zondag 18 januari 2015


F. Rahardi is mentioned earlier in the Dutch section blog as the author of the wise and funny book Para Calon Presiden, where Jesus returns to this world to give some insights related to the election of a new President of Indonesia in 2009. My second book of Rahardi is not less wise and funny at the same time. It has the title Lembata, also published by Bona Beding at Penerbit Lamalera, July 2008, 256 pages, in Wijirejo, Bantul DIJ.
The main figure here is a diocesan priest, Romo Pedro, who returns from a Bachelor Study in economy in Jakarta (Atma Jaya University) to Larantuka. He is sent to the extremely poor island of Lembata, to serve as an assistent priest in a parish. he is in company of a bright and good looking young lady of Menadonese offspring, Luciola. Her father is very rich, through the management of casinos in the big places of the world, Monte Carlo, Las Vegas. She only gives a nice amount of money for the CU, Credit Union in Lembata, but then disappears. (There is a warning of Pedro about the Credit Union: money should not be used for consumption, to finance big feasts, but for investment). Her trips to Singapore, Europe (Monaco, Rome, Lourdes, Amsterdam) and Latin America are in sharp contrast to the sober life of dry Lembata.
On p. 24 the Dean of Lembata gives a summary of the history of Catholicism: it was brought by the Dominican Friars in the 17th century. The Jesuits of the 19th century reformed the liturgy, the SVD brought education and better health care. In the 21st century the diocesan priests must bring prosperity for the poor and halt poverty.
Romo Pedro begins his work in the Catholic parish. At one moment he discusses the expensive wine and hosts that is imported from Australia and the USA. Why should church law not allow the use of local alcoholic beverage, moke and local food, roasted corn chips or jagung titi? Once at Sunday Mass he preaches about the idea and practises it immediately. One third of the parish leaves the church, one third takes from the blessed moke and jagung titi. One third stays in the church but does not participate.
Rome Pedro is summoned to the bishop, comes to Larantuka, but has written already his letter of resignation.
Pedro returns to Lembata and starts a project to grow wheat and grapes. He had saved some money from high school on and is given some land high on the mountain where it is cool and wet during the nights. It is quite successful and this development project helps to give an income to poor people.
There is also a debate about plans to start a gold mine in Lembata: NGOs from outside the island protest, but local people (with a corrupt bupati leading) support the possibility for development.
Luciola tried to seduce Pedro to marry her, but he remains celibate and even is rehabilitated as a priest in the end of the book. Ola, as the lady is often called, discovered lesbian love in Latin America, but visits Lembata again in the final chapter of the book. Her wild life story makes the book more lively than just the pious novel of a modern priest.
The whole style of the book is less dramatic than Rahadi by Mangunwijaya or Saman by Ayu Utami. I enjoyed this book also very much as a third important novel about a modern Catholic priest.

