Indonesian National Scouts’ Day – more scouts in Indonesia than anywhere else on earth – a critical look

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Scouts with the sprouting coconut emblem on their flag. (photo: IO/Yoga Agusta)

IO – Scouting in Indonesia first began during colonial times in 1912. At that time the Indonesian scouts’ organi­zation was called the “Nederlands Indische Padvinders Vereeniging” or Netherlands Indies Scout Movement. Coming from a colony it was regard­ed as a branch of the Netherlands scout association known as the “Ned­erlandse Padvinders Organisatie” or Netherlands Pathfinder Organization. Lord Baden-Powell the founder of the scouts’ movement worldwide visited Indonesia in 1934.

After independence there were more than 60 scout organizations in Indonesia which was quite chaotic and created problems for the move­ment both at home and abroad. Many were even affiliated with politi­cal parties. So, in 1952 thirteen of the largest scout organizations created a federation known as the “Ikatan Pan­du Indonesia” or Indonesian Scouts Union. The following year this orga­nization received recognition from the Indonesian government and President Sukarno became the patron of the National Scout Council. The Ikatan Pandu Indonesia became a mem­ber of the World Organization of the Scout Movement in 1953. For the girl guides there were two organizations namely the “Persatuan Kepanduan Puteri Indonesia” or Indonesian Girls Scouts Union and the “Persatuan Or­ganisasi Pandu Puteri Indonesia” or the Indonesian Girl Scout Organi­zations Union which together wel­comed Lady Baden-Powell, the wife of Lord Baden-Powell (who had by then passed away), to Indonesia in the 1950s on her way to to Australia.

Various groups tried to secure the scout movement for political purposes including the Communists who tried to turn it into a sort of Young Pioneers. This was strongly opposed by many of the leaders of the scout movement and in order to stop the politicizing of the movement in particular the aims of the Communist Party, Presidential Decree number 238 of 1961 was is­sued whereby the “Gerakan Pramu­ka Indonesia” or Indonesian Scout Movement was created. Only this organization was allowed to conduct scouting activities and education. All other scout organizations were band. President Sukarno then introduced the “Gerakan Pramuka Indonesia” to the people of Indonesia on the 14th of August 1961 with a gather­ing of 10,000 scouts in Jakarta who marched in defile past the President and then held a parade around town. Thereafter, the 14th of August came to be regarded as the anniversary of the Gerakan Pramuka Indonesia.

In that way the Gerakan Pramu­ka Indonesia became the national scouting organization of Indonesia. Pramuka is the acronym of “Praja muda karana” which derives from Sanskrit and means “the young in spirit who like to work or create”. The Indonesian scouts’ emblem which appears on their flag is a sprouting coconut; one of the most important plants for sustenance in a nation that consists of islands. Added to which every part of the coconut can be used. Therefore, the sprouting coconut symbolizes that true scouts must make them­selves useful in all aspects of life. The coconut also represents physi­cal toughness, a growing spirit and adaptability. It is the perfect sym­bol for the Indonesian scout move­ment.

Berthold Sinaulan in full scout regalia. (photo: IO/Prive. Doc)

So, why does Indonesia have so many scouts?
Perhaps the fact that 95 percent of all scouts become scouts through their schools has something to do with it. The remaining 5 percent are part of scout groups set up by neighborhoods or other community initiatives. Berthold Sinaulan who is a former National Commissioner for the Indonesian Scout Movement as well as a member of the Asia-Pacific Regional Scout Specialist Panel says, “It is because all school children are legally obligated to become scouts. This was already the situation under the Suharto government in the 1970s and 80s but after the fall of Suharto during the “Reformasi” or Reforma­tion era, for a time children were no longer obliged to become scouts.”

In 2011 Azrul Azwar who was then Chairman of the Indonesian National Scout Movement said, “The develop­ment of scout education all over the world is primarily on a voluntary ba­sis. So, school children should not be forced to become scouts as this will not produce the best results.”

Nevertheless, by 2013 the then Minister of Education and Culture, Mohamad Nuh did a complete face about by making it obligatory again for every school child to become a scout. One might well ask, “what happened?”

With democracy and more civil freedoms the government began to find itself facing more and more cas­es of intolerance based on race and religion. It tried to circumvent this by creating organizations such the “Gerakan Revolusi Mental” or the Mental Revolution Movement and the “Program Bela Negara” or Defend the Nation Movement. However, such efforts proved futile and the govern­ment found that the scout movement was a far more successful medium for spreading love of country and de­veloping the tolerance and diversity needed to keep the country unified. The government now uses the scout movement as one of its soft measures for spreading unity within the Archi­pelago.

The success of the scout move­ment as a messenger for tolerance and unity is in part because the scout movement has already been around for such a long time and its methods have been tested and im­proved with time. Indonesian society has become used to it and has em­braced the movement. Meanwhile, the government perceives the scouts as playing a strategic role in teach­ing citizens civics from a very early age, and in implanting the values of patriotism. In fact it has proven to be far more successful than civics les­sons at school. In a country with over 13,000 islands, over 600 languages and 300 different tribal and ethnic groups unity, tolerance and diversity are highly essential for the survival of the nation. Indonesia is also a rela­tively young nation where democracy still needs to deepen its roots.

Nevertheless, even during the period when scouting was not com­pulsory its membership continued to rise. From a membership of 17 mil­lion in 2011 it became around 17, 2 million by 2013.

