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A Sourcebook on Richard Wright and the Bandung Conference
By Brian Russell Roberts, Keith Foulcher
Duke University PressCopyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
The Indonesian Embassy's Cultural Life of Indonesia (Excerpts) (1951)
In 1951, the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, DC, published a booklet titled The Cultural Life of Indonesia: Religion, the Arts, Education. Published six years after Indonesia's declaration of independence and only two years after its recognition as a sovereign nation, the booklet is a revealing example of the way the Republic of Indonesia, through what was one of its most geostrategically important embassies, was narrating itself and its culture internationally. It includes accounts regarding Indonesian history and literature that provide a window into the mid-twentieth-century Indonesia — and in particular its literary scene — that Wright visited when he attended the Bandung Conference.
The booklet's foreword was written by Ali Sastroamidjojo, who in 1951 was Indonesia's ambassador to the United States and one of his country's most prominent nationalist politicians. A Javanese aristocrat educated in the Netherlands in the 1920s and a member of the Indonesian delegation at the Round Table Conference in The Hague that negotiated the terms of Indonesian independence in late 1949, Ali was a leading figure in President Soekarno's Indonesian National Party. In July 1953 he became Indonesia's eighth prime minister, presiding over the first of two multiparty cabinets that played a significant role in the country's experiment with parliamentary democracy between 1950 and 1957. Importantly, he was also the original proposer of the Bandung Conference, having suggested the convening of a high-level conference of the independent states of Asia and Africa to the then prime ministers of India, Pakistan, Ceylon, and Burma at a meeting in Colombo in April–May 1954 (Feith, Decline 387). In 1955, at the time of Wright's visit, Ali was prime minister of Indonesia as well as chair of the conference he had proposed only one year earlier. So when Wright met Ali while in Indonesia in 1955, he was meeting someone who not only represented Indonesia on the world stage but was also a man whose career epitomized the rise of the Indonesian nation from a colonial state to a country at the forefront of nonaligned political philosophy in a world divided by the Cold War.
In its "Language and Literature" section, the Embassy's information booklet offers an account of the emergence of modern Indonesian literature that is heavily determined by the official narrative of Indonesian nationalism. In the decades since the publication of this booklet, scholarship on Indonesian literary history has come to see the origins of "modern" literary expression (i.e., modern expression via the indigenous languages of the Dutch East Indies) in the hybridized works of early twentieth-century Sino-Malay and Indo-European writers, and has identified some of the earliest creative expression by indigenous Indonesians as emerging from within the Communist movement that was silenced by the Dutch in the 1920s. In the Embassy's 1950s narrative, however, there is no suggestion of cultural hybridity or political radicalism in the conditions that gave birth to the transition out of older forms of literary expression in the language that came to be called Indonesian, or "Bahasa Indonesia." Instead, the history of modern Indonesian literature presented in The Cultural Life of Indonesia begins with the 1933 founding of the literary and cultural periodical Poedjangga Baroe (spelled Pudjangga Baru by the time of the booklet's printing, and Pujangga Baru after 1972). In this way, the booklet defines modern literature in Indonesian as a product of the moderate cultural nationalism that emerged among Dutch-educated and ethnically "pure" Indonesian nationalist youth from the late 1920s. This was a strand of modern literary expression made up of poetry and prose that grew out of a romantic nationalism combined with verse forms and narrative styles adapted from the examples of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European literature that these young writers had come to know primarily through the colonial education system.
From this point, the Embassy's account moves directly to the work of a group of modernist authors who emerged in Dutch-occupied Jakarta during the years of national revolution. Impatient with the prewar generation's romanticism and provincialism, this new group of writers transformed the Indonesian language through a spare realism in prose and symbolist experiments in poetry. They also formulated the concept of "universal humanism" as an aesthetic and cultural credo. These writers formed the nucleus of the groups who interacted with Wright during his three weeks in and around Jakarta and Bandung.
