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Ain’t No Night Fair #7

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 4

We relaxed in the front guestroom. My younger siblings who weren’t grown up yet, who still appeared so wild, now began to draw near and we talked a great deal, about Djakarta, about Semarang, and about cars. Conversation wasn’t boring, it made me happy, and it usually carried on for a long time.

And at one point I asked, “How’s father’s health?”

Suddenly everyone went quiet; not one person was looking directly at me. Suddenly the animated joyful conversation was gone, replaced by an air of seriousness.

And I asked again, “How is father’s health?”

Carefully and slowly my sister answered, “We received the pills and the blanket you sent for father. I also received the money order and we used it to buy milk and eggs, just as you instructed.”

My wife and I listened silently. She continued, “I also collected the shirt for father from the post office. And I took the blanket, the shirt and the pills to the hospital. But father said, ‘Just take them all back to the house.’ So I brought them home again.”

I was surprised and asked, “And the pills?”

“He has finished one container.”

I was a pleased a little.

“And the milk and eggs?” I asked again.

“Father didn’t like them. ‘I’m bored with eggs and milk,’ he said.”

I was lost for words. I looked at my wife, but in her face, I did not find an answer. I glanced outside the house. I noticed the orange tree which father had long ago planted. It was dry now and almost dead.

“And father’s health?” I repeated my question.

My younger sister didn’t reply. Her eyes reddened with tears.

“Why don’t you answer me?” I asked fearfully.

“Yesterday and up to yesterday father just smiled, smiled a lot. But then, then…”

She was silent. I did not force her to continue what she was saying. I didn’t say anything either. Both of us sat for a time with our heads bowed. My youngest sister, who had just begun to speak to me, now wouldn’t say a word. The time was only just half past twelve in the afternoon and the sound of frying could be heard clearly coming from the kitchen.

My younger sister continued, her voice still slow, foreboding and careful. “…and then this morning father wasn’t smiling anymore. His voice was weak and almost inaudible.” Her voice trailed away.

“And what did the doctor say?” I asked.

“The doctor has never said anything to us. There is just the one doctor here. And there aren’t enough medicines.”

Then my younger brother, who by chance was home with leave from his commander, said, “I’ve discussed father’s illness with the doctor too. He said, ‘I already know about your father’s illness.’”

“Is that all he said?” I asked.

“Yes. That’s all. Then they told me to go home.”

The atmosphere turned serious once more. Everyone sat silently with their own feelings and their own thoughts. Then without realizing it, my younger sister changed the subject of the conversation to a new topic. She mentioned that my third younger sister, the one who was married, was currently in Blora too. Straight away I asked her where she was.

Her hand pointed to the door of one of the bedrooms. All eyes followed the direction she indicated. In my mind I could see my sister’s face and I imagined she was thin. I knew it; she had to be sick. But I opened my mouth and said, “Tell her to come out.”

My younger sister went over to the door and opened it carefully. Every eye was on her. She disappeared into the room, then she emerged red eyed and said, half crying, “She’s still asleep.”

We talked about other things. But the image of my sick younger sister filled my mind. It was because of her I wrote the letter to my father, the unpleasant letter, for allowing her to become sick. But at the time I was still in gaol. My father had replied:

Yes, my child, throughout my life of fifty-six years I have realized that people’s efforts and means are very limited. For my part, I wouldn’t have allowed your sister to become ill if only I had some power over people’s fates. She became sick when she was detained by the red militia in an area that was swampy, an area rife with malaria. And maybe you can understand yourself the situation with medicines in a war zone, and especially if you yourself are not a soldier.

That reply melted my anger. The question had been clear in my heart, “Did I sin by writing that angry letter?” The answer had come back by itself, “Yes, you have sinned.” And it had been because of that answer I had felt up to this time that I had sinned. Before seeing father again. But that long wandering conversation had removed these terrible memories. I looked at my six younger siblings surrounding me, surrounding my wife and I, starting to be free of the atmosphere of seriousness, while I was still stuck with so many thoughts and memories pressing in.

I noticed my watch. We had been talking for an hour. Then looking at my smallest sister I said slowly, “Please look in on your big sister. Maybe she’s awake.”

She got up, went to the door and called out in her childish voice, “Sister, sister. Big brother’s here.”

She vanished into the bedroom.

No-one was paying much attention to her and the conversation broke out again. But when my smallest sister emerged, the conversation halted. She approached me and whispered, “Sister’s crying.”

I took a deep breath.

Slowly I stood up and went over to the bedroom. And there sprawled on the iron bed devoid of mosquito netting, half blanketed by a light cotton sheet, was my little sister, covering her eyes with her arm. I lifted her arm and I beheld two eyes looking up at me, red and moist. I hugged her. She started to cry and I too wept, and among the sobs, I could hear my own voice ask, “Why are you so thin?”

