Friday, 22 March 2013

an OPEN LETTER



I am an osteoarchaeologist.

It does not make me less human when I chose to deal with the dead ones. I chose this because I feel I can be useful to let the bones speak, let them be prehistoric, historic, or modern. At some point, they are only bones to me. But you have no idea, in which point they have become something I talk to and talk back too. The last trip had changed my point of view a lot. I have attended classes about repatriation, heard and read the news, read the journal articles or books about it, but had never thought that it would came across my path so soon in my career.

The more modern they are, the closer to home they got. I feel like I can relate to whatever happens to these bones. Every skeletal trauma I catalogued, every pathological lesions I identified. But my field of work requires me to be able to compartmentalise the subject and the object, the heart and the mind, respectively. I am not allowed to cry or overtly show emotion during work, I am not allowed to mourn. But do you know that when I am alone in my hotel room that I cried? I cried for the war that they have to go through, I cried for the gunshot wounds, I cried for the pain of a caries on a tooth. I may not cry out loud, but do you know I feel the pain?


Judge me as a (self-claimed) scientist. Judge me that I do not care if when I do my work, somebody else feel insulted for being re-checked. I have to compartmentalise. I try so hard not to care about how I feel at that moment, but do you know I think about it everyday in my life? Does anybody care how hard it is to live with my choice, to bear the consequences, to face the prejudices, to hear your potty mouths talking? Do you think it is easy to compartmentalise feelings and judgments? Do you think it is easy for me to see skeletal remains of babies? But I have to be able to compartmentalise. I chose not to be soft, I chose to be hard. I chose to appear hard, and when you mess with me, I can act a lot harder (and harsher) than I intended to.

Do not talk about humanity to me, when you cannot feel the pain of others. Do not talk about humanity to me when you dispose your friends easily. Do not talk about humanity to me when you do not even know how to treat other people like human. I have seen death in a different form, I have respected death in a different way, I have chosen to see death in a different point of view.
I chose this path not to be insulted, I chose this field not to be look down upon. You will fear of what I am able to do, of what I am able to kick. There will come a day when it hurts for you more than it is for me now.

Why it is important to see the case under the microscope of anthropology and archaeology? Because we need to make sure nobody gets buried, cremated, or interned in a wrong way. Because we adhere to ancestral values that vary in every culture. Indonesia is (in my opinion) the best example of plurality, and how we dealt with it in the past is not shameful. I came with two open arms that will lend you help, not to jeopardise you or your country. I do think they have to go home and paid respect to as they should. What you did is shameful, and it is not how to lobby that is important, but how to came into the same conclusion. It may appear that I needed only the data you collected, but when you see my research design, you will be surprised on how much I can answer, only with your Excel sheet. To my colleague, it appears like I do not let go of the issue. I do. I do not let go of the issue, as interesting as it is. I might not be a good Indonesian, but if this is the way for me to start to be a good one, so be it. Archaeology is all I know, and through archaeology I may will prove that I can be a good Indonesian. Or at least a person with good will. But when you pushed me to the wall, literally, and insult me in my face, being a good Indonesian goes down to number two. I will stand up for myself, one, then, I will be a good Indonesian.

It is embarassing for me to say this to you, remembering that you are Indonesian too. I pity you and your conflicted identity. Do you remember when your parents sang you lullaby in Bahasa Indonesia? Do you remember when you chose to leave the country and stay at some other? Do you remember playing in your yard with your childhood friends? Nothing is wrong about that. Your hair is still black, your skin is still brown. Your tongue cannot lie to you that you are fluently speaking your mother language. When your tongue gets twisted with foreign words, remember the one easy word in your mother tongue. Even through osteology, when you lie in front of me as a skull, you cannot lie to me about your ancestry, no matter how much you adhere to other cultures in life. I can make your biological profile, not your cultural preferences in life. Stop lying to yourself. I promise I will not be mad when one particular colleague of mine says that I have identity confliction, because I have seen you, a being with identity more conflicted than I do.