A novelist, in Europe paid a political group in an African country to stage a coup d’état. The novelist carefully noted every aspect of the process of replacing those in power and wrote about it in a famous novel which was marketed and produced more than the cost of the coup. And you, sipping on your coffee in some little food stall after witnessing a fight between pedicab drivers and minivan drivers say bluntly: Ah, why isn’t the novelist interested in countries in Asia! Then you laugh to yourself, and grumble Why have we come to the point where a nightmare about blood has become the only dream that feels beautiful?
See the performances of plays in my country called Bloodbath in Jember Attack the Country of the White Ghost in Solo Klaten, Semarang, Surabaya and Medan The Terrorising of the Neighbourhood Security Post in Bandung Woyla. Ah, remember in the past the performance of the folk drama that was called Jihad Command. Remember Malari. Remember the hundreds of plays performed whose scripts we did not known and our naked eyes so easily fooled and hoodwinked. Ah, complete dramas not played on a stage but rather played out over the heads of the sea of onlookers. Blood flowing, flowers of death. The foul stench of the saliva of the cunning directors who hide in the hearts of the people. Dramas of a civilisation that plays with lives toys with humanity tells dirty jokes to God. We are very simple people and do not know our Minds are steered bit through the nose and doused in perfume Backsides prodded and we bellow meaninglessly We who are too simple and forgiving chattering amongst ourselves like small children running around with crackers then falling sound asleep after being fed sponge cake and chewing gum. Ah, who owns this land. Who owns the forests being cut down. Tin ore and timber that are officially smuggled Who owns the mines decisions about the future Who owns nature’s wealth now being wasted completely Who owns the changes in the interests of official decisions We ourselves here who owns us. Have we ever owned even a small amount more than just being owned, and owned. Have we ever determined even a small amount more than just being determined, and determined.
A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia: A Collection of Poetry
By Emha Ainun Nadjib
In the 1970s I learned how to carry a burden. In the 1980s I carried the burden bravely and proudly. In the 1990s I started to be overwhelmed by carrying the burden. In the 2000s I almost gave up because of the burden. By the 2010s I questioned why I should carry the burden, and who the actual official responsible for carrying the burden was.
What you are reading is my expression of and impression about, in, from and towards Indonesia, from the 1980s to the 1990s. Anyone reading it is free to decide what the emphasis is, the poetry, the Indonesia, the me, or the shred.
If the reader focuses their reading on the poems in the book, I am going to be very embarrassed. Because if the book were to be entered into a competition for poetry books, and I was one of the judges, there is no way I would select it as a possible winner.
I really want to write poetry. And in my old age I have been very busy writing poetry. However, there is almost not even one that would I acknowledge as poetry. My work doesn’t get past “intending to write poetry,” “there are elements that are intended to be poetry,” or “officially this is poetry, but whether it deserves the name of and passes as poetry, would require a long discussion and complex considerations.”
The fact is poetry has come to a halt in the present era. It is no longer a part of the mainstream values that operate in the civilization of contemporary Indonesian people. It is not even remembered by the leaders of the age and the values they espouse. Poetry has been driven into a cave, and those who deal with poetry have become cave-dwelling creatures with shadowy outlines, invisible to the community.
Indonesia, the national ideology Pancasila, the Youth Pledge, the 1945 Constitution, development, progress, government, parliamentarians, government regulations, the president and ministry, all the way down to village regulations, none of them understand poetry. They do not look for poetry. They do not find poetry. They do not remember poetry. There might be a trace of the word “poem” in the far recesses of their brain, but what they understand is not really poetry. Possibly poetry is hidden away somewhere under a pile of garbage, buried under a muddy patch of earth soaked by torrential rain, or hidden in the gloom and weakly crying out the sound of silence in midst of darkness.
Is poetry really this hopeless in the midst of today’s civilization of hyper-materialism? Is it really so pessimistic for poetry in the middle of the stream of robots and bodies that think of themselves as humans? Has hope completely vanished for poetry in the midst of the life of the human family and the Indonesian nation who desperately pursue the world and material things, but who complain incessantly about the world and material things? In the midst of the arrogance of such breath-taking progress and as they kill themselves to make it into the emergency response unit of the age in pursuit of wealth, position, opportunity, access, assets, and squabble day in and day out about not achieving their worldly desires?
No. Absolutely not. Poetry is not marginal, not marginalized. It is not sidelined or disappeared. Poetry is indeed not food on the plate, a vehicle that is gassed and braked, a house with decor or shopping malls designed by architects to be like paradise. Poetry is not something achieved, but something journeyed towards. Poetry is not something that is held, but a journey to be traveled. Poetry is not something to be grasped or stored in a wallet, but rather something to be cherished and longed for.
Poetry – like the horizon in nature, the sky in the world, justice within sight of the soul, trueness in the recesses of the heart, eternity at the edge of time’s mystery, and God himself who seems to hide behind a secret without ever meeting – is the tenderest point far beyond the spirit, traveled with yearning to return, which encompasses within one speck of the dust of that tenderness the whole of nature and thousands and thousands of universes.
I myself earlier, when that current of energy and magnetism passed right through me whose outpouring is a flow of writings or poems, was captured by the instinct to foster and allow poetry to be a mystery, one which must not lose its essence today. So every day I concentrate on the Indonesia side of it. I am concerned about it, am anxious for it, take care of it. Maybe ever since God inscribed in the Preserved Tablet for me to love, maybe for that reason too I called the book A Shred From the Diary of Indonesia.
Even right up to now, as it is published again, I turn its pages, and my heart and mind is still fixed on Indonesia. But if you go into the “shred” deeply, it feels too broken. Indonesia today is no longer a shred: it’s like an old book lying forgotten in the cupboard, gnawed by rats every night, pages torn to pieces, ripped up, shredded, almost not a single page left intact. It is half-soaked and reeking because it is mixed with the urine of those rats.
A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia holds out a mirror before my own face. I stare back into my own eyes. I behold growth in decay, a baby in poverty, a young man in old age, a future for all those benighted. The wrinkles of an old face in the mirror, unimaginable weakness and helplessness, but there is a refreshing breeze that springs from the depths of the soul: I will take Indonesia into the future.
If you find any letters and words in the book, flow with them into tomorrow. At the same time, invite the letters and words to flow over you, without any limit in time. One day you will be surprised by death, but that is only a bridge crossing…
My God one among the thousands of faults that ensnare the history of our life is the error we fall into when deciding how much backwardness is contained in our progress how much failure is contained in our success how much destruction is contained in our improvement how pressing is the darkness contained in our awakening how enormous is the backwardness contained in our advancement and how much war is contained in our call for peace. My God in our eyes so full of arrogance ever greater grows the confusion of what is to be left behind and what embraced what is of the heights and what of the depths
Emha Ainun Nadjib. 99 untuk Tuhanku [99 For My God], Pustaka Bandung 1983.
“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.”