An Exclusive Interview with Zubaidah Djohar, the writer of “Building a Boat In Paradise: Feminist Literature Resist Forgetting”

What Media Says


About Zubaidah Djohar,
Written by Yasmi Adriansyah, and was originally published in Projecting Indonesia,
Sep 14, 2014


Last August, College of Asia and the Pacific of Australia National University had a seminar and a poetry book launch, “Building a Boat In Paradise: Feminist Literature Resist Forgetting”. The event was dedicated to remembering, as a way to seek justice for the survivors of conflict in Aceh, Indonesia. The seminar was inspired by the later book, which was written by an Indonesian writer, Zubaidah Djohar and translated into English by an Australian, Heather Curnow. The book itself both symbolises and describes people who fail to remember the crimes against humanity that once occurred in Aceh, through the sincere voices of women.

Projecting Indonesia is honored to have a special interview with the writer, Zubaidah Djohar. Thus, we proudly present the ideas and thoughts of Mbak Ibed, she is called, about the unfinished justice for women in Aceh.

Projecting Indonesia (PI): “Building a Boat in Paradise”, what is the book about?

Zubaidah Djohar (ZDj): “Building a Boat in Paradise” is an English version of my poem collection, “Pulang, Melawan Lupa” – which literally means Going Back Home, ResistForgetting. This book was later translated into English by an Australian translator, Heather Curnow, who receives her PhD in Indonesian Literature, by the University of Tasmania. This book is like a spirit who reminds us to remember the country’s history wound, an unconcluded transition justice before we start talking about a sustainable peace in Aceh. Furthermore, it talks about women’s voices, women who traverse the conflicts and women who always are in front line to fight for peace, through the resonance of a literature art.

To go back home also symbolizes an invitation to return to the real Islamic values, that endorse reconciliation, recognizeequal rights and obligations, respect women’s body and existence as well as to regard various races and avoid violence in any forms. It can be interpreted as a self-reflection, to have a dialogue with our souls and understand ourselves so that the spirit of peace and recovery in Aceh can be started from within. However it may be, public has the right to interpret this literature art.

This book is like a reprimanding spirit to evoke the Peace Treaty Agreement between GAM (Aceh Freedom Movement) and the Government of Indonesia in Helsinki, 15 August 2005, 9 years ago. So that the rights of Acehnese victims can be upheld, thus a sustained peace could be established and continued.

PI: What is the meaning and symbol behind its tittle?

ZDj: The tittle signifies those who easily bury their past with endless euphoria. Those who forget how to be grateful. Those people who received comfort and assistance during their hardship, yet at the same time they forget how to be grateful and dozed with the support and material abundance they received. This book is about them who forget to fulfill their responsibility towards other, to compensate their mistakes.

This book is like sculpting a boat in a nirvana island. But when grace and blessing overflows to their direction, they just waste the boat. In the context of Aceh, it resembles when tsunami stroke, trundled the town and its people. But then, God’s hand helped Aceh through the presence of all nations. Assistance and support came from all doors, both morally and materially. Many currencies presented to Aceh, worth to Trillions. Hence, Aceh rose in the world’s embrace. As if without limping! But what happened? Even now after 9 years, conflict-affected communities, especially women and children are still alienated from the peace process. Aceh is regressing, with the increasing number of violence against women, just when Sharia law is implemented. It has high rates of poverty, high rates of young children’s malnutrition, deprivation and environmental destruction, widespread corruption, as well as negligence to the conflict and tsunami victims’ rights, especially women and children. This book serves as to apprise, at the same time to admonish people and a call to act.

PI: This book aims to remind people about Aceh. Why is it launched in English, instead of Indonesian to serve its objective?

ZDJ: As I mentioned before, this book is an English translation of my Indonesian poem version. The objective is to expand the readers and build a greater solidarity, as well as to be a learning study for various countries. The Indonesian version of this book had been discussed in several regions and countries during the year of 2012. Started in Banda Aceh for its first launching in February, then in Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) Jakarta. Later also at the Australian National University (ANU), which was facilitated and moderated by a ANU’s Political Scientist from Germany, Marcus Mietzner. Later, in Padang, Jogjakarta, Semarang, Madiun, Jepara, Surabaya and two events of World’s Poets Meeting, Nusantara Melayu, in Kuala Lumpur.

Discussion and poetry reading in several regions in the country, in my opinion, is part of moral responsibility from a person who works in literature field. The objective is so that literature as a keen and sharp language continues to live and fight in the humanity sphere. To discuss and review at the literature level are important, to keep on strengthening us on the journey against injustice. When political is no longer ethical, violence happen everywhere, arbitrary goes rampant, barren of law and justice fails, then the literature as the language power has become important to communicate unspoken words into readable, to voice the mute or the ones forced to be mute, to facilitate stuttering communication, unravel the tangled communication, to enliven those that are off and apprise the lost. Regardless if there is someone who will be touched or not, will be moved or not, will voice the injustice or not, et cetera. Because one of the literature tasks is to sew the human civilization sleeves so that the humanity clothes are not getting torn apart and gaping.

I’d like to inform as well that all the revenues from the sale of books, both Indonesian and English version, are fully dedicated to support recovery programs and sustainable peace in Aceh, particularly conflict’s victims recovery programs for women. Entire profit, either from the book sale and also book-related events, is handed over to Balai Syura Ureung Inong Aceh (BSIA) institution. There were several cultural evening of fundraising activities through the poetry readings and book sales of “Pulang, Melawan Lupa”, such as for the Gayo earthquake’s victims at the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra, which was held on July 27th 2013. It was kindly held with the cooperation of AIMFACT, PHBI, Indonesian Embassy in Australia and also Australia-Indonesia’s Student Council. We successfully raised funds to support building of a female hall in Aceh. It was channeled through the RPuK foundation, member of BSIA, under the coordination of Samsidar Idar.

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