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Seeking new ways to protect Indonesia’s cultural heritage

Perdana Arning Saputro, Jakarta

The recent controversy over the Indonesian traditional song Rasa Sayange, which Malaysia claims is its own, is just one of several signs of the poor protection of our traditional heritage.

The protection of Indonesian traditional heritage is dictated by Article 10 of the 2002 Copyright Protection Law. According to the article, the copyright over traditional heritage is held by the Government of Indonesia. The law requires that publication or announcement by foreign parties requires a prior permit from the Government of Indonesia. Unfortunately the government has not yet issued a government regulation as a legal basis for its implementation.

Several basic concerns on the copyright protection of our traditional heritage may arise, such as the work mechanism of the government as the proprietor of copyright over traditional heritage. Another problem is on how to prevent our traditional heritage from being pirated by other parties.

It is also very important to define what would be the basis or criteria in determining which art is part of our traditional heritage. People also want to know about the benefits of art protection for the country.

Another question is the expiration date for the protection of traditional heritage.

In order to provide maximum protection for our traditional heritage (in this case traditional art), we need to know and surely must observe the position of art with the Indonesian people and how our people value our own traditional art.

In Indonesia the position of (traditional) art has a unique value. It contains elements of belief, knowledge, education and norms. The art is part of our life; it can not be separated from other aspects of life, such as the close relationship between the art and religious activities.

As an example let us look at the Rejang Dewa dance, which is performed during sacred ceremonies in Bali, or the Arfak tribe in Papua, which has a communal dance called Ares Komer, where young people use the dance to find their life mates. Java batik is also interesting to note, because it contains rich philosophical values.

As a culture element, art itself is the expression of creativity in a society. The tradition in Indonesia has been handed down from generation to generation. The society that supports its cultural traditions will continue to preserve them and give opportunities to the society to learn the traditions. The traditional community is more concerned with whether the product of art has succeeded in fulfilling or expressing their cultural values, as expected by the society, rather than the acknowledgementa of society and its aesthetic value.

As an example, batik art in Javanese society is an integral and inseparable part of their world. There are at least four fundamental Javanese values expressed in batik art: Patience (sabar), tolerance (tepo seliro), self-reliance (pasrah), and serenity (sumarah). Javanese people believe that by sewing batik, one may find patience and serenity in itself.

In addition to that, batik motif also have symbolic meanings which express the expectations of Javanese society in tackling daily life. The Sido Mukti design symbolizes happiness and prosperity whilst Sido Asih represents the passion of love and care. We mostly find these motifs in a bride and bridegroom’s wardrobe.

Batik art constitutes an inseparable and integral part of Javanese life. The close relationship between a society and its art can also be found elsewhere in other parts of Indonesia. It is fair to conclude that the life traditions of our people depends very much on the existence of (traditional) art and vice versa.

It shows us that the protection of our traditional heritage is actually not merely about the monetary aspect (royalties) but more importantly, how to preserve it.

Just imagine if the Balinese people could not perform the Rejang Dewa dance in their ritual ceremony because the dance was already “owned” by another (foreign) party. A catastrophe in Balinese rituals would soon follow.

Therefore, the approach in setting up the effective legal framework for protecting our traditional heritage shall be taken very seriously and comprehensively; it must take into account, at least, the legal, culture, and social aspects.

Thus, the protection of our traditional heritage is a conditio sine qua non. The following recommendations need to be considered in protecting traditional heritages:

First, the government needs to identify and collect data regarding our traditional heritage from all around Indonesia.

Second, the government needs to map the position of traditional art in the traditional community.

Third, categorize the traditional art, at least, into two categories: the art-ritual ceremony (karya seni ritual), and the art-performing ceremony (karya seni tradisional). The above categorization is derived from the value of the relevant traditional community against its traditional art. To a certain extent, the government may prohibit any performance related to the art-ritual ceremony. This is aimed to preserve and safeguard the traditional arts.

The writer is a legal consultant. He can be reached at



November 18, 2007 at 3:31 pm 6 comments


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