With an area sprawling as far as 5,200 km (more than 3,200 miles) from east to west, dotted with more than 17,000 islands – including some of the world’s biggest, inhabited by more than 300 ethnic groups speaking some 700 languages and following six official religions and dozens of indigenous beliefs, it is quite miraculous to see that Indonesia existed at all, especially in a world where international borders are often drawn along racial and sectarian lines. One of the toughest challenges the nation’s founding fathers encountered was formulating a common value, or a shared idea, or basic principles Indonesians can hold on to in order to keep the social fabric of the nation strong.
Despite being a largely Muslim country, Indonesia has pockets of Christian and Hindu-majority regions, a fact which makes Islamic law unfavorable not only by the minority groups but also by a large number of Indonesian Muslims. During his four-year exile in the Dutch-controlled town of Ende on the island of Flores from 1934 to 1938, Sukarno – who would later become Indonesia’s first president – created five tenets which were then formalized into Pancasila – the five principles, a quasi-secular* set of principles on which the nation would stand and thrive despite the improbable heterogeneity.
Pancasila – consisting of five ideas: Belief in God, Human Rights, Unity, Democracy and Social Welfare – was then immortalized into Indonesia’s emblem along with Garuda, a bird from Hindu mythology, upon the nation’s independence. Together they symbolize the unusual juxtaposing elements that make up the country.
Nevertheless the nation’s revered ideology started in a humble place. Sukarno purportedly frequented a breadfruit tree near a beach at Ende, not far from the small house where he spent his years in exile. There he contemplated and wrote anything from several plays to political ideas on gaining independence from the Dutch. The town itself was a perfect birthplace for Pancasila for it was a mini-melting pot where Catholic priests and locals rubbed shoulders with Christian Dutch and Bugis Muslim traders.
In addition to the town’s historical significance, its surrounding’s geographical features were nothing short of fascinating.
*Indonesia is neither secular nor theocratic. Neither does it have a state religion. However it has a Ministry of Religious Affairs, housing representatives of six official religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism – as well as traditional beliefs.
Today Ende remains a relatively small town, surrounded by verdant mountains and black sand beaches littered with blue pebbles. Experts conducted research in the area and concluded that the color of the seemingly out of place pebbles was the result of a chemical reaction from an ancient volcanic activity. Not only scattered along the beach, the blue pebbles were also neatly tucked underneath layers of thick soils on some hills, made visible due to the opening of the Trans-Flores highway decades ago.
In a much less scientific manner, legend has it that a hill and an island near Ende were the results of a fatal quarrel between a husband and his wife. No ordinary couple at all as they were two mountains occupying the peninsula jutting into the Savu Sea. One day the husband was terribly mad at his wife for she fell in love with another mountain. He then cut her throat off with a knife and threw it into the sea. The knife became a small island off the coast of Ende and the head of the ill-fated wife became a hill.
Quite a graphic story from the otherwise peaceful town.
We didn’t spend too much time in Ende, and as Dino drove westward rows of mosques and churches were alternately sighted on the roadside, a reminder of the multicultural nature of the town where the nation’s ideology was conceived. Great ideas often have a humble beginning, indeed.