Pramoedya is held up as a warning that the Communist threat lives on, as a scapegoat that people can denigrate and condemn with impunity. He has recently been interrogated in the subversion cases brought against members of the People's Democratic Party (PRD) in connection with the Jakarta riots When a book of mine is banned it's like getting a badge of honour pinned on my chest, because each banning gets wide publicity in the international community. The more they are banned, the more response there is from the democratic world, so the banning of books is not a problem for me.
The powers that be are truly frightened to grow up. If the reasons they give for banning books are just, then why don't they ban them openly through the courts? It's easy enough, much more so than banning without due process and then being criticised throughout the world. The real problem is that the legal system in Indonesia doesn't work. If the authorities were adult about things then they would try to understand the situation. But they don't. They just want to show how powerful they are, even if that means killing people. What can we expect from a government like that? That's why I urge all my friends to uphold human rights themselves. The authorities here don't guarantee respect for human rights.
Bannings make no contribution to Indonesia's development. Whereas writing a book can take years, banning one takes a mere five minutes. Books by their very nature are the property of the public, not of the people who ban them. If a writer feels that what he is doing is right, he should go ahead and write.
When I was in prison on Buru Island I only had two practical problems: coping with prison officials and with friends who liked to disturb me. That's all. On Buru I had to fend for myself to get food to eat. But fortunately I had several friends there who were happy to work in my place, which gave me the opportunity to write almost full time, except for the mornings when I had to cut wood for the kitchen stove.
For reference material I had to rely entirely on memory. As it happened, when I was young I had often read Babad Tanah Jawa [the Chronicle of Java] in various versions, including that of my parents. And as a teenager I read a lot of western books. So that helped.
Nowadays in Indonesia there are writers who are in the pocket of the authorities and there are those who are outside of that world. Those who are in the pockets of the authorities mainly busy themselves with producing light material aimed at helping people forget the reality around them. The more repressive the situation, the more entertainment will develop to provide an escape from reality. I don't concern myself with those who are in the pockets of the power-holders. As far as I'm concerned they don't exist. Their work is simply to glorify their masters.
The awards I have won confirm that all this time I have been in the right. Of course they make me very happy. Especially since I've been denigrated over and over again throughout the New Order period. These awards give me strength, especially the one I got last year from the PRD.
From the moment I was called for interrogation as a witness in the PRD cases I knew what was going to happen. Right from the beginning, before any arrests had been made, everyone, even the president himself, was bad-mouthing the PRD. This young people's organisation was regarded as having been responsible for the 27 July riots. The prosecutor said that I was pro-PRD. If the president declares the PRD to have done wrong before the trials even start, what can the trial officials do? I cannot fathom how any Indonesian can behave like this.
I still want to write. But I can't work somewhere as noisy as this. I really need to go to the countryside, but the problem is that my security cannot be guaranteed there. If I go out of town, I have to do so quietly, without anyone being aware of the fact. That's the only way I feel safe. After all, I can only oppose with words. Basically, if I am harassed, I respond. I'm old, what else can I do?
Interviewed by Stanley
See resources: http://www.library.ohiou.edu/indopubs/1997/05/15/0010.html
Posted by p.a.t_nurdayah at 4:20 AM
What if the British had maintained a steadily oppressive rule over a liberty-minded North American population from the 1600s to after WW II? How would the colonists, living on plantations or forced to work at subsistence wages in factories, go about building an independence movement over those centuries, with the levers of power–economic, political, military, legal, cultural–in the hands of the British government?
In his exciting series of novels known as the Buru Quartet (This Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps and House of Glass), the Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer dramatizes the development of intellect, will and courage required to organize a freedom movement under such conditions. For his power as a story teller, Pramoedya, as he's known (pronounced Prah-MOU-dia), has suffered tremendously. He has seen his writings banned and notes and drafts of novels destroyed, He's spent 14 years in prison, most of them in a forced labor camp on the island of Buru, forced to eat grubs, lizards and mice or starve, and all the while watching fellow uncharged prisoners die by the hundreds. He lost much of his hearing in a beating by soldiers. And he was separated from and denied contact even by mail with his wife and young children during most of his years on Buru.
Pramoedya was on campus in May to receive an honorary doctorate in humane letters at Spring Commencement. Despite his ill treatment, the wiry 74-year-old has the cheerful and self-composed aura of the similarly fated and minded Nelson Mandela. Pramoedya delivered lectures and readings, signed books (including his recently published prison memoir A Mute's Silent Song, titled The Mute's Soliloquy in the English edition) and granted an interview to Michigan Today with a trio of questioners, Southeast Asian specialists Profs. Nancy K. Florida (Indonesian Languages and Literature, who translated) and Ann L. Stoler (anthropology and history), and MT's John Woodford. Also present were Pramoedya's wife, Maimoenah Thamrin, and his friend and editor Joesoef Isak of Hasta Mitra publishing company in Jakarta.
MT: Did you get the background for Minke, your hero who helps lead the Indonesian awakening beginning In 1898, from your father, who was a nationalist leader and educator?
Pramoedya A. Toer: When I was creating Minke's adventures, I had students pore over newspaper stories from the period and wove episodes into the plot. But to learn about the internal politics of the Indonesian nationalist groups from our many islands and regions, I didn't rely on my father but on the Dutch scholar Willem Wertheim. He brought out the characters who had been erased from our history.
Q: Is Minke's nemesis, the sinister Robert Surhoff, based on a real person?
A: I got him from a newspaper article about a Eurasian gang the Dutch had organized to terrorize the people of Jakarta. The Dutch devised a racial classification system similar to the American and South African apartheid scheme. "Indo" was the name for offspring of Dutch and Javanese. The Indos were born into a complex psychological problem, and Surhoff symbolizes the psychological and social confusion felt by many of this ancestry. He felt he was a true Dutchman, but the Dutch did not see him as such, and he thinks of the natives as dirty and low. This causes him to take extreme measures in expressing his racism.
Q: Who are your favorite American authors?
A: John Steinbeck and William Saroyan. Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was the primer I used to teach myself to read Enghsh. I was so touched and impressed by those two writers that I'm afraid I have not been as open as I'd like to be to others.
Q: Who are other favorites?
A: I read a lot of Zola as a youth, and before my prison exile I translated Tolstoy into Indonesian. I was impressed by his liberation of his serfs but he didn't serve as a model for my writing. Gorky influenced me much more. He was a writer who portrayed the social fabric of his country and gives readers an insight into the distinctive character of the Russian people. The Philippine novelist Jose Rizal [executed by the Spanish in 1896 after three years of imprisonment and torture for championing freedom from colonial rule–Ed.] was also an inspiration for me.
Q: Are you working on a book now?
A: Yes, on one called The Originator, a nonfiction work on the crusading journalist on whom Minke was modeled, Tirto Adhisurjo. The Dutch exiled him to the island of Molucca. His widow's family sent me many important documents that shed light on his life, but government security forces stole them from me and I've never seen them again.
Q: General Suharto's predecessor Sukarno, lndonesia's first leader, also imprisoned you, though briefly. Why was that?
A: That government didn't like the way I championed the rights of our Chinese minority. I admired and studied the awakening of the Chinese nationalist movement in the early 1900s. Indonesians were inspired by the Chinese movement's principles of social justice and internationalism as expressed in the writings of Sun Yat-sen. The Chinese characters who arise in my stories are symbolic of that influence. I try to show history being played out by what my characters say and do. I first learned of what the young Chinese who came to Indonesia were like from my mother.
Q: Now that Suharto Is out of office–what are your hopes for Indonesian-US relations?
A: I have expressed my opinion everywhere that the United States should stop sending arms to Indonesia, that the armed forces are not a stabilizing factor. Your country–the West as a whole–is very influential throughout the world today. It was thanks to some pressure from the Carter administration that I was released in 1979. I ask everyone to help the youth of Indonesia complete the reformation of the nation. If we don't reform our society there will be social revolution, with people attacking, looting, killing. Only effective national leadership can prevent this hopeless outcome. A social revolution without national leadership would result in Indonesia's vanishing from the face of the Earth. Each faction would establish its own autonomous unit, and since, as Sukarno taught us, this century is the century of intervention, our resources would be up for grabs.
Q: How do you explain the deadly violence going on between ethnic groups and military and police elements in Indonesia now?
A: The so-called ethnic and communal problems you read about-it's clear someone is behind it. Someone is doing it for the purpose of postponing the return of our natural resources to the people, the riches stolen by the New Order [Suharto's name for his system of military rule–Ed.]
Q: [To Maimoena Thamrin, Pramoedya's wife.] How did you and your five children make do while Pramoedya was imprisoned?
A: I sold pastries, popsicles and knickknacks from my house and fabrics at street booths. It was very difficult for the children of all of the political prisoners. They were taunted and officials deprived them of educational and job opportunities.
Q: [Back to Pramoedya.] The Buru Quartet has all of the elements for
a great film. Any plans for one?
A: An American filmmaker told my editor that in this country the movie would have to be based on Minke's fair-skinned first wife Annelise rather than Minke. Otherwise, he said, there would be too many little brown people running around for an American audience!
Q: Why did the Indonesian government ban your Quartet when its target is Dutch colonialism?
