Sang Pemula by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

So, after months of procrastinating, as well as distraction from my guilty pleasure of Amanda Scott’s Scottish historical romance, I finally finished my reading on Sang Pemula, another masterpiece by Pramoedya. Literally means “The Pioneer,” Sang Pemula is a non-fiction works containing a biography of Raden Mas Tirto Adhi Soerjo, the father of Indonesian press, and dubbed, if not by Pramoedya alone, as the one who sow the seed of Indonesian national movement in the early 20th century.

If you’ve read, or familiar already with Pram’s famous masterpiece the Buru Quartet, it might delight you to know that this is book is the very biography of the person who became the inspiration of Pram’s main character, Minke, in his famous quartet. I sure got very excited when I found this book in my aunt’s bookshelf. I never thought this book even existed!

Due to the lack of available, preserved articles and sources, most are far from intact and in good condition, Pramoedya could only seemed to gather so much.

The R. M. Tirto Adhi Soerjo (or also famous as T. A. S.) really existed in the late 19th century of Indonesia. Born in 1880, he was of a Javanese noble family who went so far to a medical school only to drop out later. Already writing series of articles from the early age, he started out as a journalist and later published and circulated his own newspaper. His articles were known to consist of harsh critics and very bold, creating a lot of enemies, especially from the government he definitely opposed. His newspapers were the first to use Malay, and amongst these were Soenda Berita (1903-1905), Medan Prijaji (1907), and Poetri Hindia (1908). Too modern for his time, he stuck me as not only open minded and critical, he was as well a humanitarian and feminist. However, just as depicted in the last part of Pram’s Buru Quartet, Rumah Kaca (House of Glass), those opposing him were determined to shut him up and erased his name of the history. In some ways, this might be true. Not as many people know him as they do Ki Hajar Dewantara despite his just-as-important contribution. And even though the Indonesian government finally acknowledged him and his effortless works, even named him the father of Indonesian modern press, Pram clearly thought that he hadn’t got the recognition and reward he’d deserved.

The book includes several news articles and opinion written by T. A. S. himself, as well as two short stories (one with missing parts) and one incomplete serial–all fiction works. Those works, along with his biography provides us many insights of the life of people, especially the oppressed natives, at that time.

What really interests me, as well as amazes me is the language used in the book, varying from the older style dating back from the late 19th century up to the ones from not so long ago during Pram’s era. I can’t believe how fast the language is evolving that even though Pram’s tried to simplify some of the words and sentences, it struck me that I still find the language used by Pram (which means that it’s also the Indonesian language used during the time Pram compiled the book) very different from the ones I’m seeing and using right now, and it’s only with difficulty that I finally grasp partly, if not fully, what each of the sentences mean.

All in all, I’d highly recommend this book to those who are a fan of Pram’s works, as well as those interested in Indonesian linguistics and history. But this book is a very serious reading that I actually feel like procrastinating once in a while whenever I’m in need of a lighter reading.

Soegija: A Movie About Humanity

I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since I watched the movie on the 8th of June, but of course, procrastination always gets the better of me, so here I am, finally writing this post. (SPOILER ALERT!)

The title of this movie is taken from the name of the first Javanese Catholic pastor in the former Indonesia (known as the Dutch East Indies) who was later named as one of Indonesian national hero, Albertus Soegijapranata. Soegija is said to be his nickname. Nevertheless, the movie itself is not actually a biographical movie about him, but instead, it involves around the life of multiple character around Soegija. There were at least about 7 notable characters, including Sogija (played by Nirwan Dewanto) himself, each with their own life turmoils in the midst of a chaotic country, looking for an identity of a nation.

Nirwan Dewanto as Soegija
Hendrick and Mariyem

There were Mariyem, a Catholic nurse (played by Annisa Hertami Kusumastuti) who was entangled in a search of her brother and the pursue of a Dutch reporter falling in love with her, Hendrick (played by Wouter Braaf). Meanwhile, Hendrick himself was torn between his love for Mariyem, passion and pity towards Indonesians’ fate intertwined between one colonialism over another colonialism (the movie moves chronologically forward from the end of the Dutch colonialism, Japanese afterwards, and then the Indonesian independence, and lastly the Dutch military aggression post-Independence day in order to re-colonized Indonesia), as well as his loyalty towards his own country. His friendship with a Dutch soldier, Robert (played by Wouter Zweers) didn’t help either as Robert is cruel and racist towards Indonesian, thinking that he’s way superior than Indonesian (which was a typical mindset at that time). He always looked down on Indonesian thinking of them as nothing but people who ought to be ruled by his country. One scene stands out, though. It was during the post-Independence time, when the Dutch was trying to take over Indonesia once again, and he searched the citizens’ houses to look for Indonesian soldiers, a native man didn’t want to move from where he stood even when Robert and his soldier threatened to kill him because they thought he was trying to hide something or someone. Only when they finally shot him did they realize the native man was merely trying to protect his baby. Then Robert approached the baby, and when I thought he was about to kill him, instead he took the baby into his arms, and then cuddled him. When the baby was crying, he was trying to calm him, and kept on doing so whilst walking out of the house. That scene really touched me, as it shows how someone portrayed as cruel as Robert is also shown to have a gentle, soft side within him.

