A Trace of a Long Journey

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Maman S. Mahayana

Literature is a spirit of culture. It is born from a very complicated process of the author anxiety upon the social condition and a tension between individual and his surrounding culture. Literature is also frequently located as the social portray. It reveals the particular society at the particular time. It is sometimes considered to voice the spirit of its period. And it is there that literature gives the specific understanding about social situation, belief system, ideology, and individual expectation which is basically represent the culture of the nation.

In this context, studying literature of a nation is fundamentally similar to an effort to understand the culture of the nations. In other words, learning culture of a nation will be incomplete if the existence of literature of the nation is neglected. The position of a culture does not only represent the social condition in a particular period, but also a reflection of a thought development and culture of the related society.

Indonesian literature, as any other literature in any nation, is basically a social portray of its society. It is related with the journey of the nation. It is also a cultural anxiety as well as a manifestation of the national thought. It is also seen in the journey of the Indonesian culture since its birth until the present day.

During the Balai Pustaka Period (1920-1933) for example, we see, the literary works at this time show its concern with the cultural problem when the Indonesian face Western culture. The tension between tradition and western influence is manifested in the fictional character representing the old (traditional) and the youth (modern). The tension is also seen from the theme proposed in the literature at this period. The customary problem related to marriage and woman position almost dominate the Indonesian novel in this period.

In poetry, the cultural problem is seen from the tight obedience to rules of the form of traditional literature such as pantun or syair. Though Muhammad Yamin introduces sonnet (:western culture), the rhyme is still dominated by the pantun pattern. Meanwhile, the theme seems to propose the nationality concept, although Muhammad Yamin still concern with the Sumatra Island scope.

In drama, Rustam Effendi in Bebasari (1926) symbolically offers the struggel against the foreign domination (Dutch). The kidnap of Sita (Motherland) by Rahwana (colonial) finally won by Rama symbolizing Indonesian youth. Symbolically, this drama has proposed the nationality concept and the importance to fight against colonialism.

In the mean time, ideologically, literature, particularly ones published by Balai Pustaka show that the novels published by this board go along with the ideology of the Dutch colonialism. Balai Pustaka as the publishers managed by the Dutch government, of course has its own ideological interest. Therefore, it is common that the novels also bring the interest of the colonial ideology.

During the Pujangga Baru Period (1933-1942), tension between west and east seems not only in the Cultural Polemic, but also in their attempt to translate the ideas into the works. So, we can see the poems of Amir Hamzah tend to express the Sufism and old Malay vocabulary (East) He also frequently translate the literature from the |East, particularly India. Baghawas Gita and other Chinese poem translation is one attempt to introduce East literature. Different fro Amir Hamzah, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana cries out loud to advise Indonesian to imitate the west. It is the only way, according to him, that the Indonesian will reach the progress. One of Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana novel which seems to bring his idea about the west Spirit is Layar Terkembang.

At that time, the Indonesian poem has left the stuyle of pantun or syair. The influence of the west Romanticism –through the ’80’s Generation (De Tachtiger Beweging)Dutch – was accepted with adaptation. Poetry is not only the mean for bringing the ideal world, but also a mean for disseminating awareness about the greatness of the past. Pujangga Baru romanticism is born not only the anxiety of the moral decadence,spirituality and the environment destruction, but only to express a new way in Indonesian poetry.

Drastic change in the social, culture, and politics and Indonesia takes place after the arrival of the Japanese replacing the Dutch position. During the Japanese occupation (March 1942 – August 1945). all potential is focused on the war purpose. Therefore, literature is also used as a mean of Japanese occupation propaganda enhancing the spirit of Great East Asia. The Indonesian literary life during this period is heavily influenced by the socio-political, and economic condition. The collide of economy in this period place literature in the lowest position, which in turn influence the life of the literary men. Making creation for money become the rational choice. Therefore, short-stories and poems are many more numbers than novel. Playwright also have a good position at this time because drama performance is considered a more effective propaganda. Therefore, Japanese occupation government provides many stages and theaters for disseminating their propaganda through drama performance.