A: Well, apparently Suharto identified with the target! But it was the youth and students who were able to bring down Suharto. His fall was only formal, though; his power is still running. The root of our problems is colonialism. What is going on now is a repetition of what we experienced fighting colonialism. Indonesia is the world's largest maritime nation [more than 200 million people living on 3,000 islands and speaking more than 200 languages–Ed.], yet an army runs it. That is an inheritance from the colonial system and a fatal mistake. It causes many problems.
Q: The hero's guardian angel In the Quartet is Nyal Ontosoroh. the former concubine who wins her freedom and amasses a fortune. How did you happen to invent such a strong female character?
"My mother was a person of inestimable value, the flame that burns so bright it leaves no ash. Do not be surprised, therefore, that when I look back at the past I see the Indonesian revolution embodied in the form of a woman–my mother." From The Mute's Soliloquy, Hyperion Press, 1999.
A: When I would tell my fellow prisoners the stories that became the novels, I would say to them, "Look at her. Look at what she is doing–and she is only a woman! Certainly we men should be able to do more." I wanted her to inspire them. photo of PramoedyaIn real life, my mother was an incredibly strong character, although physically she was weakened by tuberculosis and died at 34 when I was 17. When people ask me to say how my mother influenced me, I say that what is in my books–everything–is what I got from my mother. She used to urge me to continue my schooling after I dropped out in junior high. "You must master Dutch," she'd say, "so you can widen your knowledge. Then you must go to Europe and other countries to learn even more. Do not stop until you have a doctoral degree." And now, thanks to my honor from the University of Michigan, I have finally fulfilled everything she wanted.
Pramoedya's series of four historical novels known as the Buru Quartet began as tales he made up to entertain his fellow prisoners. They liked them so much that they took over his grueling prison labor chores for six years so he could concentrate on inventing the stories he told them on work details and at night.
See resources: Michigan Today: Summer 1999
Posted by p.a.t_nurdayah at 4:11 AM
"The current leadership has little sense of what Indonesia is," he told a group of academics and human rights activists at the University of Toronto yesterday, Speaking metaphorically, he said that new volcano is being formed in the Sunda Straits, near Krakatau "and no one in Jakarta has noticed."
Like Oscar Wilde, Jacob Timerman and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the slight, humorous, frail-looking Pramoedya is a master of that unhappy genre, the prison memoir. He has spent almost half his life - 74 years - in prison or under house arrest, first under the Dutch colonial government in the 1940s. A communist sympathizer, he was made a powerful culturecrat under the Sukarno regime. But he fell from favour and was imprisoned for criticizing the government's treatment of Indonesia's Chinese minority. Under Suharto, he did 11 years of hard labour followed by 15 years of house arrest.
This latest recollection of his years under the eyes of prison guards is 'The Mute Soliloquy', his first non-fiction work to be published abroad. It was published last month by Hyperion. Much of the book consists of letters to his children, describing his early years growing up under Japanese occupation. This material is bracketed by descriptions of the writer's experiences while he was in prison for more than a decade in the penal island colony of Buru, 1,360 kilometres northeast of Java.
There Pramoedya cleared jungle and built camps, and was reduced to foraging for lizards, worms, and rats to eat. There was no hope of a trial - indeed, he was never formally charged. He kept his fellow prisoners entertained with stories, and in the final years of his imprisonment he was permitted to write them down. The material later formed the basis for his fictional masterpiece, the Buru Quartet. The quartet of novels, translated into 28 languages, (but still banned at home), earned him serious consideration for the Nobel prize.
Deaf as a result of police clubbing, Pramoedya remains eloquent. Indonesia's only hope, he has said, lies in the new generation "whose hands are not bloody and whose mouths have not been soiled by the government's cakes."
By Val Ross
The Globe and Mail, May 28, 1999
Posted by p.a.t_nurdayah at 5:04 PM
In "Diajang menjerah", "She Who Gave Up", a short story published in a 1952 collection (Tjerita dari Blora, "Stories from Blora"), he wrote:
'In such times too the rage for politics roared along like a tidal wave, out of control. Each person felt as though she, he could not be truly alive without being political, without debating political questions. In truth, it was as though they could stay alive even without rice. Even schoolteachers, who had all along lived "neutrally", were infected by the rage for politics--and, so far as they were able, they influenced their pupils with the politics to which they had attached themselves. Each struggled to claim new members for his party. And schools proved to be fertile battlefields for their struggles. Politics! Politics! No different from rice under the Japanese Occupation.'
Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, once contained the largest Communist Party outside the actual world of Communism. In 1965, the military seized the country and bathed it in blood: at least a million people, mainly Communists and their sympathisers, were massacred. [The CIA station supplied the killers with its own lists of Communists and leftists. AC/JSC ] In Bali and elsewhere, the pro-West military leaders worked with Islamist vigilantes to make sure that few were left alive. Twenty years later a writer from a younger generation, Pripit Rochijat Kartawidjaja, recalled the hellish night:
'Usually the corpses were no longer recognisable as human. Headless. Stomachs torn open. The smell was unimaginable. To make sure they didn't sink, the carcasses were deliberately tied to, or impaled upon, bamboo stakes. And the departure of the corpses from the Kediri region down the Brantas achieved its golden age when bodies were stacked together on rafts over which the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party] banner grandly flew . . . Once the purge of Communist elements got under way, clients stopped coming for sexual satisfaction. The reason: most clients--and prostitutes--were too frightened, for, hanging up in front of the whorehouses, there were a lot of male Communist genitals--like bananas hung out for sale.'
Toer, born in 1925 in Blora in central Java, was the country's most distinguished novelist and, significantly, published in the United States. His life was spared. The generals dared not execute him, but hoped that the conditions in which he was kept would take care of the problem.
Arrested after the military coup in Jakarta in 1965, he was sent to Buru island, a tropical gulag where many died of exhaustion, hard labour or starvation. Toer survived. He would later recall how every night, for three thousand and one nights (eight years), he fought against cruelty, disease and creeping insanity by telling stories to his fellow prisoners. It kept hope alive for him and them. As they listened, the prisoners momentarily forgot where they were or who had sentenced them.
He spent 12 years altogether on Buru. It was not his first prison journey and this led him to compare present-day conditions with the colonial past. There was no room for doubt. Conditions were qualitatively worse than they had been almost two decades ago when he was a prisoner from 1947 to 1949 at the forced labor camp of Bukitduri. Then he had been actively engaged in the revolutionary struggle against the Dutch after the Second World War.
The Dutch, unlike their post-colonial mimics, had not deprived him of writing implements and this was where he wrote his first novel, Perburuan (1950), translated as The Fugitive (1975 and 1990), a 170-page masterpiece superior in composition and content to the fiction of Albert Camus with which Western critics sometimes compared it.
In Nyanyi sunyi seorang bisu (1995: The Mute's Soliloquy, 1999)--an affecting account of his life in prison--Toer describes, in spare, contained prose, the institutionalized brutality of Suharto's New Order. The old cargo vessel on which he and 800 prisoners are being transported to Buru island reminds him of the coolies on Captain Bontekoe's ship, the kidnapped Chinese on Michener's ship bound for Hawaii . . . the four million Africans loaded on to British and American ships for transport across the Atlantic.
In extreme moments during the colonial period, the threatened, insecure Dutch administrators, aware of the Javanese obsession with cleanliness, used to hurl excrement at the natives, to humiliate and debase them. The New Order prison ship went one better. The prisoners' hold was adjacent to the latrine and during stormy weather the two locations became inseparable. The prisoners were regularly mistreated and starved so that only the fittest would survive. Toer describes a desperate menu:
'Imagine a diet of gutter rats, the mouldy outgrowth on papaya trees and banana plants, and leeches, skewered on palm-leaf ribs prior to eating. Even J.P., one of our most well-educated prisoners, found himself reduced to eating cicak, though he always broke off the lizard's toe pads first. He'd become quite an expert at catching them. After amputating the lizard's toes, he would squeeze the unfortunate creature between his thumb and forefinger, shove it to the back of his throat, and swallow it whole. The man's will to defend himself against hunger was a victory in itself.
And all the while the regime sent in preachers and Islamist journalists to inspect the minds of the inmates and urge them to become Believers:
'I have no doubt that this year, just as in previous years, at the beginning of the fasting month my mates and I will be treated to a lecture by a religious official specially brought in from the free world, on the importance of fasting and controlling one's hunger and desires. Imagine the humour of that!'
After 15 years in his country's prisons, a campaign by Amnesty and other groups in the West helped, in 1979, to secure Toer's release, but it was conditional: until 1992 he was confined to house arrest in Jakarta and forced to report regularly to the police. But his time was his own and he could write again.
The allegories he had tried out on the political prisoners during desperate times became a much-acclaimed quartet of novels known as "Minke's Story" or the "Buru Quartet". The first of these, Bumi manusia (translated as This Earth of Mankind, 1982), was published in 1980 and topped the best-seller list for 10 months. The second, too, Anak semua bangsa (1980: A Child of All Nations, 1984), became a best-seller. Thus thousands of Indonesian citizens chose to welcome "Pram", their most celebrated dissident, back to literary life.
The novels--part realist, part historical (the succeeding volumes were translated as Footsteps, 1990, and House of Glass, 1992)--were set in the colonial period. The inspiration was provided by the legendary figure of Tirto Adi Surya, the father of Indonesian nationalist journalism. The scale and depth of the work was such that, for most Indonesian readers forced by the political climate to stifle their own thoughts, the effect was dramatic. Toer was writing about the past, but much of what he wrote resonated with the present. Were Suharto and the New Order a continuation of the colonial regime? In 1981 the books were banned. The publishers were forced to close down. One of them was imprisoned for three months.
