War Dance

It all started a week ago when Rais Yatim, the Malaysian Minister of Information, Communications and Culture, made a statement that the Tor-Tor dance and Gordang Sambilan drums would be added to the Malaysian National Heritage Law.  This created a furore in Indonesia and with passions high and anger stoked, a riot ensued in Jakarta which led to the burning of the Malaysian flag and damage to the Malaysia Hall from missiles of rocks and pieces of wood thrown by the rioters.  The Indonesians are upset by what they perceive as a Malaysian attempt to claim Indonesian culture as their own.

The problem lies in that many South East Asian countries share cultural elements that pre-date existing national boundaries.  The Tor-Tor dance for example, is a dance of the Mandailing people of North Sumatra.  Although their cultural heartland lies within Indonesia, from very early on, the Mandailing were seafaring and the Mandailing people have planted themselves throughout the region and with that, many of their culture has contributed to that of their host countries.  Some Malaysian Mandailing have  supported the move of the Minister of Information, arguing that the Minister’s statement that the Tor-Tor and Gordang Sambilan  would be added to the 2005 National Heritage Law was only meant to be a recognition of the heritage of the Mandailing peoples of North Sumatra that have lived in Malaysia for many years.  However the Indonesians are concerned that the wording of the law seems to imply a claim of ownership.

This “cultural dispute” is not the first of it’s kind between Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Star Newspaper reported;

“Irate Indonesians took to Twittershpere to vent their anger over the Mandailing Tor-tor dance issue, calling Malaysia a country that is “deprived of culture”.

Twitter hashtags like “#tortorpunyaindonesia (Tor-tor belongs to Indonesia)” and “#MalaysiaMiskinBudaya (Malaysia is poor in culture)” were trending among Indonesian users of the micro-blogging site ever since the controversial issue came to light over the past week.

“Semiskin itukah Malaysia sampai mengklaim kebudayaan kita?? #TorTorPunyaIndonesia (Is Malaysia that poor that they have to claim our culture?)” read a tweet by @Anak_Twitter.

User @ranyaani said: “Tor tor has been indonesia’s for centuries, so dont you just claim that its yours.. #taritortormilikindonesia”.

A tweet by @Shafwan_MZIFC read: “Banyaknya Budaya & Makanan yg diKlaim Negara malaysia menunjukan betapa Kayanya Indonesia (Malaysia has claimed so many of our culture and food, it shows how rich Indonesia is)”.

Some extreme comments include a tweet by @ANTI_MALAYSIA4 which read “ayo kita bersatu ganyang malaysia (Let’s unite and crush Malaysia)”.

Angry users established a hashtag called “#HapusMalaysiadariASEAN”which literally means “kick Malaysia out of Asean”.”


Wow! Such Aggro!!!  Well, to be honest, most Malaysians have no idea why our Minister has gotten us into this mess.  Over here it is a storm in a tea cup.  I am not ridiculing the Indonesian concerns but frankly the Tor Tor dance is not really something that is all that well known amongst Malaysians and most of us could care less.  I think my position is shared by Malaysian Twitter users who rushed to the defence of Malaysia over the issue ……… well, kind of……

“Malaysian Twitter users were not too defensive over the issue, with many claiming they were not even aware of the existence of the dance.

“What on earth is TorTor?” tweeted @TheRealAzrul while @pretty_chanteq wrote: “Who ever wants that tortor dance, please take it.”

Other Malaysian users meanwhile used the haze issue as a bargain chip.

“Keep your dances and your culture. While you’re at it, keep your haze to yourself too. Thanks,” said @mediha_m.”

So, what do you say?  Wanna dance?



10 thoughts on “War Dance”

  1. Honestly! … rioting over a dance? – it seems like we look for reasons to be angry with others …

  2. Wow. It’s like someone once told a choreographer, “Okay, take Belly Dancing and make it as unsexy as possible. And while you’re at it, make the women submissive.”
    And what’s with the cultural thievery? Pretty much everything we celebrate in the USA comes from somewhere else. I can’t imagine the Irish saying: Stop celebrating St. Patrick’s Day! That’s ours! Heck I think they just gave it to us out of boredom.

  3. geewits,
    Well, I guess if you make a rule that only fat, beer bellied men are allowed to do the Belly Dance, you would have achieved the subjugation of women (by banning their participation) and making it very, very unsexy in a single stroke. 🙂

  4. Oh dear … as always its about inclusion, exclusion, and building identity. Throw in something called Nation and a riot can be stirred up without much effort.

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