12/21/2009, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Aceh Sharia forbids Chinese dance of the lions

by Mathias Hariyadi
The provincial authorities say it is alien to local culture and violates religious harmony. The descendants of Chinese respond that is only "a cultural show" to remember the victims of the tsunami. For decades the community - mostly Christian - is victim of discrimination and violence for religious or economic reasons.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesians of Chinese descent are in revolt against the decision of the Religious Affairs Office of Aceh, which has banned the popular barongsay (the dance of the lions, ed) during the commemorations of the fifth anniversary of the tsunami. The authorities explain that it is clearly extraneous to local culture and they want to "maintain religious harmony." The descendants of the Chinese replicate by describing the decision as "ridiculous".

Kim, an Indonesian of Chinese descent in North Jakarta, speaks of a "ridiculous and shameful" decision, in open violation of the five basic principles (the Pancasila) that "ensure full respect for cultural diversity." They are the five pillars of secular nationalism, on which the country has built its history since independence in 1945. "The decision to ban the barongsay - he adds - humiliates the various ethnic groups in Indonesia, including the Chinese people of Aceh."  

The dance of the lions (pictured) was in program for 26 December next, the fifth anniversary of the tsunami tragedy, which caused hundreds of casualties among the Chinese community in Aceh. Groups coming from the province of North Sumatra were also to have attended the ceremony.

A. Rahman TB, an official of the Religious Affairs Office of Aceh - the most fundamentalist province of the country, where Islamic law is in force - justifies the decision stressing that the dance "has never been represented before” and the desire to maintain" religious harmony among the Muslims of Aceh and other ethnic groups in the province".  

"It's stupid" replies Martini, a woman of Chinese origin who lives in Jakarta, based on "completely unfounded reasons". The Chinese community states that the barongsay has"no religious character”, but is only a" cultural show ". Finally they add that they received all necessary permits from local authorities, including a police permit.

The Chinese community in Indonesia suffered harsh repression during the dictatorship of General Suharto (1967 - 1998). He had imposed a ban on all traditional cultural expressions, including the characters, language and dance of the lions. According to the dictator, the leaders of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) were responsible for the massacre of a group of army generals in 1965. The ban ordered by Suharto was removed in 2000 by his successor, Abdurrahman Wahid, "Gus Dur", who granted greater autonomy and freedom.  

The hostility toward the Chinese ethnic community is also caused by economic reasons. Merchants, bankers, industrialists, they have long controlled the national economy. Moreover, the Chinese – once majority Buddhist – are now increasingly converted to Christianity and have become an ideal target for Islamic fundamentalist fringes in the country.

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