Bhinneka Tunggal Ika – Understanding Indonesia’s Slogan on Diversity.

Submitted by mumunmumun on 26 October 2014   •  Blog

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“Where to next?” is what Vira and I usually talk about. The next destination has always been our agenda, especially to increase the content of Building this site for five years and in my own interest to see much of this odd bewildered country, both Vira and I have traveled Indonesia to some degree. If St. Augustine said ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page’, then we’ve read a few pages. Just a few, like… two, maybe two and a half, footnote excluded.

Bhinneka Tunggal Ika

With all these miles behind me, it got me thinking one sunny afternoon in the comfort of my bed (yes, I just had a nap). After traveling, what have I really seen of Indonesia?

I montaged the places that I’ve been to and the people that I’ve met in my head, especially of that in Indonesia. I’ve pictures rolling inside my brain from the west of Indonesia (Sabang Island) to ¾ through east Indonesia (Papua, you know I’ll be there one day). Generally speaking from a shallow observation and travel experience, I can say that there is nothing common between Indonesians as a whole. The cultures, languages, nature, legacy, down to the people’s specific facial characters, are all different throughout Indonesia. The Acehnese have their set of syariah rules and way of living, the Minangnese have their pointy houses, the Javanese are overly polite, Bali is the island of tolerance and statues with fangs, last decade Dayak people proved much of their spiritual powers, Bugis people eat a lot of meat and not enough veggies, Flores has countless ‘ikat’ cloths, and Maluku people has dark skin, white teeth, and has adapted well with the African Americans when it comes to style. It’s that dark and light, it’s that black and white. By the end of this montage (¾) of Indonesia, I concluded that the one thing Indonesians all have in common is that we have the same green passport. We are Indonesians. That’s it.

 Bhinneka Tungga Ika people

I suddenly realized what my teacher made me recite through my whole school days. There’s a slogan that has been taught to every child in Indonesia ever since they started school, including to yours truly. ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ is a Sanskrit saying meaning ‘although different, we are one’. In textbooks, usually this slogan will be illustrated with couples in different traditional clothes from all over Indonesia. Growing up, that was all that it meant to me; people in different clothes from different islands. But after venturing the country, I now understand. We are so different to one another, it’s ridiculous! And although the slogan might generally represent people and ethnicities, from travel experience, I say it represents everything including nature’s resources.

This is something that some Indonesians may come to understand after traveling the country. I’m guessing it’s something that foreign travelers will see too, once they travel a wider stretch of area within Indonesia (yes, that means outside of Bali, people!). Also, it really doesn’t take many destinations to help anyone see how diverse we are.

Different nature throughout Indonesia

This montage in my head, however, didn’t stop there. Turns out, being born and raised in Java, plurality has been in my face for so long. ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ became an easy concept because I had all these different ethnicities all around me. I have friends with parents or grandparents that came to Java looking for a better life, including my own. I even have friends that traveled to Java on their own for a better education or for work. So, it wasn’t hard to understand the concept. But what of the people of places that are not as diverse as the main cities? What does the Sanskrit slogan mean to them?

People in remote or less developed areas of Indonesia tend to be more similar of their own kind, their way of living, their way of thinking. Of course, with the exceptions of one or two odd balls. Having that said, I could only guess it must have been difficult to understand (or too easy to ignore) ‘we are different but we are one’ concept when your surrounding is all the same.

Then, travelers came.


When it comes to ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’, travelers shake things up and become the different amongst the common. I figured this is why local people are always honestly curious even to domestic visitors although we have the same citizenship. Travelers are the different, travelers are the aliens, travelers are the plurality on the homogenous doorsteps of those that do not travel. I recall bringing a pack of coconut jelly for the women of Wae Rebo, Flores. They were intrigued by the taste. Or the time I brought a bubble machine maker to Sumbawa. The local children had never seen such a toy. As common as coconut jelly and bubble makers machine are to the city dwellers, it shook their world. Difference is as simple as that.

Sumbawa kids 2

All of this also applies to round-the-world travelers that had seen and understand much of the different kinds of people of the earth. It’s my veiled friends traveling to western countries and having people ask them about their veil. It’s my Tionghoa friends that had to say they are from Indonesia and not from China. It’s my Aussie friends that had to explain that they’re from another country beside US, hence the different accent. Even in the case of a traveling bottle, it’s the coke bottle in the movie ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’. If traveling is an eye opener to the world for the traveler, the traveler is the eye opener for those at a destination.

You’ve probably heard all of this before, as have I, but it took me so many miles to really sink. Damn! Knowledge is pricey and takes up milage.

My last say on ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ is traveling not only opens your horizons, shows you the differences of the world; it also opens other people’s perspective on what’s outside of their bubble. Travelers introduce plurality to a homogenous community. On what else travelers introduce to the community exactly, is for another time (‘cause I haven’t thought about it thoroughly, yet). Hence, I’m still motivated to travel because it might bring more good to the locals as it has for me. Travel on, mate!

Lesson learned: Naps are powerful.

Moving feet

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6 years ago

Very well written! Love this post! 🙂

6 years ago

Whoa you just had a wisdom struck!
Now i learn something, nap brings wisdom..

*nod wisely and then ZZzzz…

6 years ago