Call to include leftist national hero Tan Malaka in school curriculum

CNN Indonesia – January 4, 2021
Tan Malaka – Undated (Medium)

Padang – Tan Malaka's heirs want the historical struggle of one of the Indonesian Republic's initiators to be included in school history lessons. They are making this request of the government as one way for the nation's next generation to know the role that Tan Malaka played in the national independence struggle.

Tan Malaka's heir, Hengky Novaron Arsil Datuk, said that there are still many things which need to be dug into about Tan Malaka, in terms of his thinking, journey through life, ideas, visions, mission and magnificent ideals, to be studied by the general public and the next generation. They believe that this would be a form of compensation for Tan Malaka's service to the country.

"It is very fitting that Tan Malaka's service and role be remembered in collective memory by means of including the historical role that he played in the historical education curriculum. In this way, Tan Malaka will always be carved into the hearts of the nation's next generation. Including this historical role and at the same time as an initiative to resist forgetting Tan Malaka's service", Hengky told CNN Indonesia recently.

Hengky also hopes that the government will award Tan Malaka his basic right as a national hero. The basic right that his heirs want, said Hengky, is the right to build a heroes cemetery at Tan Malaka's grave site in Pandam Gadang, Limapuluh Kota regency, West Sumatra.

"The substance of our wish is Tan Malaka's basic right as a hero, namely a heroes cemetery on the land of his birth", said Hengky.

Historian Bonnie Triyana says that it is important to teach the history of Tan Malaka's struggle in schools so the next generation understands and knows that there was a period in Indonesia's history which had international caliber figures, cosmopolitan thinkers who stood with and sided with oppressed nations.

For Triyana, it is not just Tan Malaka's ideas which should be taught in schools, but also the ideas of all historical figures or national heroes from all spectrums of thought and ideology.

But, so that students would not be overly burdened with historical lesions which are restricted to study hours, he wants facilities for studying history in public spaces (not just in the classroom) to be improved.

"My suggestion is that it be obligatory for students to read and critically review the defense speeches of Bung Karno [Indonesia's founding president Sukarno], Bung Hatta [Indonesia's first vice president Muhammad Hatta], and Tan Malaka's autobiography, From Jail to Jail (Dari Penjara ke Penjara)", he said.

Andalas University history professor Gusti Asnan says that whether or not the story of Tan Malaka's struggle is included in the education curriculum depends on a political decision.

"The family or a social group may well propose that Tan Malaka's ideas be included in the curriculum. But, the decision is in the government's hands. People associate Tan Malaka with the left. This is what worries the majority of people, including key people in the Kemendikbud [Ministry of Culture and Education], who will decide if Tan Malaka's ideas are allowed to be included in the curriculum", he told CNN Indonesia on Sunday January 3.

Asnan agrees that Tan Malaka's thinking should be taught to students, saying that Tan Malaka's ideas about Indonesia, nationhood, and so forth, are just as important as the thinking of other national heroes who are already including in the educational curriculum.

"At one time Tan Malaka's ideas were accepted. Meaning, they were important. I'm convinced that in the early 50s, Tan Malaka's ideas found a place. [But] since the 1960s, control by those in power was very dominant. So materials which would be included [in the curriculum] were selected", he said. (adb/wis)


Tan Malaka was a member of the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI) and a proponent of a syncretism between Islam and Marxism. He was executed by the Indonesian military in 1949 but in 1963 was named a national hero by Indonesia's founding president Sukarno. Along with Sukarno and the country's first vice president Muhammad Hatta, Tan Malaka has been described by many historians as one of Indonesia's founding fathers. But during the Suharto era, Tan Malaka was all but erased from history books because of his leftist ideology, although his recognition as a hero was never repealed.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Ahli Waris Ingin Peran Tan Malaka Masuk Pelajaran Sejarah".]