Her crying subsided and she composed herself, so she was calmer. And I did the same.

“I’ve been sick for a long time, brother,” I listened to her broken voice.

“Have you been to the doctor?” I asked, my voice cracking too.

“I’ve seen the doctor, but my condition just stays like this,” her voice still breaking.

“Maybe it would be better if you went to a large city. There are a lot of specialists there,” my voice still breaking.

There was just sobbing.

“Do you have any children, sister?”

“Yes, brother.”

“Where are they?”

Our crying had subsided, but my sister now broke out in tears again. She answered without emotion, “He passed away, brother. He’s not here anymore.”

She snatched back the arm I was holding and covered her eyes again. I took out my handkerchief and wiped the tears running down her face.

“What do you mean not here,” I asked.

“I gave birth at six months. He cried a lot. I could hear him crying. Then God took him back again.”

Once more I started to weep openly and she too sobbed uncontrollably. All I could hear now was the storm heaving in my chest. And all I could see was her thin body, the single cloth sheet, the small mattress covering only half the bed frame, and the iron and the bamboo slats protruding next to the mattress.

“You’re still young, little sister, you still have the chance to have another child,” I said to comfort her.

“Where’s your husband?”

“He’s doing training in Semarang, brother.”

Our crying, which had filled that room, now subsided and eventually died.

I straightened the blanket, kissed my younger sister on her cheek and I said, “Go to sleep.”

She took her arm away from her eyes. She was calm now. Slowly she closed her eyelids. Once more I kissed her on the cheeks, cheeks that had once been so full and which were now so drawn. Then I left the room.

(Continued)

Duduk Duduk


Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.

Featured image: After an interval of 11 years, rock band Efek Rumah Kaca play in Pare-Pare, South Sulawesi, December 2018

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Kooa Cigarette Label

Fujinkai

By Idrus

The Women’s Association* of a nondescript village was holding a meeting. The day before the meeting, Mrs. Scholar had been in quite a flap. She looked as if she was organizing her own daughter’s wedding, borrowing chairs from here and there, dropping in and out of homes to invite members. For Mrs. Scholar, Women’s Association meetings were very important events in her day-to-day life.

“She really is enthusiastic,” said one member to a friend.

Mrs. Scholar rose to her feet and spoke to open the meeting. With the voice of a cold, shivering cat, Mrs. Scholar explained that she was in receipt of an instruction from her superiors to hold a meeting to discuss a number of matters.

A member sitting directly across from Mrs. Scholar muttered, “Well, you wouldn’t dare do this without being ordered to.”

As she spoke, Mrs. Scholar glanced at the member with a sour face. The other member’s face twisted into a mocking look.

Trembling slightly, Mrs. Scholar continued what she had been saying. She spoke for a long time, she had not finished everything that she’d been ordered to say by her superiors. All the members yawned, like soldiers on a silent battlefield.

Ten minutes… twenty minutes, Mrs. Scholar talked on and on. Her mouth moved like the snout of a squirrel, puffing up and down like a bellows. Her nostrils flared widely, like a fishing net ballooning in the water. The hairs were visible, dark like a squid. As she spoke, saliva oozed from her teeth and rolled down her chin like a small child’s snot.

Shyly a member rose to her feet and said, “Mrs. Scholar, please excuse me, but I have to leave to go home. I have a lot of things that need doing at home.”

Mrs. Scholar felt offended and in an angry tone asked, “What is the matter, Mrs. Waluyo? The meeting is not over. We’ve only just begun. At home you work for yourself, but here, we are working for the common good.”

Mrs. Waluyo appeared thoughtful, and then said firmly, “That’s a shame Mrs. Scholar.” She looked at her watch, small like a beetle, and continued what she was saying, “At six sharp I’ve arranged to meet the chicken seller. To exchange for some tatty clothes.”

Mrs. Waluyo bowed her head respectfully to Mrs. Scholar, and to the other members, then departed. As soon as she was outside, she said between clenched teeth, “For the first and the last time.” Then contemptuously, “Huh… the common good.”

The other members appeared most uncomfortable, as if they had come face to face with someone just widowed.

Mrs. Scholar went back to what she was saying. She continued to talk about events that had been reported in the newspapers recently. She thanked the Japanese Navy which had won a great victory in the waters east of Taiwan. She expressed admiration for the dashing Japanese soldiers who had fallen in action on Peleliu Island. She thanked the Empire of Greater Japan for Indonesia’s forthcoming independence, and she was grateful that the military government had managed the smooth distribution of rice so that everyone was receiving a fifth of a litre of rice each day.

