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“Appreciation of history yields respect for others”
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“Appreciation of history yields respect for others”

Geetha KanniahIt amazes me to see how far they go to keep other cultures alive, writes Geetha Kanniah, an 18-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from Malaysia, as she discusses her experience of the religious and cultural tolerance of Indonesia during a recent trip.

Mutualism: a symbiotic relationship that keeps the world running. We learn it in our sciences- when a crab houses a sea anemone (the sea anemone is transported and the crab gets food from the coral’s remnants). We practice it in our daily lives, with the local slang “you help me, I help you”. Even in the stock exchange, when the buyer and seller both benefit in a bull market. It’s also practiced in corruption, when an officer takes a bribe (he gets money and the wrong are let off the hook). Little did I know I would see this relationship of mutualism so profound in Indonesia – mutual respect keeps the gods happy!

Indonesia has been the centre of trade for decades. Its strategic position, impregnable empires and well-equipped ports have been the eye of merchandisers, traders and western imperialists. Citizens from different nations have been travelling to this country, trading, exploring, learning, marrying and spreading the teachings of their religions. Empires like Srivijaya, Majapahit and Sailendra were formed based on Hinduism and Buddhism. Silk weavers from Gujerat and Arabic traders brought Islam to the land, and thus ascended the kingdoms Mataram and Pajang. The Portuguese spread Christianity while propagating their principle “Gold, Gospel, Glory”. Thus, a wide community grew and I was fortunate enough to be able experience that diversity.

A paradox formed as I stepped on its land on a recent holiday, a contradiction to my expectations. Indonesia is an Islamic country, so naturally I expected to see a dominating Islamic culture, one that might stifle other practices. I’ve never been so wrong.

Now although Indonesia’s major demographic line is Muslim, there are still other religions practiced, namely Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. What really surprised me was the respect given to each religion and how not one was controlling over the others. They have mutual respect for each other and no one is left behind.

Travelling to Yogyakarta and seeing how the locals (mainly Muslims) reacted to the historic Hindu and Buddhism structures was such an eye-opener. They, who strongly uphold Islam, were just as excited as the tourists, if not more. They were taking pictures, following tour guides to learn about the temples and were fascinated by the traditional lore.

Borobudur and Prambanan are two temples (Hindu and Buddhist, respectively) among many others that are very well preserved by the government and the locals. The government supports the safeguard of these sites and the locals follow their footsteps. Thousands of volunteers had offered their time, energy and resources to help clean and rebuild fallen structures after the 2010 volcanic eruption. Hard labour is the cost of their respect for other religions, yet they do not seem to stop appreciating their past, be it their own religion or another. It amazes me to see how far they go to keep other cultures alive. Everything from landscaping to reconstructing the statues of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Buddha were carried out diligently by Muslims, in addition to the guarding, patrolling and directing tourists to these heritage sites.

Even in Bali, where the majority of people are Hindus, the locals are given their space to practice their beliefs in this predominantly Muslim country. I saw offerings placed on pavements and massive structures of Krishna and the Garuda in the middle of roundabouts. I heard taxi drivers talk about Hindu legends, and watched dances about Krishna and Sita performed every night. In fact, what they practice is at the core of Hinduism, when it can sometimes be lost in translation and perceptions over the years. They know the legends and values behind their traditions, and they practice them as a way of life.

Their respect and adoration for other cultures is a result of their appreciation of their history. Indonesians accept that their country was once a hub of religions and ethnicities and thus, they want to keep that history alive. They believe in preserving their multi-racial background and this, indirectly, keeps the peace of the country in place.

So, in this Muslim world where other religions are equally respected, I have a new deep admiration for Indonesians and their principles. Like I said, mutual respect keeps the gods happy!

Photo: Geetha Kanniah

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About me:

I am a Malaysian who looks for adventure and thrill, and is passionate about sports. I enjoy tennis, swimming, badminton and most recently, longboarding. I also spend a lot of my time with my camera, capturing as much as I can, while documenting them on my blog: journeywithacamera.wordpress.com.

My travels give me the exposure to learn about the world. And to know and do more, I volunteer with different organizations, particularly in the marine field. My ambition is to be an explorer and to reach out to people.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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