the fragile equation between pluralism and monism on which their states had been based. In the opinion of the author, the real successes of Indonesian statecraft can be found in states built on indigenous patterns of pluralistic political devices, as exemplified by Banda, Banten, Aceh, Japara, Solor, Jambi, which all had an important mercantile oligarchy, and by Makassar, which was built on the duality of Gowa and Tallo, reinforced by contracts between the two states and other vital groups, including foreign traders. Indonesians have reason to be proud of this genius for institutionalizing pluralism in their political systems, a tradition which they could draw upon in building political institutions in the future.