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  • Excerpt From This Earth of MankindChapter 1 and from Chapter 2
  • Pramoedya Ananta Toer (bio)
    Translated by Max Lane


People call me Minke.

My own name ... for the time being I need not tell it. Not because I’m crazy for mystery. I’ve thought about it quite a lot: I don’t really need to reveal who I am before the eyes of others.

In the beginning I wrote these short notes during a period of mourning: She had left me, who could tell if only for a while or forever? (At the time I didn’t know how things would turn out.) That eternally harassing, tantalizing future. Mystery! We will all eventually arrive there—willing or unwilling, with all our soul and body. And too often it proves to be a great despot. And so, in the end, I arrived too. Whether the future is a kind or cruel god is, of course, its own affair: Humanity too often claps with just one hand.

Thirteen years later I read and studied these short notes over again. I merged them together with dreams, imaginings. Naturally they became different from the original. Different? But that doesn’t matter!

And here is how they turned out.


I was still very young, just the age of a corn plant, yet I had already experienced modern learning and science: They had bestowed upon me a blessing whose beauty was beyond description.

The director of my school once told my class: Your teachers have given you a very broad general knowledge, much broader than that received by students of the same level in many of the European countries.

Naturally this breast of mine swelled. I’d never been to Europe, so I did not know if the director was telling the truth or not. But because it pleased me, I decided to believe him. And, further, all my teachers had been born and [End Page 165] educated in Europe. It didn’t feel right to distrust my teachers. My parents had entrusted me to them. Among the educated European and Indo communities, they were considered to be the best teachers in all of the Netherlands Indies. So I was obliged to trust them.

This science and learning, which I had been taught at school and which I saw manifested in life all around me, meant that I was rather different from the general run of my countrymen. I don’t know. And that’s how it was that I, a Javanese, liked to make notes—because of my European training. One day the notes would be of use to me, as they are now.

One of the products of science at which I never stopped marveling was printing, especially zincography. Imagine, people can reproduce tens of thou sands of copies of any photograph in just one day: pictures of landscapes, important people, new machines, American skyscrapers. Now I could see for myself everything from all over the world upon these printed sheets of paper. How deprived had the generation before me been—a generation that had been satisfied with accumulation of its own footsteps in the lanes of its villages. I was truly grateful to all those people who had worked so tirelessly to give birth to these new wonders. Five years ago there were no printed pictures, only block and lithographic prints, which gave very poor representations of reality.

Reports from Europe and America brought word of the latest discoveries. Their awesomeness rivaled the magical powers of the gods and knights, my ancestors in the wayang shadow puppet theater. Train carriages without horses, without cattle, without buffalo—had been witnessed now for over ten years by my countrymen. And astonishment remains in their hearts even today. The distance from Betawi to Surabaya can be traveled in only three days! And they’re predicting it will soon take only a day and a night! A day and a night! A long train of carriages as big as houses, full of goods, and people too, all pulled by water power alone. If I had ever been so lucky to meet Stephenson, I would have made him an offering of a wreath of...

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pp. 165-171
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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