Then another member stood up. Obviously a real village person, her Indonesian was stilted and sounded like a very old woman’s. Her blouse was faded and tattered. Her chest was as flat as the waters of Lake Toba, waveless. Every now and again she coughed.

Very gently she said, “Mrs Scholar, it isn’t even as much as a fifth of a litre. And you can’t find any extra anywhere. My husband can’t work anymore. The Japanese cut off his hands, because…”

Her heavy heart stopped her finishing the sentence. But she was desperate to make Mrs. Scholar feel sorry for her. Just maybe, Mrs. Scholar would be able to help her. She gathered her strength, and between her coughs, she continued, “…because he took a litre of rice from his employer’s house. Because he had no choice, you see. Salim is really an honest man, but he was desperate. Please help me, madam. I have two children, they have big appetites.”

All the members felt sorry for her.

But sternly Mrs. Scholar said, “Mrs Salim, I can not help you. It has already been decided. We have to do what we are told. It is different now compared to before.”

“Before we could argue with decisions from higher up, but the present era is a time of obedience. This has great benefits because in previous times everything took such a long time. Imperial Japan is different. Everything is fast. In only two years, we have obtained our soon-to-arrive independence. We have to work, Mrs. Salim.”

Looking as if she was about to start to cry, Mrs. Salim said, “So we get a fifth of a litre? Down again from a quarter? Well, in that case please excuse me, but I’m just going home. There’s a lot to do at home.”

As slowly as the announcement of a defeat by Imperial Headquarters, Mrs. Salim moved towards the door. When she arrived at her house, she cried.

Mrs. Scholar laughed. Mocking Mrs. Salim she said, “That’s what happens when a village person gets involved in a meeting. They talk about inappropriate things. They ask the wrong questions. Ha ha ha!”
Sitting some distance from Mrs. Scholar, Mrs. Djoko and Mrs. Surya were deep in conversation.

Mrs. Djoko said, “My husband Djoko now looks quite pale. I feel terrible when I look at him. Every day he works hard, but when he gets home all there is to eat is rice porridge. I’m a little better off. Whatever food sellers go past the front of the house, whether it’s peanut salad or fried soya cakes, I buy to help keep the hunger away. Sometimes we spend as much as one rupiah per day. Poor Djoko.”

Mrs. Surya on the other hand wasn’t having so much trouble paying for things. Her husband was a member of the regional advisory council. Rather proudly she said, “For us, our life is just the same, not much has changed from before. My husband Surya has a permit to travel anywhere. When he comes home from Banten he brings coffee. When he comes home from Cirebon he brings home rice and Kooa cigarettes. Usually the rice he brings is more than the two of us need. Well, what else can we do, we sell the left over. Sometimes it sells for as much as two rupiah seventy-five cents per litre. Yes, it even covers the cost of going sightseeing at Warnasari.”

Mrs. Djoko stood and said to Mrs. Scholar, “Mrs. Scholar, is that all that’s going to be discussed at this meeting? I just want to say that I am very grateful. Excuse me, I have to go home.”

Mrs. Scholar was surprised, from her leather bag she removed a piece of paper and in a chilly quiet voice said, “Just a moment, Mrs. Djoko. That was only the introduction. The real reason for this meeting is…”

Mrs. Scholar opened the folded sheet of paper. She continued her address.
“This. The 8th December will mark the third anniversary of Japan declaring war on America by attacking Hawaii. This has to be commemorated. It has been decided that the Women’s Association has a responsibility. Together with the Women’s Associations from other villages, we are to go and visit Japanese soldiers who are sick. For this we are going to make them cakes. And to make the cakes will incur a cost. We are to show our thanks to those who have fought for our interests. Ladies, allow me to abbreviate my address, and to say that the reason for this meeting is to ask for your generosity to volunteer, if you could, a financial contribution for the making of these cakes.

“At the least two and a half rupiah from each family. I feel that this is not too much for you all. Two and half rupiah is not much. Just look at it as if you are giving a litre of rice. I’m sure it won’t feel like too heavy a burden. About when we will begin to work, I shall provide further details in the near future.”

The members of the Women’s Association of a nondescript village whispered to each other. One of them said, “And about the two and half rupiah. That’s not the main thing. Why did you deliver such a long-winded introduction just to tell us that we are going to have to dig deeper into our pockets yet again? Just cross my name off the membership list of the Women’s Association. I don’t even care if everyone talks about me not having the right spirit.”

