Posted by: mel | December 21, 2009

Chinese Lion Dance Banned in Indonesia’s Aceh

Jakarta Globe | Nurdin Hasan, Anita Rachman & Putri Prameshwari | 21 December 2009

Buddhists pray and release offerings to the sea at Uleelheu beach, Banda Aceh, on Sunday as part of commemorations of the upcoming anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which left 170,000 people dead or missing and 500,000 homeless in the province of 4 million people. (Photo: Tarmizy Harva, Reuters)

Banda Aceh. Religious officials in Aceh have sparked yet another controversy, this time banning the barongsai , or traditional Chinese lion dance, from a cultural performance as part of commemorations leading up to the fifth anniversary of the 2004 tsunami that devastated the province.

The move is seen as a slap in the face to hundreds of Acehnese Buddhists of ethnic Chinese descent who had wanted to include the dance in their official remembrance ceremony on Sunday.

Yuswar, a member of the Buddhist commemoration committee, said plans to have nine barongsai groups from North Sumatra perform around Banda Aceh as part of events to mark the Dec. 26 disaster had to be canceled.

“ Barongsai has no religious elements. It’s just a cultural show,” he said, though he added that Chinese-Indonesians believed the dance had the power to calm the restless spirits of their relatives who died in the disaster.

Yuswar said the committee had obtained permits from the city’s mayor and police chief, but was rejected three times by the Aceh Religious Affairs Office.

“They argued that conditions in Aceh did not allow [ barongsai performances] yet,” Yuswar said. “But we weren’t told what they meant by ‘conditions.’ ”

A Rahman TB, head of the Religious Affairs Office, claimed the permit was not granted because the dance had never been performed in the province before and the Acehnese needed an introduction first.

“If the people don’t like it, what then?” he said. “It is for the sake of interfaith relations, between people of that religion and others. We can’t let Aceh be ruined, or sow seeds of conflict.”

Barongsai in Indonesia dates back to the 17th century, but the late dictator Suharto banned it and other Chinese cultural expressions in the wake of the 1965 coup attempt, allegedly led by Indonesian communists.

Former President Abdurrahman Wahid lifted the ban in 2000, allowing the barongsai to be performed publicly for the first time in decades.

Nasaruddin Umar, director general for Islamic religious guidance at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, said officials in Aceh should never have banned the performance, which he viewed as cultural, and promised to question those responsible.

Aceh has been embarrassed by a series of negative headlines this year, including a bylaw that allows stoning as capital punishment for adultery, a local ordinance banning tight-fitting clothes for women in one district and claims by a local cleric that the province’s representative to the Miss Indonesia beauty pageant had brought shame upon it.

Aceh Sharia forbids Chinese dance of the lions

Asia News | by Mathias Hariyadi | 21 December 2009

The provincial authorities say it is alien to local culture and violates religious harmony. The descendants of Chinese respond that is only “a cultural show” to remember the victims of the tsunami. For decades the community – mostly Christian – is victim of discrimination and violence for religious or economic reasons.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesians of Chinese descent are in revolt against the decision of the Religious Affairs Office of Aceh, which has banned the popular barongsay (the dance of the lions, ed) during the commemorations of the fifth anniversary of the tsunami. The authorities explain that it is clearly extraneous to local culture and they want to “maintain religious harmony.” The descendants of the Chinese replicate by describing the decision as “ridiculous”.

Kim, an Indonesian of Chinese descent in North Jakarta, speaks of a “ridiculous and shameful” decision, in open violation of the five basic principles (the Pancasila) that “ensure full respect for cultural diversity.” They are the five pillars of secular nationalism, on which the country has built its history since independence in 1945. “The decision to ban the barongsay – he adds – humiliates the various ethnic groups in Indonesia, including the Chinese people of Aceh.”

The dance of the lions (pictured) was in program for 26 December next, the fifth anniversary of the tsunami tragedy, which caused hundreds of casualties among the Chinese community in Aceh. Groups coming from the province of North Sumatra were also to have attended the ceremony.

A. Rahman TB, an official of the Religious Affairs Office of Aceh – the most fundamentalist province of the country, where Islamic law is in force – justifies the decision stressing that the dance “has never been represented before” and the desire to maintain” religious harmony among the Muslims of Aceh and other ethnic groups in the province”.

“It’s stupid” replies Martini, a woman of Chinese origin who lives in Jakarta, based on “completely unfounded reasons”. The Chinese community states that the barongsay has”no religious character”, but is only a” cultural show “. Finally they add that they received all necessary permits from local authorities, including a police permit.

The Chinese community in Indonesia suffered harsh repression during the dictatorship of General Suharto (1967 – 1998). He had imposed a ban on all traditional cultural expressions, including the characters, language and dance of the lions. According to the dictator, the leaders of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) were responsible for the massacre of a group of army generals in 1965. The ban ordered by Suharto was removed in 2000 by his successor, Abdurrahman Wahid, “Gus Dur”, who granted greater autonomy and freedom.

The hostility toward the Chinese ethnic community is also caused by economic reasons. Merchants, bankers, industrialists, they have long controlled the national economy. Moreover, the Chinese – once majority Buddhist – are now increasingly converted to Christianity and have become an ideal target for Islamic fundamentalist fringes in the country.

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