oleh Andrea Hirata
Cetakan Kedua puluh empat, Oktober 2008
PT Bentang Pustaka – Yogyakarta, Indonesia ISBN 979-3062-79-7
Buku ini kupersembahkan untuk
guruku Ibu Muslimah Hafsari dan Bakak Harfan Effendy Noor,
sepluluh sahat masa kedcilku anggota Laskar Pelangi.
“...and to every action there is always an equal and opposite or contrary, reaction ...”
Isaac Newton, 1643-1727
Bab 1 – Sepuluh Murid Baru
First day; father sitting next to narrator, Ikal, along with other parents and children. Pohon filicium sheltering. Waiting in ramshackle school, with Pak K.A. Harfan Efendy Noor and Bu N.A. Muslimah Hafsari, smiling.
Bu Mus nervous, counting, sweating, wiping off the rice powder on her face.
Only 9 kids – everyone’s nervous. Easier to put kids to work rather than school, which ties one down for a dozen years.
All the parents thinking about this – wanting to free their kids from illiteracy, but aware of the sacrifice.
Starts to introduce kids – a small dirty boy with curly brown (=malnourished) hair, bouncing around, others that he’s known: Trapani, sitting in his mother’s lap, Kucai next to his dad, Syahdan by himself. Melayu Beliton = the poorest, can only afford the Muhammadiyah school.
They have to get 10 new students or the school will close. They’ll wait until 11:00. Everyone frustrated that their desire for education shut down because lacking one student.
Bu Mus and her uncle, Pak Harfan, frustrated that their years of study, overseeing the school, will be in vain.
Everyone sad, Sahara weeping, she’s all set with her outfit, water bottle, etc. Pak Harfan going around, people trying to encourage him, Trapani yells that Harun is coming!
Harun’s mother begs the school to take him, can’t afford the SLB on Bangka. Harun saves the day, everyone cheers, Bu Mus’s tears run down her rice-flour powdered cheeks.
Bab 2 – Antediluvium
Bu Mus is like a Crinum giganteum [, blooming like a lotus, smelling like vanilla. She approaches each parent, taking attendence (mengabsen), putting kids in pairs in their desks – Ikal and Lintang paired up.
Lintang full of energy, his father trying to control him, Lintang eager for education.
His father like a pine tree struck by lightning, a fisherman, looking like a Bushman, open-hearted, not realizing that education was a basic human right.
Soft-spoken, not like most fishermen. He tells Bu Mus that the pelintang birds showed that the weather wouldn’t be good for fishing. He barely scrapes by – doesn’t have his own boat.
His family can’t get out of poverty – Lintang has to ride his bicycle far to school, shows he really wants to come. He smells of burnt rubber, his sandals made of old tires.
Lintang’s energy like electricity – challenges everyone to do better.
Ikal still confused, frightened, Lintang excited by everything. Lintang’s father mystified by education, for all the generations he can remember, Lintang is the first to go to school – five generations before him is the antediluvium era, when Malays were wearing bark clothes and worshipping the moon.
Bu Mus arranges them by similarities – Ikal and Limpang both have curly hair, etc. Borek and Kucai together because they’re both hard to handle.
Ikal remembers – Lintang has the wrong kind of pencil, notebook, etc. but he’s a genius.
Bab 3 – Inisiasi
Not difficult to describe the school – one of thousands of poor schools in Indonesia which could be knocked over by mating goats.
The same kids for nine years – SD and SMP.
Only two teachers, can’t afford shoes or uniforms or medicine kit – only APC pills.
No officials visit, only the guy who sprays for mosquitoes.
No need to guard it – nothing to steal.
الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر , or maybeامر معروف نهي موڠک
= Arabic letters spelling: amar makruf nahi mungkar = “respond to what’s right and avoid what’s wrong.”
Our school looks like a copra hut – nothing can be locked up, but doesn’t matter since there’s nothing to steal. No posters, calendars, except for RHOMA IRAMA, HUJAN DUIT!
