‘Welcome To Bumi Sriwijaya’ or the Building of a Provincial Identity in Contemporary Indonesia
 
 
By Pierre-Yves Manguin, Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), Paris
 
Published in Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series No. 102, February 2002, Singapore
 
ABSTRACT
 
In typical Indonesian fashion, when you land at Palembang, the first public name to greet the visitor is that given  to  the airport: Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II, the last of the Palembang sultans, the provincial National Hero (Pahlawan Nasional), who resisted Dutch annexation, was subsequently exiled in 1821 and later died in Ternate. As you leave the airport grounds, though, you appear to move into a different world and period altogether and the other facet of Palembang's schizophrenic identity is soon made obvious. The large motto on the gates of the airport complex carries  you one whole millennium back  in  time,  as it  reads: WELCOME TO BUMI SRIWIJAYA, in a polyglot mode well suited to the ancient  cosmopolitan polity where parrots, according to one Arab traveller of  the 10th century,  could  speak a variety of languages. When, a few kilometres later, you enter the heart of the city, a quick glance at the signs of the local toko-toko  on the  main Sudirman Avenue and  its  neighbouring streets soon brings confirmation that the  7th  to 13th  century AD  polity  named  Sriwijaya has acquired in Palembang an extraordinary currency. From “Toko Buku Sriwijaya” and “Sriwijaya Sports, Music & Golf”, to “Intan Sriwijaya Elektronik” (a karaoke spot), dozens of shops carry the ancient name. There  is  no way  one could harbour  any doubt  about  the  true  location of Sriwijaya.
 

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