Lessons from the Golden Age: Majapahit by Nadine

Inspirasi Kediri Bertutur


 This writing is one of the selected essays done by undergraduate students of “Organizational Communication” from University of Indonesia, the faculty of social and political sciences, international communication program of public relations 2013.

“It starts with interactions between two worlds: the modern and the tradition. Through conversations and engagements build bridges towards understanding. Accepting differences mean being open to diversity. Open the doors toward collaboration of different worlds and of different cultures and arts. Being authentic is as important as being different. Prevention of going obsolete starts with a conversation of differences. It is our job as communicators to build bridges from our roots progressing forward to the present and future. So when everyone else is going global, we are deeply rooted in our local wisdom whilst keeping touch with modernity,” Kandi Windoe

Inspired by the same spirit, Kediri Bertutur takes the undergraduate students on their own cultural journeys. Kediri Bertutur presents Nadine Kamarwan’s personal writing after taking a look into Indonesia’s history of Majapahit kingdom.

Lessons from the Golden Age: Majapahit

BACKGROUND: Indonesia is a huge country made up of a convergence of thousands of islands, rich in both culture and natural resources and equipped with one of the world’s largest populations, it would not be difficult to imagine Indonesia in a high position of power on an international scale. It is one of the most heavily populated countries in the world, with an economy that has joined the ranks of the top twenty biggest economies on the planet that is still rapidly growing. Within it are people of diverse ethnicities with seven-hundred distinct spoken languages, plants and animals unlike those that can be found anywhere else in the world, and inarguably the most amazing food in the world. However, even with all these resources, Indonesia is still far from the powerhouse that it has the potential to be. After years of colonization and oppressive regimes, what was once a glimmering country rife with the potential for greatness, the flowering bud that was Indonesia seems to have wilted. In all those years, what could have possibly changed a country so drastically?

INTRODUCTION: Nationalism, the pride one has in his/her country used to be all the rage back in the twentieth century. This was the period in which nationalism was at its peak importance to fight against the imperialists and gain independence. Another time nationalism ran rampant throughout the streets was in the overthrowing of the Soeharto regime in the late nineties. From these two events we can conclude that nationalism and patriotism is most prevalent in times of oppression in which the people demand freedom and fight against injustice. However, in recent years, with minimal conflicts be it within the country or outside of it, Indonesia has entered a state of relative peace. The force of nationalism that was once needed to solidify the country in the collective fight against oppression slowly fell out of fashion. In the current age less and less people are interested in their own country. Globalization has introduced us to many new interesting cultures that we want to assimilate into our lives. And the recent state of politics within Indonesia has led many young people to become cynical and disdainful towards their own country, as one would be when constantly being bombarded by said nations terrible aspects from all media. The international reputation of Indonesia could also do with some help. Though it is undeniable that Indonesia is beautiful and its natural resources and beauty is plentiful, this does not distract the international community from Indonesia’s many flaws. According to Transparency International, an organization focusing on international corruption, Indonesia ranked one hundred fourteenth out of the one hundred seventy-seven countries being evaluated 1. Within South-East Asia, Indonesia is the wealthiest country, however when taking into account the population of each country, the numbers drastically change 2. As a large country with a huge population, it is not a walk in the park to keep this country morally upright and going in the right direction all the time, thus leading us to the outside perception that Indonesia is poor, that we are lazy, that we are terrorists and corruptors, that we are uncivilized and a third world country. These incorrect outward perception of Indonesia also plays a role in the way we as our countries citizens view ourselves. It is not that Indonesia’s potential has faded, it is merely that many of our people still fail to see it, and many that do fail to utilize it for the improvement of the country and its people as a whole. In the modern era, though we are in abundance of peace, pessimism and cynicism regarding our own country still runs rampant amongst the people.

With the advent of globalization and the rise of the middle class, more and more individuals are losing their sense of national identity. Though change is inevitable and good, the collateral damage lies in the form of our culture and traditions. Changes in time have caused a dissonance, a rift between rich and poor, between traditional ways and new more “glamorous” western sensibilities, between people who try to preserve the old world and people too eager to move on into the sparkling new. Though we cannot fault those who wish to press forward, there is still much to learn from our ancestors, whose leadership built kingdoms and forged bonds amongst the islands far before the creation of modern day communication technology. The main issues that modern day Indonesia are facing are mainly the decline of a national identity and morale. This one issue can lead to a slew of even more pressing matters such as the dissolve of Indonesian customs and traditions. Another big problem lies in our geography. As Indonesia is a country separated by bodies of water we are relatively detached from island to island, most of the development and population are concentrated in the island of Java leading to inequalities and uneven distributions of power, education, and representation. This issue further adds to the waning national identity that is the only thing holding out scattered islands together. So now comes the question of how we can restore Indonesia to its original glory, the simple answer to which lies in looking back into our past, to the era of the great kingdoms. Mainly, the kingdom considered the greatest of all of Indonesia’s ancient kingdoms, The Majapahit Empire.

