Category Archives: Decolonization

Short Story: They Spelt The Begging Ban

They Spelt The Begging Ban

By Ahmad Tohari

They were five street children and Gupris was the only girl. The five of them rarely washed, and even more infrequently changed clothes. Of the lot, Gupris was the most active and noisy, and also the most talkative. Gupris was the only one too who had ever been to school even if only briefly.

And now the five children had jumped onto the tray of an open-sided truck that had started moving toward the depot. Every morning they gathered at the truck depot that was surrounded by stalls, mostly stalls selling rice meals. The four boys always slept there, on the floor under the awning of the closed stalls, or wherever they liked. At night, they were used to the mosquitoes. But often they couldn’t sleep when they had empty stomachs. Gupris didn’t join them sleeping rough at the depot. She did something different. She had a small house behind the depot. Her mother was there, but her father wasn’t.

Three o’clock in the morning was the time Gupris hated the most. She was often woken by the fragrant smell. She would often see early in the morning that her mother was already washed and dressed, and had put on her makeup and lipstick. Then her mother would take the handbasket and say she was off to go shopping at the market. At first, Gupris didn’t care. But then she came to hate it because her mother would always come home with an empty basket, her striking brightly colored clothes and makeup a mess. Gupris came to hate it more and more. So now every morning at two-thirty she got up and went to the depot to join her four friends before her mother arrived home.

Gupris and her four friends sat cross-legged on the tray of the empty truck that was headed for the cement factory. The truck was huge, it had fourteen wheels, the tray was steel, and it had no sides. One of the children played a small drum, one played a tambourine, and another played an old battered guitar. The result was a traveling dangdut* stage. The truck drivers were never angry even though the five street kids would often make a noise banging on the floor of the tray. Gupris usually sang like a dangdut singer, but this time she preferred to play on her cellphone. She had become fond of looking at rude pictures. Gupris still wore her hair in two pigtails.

Approaching Karangasu intersection, Gupris got up and stood unsteadily. She invited her four friends to get ready to get down. If they were lucky, the traffic lights at the intersection would turn red for them. But not this time. So one of the children who couldn’t wait jumped down along the side. He slammed into the ground and immediately streamed. Gupris ran to the front pounding on the roof of the truck cabin. The truck finally stopped after crossing the intersection. The driver looked back but wasn’t angry. The other four children jumped down. They wanted to help their friend who was sitting in pain but the traffic was very heavy. Gupris took action. She moved to the center of the road, raising her hands high to motion for a chance to get cross. The sun’s heat had started to bite.

The five street children who rarely took a bath walked away from the intersection, the one being helped to a sheltered place and left there alone.

Gupris invited the three friends back to the corner of the intersection. The drum made from PVC pipe and a membrane made of tire started to pound. The tambourine and old battered guitar started to make a noise.

Gupris got ready for their dangdut show. But suddenly she stopped still. She saw something. Something had changed at the corner of the intersection. Near them a noticeboard had been erected. The writing was black on a white painted wooden board. Unlike her friends who weren’t interested because they couldn’t read, Gupris was different. She wanted to read the writing. She began to spell out. Her friends approached and stood behind her to listen.

“A-n-y-o-ne be-gg-i-ng a-n-d b-us-ki-n-g w-i-ll b-e… pu-n-i-s-h-ed b-y… i-m-p-ri-s-o-n-e-d …”.

Gupris stopped, then turned to face her friends.

“What is punished? What does being punished and imprisoned mean?” they asked.

The four boys grinned and then each shook his head. None of them knew. They just stared at each other. Gupris was annoyed and felt useless. So Gupris invited her friends to leave. But they suddenly stopped.

“Now, read that! You are wild kids who just wander around aimlessly, you have to read it. You have to!”

Gupris and her friends looked to the side at the same time. There was a watchman coming out of the food stall wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Above the right pocket of his shirt was clearly embroidered with the name Karidun. He was moving in a half run. And he stopped, puffing himself up. His loud voice sounded over the noise of the cars and motorbikes. There was still some rice or coconut pieces stuck to the corner of his lips. The left over food continued to dance following the movement of his mouth as the watchman spoke. That was the sight that made Gupris almost burst out laughing.

“Go on reading. You have to!” said watchman Karidun, hand pointing to the noticeboard there in a commanding style. “I’m a security officer, see, security from Community Services. I was the one who put the sign up this morning. For people just like you. Get it? Remember, I’m security from Community Services, right?”

Quietly Gupris stopped, her face blank. Then she looked behind her in the direction of her friends.

“Hey, why stop. Read on. I’m security. And I told you to read. Go on,” shouted watchman Karidun, voice becoming louder this time.

