Geographical Natural-Elementary Settings
(cited partially from: Pangarsa, 2007, Towards Nusantara City, Seminar on Knowledge City, USU, November 2007)
n fact, development of urban scientific phenomena in Indonesia --as in others parts of the world-- not only that it has its own spatio-temporal scales and substantive social processes, but also has its own geographical natural-elementary settings. Unfortunately, discourses let alone an effort of formulating conceptually what is a “city” in Indonesia are rare. In spite of lack of fundamental studies, it should note two important points. Indonesia has naturally, societally and historically structured from Southeast Asian region been called Nusantara since 14th century. Nusantara is not a political territory of modern Indonesia; it would be a Southeast Asian cultural space spread out between Formosa Island in North to Alor Isles in South, between Aceh in West and Papua Island in East, including coastal regions of Southeast Asia: Space of very high cultural plurality in sense of geo-historically, its system of beliefs, and society. The Nusantara Archipelago is essentially different from another Asian continental countries and archipelagoes with four seasons such as Japan. And also, Southeast Asian wide-ranging area have played a role as a “bridge” and “glue”, between India and Arab to China during the spreads of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
Thus, the geo-historical developmental trajectories of Nusantara could be affirmed as a basic parameter in formulating a proper concept of a city for the region. The importance is to communicate the idea. In the years to come, there will appear discourses to scrutinize the links between theory, politics, and policy using paralell narratives of the Nusantara cities in multi-diciplinary views. The Nusantara City would not be a city of the past, but parts of the actual discourses of a global city, knowledge city, creative city, sustainable city, and resurgent city. Making a Nusantara City is a great work that would be certainly impossible to be executed by a single discipline group.
As has been shown through many works of scholars, “traditional” or “conventional” point of view on Nusantara is a linguo-anthropological or a historical, in which Nusantara is considered as a part of Austronesia. Is there a new approach? In field of planning, actions of European and North-American postmodernists trying to see beyond and to connect their “spatial” approaches to other fields (including local system of beliefs), begins to reach Indonesia. However, a holistic view of Nusantara seems to be far away yet. Nevertheless, some prominent characters of Nusantara could be presented.
Region with Two Seasons: Leafy All Year RoundThe first phenomenon, Nusantara as described geographically above is a tropical region; it has two seasons and leafy all year round. Note a small scene, well-known both in Christian and Islam: Adam and Hawa (Eve) had been deceived by evil’s deception to eat “the forbidden fruit”, they is covered their genitals (aurat) with the leaves of the Heaven. It seems that the leaf is a fundamental need of human being to descend his generations and to keep his existence. Primitive man used leaves as shelter; cattle transforms leaves into animal-protein that we eat. Thus leaves provide human protection from climate and hungry. For believers, the earth had been created by Allah Almighty God as provision for human being to prepare his eternally life. Trees, caves, hamlets, countries, villages, or cities and even the earth, essentially is dwelling for all, “a home for human beings”.
Prophet Muhammad said in well-known hadeeth: “my home is my heaven”. As a home or dwelling for all human, the earth should have a nuance of heaven. It is clear that human being is very close with his nature and leaves on his environments. The relation between man and his environments is not just in physical parameters (temperature, oxygen, etc) but also in a resonance of the meta-empirical energy. Perhaps it would be peculiar to be explained that the nature of human being (fithrah) has the same vibratio-motion of the energy of bio-cosmic essence with the leaf. There is no need to prove by sophisticated physics and its experiments that leafy environments bring a peaceful nuance to every human. A little vegetation in a room will give a different feeling compared to an empty one. As a matter of fact, man living in Nusantara, should be sufficient; it is leafy and has two seasons. Nusantara cities should be different from those of European counterparts.
The Origin: Tree-Dwelling
To sketch the realities of Nusantara’s existence and image of its nature, surveys on the origin of the Southeast Asian architecture might be helpful. There are two types of the origin of dwellings in the world: cave or troglodyte-dwelling and tree-dwelling. It is known that Southeast Asia archipelago is the region of the second type and continental Asian is of the first. Beneath platformed floors of a house spreads a continuous space from one house to the others, passing courtyards, village alleys, and paddy fields constituting an integrated natural leafy environments and those of sheltered man-made with different scales and degrees of privacy. It seems that it would not only be physical, but also energy of bio-cosmic essence phenomenon.
The main point is how to find out the boundary marks between inhabited and non-inhabited territory. The proposed concept is that the boundary should be defined not only by physical elements but also by or bio-cosmic energy as well. In conventional scientific point of view, it is usually regarded as spatio-anthropological paradigms with myths, legends, or traditions of beliefs. In the primitive age or even today, traditional rituals held in villages usually intended to bring a safety and secure life in certain villages’ territory (e.g. ritual of sêlamêtan, bersih desa, ruwatan, etc in Javanese villages). In traditional villages, the territory is often indicated by planted trees or bushes as “a fort”. So that in intention to conserve man-environment interrelation described above, vegetation use of spatial territorializing would be most reasonable method to be replicated when they make vast clustered dwellings. In Javanese old tradition, a forestry region is often regarded as a non-human dwellings space or non-occupied space.
Island: Sea-bordered Living Space
By nature, coasts surrounding an island are “forts” separating and protecting the land part from the others. Apparently, the Nusantara cultures have been formed by islands boundaries. The architecture and the language of Island of Bali are completely different from those of the native of Lombok (in southern regions of the Island). Or, that of Mentawai is also very different from Nias -although they are relatively very close to each other. Boundaries of cultural spaces are also formed by water and land elements (large rivers, high mountain, vast forests, etc). For greater or more populated islands will be explained on the following paragraph. An etymological comparison of two words “Austronesia” and “Nusantara” explains the appropriate view. “Austronesia” is a Greek word consisting two elements, Austr?lis (South) nêsos (islands); Austronesia would be southern islands, including Nusantara. Thus, the center of spatio-temporal origin -axis mundi or the spatial reference- is Greek, from which European cultures had developed. Thus in the word “Austronesia” it would be a trace of Eurocentrism, subordinating Nusantara. Nusantara comes from two Old Javanese words nuswa or nusya (island) and antara (between). Coincidently, the word “nusa” has the same meaning as “nêsos”, means island. Thus, a reasonable explanation of Nusantara would be "the whole combined archipelago countries" without “a center” but an entire archipelago. However, by nature the five main islands of Indonesia become the centers.
In the reality of cultural developments in Nusantara, a high mountain is often considered as the center of an occupied space. That is empirically a figuration of the vertical axis that could appear in symbolism of local political power. Mount Semeru is considered as the center of space and power by Hindu-Buddhist of old Eastern Javanese kingdoms. By the nature of society, the territory of this occupied space is geographically very dynamic. So that finally, it could be concluded that Nusantara is “open” or having position as a free space “connected to a center”. The center will culturally and politically be defined in accordance to the system of beliefs in society, planted by dominating power(s).