Sayyid Uthman

Among the 19th century Muslims of Indonesia, Sayyid Uthman (1822-1914) is definitely an important figure. He wrote and published many popular pamphlets and books with his lithographical press in Batavia. He was born in Batavia, studied and travelled in the Middle East (Mecca, Hadramaut, also in Egypt (Damietta), Istanbul, Jerusalem, between 1841-1862. From the 1860s on he was as an author and publisher of religious pamphlets and more serious books. He worked close with three Dutch scholars: Karel Frederik Holle, L.W.C. van den Berg and finally Snouck Hurgronje. After Snouck left the Indies, he remained close to the Kantor Agama, the Malay name for the Office of the Advisor of Native Affairs. On 13 March 1913 he held a uite positive speech at a meeting of Sarekat Islam, the nationalist organization. Before he had been very critical of all Reformists: Muhammad 'Abduh and Rashid Rida in Egypte and also the Indonesian Muhammadiyah.
Nico Kaptein has been working for many years on this prominent Muslim leader of Indonesia and published late last year a biography of the man.The book starts with two Malay biographies of Sayid Uthman between his death and 1924, one in poetry (a Malay syair) and one in prose. In a second part of the book Kaptein gives a biography from Dutch sources and from hiw own writings. The analysis of the writings is a very important part of this book (Islam, Colonialism and the New Age in the Netherlands East Indies. A Biography of Sayyid 'Uthman, 1822-1923, Leiden: Brill, 2014).
Last week I visited the exhibition that was prepared on this important figure, with explanations by Nico Kaptein himself.
One of the most astonishing objects of the exhibition is the stone used for lithography: a quite big stone is covered with fat, then the text or the drawings are put in the fat in mirror writing. Ink is put in the empty places and so page after page can be printed. It is a quite time consuming, but also difficult job, because of the very fine lines. If we see the personal character of the writing, the fine lines in the decorations we are astonished to see how this simple technology can create such refined results. Our generation, writing on computers, has much easier technology for the texts!
The exhibition showed some more special objects. One was a photograph of the office of the Dutch consul in Jeddah where Agus Salim was the secretary. On the picture below he is on the extreme left behind the table, still a young man. The Indonesian pilgrims had to show their passport in order to receive a stamp from the consul (and of course to pay for this service!)
Sayid Uthman was not a reformist. He was a staunch defender of what he considered as orthodoxy, but in a realistic way. He did not support any idea of a Holy War against colonialism, as long as freedom of religion was guarenteed, mosques could be built, prayers said, Ramadan observed and the Hajj could be performed in a proper way. Some modernizations were supported by him. He would be astonished to see in Indonesia now so many Friday services in so many places. He defended to right of one mosque in one place and became involved in several conflicts over new mosques who also wanted to offer Friday prayers, including the regular sermon. As to some modern devices he was lenient. He did not forbid to listen to a phonographic recording of the Qur'an, although it did not give the same reward as listening to a live recital. He also allowed prayers for the Dutch Queen and even composed  a prayer at the occasion of the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina in 1898.
There is some kind of a dynasty of ther learned Sayid. The exhibition has a decorated and coloured poem at the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the rule of the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina in 1923.
His grave is still honoured by members of his family in Jatinegara. But now there is also the academic book, published by the Leiden scholar Kaptein with many new details of the long and eventful life of this traditional scholar.

vrijdag 9 januari 2015

The Rainbow Army of Andrea Hirata

During our trip to Japan I heard for the first time about Andrea Hirata from a Japanese lecturer in Indonesian. He liked the books (a series of four) Laskar Pelangi by Andrea Hirata very much. I borrowed the book from KITLV/Leiden University Library. I had some problems with the Indonesian words: daily talk and this brought me to realise that I lived in Indonesia only until 1988, more than 25 years ago. Much modern slang is not familiar to me. So, I decided to switch to the English translation. This worked very well. I read only the first of the four books.
The novel is about a very small and poor school, set up nearly a century ago by Muhammadiyah people for the poor Malay in Belitung, the island already known  at that time for its government tin mining as it was until recently. Bangka is the island for private enterprise in the field.
The tin mining authority has a prestigious school, there is also a good private Chinese school, but the children of poor people, mostly Malay, some Chinese, are the pupils of the Muhammadiyah school. The school is run by a very young girl/teacher, only 15 years old at the beginning of the six years of the book, together with an older man who become sick and dies in the course of the book.
The book is a vivid impression of the world of this school that is not respected by to officials of the Ministry of Education. They want to close the establishment. The building is very poor and it is a problem to have the required minimum of students: 10 for a class, at least for one class. This is a good number and the ten pupils of the class of Ikal (central person of the story who tells from his experiences) are all very different. There is one Chinese boy who also has to learn about Islam and the special character of Muhammadiyah. In the end of the book also a girl from the prestigious school of the Tin Mining Company. One Mahar is very good in music, wins a prize. Ikal falls in love with a Chinese girl, daughter of a shopkeeper, who later moves to Jakarta for her school (and to look after an aunt). Some students are not very intelligent, one is even mentally handicapped. One is brilliant in mathematics: it is a group of different people, but nothing really sensational. The people living on boats, the sawang are described like the Chinese festivals and the coolies and shops of the Chinese. The book sold five million copies since it was published the first time in September 2005.
Although it is about a Muhammadiyah school, there is not much official Islam in the book. The brightest boy is fond of magic, all kind of foretelling and magical power. Nothing exceptional about a love affair between a Malay and a Chinese. Lovely book.

zaterdag 3 januari 2015

The Journey of Lies Marcoes looking for women narrating their fight against poverty