“P-u-n-is-he-d, what does that mean, mister?” Gupris asked in a normal tone. Although she was still a little girl, who didn’t wash often, Gupris dared to quip back to Karidun, who wanted to be called security.

There was quiet again. Watchman Karidun didn’t seem to be ready to answer Gupris’ question.

His face changed. Like somebody with a stutter, confused, but his eyebrows hardened. Then he turned himself around rubbing his forehead.

Finally he snapped back to face the five street kids as he also puffed himself right up.

“I am a security official. Right, now?”

“Yes!” Gupris answered very quickly.

“So, in my opinion, to be punished is definitely not the same as being given some money. Being punished might be the same as being convicted. Yes. Being punished by imprisonment is the same as being sentenced to confinement, put in prison, sent to jail. Get it? That’s it, so don’t you go begging and busking. You should all be going to school. So you can be like me who’s a security officer and knows what being punished means.”

Gupris fell silent a moment. Then turned back to face her friends. “You hear, we should be going to school.”

“Do you get money going to school?” interrupted one of the children.

“Seriously! Schools, see, don’t get you money, in fact you have to pay,” Gupris answered.

“Wow, that’s a problem if it’s like that? You don’t get any money? So what are we supposed to buy food with? It would be better to keep on busking, keep on begging. Then we can keep on eating.”

“Wait, what?” exclaimed watchman Karidun with a fierce face. “I have just told you. Begging and busking will be punished by imprisonment. P-u-n-ish-ed b-y i-mp-ri-so-n-me-nt for 30 days, with a fine of 50 million rupiah! Do you hear that?”

Gupris’s face sank. But then she smiled faintly as she noticed the leftover food in the corner of Karidun’s mouth dancing again.

“Why is that?” Gupris responded again. “Begging isn’t pickpocketing, or stealing, is it?”

“Yes, but it is against the ban. Anyone who breaks the ban is definitely going to be punished, convicted.”

“Why is it like that? Who made the ban?”

“Well, I’m security. So I know who made the ban on begging, the mayor and the city council members.”

“What’s a mayor?”

“Really, you wild child. The mayor is an important official.”

“Are the city council members too?”

“Yess. Now listen. As security I want to explain everything. The city council members are the representatives of the people, so your representatives too.”

Gupris’ eyebrows narrowed. She was confused. But at least now she knew. The city council members were a type of human too. And they along with the mayor had made the ban, whoever begged and busked would be punished by imprisonment.

“Yes, yes. We beg and busk every day. But we’ve never been punished.” Gupris grinned. Her four friends laughed.

“Oh, so you’re all asking to be punished, are you?” Karidun hurriedly rummaged for his cellphone in his pocket. He muttering to himself, the leftover food still not yet gone from the corners of his mouth. Gupris and her four friends laughed again.

“Hang on. I’ll call for a city police patrol car to grab you guys. Just hang on. I’m the security who calls the city police. So they’ll be right here.”

“What’s the city police anyway?” Gupris stared up at Karidun. But there was no answer.

As Karidun was busy with his cellphone, Gupris turned to face her friends. She whispered. The four friends nodded together. Then they glanced to the side. The traffic lights was showing red. Two large empty trucks with open trays and an expensive car were pulled up. The light changed to yellow, then to green. Gupris moved the fastest, the others following. They deftly jumped up like monkeys as the big truck with the open tray began to move off. Then they waved wildly to watchman Karidun.

“Hey mister watchman, we’re off to Tegal, then Cirebon. Then to…, then, then… If you want to punish us, chase us there, OK, mister?” Gupris shouted as she laughed. The four friends danced wildly on the truck as it sped off. Gupris’ voice was still audible, but grew fainter and fainter. The cement truck drove on into the distance headed north in the direction of the city of Tegal.

The Karangasu intersection would continue to be busy but it was left behind by Gupris and her four friends. The five street kids who were still just young children had gone on a journey. They would wander through Tegal, Cirebon, and who knows where else. Watchman Karidun was still standing on the corner at the intersection. He stared at the sign that announced the ban on begging he had just built that morning. Oh, and once the sixty by one hundred centimeter sign was up it had immediately proved its potency. Five street children had left the Karangasu intersection. Watchman Karidun was proud because he felt he had done a good job. Or, had he. Because the vision of Gupris’ cute face and two pigtails continued to linger before his eyes. The voice of Gupris as she spelt in a halting voice, “…what is punished by imprisonment?…” continued to ring in his ears too.


They Spelt The Begging Ban (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was published in Kompas Daily on 15 September 2019. (Retrieved from Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis.)

