Culture is a process that underlies all lines of community life. Culture advancement means developing every element in the cultural ecosystem and other different ecosystems that affect it or are influenced by it.
SOCIETY is the owner and the driving force of culture. People have always established relationships in order to fulfill their personal, group, and community needs. Culture is born from the fulfillment of that need. Thus, when people’s needs change, so will the pattern of their relationship with their products and cultural practices.
The formulation of Cultural Advancement Law reflects on the living situation of the people which are always changing and developing over time. Therefore, culture is defined as “everything that people invent, sense, intend, and create.” Its stance is firm: culture originates from the human body, soul, mind, and character—all elements of human life. Accordingly, Cultural Advancement Law defines the national culture as “the whole process and outcome of interaction between cultures that thrive and grow across Indonesia.”
The words “process” and “outcome” laid out in the same sentence acknowledge the community development as the culture groundwork. Because it is bound by common needs, culture applies and is owned collectively. Culture is not attached to humans as individuals but as part of a community that is constantly changing.
THE FIVE FOUNDATIONS OF CULTURAL ADVANCEMENT
All cultural products and practices are the result of mixing and encounters of people from other cultures
THERE IS NO “PURE” CULTURE. All cultural products and practices are the result of mixing and encounters of people from other cultures, and will continue to develop and change over time. Nothing is set in stone. The only thing that is certain is change itself.
Keroncong and tanjidor music, for example, reflect a long journey across time and region. In its composition, we can hear the influence of Portuguese, Indian, Arabic, Malay, Javanese, and Betawi music. The history of its development stretches from Arabia to the Iberian peninsula and then India, Malacca, to various corners of the archipelago. In every stopover, keroncong music is enriched. The result: a rich mix of cultures with insights from different parts of the world.
Human migration also has an impact on culture. When a group of people meet other groups with different cultural experiences and arrangements, the encounter and assimilation gives birth to novelties. In this modern era, when advances in transportation systems and communication technology make it easier for people to meet, no culture is confined within its own shell.
One element of culture can contain more than one value or meaning
CULTURE is essentially a fulfillment of human needs. When human needs change or increase, society’s meaning of its culture also changes. Over time, an element of culture can have new values or meanings—sometimes in tandem with old meanings, sometimes replacing, and sometimes enriching.
Batik, for example, began as a clothing for royalties. It was only used by the royal family for ritual and ceremonial needs in their social circles. Batik production was also limited to craftsmen and artists who were under the protection of the palace. When batik spread outside the palace environment, it happened by chance, since most batik craftspeople and artists live outside the palace.
As time change, new social order replaced the older one—the kingdom no longer served as the highest authority institution. Consequently, a number of traditions that were originally exclusive to the nobility then spread to the wider community. This includes batik. Now batik can be easily found in markets, from hawkers to luxury boutiques. Batik motifs are also present in various types of clothing, from worker uniforms to costume shows. Initially only valued as a ritual tool for the elite, batik is now also valued as an economic commodity and a work of art in various circles.
In the Law for the Advancement of Culture, the value or meaning of a cultural element is summarized in the term Object for the Advancement of Culture, which in the General Provisions section is defined as “the element of culture which is the main target for the promotion of culture”. There are ten types of Objects for the Promotion of Culture that are prioritized in the Law for the Advancement of Culture: customs, languages, manuscripts, traditional sports, traditional knowledge, folk games, rites, arts, traditional technology, and oral traditions.
Just as an element of culture can have many values and meanings in society, an element of culture can be classified in more than one type of Object of Cultural Advancement. Let’s return to the example of batik. In the context of the Law for the Advancement of Culture, batik can be classified into at least five types of Objects for the Advancement of Culture:
- customs, when viewed from their use in traditional ceremonies and religious activities.
- rites, when viewed from the cultural and spiritual values recognized by a number of people.
- traditional technology, when viewed from the production equipment such as canting.
- traditional knowledge, when viewed from the philosophy and life insight that underlies its motives.