It is particularly interesting to see in this account of Indonesian literary history the Indonesian Embassy narrating the in-progress emergence of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's career. Pramoedya was later to emerge as one of the most prominent voices in Indonesian literature and the country's best-known author outside Indonesia itself. At the time this booklet was written, he was loosely associated with the universal humanist circle, a twenty-six-year-old Javanese among writers and intellectuals who were mainly Sumatran in ethnic origin, and a contributor to the cultural and literary periodicals this group supported. However, Pramoedya later moved away from his early associations with the universal humanist outlooks and into close alignment with the more radical nationalist approach to the development of a modern Indonesian culture. In place of the universal humanists' focus on individual creative energy and its openness to influence from abroad (primarily western Europe), Pramoedya joined the call for a socially engaged art and literature consciously advancing the interests of ordinary people and the national struggle against neocolonialism and imperialism. While on one hand Pramoedya's openness to taking inspiration from Wright (as noted in the Embassy booklet) frames him as aligned with the universal humanists, this same openness to Wright's exceptionally socially conscious writings also may point toward the beginnings, even in 1951, of Pramoedya's later move toward closer identification with the anticolonial and nationalist struggle.
The Cultural Life of Indonesia (Excerpts)
by the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, DC
SOURCE LANGUAGE: ENGLISH
The motto, "One nation, one people, and one language," adopted by the nationalist movement at the Youth Congress of 1928 is a striking illustration of the close relationship of the cultural and the political development of Indonesia. The promotion of a single Indonesian language undoubtedly had political significance as a means of developing unity of purpose among all Indonesians in the struggle for independence; it has even greater significance, however, as a symbol of the reawakened sense of cultural unity.
The new Indonesian language is based on the pure Malayan tongue. The decision to use this language as a base for the new Indonesian language involved historical, political, and practical considerations. The early Indonesian languages included ten major dialects such as Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese, Minangkabau, Atjeh, Buginese, and Balinese with almost two hundred dialects used by smaller numbers of people. All of these languages belonged to a single linguistic group, the Malayo-Polynesian, which includes also the languages spoken in the Malay peninsula and throughout the islands of the Pacific as far east as Hawaii and Easter Island. All of these languages developed quite separately and through the centuries have become mutually incomprehensible. On the other hand, the Malayan language, which is flexible and adaptable, came to be used widely by foreign traders in the coastal cities throughout Indonesia; thus, it gradually became the lingua franca of Indonesia. Because of its use by foreigners this language became considerably corrupted and came to be known as Bazar-Malay, distinguishing it from the pure Malayan tongue.
Meantime, throughout the period of Dutch rule, the Indonesians continued to use their own regional languages and many Indonesians were familiar with several of these. This diversity of local languages presented no problem to the Dutch as no attempt was made to provide education for the masses of Indonesian people. Those few Indonesians who were able to take advantage of the limited opportunities for education were expected to learn the Dutch language, which was used in the schools.
When the nationalist leaders began to consider the problem of constructing a new common language for all Indonesians it was obviously impossible, on a nationalistic basis, to promote the use of the Dutch language. It was equally impossible to consider the use of Bazar-Malay because of its lack of prestige among the Indonesian people. It was also quite universally understood that it would be unwise, from the standpoint of national unity, to promote the use of Javanese as the common Indonesian language, although this was spoken by more than 30,000,000 people or more than half of the total population of Indonesia at that time. It was, therefore, decided to base the new language on pure Malay....
Although the original languages are still used among people of the same linguistic area the new Indonesian language has been rapidly adopted throughout the islands of Indonesia. It is of particular importance in relation to the need for a greatly expanded educational program, both at the formal school level and in adult fundamental education. Extensive literacy campaigns have already been undertaken to teach adults to read and write, and the Indonesian language is used in all government publications as well as in motion pictures and other forms of entertainment. It is also now used exclusively in all schools after the first two years of primary education.
Many of the classics of European, American, and Asian literature, including such works as Shakespeare's Hamlet, Cervantes' Don Quixote, Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and Chinese philosophical works, have now been translated into Indonesian, thus lending literary prestige to the new language. Quite obviously, the development of a common Indonesian language has also been of tremendous significance in relation to the growth of a modern Indonesian literature.