Now scared and shaking, Mrs. Scholar said, “Mrs. Samiun, please don’t become angry so quickly. We have to be patient in the present age. You really are jumping to the wrong conclusion. I feel forced to tell you then, even if it is a secret, that everything I have been saying I was ordered to say by my superiors, which all arrived together along with the order to hold this meeting. I went to a great deal of trouble yesterday, memorizing all of this by heart word for word, Mrs. Samiun.”

Mrs. Scholar wiped the perspiration from her brow. The meeting dispersed successfully.

(*) Fujinkai

Published in Pantja Raja, No. 16 Vol. II, 1 July 1947, p. 551. Use was also made of a translation published in Indonesia, No. 2 (Oct., 1966), pp. 125-134 published by Southeast Asia Program Publications at Cornell University, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3350757

The Najwa Gaze

A Note From Ahok

A Note from Ahok

For Metro TV Show “Mata Najwa” and host Nana.

Indonesian Police Mobile Brigade
Headquarters Prison, 16 August 2017

I was one of the ones always being invited onto Metro TV’s talk show Mata Najwa. (Showing off a little here 🙂 ) What’s for sure is there were a lot of supporters both for and against me appearing on the show. Why? Because Najwa would ask the hard questions and would fish and box me in when the viewers suspected me of, thought I was giving the impression I was guilty or lying. For me, [the host of the show] Nana is a professional person, and doesn’t try to win the argument all the time or give the impression of cornering you. Nana only wants her viewers to get the truth from insightful questions, of course with that classic Najwa gaze. I’m grateful, the Mata Najwa show allowed me to appear just as I am, and definitely to say it as it is. Facing questions, and the Mata Najwa gaze, there was only one key. I had to answer according to what was in my heart and conscience. My mouth and brain had to connect. By doing that, Nana and the viewers would accept all my answers. I pray that Nana is successful and full of joy wherever she serves. The Lord bless you, Nana.

Signed BTP

Nana

Nana

Nervous waiting to interview Ahok

Nervous waiting to interview Ahok

Notes from Ahok on Twitter

A note from Ahok on Twitter


Graffiti

Event: Two films on transgender issues in Indonesia

07 February 2017

Film screening

The first screening of the ‘Framing Asia’ film series will focus on transgender issues in Indonesia. Two short films Renita, Renita and Accross Gender  will be followed by discussion with Intan Paramaditha, Indonesian author and lecturer in media and film studies and one of the filmmakers, Anouk Houtman.

Films

Renita, Renita (15min)

Tony Trimarsanto

Trapped in a male body, Renita wanted to be a doctor and a woman since she was a child but her parents forced her to study at a Islamic school where she was bullied and ostracized. She rebelled by becoming a prostitute in the hope of finding freedom but instead, found that it came at a cost — she experienced brutality and was discriminated against by her family and the Indonesian society in which she lived.

Across Gender (24min)

Anouk Houtman

What is it like being transgender in Yogyakarta? There is no single answer to this question. This film aims to show different ways of negotiating visibility in the Indonesian society when one ‘crosses gender’. The difficulty of this negotiation becomes apparent through the anti-LGBT sentiments and actions in early 2016.

Discussion

Anouk Houtman is a young filmmaker with an MA in Visual Anthropology of Leiden University. She graduated with a film and thesis researching the visibility of transgenders in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Currently she is pursuing a second MA in Gender Studies and University Utrecht.

Intan Paramaditha is an Indonesian author and lecturer in media and film studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. Focusing on contemporary film practice in Indonesia, her research explores the relation between media, cultural activism, and sexual politics in the convergence and tension between national and cosmopolitan trajectories.

Time 19:30- hrs Venue Faculty of Humanities, Lipsius building, rom 028 Cleveringaplaats 1 Leiden Netherlands Google Maps

Source –http://iias.asia/event/two-films-transgender-issues-indonesia

Langston Hughes

AKU, JUGA

Oleh Langston Hughes

Aku, juga, menyanyikan Amerika.

Aku saudaranya yang lebih gelap.
Aku disuruh mereka makan di dapur
Ketika tamu datang menjenguk.
Tetapi aku tertawa,
Dan makan dengan lahap,
Dan tumbuh semakin kuat.

Besok,
Aku akan makan di meja
Ketika tamu datang menjenguk.
Maka
Tak akan ada yang berani
Bilang kepadaku
“Makan di dapur.”

Tambah lagi,
Mereka akan melihat betapa tampannya aku
Dan merasa malu –

Aku, juga, Amerika.