Rather than the school, more interesting to discuss the people: Pak K.A. Harfan Efendy Noor bin K.A. Fadillah Zein Noor; and Ibu N.A. Muslimah Hafsari Hamid binti K.A. Abdul Hamid.
Description of Pak Harfan – looks like Tom Hanks in Castaway; very proud of his beard: Keutamaan Memelihara Jenggot.
K.A. = Ki Agus = nobility on Belitung; Pak Harfan has devoted decades of his life to Muhammadiyah school. Supports his family from a rice field [palawija] and garden.
Looks like a honey bear [beruang madu], so children are frightened of him, but when he speaks out come pearls of poetry, captures their hearts. Tells the story of Noah; for Ikal, the moral is, if you aren’t a big one for praying, better learn to swim!
Then Pak Harfan tells about the fights of the Prophet with the Quraisy, etc. Students all caught up in the stories. Pak Harfan tells of Zubair bin Awam, early nationalist, etc., a true guru, inspires loyalty to school.
Bu Mus takes over, asking students to tell names and addresses, A Kiong just smiles, from a farming family.
Bab 4 – Perempuan-Perempuan Perkasa
References to heroic women, Bu Mus also heroic. Only has a Sekolah Kepandaian Putri diploma, her father a Muh. pioneer, determined to spread Islamic education, despite many hardships. She teaches all sorts of subjects, supports herself with sewing.
When Bu Mus instructs in religion, her words have power [sakti]; uses example of Sukarno’s imprisonment when students complain about bad conditions.
Bu Mus and Pak Harfan unsung heroes who do everything to take care of the children – teach them knowledge, religion, pump their bicycle tires, etc. (My favorite: “…melongok ke dalam sarung kami ketika kami disunat…”). They’re selfless ksatria, like the filicium tree that protects, the key link of the ecosystem.
Bab 5 – The Tower of Babel
The different communities on Belitung: various Chinese groups, hard-working and humble. To remind them of the Great Wall of China there is the wall around the Gedong, the Estate, with the sign “DILARANG MASUK BAGI YANG TIDAK MEMILIKI HAK.” (“Entry forbidden to those who are not authorized.”) Wall shows the domination and social stratification of Belitong.
The Estate for non-Belitong people, with PN (=Perusahaan Negara) schools, facilities, housing, people who look down on them.
Comparing the tin industry to the Tower of Babel – tin an ivory tower of prosperity, a shining vein down the Malay peninsula, Belitong like a light-house. Mineral riches exploited, but don’t do the natives any good. Riches bring outsiders, feudalism, injustice.
Bab 6 – Gedong
Belitong separate from Sumatra, Malay culture, exploited since 19th century. Heirarchy from highest, PN Timah staff people = “urang setap,” down to Sawang people who sew sacks. Feudalism a culture of corruption, Javanese replace the Dutch, private police force that interrogates, keeps people out of the Estate.
Fancy houses with lily ponds, Pissing Little Boy fountains squirting out of “kemaluan kecilnya yang lucu.” Furniture, fancy food, Mozart, cappuccino, English pigeons, angora cats, etc. etc.
Flo a tomboy, daughter of a Dutch-educated engineer, being taught to play grand piano which she hates. She doesn’t want to be a girl – cuts her hair short, wears jeans.
Bab 7 – Zoom Out
Looking at big picture (zoom out), the village is rich – billions of dollars flowing in like rats following the Pied Piper. But if we zoom in, all the riches go behind the high walls of the estate.
No riches in the village – some sekolah negeri, the Muhammadiah school, traditional Malay houses, some shops and offices, also long house of the Sawang people.
Chinese live in shop houses, without yards. Malay houses have yards with various plants and flowers, goats nibble on their favorites.
Seven “urban” professions: PN coolies the majority, shop guards, civil servants, unemployed, village clerks, traders, retired. Always bicycles going back and forth, everything’s dusty and messy.
