Date: Fri, 10 Feb 1995 02:17:30 -0400
Sender: Southeast Asia Discussion List <>
From: "Alex G. Bardsley" <agb1@POSTOFFICE3.MAIL.CORNELL.EDU>
Subject: ID: Pramoedya

Pramoedya Ananta Toer,
Excuse me, in the name of experience, (selections)

Translated by Alex G. Bardsley <>
10 February, 1995

Indonesia's best-known writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, recently celebrated his 70th birthday, an event also marked by the recent publication in Jakarta of his memoirs of his decade-long detention on the prison-island of Buru, _Nyanyian Tunggal Seorang Bisu_ (A Mute's Lone Song).

I thought I might post, in bite-sized chunks, (and, sorry, as I find the time), a translation of an essay of his, (not part of _Nyanyian_), "Ma'af, atas nama pengalaman", that as far as I know hasn't appeared anywhere in English. The Indonesian-language original can be found in _Kabar Seberang_, 1992, no.23, pp.1-9.

The original Indonesian appeared in Kabar Sebarang, no.23, (Townsville, Qld.: Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, James Cook University of N. Queensland, 1992). The translation--still a draft--is mine. --agb.

"Excuse me, in the name of experience"[1]

"On August 17, 1945, I became a citizen of Indonesia, along with the tens of millions of inhabitants of Indonesia at that time. I was twenty then. But I myself am of Javanese ethnic origin, and so was born and raised to become a Javanese, guided by the social-ethnic mechanism toward Javanese ideals, culture and civilization. The strength of this dominant, cumbersome education was literature, oral and written, on the stage, in music and song, which carried passages from the Mahabharata: a giant construction consisting of philosophical and ethical stories, religious references and, it goes without saying, social and political proscriptions. Energy, imagination, and effort had been mobilized through the centuries, giving birth to shrines and a whole mythos about successful kings, while reducing indigeneous deities to no more than village gods. For this, "millions" of humans, throughout the history of my ethnicity, were butchered. Naturally the official count is unavailable. What is clear, in line with the opinion of Cornell expert Ben Anderson, is that the climax of the Mahabharata is "a blood-bath among brothers."[2] It is true that, in their own times, other peoples experienced this kind of "village" civilization and culture. The ones who have managed to escape such shackles, those are the nations that rule the world.

At the start of the 17th century, Dutch society gathered together funds to finance sea-voyages in search of spices, crossing a number of oceans and touching several continents. In my country, a dozen-odd years later, in 1614 in fact, the strongest and most powerful of Javanese kings, a king in the interior, of the second generation and himself the third king of Mataram, Sultan Agung, just at that moment smashed the trading-port state of Surabaya, only because he needed his domination acknowledged. Here the irony of Javanese history is recorded: while the Dutch were circling the world in search of spices, Surabaya, a port of transit for those same spices for international consumption, was destroyed by a king of Java's interior, Sultan Agung.

Mataram itself was the second strong kingdom in Java to avoid the sea because it did not want to face the awesomeness of the sea-faring Portuguese. Sultan Agung also failed totally in his efforts to expel the tiny Dutch colony at Batavia in 1629. This defeat led to Mataram's loss of the Java Sea, an international sea route at the time. To erase the shame it suffered, and to defend Mataram's authority, the ethnic Javanese poets babbled,[3] that the founder of Mataram, Sultan Agung's father, had obtained in marriage the princess of the South Sea (south of the island of Java), Nyai Roro Kidul. To show, said Prof. H. Resink, that Mataram still had ties to the sea."

"In the ethnic Javanese chronicles,[4] this same Sultan is praised to the sky while every embarrassing factor is omitted. Even so is history taught in the Republic of Indonesia today. People's jaws would drop if they followed what the Westerners write about him. As for the founder of Mataram, Sutawijaya, on the pretext of a broken promise (so the ethnic Javanese poets chant), he ascended the throne after killing his adoptive father, who had raised him and provided him with all the privileges due a prince. The chronicles bequeathed to us never touch on the subject of purity, [5] something which it seems indeed cannot be found in the Javanese vocabulary.