MAJAPAHIT: Majapahit was one of the great empires of Indonesia’s past and although it was based on the island of Java, it was the biggest empire to have ever formed in South-East Asia with territories reaching out as far as some of the Philippine islands. It was established in the thirteenth century, reached its peak power on the fourteenth century before its eventual decline in the fifteen hundreds. Frequently dubbed as the greatest era of Indonesia, the Majapahit Kingdom was known for its grandeur, palaces decorated in gold, extravagant homes for the royals, and plenty of spices for trade. In books written by travellers, merchants, and other world leaders of the time, no intricacy of the Majapahit lifestyle was left out. It was this grandeur that attracted many to the kingdom, some for trade, others for less noble purposes. Much of the information that can be found about the Majapahit Kingdom can be found in the eulogy to Majapahit King, Hayam Wuruk, “Nagarakretagama”. Within it details the traditions, ceremonies, historical figures, and a detailed description of the kingdom itself. The main production of the kingdom included spices and rice as well as craftsmanship and their architecture. Most of their economy is built on spice trade and trade of their natural resources such as woods and other plants, fruits, and vegetables. The Majapahit Kingdom also had a currency system made out of coins made of silver and gold. Later on, however, the currency changed into copper cons brought to the kingdom by Chinese traders and merchants. The kingdom also had and implicated a tax system to be paid in cash. They were well versed with foreign trade and had trade agreements and arrangements with various neighbouring kingdoms reaching as far as South Indian empires. Through the artifacts that they left behind, we are able to gauge the values and principles that people of the Majapahit kingdom had at the time. From their architecture through which they’ve decorated with traditional stories and art, we see their kingdom depicted as an agrarian society focusing on agriculture and the cultivation of the land, they valued craftsmanship and art, they were well versed with the technology available to them at the time and were able to use said technology efficiently and usefully in the building of their kingdom and civilization, and they were very aware of city planning and environmental management. Majapahit, being a Hindu kingdom, also holds traditional Hindu values. These values are known as the “Nine Beliefs of Hinduism”. These beliefs include the belief in one supreme divine being, the belief in an eternal cycle of creation preservation and destruction, the belief that life is sacred, the belief in destiny through karma, the belief reincarnation, and the belief in an unseen world occupied by divine beings among many others. If they had followed these beliefs thoroughly, it would be safe to assume that the Majapahit people were tolerant and accepting and valued life and faith. Being a large empire, it is not surprising that one of Majapahit’s goals was expansion into new territories. They did this through expedition, both naval and military. However, rather than pillaging and taking, they settled for a more diplomatic route and build alliances. Several of the things we can learn from the values they hold include the acceptance and tolerance of one another, the appreciation of art, their community building skills, as well as their respect towards nature and the environment. We have much to learn from our ancestors, proven by how prosperous of a kingdom they’ve created. Aspects of the ancient civilization still permeate into our modern culture and the basis of our country. Our national motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” originates from a Majapahit poet. Majapahit was believed to be the ideal society by many Indonesians, our very first president, Soekarno, even tried to shape this new country after the old glory of the fallen kingdom. We have established that, yes indeed, the values of Majapahit has incorporated itself deeply within our country’s sould, henceforth, the challenge will be how to peak the interest of the public regarding the old ways of Majapahit as well as how to best communicate this information to the public in a way that will be game changing and revolutionary.

CAMPAIGNS: There is much to learn from the Majapahit era. Some valuable lessons can be learned and applied to modern day Indonesia in hopes to solve several of our current issues. Therefore, it is imperative for the nation to look back into our history and mine it for said lessons. The first step to doing so would be to raise public interest in the topic, then to raise awareness about the Majapahit Kingdom, and lastly to infuse understanding on the traditions and customs of the Majapahit people thus enabling the public to see the benefits of bringing back some aspects of our traditional lifestyle. Some of the things that are able to each us may even help solve the discrepancies between the islands of Indonesia and establish a stronger national identity for the population. As mentioned previously, the campaign will aim to inform people about Majapahit and ingrain their values into modern day Indonesia; such values include community building, appreciation of the arts, being more environmentally conscious, and the building of acceptance and tolerance for all. The key message we hope to deliver with this campaign would be nationalism or pride in one’s nation, that will help solidify us as a country once more under our motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”. First of all, when creating a campaign it is important to go into it knowing whom to target. In this case, I believe that the ideal target for the Majapahit awareness campaign would be young people, children and students. I believe this is the ideal demographic because it is a ripe age to start nurturing a sense of wonder and openness to new ideas. When children are introduced to a new concept at a young age that interests them, it will stick with them throughout their lives. Young adults such as students can also benefits greatly from learning about the Majapahit era as they are at an age when they are building their identity for the real world and thus integrating such topics into their lives can help foster some national pride and identity, solving one of the key issues of strengthening national identity. Aside from that, the young people of Indonesia will be the future of the country and as such, the campaigns would benefit them the most. CAMPAIGN I – School Visits The first campaign would require experts and historians to make school visits throughout elementary to junior high schools all over Indonesia. During these visits stories and legends from the Majapahit era can be told to the students and activities such as arts and crafts and planting trees and harvesting food from farms in accordance with the Majapahit values of appreciating the arts and respecting the environment. Each school can be visited for a period of about a week each to further ingrain the Majapahit values onto the kids in a fun almost summer-camp-like environment. Museum visits can also be helpful in the education of the children regarding the history of Indonesia and Majapahit.