In literature, as in the other fine arts, the 20th century was the beginning of a new epoch, marking the transition from the static and traditional to the modern concepts of life. The literary work of the early years of this century, however, represented primarily a break with the Indonesian past and reflected the increasing contact of intellectuals with the Western world. Some of the European and American authors who have exerted the greatest influence on Indonesian writers are: Pushkin, Dostoievsky, Tolstoy, Malraux, Hemingway, and Steinbeck. The popularity of these authors has perhaps been due to their moralistic tone which is a quality in harmony with the values important in Indonesian culture....
The revolutionary movement in Indonesian literature can be dated from the founding in 1933 of a monthly cultural review, the Pudjangga Baru (The New Scholar). As in art, this movement was an expression of the desire of the writers to stress the liberation of the individual and the full development of the personality; it was essentially an outgrowth of the whole revolutionary spirit spreading throughout Asia and an expression of the desire of the colonial people to achieve their independence from foreign rule. While it was stimulated by the development of the new Indonesian language, it in turn gave added impetus to the growth of the language.
The founder and editor of the Pudjangga Baru was Takdir Alisjahbana, who published his first novel in the Indonesian language in 1929, only one year after the Youth Congress had proposed the adoption of a common language for all Indonesia as one of the fundamental bases for national sovereignty. Takdir was deeply aware of the static nature of both the cultural and material aspects of Indonesian life in the early 20th century. He stressed the cultural, material, and economic advantages enjoyed by the Western nations whose dynamic growth he attributed to the concept of freedom. He therefore believed ardently that the artist must be free to express his own ideas, released from the restraints imposed by tradition, but at the same time he was himself a product of the Indonesian cultural tradition of community cooperation and social responsibility. Accordingly, he felt that the artist should exercise his intellectual freedom not on the principles of "art for art's sake" but, rather, in fulfilling his function as a member of society and leader of his community by applying modern concepts to the problems of contemporary life in Indonesia. The individual artist should, therefore, subordinate himself to the struggle for freedom and should be conscious of the ties binding him to the community....
At the end of the period of Japanese occupation there appeared, under the leadership of Chairil Anwar, a new group of writers, often known as "the generation of '45." This group formed in 1946 an association called Gelanggang ("The Arena"), and their clear and hopeful vision was expressed in a Manifesto:
We are the rightful heirs to the culture of the world, and this culture we will advance according to ways of our own. We were born of the mass of the people, and the meaning of "people" to us is a group of mixed variety out of which a sound new world can be born.
Our Indonesian-ness is not only because our skins are brown, our hair black, our cheek-bones high, but much more because of what is expressed as the true emanation of our hearts and minds. We are not going to give a definition of what constitutes Indonesian culture. When we speak of Indonesian culture, we are not thinking of polishing up the products of the old culture to make them glitter and in order that they may be praised, but we are thinking of a new cultural life which is sound. Indonesian culture is determined by all the voices sounding from all parts of the world, and spoken out with our own voice, in our own language, in our own forms ...
This is a new and ringing voice, expressive of the sense of purpose in Indonesian cultural life today. At the same time, the work of this new generation was overshadowed by the revolution and reflects the deep despair and the grief suffered by the Indonesian people. All of these profound emotions are expressed by Chairil Anwar in the poems published shortly before his death in 1949 in a collection entitled "Mêlée of Noise and Dust."
But these young poets also saw a ray of hope and possessed an undying faith in ultimate victory. Two of the poets who express this spirit most eloquently and poignantly are Rivai Apin and Asrul Sani. Both of these men were very much alive to the world around them but, at the same time, they looked beyond into the future and felt a strong bond of unity with all their compatriots of both past and future generations as well as of the present....
The short story and novelette forms also have had a special appeal to young Indonesian writers. Among the most outstanding contemporary prose writers is Idrus, who also began to write during the Japanese occupation. While his works indicate a critical and somewhat cynical mind, they are written in a vigorous and realistic style.
Another young prose writer who has attracted attention in recent years is P. A. Toer. His short stories and novelettes describe his experiences as a news correspondent during the revolution and his imprisonment. In 1949 his novel Pursuit won the first prize in the competition of the Balai Pustaka, a printing and publishing establishment administered by the Ministry of Education; his works reflect especially the influence of Steinbeck, de St. Exupéry, and Richard Wright.