Had Pramoedya Ananta Toer been a Soviet dissident he would have received the Nobel Prize, but his status as a literary master is secure and, unlike some Latin American contemporaries, he remained unapologetic throughout his life:
'Just as politics cannot be separated from life, life cannot be separated from politics. People who consider themselves to be non-political are no different; they've already been assimilated by the dominant political culture--they just don't feel it any more.'
* Tariq Ali is author of the recently released Street Fighting Years (new edition) and, with David Barsamian, Speaking of Empires & Resistance. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Posted by p.a.t_nurdayah at 5:54 AM
For this "millions" [sic] of humans throughout my ethnic group's history were butchered. Of course no official figure is available. It is clear, though, in line with the opinion of Cornell expert Ben Anderson, that at the climax of the Mahabharata, "they bathe in the blood of their own brothers." In their own times, it is true, other peoples have experienced such a "kampung" civilization and culture too. Those who have managed to slip their shackles are the nations that rule the world.
At the start of the 17th century, Dutch society amassed the funds to finance sea-voyages in search of spices, voyages that crossed several oceans and touched a number of continents. In my country, a dozen-odd years later, in 1614 in fact, Sultan Agung, the strongest and most powerful of Java's kings, a king of the interior, of the second generation [in his lineage] and himself the third king of Mataram, destroyed the trading-port of Surabaya, simply because he needed acknowledgment of his power. Here the irony of Javanese history is recorded: while the Dutch were circling the world in search of spices, Surabaya, a port of transit for the international consumption of those same spices, was demolished by a king of Java's interior, Sultan Agung.
Mataram itself was the second strong kingdom in Java to avoid the sea because it did not want to face the awesomeness of the sea-faring Portuguese. Sultan Agung also totally failed to expel the tiny Dutch colony at Batavia in 1629. This defeat led to Mataram's loss of the Java Sea, the international shipping passage of the period. To erase the shame Mataram suffered, and to defend its authority, the ethnic Javanese poets chirped that the founder of Mataram, Sultan Agung's father, had wedded the princess of the South Sea (south of the island of Java), Nyai Roro Kidul. To show, says Prof. H. Resink, that Mataram was still involved with the sea.
In the ethnic Javanese chronicles, this particular Sultan is highly lauded while everything at all embarrassing is left out. (It is the same in history courses in the Republic of Indonesia today.) People's eyes would pop out if they kept up with what the Westerners write about him. As for the founder of Mataram, Sutawijaya, on the pretext of a broken promise (so the ethnic Javanese poets chant), he ascended the throne after killing his adoptive father, who had raised him and provided him with all the perks due a prince. None of the chronicles bequeathed to us ever touches on the subject of conscience, something which it seems indeed cannot be found in the Javanese vocabulary.
After the failure of Sultan Agung, his loss of power over the trade routes of the Java Sea, and the appearance of Western gunboats there, Java's middle class, which lived by ship-ownership, and the inter-island and international traders, were driven from the ports, herded into the interior, and went into decline. There they fell under the power of the aristocracy of the interior, whom they joined in decline.
Still the court poets, servants of the power system, disregarded these symptomatic facts. After Sultan Agung's reign, Mataram-number-4 promptly made friends with the Dutch. The poets still took no notice. Instead, Nyai Roro Kidul was standardized as the lover of each king of Mataram, generation after generation, while her power expanded in such a fashion that she ultimately became a police-force. Strange but true, all this took place at the same time Java was, practically, beginning to embrace Islam. The spread of this new religion was not accompanied by its civilization, as had been the case with Hinduism, because it was, practically, a side effect of the chasing of Muslim traders from the sea-lanes by the power of the Christian West, a continuation of the expulsion of Arab power from the Iberian peninsula. One might say the spread of Islam was a side effect of the international Pan-Islamic movement of the period.
Even more startling is that, as this piece is written, Nyai Roro Kidul is taken for reality. One hotel on the south coast of West Java has a special room all prepared for this Goddess of the Southern Sea. How can it be that a country with the Pancasila as its ideology, of which Belief in One God is the first principle, accepts the presence of a sea goddess, the lover of the kings of Mataram? The poets never remember that, [even] with the unlimited power of the Goddess of the Southern Sea, not once did Mataram win in its confrontations with the Western power that came from the ends of the earth.
After the defeat of Sultan Agung, Java remained in thrall to its "kampung" civilization and culture, and was swallowed whole by the Dutch over 3 1/2 centuries. Truly a moving tragi-comedy. For the Dutch arrived with no more strength than a mustard seed--a people few in number, from a small country at the northern tip of the world-- having crossed the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Even in the belly of Dutch power, Java still glorified its "kampung" civilization and culture, with its "kampung" climax: "they bathed in the blood of their own brothers," right up through 1965-66. And because Java was no longer in the belly of European power, the slaughter clearly reached an unlimited scale.
Dutch, or European, colonization of my country did much to dampen these climaxes. Without colonization, my country would have ceaselessly spilled the blood of its sons and daughters. The struggle for second place after the Dutch in administrative power, [which took place] in Java in the middle of the 18th century, is said to have shed [the blood of] a quarter of all the inhabitants of the Javanese principalities. Yet the prince who took third place after the Dutch, Mangkunegara I, has recently been promoted to National Hero. Thus a foreign tourist who has some knowledge of Java and Indonesia would nod, understanding why, in the 80s nearing the end of the 20th century, a statue of the Pandawa knights leaving for war on a chariot was erected on Jalan Thamrin, Jakarta. This is the image of the climactic phase of the Mahabharata, when "they bathe in the blood of their own brothers."
In 3 1/2 centuries of colonization, my ethnic group's power never once prevailed against European power, not in any field, but especially not militarily. The poets and writers of Java, being some of those who think and imagine within the framework of "kampung" civilization and culture, flaunt the superiority of Java: that in facing the Dutch, and Europe, Java never lost. The masturbatory stories that are staged, and written, and even the stories spread by word of mouth, constitute one of the reasons I always ask: why does my ethnic group not want to face reality? The little knowledge I picked up in primary school and the little reading I have done in Western literature, at first unconsciously, but ever more forcefully, made me free myself from the "kampung" civilization and culture of my own ethnic origin. Once again--my apologies.
Outside Java, one ethnic group's power did triumph over Europe. This took place in Ternate in 1575. The Portuguese were driven out of their fort, and compelled to surrender. Because this took place somewhere other than Java, the surrendering troops were not made to bathe in their own blood. Instead they were escorted to the shore, and ordered to wait until the Portuguese fleet picked them up. And because this took place far from Java, in the Moluccas, it has never been touched upon in official history courses right up till today, in 1990. Maybe it will take until some foreign researcher's work is published. Or maybe it has been published, only it is just that I do not know.
Perhaps if earlier I had been educated in a particular discipline, history for example, I might do the research that would answer: why does all this happen and continue to happen? But I am a writer with minimal education, so it is not the materials if history that I examine, but its spirit. This I began with the tetralogy Bumi Manusia, particularly working on the currents that ebbed and flowed during the period of Indonesia's National Awakening. And so there came to be a new reality, a literary reality, a downstream reality, whose origin was an upstream reality, that is, a historical reality. A literary reality that contains within it a reorientation and evaluation of civilization and culture, which is precisely not contained in the historical reality. So it is that the literary work is a sort of thesis, an infant that on its own begins to grow in the superstructure of the life of its readers' society. It is the same with new discoveries in every field, that carry society a step forward.
I began deliberately with the theme of Indonesia's National Awakening--which, while limited regionally and nationally, nonetheless remains part of the world and of humanity. Step by step I am writing [my way] to the roots of its history, that for the moment is not ready to be published, or perhaps may never be published. In this way I have tried to answer: why did my people get to be like this, like that? So I do not write escapist fiction either, nor do I serve the status quo. Indeed I am outside of and have left the system that is "in effect." The outcome is very clear: I am thought a nuisance to the status quo in the system that is in effect. And because writing is a personal activity--even though the personal is also a product of the whole of society, present and past--the consequences have to be endured alone. And if sympathy arrives, wherever it comes from, to me it is a surplus value, that never entered my reckoning in advance. For that of course I give my thanks.
Before the tetralogy, I had already written a number of works, all of which would flow into it. And even back then the hostility of those who at the time were busy pursuing [their place in] the status quo had started. Surprisingly, in the beginning my works were well received, and indeed several times received awards. This was especially true during the period of Guided Democracy in the last years of the 50s and the first half of the 60s, the period of the Trisakti doctrine--political sovereignty, economic self-reliance, cultural integrity--a doctrine that, while universal among nationalist states everywhere, was, however, a bogey for the countries stuffed with capital, and hungry for new fields of enterprise around the world. History teaches much about the power of capital. Free peoples are enslaved; artless people are transformed into compradores; the unemployed become paid murderers with uniforms and badges of rank; vast forests are torn apart by infrastructure; cities and ports spring up out of nothing at its command; labor force is sucked in from all over, even from remote hamlets whose names no one has ever clearly heard. The governments of so many states it turns into mere instruments of its will; and when they are no longer wanted, they are overthrown. This is a boring story, one that is part of the experience of many peoples in the world. It is part of the experience of each person who shares the consequences, both the one who profits from it and the one who takes the loss. And each experience for a writer becomes the foundation for the creative process, no matter whether the experience is sensory or spiritual.