After independence, August 17, 1945, awareness of national sense and the important to face the new world becomes a trend which manifests in literary works published in this period. Chairil Anwar emerges with his poems full of spirit and vitality. Along with Asrul Sani and Rivai Apin, Chairil Anwar publishes Tiga Menguak Takdir (Three Reveals Destiny) ( 1949) showing the refusal to the spirit of Pujangga Baru. Tiga Menguak Takdir can be considered as a double blade knife: (1) carrying the spirit of struggle that the nation future heavily relies on the resistance not to surrender to destiny; (2) refuses all ideas as suggested by Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, that (i) national culture should not be decided by the west but by oneself:”We are the legitimate heritage from the global culture and we will develop this culture with our own way.” (ii) it is not anymore necessary the form of expression in the poem use the stylistic and bombastic language, but with the everyday language and direct. Chairil Anwar who is the key person of 45 Generation seems to be a strong model in the map of Indonesian poetry. His influence is very significant even to the subsequent period.

In prose – novel and short story – bitter experience during the Japanese era and the trauma of independence war (1945-1949) becomes the inspiration for the Indonesian prose writers. Therefore, Idrus raise the bitterness during the Japanese occupation, Pramoedya Ananta Toer explores his own experience becoming a gurella and struggles against the Dutch. So do Mochtar Lubis, Balfas, Toha Mohtar, Subagio Sastrowardojo, Nugroho Notosusanto, and other Indonesian novelist who were raised in the revolution era. |They write their war experience as a bitter tragedy of humanity, and on the other hand they write them for disseminating the spirit of nationalism.

Entering the 1950’s decade, Indonesian literature undergoes the spectacular period. In addition to the war theme, spirit of regionalism and existentialism philosophy begin to emerge. Sitor Situmorang, Nasjah Djamin, and especially Iwan Simatupang are several names who enthusiastically introduce existentialism philosophy into his works. Iwan Simatupang later becomes one of the most prominent writer when his novels are published after September 30, 1965 tragedy.

In the early decade of 1960’s (1961-1965) Indonesian literary life in particular and the cultural life in general are not very appealing. At this time, “Politics is the Commander” slogan has position politics above everything. Literature and culture have been put as the political struggle. There are a lot of pros and cons. Indonesian literary persons has been separated into several fractions, which leads into two poles: a group of literary men who bring the spirit of universal humanism and the ones who propose culture and literature as a mean of political struggle with the emphasis that literature should struggle for people interest. The first group declares their mission through what is called “Manikebu” (Manifesto Kebudayaan or Cultural Manifest) and the second one is grouped into Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (People Culture Institution or abbreviated into Lekra) which is the communist affiliation.

The life of culture and literature was in the worst condition. The different opinion and ideology become the physical conflict and a sequence of terrorism. The ban of Manifesto Kebudayaan indicates the exile of manifest group from various cultural aspect although they keep moving for struggle.

The breakout of September 30, 1965 which leads the wave of student demonstration destroy communism life from nationally political life. Lekra as the Indonesian Communist Party’s affiliation automatically becomes the victim. The manifest group looks like coming out from the death hole. Then they bring the protest works. Taufiq Ismail, the key person of this group, carry his struggle through poems. The other poets such as Bur Rasuanto, Slamet Sukirnanto, Wahid Situmeang, are some of his followers. H.B. Jassin, the prominent Indonesian critic, said that the movement is called 66 Generation.

The wave of student demonstration have got the goal by PKI dismissal and turn to the downfall of Soekarno. PKI along with his affiliation practically becomes a looser. And the new regime who call himself the New Order (Orde Baru) conduct cleansing. The literary persons belong to Lekra automatically become a loser: they are captured, put into jail, and the prominent actors are exiled to Buru Island.

The new era emerges in the journey of Indonesian literary journey. Trauma to the political intervention, particularly in the literary life, has brought the awareness, that literature, art, and as a whole, the culture could not be used for political interest. The life of culture should be separated from the political life. There is no more place for politic to enter and disturb the literary life. The assumption that the politics only will destroy the aesthetic of artistic activities become such a kind of important label in Indonesian culture, particularly Indonesian literature. Then, what is the influence to the Indonesian literature when politics is not legitimate to enter the art and literary area?