Perhaps one of the most significant and controversial Indonesian writers is A. K. Mihardja, who has endeavored to delineate in his book The Atheist the moral and intellectual struggle between religious concepts, mysticism, and historical-materialism.
Other writers who have made significant contributions to the modern literature of Indonesia are the playwrights Ismail Usmar and El Hakim, as well as H. B. Jassin, literary critic and arts editor of the weekly magazine Mimbar Indonesia.
The new literature of Indonesia is a rich and dynamic one, which in its diversity of concept and style, reflects the renewed vigor and spirit of intellectual and cultural life. While it owes much to Western literature, it reveals also many attitudes which have developed out of the rich cultural heritage of Indonesia, as well as from the intimate and vital experiences of the recent past.
Excerpted from Indonesian Notebook by Brian Russell Roberts, Keith Foulcher. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgments ix
Bibliography of Translated and Republished Sources xvii
On the Translations xxi
On Spelling and Personal Names xxiii
Introduction. Richard Wright on the Bandung Conference, Modern Indonesia on Richard Wright 1
Part I. Transnational Crosscurrents
1. The Indonesian Embassy's Cultural Life of Indonesia (Excerpts) (1951) 35
2. Pramoedya Ananta Toer's "The Definition of Literature and the Question of Beauty" (1952) 43
3. S. M. Ardan's "Pramoedya Heads Overseas" (1953) 50
4. De Preangerbode's Review of The Outsider (1954) 56
5. Beb Vuyk's "Stories in the Modern Manner" (1955) 59
Part II. An Asian-African Encounter
6. A Sheaf of Newspaper Articles: Richard Wright in Indonesia's Daily Press (1955) 67
7. Mochtar Lubis's "A List of Indonesian Writers and Artists" (1955) 89
8. Gelanggang's "A Conversation with Richard Wright" (1955) 95
9. Konfrontasi's "Synopsis" of Wright's "American Negro Writing" (1955) 106
10. Richard Wright's "The Artist and His Problems" (1955) 122
11. Anas Ma'ruf's "Richard Wright in Indonesia" (1955) 138
Part III. In the Wake of Wright's Indonesian Travels
12. Beb Vuyk's "Black Power" (1955) 145
13. Beb Vuyk's "H. Creekmore and Prostest Novels" (1955) 152
14. Asrul Sani's "Richard Wright: The Artist Turned Intellectual" (1956) 159
15. Frits Kandou's "Richard Wright's Impressions of Indonesia" (1956) 171
16. Beb Vuyk's "A Weekend with Richard Wright" (1960) 182
17. Goenawan Mohamad's "Politicians" (1977) 207
18. Seno Joko Suyono's "A Forgotten Hotel" (2005) 214
Afterword. Big History, Little History, Interstitial History: On the Tightrope between Polyvocality and Lingua Franca 229
Works Cited 239
What People are Saying About This
"This notebook is a tour de force of comparative literary and cross-cultural historical interpretation. Through meticulous scholarship and lucid commentaries Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher pioneer an innovative approach to Indonesian and African American literatures without reference to cores, peripheries, canons, or English as anything other than a useful lingua franca. This brilliant book demonstrates why scholarly collaboration does the best job of excavating lost interactions between people, cultures, and languages during the big events of planetary history."
"In this groundbreaking account of Richard Wright and Bandung, Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher advance in fresh and unexpected ways our conversations on the postcoloniality of black histories in the West and the tangled legacies of white supremacy in Asian and African colonialism. Indonesian Notebook's rich layering of Indonesian sources makes this book an indispensable addition to Wright scholarship and reminds us that the quest for equality must confront the stubborn local socioeconomic realities throughout the globe."
"An invaluable guide to Richard Wright and to a transnational American studies with new geographical coordinates. Gathering together the documents—Indonesian and Dutch as well as English—written before, during, and after Wright's participation in the 1955 Bandung Conference, Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher go behind and beyond The Color Curtain, giving us a fresh window on a key historical moment."