Lies Marcoes was one of my first students in Jakarta, 1981-1983. She was at that time a close friend of Yvonne Sutaredjo, a Chinese-Javanese student from Surinam. The two were quite exceptional. They were the only female students who went swimming in Sawangan, Not only for sport, but also as a protest against rules for the female students in the boarding house at the Islamic Academy, IAIN in Ciputat.
Lies was very keen on field research and she took for her final thesis the practices of a Libyan brotherhood in West Java. She became the first assistant to Martin van Bruinessen in the project on the 'culture of poverty' in the Sukapakir district of Bandung, one square km with about 100,000 citizens living or rather surviving. Lies and Martin wrote a special issue for the weekly Tempo  that was no a report of poverty in statistics, but in lifestyle and personal portraits.
That was in 1984. Nearly thirty years later, and in a kind of sabbatical (although officially as 'early retirement' from het work at various NGO), she has given us another fight against poverty or at least how to survive in extreme poverty in a book written with the Australian Anne Lockley and beautiful pictures by Armin Hari.
I received a copy of the book from Lies during our 'tribute conference' of  18-19 November 2014. In fact, it was not really a gift for me, but rather for my wife. We read it together, watched the photographs and told again stories about the many places she visited for this journey. Most places are known to us: Ende and Maumere in Flores, Makassar and Ambon, Pontianak and of course places in West Java. Lies has made many friends in Aceh and my wife Paule never joined me to a trip there.
This is not a book with statistics (although in the last of the five sections it is underlined that hard figures can be useful in the fight for justice.Its major goal is to give concrete examples that picture in a representative way how women and their children manage to survive, grow up, give help to children and older people. There are abundatly stories of women who ar KK, Kepala Keluarga of 'Head of a Family' because they earn also the living for their husband, whether he is simply a loser, a too pious preacher earning nothing, of simply sick and disabled.
There are also quite a few pages about borrowing money (chapter 5, 112-122). It will be a good and critical appendix to the (too) positive words I wrote in Catholics in Indonesia vol 3 about credit union as the most important welfare activity of the Catholic Church, and other religious institutions, in Indonesia.
Above: this author with Lies Marcoes in our hotel during the Tribute conference of 18-19 November last year.
The book reminded me in several respects of the funny, sometimes also sad book by Elisabeth Pisani, Indonesia etc. Both women have a good connection with people really below the poverty line. They are not too easy with remedies and know that external help can be very good, but does not help quickly and often not at all. Pisani is very critical about formal religion. Lies did professional study of Islam, but is also very critical about traditiona;l (adat) and religious institutions. She has, like Pisani, a special chapter 10 on religion. I read that of course with more than usual interest. The chapter begins with some nice words about religion: 'Religious organisations are often among the many institutions that try to overcome poverty...' (187). But following this beginning there is criticism because religious activities like collecting funds for Dompet Dhuafa often lacks an analysis of the roots of poverty. Religions often only want to remove female from the dangers of globalisation, but do not stimulate them to become active. Six concrete examples are given of this negative influence of religion: 1. a young woman, Sum, who lost her job because she was dressing in a 'fundamentalist way'.  Birth control was impossible for her. 2. Fira was a qualified pharmacist who had good jobs, but then married a pious preacher who did not earn the money himself, but still wanted her to leave her job. 3. Many criticism about the application of shari'a law in Aceh; very young children, pre-school, are not allowed to dance. 4. Prof. Alyasa Abubakar, one of the architects of the introduction of Shar'a in Aceh has consented that children of women who experienced the punishment of caning also feel stigmatised; 5. in not-recognised sects like Sunda Wiwitan and Ahmadiyah children do not have a biurth certificate and they can not inherit legally from their parents; 6. one Anne in Palu (probably a Christian) had a mixef marriage with a Muslim and the difference of religion was a disaster and caused a break in this marriage. Lies also give some positive examples of prominent Muslims, approaching women. Page 198 is a funny recording of female Muslim leaders who visited prostitutes in Yogyakarta and were shocked to see how these women gave everything for the life and education of the children.
Thank you very much, Lies, for this honest, sincere and vivid book. I will read now in a different way the monthly sold by Utrecht homeless people, also full with their personal stories. Our son Florsi did no marry in a formal way and he had to go the the municipal administration before the birth of his two children, in order to have them formally registered also as his children and to give them a birth certificate, but for him this was an easy thing.