Would Indonesia with its independence accommodate itself to the power of capital that has no nationality, or would it challenge it as had been demonstrated during the 1945 revolution? As far back as in the revolutionary years, Soekarno had refused Ford's proposal that he give the company a monopoly in exchange for building a trans- Sumatra-Java highway. During [the process of] development in the period of national independence, he was also the one who bypassed the alternatives of accommodation: capitalist bloc and communist bloc. Nor is it an accident that it was he who invented the term Third World. Whatever people's problems with his several weaknesses, it is clear he had a first-rate Indonesianness internal factor. He did not want his country to become part of any hemisphere-bloc. And Indonesia increasingly sank into economic difficulties. In these extraordinary economic difficulties I gave [him] my support, and naturally endured my portion of those difficulties. Support also came from almost every organization and movement, including movements that supported Soekarno to overthrow him. In that period LEKRA made me a member of its Pleno. People say this organization was a front for the PKI. Even today it still amazes me: why is it that whatever is connected to the PKI is branded as something evil? It is clear, after all, that the party was a contestant in the general elections and came out one of the winners, not some "bandit" party without idealism. This means that the party was not a force already in power and applying its system of power. It is necessary that I emphasize the problem of power, because it is this that tends to turn people into bandits, above all if they have held it for decades and, without ever knowing the spirit of Verlichting, Aufklaerung, remain in thrall to "kampung" civilization and culture.
Decades as a citizen of Indonesia, with its territory that resembles a string of volcanoes and it inhabitants who are like a range of another kind of volcano, which at any time can explode without notification, have packed my subconscious with sensory and spiritual experiences.
In detention for 14 years and 2 months, stripped of everything altogether, I reflected on all this past experience from underneath the military boot that trampled on me. It all became clearer, that all of this was nothing but a material experience, a sort of historical vicious circle of "kampung" civilization and culture without reorientation inward, or outward either. Meanwhile the birth of whatever it is they call the New Order is nothing other than the repetition of historical events from the second decade of the 13th century, mythified by Javanese poets several centuries later as the legend of Gandring.
A youth, described as a scoundrel, ordered a keris from a master-craftsman named Gandring. The customer, Ken Arok, killed Gandring before the keris was finished. Of course all this was done in secret. Secretly too, the blade was lent to Kebo Ijo, who went everywhere showing off his borrowed keris, and acting like it was his own. On one occasion Ken Arok stole it [back], and with it he killed the ruler of Singasari. Kebo Ijo was sentenced to death and Ken Arok replaced Tunggal Ametung as lord. Master Gandring, before breathing his last, was able to utter a curse: "Arok, his children and grandchildren, 7 kings in all, will die by this keris!" History shows that several kings were indeed killed, though not quite seven. Still the pattern of the last two decades of the 13th century has recurred and recurred unnoticed, in several variations. And in this 20th century, still in Java, Master Gandring was incarnated in Soekarno himself, the Founder of the Pancasila.
This son [Arok] of the village of Pangkur (up through the 20th century there has been but one village of this name, in Pangkur subdistrict, Ngawi regency), is not reported to have received the education standard for his time. What is reported is that he was the son of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu all at once. It is clear that he was a clever child, a daredevil, and bright. Perhaps because his level of education was minimal, or rather non-existent, under the protection of the chief gods, with power in hand, he closed the era of Javanese Hinduism and began the era of Hindu Javanism. The largest burial temple in East Java, Kagenengan, was his burial temple, even though nothing is left of it.
Ken Arok of the 13th century came to me while I was in exile on Buru. Without Buru he would probably not have met me, and would have remained caged in legend. The chief gods of the 13th century are still those of the 20th: the lords of capital, technology and information. Only, when I wrote the story Arok and Dedes in exile on Buru, I dressed them up with a new interpretation so they could come out of the cage of legend.
Of course there will be some who disagree with this idea. And indeed I do not look for anyone's agreement. On the contrary, any one at all can have her or his own ideas, especially if the one concerned has never been treated as I have been: in particular, exiled for ten years in a forced labor camp on Buru. A fellow political prisoner--already I have forgotten his name--put the question [to me]: can the cycle of Arok not be replaced with a different image? It can, and each person can create it for himself if he has the concern, interest and will, as long as he does not forget the pattern of "kampung" civilization and culture, that self-same vicious circle, which can only be broken by a reevaluation of it, Verlichting, Aufklaerung, that produces the creativity to break through its own ceiling.
Of course the New Order will pass judgment on this with its cliche: that is, I am defending the PKI. The New Order has the right of to defend itself. What is clear, though, is that at the time, the party was valid, legal, one of the winning contestants in the elections, and because of this it also had several ministers in the cabinet. It would never stage a coup against its own success. A coup is typically staged by the party that loses the elections, or does not even participate in them.
Dr. J. Krom once stated, that the adventures of Arok before coming to power resemble a "schelmen roman." True. It is also true that in the conception of power a la Java, and perhaps also for other peoples and ethnicities in the world with "kampung" civilization and culture, it is only supernatural power that makes it possible for something to happen. Thus the reign of a particular person on the throne of power can only come about with its blessing. This is one more indication of the ideals of Javanese culture about power. Power is God's blessing, and he who achieves it, becomes the second person after God. With power every crime is cleansed, even legitimized, made good. Then there follow writings and statements from those who share in profiting from it.
Once when I was small I was told the tale, and also learned from books, that evil would be defeated by good. What I was never told is that, naturally, good would also be defeated by evil. A link in a continuous chain. If there were no such chains, one would no longer know good men from bad. A never-ending vicious circle.
As a writer of course I am asked questions that are incomparably cliched: will you write about the present? Haven't you already written a lot about past times that are already history? What is more, the present is also history, contemporary history, right?
Indeed many scholars (and many more to come) publish their research on various aspects of the New Order. They help us in many ways to understand many things. But as a person and a writer who shares in bearing the burden of change, I look at it according to national criteria. The era of Soekarno and the Trisakti doctrine was nothing but a sort of thesis. The New Order, an antithesis. Therefore, for me, it is something that in fact cannot be written about yet, a process that cannot yet be written as literature, that does not yet constitute a national process in its totality, because it is in fact still heading for its synthesis.
While I was still at Buru, an Indonesian journalist who behaved like a prosecutor, put me the question, did I not bear a grudge toward the New Order? This is a national process, not a matter for personal grudges. The stories we tell are just a reflection of the level of our own civilization and culture. The progress and variety of technology, statistics about development or even foreign debt, the improvement of communications infrastructure over the colonial legacy, the destruction of the forests and the yearly pack of floods: all occupy their place among the ornamentation of the antithesis in the national process. In the colonial period, the Dutch exported armed paid killers, in uniform, and with military ranks, to subjugate and control areas beyond Java and Madura. Starting in 1904, and sporadically before that, the Dutch sent Javanese beyond Java-Madura without guns--but with hoes. Apparently they knew the demographic and geographic map of Indonesia well enough to come to the classic, profitable conclusion. And apparently the Dutch also knew that their replacements would not be able to do anything but continue [the policy]. No longer occupying a place among the ornamentation of the thesis or even the antithesis, it appears as the nature Indonesia was born with.
One more irony: Indonesia, which was unified politically and administratively by Soekarno without spilling blood--an exceptional occurrence in humanity's history--has to have its unity and integrity guarded in the colonial tradition, that is, with two Javanese exports: armed mercenaries and Javanese with hoes. With a tradition like that, Indonesia has a serious genetic flaw. Semaoen-- a private advisor to President Soekarno--once offered therapy for this genetic defect: move the capital out of Java, to Palangkaraya, in central Kalimantan. But the late Semaoen did not have the chance to experience what is happening to our forests in Kalimantan nowadays. To digest this problem in fiction will surely take a long time, and still may not satisfy the writer or the reader. And the condition of "kampung" civilization and culture would make the writer a target of the power that feels its stability threatened. Of course, by writers I mean those who attempt to make an appraisal and reappraisal of the "kampung" civilization and culture that have consolidated an elite stratum within society. Also the intellectuals, and the small groups in society that are already enlightened, but principally the writers, because their profession is not tied to an academic discipline. Their concern is for the expression of their private conscience and subconscious, while those in power--meaning big shots, not leaders--are busy building a cordon sanitaire around their establishment. As individuals, who are armed only with their own selves, writers are naturally under the greatest pressure. Still, whatever befalls them, their personal experience is also the experience of their people, and the experience of their people is also their personal experience. A part of this experience, small or large or the whole lot, will erupt in their writings, and will return to their people in the form of new realities, literary realities. That is why the truth of fiction is also the truth of history.
When as a writer I have to bear so much injustice in my own homeland; physical and mental torment; the theft of freedom and livelihood, rights and property; humiliation and accusation; even the theft of the right to defend myself in the mass media or even in court; I can only nod in understanding. It is a pity that power cannot steal self-respect, personal pride, and everything that lives in people's hearts.
The anxiety that stability--known since the colonial era as rust en orde, and [later] Free-Indonesianized as "security and orderliness" -- might be disturbed, frequently gives rise to ridiculous accusations.