- art, when viewed from the artistic value of the design of the motifs.
This dynamic, flexible way of classifying is called a multiple register system or multi-tagging. The benefits are twofold. First, the plural register system keeps the Law for the Advancement of Culture in line with the dynamics of society in culture. The support and protection contained in the Law for the Advancement of Culture will only be useful if the law is relevant to the reality that exists in society. By recognizing that culture is a continuous process and is open to new meanings and values, the Law for the Advancement of Culture can strategically support and protect the various cultural processes that take place in society and the various possibilities for their development.
Second, the plural register system allows the Law for the Advancement of Culture to accommodate cross-sectoral efforts to promote culture. As already mentioned, the Law for the Advancement of Culture rests on the conception of culture as an ecosystem, as a crossroad between various mutually supportive socio-economic relations. A rigid classification system, which only allows one category for each element of culture, will only result in incomplete and compartmentalized data collection.
If batik is only considered a work of art, for example, then the problems that exist in customs, rites, technology and traditional knowledge will not be resolved. Such data collection clearly will not result in a comprehensive strategy for advancement, as has been the case so far. A cultural strategy based on compartmentalizing data collection will only address the cultural elements, and ignore the various socio-economic relations that surround it.
The plural register system pays special attention to the interrelationships of an element of culture. The use of this system is based on the realization that efforts to promote an element of culture always require the promotion of related elements in culture and the socio-political landscape in society.
Advancing culture means advancing every element in the cultural ecosystem
IN BIOLOGY, ecosystem is understood as a system of mutually supportive interactions between various living and non-living things within a certain area. If one element is lost or changed, the impact will be felt throughout the ecosystem.
A similar perspective can be applied in the realm of culture. Cultural ecosystems are composed of mutually supportive interactions between actors, users, infrastructure, environment, and cultural elements in a particular area. All elements are connected by various working chains that exchange services, objects, and meanings.
An ecosystem-based perspective places human relationships as the foundation of culture. People don’t just adopt practices or use products in their daily lives. The practice or product must be in line with the needs of the community in the various socio-economic relationships they carry out on a daily basis. When there is a need, then a practice or product becomes meaningful. Not the other way around.
So far, most people’s perspectives on culture are still focused on products and practices. Human relations are considered as a consequence of the existence of these products and practices. The consequence is that the mapping of cultural issues is completely wrong and oversimplified.
As if, just by tackling a small problem, we can create a significant change. It is as if only by building a traditional house, all customs will be preserved. As if only by buying art tools that are almost extinct, then the arts will immediately be sustainable. It is as if only by holding a cultural object, the social relations that originally created and developed the object will appear by itself.
Advancing the cultural ecosystem cannot and should not be done half-heartedly. Advancing culture is not only advancing the elements of culture, but also advancing all socio-economic relations that allow these elements to exist and develop. Each element needs to be developed and strengthened. When one is weak, the others will be affected.
Take for example the gringsing cloth in Bali. To revitalize the gringsing fabric, we need to identify the various social relationships that allow the gringsing fabric to exist and thrive. The social relationship is not only limited to the relationship between fellow residents of Tenganan Village—the location of the origin of the gringsing cloth—but also the relationship between the Tenganan community and Balinese society and culture, the closeness of the Tenganan community to the surrounding natural environment, the spread of knowledge about gringsing cloth in Balinese society, working relationships between craftsmen gringsing cloth with market organizers, the importance of gringsing cloth for the residents of Tenganan and Bali, the importance of gringsing cloth in the midst of a wave of tourists flocking into Bali, and so on.
Another example: Indonesian films. Indonesian films cannot be developed simply by building more cinemas or setting quotas for Indonesian films. Both are only a small part of the screening element—which consists of the six elements of the film ecosystem. We need to review the mode of film production at the community and industrial level, the capacity and working relations of filmmakers, the mode of distribution of films, the culture of watching in theaters and non-cinemas; dissemination of knowledge, appreciation, and film literacy; as well as the quality and affordability of film archives.