Beginning with the defeat of Sultan Agung, his loss of power over the trade routes of the Java Sea, and the operation of Western gunboats there, Java's middle classes, including shipowners, inter- island and international traders, were driven from the ports and herded into the interior, where they went into decline. Falling under the power of the aristocracy of the interior, they faded away.

Still the court poets, servants of the power system, left out these symptomatic facts. After Sultan Agung's reign, Mataram-number- 4 promptly made friends with the Dutch. The poets continued to pay no attention. Nyai Roro Kidul was standardized as the lover of each king of Mataram, generation after generation, her power expanding in such fashion she ultimately became a cop. It is strange but true that all this took place at the same time Java was, in practice, beginning to embrace Islam. The spread of this new religion was not accompanied by its civilization, as had been the case with Hinduism, because it was, in practice, a side effect of the chasing of Muslim traders from the sea-lanes by the Christian Western powers, a continuation of the expulsion of Arab hegemony from the Iberian peninsula. One might say the spread of Islam in Java was a side effect of the international Pan-Islamic movement of the period.

Even more startling is that, when this piece was written, Nyai Roro Kidul was already considered a fact of life. One hotel on the south coast of West Java had a special room prepared for this Goddess of the Southern Sea. How can it be that a country with Pancasila as its ideology, of which Belief in One God is the first principle, accept the presence of a sea goddess, the lover of the kings of Mataram? The poets never remember that, [even] with the unlimited power of the Goddess of the Southern Sea, not once did Mataram win in its confrontation with the Western powers that came from the ends of the earth.

Since the defeat of Sultan Agung, Java has remained in thrall to its "village" civilization and culture, while swallowed raw by the Dutch for 3 1/2 centuries. Truly a moving tragi-comedy. Whereas the Dutch arrived with no more strength than a mustard seed, from a people few in number, from a small country at the northern tip of the world, having crossed the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Even in the belly of Dutch power, Java still honored its "village" civilization and culture, with its "village" climax: "a brotherly bloodbath", up to 1965-66. ...And because Java was no longer in the belly of Dutch power, the slaughter achieved a boundless magnitude."

"When as a writer I have to bear so much injustice in my own homeland; physical and mental cruelty [penganiayaan lahirbatin]; the theft of freedom and livelihood, rights and property; humiliation and accusation; even the theft of the right to defend oneself in the mass media or even in court; I can only nod in understanding. It is a pity that power cannot steal self-respect, personal pride, and everything that lives in people's hearts.

The anxiety that the establishment might be disturbed--known since the colonial era as rust en orde, and [later] free--indonesianized as "security and orderliness"--frequently generates ridiculous accusations.

Both before and while [we were] on Buru the charge continually spouted by the New Order, without ever showing evidence, was [that we] wanted to change Pancasila and the '45 Constitution. Usually it was declared in front of a rally or during indoctrination. One of the principles of the Pancasila is Just and Civilized Humanism. By the criterion of humanism, even without the addition of "just and civilized", their treatment of us was quite sickening, even repulsive. The charge of changing the Constitution? Once I heard an officer boast: East Timor? Uh, in two days we can take it. And true, East Timor was latter annexed, the eastern part of the island of Timor that had never been claimed by the founders of the Republic who composed the Constitution of '45. Those two charges without doubt led me to conclude, that what they charged was precisely what they were doing or wanted to do. Because a number of events fit my conclusion, I was frequently inclined to consider it a formula. But later I softened it to: what is stated as X is minus X.

In private conversation several officials deplored my membership in LEKRA. So according to the New Order's image, LEKRA was a criminal organization. To this day I have never regretted being made a plenary member of LEKRA, [or being] later promoted to chief representative of the Institution for Literature, [or becoming] one of the founders of the Multituli Academy, all sponsored by LEKRA. In fact I am proud to have received such great honors, which are not given to everybody, and it would not lessen my honor if in fact it were a cover organization for the PKI. All that has passed, but not yet become history, because as a process it has yet to reach a resolution in synthesis. While I was still on Buru, it turned out the top person in LEKRA and the top person in the Institution for Literature had long been freed. Maybe if I were not a writer, I would not have experienced all this repulsive treatment. But on the other hand, everything I experienced forms part of the foundation of my "authorization" [?: kepengaranganku.] for the days to come if, perhaps, my age allows it and my physical and mental health can still be relied upon.