Both before and while [we were] on Buru the charge continually spouted by the New Order, without ever showing evidence, was [that we] wanted to change the Pancasila and the '45 Constitution. Usually it was proclaimed in front of a rally or during indoctrination. One of the principles of the Pancasila is Just and Civilized Humanism. By the criterion of humanism, even without the addition of "just and civilized," their treatment of us was quite disgusting, even sickening. The charge of changing the Constitution? Once I heard an officer boast: East Timor? Huh, in two days we can take it. And true, East Timor was latter annexed, the eastern part of the island of Timor that had never been claimed by the founders of the Republic who composed the Constitution of '45. Those two charges led me to the certain conclusion, that what they charged was precisely what they were doing or wanted to do. Because a number of events fit my conclusion, I was sometimes inclined to consider it a formula. But later I softened it to: what is stated as x is minus x.
In private conversation several officials deplored my membership in LEKRA. So according to the New Order's image, LEKRA was a criminal organization. To this day I have never regretted being made a member of LEKRA's Pleno, [or being] later promoted to deputy head of the Institute for Literature, [or becoming] one of the founders of the Multituli Academy, all sponsored by LEKRA. In fact I am proud to have received such great honors, which are not given to just anybody, and it would not lessen my pride if in fact they were front organizations for the PKI. All that has passed, but not yet become history, because as a process it has yet to reach a resolution in synthesis. While I was still on Buru, it turned out that the top person in LEKRA and the top person in the Institute for Literature had long been freed. Maybe if I were not a writer, I would not have experienced all this sickening treatment. But on the other hand, everything I experience forms part of the foundation of my "author-ization" for the days to come if, perhaps, my age allows it and my physical and mental health can still be relied upon.
X minus x really helps me understand the New Order, which they think will be eternal in its newness. As the last round of political prisoners to leave Buru island, we still had to perform corvee labor by making two kinds of letters of declaration, in umpteen copies. One stated we would not spread Marxism, Leninism, Communism, bogeys that they made up themselves to terrify themselves with. The other was a declaration that as political prisoners we had been treated properly on Buru island. Legally, these corvee letters were a joke, but with them we could buy numbers for embarkation on ships leaving for Java. How lovely if perhaps these corvee letters are stored carefully in the state archives. The papers will then become part of the history of how so many Indonesians made masks-and-robes of Angels of Sanctity for the powerful and their power. A leader does not need a mask and robe.
By the pier at Namlea, where the ship Tanjungpandan was ready to board, 500 of the last group who were to depart for Java had already left the shore. A dozen or so were left, including myself. Lt. Col. Lewirisa, commandant of the last camp, came to me and said unasked and unexpectedly, "Pram, the voyage is straight to Jakarta." That meant x minus x, that our party of a few dozen would not be going to Jakarta. Only then were we permitted to board the ship, where we were separated from the others.
The forced labor camp we had left had at first been named Tefaat, the place of exploitation of our labor, for the rest of our lives: [where we] had to pay to live, for housing, the road network, economy and environment; [where we had] to make paddyfields and dry fields out of grassland and jungle; and [where in addition we] had to provide food to the soldiers who guarded us, despite the murders of a number of us. According to the written corvee, this must be called proper. Also those who died in forced labor to bring in money. Also the payment of taxes--for whom and to whom is not clear--by political prisoners who did crafts and handiwork. According to the written corvee, this too must be called proper. And buildings, tens of them, large and small, with household furnishings, all built and paid for by political prisoners: it must be deemed proper when these are sold to another agency without any compensation to the political prisoners. Also the casual theft of their cattle. And all this really is on its way towards history, but it is not history yet. The list [of abuses] goes on and on. All the banditry, large and small, will be brought home to this people, my people, who brought into being a power of this kind. It is not my intention to erect a utopian world with this people, to inhabit an unblemished corner of the world--other peoples too have their dark side- -what I mean is that this people has not yet brought to life the slightest enlightenment, Verlichting, Aufklaerung. The Brahmins still occupy their position as the [fashion] accessories to the power of the warrior caste, who live from and for power alone, because they really are not productive let alone creative, just as in the precolonial era. It is not surprising if in thousands of texts, the contents revolve around the "terrific"-ness of the warriors in killing those they think oppose them, and the contents of thousands more texts are prescriptions for the happy life (in a world of stifled existence), and advice on behaving gracefully and well (in a world of banditism), and about the spirit world and techniques of communicating with it (in an atmosphere of no longer recognizing one's own surroundings).
What Lt. Col. Lewirisa said was precisely minus x. Before the ship arrived at Jakarta, the dozen or so of us were taken off at Tanjungperak, Surabaya, to be put away on the prison island of Nusa Kambangan, off south Java. Only through the good offices of the international press, which made a fuss about it, did we finally reach Jakarta, to enter a new jail that allowed more latitude. [I have been] under city arrest since the end of 1979 through the end of 1991, without any court ruling whatsoever. Many new accusations have been leveled, which as a writer of course enriches the material I have to let settle. At the very least, it makes the story of a writer's life that much longer.
With the relative freedom of being under city arrest, I have been able to follow the news inside the country and abroad. The chain of accusations turned out to come from Indonesia itself and as far as parts of East Asia and Europe: that in Soekarno's time I prohibited the publishing of a number of works by my fellow writers; that I terrorized Indonesian writers who were not of the same mind by my article, "What Must Be Felled and What Must Be Built."19 A well-known literary figure, giving a lecture at a state university, even declared that he had been fired because of my actions. It happens that this figure, like a number of other [accusers], was an official with the occupying Dutch armed forces during the revolution, while some of the other [accusers], because of their age, did not of course participate in the revolution at all.
The dismissing of people from office is not my business, and never has been. Such accusations are only a smoke screen for what they themselves have done and want to do. In the early days of the events of 1965 it was they who terrorized, and they who destroyed all my papers, including the manuscripts of Just Call Me Kartini, volumes 3 and 4; A Collection of Kartini's Works; Women Before Kartini; A Collection of Bung Karno's Short Stories; the last two volumes of the trilogy The Girl From the Coast; A Study of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir Munsyi; and A Preliminary Study of the History of the Indonesian Language. When the director of the Balai Pustaka responded to my request to get back the two volumes of Pre-Indonesian Literature, the answer was: they had already been burned at the request of his superiors.
One important literary figure who under the Old Order appointed me his adversary, once told me the names of important literary figures of the time who joined in the attack on my house in 1965. In fact, before the attack they got a request, from a literary figure of the older generation, to take the manuscript of the Encyclopedia of Indonesian Literature I was in the process of compiling.
At the beginning of the 80s, Beb Vuyk in the Netherlands launched the accusation, that LEKRA had sent "knokploeg"20 to beat up its enemies. Among the [alleged] victims was the musicologist Bernard Ijzerdraat. In the Netherlands the issue of knokploeg seems to survive as the end of 1991 approaches. When Beb Vuyk came to Indonesia for the last time and met this same musicologist, she got a disavowal from him. Nevertheless she never retracted her accusation. They, on the other hand, have killed several members of LEKRA, among them being the national sculptor Trubus, while he was en route to Jakarta in answer to President Soekarno's summons. Until this day no one has admitted responsibility for it, nor for the murder of hundreds of thousands of their own brothers and sisters. Very different from what in the North are called terrorists, who as soon as they take action, declare themselves responsible for it: they have no need for angel-masks and angel-robes. Never mind mass murder, the smallest of thefts is criminal, and all of it can happen only because of "kampung" civilization and culture, the social culture and civilization of peoples who are isolated, who feel insecure and threatened because of their own acts, and for whom masks and robes of holiness become the uniform of a parade fascinating enough to be staged as a comic-book drama.
One can imagine how awesome is the task of dealing with all this unfinished business in a work of literature. Not to mirror or reflect events, because the task of literature is not to take pictures, but to change upstream realities to become a literary reality, that will carry its readers further forward than the established order.
Is such an attitude a subversive attitude, or a criminal one? That too is up to Messrs. the powerholders, who have soldiers, police and administrative staff. Their actions are nothing but what the level of their civilization and culture will permit. If it should happen that they progress beyond the measure of their civilization and culture, and one hopes it will be so, this could be a positive sign that Gandring's curse on 7 generations of descendants will not be "in effect" for even 2 generations, because the stage of synthesis is at the door. It is clear, however, that, like it or not, everything that has happened will live on for centuries in the memory of this people and of humanity. Writers will bring it to life more clearly in their works, within which the killers and the killed will be immortal, instead of just actors in history. The holy robes and masks will be scattered.21
Once more--my apologies.
Jakarta, November 1991
* Pramoedya Ananta Toer, "Maaf, atas nama pengalaman," Kabar Seberang 23 (1992): 1-9. Also published (by AKSI) in Progres 2 (1992). The Indonesian text may be found in the Indonesia list archives on the internet at URL: gopher://gopher.igc.apc.org:2998/7REG-INDONESIA. This translation appears in Indonesia 61, April 1996. Translated by Alex G Bardsley.
Posted by p.a.t_nurdayah at 1:09 AM
Under Suharto there were no rules, nothing. You could be thrown into prison without first going to court. If you were found with anything to read, even a piece of torn newspaper, you could be killed. If you were a prisoner in Jakarta you could receive visitors?but for that you had to pay.
