IO – The most important event in Indonesian history is the Youth Pledge of 1928. Why? This is the day that the subconscious movement toward unifying the Archipelago became a conscious and deliberate movement. It was the true day of national awakening and the birth of the soul of Indonesia. Thereafter, its physical birth was only a matter of time.
Prof Taufik Abdullah, the former head of LIPI or the Indonesian Academy of Sciences and life member and head of the Akademi Kesenian Jakarta or the Jakarta Academyof Arts at the Taman Ismail Marzuki centre for the arts, said, “For centuries there had been a mostly unnoticed movement leading towards a unifying of the islands and peoples of Nusantara.” “Nusa” means “island” and “antara” means “between”. Between what? The island between two continents i.e. Asia and Australia.
Through time networks slowly built up drawing the inhabitants of Nusantara more and more towards each other. From the start the myths of origin of the different islands were a network connecting people from different parts of Indonesia. In Tanimbar for example there is a myth of origin that says that their ancestors originated from Sumatra. Ida Resi Bujangga Wesnawaya Monggol, a priest from Nusa Penida in Bali explained, “Gunung Agung is the most sacred mountain in Bali and its temple of Besaki is the most sacred temple in Bali. The first people to settle in around the mountain and open up the area were Minangkabaus from West Sumatra. That is why the first village there is – to this day – called Desa Minango.” Meanwhile, in the Tukang Besi Islands of Sulawesi they claim that their ancestors were a king from Ambon and his followers who were exiled there – and so the myths of origin go on from island to island spinning a web around the Indonesian Archipelago.
For centuries when people from different islands who were unversed in each other’s languages met usually to batter and trade in the market place, they conversed through the use of Malay, a language that has been the “lingua franca” of the Archipelago for centuries. There was a time after the Portuguese first arrived when Portuguese almost became the lingua franca of Nusantara but that did not happen in the end and Malay served as the language of communication between different language groups. This too created a web drawing the people of Nusantara closer together.
The spread of religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism and later Islam were further webs connecting the peoples of the Nusantara. During the colonial period the Dutch unintentionally continued the centuries old process of drawing together the people of our emerald chain wound around the equator. In the past perhaps ten or twenty people would get on a boat and move from one island to another but with the enormous Dutch ships especially after the big white KPM (Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij or Royal Mail) ships began ploughing Indonesian waters as the largest inter-island shipping in the Archipelago, tens of thousands of people began to be moved from one island to another aided further by the opening of large plantations in Sumatra, Borneo and eastern Indonesia. The colonial army and civil service hired Indonesians from all over the Archipelago and sent them all over the Archipelago. A Menadonese might be sent to Aceh or West Sumatra and live there for years and perhaps end up marrying an Acehnese or Minangkabau. The same could be said for the civil service and especially the teachers. When a person lives for years on another island in another culture he of course, begins to understand and feel a certain sympathy for that culture and those people. As time went on there were more and more webs drawing the Archipelago together.
Nevertheless, this movement towards unifying the Archipelago was a silent process, one could almost say a subconscious movement. It was only in 1928 that the youth organizations from the various island met at the Second Youth Congress in Batavia and brought forth their pledge: “satu nusa, satu bangsa dan satu bahasa” or one nation, one people, one language, thereby articulating that subconscious process. Once the subconscious was articulated it became a conscious process and when it did it resulted in Indonesia’s spiritual birth. After that it was only a matter of time till this force for unity sought a physical shape in the form of a nation and indeed 17 years after the Sumpah Pemuda, Indonesia proclaimed its independence and the birth of a new nation.
The Ethical Policy opened educational opportunities and became the catalyst for the youth movement.
In the late nineteenth century Multatuli’s book Max Havelaar and Pieter Brooshooft’s articles in De Locomotief during his journeys around Java shone a light on the many abuses of the forced cultivation system and the system of governing through the Javanese aristocracy with its many defects. The public became aware of the poverty and suffering of the Javanese farmers. This was followed by Baron Van Hoevell’s demands for education for native Indonesian and Cornelis Theodor van Deventer’s article “Een Eereschuld” or A Debt of Honour which claimed that the Netherlands owed the people of the Netherlands Indies a debt of honour for all the wealth that the Netherlands had obtained from the Indies. In 1901 Queen Wilhelmina announced a new Ethical Policy for the Netherlands Indies in a formal speech to the Dutch parliament. One of the policies of the Ethical Policy was education for native Indonesians. Although very few Indonesians received an education during the colonial period that education of even a few Indonesians proved to be the catalyst for the creation of the youth movements that produced the Youth Pledge of 1928.
Budi Utomo which was created in 1908 was the first non-religious political organization established in Indonesia. It began as a student organization to promote education and culture in Java. Budi Utomo inspired the creation of other youth organizations. The first was Tri Koro Darmo in 1915 which was established for Javanese, Madurese and Balinese youths and later changed its name to Jong Java. This was followed by the Jong Sumatranen Bond in 1917, Jong Minahasa in 1918, Jong Ambon, Jong Celebes and Sekar Rukun all established in 1920, Jong Islamieten Bond in 1925 and others. The Second Youth Congress, in 1928 was attended by members of Jong Java, Jong Ambon, Jong Batak, Jong Sumatranen Bond, Jong Islamieten Bond, Sekar Rukun (for Sundanese youth), Perhimpunan Pelajarr-Pelajar Indonesia, Pemuda Kaum Betawi (for Jakarta youth) and Jong Celebes for youth from Sulawesi.