Featured image from We Are the American Heartbreak: Langston Hughes on Race in a Rare Recording

Manuscript

The Syair Tabut of Encik Ali, Indonesia and the Malay World

“This is an annotated transcription and translation of the Syair Tabut (Poem of the Tomb Effigies) of Encik Ali, a Malay-language, Jawi-script syair account of the Muharram commemorations of 1864 at Singapore. The only known part lithograph and part manuscript of this text, on which this edition is based, is held in the library of Leiden University, shelfmark Kl. 191. For a full discussion of this Syair, see the accompanying article by Lunn and Byl (2017).”

Julia Byl, Raja Iskandar bin Raja Halid, David Lunn & Jenny McCallum (2017) The Syair Tabut of Encik Ali, Indonesia and the Malay World, 45:133, 421-438, DOI: 10.1080/13639811.2017.1374012 from https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cimw20/current

Source: Twitter account of David Lunn

Julia Byl, Raja Iskandar bin Raja Halid, David Lunn & Jenny McCallum (2017) The Syair Tabut of Encik Ali, Indonesia and the Malay World, 45:133, 421-438, DOI: 10.1080/13639811.2017.1374012

View of Lake Maninjau in Sumatra

Language, Nation

By Muhammad Yamin, 1921

“What you have inherited from your fathers, earn over again for yourselves or it will not be yours.” Goethe

While still small and young in years
The little child nestles in her mother’s lap,
Singing soft songs and lullabies her mother
Beams over her child, overflowing with joy;
She rocks lovingly night and day,
Cradle hanging in the land of her ancestors.

Born to a nation with its own language
Surrounded by family to the right and the left,
Raised in the customs of the land of the Malays
In grief and joy and in sorrow too
Feelings of togetherness and unity flow
From her language with its sweet sound.

Whether with wailing tears, or in rejoicing
Whether in times of joy or in adversity and danger;
We breathe to maintain our lives
In the language that embodies our soul,
Wherever Sumatra is, there is the nation,
Wherever Pertja is, there is our language.

My beloved Andalas, my birth country,
From the time I was young,
Till the time I die and am laid in the earth
I shall never forget our language,
Remember, young people, unhappy Sumatra,
Lose your language, and your nation is lost too.

February 1921


First published in Indonesian in the Dutch language journal Jong Sumatra : organ van den Jong Sumatranen Bond, Batavia, February 1921 via Sandjak-sandjak Muda Mr. Muhammad Yamin [The Young Poems of Mr. Muhammad Yamin]  Firma Rada, Djakarta 1954, p. 9 and republished in Jassin, H. B.  Pujangga baru : prosa dan puisi / dikumpulkan dengan disertai kata pengantar oleh H.B. Jassin  [Pujangga Baru : prose and poetry / collected and accompanied by an introduction by H.B. Jassin] Haji Masagung, Jakarta,  1987, p. 322.

Zuidoost-Azië: Insulair / Indonesië / Jawa / Jawa Tengah (provincie) / Pekalongan (regentschap)

Pretty

By Murya Artha

We met in plenary session the other day and our leader’s plan
was the decision of the meeting in 1945
on the seventeenth of August four years of bloody history ago
the day we thrashed out the real reason, down to the basic problem
right to the root cause of the tyranny
let us decide, one by one; we have to be boldly democratic

Get past these ugly and disgusting incidents
put aside the dark memories and signs of failure to build
otherwise: one color and the determination of 70 million will have been wasted
under pressure we were the ones who thundered before
who extinguished every trace of the spirit of Deandels and Janfiter Soon Coen…

 


Source: Siasat Magazine, Number 171 Year IV, 18 June 1950.

Murya Artha was born in Parincahan Village, Kandangan, Hulu Sungai Selatan District, South Kalimantan August 20, 1920 as M. Husrien. He used pseudonyms including Bujang Far, Emhart, HR Bandahara, M.Ch. Artum, M.Chayrin Artha, and Artha Artha. He passed away at Banjarmasin October 28, 2002.


Source: (Siasat, 1950) Puisi Murya Artha: Juita

On Governor-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen see Loth, V. C. (1995). Pioneers and Perkeniers: The Banda Islands in the 18th Century. Cakalele, 6, 13-35.

Featured image: Zuidoost-Azië: Insulair / Indonesië / Jawa / Jawa Tengah (provincie) / Pekalongan (regentschap)

 

Detachement op Borneo Hoeloe Soengai, 28 Februari 1949

The Meeting

By Murya Artha

Among those who have roles at meetings,
in the midst of our revolution’s ongoing battle of dexterity
a lot of dead meat heaps up cracked earth
as if this world doesn’t have enough of God’s grace
and never has enough tools to fill the holes.


Source: Siasat Magazine, Number 171 Year IV, 18 June 1950.

