12 Basic Traits of the Indonesian People according to Mochtar Lubis

Mochtar Lubis's monumental work, compiled from his speech materials, makes one blush when reading it.

Visiting Kalimantan, one of Indonesia's remaining green regions, without understanding the general character of the Pancasila nation, feels incomplete. 

According to Mochtar Lubis, there are 12 fundamental traits of Indonesians. Although only one or two may apply to the Dayak, the indigenous people and the first nation of Kalimantan.

The behavior and life of the Indonesian people

The saying "A bad craftsman blames his tools" holds a timeless truth. As knights and lifelong learners, let’s ensure that our metaphorical mirrors are not shattered but rather attended to by professionals or through proper nourishment, so that our flawed reflections may be restored to their original clarity and beauty.

Mochtar Lubis, a prominent journalist and author from Indonesia’s Minang region, vividly depicted the behavior and life of the Indonesian people. In a lecture delivered on April 6, 1977, at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Lubis provided a profound reflection on the complexities of Indonesia’s national identity. At that time, the country was still young, just 32 years old, yet his insights left a lasting impact.

In Lubis’s view, the term “peri” embodies goodness, excellence, civility, politeness, and nobility. However, in reality, what often emerges is the opposite—flaws, badness, and negligence. 

This analogy shows how society frequently reveals the less desirable aspects of inherently good things. Like a car manufactured in perfect condition, our focus shifts to its defects when it breaks down.

Lubis elaborated that while the majority of Indonesians possess good qualities, it is crucial to concentrate on areas needing improvement. He likened this situation to a car requiring maintenance, where certain parts may be damaged. In this way, he encouraged deep reflection on what needs enhancement in the nation's life.

12 basic traits of the Indonesian people according to Mochtar Lubis

Mochtar Lubis's book became an influential work. Although delivered when Indonesia was still a young nation, the book remains relevant decades later. Lubis’s analytical brilliance in dissecting the fundamental traits of the Indonesian people is evident in his work, which serves as a key reference. His observations help unmask pretenses and present an honest and sharp view of national identity.

Here are the 12 basic traits of the Indonesian people according to Mochtar Lubis:

  1. Hypocritical (two-faced). Generally, Indonesians often say one thing and mean another.
  2. Reluctant to take responsibility for their actions, decisions, behavior, thoughts, etc. The proverb “Throw a stone and hide your hand” likely stems from this social reality, describing those who dare to act but fear accountability.
  3. Feudalistic in attitude and behavior. This feudal and colonial legacy is passed down from generation to generation, especially evident in bureaucratic practices, whether in government or private sectors.
  4. Superstitious. Despite advances in education, when faced with problems and hardships, Indonesians often turn to shamans. Mysticism and superstition remain deeply ingrained, reflecting a primitive mindset.
  5. Artistic and talented in the arts. This is perhaps most evident in ethnic groups like the Balinese, Javanese, Dayak, and Papuans, where artistry is woven into daily life. However, other ethnic groups also share this trait.
  6. Weak character. The character of a nation is not built overnight but through a long process of internalization.
  7. Unthrifty. Indonesians tend to be spendthrift, spending today's earnings today, generally not keen on saving or planning for the future.
  8. Reluctant to work hard unless absolutely necessary. They prefer a relaxed life, living by the principle: as long as there’s a day, there’s sustenance.
  9. Fond of complaining, not daring to express thoughts and opinions directly, preferring to backstab.
  10. Quick to envy. If someone else succeeds, they are easily jealous.
  11. Pretend to be knowledgeable, unwilling to admit their shortcomings.
  12. Easily imitates. This indicates a lack of creativity and innovation, often copying others without acknowledging the original creator.

This book serves as a foundation for anyone seeking to understand the essence of Indonesian identity and character. 

Mochtar Lubis’s thoughts allow readers to ponder, absorb, and respond to the challenges and potentials within the nation’s character, maintaining a powerful relevance even in today’s context.

-- Rangkaya Bada

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