At 10 minutes to 7 the Tin Factory’s siren goes off like the attack of Japanese on Pearl Harbor, calling out the PN coolies with yellow hats, heading to work. At 7 the siren goes off again, the streets are empty, at 10 hear the pounding of spices as women prepare midday meal, at 12 another siren, noon break, then at 2 calls workers back to work.
The village people eat simply, no Mozart, cooking on wood fire, cooking beef tallow (?gemuk sapi), also ikan gabus in the dry season.
Rural area, people live along the main road. In one direction, to the coast, kabupaten capital of Tanjong Pandan; other direction people live on small farms, forest products, fresh water fish.
Three levels – the very small upper class = the PN staff and private businessmen who exploit tin; almost no middle class except for local bureaucrats, small scale corruption; lower class the biggest, various groups, Sawang, coastal Melayu, Tionghoa, pensioners, teachers – except for the ones employed by the PN school.
Bab 8 – Center of Excellence
The Estate school a center of excellence, tons of money. Beautiful, fully equipped, swimming pool, lots of teachers – a teacher for each subject, at all levels. For children of the rich – they get 3 kinds of school uniform and 2 kinds of sports outfits. School head is Ibu Frischa, uses make-up to look younger, very intimidating, only talks about how good the school is, how succesful the students.
Other schools – the state schools get some help, other private schools, all poor, including Muhammadiyah.
Bab 9 – Penyakit Gila No. 5
Filicium decipiens usually planted to invite birds. Also another tree in back of the school, a ganitri tree (see left), very tall, birds love it.
Lots of red-breasted hanging parrots, jalak kerbau, coppersmith barbets (see below).
Tropical ecosystem – birds, butterflies, etc. – it’s a drama, so is the school.
A small episode with Syahdan and Kucai, Ikal lends his shoes so Kucai won’t be ashamed of him at the market, Borek lends his shirt (he has ringworm).
Syahdan’s father is a fisherman, like Lintang’s, Syahdan cheerful but has very poor fashion sense.
Syahdan’s deskmate is A Liong, son of mustard green farmer, looks like an idiot. He’s very naïve, life is black and white for him, he doesn’t get along with Sahara. But even though his head is like a tin can, he’s quick at learning. The kid in front of him, Kucai, looks smart but isn’t – malnourished when small, but very optimistic, with a wide network – good with words, bad at numbers, an ideal politician. He’s made the class monitor, Bu Mus lectures about the evil of corruption which frightens him. He tries to get out of the leadership role but no one else wants it – class holds an election, he’s the only one that doesn’t vote for him. Bu Mus reassures, lots of people pray for their leaders, hardly ever hear people pray for underlings.
Trapani is handsome, mother-centric, reasonably smart. Sahara the only girl, tempermental but very smart and honest, always in conflict with A Kiong, but always nice to Harun. Harun always chewing tamarind candy, can’t learn reading or writing, fixated on three – the cat had three kittens who had three stripes on the third of the month – he tells this story over and over and Sahara always listens.
Borek, the eighth kid, saw a picture of a hairy body-builder on a can (at the sidewalk stall of a hair tonic vendor), his goal becomes to be a Samson. He tries to convince Ikal to build up his chest with two halves of a tennis ball, being used like a plumber’s helper to pull the muscles out. Ikal’s mother calls this “craziness number 5.”
Bu Mus accepts them all the way they are, whatever their footware. Narrator also values them, they are all lucky to be in the school, sticking together – names eight again, with their characteristics, the ninth and tenth are Lintang and Mahar, who are special.
Bab 10 – Bodenga
Lintang late to school, a crocodile blocking the way. Tells the tale – how big the croc, calculating his chances, no way he’s missing school – then a man rises from the swamp, Bodenga. Bodenga pats the croc, which wags its tail and goes back into the swamp. Bodenga says nothing, Lintang scared but happy to have witnessed Bodenga’s “ilmu buaya.”
Ikal remembers when he was little, seeing Bodenga weeping for a crocodile that the villagers killed, it had a lame leg, thinks it’s his father reincarnated, everyone’s upset, made a deep impression on Ikal’s subconscious, associates with premonitions of bad things.
