‘We don’t want other countries to claim our tourism assets, so we need to keep a complete catalogue’, recently said the Indonesian National Archives Chairman, Mustari Irawan. Indonesia is indeed concerned about the appropriation of its cultural heritage by its neighbours. In particular, the traditional batik designs, songs and dances by Malaysia and the Toraja coffee from Sulawesi (an Indonesian island) appropriated by a Japanese brand.
That is why the Tourism Ministry and the Indonesian National Archives recently decided to issue a catalogue of the cultural heritage of the country in order to prevent violations of its intellectual property rights. The difficulty of this initiative comes from the fact that these countries previously shared similar cultural traditions. Indonesia and Malaysia were indeed parts of the Sriwijaya Kingdom. How, therefore, in the age of modern legal frontiers, is it possible to appropriate traditions commonly owned for hundreds of years? Similarly, how Indonesia could prohibit the use of a Japanese brand for Sulawesi coffee while Japanese investments saved the failing Toraja coffee industry years ago? The Indo-Malay cultural conflict thus shows the difficulty to reconcile common heritage with national intellectual property rights.