Wouter Zweers as Robert
Olga Lidya in Soegija

Then there’s Ling Ling (played by Andrea Reva), who got caught up in the midst of chaos in the country as well, as her mom (played by Olga Lidya) was taken away by the Japanese as they took over Indonesia in the 2nd World War. She and her grandfather (played by Henky Solaiman) were forced to take refuge in the Catholic church, and this was where their fates crossed over with other characters in the movie since the church was where everybody else sought comfort and protection as Soegija shielded the people from colonialists. And that was also where Mariyem cared and tended the locals and at the same time tried to look for his missing brother amongst the war victims. Hendrick was also there, trying to help the people and reporting as well, including trying to win Mariyem’s heart. The first time they met, Hendrick called Mariyem as Maria, but she refused and insisted to be called Mariyem. By the end of the movie, though, she addressed herself as Maria. I suppose this would mean that she’d come to love Hendrick, eh?

Another notable character is a Japanese comrade, Nobuzuki (played by Nobuyuki Suzuki), who was not free from conflict as well. Once the Japanese ruled, he captured the Dutch soldiers and killed them, and many times local people also got involved. Every things related to the Dutch were banished and forbidden, and there was this one scene where he met a bunch of musician and prohibited them to play any western song. Then after he asked them whether they could play any other pieces, they played Bengawan Solo, and he grew fond of it. Later I found out from this blog that Bengawan Solo is a famous song in Japan. It is a beautiful classic, indeed.

The main character himself didn’t really stand out to me. I mean, it was clear that he was trying to protect the people as a pastor and as an Indonesian as well. Since he was an important person, the people looked up to him and listened to what he said. And as a pastor, he was having the privilege to do certain things that others couldn’t do. For example, when both the Dutch and the Javanese were trying to take the church down, he defended the church because it was actually a refugee for the poor and starving citizens. And he cared for the people. When people were trying to give him comfort (since, of course, he’s no ordinary person), he told everyone to care for the people first, and not him. One line that really touches me is when he said that whenever there’s food, pastors and evangelists are supposed to be the last to eat and they are also supposed to be the ones to starve when food is scarce. Touché. Then during the aggression by the Dutch, he seek recognition for Indonesian independence from Vatican right away, and Vatican was amongst the first countries to acknowledge and admit that Indonesia is one free country.

The movie itself is very good and vivid portrayal of Indonesia at that time. We know that many, many people lived under poverty at that time, and many times they got killed for no reason. The movie gives a very good depiction on how difficult that time must seemed, and the cinematography is awesome. At least that’s what I think. There’s one scene where people were marching at either dawn or dusk (I couldn’t tell the difference, sorry) and it shows the silhouette of people lining up. It was so beautiful.

Yet, I hate to admit that the movie itself looks like nothing but a documentary with a very good cinematography to me. Watching the movie from beginning to end, I felt like I was merely shown an event over another event in history chronologically. It lacks heavy conflicts and climax, and if it’s line graph, it would be a flat line to me. Of course, this is merely what I think and it might differ greatly with others’ interpretation. Despite showing how significant Soegija’s role at that time, his image throughout the movie felt to me like someone so far above the people, where, in contrast with the citizens’ struggle with the situation at that time in the movie, he looked well-fed, healthy and always at peace to me. I mean, if he was fighting for the people, sure he couldn’t look that good! He was mostly siting, writing, walking around, thinking, and constantly in comfort behind the walls and under the roofs. There was even a scene where he got his servant cut his hair while he was reading the news paper, and they looked so relaxed talking to each other and even joking around. It was completely different with the depiction of other characters’ conflicts.

