Another masterpiece by Pramoedya, I have to admit this book has taken me by surprise. The title said it from the beginning: “Tempo Doeloe: Antologi Sastra Pra-Indonesia,” and once I accidentally opened the book halfway before I started to read it, I was mixed with both surprise and thrill to find out that the book is written with the old Indonesian spelling.
The book, compiled by one of Indonesia’s most prominent writer, contains 8 short stories written not by Pram himself, but instead by various different writers in during the late 19th to early 20th century. This was when Indonesia was known as the Dutch East Indies back then. Even though he did discussed a number of literary works written in that era, Pram said that he decided to collect and select only the ones with similar theme that could chronologically sum up the progress of the politics-social-economic situations of the citizens, especially the ones that keeps getting worse towards the natives, starting from the 17th century up to the 19th century. Pram also decided not to change the language style and spelling of the original versions, although I kind of wonder whether he at least simplified it–and this is what I had previously stated as the one that had taken me by surprise earlier. Only recently finishing another book by Pramoedya, Sang Pemula, I decided to move on to this book just because Pram kept referring to this book in his biography of R. M. Tirto Adhi Soerjo. As soon as I found out that the stories are written in Bahasa Melayu Pasar (Malay), I recalled my experience of struggling with the language style used in Sang Pemula, which mostly consisted of articles written by Tirto Adhi Soerjo in Malay language used during his time. Therefore, it’s no wonder that I only expected to meet the same struggle. Turned out I was wrong, and this was what had really strike me.
Despite the old spelling and the old style, as well as the use of words that has now either unused or change in meaning, I found it much easier actually to understand the meaning. Even much easier than when reading Sang Pemula. Pram did provided footnotes for each stories with explanations of those long-forgotten words, but many times I found it unnecessary because I already deduced the meaning, and when I decided to double check, I only found confirmation of what I had guessed before.
Now, the 8 short stories in the book are: Dari Boedak Sampe Djadi Radja (A Slave Who Becomes A King) by F. Wiggers–which tells a story of Surapati, Pieter Elberveld by Tio Ie Soei, Tjerita Rossina (A Story About Rossina) & Tjerita Si Tjonat (A Story About Tjonat), both by F. D. J. Pangemanann, Tjerita Njai Dasima (A Story About Njai Dasima) by G. Francis, and the last two are Tjerita Kong Hong Nio (A Story About Kong Hong Nio) & Tjerita Nji Paina (A Story About Nji Paina) written by H. Kommer.
Looking into an insight of the Dutch East Indies, we could find out more about the condition and situation of the era from multiple perspective (the Natives’, the Chinese’s, and the Indo’s). My personal favorites are Tjerita si Tjonat and Tjerita Kong Hong Nio.
I did learned that the Dutch used to enforce a racial politics where people were supposed to dressed up based on their race, and they would need formal letter of permission to allow themselves wearing outfits belonging to other racial groups. Or that the term “Islam” or “Slam” was used to address the Natives, regardless of their actual religion.
Of course, as a language geek, the language style and the old spelling are amongst those that really intrigued me. Even simple stuff such as “kabaja” that apparently means pajamas, or the term “peloek dada” (literally “hugging one’s own breast”) means folding your arms, and “menjaru” means to disguise yourself, even those really captivates me.
What’s even more interesting is the thought-provoking comments on the back of the book that the enforced New Spelling created by Soeharto’s regime during the New Order is merely politics in disguise, yet it had unfairly treated literary works belonged to the previous Order as old and outdated.
Overall, again, I would highly recommend this book to you who are interested in Indonesian history, or you who are just a language geek like me (I’m still checking my geekiness level… Hold on), or perhaps are interested to the history of Indonesian language. I think at this point we can safely assume that I already fell in love with this book.