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Written by dr.Novie Manurung – AIYA Jawa Barat
Translated by Adolf Richardo BS

Hi, my name is Novie Manurung! I am a Toba Batak native, a tribe originating from North Sumatra. Both of my parents also come from North Sumatra (Manurung and Napitupulu). Our family upholds Batak cultural values such as hard work, honesty, and a lot of respect for the family tree and Batak cultural events. Even though I was born and raised with a lot of Batak cultures, I am very grateful that my life is filled by various other cultures in Indonesia. 

I really love Indonesia! I remember when I was in kindergarten (TK), I participated in a traditional dress competition, and I wore traditional Central Javanese clothes. My love and curiosity for other Indonesian cultures peaked when I left Jakarta and continued my undergraduate studies in Jatinangor, West Java, with its Sundanese culture. It didn’t stop there; I also met new friends from all over Indonesia. It’s so warm and beautiful!

At the end of 2007, I had a rare opportunity to go to East Indonesia to become a volunteer teacher in Anak Panah elementary school pioneered by Ev. Daniel Alexander in Nabire district, Papua. Once I got there, I thought it would be difficult to adapt, widely known as “culture shock”, but it turned out very different. Although only a few people have the same skin color as me, I was received warmly and with open arms. My ears were tingled with new accents, tickled my desire to try to imitate, and sometimes I laughed to myself because it sounded ‘weird’ to my ears.

One month passed, and I had to return to continue my Koas (cooperative assistant) program in Bandung. However, that short trip changed my life; it became the start line for my next dream.

After finishing my study, I immediately made up my mind. I had to go to another part of eastern Indonesia; I wanted to see more of Indonesian culture. I registered to become a doctor in the interior of NTT (East Nusa Tenggara), and God answered my prayers.

In early 2010, a new chapter of my life began; I was assigned to become a non-permanent personnel (PTT) doctor in Ende and Nagekeo districts, Flores, NTT for the next three years. Living side by side with indigenous people from NTT made me ‘immersed’ in their culture. Seeing the way they talk, behave, wear traditional clothes as everyday clothes, see them work, attend traditional ceremonies or other celebrations became a big part of my life there. I thought I would like it, but no, I fell in love. Yes, I fell in love with the cultural diversity of the tribes in Indonesia. I am amazed how these tribes are very different from each other, and how they unite under one motherland called Indonesia.

Of course, not all of my stories there are bells and whistles. I also experienced conflicts due to an inaccurate understanding of the existing culture, but all of those were resolved with humility and love.

What is exactly that I want to tell you here? After reading an article from Prof. Herawati Supolo Sudoyo in 2019 about indigenous Indonesians, I understood that there is no 100% indigenous Indonesian, since all of us Indonesians have a mixture of different genes. I grasped the inner meaning of the sentence written on our country’s symbol ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’, ‘Unity in Diversity’. We will always have differences, but how we react to it matters a lot. Just like with your siblings, even though their characters are different from us, or sometimes they annoy us, we still treat them well due to the realization that you guys are siblings tied with blood! I think the same awareness can be the basis for how we see other people who come from different tribes. Having an open mind, broad heart, and focus on unity, will turn differences into the ‘glue’ of our togetherness. After all, music sounds more beautiful and full of harmony when it is created from different tones, right?

This unity will make our nation strong, and it will enable us to be more involved in the international arena, no matter how significant the challenges are.

To me, that is what diversity means. Different but one, different but loving each other. Like a saying that I really like, love your neighbour as yourself and nothing is greater than love.