The thing about education is not just about teaching you additional knowledge and/or wisdom, but also to allow you to reflect and see the world the way you see it. Reading journals on the Indonesian archipelago makes me wonder about the effects of colonisation and the ‘authentic’ history of Southeast Asia. One can definitely argue, as many have, the definition of where this authenticity begins; for Southeast Asia had a long presence before the arrival of religion and colonisation in the thirteenth century.
Long before the days of this gender binary, domination of one gender over the other and trans/homophobia, Southeast Asia (Indonesia at least) had an amazing view of genders. Gender was fluid, and each gender has a special power, according to the folk beliefs. In the South Sulawesi, Bugis had 5 genders, including Bissu. Bissu is both female and a male. Today, many probably call them transgender, but religiously, they were the royal communicator between heaven and earth. They were highly respected and worshipped, for they were the channels to gods and heavens above.
Then came the Dutch colonisers. Their immense fear of gender transgressors and their inability to accept gender fluidity resulted in the stigmatisation of transgender and the need to categorise people with a binary in gender – males or females. Their need for dominance of the male species, together with the growing influence of Modernist Islam and Christianity, created the concept that males were far more superior than females. Laws were created to prevent females from receiving higher education as females were being ‘domesticated’. They had to stay at home to learn to cook, sew, take care of the house and more importantly, to have kids. They were considered the ‘soil’ to generate the ‘seed’ of males (LOL). As this view continued with the course of time, many of these ‘Western’ values are imparted to Southeast Asians today, thinking that these were originally our beliefs.
Of course, there is no right or wrong as to which culture and belief is ‘right’ in the society, yet the fact that colonisation erased the pre-colonial history of Southeast Asia is rather alarming. (Folk belief like the Bugis and Bissu were discouraged during that time, so it resulted in the reduction of past history of SEA being told to the new generations.) SEA used to be a gender fluid, open culture that encourages equality between everyone. (Even the museums about Singapore’s history reflects this equality.)
Nonetheless, do not take anything as it is. Continue to question the existential purpose and meaning behind anything and everything. Is colonisation really helping Southeast Asia grow, or was it the other way round? Our education texts are written by the colonial masters; how reliable are they? They say, history is written by winners. Reading about the history from the point of view of the Westerns are not exactly the way to study history totally. I guess my point is that one should consider the delivery of our texts as we continue on with our journey of education. Then reflect regularly to determine your stand before accepting anything just as it is.