Ahmad Tohari, was born in Banyumas, June 13, 1948. He now lives in the village of Tinggarjaya, Jatilawang, Purwokerto in Central Java province. His most popular work is the novel trilogy Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk. His collections of short stories include Senyum Karyamin, Nyanyian Malam, dan Mata yang Enak Dipandang. Other works includes the novels: Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Bclantik (2001), dan Orang-orang Proyek (2002).

*On dangdut check out https://www.britannica.com/art/dangdut.

You’ll probably also enjoy the film Jalanan https://www.youtube.com/user/jalananmovie

A Deep Dive Into Problematic Aspects of Indonesia’s Criminal Code Bill

Also take a look at Criminal Code Bill: Smells of Colonialism, Minimal Protections for the Public! Approval Must Not Be Forced Through!

New Book: Race, Islam and Power

Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia

By Andreas Harsono

(Jakarta) – Political changes in post-Suharto Indonesia have triggered ethnic and religious violence across the country, says a book by Andreas Harsono, a veteran Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, that was published today.

The 280-page book, Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia, was published by Monash University Publishing a week before Indonesia’s general elections on April 17, 2019. Harsono spent five years travelling around Indonesia, from the westernmost island of Sabang to its easternmost city of Merauke in West Papua, from Miangas Island in the north, near the Philippines border, to Ndana Island, near the coast of Australia. Harsono’s journey took him to more than 90 locations, including 41 small towns and 11 remote islands. Many of those locations were the sites of either state or communal violence. (Read more here or here.)

Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia by Andreas Harsono
Race, Islam and Power: Ethnic and Religious Violence in Post-Suharto Indonesia by Andreas Harsono

Proyek Tahun 1619 The New York Times

Pada tahun 1619, sebuah kapal muncul di cakrawala ini, di dekat Point Comfort, salah satu pelabuhan di pantai jajahan Inggris yang bernama Virginia. Kapal tersebut membawa lebih dari 20 orang budak Afrika, yang akan dijual kepada para pendatang baru di koloni itu. Semua aspek kehidupan negara yang terbentuk di sini terpengaruh oleh terjadinya perbudakan yang berlanjut selama bertahun-tahun kemudian. Pada peringatan 400 tahun dari momentum yang amat menentukan itu, akhirnya sudah tiba saatnya untuk menceritakan kisah kita dengan jujur.

Proyek Tahun 1619

Proyek Tahun 1619 adalah inisiatif utama dari The New York Times untuk memperingati peringatan 400 tahun dimulainya perbudakan di Amerika. Inisiatif ini bertujuan untuk merumus kembali sejarah negara ini, memahami tahun 1619 sebagai permulaan negara kita yang sebenarnya, dan mengetengahkan konsekuensi dari perbudakan dan kontribusi orang Afrika Amerika di kisah yang kita ceritakan kepada diri kita sendiri tentang siapa kita. (Baca lebih lanjut di https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html)

Baca juga Aku, Juga

The Art of Liberation & The Liberation of Art

Manifesto of the New Art Movement 1987
1987 Manifesto of the New Art Movement

THE ART OF LIBERATION
THE LIBERATION OF ART

The art of liberation is an approach to expression that is grounded in an awareness of the need for the liberation of the definition of art. The forms taken by this expression prioritize declaration and the spirit of exploration, grounded in an aesthetic of liberation.

The Art of Liberation The Liberation of Art
The Art of Liberation, The Liberation of Art

The liberation of art is the endeavor to change the definition of art. It is conscious of the principle that art is an indicator of plurality, which is grounded in a variety of frames of references. The definition of art that is recognized and in force currently is shackled to: painting, sculpture and graphic design, that is, art that is locked to one frame of reference, namely, that of art as “High Art”.

(I) Observing:

The definition of art as encompassing expression in only three fields, namely painting, sculpture and graphic design is devoid of a conceptual framework.

(II) Considering:

The definition of the Indonesian term seni rupa is based on a direct translation of the term “fine arts,” descending from a Latin definition from the Renaissance of la belle arti del disegno.

New Art Movement Exhibition 1987 Project 1: Supermarket Fantasy World Sticker Car
New Art Movement 1987 Exhibition, Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 Sticker Car http://archive.ivaa-online.org/events/detail/14

(III) Concluding:

It is not fully understood that this definition of art is rooted in the principles of artes liberales (Liberal Arts) from the frame of reference of “High Art” elaborated during the Renaissance in the sixteenth century, an outlook that believes in the existence of only one (high) culture and the one type of art which it has produced.

(IV) Declaring:

That art is an expression of plurality. That culture has a variety of frames of reference.