After the First Youth Congress in 1926 nationalist sentiments had already very much come to the fore, viewing Indonesia as a whole rather than regionally. This sentiment was even stronger at the Second Youth Congress where Sugondo Djojopuspito was chosen as chairman of the Congress because he was a member of Perhimpunan Pelajar-Pelajar Indonesia or Association of Indonesian Students, a non-regional organization rather than Jong Java. The choice was approved by both Soekarno and Hatta. After the Youth Pledge of 1928 the various youth organizations fused to become Indonesia Muda in 1930.
The scouts played a strong role in the Youth Pledge and in spreading its message across Indonesia
Not many people realize that the scout movement played a pivotal role in spreading the principles of the Youth Pledge of 1928 across Indonesia. The oldest scout movement was the “Javaansche Padvinders Organisatie” or Javanese Scout Organization in 1917 in Solo by Prince Mangkunegara VII as a place to train and recruit troops and civil servants. This was followed by the creation of scout movements by various organizations including Jong Java Padvinderij in 1926. The Jong Islamieten Bond, the Jong Sumatranen Bond and Pemuda Indonesia all had their scout movements where they promoted the nationalist sentiments of the Youth Pledge. Later the various scout movements were unified to become the “Indonesisiche Padvinderij Organisatie” and the “Jong Indonesisiche Padvinderij Organisatie”. Even today, when the government wants to teach Indonesian students to understand the Pancasila or the state motto of Unity in Diversity it finds that teaching these through the scout movement is far more successful than teaching them during civics lessons at school. The final meeting of the Second Youth Congress was begun with a parade by the scouts and an oration about the scouts before the decision to approve the Youth Pledge of 1928. Several members such as Moewardi were very active leaders of the scout movement. Kasman Singodimedjo was in fact one of the founders of the scout movement in Indonesia.
The Theosophical Society also played a role in uniting Indonesian youth and encouraging them to unite the nation
Another little known aspect, of the Youth Pledge or 1928 is the influence of the Theosophical Society on the youth movement, the Youth Pledge of 1928 and Indonesian nationalism as a whole. One of the members most strongly influenced by them was Sarmidi Mangunsarkoro who was the chief educationalist in the movement. He held an important position in the Taman Siswa where he determined the curriculum for all the Taman Siswa schools. Later he became Minister of Education and Culture and created Indonesia’s first Education Law.
Mangunsarkoro received his education at the Arjuna Teachers’ Training College which was run by Theosophists. There he learnt education and psychology. He also learnt about character building and nationalism. The Theosophical Society gave its members the freedom to find their identity through the philosophy and cultural values of their ancestors. Mangunsarkoro became a Theosophist as a member of first, the “Jong Theosofen Organisatie” and then the “Orde van de Ster in het Oosten”. He was also a member of the “Orde der Dienaren van Indie” an organization which while not officially an affiliate of the Theosophical Society was strongly influenced by two important members of the Society.
The first member was Ir P. Fournier who was very close to the Jong Sumatranen Bond whose meetings he often attended and frequently addressed. In fact, the first meeting of the Jong Sumatranen Bond was held at the Theosophical Society Loge de Ster in het Oosten. Another member who supported the students and the nationalist movement was Ir A.J.H. Leeuwen. Despite being threatened with loss of his job if he continued to support members of the Perhimpunan Indonesia or Indonesian Students Association in the Netherlands who were under arrest, he continued to help them.
In India members of the Theosophical Society such as Annie Besant had helped set up the Order of the Servants of India which helped in India’s struggle for independence. Mrs Besant was frequently in prison with other Indian nationalists fighting for independence. Ir Fournier and Muhammad Amir from the Jong Sumatranen Bond set up the Orde van der Dienaren van Indie which was very much modelled along the lines of the Order of the Servants of India. Youth Congress members Muhamad Amir, Mohamad Yamin, Mohamad Tabrani, Hamami, Soewarso and Sarmidi Mangunsarkoro were all members of the Orde van der Dienaren van Indie, as was Hatta and Soekarno’s father.
It was the young and the most educated of the youth at the time who understood and were able to articulate the longing to unite of their people. They came from all over the Archipelago: Jong Java, Jong Sumatranen Bond, Jong Batak, Jong Ambon, Jong Celebes, Sekar Rukun, Jong Islamieten Bond, Pemuda Kaum Betawi and finally Perhimpunan Pelajar-Pelajar Indonesia. Being young their hearts were open to catch the deepest longings stirring in the depths of Indonesian hearts and being intelligent and well-educated they were able to articulate that longing brilliantly. It is for this reason that Hari Sumpah Pemuda or Youth Pledge Day without saying is the day for Indonesia’s millennials.