CAMPAIGN II:  Online/Gaming Presence With youth as a target audience it is important to optimize the use of the Internet and the online platform. Youths today are wildly regarded as digital natives and in Indonesia a growing fondness of technology has overtaken the young people. Thus, having a strong online presence will be extremely helpful in the hopes of raising awareness and understanding on Majapahit culture as it juxtaposes the old and the new in a seamless way. Several ways to create an online presence may be through the use of a website or social media, however, to really draw in people into the subject there has to be an element of interactivity. This can be achieved possibly through the use of online gaming. An online game about Majapahit has already been created once, named Nusantara Rising, this game was a strategy game in which ones objective would be expansion of territory, cultivating the land, and building villages, it is a single player game with multiplayer functions up to six people. However, though this game is well though out and shows several Majapahit values, a better game to represent the values of Majapahit Kingdom would be on an MMORPG platform. MMORPG stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game in which many people can all log into a server at the same time and play. This will foster a sense of community and togetherness much like the community of the real Majapahit at the time. Players can take the role of a peasant or a king and build villages and form bonds much like they would in real life. This campaign would require many game developers, graphic designers, and computer experts. For the game to garner attention print, TV, and online ads can be placed everywhere as well as employing a celebrity spokesperson. To garner more players, the first few months of the game can be a free trial period in which users can get a taste of the game.

CAMPAIGN III: Design Competition The last campaign could be a design competition for clothing or other consumer products focusing around the theme of Majapahit. This can be done with companies such as “Damn! I Love Indonesia,” which is a social media and commerce company dedicated to design around the idea of Indonesian traditional culture. Their aim is to promote the beauty and richness of Indonesian culture specifically at the youth and younger generation, to get them proud to be Indonesian. I believe that this goal and vision has a lot in common with the idea of these campaigns and thus, they would be an ideal partner. The competition can be marketed through social media as well as “Damn! I Love Indonesia’s” website and outlets and registrations can take online. The submissions can be uploaded to the website and the audience will be the ones voting for who wins. Of course, the designs must be based around the Majapahit era and sufficient explanation and understanding has to be achieved by the designers about this era. Therefore, when entering their designs they choose one specific aspect of the Majapahit Kingdom they would like to focus on, create the design, and write a short essay about why they chose to create such design and the significance of it for both the Majapahit era as well as modern times. The winning designs will be available in the shops and the winner will receive a sum of money from the proceeds of the sales. This will encourage youths to research about the Majapahit era and also encourage the Majapahit values of design, art, and craftsmanship. Out of all of these methods, I believe that the most useful and affective one would be the first campaign in which school visits will be employed to deliver the message. Due to the fact that out of all the campaigns, this one has the most potential to reach evenly out to all youths of Indonesia. Campaign number two requires the use of internet connectivity which many rural areas do not have and campaign number three seems to be more Jakarta and big city focused as “Damn! I Love Indonesia” is based in Jakarta. However, I also believe that it can be in our best interest to use the other campaign as well due to the fact of the diversity of the Indonesian public. What may work for some youth may not work for others depending on their location, their resources, their education, beliefs, and how they were raised. To uniformly educate all youths, as we wish to do to try to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas of Indonesia, a variety of methods would be ideal to be used in the spread of this information. Mainly though, no matter what campaign we chose, it has to be fun and interactive for the audience.

CONCLUSION: In conclusion, there is so much we can still learn from our past, it is far too valuable for us to forget. Some values remain relevant through time and these values we can learn from the great kingdom of Majapahit. Therefore, it is important for us to keep remembering and looking into the past for guidance, especially at a time where national pride and patriotism is at an all time low. It can bring the country together under a renewed sense of national identity and set us back on the right path to achieve our potential and be the strong nation that we have always been able to become. The key is in the youth and children and within the lessons we teach them. Instill a love for their country and its history from an early age and watch the difference it can make. To do so however, we must speak in terms of the youth, no any old form of communication will get to them. We must effectively make use of the tools and technology we have now to make a change just as our ancestors have been doing for years and years. The emergence of technology that brought about globalization and weakened national pride can also be used to strengthen it. Once again, the teaching of history is important, in the wise words of philosopher, George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


1 Transparency International, (Corruption by Country/Territory, 2012)

2 Tue, RI improves ranking on global corruption perception index, Antara News (2013)


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