Another thing is the act. I mean, they acted well, but nothing too wow to me, except for Wouter Zweers’ act as Robert, perhaps, because his portrayal of a loony, cruel, yet somehow with little compassion left in him looked so convincing to me. And some scenes looked too staged for me, like when Mariyem was trying to sent the Dutch soldiers away from the hospital when they were looking for Indonesian soldiers. As Soegija pointed out, she told the soldiers that everybody in the hospital were patients, not soldiers or anything else, and as a nurse, she and the doctors ought to do their job that is to care for them. Then suddenly she simply crouched, on her knees, and tending an old woman lying sick on the floor, yet that old woman barely did anything significant. She looked like she was sleeping to me, so what on earth did she crouched for, out of the blue? Or when Ling Ling was praying in front of Mary’s statue, and then out of nowhere, she just slowly (veeeeery slowly, and, of course, very dramatically) turned around, only to found her mother was standing behind her. Wow, did she have a sixth sense? The next thing that happened was even more dramatic as Ling Ling and her mother were running toward each other, and there was this slow motion until they finally hugged, cried, and laughed.

Again, that’s just my opinion.

Nevertheless, I think the movie is worth-watching. What really excites me throughout the movie is how each character switched from one language to another. I mean, the Dutch were speaking Dutch, and sometimes speak Indonesian a little, and most Indonesian in the movie speak Javanese, and the Japanese speak Japanese. It was really fun watching how the movie depicts a radio announcer reporting events in a high level Javanese (we called it “Krama Inggil”, a Javanese language used only when talking to noblemen, royalties, and elder people; see, Javanese has three different kinds of language for talking to people with different social class and status–the Ngoko, Krama Madya, and Krama Inggil). Since the movie was set in Central Java and more specifically Semarang and other regions near Semarang, the dialects used are mostly of Semarang dialect (I didn’t say Central Javanese dialects since the dialect from my hometown which is also located in Central Java is completely different).

All in all, this movie was not one without controversy. Even before it got premiered on June 7th, a group of a hard-line Moslem, famously known as FPI–Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defender Front)–(and news about them never fail to piss me off) protested that this is a Christian movie and meant to change people’s belief. Even Garin Nugroho (the director) commented that this is a movie about humanity. Whatever it is, the protest itself sounds ridiculous to me, for it sounds like nothing but FPI people’s insecurities that Moslem people would convert into Christians or Catholics. What the hell is that if not insecurities?

Lobakan: Antologi Cerita Pendek (Kesenyapan Gemuruh Bali ’65)

I have no idea what ‘Lobakan’ means. I’ve checked both Google and Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Dictionary) and found nothing about the word, but the words after the colon mean: “A compilation of short stories (The silenced thunderstorm of Bali in ’65).” The number 65 at the end of the title there refers to the year of 1965.

That is the title of the book that I just read.

*edited March 20, 2012 – Just found out from my grandpa that Lobakan is actually a Balinese term for lamp–the old, ancient, petromax lantern. (Doh, I’m such a fake Balinese!)

So, back in December, my grandpa gave me this book Lobakan after I shared with him my interest and findings on one of the darkest history of Indonesia about the PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia/The Communist Party of Indonesia). After getting enough courage to finally asked him about the incident, my grandpa decided to give me this book ‘if I’m interested.’ (He’s gotta be joking. Of course I’m interested!)

Just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a bit of background information based on my findings:

Soekarno, the first president of Indonesia, once proposed a political concept called as ‘Nasakom,’ which literally is an abbreviation of three words: ‘Nasionalisme’ (nationalism), ‘Agama’ (religion), and ‘Komunisme’ (Communism). This is the notion invented by Soekarno as a part of his vision to unite three big political parties existed in Indonesia at that time–PNI (Partai Nasional Indonesia/Indonesian National Party), Islamic parties which were divided into two parties at that time: Masyumi (Partai Majelis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia/Council of Indonesian Muslim Associations) and NU (Nahdlatul Ulama–a traditionalist Sunni Islam group), and PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia/The Communist Party of Indonesia)–in order to create harmonies between the three, and hence: peace amongst society.

By 1965, the member of the communist party had rapidly increased to 3 million people, and this worried the other 2 parties. Negative sentiments against Soekarno also grew as he supported and protected PKI, along with his ideology as it’s similar with his own.

Long story made short, the tension finally broke by September 30, 1965 as a movement called the 30 September Movement kidnapped several Indonesian war heroes in the army and killed them. Hence, General Soeharto (later the 2nd president of Indonesia) took control and provoked massacre of those known or suspected as “communist allies.” As the army publicly announced that the communists had killed Indonesian respected war heroes to encourage and approve the killings (of the PKI partisans), the Islamic forces did the same thing as they labeled those “communists” as atheists–a word that does not make any sense to most Indonesians, even until now, as Indonesia is not an “atheist country.”

Today it is speculated that the movement was actually a coup d’etat provoked by Soeharto and his army friends, backed by the CIA as they were afraid that Indonesia would become a strong ally to the communist (remember the Cold War?) and the PKI and its “allies” were merely victims of false accusations.

