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Literary Festival and Ethnic Literature

Blog / Column

July 9, 2015 — by IDWRITERS

Last updated on August 13, 2018 at 2:17 pm

After being a Dutch colony and almost 70 years of independence, so many changes have taken place, among others that the people now are predominantly literate in the sense of being able to read and write. But being literate does not automatically means becoming knowledgeable in Indonesian literature, as we have an ethnic tradition of oral literature.

In the year 1981, I attended the PEN CLUB International Conference in Lyon, France to establish the new Indonesian PEN Centre. Afterwards, as the secretary general of the Indonesian Centre PEN International, I have nominated 3 Indonesian writers consecutively for the Nobel-literature prize, writing to the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. First Pramoedya Ananta Toer, which was objected by a few colleagues, a few years later Putu Wijaya and last but not least NH Dini. After the Pramoedya nomination experience I kept the following nominations for my self to use my prerogative.

Surprisingly in 1981 a poetry festival was held as an opening activity of the Erasmus Huis, Dutch cultural centre, which was a Dutch-Indonesian Poetry Manifestation. It coincided with a few Indonesian writers coming out of Buru Island as political prisoners, after being jailed more than 10 years like Sitor Situmorang, Rivai Apin and Pramudya Ananta Toer. The festival became a real success especially because of those 3 writers, and by the participation of 5 Dutch poets : Bert Schierbeek, Edgar Cairo, Jules Deelder, Remco Campert, Rutger Kopland. I became the chairman of the committee. The festival took 3 days of activities and especially the appearance of Rendra coming down from the mountain with his “white stork” (Bangau Putih) martial arts group. A book after the 1981 festival was produced (published by Sinar Harapan, 1986) with introduction by A Teeuw and me, to witness this event.

In connection with Indonesian literary festival to be held in March 2015 this first International Festival has to be mentioned because later festivals were less impressive or because I did not attended them like the Makasar International Writers Festival start from 2010 or Padang Literary Biennale start from 2012. I was present at the Borobudur Writers & Cultural Festival 2012 accompanying writers from Bremen, Michael Augustin, Sujata Bhatt, Silke Behl and Dudi Anggawi (I acquired a book from Dudi Anggawi about “what’s poetry, Antologi Puisi, Forum Penyair International Indonesia 2012), and accompanied them to Borobudur before they continued to Bali. I missed the Poetry Festival 2013 in Johannesburg because of my son’s doctoral graduation, but they read my poetry at that event. Present were Saut Situmorang and Dorothea Rosa Herliani.

It’s about time now to mention the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2009, it happened that I was asked to give the opening speech imstead of Gunawan Mohammad together with the Australian Ambassador. Many Australian writers came representing tourism and literature, and the effort made by the organizing committee, was more directed to expatriates to come to Bali, while the Indonesian writers were at a marginalized position at this festival.

But it has survived until now. I must admit, I made use of the Ubud festivals 2 times, once introduced my book lyrical prose “Calon Arang”, a legend in Bali about a witch, accompanied by balinese dances. Second time when I introduced my book “Rainha Boki Radja”, where the historian Adrian B Lapian completed maritime bibliography and the Sultan of Ternate was present one of the eldest kingdoms in Indonesia. Regretfully both have passed away, the Sultan passed away last week. Rainha Boki Raja was the story telling about the uprising of the widowed queen of Ternate with her people surrounding the Portuguese fort in 1530, a heroic, enterprise where this fort was conquered. Inspite of this event, she was forgotten by her people, because she became catholic, in a moslem Sultanate. At the end of her tragic life she moved to Goa with her Portuguese son in law and stepdaughter. I am leaving in April to Goa to look for her grave of 1540-1550.

In October 2015 the Frankfurt Bookfair will be held in Frankfurt, where Indonesia will be Guest of Honour, I attended the last year 2014 Frankfurt Bookfair with 3 presentations : a discussion on “A Century of Indonesian Women Literature”, and in the evening a presentation at the Indonesian General Consulate taking the subject of “Post Election Poetry War” next was my poetry reading “The Beauty of Indonesian Poetry” together with Goenawan Mohammad reading his poetry.

In full appreciation of our literary festivals we should take into consideration, the disappearance of some ethnic languages with less than 500 speakers, so there is evidently real concern about this loss in Indonesian ethnic languages heritage and we might as well support the development of ethnic literature such as has been done by Ajip Rosidi for the Sundanese language and literature.

I hope this magazine will be a significant step in the right direction.


By Toeti Heraty Roosseno

This article was originally published in our bi-monthly literary magazine, 2nd Edition, May-June 2015, which you can download from here.

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