Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Primordial = Prime Ordeal?

Once upon a sunny afternoon several years ago, I visited my cousin, a beautiful fair-skinned 24-year-old with six older brothers. We were planning to go to the movies with her boyfriend and some other guys. A nice fellow, her boyfriend was. And I particularly liked him for his good sense of humor and responsibility – not to mention his bright intelligence and wonderful personality.
But there he was, as I stepped into the house, sitting on the sofa all by himself, while her brothers and parents walked passed him without even trying to look, or simply notice his presence, as if he was but a phantom unseen.
When I brought it up, my cousin just gave a sigh and a faint smile, replying, “Oh, well. It’s just the ordeal we have to face. You know, he is not of our kind.

Sounds familiar?
Many people throughout the country seem to share the same experience, at least once in a lifetime. Yes. We try to deny it – in public, at the very least – or conceal it, or speak against it. But many of us, deep within, echo the same comment, “They are not of our kind.” They are not of our tribe. They are not of our color. “They” are not “us”.

Anthropology defines it as primordial behavior – a term we are not prompt to react against. Yet, put it to its popular terminology, and we will have screams of hypocritical denials from those who claim “not to be so”, but then again…

Racial discrimination!

Or, shall we call it Primordial Behavior in this essay?
After all, racism sprouts from the root of primordial behavior. “Primordial” derives from the Latin “primeval” (primus [first] + aevum [age]). It is the prime culture that exists from the birth of a primitive tribe and is preserved from generation to generation down to the modern era. It is the sign of our tribalism – or, in other words, the mask by which we represent our tribal identities.

Talking about tribes is talking about segregation.
We have the primordial point of view that says, “We are better than they.” It sounds so much like a refusal to stand on common ground. It places a tribe on higher ground than others – in the eye of that particular tribe. And, in this case, subjectivity is objectionable.

Every tribe, actually, has its own set of moral standards and norms, by which the members of that particular tribe organize the proper conducts acceptable by whole. And there is nothing wrong by setting moral standards and values of good and bad – as long as we attain the essence of the teaching. The teaching is always good. It keeps the balance in the community. It makes sure everything is in order.
Thus, every tribe is fine. Every culture is good.

But things turn unfortunate when people of one community comment against another community by claiming, “Our standard is better than theirs.” Do we have the right to say so? If we happen to have such point of view, let us be ready to hear other people – better, mightier, stronger people – say against us, “We are better than you.” They, in their sight, are standing on higher ground than we do.

When people are trapped in primordial behavior and claim to be higher in level compared to others, they are in fact never come to their root. They never grasp the essence – or ever will be. None of them stand on higher ground – for all are under-the-ground.
The aftermath is inevitable: segregation.

Let's face it: throughout the decades, our motto “unity in diversity” has never actually been manifested. Worse, it even comes closer than ever to separate autonomous territories. Prime ordeal! So long as the tribes within this country obstinately hold onto their primordial point of view, unity is but a dream away. (We might as well reconstruct the constitution and establish a new form of government: autonomous states, instead of united republic.)

Primordial behavior is continuously-denied yet ever-cherished, ever-preserved (otherwise, we won’t be talking about SARA [tribal, religious, racial, class] issues behind other people's back, will we?). Some prefer to call it latent. Some even find it tolerable. But in my opinion, it is all a sign of immaturity. And we all love our immaturity so much it makes us forget we are grown-ups. Our country is over six-decades old. And we have a prime ordeal to solve.

I am not a politician. Neither am I a journalist or member of a particular party. But when an ordinary woman plainly sees the invisible walls built within the society, I believe it is obvious to each and every one of us that we are living in separate flats. We are building walls, not bridges. And we ironically call ourselves a United Republic.

I find it so pitiful, yet satirical at the same time. Will we hold onto this primitive tribalism while the whole world is unanimously heading toward globalization? Are we ready to be a jest for the world to see? It’s high time we grow up!

[PS: This article was actually written several years ago, early in 2005. After giving it a little editing touch, I decided to post it here instead, rather than let it rot in my essay folder.]


  1. A very interesting piece of work, Mbak Shinta. I was thinking for sometime about 'primordial' and 'prime ordeal', as both of them rhyme and appear to have been wrongly understood by common people. Now that you have published this article, I do hope people will start re-thinking of their conducts, especially when claiming their superiority over others.

  2. They don't simply rhyme, Asti. They're actually homophones! And to think of how true their connection is!
    Glad you find this article beneficial.
    I think the issue of unity in our country will remain difficult to manifest unless we continuously strive to educate the next generation to accept, cherish, and uphold the beauty of plurality.