30 September and Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

I went to a Chinese temple in Yogyakarta last night to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, or Mooncake Festival. The festival is celebrated every year on full moon night of the 15th day of the 8th month in Chinese lunar calendar—around September or October. The festival honors the goddess of the Moon, Chang’e. According to the legend, the goddess of the Moon endows her whorshippers with beauty and helps them finding partners (matchmaking).

The organizers of the celebration dress in Chinese mythological characters. Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

The organizers of the celebration dress in Chinese mythological characters. Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Indonesian military personnel from Magelang perform Chinese dragon dance. Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Indonesian military personnel from Magelang perform Chinese dragon dance. Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

The goddess of the Moon, Chang'e who lives on the moon with a rabbit. Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

The goddess of the Moon, Chang’e who lives on the moon with a rabbit. Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Incense dragon dance performed by Hoo Hap Hwe. Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

Incense dragon dance performed by Hoo Hap Hwe. Yogyakarta, 30 September 2012 © Budi N.D. Dharmawan

What is interesting is that the day of the festival, 30 September also happens to be a historical day for Indonesia. An army coup d’etat took place that day in 1965 and led to massacre of millions of people accused being communists or supporting communism. Many Indonesian Chinese were also targeted by military and paramilitary forces, as Indonesia’s now-banned communist party at that time was close to China’s communist government. So I found it ironic that a group of military personnel performed Chinese dragon dance on the night of 30 September. (Note: I’m not criticizing anyone or saying it’s good or bad, I’m just saying that it’s ironic.)

Decades have passed but it is till unclear what really happened then. Historical facts are continuously debated, as parties involved have their own versions of the story. Some blamed Partai Komunis Indonesia, or the Indonesian Communist Party, therefore the massacre of its members were necessary. Some said P.K.I. was only victimized by the army, hence the act of killing should be outlawed. Some even said the C.I.A. planned all that. Efforts have been done to seek the truth so people will know what really happened, but many also try to bury the truth deep until people just forget it. Recently, politicians even asked the nation to forget the 1965 massacre and the victims of the violence to stop seeking justice (read here). (Note again: I’m not defending or against communism or militarism, but clearly I oppose violence against humanity and political stupidity.)

On personal level, whatever happened in 1965 and the years after that have affected in younger generation of Indonesian Chinese like me to lose identity. Because of the tragedy, Indonesian Chinese were afraid to show their Chineseness to avoid being stigmatized. On the other hand, government forced the ethnic group to “blend in” with the society—by not using Chinese names or speaking Chinese languages or practicing Chinese rituals or cultural activities. My parents didn’t teach me all things Chinese; we speak to each other either in Bahasa Indonesia or in Javanese language. I also have more Javanese friends than Chinese ones. But even so, the Indonesian society still perceived us as Chinese and therefore could not fully accept us as Indonesian. Who am I then? I was born and raised here.

Of course this debate is somehow out of date. Things have changed now. But believe it or not, sometimes discrimination still happens. Some Indonesian Chinese are still asked a document that states their Indonesian nationality (it is called Surat Bukti Kewarganegaraan Republik Indonesia, Proof of Citizenship of the Republic of Indonesia) when they enroll in university or make passport, etc. That document, ruled as a must for Indonesian Chinese since 1958, has actually been declared not necessary in 1996 and again in 1999—one can simply use Indonesian identity card or Indonesian birth certificate to proof one’s Indonesian citizenship.

Questions of identity also surfaced when I encountered Chinese communities in neighbouring coutries like Singapore or Malaysia. I was spoken to in Chinese. I answered in English that I can’t speak Chinese. They were surprised, “How come a Chinese cannot speak Chinese?” Sometimes I ended up laughing, some other times not. So, as a personal note, may this Mid-Autumn Festival mark my effort to retrace my identity. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! ∎