Lintang comes from far away, never complains, rides bike home in the dark, makes it to school come hell or high water. His father though this would discourage him but it doesn’t, so his father very supportive of his schooling. Lintang realizes how illiterate he is, but father gives him a good bicycle, very valuable, he rides 80 km every day.
Lintang’s mother is a Nyi Ayu, i.e. Malay gentry, perhaps he gets his smarts from his mother’s side. His grandparents also live with them, mending nets and picking bugs out of the low-grade rice. Also two younger brothers of Lintang’s father, one is mentally ill, the other has a hernia. Plus there are Lintang’s five younger sisters, making 14 people in the household dependant on Lintang’s father.
Despite all the hardships, Lintang totally absorbed by knowledge – reads about Galileo, stars, mathematics – he loves it. He’s a genius, surprised that others have problems understanding math.
Bab 11 – Langit Ketujuh
Stupidity like poison, comes from high up, the seventh heaven, the highest place. [?? The same thing with genius?] Lintang’s gift for mathematics amazing to all, esp. Bu Mus; he also can explain things to others, always eager to learn new things. The day he was held up by the croc, they’re learning about geography of the Middle East as told in the Koran, he insists on Bu Mus explaining beyond what the lesson calls for – can’t wait, he might get eaten by a crocodile. Bu Mus is proud but confused – hard to keep up with him. He’s an inspiration, good at all subjects – the only one he’s not at the top is art, which is Mahar’s area of strength.
Bab 12 – Mahar
Talent like Area 51 in the Nevada desert – mysterious, no one knows for sure how to find it, also doesn’t necessarily come out if circumstances don’t permit.
The kids witness Mahar discover his talent; A Kiong trying to sing “Berkibarlah Benderaku,” badly, no one’s paying attention. Ikal also sings horribly, almost time to go home, Mahar’s turn finally comes. He makes a big deal out of the intro, sings “The Tennesse Waltz,” accompanying himself on the ukulele – he sings beautifully, like Patti Page. The world stops, they give a standing ovation, Mahar is on his way.
Bab 13 – Jam Tangan Plastik Murahan
Mahar is the right brain that balances Lintang as the left brain – art and science, class is never boring. Like having a little Faraday and baby Warhol. Lintang demonstrated various scientific projects, Mahar sings, shows how to make cartoons, etc. Mahar super-creative, but not logical, very superstitious, telling mystical legends. Final art project, students can choose what they want to turn in – Harun turns in three used soy sauce bottles. Other student turn in various strange and raggedy things, Mahar has made a fake fossil, very realistic, carved on a piece of pumice. He plays in rebana band, directs plays, starts a rock band. Won’t let his art be exploited by cheating lying politicians – we won’t sell out for a cheap plastic wristwatch! In this spirit names the band Republik Dangdut. He shows Pak Harfan how to set up mirrors to let more people see a TV show. But Mahar not always appreciated – he is pretty weird.
Bab 14 – Laskar Pelangi dan Orang-Orang Sawang
Papilio blumai visiting the buds of the filicium tree, along with pure clouded yellow and danube clouded yellow. Their beauty inspires Ikal to write poetry. Their post-rain reunion disturbe by the kids climbing in the tree, Kucai on the highest branch, Sahara on the lowest. They can see rainbows from the tree, which they love. Bu Mus calls them the Laskar Pelangi. On this day, they see a perfect one, stretching from the estuary, Muara Genting, to the mountain Gunung Selumar. (here’s another bit about colors and Melayu Riau: http://ukurbumi.blogspot.com/2012/05/makna-warna-bagi-orang-melayu-riau.html )
Mahar says the rainbow is a time portal – if they could go through it, they could meet the people who first lived in Belitong, and the ancestors of the Sawang people, but they wouldn’t want to, because the primitive people were cannibals! A Kiong, strong follower of Mahar, nearly falls out of the tree in shock. Syahdan is behind Mahar, makes the sign (finger slanting on forehead) meaning “he’s nuts!” Lintang smiles, pretending to cough to hide his laughter. Debate stops as sun sets, must be quiet when the azan calls, as their parents have always told them: “Be still and enjoy the call to victory.”
