Indonesia is the guest of honor at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, which takes place in October. This very interesting article (in English) talks about the culture of reading in Indonesia and why Indonesia was chosen for this honor.
Strangely, the article does not mention the popular Ubud Writers Festival. Other than that omission, I think the article gives a fair and accurate description of how Indonesians interact with literature. There’s a lot of orality still in the souls of the people — it’s possible to argue they have never developed a “print culture.” While there are avid readers who read fiction written in the Indonesian language, there’s never been a core of literary writers who write in Bahasa Indonesia. So if you want to read good-quality literature and you are Indonesian, you’re probably reading it in English.
The article also politely does not mention the piracy issue. The publishing industry in Indonesia produces a lot of unauthorized copies of books, including many translations (many of them very poor) for which no permissions were obtained.
The wonderful Lontar Foundation, which translates classic Indonesian literary works into English, is mentioned in the article.
You can now find Indonesian books that have been translated into English here. About 20 to 30 books will be translated into German. (Maybe I will FINALLY be able to read the sequels to Laskar Pelangi, by Andrea Hirata, in English!)
P.S. The English translation of Laskar Pelangi, a heartwarming story with a fine Indonesian flavor, is available under the title The Rainbow Troops. Here’s an article about the translation of that extremely popular best-selling novel.
If you are interested in Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of Indonesia, here is a post I wrote about learning to read and write in Bahasa Indonesia.
I just downloaded this free app, and it’s a great, easy way to get started with the Indonesian language:
The English is spoken by an American native speaker, and the Indonesian is spoken by an Indonesian native speaker.
Give it a try! I’m reviewing so I don’t lose all that I learned.
I’m back in the United States now, after living in Bandung, West Java, for 10 months. I have to say I’m happy to be home. I enjoyed many things about my stay in Indonesia, including and especially the people I met there, but it is not an easy place to live in — especially the cities, including Bandung, because of the ever-present traffic jams, overcrowded streets, and lack of public transportation. Sidewalks are poorly maintained, where they exist at all, and so walking is not pleasant.
A returning Fulbrighter must write a lengthy report in an online form. I have started this, but it will take some time to complete it. After that’s done, I’ll come back here and add some thoughts to this blog.
I have updated the > Tips < page here, with new information about the “Exit Permit Only” (EPO) and excess baggage fees on international flights. If you are a new Fulbright Scholar preparing to go to Indonesia, you should read the parts about the KITAS, immigration and police, and luggage fees. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to try to answer them.
According to an editorial in today’s Jakarta Post, people in Indonesia will not have any chance to see much of the Olympics on TV. Of course, Indonesians might be able to watch some events on YouTube … if they can tolerate the impossibly slow Internet connections that are par for the course here, in the world’s third-largest democracy.
Schedule and results page: Official London 2012 Olympics site.
Indonesian sports TV channels do spend big money to show European soccer, Formula One and MotoGP races, and boxing, according to the Jakarta Post editorial — but they don’t care about airing the Olympics, so they won’t be doing so. Neither will the big commercial networks here.
Instead, the modestly funded national broadcaster, TVRI:
will broadcast Olympic coverage for 6 hours a day: 2 hours early in the morning and 2 more in the afternoon and evening. The final matches in soccer, tennis, basketball and badminton — the only sport in which Indonesia stands a chance of winning a gold medal — will also be aired live. (Source)
Everywhere around the world, people are inspired by watching the Olympic competitions. I don’t even care about sports most of the time, but I love watching the Olympics!
So I feel sorry for the majority of Indonesians, too poor to afford cable television, restricted by inadequate Internet access, shut out by a lack of TV reporting in the Indonesian language, and unable to join the rest of the world for two weeks of global togetherness.
No wonder the Indonesian teams won only 4 or 5 medals in each of the last two Olympics! And this is the fourth-largest country in the world, with a population of about 250 million.
But the bigger loss for Indonesian people is that they miss out on a kind of sharing that crosses international boundaries and tensions and even surmounts hatred. Watching the Olympics is a kind of learning experience for the soul, where sometimes you find yourself cheering for athletes from countries you never heard of because their stories are so compelling. It’s a grand pageant, a celebration of human achievement.
What a pity the Indonesian people can’t join in!
I have been studying the Indonesian language since May 2011, and now I can speak it well enough to have a simple conversation — a very simple conversation, nothing too complicated (I’m not at all quick at learning new languages). I don’t know enough to give a lecture completely in Bahasa Indonesia, unfortunately.
People speak a similar language in three other countries: Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. There are numerous differences in word meanings between their language and the official one in Indonesia (example: kereta for car in Malaysia; mobil for car in Indonesia, where kereta means a horse cart), but the grammar is the same.
Here is my favorite example of what makes Bahasa Indonesia difficult for me:
- Itu rumah besar. (That is a big house.)
- Rumah itu besar. (That house is big.)
- Rumah besar itu. (The [that] big house.)
- Rumah yang besar. (The house that is big.)
Bahasa Indonesia is the national language of Indonesia, and it’s the language of instruction in the schools and in most universities. However, for most people here, it is not their first language. There are 726 regional languages in Indonesia (source). Javanese has the most speakers (75.2 million), and Sundanese (27 million), which is spoken in and around Bandung, where I live, is the second most common. Of all those regional languages, 13 account for almost 70 percent of the population of Indonesia — so some of them have few few living speakers today.
