“Raja Bersiong, the Fanged King, is a cannibal monarch in the Kedah epic literature Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (HMM). By looking closely into the character of Raja Bersiong, this article examines the underlying ambition of the Kedah Sultanate in commissioning the HMM as a rhetorical statement of power, presumably around the early 19th century. By the late 18th century, Siamese predation had greatly destabilised Kedah. Lacking military capacity to deny Siamese suzerainty, Kedah plunged into double-dealing: through writing, the HMM downplays Siamese power by masking Kedah’s subordinate status to Siam as a relation of kin, and by considering Siam as an offshoot of Kedah’s royal legacy. Adopting an approach informed by Hendrik Maier, this article interprets the HMM as an ambiguous text that alludes to the diplomatic desperation of a small state. Such critical lens enables a more complex understanding of court writing as a historical source. In the face of geopolitical insecurity, Raja Bersiong figures as the abject, the symbolic surrogate for Siam to be expelled from Kedah, embodying a dialectics between Kedah and Siam, self and other, civility and savagery.”
Dar farewells me with a firm grip. Then he turns and walks away saying he wants to go home to Jakarta and return to editing a famous periodical. But a moment later, he looks back, before approaching me once more.
“One more time. Are you still sure that what I did was my fate?” Dar asks with a solemn face.
I smile and shake my head. He has asked me the question many times, every time we meet. I just answered the question two minutes ago.
“You mean what you did when you shot seven people dead at the same time? How many times do I have to answer? The event happened fifty-four years ago. Whatever happens is called fate,” I answer, also serious.
“So you’re still sure?”
Dar looks at me but his face is still worried. Then he turns his large tall frame. Unfortunately, he walks away with steps that are not nearly as bold as the figure he cuts. I think Dar is overweight. And like me, he too is greying. What’s certain is that fifty-four years ago Dar and I were both in the final year of secondary school.
Today we’re taking our leave in the yard of a small food shop. Dar ordered rawon beef and rice soup, the oil floating on coconut-cream sauce glistening with fat.
The volleyball is fed in and Dar smashes it with a movement at least two seconds faster than the team on the other side of the net are expecting. The ball fires unobstructed into the other team’s court. A roar explodes, especially from the female students watching. Virtually all the girls in our school always go for Dar on the volleyball court, and maybe off it too. Dar again becomes the center of attention as he prepares to serve. But this time, we have to wait as someone calls him off the court. A cry of disappointment goes up from a group of female students. The person calling Dar off is someone we all know well. Along with two of his friends, this person often takes us for marching practice. And he uses tough discipline. He also teaches us how to raise and lower the flag. In fact, this trainer also teaches a special group of students, including Dar who is tall, how to crawl. Not any ordinary crawling, but how to crawl while you’re carrying a rifle, and gripping a commando knife between your teeth. So brave. That’s the way to storm enemy territory. And also how to disassemble and assemble a weapon. This activity makes the smaller, shorter ones among us feel jealous and insignificant compared to Dar.
Still at the side of the volleyball court, the trainer hands Dar a rifle that doesn’t have a magazine. Then with a tough-looking face, the trainer salutes bravely. This helps create an air full of heroism. We grow even more jealous of Dar, and I know the female students are going to admire the tall guy even more. Finally Dar goes back onto the court, now wearing the rifle, even though it doesn’t have a magazine.
From what Dar tells us, we learn that the weapon is an automatic rifle. It is called a Kalashnikov, or AK-47, and it is made in Russia. Gunfire from the weapon sprayed horizontally, says Dar, can bring down a banana tree trunk by making a gash like a machete slash. And one magazine full of bullets fired vertically can split the trunk from top to the bottom, making a cut like a machete slice too. Yes, Dar’s story about the fantastic rifle always manages to make us seem even more insignificant. Although Dar is still a high school child like us, we really believe he has actually done everything he tells us about.
Once the volleyball court is vacated by the hero, it is as if all our enthusiasm has evaporated. All the more so as the female students also move away. I still remember him. And of course Dar receives more, and more exciting, training. Dar relates that the person training us has asked him to enroll in the military academy later. So he will have to do heaps of physical training. Dar just says yes to the trainer to make sure there are no bad feelings. But in fact Dar has told me he really wants to become a painter.
Dar is picked up. And as their journey takes them into the teak forest, he asks the person who met him, “Where are we going?” Dar receives the reply. “A great task lies ahead of you over there. Only a great youth could gain the opportunity to carry out such a great task. Not even me in fact.”
Although he isn’t satisfied with the answer, Dar is actually reluctant to push for an explanation.
