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Womb and Women’s Bitterness in Patiwangi

Story / Review

By Ros Aruna
Aug 30, 2018

Oka Rusmini is a few of the writers who managed to master three forms of fiction: novels, short stories, and poetry. This Balinese woman born in Jakarta, July 11, 1967 was first known through the novel Earth Dance in 2000. The novel is filled with Balinese culture is a trademark of Oka’s works in other forms: short stories and poetry. In 2003, the novel received the 2003 Literary Writing Award from Badan Pengembangan dan Pembinaan Bahasa (formerly Pusat Bahasa), the Language Development and Development Agency of the Ministry of Education and Culture.

The Encyclopedia of Indonesian Literature mentioned Earth Dance as a new phase of prose writing in Indonesian literature. It featuring different female characters than the previous. Women in Earth Dance are strong, restless, independent, radical, and rebellious figures.

Not only featuring women as powerful subjects, Oka also wants to break many stereotypes about women’s beauty. One of them in “Pemahat Abad” (Sculptor of the Century) which became the best short story in 1990-2000 from Horison literary magazine. What about Oka Rusmini poems? Still with a strong Balinese cultural background, Oka continues to voice of women issue.

Patiwangi, published by Bentang Budaya (first edition July 2003) is her first book of poetry. Before that, her poem anthologies was published only in limited edition. The title is taken from a traditional Balinese ceremony performed on the noble women at Pura Desa to deprive her nobility, for marrying a lower-caste man. The word ‘pati‘ means to die, and ‘wangi‘ means fragrance. From its name and function can be perceived how the ceremony can have psychological impact for the noble women of Bali who must live it.

There are 113 poems in Patiwangi that are divided into three parts. The first part of “Portrait” contains 17 poems that date from 1990 to 1992-1993; the second part of the “Ceremony” with 39 poems with numbers from 1992-1993 to 1995/1996; the last part of “Totem” has the most poetry, 57 in 1996-1998. In these three parts the womb, as female reproductive organs often appear. The conversation about the womb in this book is different because it is voiced by women with honesty, without glorification.

To The Womb Owner

the strings of my spirit and your spirit begin to color
from the placenta of life-forming constituents
growing toxic fungus
i have no movers
to pour my loyalty to you
because you lend me life

without conscious
you have made the world full of pus
sources of grubs and grudges
sprinkle the stench
on every hole of my life

you removed your woman’s face, and your color
throw my body away
i want to know my own body without you, child
i have new men and children

there is no heaven in your feet

our enmity
a severe spirit hostility


There is a bitter left behind after reading Oka’s works. It is displayed by narrating suffering, anger, depressed women. Illustrated in the above poem how pregnancy makes women no longer recognize her body. The pressure and demand to have a son can make a mother hate the fetus on her body if known to be female.

Voice of Bitterness

Why Oka feel the need to voice women with such a bitter existence? Because all this time, the glorification of the mother’s role and the ability to conceive and give birth to children bring more harm to women. Childbirth has been considered to be a “duty” of women, including raising it. Men feel no need to intervene. The division of family duties becomes unbalanced, especially in Balinese society which also imposes financial responsibility on women.

Oka displays the womb as an unholy, burdening and hurting the female body. This is a scream of despair. That “being a mother” requires the role of men too to be able to “father”. That “raising the heavens” and “enriching the earth” is not an easy task and not a society’s right to ask it all on a wife or mother.

Being Mom

i bounce up and down. punching the ground. separating water.
i imagine the little dolls jumping from their stomachs.

“i’m the mother, sit down, I’m going to hench like
                                                                       a hen.
my stomach erupts. “

(all eyes staring at me, they cling tight.
occasionally fixing a crown of leaves overhead.)

i no longer bounce. a path offers his life
                                                     for me.