Advancing culture means contributing to the advancement of various other ecosystems outside of culture.
ADDRESSING CULTURAL ECOSYSTEMS requires openness and flexibility of perspective. The formulation of cultural policies and strategies cannot be carried out based on barriers between cultural sectors. We can no longer rigidly sort out which is the arts sector, which is oral tradition, which is traditional knowledge, and so on.
The sectoral approach is inconsistent in the context of the Law for the Advancement of Culture, which adheres to the standard of a plural register system (multi-tagging)—one element can be classified into various cultural spheres at the same time. Gringsing cloth, for example—with a plural register approach—represents at least five types of Objects for the Advancement of Culture: rites, customs, traditional technology, traditional knowledge, and art.
The sectoral approach is also not in line with the dynamics of society in creating and managing culture. The life force of the community as cultural actors is related to various things, many of which seem not directly related to culture. Consequently, efforts to promote culture need to consider the strength of each element in the cultural ecosystem, as well as other ecosystems that influence and are influenced by it.
The social relations that underlie the creation and distribution of literature, for example, are closely related to the social relations that underlie oral traditions, printing businesses, and educational institutions. These three things are still closely related to cultural works. Outside the realm of culture, there are many things that are also related. Advancing literature needs to take into account the quality of the forest, which wood is used as paper for literary works and reference books as an increase in literacy power. Advancing literature also needs to strengthen the social security system, so that every literary worker and enthusiast has a safety net against social and economic risks due to work relations.
The complexity of community relations in culture only emphasizes the need for an ecosystem-based approach in initiating and carrying out cultural promotion efforts. The mandate of the Law for the Advancement of Culture “to revive and maintain a sustainable cultural ecosystem,” if we discuss it further, is the mandate to empower and strengthen socio-economic relations in an area that allows the protection, development, and utilization of Objects for the Promotion of Culture, as well as fostering natural resources and human resources relevant to the Object of Cultural Advancement.
Culture will continue to develop and change over time, so preserving it is not enough
CULTURE IS VERY FLEXIBLE. To advance it, a comprehensive work strategy is needed. So far, our plans and discourses for the advancement of culture have been too reliant on preservation. The priority of preservation is to prevent a culture from being damaged or destroyed. The way is through care, maintenance, archiving, recovery, and rescue.
The problem is, preservation alone is not enough. Conservation will only be effective in a society that is relatively uniformed, does not change much, and is closed from outside influences. Meanwhile, Indonesia is formed from a diverse society. As a nation, we are also familiar with the culture of other nations. New cultures continue to emerge and coexist with old cultures.
In response to this, the Law for the Advancement of Culture outlines four strategic steps to promote culture: protection, development, utilization, and empowerment. The four are interrelated. Conservation functions are accommodated in protective measures, while utilization measures facilitate the utilization of national cultural assets through innovation, appreciation of values, and intercultural interactions. On the one hand, there is respect for old traditions and cultures. On the other hand, there is an openness to difference and novelty.
The other two steps, namely development and empowerment, are responsible for strengthening the cultural ecosystem and the human resources that support it. The Law for the Advancement of Culture mandates the central and local governments to “give life to and maintain a sustainable cultural ecosystem”. By placing the cultural ecosystem as the goal, the Law for the Advancement of Culture encourages efforts to promote culture not only to save cultural artifacts, but also to strengthen the elements of people’s lives associated with them.
For example, the Sampek musical instrument played by the Kenyah Dayak people in Apo Kayan was extinct because not many young people in Apo Kayan could play it. One reason is the change in settlement patterns. When the longhouse was still around, Sampek was played on the verandah of the longhouse that was not insulated—everyone could come to listen and the children used that time to learn how to play Sampek. When the shared living spaces turned into private houses, there was no longer a social space that allowed the process of learning music as it used to be.
We can’t save our culture just by saving the musical instruments. We also need to seek the right social space, which will allow the learning process and the performance of Sampek. We must strengthen the social relations to empower the culture.