The jeep travels slowly, crawling through the shadows cast by the trees. It stops where the narrow road runs along the edge of a steep embankment. There are several unarmed men standing together down there. Below the edge, only a few meters away, a river flows swiftly. As the sun is already low in the west, Dar and the others are frequently struck by the glare of the bright sunlight reflecting from the water’s surface.
The trainer hands Dar a full magazine loaded with bullets. Dar accepts it with a show of boldness. Without hesitation, he skillfully mounts the magazine. From the open end, the bullets are visible. They’re pointed, copper-headed, reddish in color. The size of fingers. Dar tells me that the bullets burst as soon as they hit their target. If they’re targeted at somebody’s back, the wound is a gaping hole as large as the hole in the back of a kuntilanak vampire. That’s what Dar tells all of his high school friends. Fifty-four years ago.
The trainer smiles as he gives Dar the thumbs up. Dar returns the smile. When the trainer snaps a dashing salute to Dar, he responds with the same enthusiasm. Then Dar and the trainer take a few steps descending the embankment. About five meters in front of them, a woven bamboo panel is visible being held upright by stakes at both ends. Along the center of the woven panel is a thick white horizontal line about two meters long.
Dar senses that he is confronting something and a situation which he does not comprehend. “What is all of this?” he asks.
And the man answers flatly, “I am going to test your accuracy. Please fire at the white line until you’re out of bullets. Let’s go, champ!”
Dar’s face warms because he feels that he has been presented with a challenge. He takes a deep breath, moves his left leg forward, and leans to the front slightly. He raises the AK-47. His palms are moist. He consciously assumes a brave firing pose. Right index finger tightens on the trigger. Rat-a, tat, tat, tat, tat. Instantly the thick white line on the woven bamboo panel is erased by the spray of bullets.
There follows a second of perfect quiet. In that moment, Dar almost screams for joy because he feels that he has become a great marksman. But a moment later, complete confusion descends. Words fail him as he notices a blotch of blood seeping through the tear in the woven bamboo there before him. He also hears something collapse. He throws down the AK-47 and runs to see what is behind the wall. Several bodies are slumped over, covered in blood. Two are rolling down toward the river. Then two splashes sound out and the river instantly becomes red. Dar suddenly feels dizzy. He sways, then faints.
Dar and I meet again a few months later at the small food stall, Dar once again about to return to Jakarta. His stomach is fat and I chide him, “You should eat less. If you don’t, you won’t have a long life.”
Dar defends himself. “Actually I’ve suffered from memory loss all my life because I once shot seven people dead. When I eat, I can forget I have memory problems. That’s all. I won’t ever stop liking food. And I’m also going to keep asking you if you’re still sure that what I did then was fate.”
“Yes. It was fate! It’s a deep scar! It’s our curse!” I answer rather loudly. But the words make my flesh crawl and I can’t hold back the tears.
Maybe Dar’s excuse is right, that by eating all the time he can forget the deep emotional injury. But why does he have to eat another rawon beef and rice soup, and then another? Finishing the large bowl of soup, he stands up as if he wants to assume a comfortable position to belch. I stand up too, but not to burp. Instead, I stroke his belly. “You have to take care of your stomach so it doesn’t get any bigger. That’s if you don’t want to die early.”
The fact is it’s just a joke. And Dar and I laugh together. But maybe it’s bad luck or something, because later it turns out that my words are definitely no joke at all. A few days later, I hear the news that Dar has suffered a stroke. Of course I want to go and visit him in Jakarta right away. But before I can leave, more news arrives. Dar has passed away.
Oh Lord, fifty-four years ago, Dar shot seven people dead. And today he passed away. Well, what can I say? There definitely isn’t any need for me to ask for forgiveness for Dar because You are All Knowing.
Ahmad Tohari was born in Banyumas on 13 June 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 [The Ronggeng Dancer of Paruk Hamlet]. His collections of short stories include Karyamin’s Smile (Senyum Karyamin), Nyanyian Malam, dan Mata yang Enak Dipandang. Other works include the novels Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Belantik (2001), and Orang-orang Proyek (2002). The short story They Spelt The Begging Ban (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was published in Kompas daily on 15 September 2019.
“This article examines two copies of the Qur’an from 18th-century Banten, A.51 and W.277, that contain interlinear Malay translation, focusing on two aspects, i.e. Qur’anic readings and Malay translation, to reveal Qur’anic pedagogical practices in the region…”
(2020). Qur’anic readings and Malay translation in 18th-century Banten Qur’ans A.51 and W.277. Indonesia and the Malay World. Ahead of Print.