After 1965 and mainly in the mid of 1970 decade, Indonesian literary persons look as if he got the wider channel of freedom. On the other hand, they refuse political intervention. So, the attempt to exploit aesthetic object located outside of politics is done by the revivalism of tradition, at the source of wealth coming from the literature itself. Here the up side down narration in the people folk literature become one source of their creativity. In addition, the elements of Javanese-Islam misticism, sufism, and traditional legacy can be wrapped or inserted into a more modern poems. Sutardji Calzum Bacri, for example, successfully takes the advantage of mantra for the sake of his own poetry aesthetics which relies on the melodious expression. Through his creed refusing meaning in the word, Sutardji become one of the key person in this decade of literary life. Arifin C. Noer – in Drama – also successful in his depicting traditional folktale and folk theater, such as ketoprak and tanjidor, to be an important element in his drama. Meanwhile, Kuntowijoyo who is born in the Javanese tradition, but also absorbs tasawuf and western philosophy (existensialism), succeeds in producing one novel , Khotbah di Atas Bukit (Sermon on the Hill) which shows the mixture of the influence.

1970 decade – which is later called as 1970’s Generation – is the period of the experimental works. Iwan Simatupang through four novel Merahnya Merah, Ziarah, Kering , and Kooong, emerges as one move Indonesian contemporary maestro. Other names, are still abundant. But however, they have the similar spirit, namely “return to the root, return to the source”

Entering the 1980’s decade until the mid of 1990’s, Indonesian literature runs in a quietness, no sensation, no noise. Several works emerge with the surprising wonder. Ahmad Tohari through his trilogy Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (The Dancer of Dukuh Paruk) awake our awareness to the realm of the grass- root and the marginalized people. Umar Kayam with his work Para Priyayi strengthen the wealth of javanese culture. The other surprise appears when Pramoedya Ananta Toer introduce his tetralogy, Bumi Manusia, Anak Semua Bangsa, Jejak Langkah, and Rumah Kaca (Earth of Mankind, Children of all Nation, Trace, and Green House). All of them are written when Pramudya is in his prison in Buru Island.

Other surprise occurs at the end of the 20th century. Ayu Utami, through her novel, Saman (1998) startles the public because of her courage to reveal the sexual matters in her novel. After that, several woman writers even have more courage in exploiting sexual matters than Ayu Utami, such as Dinar Rahayu (Ode untuk Leopold, 2002),Djenar Maesa Ayu (Mereka Bilang, Saya Monyet!, 2002, and Jangan Main-Main (dengan Kelaminmu) 2004), Maya Wulan (Swastika, 2004).

Long before Ayu Utami, many woman writers have actually shown the significant achievement, such as Nh Dini, Titis Basino, Marianne Katopppo, Leila Chudori ratna Indraswari, Abidah El-Khalieqy, Helvy Tiana Rosa, or Dorothea Rosa Herliani. Hence, their emergence become more apparent after Ayu Utami. It is possible, that this condition occurs after the downfall of the New Order which creates repression. Therefore, when there is a channel for freedom, woman writers appear with their courage and qualities. It is noted that some of them as Fira Basuki, Anggie D. Widowati, Naning Pranoto, Ana Maryam, Weka Gunawan, Agnes Jesicca, Ani Sekarningsih, Ratih Kumala, Asma Nadia, Nukila Amal and Dewi Sartika.

The most interesting thing from a number of the works, it seems that the women were not tied merely on the domestic affairs. They do not talk about the problems in their household affairs, but problem of a woman in her relationship with cosmopolitan society. There the woman became the main character who easily go abroad and makes interaction in the international circle.

In short, the trace of Indonesian literary journey is just a passing sight description. The change in a socio-political-economics-cultural, directly influence the style of expression and themes of literature. Hence, the Indonesian literary journey actually represent the development of thought about the social shift in this country. In this case, literature becomes the social portray and reflect the spirit of its age.


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