In 1979, when I left prison on Buru Island, all my papers were taken from me. I was in a group of 40 who were separated from the others. When our ship was north of Madura, my group was taken off the boat. It looked like the authorities were planning to hide us away somewhere. But by chance, someone from the Catholic church in Buru heard we were going to be exiled and he spread the news. So when we were put ashore in the Madura Straits and found a vehicle there ready to take us to Nusakambangan, the notorious prison, the world was already watching. And as a result, with numerous foreign ambassadors as witnesses, the government was forced to give us our release papers.
During Suharto's New Order regime, Megawati, Sukarno's daughter, served in parliament. After her father was overthrown, the New Order government gave her a house and salary as a member of parliament. But did she ever say anything about the way her father was treated? Did she ever protest when her fellow countrymen were imprisoned? Never. Did she ever call Suharto to task? Never! But then she's not alone. Even after Suharto resigned, no one would take him to task, no one dared to bring him to trial. Silently, through his New Order protEgE, he still holds power in this country.
Megawati came to power on the crest of a wave of youth rebellion. Those kids didn't really think about it; they didn't have any other figurehead, so they adopted her because she was Sukarno's daughter. That's all she is.
Maybe Megawati hasn't read her father's books. I don't see that she has inherited any of his better characteristics. She has no experience. There is no evidence that she can resolve the country's problems. Yes, she might visit places where conflict has occurred, but for no other reason than to show her tears. Her heart goes out to the people, she says, but that's the most they get. The villagers praise her, but that's because of ignorance. They don't know her.
No one seems to realize that Indonesia is entering a period of social revolution. The signs are there. It can be seen in the farmers who, having had their land stolen from them during the New Order, are now taking it back by force. It can be seen in the protests by farmers outside regional parliament buildings. It can be seen in the attacks on hundreds of police and military posts. In the past, these very same people would have let themselves be robbed of their voices, but now they are fighting back. Whether they realize it or not, they are the vanguard of a social revolution. Now the nation needs a leader. We've fallen behind; Indonesia is exhausted.
People like to say that Indonesians are so friendly and polite, but that kind of view seems to be nothing more than a leftover tourism slogan. There is a struggle going on, and it is being controlled by people in Jakarta?by the very same people who have done such things in the past. As I see it, there is no real leadership at present; there are just people with power. That students are now part of the democratic process is a sign of progress; indeed, the change we have seen can be credited to the younger generation. This is not what Megawati fought for. She didn't do anything. The kids, the students, did the fighting and she is here now to enjoy the results of their sacrifice.
* Pramoedya Ananta Toer, author of The Buru Quartet and The Mute's Soliloquy, is a former political prisoner.
Published by Time Magazine AUGUST 6, 2001, VOL.158 NO.5
Posted by p.a.t_nurdayah at 12:55 AM
One example is how the court poets of Java mythified the defeat of Sultan Agung, a king of the Javanese interior, who in military operations against Dutch Batavia in the second decade of the 17th century experienced total defeat. As a result Mataram suffered the loss of its power3 over the Java Sea as an international [sic] sea route. To cover up the loss the court poets dreamt up the Sea Goddess Nyai Roro Kidul as camouflage, so that Mataram still ruled the sea, that is the Southern Sea (i.e., the Indian Ocean). This myth produced further mythical offspring: it was made taboo to wear green clothing on the shore of the Southern Sea. This was to sever any association with the green clothes of the Dutch [East India] Company. And without the court poets themselves intending it, the Goddess consolidated the power of the kings of Mataram over their people. She even became the thought police [polisi batin] of the Mataram people.
Here we are faced with literature in its relation to the state, and its utilization by the state, functioning for the glorification of [the state's] own works. Passed down from generation to generation the result is to deny the progression of ages, to bestow an unnecessary historical burden, to make people think that the past was better than the present. This conviction made me leave literature of that sort behind altogether. Leaving behind a literature that was born in the lap of power and functions (in my experience) to cradle power, right away I came across escapist literature, that feeds the ancient instinctual dreams of its readers. As Machiavelli put it, this kind of literature becomes an indirect instrument of Power, so that society will pay no attention to the power of the state. In short, so that society will not be political, will not care about politics. Literature of this second category brings its readers to a complete halt.
Because of my experience as the child of a family of freedom fighters, I pardon my own self if I do not like this escapist literature, the second type of literature. Consequent to my personal experience, though at first I was not aware of it, I was drawn directly to a literature that could provide courage, new values, a new world-view, human dignity, and agency [peran] for the individual within society. The aesthetic that emphasizes language and its employment is put to the service of a new orientation of the role [peranan] of the individual in an aspired-to society.4 It was this third type of literature that later became my field of creative activity.
Each work of literature is the autobiography of its author at a certain stage and in a certain context. Hence it is also the product of an individual and is individual in character. Presenting it to society is no different from contributing to the collectivity. Also in regard to the relations of power, and to the prevailing standard of culture, the writer's attitude as an individual is disseminated, aware of it or not.5 To this point the duty of a writer is to make an evaluation and reevaluation of the establishment in every walk of life. This action is taken because the writer concerned is dissatisfied, and feels cornered, even oppressed by the establishment "in effect."6 He cries out, resists, even rebels. It is no accident if this writer--naturally type three--has been called an oppositionist, a rebel, even a revolutionary, alone in his muteness.
In states living with democracy for centuries, winning and losing in a clash of ideas is something normal. That does not mean that democracy is without flaws. Europe, while democratic in Europe itself, was on the contrary undemocratic in the countries it colonized. As a result, in the colonized countries that never tasted democracy, winning and losing in the clash of ideas can give birth to long-lasting resentment, arising from traditional concepts of personal prestige and patrimonial authority.
In Indonesia, the censoring of literary works was first known in the second decade of this century. Before that, censorship had been more directed at the mass media. And in accordance with the tradition of law, actions regarding press offenses were decided in court. The prohibition against the circulation of several works by Mas Marco Kartodikromo, untraditionally, was put into effect without legal procedures, and was carried out by native colonial officials locally. Prohibition and confiscation, also by colonial native officials, were once carried out against my father's work, though that was not a literary work but a text of lessons for elementary schools that did not follow the colonial curriculum.
Prohibition of a literary work is truly something extraordinary. [So it was] for centuries after the maritime kingdoms of Nusantara were shoved aside by the power of the West and became back-country principalities or agrarian villages; the Power of feudalism that was sustained solely by the peasant brought about the birth of a new mentality that deteriorated too. The court poets of Java consolidated the culture of "tepo seliro" (= knowing one's place), the awareness of one's social station vis a vis Power according to its hierarchy, from life within the family to the pinnacle of power. The use of euphemism (= High Javanese) up to the 7 levels "in effect" to match the hierarchy of Power, interpreted traditional culture more and more stuntedly. Therefore in Javanese culture the evaluation and reevaluation of culture has never taken place. It can happen only by using the Indonesian language, that if need be denies all euphemism: hence it is also in Indonesian literature that Power's censoring occurs.
As ideas from all corners of the world are absorbed by modern Indonesian society toward the end of the 20th century, their reflection can no longer possibly be blocked by a Power that is reluctant to grow up.7 In order to allow [those] people with the power of the state to sleep soundly without the need to improve themselves, the institution of censorship does indeed need to be established.
Java was "fated" to possess profitable geographic factors. Of all the islands of Indonesia, it was on Java that the inhabitants multiplied thanks to climatological factors that favored farming. It is no accident that the Dutch colonialists made Java an imperial center of their world outside Europe. On their departure, as Java remained the center of Indonesia, with its inhabitants [comprising] a majority out of all Indonesia, the introduction of a certain amount of Javanese traditional culture into the power of the state was quite unavoidable. One thing from Javanese traditional culture that was felt to oppress was "tepo seliro," in Power's present existence called, in English, "self-censorship." Seemingly Power is ashamed to use its original name. In this way, how people conceal their atavism becomes one of the facets of existence in modern Indonesia.
I am inclined to include the third type of literature with the literature of the avant garde. I deem writers of the third group to have the authenticity [kemurnian] to evaluate and reevaluate culture and the established Power. And as an individual alone [the writer] in return must endure alone the backlash from any other individual who feels his stability [kemapanan threatened.
So to what extent can a work of literature be a danger to the state? According to my personal opinion, no literary work, here [meaning] a story, has ever actually been a danger to the state. [A story] is written with a clear name, where it comes from is known, and also it clearly originates from only one individual who does not possess a troop of police, military, or even a troop of hired killers. He only tells of the possibility of a better life through models for the renovation of an establishment that is rotten, old, and out of luck.
In the meantime, any state can at any moment change its basis and its system, with or without works of avant- garde literature. Such changes have already been experienced by the Indonesian state itself, from liberal democracy to guided democracy and later Pancasila democracy, that is [during] the era of national independence after the collapse of the colonial state called the Netherlands Indies and the changeover to occupation by the Japanese militarists. During the period of liberal democracy in which the state was based on the Pancasila, the Pancasila did not get much attention; during the period of Guided Democracy when, with all the consequences [it implied], President Soekarno wished to be autonomous and to shake off the influence of and involvement with the superpowers' Cold War, the Pancasila was given more emphasis. Soekarno as the discoverer of the Pancasila never tired of explaining the Pancasila was mined from, among others, Sun Yat Sen's San Min Zhuyi,8 the Declaration of Independence of the United States, and the Communist Manifesto, in issues of social justice. In the time of Pancasila Democracy, which was signaled by the de- Soekarnoization movement, not only were the Pancasila's references no longer mentioned, there was even an effort by a New Order historian to fabricate a theory that the Pancasila did not originate with Soekarno.