(V) Declaring:

The current definition of art is the result of adaptation devoid of conceptual thinking, lacking consideration of the acculturation of aesthetics.

New Art Movement Exhibition 1987 Project 1: Supermarket Fantasy World Documentation
1987 New Art Movement Exhibition, Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 Documentation http://archive.ivaa-online.org/events/detail/14

This formulation of the definition of art is trapped. The definition of art with a “High Art” frame of reference has become completely impoverished and specific. This formulation does not see the surrounding reality where a variety of expressions of art based on other frames of reference are found.

Throughout the history of Indonesian art, this groundless and contorted definition has held sway. On the other hand, art grounded in ethnic cultures, popular art from everyday life, crafts and design (art with other frames of reference outside the old definition) stand as phenomena which never gets any attention.

This is an ironic curiosity.

New Art Movement Exhibition 1987, Project 1: Supermarket Fantasy World Supermarket
New Art Movement 1987 Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 Exhibition http://archive.ivaa-online.org/events/detail/14

(VI) Paying Attention To:

The only expression of art which is in accord with that definition of art is the only one used by Indonesian Modern Art, part of World Modern Art (derived from artes liberales) in its connection to the principle that “art is universal”.

Due to the inaccurate formulation of its definition, Indonesian Modern Art is also trapped in a narrow circle. Once again there has been adaptation without conceptual thought or aesthetic consideration. Artists and critics of Indonesian Modern Art have in truth become blind and regard modern art – painting, sculpture and graphic design – as the one and only expression of art. Outside this, art does not exist. This attitude has become popular and is seen in the expression: “… is not painting”.

This is not fanaticism for a particular idea, rather a strongly held attitude which is baseless. The reality is truly: confusion. The absence of critical attention to this contorted definition is a sign of this confusion. In fact, there is no awareness of any definition at all. The activities of modern art itself proceed in a fragmented way with painting as the most popular of these.

(VII) Declaring:

Modern Indonesian Artists have made an idiomatic error, using the language of Modern Art but without an aesthetic understanding. They base their artistic activity entirely on incomplete fragments of the history of Modern Art, a belief in the history of art and only one understanding of aesthetics.

Modern Indonesian artists have become consumerist. They regard a variety of concepts of style within these fragments of the History of Modern Art as a source which has to be made sacred and embraced unconditionally. A contorted imitation of lifestyle also happens. A romantic lifestyle has turned into epigonic eccentricity. Internally exploratory individualism has been replaced by megalomaniac egotism.

Project 1 Supermarket Fantasy World Exhibition 1987
1987 Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 Exhibition

This advanced erroneous adaptation has led critics and modern artists into a preoccupation with matching expressions of modern art with a “dictionary” of art history. Modern artists truly do not practice a tradition of exploration.

(VIII) Declaring:

Thinking about art in Indonesia is headed for bankruptcy.

Indonesian Modern Art, the only art consistent with the definition, is experiencing a deep stagnation. It is fixed on the early styles of Modern Art. It has stopped exploring, is incapable of reflecting inwardly in search of the basis for other developments.

Art based on other frames of reference has been expunged from thinking about art. The contorted definition of art has relegated this to obscurity. Art with a background in ethnic cultures has without exception been framed as belonging to the past. Graphic design as the product of technological and industrial progress is thought of as crude art regarded only for its surface beauty. Popular art which deals with everyday life is regarded as the product of mass culture and as devoid of value.

New Art Movement Exhibition 1987, Project 1: Supermarket Fantasy World "No 1 in America"
New Art Movement, 1987 Fantasy Word Supermarket: Project 1, “No. 1 in America/Here” http://archive.ivaa-online.org/events/detail/14

(IX) Proclaiming:

What is needed is the liberation of art. A framework of expression that prioritizes the dismantling of a misguided tradition of art. A framework of expression that is rational and which prioritizes expression based on an aesthetics of liberation.

(X) Proclaiming:

What is needed is a redefinition of art, the liberation of art from the confines of a definition rooted in artes liberales, to search for a new definition capable of embracing every expression of art.

(XI) Proclaiming:

What is needed is the liberation of our thought world from a completely single perspective believing in only one frame of reference which begets one art, only one global community in a cultural form that is complete and integrated.

Jakarta, May 2 1987


(*) 1987 Manifesto of the New Art Movement is partly based on the work of the Digital Archive of Contemporary Indonesian Art and available in the original at Manifesto Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru 1987. It represents the manifesto used by the New Art Movement for the Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 (Pasaraya Dunia Fantasi: Proyek 1) exhibition in 1987.

Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru at the Digital Archive of Indonesian Contemporary Art.