Cultural Appropriation: Stealing Popularity from Minorities


Culture is the property of an individual or group that symbolizes ways of thinking and behaving. Because culture is the way of thinking and bearing in a group, culture represents a group. The cultural representation of a group creates a unique identity for each group that is distinct from other groups. This cultural difference underlies many cultural phenomena, one known as cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is the act of a member of one cultural group inappropriately by blatantly adopting characteristics or elements of another's culture. Cultural appropriation involves the willful use of a culture's music, dances, costumes, symbols, languages, and religions. A negative issue can develop into an act of exploitation or even an insult to native cultures. It will become a racial issue if the major group misuses this cultural adoption against the minority group.

These cases of cultural appropriation were initially famous when white people or white groups adopted black people's culture for entertainment. For dark-skinned people, their culture and cultural elements are revered things that are only intended for their people, so it is not appropriate for the white groups to adopt their culture for entertainment, as well as the credit that should have gone to the original group that produced the culture but was instead given to another group that had nothing to do with it. 

For indigenous groups, culture or a cultural element is a sacred thing with its own meaning valued by them. If these cultures are then exploited for the sake of 'aesthetics' or trends for the majority groups by losing sight of the true definition of the culture, we insult the original group, and it may risk causing conflict. Furthermore, the power disparity between majorities and minorities plays a significant role in this cultural appropriation issue. The majority group's adoption of the minority group's culture will undoubtedly benefit the majority group; however, there is no reciprocity given to the minority group.

Indonesia itself has around 1,239 intangible cultural heritage objects in artefacts, instruments, expressions, practices, skills, knowledge, and historical places. One thousand two hundred thirty-nine of these cultural heritages belong to different groups or tribes, and these tribes are also segmented into majorities and minorities. Adoption of culture by one tribe against another is also unavoidable, but in some cases, the adoption of this culture is a cultural appropriation which is very unfortunate.

There have been several cases of cultural appropriation in Indonesia. However, most of these cases are ignored or considered insignificant because Indonesian people are still unfamiliar with this issue of cultural appropriation; for example, in 2021 PON Papua, the promoter chose the artist Nagita Slavina to be the icon of this PON. Nagita was then dressed in traditional Papuan clothes to emphasize that she was an icon of the Papua PON. However, Nagita Slavina is not a member of the indigenous Papuan, and the tribe that should be highlighted in this PON is the Papuan. Still, the representation or icon of this PON is not native Papuans but people who are not Papuans dressed in traditional Papuan clothes. It explained the cultural appropriation of the Papuan, which is left out, even though they are the most entitled to wear their own traditional clothes during the 2021 PON event.

In another case, the YouTube video Rewind Indonesia 2021 showed a non-Papuan woman wearing traditional Papuan clothing and holding a spear. According to several indigenous Papuans, the adoption of Papuan women's traditional clothing was done inappropriately by that content creator then. For example, the attributes of traditional Papuan dresses that should be worn on the waist are instead worn on the chest. Moreover, native Papuan women also have never been allowed to use spears. Cultural appropriation is apparent in this case. Indigenous Papuans who criticize this also argue that other ethnic groups should represent their own tribe and not adopt the culture of other tribes, let alone carelessly. This indifference to cultural appropriation also can be seen in numbers of content creators on many social media platforms who carelessly create content about culture; for example, the trend of make-up challenges, transformation dance challenges, or carelessly imitating indigenous Papuans by using images of symbols or traditional attributes of the Papuans, which are supposed to be sacred and have deep meaning for the indigenous Papuan. 

The cases of cultural appropriation above are just a few of the many issues of public concern. Unfortunately, most of the other instances of cultural appropriation are ignored by the majority of Indonesian society. The typical assumption that adopting other cultures is okay as long as the society knows other minority cultures has become a common assumption in Indonesia.  Carelessly introducing different ethnic cultures may trigger the preservation of the wrong culture and harm the original culture's owner and the culture itself. Adopting another ethnic culture is not wrong if done correctly and in keeping with the original culture to show respect for that ethnic group and culture. Education and understanding of this cultural appropriation should be well conveyed to our society to avoid future cases of cultural appropriation.

Writer: Rani Roanliq L.
Editor: Febby Cahya D.

  • (2022). Retrieved 10 June 2022, from https://twitter.com/gyozagonza/status/1480051099910344707?t=_bkpuJ1r52RrcUQVFZvMNQ&s=08
  • Young, J. (2008). Cultural appropriation and the arts. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.


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