For many, history may not be a fun subject to discuss in the classroom, let alone on social media. It’s dull, passe and not as interesting as talking about Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest movie, for instance.
Asep Kambali is not one of these people, though. He believes the past has an important role for the present and the future, taking to heart Sukarno’s famous words of “Don’t ever forget history.”
Asep Kambali, a self-proclaimed “traveling history teacher,” founded the Indonesia Historia Community (KHI), a group that aims to bring history closer to common people, in 2003.
He travels the country to encourage common people to take interest in the nation’s history through fun lectures in schools, malls, cultural events, public trails and museum visits.
“I want to touch the affectionate side of the people to change their paradigm on history. I want them to see that history can be fun. It’s like brainwashing them to love this country,” he said at KHI headquarters in Bendungan Hilir, Jakarta.
The community was founded over a decade ago where there was no ever-present social media and the use of Internet was limited. “Building a community wasn’t easy. We relied on a mailing list and face-to-face meetings. We also secretly gave out pamphlets in malls to promote our events,” he said.
Things are easier now. The community already has around 23,000 members all over the world, a well-maintained website and social media accounts. On Twitter, Asep and KHI have around 19,000 followers combined. Through @AsepKambali and @IndoHistoria, Asep and the community talk with members and friends and reach a wider audience, thanks to the re-tweeting by followers.
The history major realized that history was not a “pretty” topic for general conversation. “It’s not like lifestyle topics that don’t require any thinking, or humanitarian topics that touch people’s hearts. We have to compose our message so it can touch hearts or be interesting enough so people will be attracted to our cause,” he said.
Serial tweeting — or locally known as kultwit — is also an effective way to promote history as long it manages to attract readers. “The tweets just have to be interesting. I usually start with a prelude hours before I tweet so people will look forward to it, and then I use an attention-grabbing hashtag or out-of-the-box point of view on the story,” Asep said.
“I once tweeted a story about Kartini, titled ‘ Menggugat Kartini ’ [‘Criticizing Kartini’]. The tweets questioned whether Kartini [a national feminist icon] deserved to be the most celebrated national heroine while others, like Cut Nyak Dien and those who actually went to war, didn’t get that much fame,” Asep said. The topic sparked debate, and managed to get people interested in the story.
Outside the online world, Asep and KHI use mass media and their events to promote historical issues. Asep is often featured in magazines or local television for interviews. KHI’s latest event, a night trail in Jakarta’s Old Town held on Lunar New Year, managed to attract more than a hundred participants.
They also often lobby authorities on cultural issues. “They actually listen to civil society groups like us. For example, KHI gave a suggestion regarding Jakarta’s latest double-decker buses. We wanted those buses not to be for mass transit but for tourism.” It worked.
Asep has big dreams for KHI. “We want culture to be a lifestyle and this community can be a platform to achieve that. We want a modern society that cares about its past, like Parisians,” he said.
Follow Friday is a series of profiles on the people who make up Indonesia’s ever-growing Twitterverse. Follow at your own risk.