Murya Artha was born in Parincahan Village, Kandangan, Hulu Sungai Selatan District, South Kalimantan August 20, 1920 as M. Husrien. He used pseudonyms including Bujang Far, Emhart, HR Bandahara, M.Ch. Artum, M.Chayrin Artha, and Artha Artha. He passed away at Banjarmasin October 28, 2002.


Source: (Siasat, 1950) Puisi Murya Artha: Rapat

Featured image: Slechts weinig is bekend over het leven van de militairen in de Hulu Sungei op Borneo

New display of Southeast Asian manuscripts from the Sloane collection – Asian and African studies blog, The British Library

In 1753 the British Museum was founded through the bequest of the vast collections of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1673), including over four thousand manuscripts, which are now held in the British Library. …  (Read more here.)

Arabic text with interlinear translation in Javanese

Arabic text with interlinear translation in Javanese


Source: A new display of Southeast Asian manuscripts from the Sloane collection

Featured image: 16th century-mid 18th century, Arjunavijaya A broken piece of palm-leaf, with text in Old Javanese written in Balinese script, containing parts of stanzas 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 (but not of stanza 13) from canto 10 of the Arjunavijaya (or Arjunwijaya), a court poem (kakavin or kakawin) authored by Mpu Tantular in the second half of the 14th century, describing a scene of confrontation between Śiva’s attendant Nandīśvara and the demon Rāvaṇa. This fragment corresponds with the critical edition published by Supomo (1977 I: 109), with English transation (1977 II: 203-204). Identified by Ida Bagus Komang Sudarma, Wayan Jarrah Sastrawan and Arlo Griffiths, June 2018. http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=sloane_ms_3480_f001r

 

Lower image: Sloane MS 2645, 1623, Dated Hadha ashkala (i.e. sengkala) al-jawi min faraghihi 1545 (AD 1623/4). Arabic text with interlinear translation in Javanese in Arabic (pegon) script. http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=sloane_ms_2645_f005r

Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection – Asian and African studies blog, The British Library

… In addition to two manuscripts in Malay, Sloane owned five items from Java, which though fragmentary in nature encompass a wide variety of languages and scripts (Javanese, Old Javanese, Lampung and Chinese) and writing materials (palm leaf, bamboo and paper), and range from commercial documents to a primer of religious law. Sloane’s Javanese manuscripts, which are of interest not only for their diversity but also for their relatively early date, have now all been digitised and can be read on the Digitised Manuscripts website…

(Read more here.)


Source: Javanese manuscripts in the Sloane collection

Giant Turtle, Kartini Beach Jepara

The Sufi Teacher Passed By…

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

One ordinary sleepy day a sufi teacher landed in Jakarta on his magic carpet at the gates of the toll road leading from Jakarta to Cengkareng International Airport. He hopped down and strolled into Jakarta as his magic carpet flew off again back up into the heavens.

It happened to be a Friday and at midday the sufi teacher went looking for the nearest place to perform his Friday prayers. He walked into the office block he was passing and on the ground floor found a small prayer room. The usual plastic prayer mats were laid out ready for Friday prayers but the room was still empty. A man who seemed to be the prayer room attendant was getting ready to perform his prayers, so the sufi teacher asked, “Prayer room attendant, isn’t it Friday today and shouldn’t everyone be here performing their prayers?”

kebenaran

“True. Usually there are lots of people here on Fridays to pray. The office workers in this building prefer to pray here on the ground floor rather than go out and look for a mosque.”

“But prayer room attendant, why isn’t anyone at all here today even though it’s time for prayer?”

“Ah, they’re all praying on the ninth floor.”

“And why is that?”

“Because.., it’s air conditioned. They say the atmosphere there is more conducive to prayer, and it’s nice and cool on the ninth floor, while down here it’s hot and sticky.”

“Ah, I see,” replied the sufi teacher in English, nodding.

And so he and the attendant performed their prayers together by themselves with the attendant leading the devotions.

When they had finished, the sufi teacher continued on his way looking for Gus Dur, the director of the Islamic community organization called Nahdlatul Ulama. He wanted to ask whether Americans could use the English phrase ‘good morning’ instead of the Arabic greeting ‘Assalamu alaikum’.

A month later the sufi teacher was again going past the same building and as it happened to be right on time for midday prayer he once again entered the building.

It turned out that this time there were dozens of people preparing to pray in the small prayer room. There were so many in fact that they were spilling out of the prayer room into the lobby as the fiery sermon lambasted the spread of worldly greed.

The sufi teacher again asked the attendant, “Prayer room attendant, why are there now so many people praying here, so many that they are overflowing into the lobby? What has become of the air conditioned prayer room on the ninth floor?”

“Sojourner, the office workers have come back here to pray because the air conditioning is out of order, and the room which used to be so nice and cool is now unbearably hot. Because of the humidity on the ninth floor, they now want to pray here; if they are lucky they might catch a passing breeze.”

