The Freedom to Live, the Freedom to Congregate

A Brief History

In August 1945 the Korean Peninsula was freed from Japan by the U.S. and allied forces. The event is commemorated as Victory over Japan Day, marking the end of World War II and the end of 35 years of Japanese occupation and colonial rule of Korea.

The National Liberation Day of Korea is a holiday celebrated annually on 15 August in South dan North Korea. In South Korea it is known as Gwangbokjeol (광복절; literally “the day the light returned”) and in North Korea as Chogukhaebangŭi nal (조국해방의 날; literally Liberation of the Fatherland Day)

Two days after that liberation moment, Indonesia proclaimed its independence also from Japanese occupation and colonial rule on August 17, 1945, marking its first step to declare the country as a free and sovereign state.

The Korea nation was ‘liberated’ and ‘restored’ formally in 1948 after 35 years of Japanese occupation (1910 – 1945) rather than ‘founded’, because it is a nation for thousands of years with proud and long history.

On the other hand, Indonesia was ‘founded’, unifying people from around 1.300 tribes living across 1.700 islands. Indonesia was finally freed from Dutch occupation which lasted 350 years and Japanese occupation which lasted 3.5 years until Japan’s defeat.

August 1945 was the start of a new era for both countries. Liberation day for Korea and declaration of independence for Indonesia are just the beginning of a new chapter in both countries’ history and progress towards sovereignty and wealth of the people.

History of Independence in My Family

My late grandfather from my father’s side was a part of the people’s army in North Sumatera, the northern part of Sumatera Island, one of the major islands in Indonesia. He was just twenty years old when Indonesia gained its independence. He just finished school and was an inexperienced soldier. However, he was a bright and brave young man, ready to give his all to fight for his country.

Along with the triumph over Indonesia’s new independence, my grandfather was also preparing to start a family. At that time, people got married at young age. My father, the second of eleven children, was born in 1951, when Indonesia was still working its way towards full sovereignty.

In the 1950’s people were still under fear that our newly gained independence would be taken away from us. In Pematang Siantar, a small city in North Sumatera where my father was born, young men volunteered to be soldiers. Curfews were applied. Everyone was on guard all the time.

My grandfather, my father, I, and everyone who came before us are from Batak tribe, the majority tribe in North Sumatera. For us, gathering and congregation are a part of our lives, our social dynamics, and cultural identity.

Bataknese people gather and congregate on every notable phase of life, such as birth, starting school, starting work, wedding, baby christening, death, and condolences. The custom is heavily influenced by the religions most of Bataknese hold, which are Christian and Catholic. We gather and congregate to strengthen our family ties and as a sign of thanksgiving.

During the Japanese occupation, it was almost impossible to gather and congregate outside in big numbers and outside one’s core family. There was always constant angst that the gathering and congregation would be disbanded by the authority.

Indonesia’s independence for our tribe meant gaining back the freedom to live, to gather, to congregate, to fully function as a community once again.

Every phase of life was celebrated communally once again. People gained freedom to express themselves, to voice their opinions without the fear of oppression and punishment. The ability to do so was as precious as the right to live, for what is a man without his freedom?

The Progress of Independence in Recent Society

Our country’s independence is not something to be taken lightly. It was gained through the sacrifice of people across islands and generations. It started deep down in our bones, our yearning to live as humans with our entitled rights. It was achieved through the sacrifice of bloods, tears, and youths.

Our current independence allows us to gather and to congregate as we please. It allows us room and media to express our feelings and thoughts. It is a privilege and an entitlement given to us as free human beings.

There is no official record when people started doing games to celebrate our declaration of independence every 17 of August. Some people say that the games are similar with the birthday celebration of the King of Netherlands. Other people say that the exuberance the games radiate is our expression of thanksgiving for our fallen heroes and independence.

Indonesia’s independence is celebrated throughout the country, in urban and rural places, inviting everyone from every walk of life to participate. Ever since I was little the neighborhoods I’ve been living in are celebrating with joy and awareness that our right to gather is precious and priceless.

Here is a glimpse of what we experienced before the pandemic hit last year.

Example of a house decorated with Indonesia’s red-and-white flag to celebrate the independence.

People gathered for a flag ceremony to remember our fallen heroes and to be grateful for our country’s independence before the games commenced.

After the ceremony, people gathered to cut “tumpeng”, yellow rice in the shape of mountain as a sign of gratitude. People, old and young, gathered around, waiting for their turn to get a part of the “tumpeng”.

One of the games is eating crackers without hands. It is said to be a sign of gratefulness for the food we can consume today. It is because food was scarce during the war and the colonial rule and people had to struggle to make ends meet.

During the celebration day, people dress in red and white with respect to our national flag. My children were enjoying the crackers after the games ended.

Lastly, happy liberation and independence day to both South Korea and Indonesia. Be blessed!

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