X minus X really helps me understand the New Order, which they think will be eternal in its newness. As the last round of political prisoners to leave Buru island we still had to perform corvee making two kinds of letters of declaration, in so many copies. One stated we would not spread Marxism, Leninism, Communism, bogeys that they made up themselves to terrify themselves with. The other letter was a declaration that as political prisoners we had been treated properly on Buru island. Legally, these corvee letters were a joke, but with them we could buy numbers for embarkation on ships leaving for Java. How lovely if perhaps these corvee letters were to be stored carefully in the state archives. The papers would become part of the history of how so many Indonesians made masks and angels' robes of holiness for the powerful and their domination [kekuasaan]. A leader does not need a mask and robe.

On the pier in the port of Namlea, where the ship Tanjungpandan [-g?] was ready to board, 500 of the last group who were to depart for Java had already left the shore. A dozen or so were left, including myself. Lieut. Col. Lewirisa, commandant of the last camp, came to me and said unasked and unexpectedly, "Pram, the voyage is straight to Jakarta." That meant X minus X, that our party of a few dozen would not be going to Jakarta. Only then were we permitted to board the ship, where we were separated from the others.

The forced labor camp we had left had at first been named Tefaat, the place of exploitation of our labor, for the rest of our lives: [where we] had to pay to live, for housing, the road network, economy and environment; [where we had] to make wet fields and dry fields from grassland and forests; and [where we] still had to provide food to the soldiers who guarded us, despite the murders of a number of us. According to the written corvee, this must be called proper. Also those who died in forced labor to bring in money. Also the payment of taxes!for whom and to whom is not clear!by political prisoners who performed crafts and handiwork. According to the written corvee, this too must be called proper. And buildings, tens of them, large and small, with household furnishings, all built and paid for by political prisoners: it must also be deemed proper when these are sold to another agency without any compensation to the political prisoners. Also the casual theft of their cattle. And all this really is on its way towards history, but it is not history yet. The list is still long. All the banditry, large and small, will be brought home to this people, my people, who gave birth to a power of this kind. It is not my intention to erect a utopian world with this people, to inhabit an unblemished corner of the world--other peoples also have their dark side-- what I mean is that this people has not yet produced the slightest enlightenment, Verlichting, Aufklaerung. The Brahmins still occupy their position as the accessories to the power of the warrior caste, who live from and for power alone, because indeed they are not productive let alone creative, like before the arrival of colonialism. It is not surprising if in thousands of texts the contents revolve around the "terrific"-ness of the warriors in killing those they think oppose them, and in thousands more texts the contents are prescriptions for the happy life (in a world of stifled existence), and advice on behaving gracefully and well (in a world of a life of "banditism"), and about the spirit world and techniques of communicating with it (in an atmosphere of no longer knowing one's own surroundings).

What Lieut. Col. Lewirisa said was precisely minus X. The dozen or so of us, before the ship arrived at Jakarta, were taken off at Tanjungperak, Surabaya, to be put away on the prison island of Nusa Kambangan, off south Java. Only through the good offices of the international press, which made a ruckus about it, did we finally reach Jakarta, to enter a jail that allowed more latitude. [I have been] under city arrest since the end of 1979 through the end of 1991, without any court ruling whatsoever. Many new accusations have been leveled, which as a writer of course, enriches the material I have to let settle. At the very least, it makes the story of a writer's life that much longer."

[Jakarta, November 1991]

[1]: "Maaf, atas nama pengalaman", _Kabar Seberang_, no.23, 1992. Maafkan terjemahan yang buruk ini.

[2]: Pram is probably quoting from the introduction to Anderson's _Language and Power_: "Claire Holt reminded me that the most loved part of Javanese mythology was an indigenized version of the Mahabharata, which culminates in an orgy of bloodshed between close kinsmen" (p.7).

[3]: "Made the noise of a small gecko."

[4]: Pram pokes at his readers by repeating the word "etnik", anachronisms such as "internasional", and other English loan- words, to alert us (angrily, affectionately) to the way categories such as ethnicity can be projected backwards in the process of inventing history.

[5]: ?--"nurani".

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