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Minke: ‘Everything is political …’

18 August 2011

In the fourth book of the Buru Quartet (House of Glass), Minke is asked by the police to sign a statement swearing that he will not get involved in politics or organizations. Here is how he replies:

“What do you gentlemen mean by politics? And by organization? And what do you mean by ‘involved’? …

“Do you mean that I have to go and live by myself on top of a mountain? Everything is political! Everything needs organization. Do you gentlemen think that the illiterate farmers who spend their lives hoeing the ground are not involved in politics? The moment they surrender a part of their little crop to the village authorities as tax, they are carrying out a political act, because they are acknowledging and accepting the authority of the government. Or do you mean by politics just those things that make the government unhappy? While those things that make the government happy are not political? And tell me, who is it that can free themselves from involvement in organization? As soon as you have more than two people together, you already have an organization. …

“From the time of the Prophet until today … no human being has ever been able to separate himself from the power of his fellow human beings, except those who have been shunted away because they were insane. Even those who become hermits … still take with them something of the influence of their fellow human beings. And while there are those who rule and those who are ruled, those who exercise power and those who are the objects of that exercise of power, people will be involved in politics. While people live in society, no matter how small that society, people will be organizing. …”

This fourth novel, the last one in the series, is even more focused on the political consciousness of the Indies — still oppressed under Dutch rule — through the years of World War I. The narrator often asserts that there is a new kind of person emerging: natives of the Indies who have been educated in the European manner. By their presence in the region, the Dutch have made it inevitable. Yet in the seeds sown by this cultural crossing, the ultimate rejection of colonial rule is also inevitable.

It’s fascinating to hear this story told from the local perspective — our narrator is not Minke in this volume; he is a cultural hybrid himself, a native of Manado who was educated in France. He also serves as an example of the corrupting influence of the colonial system.

See also: Books I’ve read (about Indonesia)

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