The Indonesian Student Pledge: “Motion of No Confidence” By WatchDoc Films
“Motion of No Confidence” (Mosi Tidak Percaya) is a short documentary film from WatchDoc Films about events around Indonesia throughout the week of 24 September 2019, and especially in the streets outside Indonesia’s House of Representatives. The film opens with students marching as they recite the Indonesian Student Pledge, first used during the 1998 demonstrations that led to the resignation of the late President Soeharto.
Sumpah Mahasiswa Indonesia
Kami Mahasiswa Indonesia Bersumpah
Bertanah Air Satu
Tanah Air Tanpa Penindasan
Kami Mahasiswa Indonesia Bersumpah
Bangsa yang Gandrung akan Keadilan
Kami Mahasiswa Indonesia Bersumpah
Bahasa Tanpa Kebohongan
The Indonesian Student Pledge
We the students of Indonesia pledge
To have one homeland
A homeland without oppression
We the students of Indonesia pledge
To have one nation
A nation that blazes with justice
We the students of Indonesia pledge
To have one language
A language without lies
Other background that may of interest includes: Abdullah, Taufik. and Cornell University. Modern Indonesia Project. Schools and politics : the Kaum Muda movement in West Sumatra (1927-1933) / Taufik Abdullah Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Cornell University Ithaca, N.Y 1971 https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7822864-schools-and-politics; Yamin, Muhammad. Tan Malacca, Bapak Republik Indonesia: Riwajat-politik Seorang Pengandjoer Revolusionér Jang Berfikir, Berdjoeang Dan Menderita Membentoek Negara Republik Indonesia. Djakarta: Berita Indonesia, 1946. Print.
Featured image credit: Sejarah Sumpah Pemuda, Tekad Anak Bangsa Bersatu demi Kemerdekaan, 28 October 1928 in the grounds of the Indonesische Clubgebouw, Jl. Kramat 106, Jakarta. Visible seated from left to right among others are (Prof.) Mr. Sunario, (Dr.) Sumarsono, (Dr.) Sapuan Saatrosatomo, (Dr.) Zakar, Antapermana, (Prof. Drs.) Moh. Sigit, (Dr.) Muljotarun, Mardani, Suprodjo, (Dr.) Siwy, (Dr.) Sudjito, (Dr.) Maluhollo. Standing from left to right among others are (Prof. Mr.) Muh. Yamin, (Dr.) Suwondo (Tasikmalaya), (Prof. Dr.) Abu Hanafiah, Amilius, (Dr.) Mursito, (Mr.) Tamzil, (Dr.) Suparto, (Dr.) Malzar, (Dr.) M. Agus, (Mr.) Zainal Abidin, Sugito, (Dr.) H. Moh. Mahjudin, (Dr.) Santoso, Adang Kadarusman, (Dr.) Sulaiman, Siregar, (Prof. Dr.) Sudiono Pusponegoro, (Dr.) Suhardi Hardjolukito, (Dr.) Pangaribuan Siregar and others.(Dok. Kompas)
“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 in joy and in sorrow too
A sense of togetherness and unity flow
From her language with its sweet sound.
Whether in 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 the patchwork island is, there is our language.
My beloved Andalas, land of my birth,
From the time I was young,
Till the time that I die and am laid in the earth
I shall never forget our language,
Remember, young people, oh unhappy Sumatra,
Lose your language and your nation is lost too too.
Bahasa Bangsa was irst published in Indonesian in the Dutch language journal Jong Sumatra : organ van den Jong Sumatranen Bond, Batavia, February 1921. Also in Sandjak-sandjak Muda Mr. Muhammad Yamin [The Young Poems of Mr. Muhammad Yamin] Firma Rada, Djakarta 1954, p. 9. 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.
Other background that may of interest includes: Abdullah, Taufik. and Cornell University. Modern Indonesia Project. Schools and politics : the Kaum Muda movement in West Sumatra (1927-1933) / Taufik Abdullah Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, Cornell University Ithaca, N.Y 1971 https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7822864-schools-and-politics; Yamin, Muhammad. Tan Malacca, Bapak Republik Indonesia: Riwajat-politik Seorang Pengandjoer Revolusionér Jang Berfikir, Berdjoeang Dan Menderita Membentoek Negara Republik Indonesia. Djakarta: Berita Indonesia, 1946. Print.; Van Miert, Hans. “The ‘Land of the Future’: The Jong Sumatranen Bond (1917-1930) and Its Image of the Nation.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 30, no. 3, 1996, pp. 591–616. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/312984. Accessed 22 Feb. 2020.