Through all these changeovers the existence of a work of literature that conferred any influence was never proved. And indeed an avant-garde literature has practically not yet come into being. Indonesian works of literature have practically only just become descriptive in character. If nonetheless an avant garde came into being, it occurred under the oppression of Japanese militarism, in a rebellion as harsh as its suppression. The individual concerned, Chairil Anwar, in his poem "Aku [I]," declared: "I am an untamed beast /From its herd outcast." He refused to be treated by the Japanese as a farm animal, that must carry out Japanese orders only, and cut itself off from the rest. It was he himself who had to take responsibility for his work. The Kempeitai9 arrested and tortured him, though he was in fact later released. Ironically the society of readers, many of whom read and like that poem, generally do not connect it to the period of Japanese militarist occupation during which he created it.
My apologies if I only discuss Indonesian literature. Still, I believe that to speak about any particular literature is also to speak--although indirectly- -of regional and international literature at the same time, because each work of literature is the autobiography of an individual, one person out of the rest of humankind, who contributes his inner experience to the collectivity of humanity's experience.
Based on its history, Indonesia needs a large troop of writers from the avant garde. For centuries the common people paid on behalf10 of feudalism. With the victory of colonialism, the people then had to fund the running of colonialism as well. Although feudalism as a system was eliminated by the proclamation of independence, the character of its culture still lives on, and the power elite even tries to preserve it. It is avant-garde literature that offers evaluation, reevaluation, renovation, and naturally the courage to bear the risk alone.
Here it becomes clear that a story, a work of literature, is in no way dangerous to a state that at any time can change its basis and system. The literary works of avant-garde writers merely disturb the slumber of persons in power-elite circles, who fear that some time their hold over the common people may loosen. I myself, though coming from a family of freedom fighters and being myself a struggler for freedom as well, have over the 50 years of national independence actually suffered the loss of my personal freedom for as long as 33 1/2. 2 1/2 were stolen by the Dutch, nearly a year was stolen during the Old Order by the Power of the military, [which took another] 30 years during the New Order, among them 10 years of forced labor on Buru Island and 16 as livestock, being a citizen with the code "ET,"11 meaning a detainee outside of prison. As a writer, certainly I rebel against these circumstances. So in my works, I try to tell about particular stages in this nation's journey, and try to answer: why did this nation get to be this way?
That the works are forbidden to circulate in my own homeland at the request of several persons among the power elite, for me is no problem. The prohibitions in fact give surplus value to my works without Power being aware of it.
Perhaps there are some who are surprised, [wondering] why for me literature is so closely tied to politics. I will not reject that fact. In my view each person living in society, let alone in a nation, is always tied to politics. That a person accepts, rejects or affirms a particular citizenship is a political stance. That a person waves the flag of her nationality, is a political act. That a person pays taxes, is an acknowledgment of power, so it also means political obedience. Literature too can not be free of politics, since literature itself is brought into being by humanity. As long as there are human societies and Power that regulates or ruins them, each individual in them is tied to politics.
There once arose the belief that politics is dirty, hence literature must be kept separate from politics. Really, it is easy for politics to become dirty in the hands of and from the business of politicians who are dirty. If there are some that are dirty, surely there are also some that are not dirty. And that literature properly must be kept separate from politics actually emerges from the thoughts of the directors, whose politics is to be apolitical. Politics itself can not be limited in its meaning to a party system. It is every aspect of that which involves Power, and as long as society exists Power also exists, no matter the manner of its existence, dirty or clean. And it can be said that literature that "rejects" politics in reality is brought into being by those writers who are already established in the lap of the Power "in effect."
Jakarta, August 24, 1995.
* Pramoedya Ananta Toer. This essay written to be delivered on September 4, 1995, in Manila, as part of a series in the program for the presentation of the 1995 Magsaysay Awards.... The title of the essay was at the request of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation to the writer" (Hasta Mitra, ed.); later published in Suara Independen, no.04/I, September 1995. Translated by Alex G. Bardsley
2. In this essay, Pramoedya plays with statements about awareness in which the subject (society, the writer, "Power") is indeterminate.
3. Kekuasaan stretches to cover power, authority, domination and so forth. Pramoedya is playing with this broad meaning, and with Benedict Anderson's "Idea of Power in Javanese Culture," (in Language and Power, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990). Following Anderson's usage, I have capitalized "power" where it seemed appropriate.
4. Masyarakat yang dicitakan. Compare to "imagined community."
5. See note 2 above.
6. Yang berlaku is a bit of officialese also meaning "prevailing," "applicable," "that applies" and so forth. On the one hand it is as unarguable as a parent answering "because" to a child's "why," yet the words presuppose an ending to the situation they describe.
7. This nicely echoes the 1950 literary manifesto "Surat Kepertjajaan Gelanggang":
...Kebudajaan Indonesia ditetapkan oleh kesatuan ber-bagai2 rangsang suara jang disebabkan suara2 jang dilontarkan dari segala sudut dunia dan jang kemudian dilontarkan kembali dalam bentuk suara sendiri. Kami akan menentang segala usaha2 jang mempersempit dan menghalangi tidak betulnja pemeriksaan ukuran-nilai...." (Cited in Teeuw, Pokok dan Tokoh dalam Kesusastraan Indonesia Baru, Djakarta: P.T. Pembangunan, 1955, v.2, pp.15-6).
[Indonesian culture is determined by the unity of various vocal stimuli, that is evoked by voices thrown from all corners of the world and that later are thrown back in the form of a voice of its own. We will defy all efforts that constrain or obstruct falsely [?] the testing of standards.]
8. The Three People's Principles: nationalism, democracy, and the people's livelihood.
9. The Japanese military police.
10. Membiayakan, in contrast to membiayai in the next sentence.
11. Ex-tahanan politik: former political prisoner.
Posted by p.a.t_nurdayah at 12:47 AM
The account imaginatively captures the agency of an individual in his social context, and recovers the forgotten complicitous role of colonialism in producing its own adversaries, by the introduction of print capitalism as well as modern technologies of communication and transportation, by the colonial state's own unintended influence, and by the presence of foreigners who bring with them examples and ideas new to local society.
The thesis traces how this particular character's perspective shifts and perceptions expand over the course of his narrative. Specifically, it concentrates on two aspects of his environment that induce changes in the ways he imagines his world. The first is the ubiquitous presence of the political and economic systems that make up colonialism, and the effect of their agents and instruments in producing an awareness of how power circulates in the colony to the disadvantage of its political subjects.
The second is the presence of other characters, and the impression their alternative examples and expectations make on him. Attention is also paid to the literary devices the author uses to represent the process of changing consciousness and to prompt responses from his readers that further the concerns of the text.
© 1996 Alex G Bardsley. Copies from MA Thesis, Cornell University, August 1996.
Posted by p.a.t_nurdayah at 12:43 AM
Referred to in his country as the Grand Old Man, Salim was among the first generation of Indonesians to have received a Western education. In this regard, he was a rare species, for at the end of Dutch hegemony over Indonesia in 1943, no more than 3.5 percent of the country's population could read or write.
Not surprisingly, Salim's appearance and demeanor -- not to mention the strange smell of his cigarettes -- quickly turned him into the center of attention. One gentleman put into words the question that was on everyone's lips: "What is that thing you're smoking, sir?"
"That, your excellency," Agus Salim is reported to have said, "is the reason for which the West conquered the world!" In fact he was smoking a kretek, an Indonesian cigarette spiced with clove, which for centuries was one of the world's most sought-after spices.
Is my tale about an Indonesian at the court of King James the greatest story of the millennium? Certainly not, though I must smile at the irreverence shown by my countryman. I include it here because it touches on what I would argue are the two most important "processes"of this millennium: the search for spices by Western countries, which brought alien nations and cultures into contact with one another for
the first time; and the expansion of educational opportunities, which returned to the colonized peoples of the world a right they had been forced to forfeit under Western colonization -- the right to determine their own futures.
The latter process is exemplified by what is now an almost unknown literary work: "Max Havelaar, or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company," a novel by Eduard Douwes Dekker, a Dutchman, which he published in 1859 under the pseudonym Multatuli (Latin for "I have suffered greatly"). The book recounts the experiences of one Max Havelaar, an idealistic Dutch colonial official in Java. In the story, Havelaar encounters -- and then rebels against -- the system of forced cultivation imposed on Indonesia's peasants by the Dutch Government.
D.H. Lawrence, in his introduction to the 1927 English translation of the novel, called it a most "irritating" work. "On the surface, 'Max Havelaar' is a tract or a pamphlet very much in the same line as 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' "Lawrence wrote. "Instead of 'pity the poor Negro slave' we have 'pity the poor oppressed Javanese'; with the same urgent appeal for legislation, for the Government to do something about it. Well, the [American] Government did do something about Negro slaves, and 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' fell out of date. The Netherlands Government is also said to have done something in Java for the poor, on the strength of Multatuli's book. So that 'Max Havelaar' became a back number."
Before telling you more about "Max Havelaar" and its author, I would like to go back in time, even before the start of the present millennium, to tell you about the search for spices. The key word to remember here is "religion."
For hundreds of years, spices -- clove, nutmeg and pepper -- were the primary cause of religious conflict. Their value was inestimable: as food preservative (essential in the age before refrigeration), as medicine and, at a time when the variety of food was almost unfathomably limited, for taste.
