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18 the minnesota review Eugene van Erven Encounter in Yogya I am a traveler, I cannot deny it. But not of the aimless kind that one runs into these days with increasing frequency along the meticulously described routes of Lonely Planet Guides, South American Handbooks, and Guides des Routards: a new lost generation drifting towards the twenty-first century and with no other philosophy than to find nutrition for their starved senses. As a ten-year expatriate from the Netherlands, I have a private quest of my own to find my cultural identity. Recently, I found a missing piece of the elusive existential jig-saw in what turned out to be not such an unlikely place after all: the city of Yogyakarta in Central Java, Indonesia. That's where I met Emha Ainun Nadjub, the popular dissident Indonesian poet and playwright. My visit had been announced to Emha by a mutually trusted actressfriend from Manila who had conducted a theater workshop in Yogya a few weeks prior to my arrival. By the time we met, the poet had heard enough about me to share many revealing insights about Indonesian culture, politics, corruption, Islam, political theater, and, what was perhaps most interesting to me personally, how Indonesians view the colonial past and the Dutch. Our numerous conversations took place over a period of more than a week; sometimes in Emha's home, a small dwelling with a black facade and a giant red mask next to the front entrance; sometimes after midnight in one of the many warungs, the typically Javanese portable snackbars spread out on the city's sidewalks and lit with oil lamps. Emha was born 34 years ago in the village of Jumbal, East Java. His father was a relatively well-to-do farmer and teacher. From an early age, Emha (or M. H., which stands for Mohammed) was known for his rebellious spirit. He had a fist fight with his grade school teacher, for example , and at age fifteen he was kicked from the pesantren, a type of Islamic boarding school, branches of which can be found throughout the country. He had written slogans on the blackboard, ridiculing the school's excessive discipline. His parents had already found out long ago that getting mad at their funny son was absolutely useless. The first and last time they punished Emha—when he was seven—he ran away, jumped on a train without knowing its destination, and returned only three agonizingly long weeks later. The boy eventually finished high school in Yogyakarta on the insistence of his mother. He even studied economics for a semester at Yogya's prestigious Gajah Mada University but had to stop for financial reasons when his father died. Afterwards, he began making a living by writing essays and poemsa for local magazines and newspapers. He soon developed a reputation as Yogya's most talented young poet. 19 Important literary awards followed, together with invitations to read his poetry in the capital of Jakarta and other big cities. His fame even spread across the border: in 1984 and '85 he spent six months at the Iowa International Writers Program and appeared at poetry festivals in Rotterdam and West Berlin. Chuckling, Emha recalls how once he roamed an entire night through the streets of Amsterdam in the freezing January cold: he had lost his keys and didn't want to wake up his Dutch hosts. In New York he chased away a would-be mugger by cooly swallowing a razor blade, a trick he had learned from a Javanese magician. "In Holland I had a hard time suppressing the inclination not to pay for public buses and trains. Historically speaking I didn't see why I should. Besides, the organizers of my tour never paid me the full allowance for January that they had promised me." Only once did he really get mad: when the clerk at Utrecht's police headquarters refused to extend his visa for an extra seven days. "What?" Emha seemed to have yelled, "you damned Dutch stayed three hundred and fifty years in my country without ever asking anyone permission! And I fill out a form and everything in order to give...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 18-26
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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