“you’ll be female, raising the sky and
                                                     enrich the earth. “

(this time i was staring at the voice, a voice demanding

i started to learn the scent
that broke my body to fiber. i must cultivate
                                                            to field,
a cultivator will plant his seed. complete with
                                                       a sharp hoe.

he will hurt my body
draw blood down to legs.
the blood that embodies the man.
holes that give way to humans.
what do i get?


This poem mentioned that the womb is likened to the field and the planting of the seed is done with a sharp hoe. Then in the end what women get from the process of “giving way to humans” is wound, pain, and eternity. Oka uses the word ‘eternity’ because the uterus, which gives birth to life with barter of pain and wounds, will forever belong to women.

Ownership of the Womb

The womb and other body parts are arranged and owned not only by women. State, family, community feel entitled to it. That is the bitterness that women experience in Oka Rusmini’s poems. Oka wants to reclaim the womb and the female body through the narration of his poems, “do not touch my body | I want to dance! I will not open my eyes” he wrote in the poem Womb.


then waves the ground
break the roots of trees
crumbs herded fishermen into the sea

comes with bare chest
handful of sand
and seawater refused to be salt
one by one drowning her
sand grains freely through her burrow

i want children
whose suckle on to shark

people are coming
her body was leafy sword
their mouths open
while sowing the drums
calling all the priests

the women unravel the hair
piece by piece
transformed into boat

i drift the womb full of seeds
i want an island full of grass
occasionally birds dripping their eggs

go home,
while the sun can not burn your veins
people with swords body throw anchors

do not touch my body
i want to dance
i will not open my eyes
for pulsed meats swept away
in plastic baskets

when women can no longer drain milk
into his child’s bone shell

she put the flesh on it
in a cow shed


So many of the statements submitted “I” in the poems about self-authority contained in Patiwangi. Statements such as “I do not want my body to be touched by another land” or “I do not want to touch you” and “I want my race to die” in the poem “Return to the Earth’s Womb”.

Return to Earth’s Womb

i do not want my body to be touched by another land
except the color of your land

the sun can not tear the decision
the more dripping the washing of the soul
try to take me home

where to start talking
through the leaves
or wait for the sun to fall
gives color to the grass

let the body burn
i do not want to touch you
not knowing you

i know you’re always there
painting my face
teach to braid time
understand the meaning of a human’s journey

i want my feeling dead
in every touch of your land


In the poem “House of the Womb”, there is also a statement from “I” who wants to affirm the authority of self, that she can decide what she wants and does not want to do and on her body. The desire to be a subject, not an object.

House of the Womb

from the blood i formed
placenta that wraps the body
skinning fear
the walls
that hide every human flesh

two forms of being
aligned forces
through time
punching feeling
the sea breaks in togetherness

leaves without veins
preparing their own field of death
flowers closed the petals
my toes and hands
scooped the twisted intestines

from the human womb I came out
the sun penetrates the crown
its light surrounds the body
take me to war

i do not want to be that woman
the wall where i shelter
make a big hole
toast me to earth

handful of blood in hand
scoop up

i’m getting good at wearing masks


It dares to portray the bitterness of women’s lives from stomping statements through the “I” character. Her poems are a call for women to rethink about the womb, the female body, and his position in society. Patiwangi is not death. Losing fragrant and noble names is not a defeat. In it there is rebirth, the victory of women in the seizure of authority over his body.


* * *

Ros Aruna was born in Jakarta, but grows up and lives in the outskirts of the metropolitan city. Maybe because of that she writes poems about marginalized people. She also writes many issues about women. Perhaps because her name means ‘rose’ that is often associated with rape victims: “sebut saja mawar”. Now she voices her poetry through social media. Maybe she can be found on Instagram @rosaruna and can also be contacted via email at hai@rosaruna.com. Maybe, just maybe.

Read the original in Indonesian, Rahim dan Kepahitan Perempuan dalam Patiwangi Karya Oka Rusmini, previously published in her personal blog on June 11, 2018.





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