The publication of 'Max Havelaar' in 1859 was nothing less than earth-shaking. Just as 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' gave ammunition to the American abolitionist movement, 'Max Havelaar' became the weapon to shame the Dutch in Indonesia.
In A.D. 711, Moorish forces conquered Cordoba in southern Spain. By 756, the Muslim ruler Abdar Rahman proclaimed that he had achieved his goal of spreading Islamic culture and trade throughout Spain. That country became the world's center for the study of science and the guardian of Greek and Roman learning that had been banned by the Roman Catholic Church. By controlling the land on both sides of the entrance to the Mediterranean, the Moors were also able to maintain control over trade with the East, source of spices and other important goods.
Christian ships were not allowed to pass. For several centuries, the development of the Christian countries of Europe came to a virtual standstill; all available human and economic resources were being poured into the Crusades. The Holy Wars were waged not just to reclaim Jerusalem but also to expel the Moors from Spain and, in so doing, gain control over the spice trade.
In 1236, the Catholic forces of Europe finally succeeded. Islam was pushed from Europe. To their credit, the victors refrained from vandalizing symbols of Moorish heritage. Nonetheless, revenge toward Islam continued to burn -- as did the passion to drive Muslim forces from any country they reached.
The first place to fall was Ceuta in Morocco, on Africa's north coast, which, together with Gibraltar, has always served as the gateway to the Mediterranean. With this, the Europeans had established an important toehold in wresting control of the spice trade. The problem was, they had little idea where spices actually came from.
Spain and Portugal, Europe's two great seafaring nations of the time, set out to find the answer. To preserve order among Catholic countries, a line of demarcation was drawn (later made official by Pope Alexander VI in 1493), giving Spain the right to conquer all non-Christian lands to the west of the Cape Verde Islands, and
Portugal the authority to take pagan countries to the east of the islands and as far as the 125th meridian (which falls near the Philippines). It was for this reason that Columbus, helmsman for the Spanish fleet, sailed west and found a continent instead of the source of spices. Portugal, on the other hand, sent its ships eastward to Africa, from which they returned laden with gold, ostrich eggs and slaves -- but no spices.
In early 1498, Vasco da Gama reached the island of Madagascar, off the coast of east Africa. There he found a guide to lead him across the Indian Ocean to the port of Calicut in southwestern India. Arriving on May 20, da Gama "discovered" India. Unfortunately for the weary sailor, he also found that of the spices he sought, only cinnamon was in abundance. To reach the true source of spices, he would have to sail thousands of miles southeast to what is now known as Indonesia and then on to the Moluccas (located, incidentally, in Spain's half of the world). Over the next century, the Portuguese forged their way southeast, consolidating Muslim-held trade routes and converting souls along the way. By the time da Gama's ships made it to the Moluccas in the middle of the 16th century, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and
Malaya had all been subjugated in the name of both trade and Christ. Other travelers had visited the region before -- including Marco Polo -- but it was the Portuguese who established the first permanent foreign presence. With the help of handheld firearms, Portugal quickly spread its power across the archipelago. In no time, the country controlled the spice route from beginning to end.
There was a problem, though. Portugal lacked the population required to support a maritime force capable of controlling half the non-Catholic world. As a result, it was forced to hire sailors from Germany, France and especially the Netherlands. This weakness would eventually spell the downfall of its monopoly in the spice trade.
One Dutch sailor in the Portuguese fleet, Jan Huygen van Linschoten, made extensive notes during his six years of travel throughout the archipelago. He paid particular attention to the weaknesses of his employers. Portugal, not surprisingly, had done its best to mask its vulnerabilities, but all these were exposed in 1596, when van
Linschoten returned home and published a book, "A Journey, or Sailing to Portugal India or East India." The book -- a virtual travel guide to the region -- was quickly translated into French, English, German and Latin.
Two years after van Linschoten's work was published, the Netherlands, through a consortium of Dutch companies, sent its own fleet to Indonesia. The Dutch fleet's first attempt failed, but gradually, wave after wave of Dutch ships reached the islands, driving out the Portuguese and bringing untold wealth to the Netherlands. Lacking not only manpower but also the diplomatic stature to protect its interests, the Portuguese were unable even to put up a fight.
In part, the success of the Dutch can be attributed to their good working relationship with Java's powerful feudal lords and to their professionalism. Initially at least, they had come to trade, not to conquer / and on that basis created what was then the largest maritime emporium in the world at its seat in Batavia (now Jakarta).
Over time, however, the Dutch shippers needed military force to safeguard their monopoly. To keep international market prices high, they also limited spice production. For this reason, almost the entire populace of the Banda Islands, source of nutmeg, was exterminated in the early 17th century. The island was then stocked with European employees of the company. For field workers they brought in slaves and prisoners of war.
Also for the purpose of controlling spice production, people from the Moluccas were forcibly conscripted, placed in an armada of traditional Moluccan boats and sent off to destroy competitors' nutmeg and clove estates. Buru Island, where I was a political prisoner from 1969 to 1979, was turned from an island of agricultural estates into a vast savanna.
Let us now fast forward to the mid-19th century. As a result of the Napoleonic and Java wars, the Netherlands and the East Indies had entered an economic downturn. Sugar, coffee, tea and indigo had replaced spices as the archipelago's cash crops, but with increased domestic production and limited purchasing power abroad, they were becoming increasingly unprofitable for the Dutch consortium. To replenish profits, the Governor General, J. van den Bosch, decided that the Government must be able to guarantee long-term property rights for investors and that a fixed supply of crops should be exported every year.
To that end, van den Bosch put into effect on Java a system of forced cultivation, known as cultuurstelsel, in which farmers were obliged to surrender a portion of production from their land to the colonial Government. Through this plan, the Government was able to reverse the Netherlands' economic decline in just three years. Java, however, was turned into an agricultural sweatshop. In addition to surrendering land for Government-designated production, paying high taxes to the Dutch and "tithes" to local overlords, peasants were forbidden by law to move away from their hometowns. When famine hit or crops failed, there was literally no way out. As a result, tens of thousands of peasants died of hunger. Meanwhile, Dutch authorities and feudal lords grew richer by the day.
On Oct. 13, 1859, in Brussels, Eduard Douwes Dekker, a former employee of the Dutch Indies Government, finished "Max Havelaar." Concern for the impact of the colonial policies on the Indonesian people had marked the career of Dekker, who originally studied to be a minister. When he was posted in North Sumatra, he defended a village chief who had been tortured, and unwittingly found himself on the opposite side of a courtroom from his superior. As a result, he was transferred to West Sumatra, where he protested the Government's efforts to incite ethnic rivalry. Before long, he was called back to Batavia. Only his writing skills saved him from getting the sack entirely. After a few more bumpy stops, Dekker wound up in West Java. It was there, when Dekker was 29, that his disillusionment came to a head and he resigned. Judging from his autobiographical novel, we can assume he wrote the Governor General something like this: "Your Excellency has sanctioned: The system of abuse of authority, of robbery and murder, under which the humble Javanese groans, and it is that I complain about. Your Excellency, there is blood on the pieces of silver you have saved from salary you have earned thus!" He returned to Europe -- not to the Netherlands, but to Belgium, where he poured his experiences into "Max Havelaar."
Dekker's style is far from refined. In depicting the cultuurstelsel he writes: "The Government compels the worker to grow on his land what pleases it; it punishes him when he sells the crop so produced to anyone else but it; and it fixes the price it pays him. The cost of transport to Europe, via a privileged trading company, is high. The money given to the Chiefs to encourage them swells the purchase price further, and ... since, after all, the entire business must yield a profit, this profit can be made in no other way than by paying the Javanese just enough to keep him from starving. Famine? In rich, fertile, blessed Java? Yes, reader. Only a few years ago, whole districts died of starvation. Mothers offered their children for sale to obtain food. Mothers ate their children."
The publication of "Max Havelaar" in 1859 was nothing less than earth-shaking. Just as "Uncle Tom's Cabin" gave ammunition to the American abolitionist movement, "Max Havelaar" became the weapon for a growing liberal movement in the Netherlands, which fought to bring about reform in Indonesia. Helped by "Max Havelaar," the energized liberal movement was able to shame the Dutch Government into creating a new policy known as the ethical policy, the major goals of which were to promote irrigation, interisland migration and education in the Dutch Indies.
The impact of the reforms was modest at first. By the beginning of the 20th century, however, a small number of Indonesians, primarily the children of traditional rulers, were beginning to feel their effects. One of them was Agus Salim, the man with the clove cigarette, whose reading of "Max Havelaar" in school proved an awakening. He, along with other Indonesians educated in Dutch, fostered a movement for emancipation and freedom, which eventually led, in the 1940's, to full-scale revolution.
The Indonesian revolution not only gave birth to a new country, it also sparked the call for revolution in Africa, which in turn awakened ever more of the world's colonized peoples and signaled the end of European colonial domination. Perhaps, in a sense, it could be no other way. After all, wasn't the world colonized by Europe because of Indonesia's Spice Islands? One could say that it was Indonesia's destiny to initiate the decolonization process.
To Multatuli -- Eduard Douwes Dekkera whose work sparked this process, this world owes a great debt.
* Pramoedya Ananta Toer is a novelist. This article was translated by John H. McGlynn from the Indonesian.
Posted by p.a.t_nurdayah at 12:18 AM