Malaysia, Indonesia in a Dance-Off
The Malaysian government has claimed one North Sumatran dance and one type of music as part of the country’s own cultural heritage, prompting condemnation from the Indonesian Batak community and calls from a lawmaker to respond with force.
Rais Yatim, Malaysia’s minister of communication and culture, was quoted by Malaysian state news agency Bernama on Thursday as saying the dance, Tor-Tor, and music, Gordang Sambilan, would be added to the 2005 National Heritage Law.
Rais said the dance and music were part of the country’s diverse culture and should be “performed regularly in front of [Malaysian and international] crowds.”
Ibnu Hamad, a spokesman for the Indonesian Education and Culture Ministry, said his office would seek confirmation from the Malaysian government about the report.
“We will recheck that information,” he said. “If it’s true, I hope the Malaysian government will not forget all the earlier cases of claims that sparked protests from the Indonesian people, which is counterproductive for the relationships between Indonesia and Malaysia.
“It’s best that Malaysia clarifies the real purpose for putting Tor-Tor on their national heritage list. If they want recognition as the owners of the dance arbitrarily, we definitely can’t accept that.”
Ibnu said the dance and music were part of the Batak Mandailing culture and performed in honor of their ancestors, making them part of Indonesian heritage.
Saleh Salam Harahap, the chairman of the Batak Mandailing Customary Institute, told the Tempo.co news portal that migrants from Mandailing had long settled in Malaysia, bringing their culture with them and leading the Malaysian government to lay claim to the dance and music.
“The culture has been around in Mandailing for 500 years,” Saleh said on Sunday. “There are two Mandailing customary communities in Malaysia — I know both of their leaders. There’s no way the Mandailing leaders in Perak and Kuala Lumpur will keep quiet about this.”
Lawmaker Ruhut Sitompul, whose family hails from North Sumatra, said Indonesia must use hard diplomacy to defend the country’s cultural heritage.
“Once in a while, I think it’s necessary that we bomb [Malaysia] as a form of shock therapy,” the Democratic Party politician said. “Otherwise they will keep oppressing us. There’s no need for diplomacy — they always find excuses.”
In 2007, Malaysia claimed the traditional lion dance from Ponorogo, East Java, by posting an image of the costume used for the dance on its heritage website, heritage.gov.my.
That year, the Malaysian Tourism Board also released a tourism commercial featuring the song “Rasa Sayange.” The board claimed the song originated from Malaysia, although the lyrics were not in Malay but in a Maluku dialect.
Two years later, the board featured the Balinese Pendet dance in one of its “Visit Malaysia” commercials. Malaysia claimed it was mix-up, blaming the production house that produced the commercial.
Malaysia has never retracted its claims on the Ponorogo lion dance and “Rasa Sayange” song.