The sufi teacher again nodded, saying in English, “I see. I see.” Then he continued, “Well then, take note prayer room attendant. Reflect on this question: Is there any difference between those who pray in an air conditioned room and those who do not?”

The prayer room attendant was silent, and, after midday prayers were over, forever more followed the sufi teacher wherever he went.

One day on their travels they arrived at the edge of a river somewhere in Central Java where there was no bridge. To cross to the other side it was necessary to use a small bamboo raft. The raft landing on the other side was not directly opposite and had to be reached by using a punt some way along the bank before crossing over.

Punting along the edge of the river the sufi teacher noticed a man fishing at the edge of the river who didn’t seem to be using any bait. But even though the fisherman wasn’t using any bait, the fish were just jumping from the water by themselves and landing in the man’s basket, filling it to overflowing. As the basket filled, the local people emptied fish into their own baskets and carried them away to their homes. The villagers flocked to the fisherman’s basket.

Amazed at this sight, the sufi teacher asked the raft keeper, “Raft keeper, who is that man by the river fishing without any bait?”

“That’s Saint Jagakali.”

“Who’s he?”

And so the raft keeper told the sufi teacher the story of the fisherman. It was said that long ago in that village there had lived a fisherman who lived solely from the fish he caught. Every day he would take his catch, return home and cook and eat it. One day one of the fish he caught was flapping gasping on the ground near him when it had begun speaking to him.

“Fisherman, please let me go. Grant me a great blessing and throw me back into the river. What good can I be to you? The small amount of flesh on my tiny bones will hardly fill you.”

The fisherman was astonished, but replied, “Talking fish, why do you speak to me this way? Does a fisherman not have the right to eat a fish he catches? This is the way it has always been, and the way it always shall be.”

“But life is like a wheel,” replied the fish. “What would happen if you should die and be reborn as a fish?”

The fisherman laughed aloud and threw the speaking fish into his basket.

Finally after the fisherman had died he was indeed reborn as a fish. On the other hand, after passing away the talking fish was also reborn, but as a fisherman.

One day the fisherman who had once been a fish caught the fish who had at one time been a fisherman. The fish who had been a fisherman was also able to speak.

“Good fisherman, I beg you to let me go because I am just a small fish and life means so much to me. My small body will hardly provide you with enough. Please throw me back into the river and set me free.”

The fisherman who had once been a fish happened to recognize that the fish he had caught was the fisherman who had once caught him.

The fisherman said, “Talking fish, do you not remember that once you were a fisherman and that once you refused to grant the request of a small fish. I am that very fish, and now you must experience what I felt that day.”

“No! Please! Haven’t you thought that one day you might be reborn yet again as a fish and I as a fisherman who might catch you? Remember that life is like a wheel, spinning around and around and around.”

“I don’t care; I desire vengeance. Aha ha ha ha ha!” responded the fisherman as he threw the fish into his basket. The fish flip-flopped backwards and forwards with slowly weakening flicks until it was finished.

In its next life, the fish did return as a man and the fisherman too returned, this time as a fish. The man who had once been a fish who had once been a fisherman did indeed become a fisherman who loved fishing more than anything in the world. But he did not forget that once he had killed a fish and had finally as a fish himself been killed by a fisherman despite his pleas for mercy. Full of reverence, he resolved to return the fish he had caught to the river.

Hence forth the fisherman fished without using any bait. The strange thing was that ever since he had decided not to use bait the fish had just leaped from the water by themselves into his basket. Even then he couldn’t bring himself to eat the fish so he allowed the local villagers to take them. As there were more fish than a fish factory the local villagers took them gratefully.

The fisherman would sit by the river day and night fishing, refusing to use any bait. He did not want to eat any of the fish and he lived solely from the dew that formed on his lips in the morning, chanting the mantras of the poet Sutardji Calzoum Bachri:

How many centuries must pass,
How many watches must stop,
How many signs must appear,
How many steps must I take,
Before I am able to reach You?

Over time, the fisherman had been given the name Saint Jagakali after the great Muslim mystic of Central Java, even though the fisherman himself had acknowledged no creed.

When the sufi teacher and the prayer room attendant arrived at the other side of the river, the sufi teacher thanked the raft keeper and together he and the prayer room attendant continued on their journey to East Java.

The sufi teacher wanted to meet the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, Kiai Ahmad Shiddiq, to ask the venerable teacher what he would think if Michael Jackson and Jean-Michel Jarre were to record Arabic devotional songs.