So, what is it about scouting that Indonesians find so attractive?
In most Indonesian schools ex­tracurricular activity are mandatory however, in most schools there is also very little choice regarding extracur­ricular activities and scouting is the most popular and interesting one. Also other extracurricular activities can only accommodate a limited amount of people. For example, it would be difficult for hundreds of people to all become members of a choir or a soccer club. When asked the question what makes scouting so attractive to Indonesians Nurhidayat Nasution who is a former scout re­sponded, “It is very community ori­ented which Indonesians like and feel comfortable with and the scouts have some truly exciting and interest­ing activities where you can learn a lot and be creative – and Indonesians love to be creative. I really loved my time as a scout.”

Scouts arranging a bamboo structure with flags. (photo: IO/Yoga Agusta)

Such an influential organization has of course to be guarded against political influence from outside el­ements. The movement recently re­ceived a scare when in July 2017 its Chairman Adhyaksa Dault was accused of supporting the Hizb-ut Tahrir movement which preaches the creation of a caliphate and the impo­sition of Sharia law and has recently been banned by the Indonesian gov­ernment. For a time the Indonesian government suspended support (in­cluding financial) for the national scout movement. As the government provides nearly 50 percent of the In­donesian Scout Movement’s budget to a tune of Rp 10 billion per year – this could have proven a disaster for the scouts. Adhyaksa moved swiftly to repair the damage with the central government by explaining that he was only at the meeting because of an invitation and had never been either a member or a supporter of Hizb-ut Tahrir and he seems to have straight­ened things out with the government – although why a scout leader would even want to attend an invitation from Hizb-ut Tahrir remains an in­teresting question.

Sources who know him but wish to remain unnamed say that Adhi­yaksa Dault is no supporter of Hizb-ut Tahrir but merely enjoys speaking engagements and was lax in re­searching the forum he was speak­ing at. At the scouts’ anniversary cel­ebrations last week he was quick to reassure the government that, “The Scout movement will never place the government and the movement at odds or in a you and us stance. While it remains permissible for us to criticize the government such criti­cism should only be constructive crit­icism especially, bearing in mind that we are in fact a part of the govern­ment…”. He then went on to declare to the scouts and their leaders, “The scouts are not a political organization but a non-formal educational organi­zation. So, feel free to run in the com­ing elections but don’t use a scouts’ uniform. We will not allow our young scouts to be provoked by people who do not desire the unity of this nation and its people.”

This may all perhaps help in also understanding why he suddenly cancelled his bid to run as a mem­ber of the legislature on a Gerindra Party ticket and declared that the scouts were more important to him than politics. However, if the scouts indeed aspire not to be political the same cannot be said for religious influences. If one compares a pho­tograph of the girl scouts from 2011 to the girl scouts at the scouts’ 57th anniversary last week what is striking is that nearly every girl scout is wear­ing a tightly bound head scarf, long sleeved blouse and skirt with seams that nearly touch the ground or long trousers. Young girls whose bones are still growing need sunlight to create vitamin D to help absorb the calcium needed for bones to grow properly, for their brains to function and de­velop well and for healthy gums and teeth. They also need to be able to jump and run and climb to help their bodies grow. Indonesia has a climate that is both hot and extremely humid making such costumes very uncom­fortable. How can they safely climb mountains and explore jungles in such uniformss? It is surprising that no Indonesian woman has spoken out for the girl scouts.

“We have a number of scout uni­forms for different occasions,” ex­plained Yudha Adhyaksa who heads the scout’s National Rover Council. “When they are climbing or in the jungle they adjust their costumes to the terrain. It is the schools which decide how a girl scout attending their school will dress.” The change in costume was apparently at the hands of the Minister of Education and Culture and the regents, mayors and governors who issue bylaws on the subject for government schools.

Last week on August 14th 2018 the Indonesian National Scout Move­ment commemorated its anniversary with a large gathering in Cibubur, outside of Jakarta where the scouts performed various dances and move­ments as well as singing the national anthem and reciting various pledges. President Jokowi attended the cer­emony in his capacity as the Chief Scout of Indonesia. There he gave out awards to 24 different recipients. Amongst them was the Governor of Jambi which has the wealthiest scout movement in Indonesia and therefore does not need any funds from the central government. It also enables the Jambi scouts to partici­pate in all sorts of activities including activities abroad which scouts from other provinces do not have the re­sources for. This came about because 20 years ago when Jambi was giving away land or selling it at a very low cost to try to draw investors to plant palm oil, the governor of Jambi set aside some land for the scout move­ment. The Jambi scouts then worked together with the private sector in or­der to grow palm oil which has been very successful and leaves the Jambi scouts’ movement with a more than generous annual income.

“This is exactly the sort of thing that we want to encourage amongst the scouts, “ explained Yudha Ad­hyaksa. “The government only pro­vides half the funds that the scouts need. The rest we have to find our­selves. And this is the sort of resil­ience and competence that we are now trying to teach our scouts. In the past we only stressed character building and patriotism and now we are stressing more vocational train­ing and skills. We want young people to leave the scouts with the ability to find jobs.”

Meanwhile, the President’s speech indicates that he had further matters in mind when he announced that scouts have to be familiar and fluent in the language of high tech and the internet. In the future the govern­ment will be training scouts not only to use the internet and social media but also in journalism. Each scout through their social media account is expected to become a news agency reporting not only on scouting activ­ities but also actively promoting the state ideology of Pancasila and the unity of the nation. Apparently, the scouts will be expected to create videos and talk shows for Youtube and to help monitor social media content. Things have moved a long way for Indonesian scouts since Baden-Powell came to visit. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)