When Indonesia became a nation, after World War II, there had already been a long campaign to establish Bahasa Indonesia as the national language, in part because both Javanese and Sundanese have hierarchical levels for speaking to people of higher or lower status, and in part because it was smarter to choose a language that was not the property of any single ethnic group in the new nation.
Some interesting things I have learned about language here:
(1) In Yogyakarta I met an American anthropologist who has been studying life in a particular village near there for about 40 years. He had made regular visits to the village annually for many years, but recently he had been absent for about 10 years because of obligations in the United States. I asked him what had changed the most in that time, and his answer was the language of the young people. Ten years ago, when teens were hanging around, they usually spoke in Javanese to one another. Now they speak mostly Bahasa Indonesia.
(2) There’s an idea that Indonesians whose first language is a regional one, and who speak that language at home with their parents, will be adept at learning foreign languages later on, because when they go to school at age 6 or 7, they must do everything in Bahasa Indonesia.
(3) My teacher of Bahasa Indonesia did not learn any regional language as a child, because her parents, who met as university students, had each come from a different language group. So when her parents speak to each other, or to their children, they always speak in Bahasa Indonesia — they don’t have any other language in common. (She mastered English while living in America for two years as a high school student while her father completed his graduate studies there.)
(4) Many people from farming communities in Central Java, where Javanese is spoken, come to Bandung to find work. So even in a Sundanese region, their children’s first language might be Javanese. According to one of my colleagues, however, teens around here like to use the Sundanese language, so it’s common for high school students to converse in a mix of Bahasa Indonesia and Sundanese — maybe with a fair amount of English thrown in — even if their first language was Javanese.
(5) According to my teacher of Bahasa Indonesia (guru bahasa saya), who also teaches courses in formal Bahasa Indonesia to native speakers, many Indonesians find it challenging to write correctly in the national language. They can speak fluently, and to the ear, their spoken Bahasa Indonesia is very correct. But writing the language demands more structure, some different verb forms, and more attention paid to prepositional words such as pada. (You can shorten and compress a lot in speaking, but in written language, you should not.) A Fulbright colleague who grew up in Indonesia but was educated in the United States told me there is very, very little emphasis on reading or writing in the Indonesian schools, and he says that accounts for the poor writing skills of many educated Indonesian people.
Bahasa Indonesia is the third foreign language I have studied. I had three years of Spanish in high school and one full year at university. My vocabulary is okay, but the verb forms still confound me. I had two years of spoken and written Japanese at the Japan Society in New York, 20 years ago, but I’ve forgotten most of it; the kanji ultimately defeated my efforts. I really enjoy learning Bahasa Indonesia, and I hope I’m able to continue after I return home.
This post was inspired by an opinion column in today’s Jakarta Post, written by A. Chaedar Alwasilah: Government indifference hindering literacy in local languages. I was also fascinated by this account of translating from English to Bahasa, by Indonesian author Julia Suryakusuma: Mind your (Indonesian) language! (also from the Jakarta Post).
P.S. As Indonesia is the fourth-largest country in the world (population about 250 million*), it might be time for the rest of the world to pay more attention to Bahasa Indonesia. Add to that Malaysia (29 million), Singapore (5 million), and Brunei (only 400,000), and the number of speakers of Bahasa Indonesia clearly exceeds that of speakers of Japanese (Japan: 126 million people), for example, and maybe even of French (add up the populations of France, Quebec, Haiti, etc.; then add in north Africa; one total I found for French speakers worldwide is 126 million). However, the reasons for learning the Indonesian language rest mainly on spoken communication, as there is not a large literary corpus.
* All population figures from Index Mundi, 2012.
On my third visit to Yogyakarta, I ate gudeg for breakfast with Pak Lukas of Atma Jaya University.
Gudeg is cooked jackfruit (nangka), stewed for many hours with palm sugar (gula merah) and various spices. Delicious! Although it looks very caramelized in the close-up above, it is much less sweet than American candied yams; the flavor is more complex than that, and the taste is more than just sweetness.
Lukas picked me up at 8 a.m. and took me to this resto on the north side of the campus of Gadjah Mada University. It was a very clean and pleasant street, lined with many small businesses. This restaurant is rather large, although it was not very full at that hour.
The gudeg is in the front. Clockwise: Beef skin (no thank you), a hot pepper, delicious tofu of a type I had not eaten before (amazing — the endless variety of tofu here), stewed chicken thigh and a hard-boiled egg (both hiding under the tofu).
Lukas mentioned that it’s nice to eat gudeg first thing in the morning because most places are cooking it at night (it must be cooked for hours), so the morning is when it’s freshest. Only a few places will cook it during the day, so if you eat gudeg in the evening, it’s probably been sitting around since last night. Ugh!
Here’s the menu from our gudeg restaurant today. Fifteen variations, but every one includes gudeg and rice (nasi). Rp 9,000 is slightly less than $1 U.S. Paha atas is chicken thigh, and dada is chicken breast. We had Paket 13, less than $3 U.S., and quite a lot of food for breakfast!
Below you’ll see me, after eating, standing on the sidewalk beneath the restaurant’s sign.