Of course, I might get this wrong, so feel free to correct me.

Here are the links to the sources (most of them, of course, will be Wikipedia):

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Okay, enough about history. As my old man put it, “History is about perspective. The more you read, the more you find out.” Well said, grandpa!

Now, aside from the fact of who actually did what, or who was the bad guy, or even who was right or wrong, the thing is that the massacre killed a lot of innocent people. The army encouraged citizens to kill their neighbors, friends, and even family members without trial. And those were the people who might not even know what on earth PKI actually was. Most of them were actually those who merely hired to entertain the actual PKI members in one of their events/propagandas, or hired as a guard during a PKI meeting, and these people are poor peasants who, even if they actually owned the land or the field they were working on, they were really poor that eating rice was considered a luxury for them. Worse, they could even be poor farmers who didn’t even own a land, and merely working on a landowner’s land and gained almost nothing as a result of their hard work. Uneducated people, already suffered, and then suddenly stabbed or even tortured for reasons unknown to them.

Meanwhile, the religious parties (those who does not want to be associated with atheists) also made propaganda as they identify all communist partisans as atheists. They used folklore, myth, legend, belief, and they toyed with people’s faith to encourage the killings. They believed (and I am not referring to a specific kind of religion here because this includes all kinds of religion existed in Indonesia at that time) that killing communists was a religious duty. I am not a big fan of religion so of course I mock this idea. Were I lived during that time, I would definitely be assassinated.

Many believe that at least half a million people died during that time. In one article I read, people were getting used to seeing tons of dead bodies in the river, floating from one village to another village, spreading awful smells of rotten corpses. “No one wanted to risk coming out of the house,” said my grandpa. If I had not mistaken, the biggest killing happened in either East Java and Central Java or Bali, where they said that it was one step closer to become an anarchy.

These are the stories I read in Lobakan. All of them are, of course, fictionalized, because, as I read in the foreword, most of the victims interviewed (or talked to) tried so hard to erase those tragic events from their memories that most of them tried to deflect or even talked about something irrelevant instead of retelling the truth. In the end, no one actually ever find out what actually happened, and I doubt anyone will ever do.

One of my favorite stories is titled Monolog (Monologue), by Putu Fajar Arcana. It contains a speech of one of the victim of the massacre, who told his story of how he got involved with the PKI (although it is not explicitly stated whether he realized and fully acknowledged PKI at all) and later caught and killed. He said he came from a very poor family, whose field were taken by landowners and later were forced into a huge amount of debt by those landowners where in the end they had to work on the land they were supposed to own. The PKI held meetings talking about possibilities to get their land back, and as a poor peasant, how could they say no? The idea alone already seemed like ‘water from the moon’ (meaning impossible) to them. Later, of course, it costed him his life.

Another favorites are Warisan (Legacy) by Putu Satria Kusuma and Menanti Tantri (Waiting for Tantri) by Soeprijadi Tomodiharjo. The first one tells a story about Wayan Guru who was suspected as a PKI partisan and were hiding at his parents’ house while many people were waiting in front of the house, ready to ambush and slay him. His parents told the masses that Wayan Guru was away in Java, yet they waited. At the same time, Wayan Guru begged to see his son, Kadek, who stayed with his wife in his house near his parents’. He was determined to see Kadek, even if it would cost him his life, but his parents asked him to think it through, because death means missing his son’s 3 months ceremony, as well as watching him growing up.

The latter, Menanti Tantri tells a story about Made Arka Wiratma, an activist in fighting against illiteracy, who got a visit from a respectable figure: The governor of Bali, when he was lying sick on a hospital bed, suffering from malaria. His wife who accompanied him at that time was pregnant with his son. The governor suggested to name the unborn child Rai, taken from Balinese war hero: I Gusti Ngurah Rai. To them the visit was such a great honor. Little did they know that the governor was a leftist, and hence, a PKI partisan, as well as what the visit would cost them later.

What’s ironic is how I Gusti Agung Ayu Ratih put it in the foreword about how the government seemed so easily dismissed the tragedy and instead polished the so-called “The island of the gods” with monuments, malls, hotels and clubs to attract investors and tourists from around the world by making the native of this “island of gods” to work (I actually intent to use the work “slavery”) for these visitors who’d see Bali as, indeed, their “heaven on earth.” Try ask the people whether they think it’s a heaven on earth to them.

*

What? You didn’t expect me to write the complete stories as well as all of the short stories included, right? That wouldn’t be fair to the writers (says the person whose life is devoted to download free stuffs). >:D

I owe my grandpa for willing to give and share this with me, and I love the inscription he wrote on the first page of the book (I always love inscriptions on the first page of my book!) for me: