THE SPIRIT OF SETIABUDI

THE SPIRIT OF SETIABUDI

How to tell the story of one man who made such a difference in recent Indonesian history and yet is not genuinely regarded as a hero by its people?

Because Ernest Francois Douwes-Dekker was born of Dutch-Indonesian parentage and was generally regarded as a second class citizen for most of his adult life by even the most influential people who respected him the most.

Indonesian people certainly know who he is and what he represents.

As Setiabudi, his name is given to a residential quarter in downtown Jakarta city as well as to monuments and streets in towns and cities across the vast archaepeligo.

Here was a man who was anti-colonial almost from the day he was born.

From childhood onwards, he was unjustifiably and undeseredly chastised by his short-sighted Dutch masters for an empathetic and non-discriminatory stance towards plantation workers and people of inferior status.

What if  this ebullient young man had been killed in conflict while fighting the cause of the Boers in southern Africa on the same battlefield as Winston Churchill was experiencing his first realities of leadership?

It is therefore no wonder that despite using his literacy skills as a journalist, that history today portrays him as a tragic and much misunderstood figure from the past who never quite made his mark or found his voice.

But for his individual initiative, the name of ‘Indonesia’ would possibly not have become the name of the new country as a successor to the Dutch East Indies.

‘Nusantara’ just does not have the same ring to it.

Indeed, it is quite possible that the mythical Garuda Bird would not have become the national emblem.

The Indische Party of 1913, in which Mr Dekker played a part, may have taken on much dimished significance in the subsequent historical years which led to full Indonesian independence.

The discomforting irony is that as a result of being such a key player, Mr. Dekker experienced exile for the first time as a voice against Indonesian endorsement of celebration for a centenary of Dutch independence from the French.

Why indeed should Indonesia support, thought he, if the Dutch otherwise known as the Netherlands, did not support Indonesia’s own claim to independence?

Mr. Dekker’s impromptu encounter with a then unknown Soekarno at a Bandung school in 1926 would prove to be a turning point in Indonesian history while serving as a stepping stone to both men in very different directions.

The teacher and the student held a particular unbreakable relationship.

The vision was the same.

Mr. Dekker, alas, was seen as the ultimate dangerous activist by the Dutch rulers and was this time exiled to a remote prison camp in distant Surinam  until his release and return in 1947.

Powerful substance.  Faithful spirit.

Mr. Dekker adopted the  Sundanese name of Danudirja Setiabudi within a month of his return to the only place he knew as his homeland.

But that homeland, although proclaimed as the nation state of Indonesia, was not yet rid of the Dutch colonial shackle.

Mr. Dekker, now of course Bapak Setiabudi, would live long enough to his seventieth birthday to eventually see the formal Dutch transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia in 1949.

General Sudirman was certainly a contemporary of Bapak Setiabudi.

However, although the death of Sudirman in 1950 was predictable but premature, the death of Bapak Setiabudi in the same year was a certain and timely legacy to Indonesia.

If only in a statue on a street corner, a bronze bust in a museum or a head on a postage stamp.

Mr. Dekker, Bapak Setiabudi, became the spirit and unsung hero of a new nation.

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