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Environmental Issues/Nature, Fulbright / Indonesia, People, Politics/Government, Religion

“Look, a baby rhino!” and thinking about the “Third World” as portrayed by Western media

I should talk about very serious issues, like the recent sinking of two boats crammed with refugees en route to Australia from Indonesia or the frenzy over new banking regulations or the continuing controversy over the production of palm oil or the “Internet atheist” who was jailed and fined for “spreading religious hatred” or the Sumatran fires that contribute to the haze blanketing Southeast Asia or even the tussle between Malaysia and Indonesia about cultural ownership of the dance Tor-Tor and the music Gordang Sambilan

Instead, I’m going to show you all a much cuter baby Sumatran rhinoceros recently born in Way Kambas National Park, Sumatra, only the fourth ever born in captivity.

His name is Andatu, which is a shortened version of the Indonesian expression for “gift of god.”

With fewer than 200 Sumatran rhinos left in the world, it’s incredible that this can happen in the species’ native habitat.

Speaking of very serious issues, I don’t want my lightness of tone in this post to come off as flippancy about the current problems facing Indonesia. These issues — the status of refugees from countries like Afghanistan attempting to seek asylum in Australia but forced to wait in Indonesia, constant threats to Indonesia’s incredible biodiversity, religious tensions, socioeconomic problems, and the struggle for cultural preservation — need to be covered by the media. Yet, lately, much of the news covered about Indonesia in English-language media seem to be rather. . .negative.

And this negativity about “other” countries like Indonesia in Western news has been troubling me for quite some time. If the news about  developing countries, about places that are not “Western,” are dominated by “Oh, look at how troubled this developing country is,” it just contributes to a discourse that discounts countries like Indonesia, that implies that they are inconsequential at best and problems in themselves at worst. Meanwhile, issues abroad have often provided a convenient way for people in places like the United States to draw attention away from similar problems at home (see:  women’s rights).

Again, this doesn’t mean that places like the United States shouldn’t be proud of its progress or even that they aren’t doing much better in certain areas. Objectively, the United States, for instance, is a greater superpower than Indonesia with a longer history of political stability. Yet, this doesn’t mean that the continuing narrative of “X country is such a sad, sad, sad place to live in because of X. Aren’t we so lucky?” shouldn’t be questioned.

At best, the attitude of this narrative can be naive. At worst, the attitude can be condescending and even xenophobic.

Thus, this is why I chose to focus, in this post, on the birth of Andatu, out of all the Indonesian current events making waves in Western media. As the great Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said, we must “reject the single story” that robs people of their dignity and complexity. Indonesia may have its failures, but its triumphs deserve to be trumpeted, too.

About Anna Cabe

I'm your average over-stressed Asian-American overachiever, your typical moderately talented wannabe writer, your everyday nerd with subpar social skills. I'm pretty boring really.

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My comments do not represent the views, positions, or opinions of the Fulbright Program, any of its partner institutions, or the United States Department of State.

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June 2012
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