After that, the sufi teacher wanted to summon his flying carpet and return to Isfahan. He was planning to drop into Qom and let Khomeini know that wisdom had spread to every corner of the earth. But then he remembered, the Great Teacher was already dead, so he changed his mind.

The sufi teacher next planned to fly from East Java to Japan, but first he wanted to take the prayer room attendant to the modern Islamic boarding school at Gontor in East Java so he could learn English. After all, a prayer room attendant in an office block in Jakarta’s ‘golden triangle’ central business district crowded with the offices of foreign investors needs to know English.

When he arrived in Japan the sufi teacher planned to go straight to Kyoto, find a Buddhist priest, and find out how he practiced Zen.

(Jakarta, February 1990)

 


The Sufi Teacher Passed By… (Guru Sufi Lewat…) was published in Kompas Daily in May 1990.

Asimetris

Poem for a Bottle of Beer

By W.S. Rendra

Downing a whole bottle of beer,
I stare at the world,
and what I see is people starving.
I light some incense,
breath in the earth,
and listen to the thunder of the rioters.

The cost of hitting the town for one night,
is equivalent to the cost of developing ten villages!
What the hell kind of civilization have we created?

Why do we build huge cities,
and ignore the culture of the villages?
Why does development lead to hoarding,
rather than distribution?

Huge cities here don’t grow from industry.
They grow from the needs of foreign industrial countries
for markets and their need to buy natural resources.
Large cities here
are a means for Europe, Japan, China, America,
Australia and other industrial countries to accumulate.

Where are the old back roads?
The ones which connected villages with other villages?
They’re now abandoned.
They’re now ditches or potholes.

The roads today
represent the colonizer’s planning of years ago.
They’re just a means of distributing foreign goods from
the ports to regional centers, and natural resources from regional centers to the ports. Roads are created specifically for,
not the farmers,
but the middlemen and the Chinese businessmen.

Now we’re swept away in a stream of civilization that we don’t control.
Where we can’t do anything except shit and eat,
without the power to create anything.
Are we going to just stop here like this?

Do all countries that want to advance have to become industrial countries?
Do we dream of having endless factories,
which ceaselessly produce –
have to forever just produce things –
and finally force other countries
to become markets for our products?

Is the only option apart from industry just tourism?
Does our economic thinking
suck only on the breast milk of communism and capitalism?
Why is our own environment not considered?
Will we just be swept away
in the power of accumulating things
which spread pollution and degradation
of nature both without and nature within people themselves?

We have been taken over by one dream
to become someone else.
We have become foreign
in the land of our own ancestors.
Villagers are skittish, chasing the dream,
and enslaving themselves to Jakarta.
The people of Jakarta are skittish, chasing the dream
and enslaving themselves to Japan, Europe or America.

Pejambon, June 23, 1977

 


Poem for a Bottle of Beer (Sajak Sebotol Bir) was published in State of Emergency, W.S. Rendra, Wild & Woolley, Glebe, 1978, p. 62.

Featured image: ASIMETRIS (full movie)

Waterval met roofvogel

Poem for the Condors

By W.S. Rendra

A mountain breeze sweeps down, creeps through the forest
then blows across the surface of a vast river,
coming to rest finally among the tobacco leaves.

Then its heart is filled with compassion
On seeing the sad fate of the peasant workers
Planted in soil that is so rich, so fertile,
But which provides no prosperity for its people.

The peasant workers,
Living in windowless shacks,
Plant seedlings in the fertile soil,
Reap abundant rich harvests
While their own lives are full of misery.

They harvest for rich landlords
Who own beautiful palaces.

Their sweat turns into gold
That is collected by the fat owners of cigar
factories in Europe.
And when they demand income equality,
The economists adjust their ties nervously,
and respond by dispatching condoms.
Suffering overflows
from the trenches lining the faces of my people.

From dawn till dusk,
the bedraggled people of my country trudge, striving,
turning to the left, turning to right,
in an effort that is uncertain.

At sundown they turn into a pile of garbage,
and at night they are sprawled across the floor,
and their souls are transformed into condors.

Thousands of condors,
millions of condors,
flocking toward the high mountains,
and there gain respite from the loneliness.

Because only the loneliness
Is able to suck out the revenge and the pain.
The condors screech.
In anger they scream out,
Sound out in places that are lonely.

The condors scream
On the mountain crags they call out
Sound out in places that are lonely
By the millions the condors scratch at the rocks,
Snap at the stones, peck at the air,
and in the cities there are those who prepare to
shoot them.


Poem for the Condors (Sajak Burung-Burung Kondor) was published in State of Emergency, W.S. Rendra, Wild & Woolley, Glebe, 1978, p. 58.

Featured image: [De Rivier] Waterval met roofvogel