‘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
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.