After the official announcement in late November that Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand would jointly nominate the kebaya for the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, some Indonesians appeared to be unhappy, claiming that the garment is from their country.
The lightweight blouse is worn in many parts of Southeast Asia as well as around the world and is officially recognised as the national costume of Indonesia. It is traditionally worn, however, in all four of the countries behind the joint UNESCO nomination, which was announced by Singapore’s National Heritage Board on Nov 23.
NHB CEO Chang Hwee Nee in a statement said that the kebaya “has been – and continues to be – a central aspect in the representation and display of cultural heritage and identity for Malay, Peranakan and other communities in Singapore, and is an integral part of our heritage as a multicultural port city, with links across Southeast Asia and the world.”
Indonesia, not part of the nominating countries, came as a surprise to many. The country has its own “Kebaya Goes to UNESCO campaign”, which began in 2017.
“This will be Singapore’s first multinational nomination, and the first multinational nomination involving the four countries.
By working together with our neighbouring countries, the nomination aims to celebrate the region’s rich shared history, and promote cross-cultural understanding.
It also showcases how kebaya continues be made and worn by many communities across Southeast Asia and how its related knowledge and skills are actively transmitted,” NHB said in an Instagram post.
Many commenters on the post remarked that the kebaya is from Indonesia.
One Instagram user even posted, “Stop claiming Indonesian culture.”
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