Malays have a simple nature, learning from religious teachers and elders in the surau after the evening prayer, from stories of the prophets, tales of Hang Tuah, gurindam (short aphorisms, rhyming nature imagery with moral teachings). Belitong folks consider as Malays everyone from the Malacca Straits to Malaysia – based on how crazy they are for the rythmn of the peninsula – the rebana and pantun contests – not based on language, skin color, etc. “We’re an egalitarian race.”
Stories about not-too-distant ancestors living along the coast, wearing bark clothes, sleeping in trees, worshipping the full moon . They were allied with the Sawang people, who were sea people living in boats, going from island to island. Malays traded forest products for salt. The Sawangs look like Australian Aborigines, were put to work by the tin company, sewing sacks. Not good at managing money, often stereotyped by Malays as not wanting to work hard, but they have high values, honest, never run out on a debt. They don’t understand aristocratic notions, only give special status to the headman, the shaman/dukun, not a hereditary position. PN has put them in a long house with 30 families – they may be dying out, losing their culture and language.
Bab 15 – Euforia Musim Hujan
Over the brown raging river, boys swinging on a rope from a rubber tree – very dangerous. They do this even though parents have forbidden, also picking rubber tree fruit, to play tarak (a game where you put one fruit (or seed?) on top of another, smack with the heel of your hand, the one that breaks is the loser). http://ukurbumi.blogspot.com/2012/07/adu-biji-buah-karet-permainan.html = website nostalgia for Malay culture & games.
When talak no longer played, that means it’s the end of September – in the tropics the rainy season, in the West getting colder and darker, more suicides. Ikal listening to radio, “Call of the Coconut Isle,” a bluesy atmosphere.
But as far as the kids are concerned, sadness is for adults – for them the rainy season is like a huge water park, plus weird creatures in the ditches, cars washed away, rain so cold their lips turn blue and they can’t feel their fingers. Parents grumble, they play soccer, make sand castles, swim in the mud, yell like crazy people at the rain and lightning.
Another game – riding big pinang palm spathes, pulled like wagons.
The strongest pull the littler ones, then try to unseat them, doing fast turns, spraying the onlookers with mud – fun, fun, fun!
Ikal and Syahdan take a tumble, Syahdan fakes serious injury, yet more fun! And that’s what we called the euphoria of the rainy season, poor but having a ball. (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5jiMDaUTrA )
Bab 16 – Puisi Surga dan Kawanan Burung Pelintang Pulau
Events of August, when Ikal in second class of SMP = Junior High (more or less 8th grade). The dry season hanging on. Things drying up, dusty, smelling of rust. The Chinese work hard at their grooming – bathe at midday, comb their wet hair straight back, trim the ends of their fingernails with manicure scissors, they’re the only ones who look clean. The Sawang hang around, holding on to their house posts, too hot to sleep under the corrugated zinc roof, too tired to go back to work. Malays get more and more rumpled, sending kids for ice because of the heat during the day, but it’s too cold to get out of bed for the dawn prayers.
Kids go camping on the beach in August, during the school break, while the PN kids go off to Jakarta with their parents. Ikal never tires of Pantai Pangkalan Punai, feels like Alexander the Great. http://youtu.be/8boF7bhm5rI
As he looks out on the view, he daydreams, leads to a poem – I dreamt I saw heaven. Heaven is a simple palace in the middle of the forest, a fresh-face woman greets him, says “This is heaven!” Airy rooms, crystal cups with water from the Zamzam well, pots of petunias, little lamps… but the writer wants to stay on earth, remembers God’s promise – if he walks towards God, God will come running to him.
Pelintang pulau (“island crosser”) birds – not local, seen as something magical and disturbing, no one knows much about them. High fliers, no one can get near them. Coastal Malays believe if they land in a village, there will be a storm.
Mahar thinks he’s seen a flock of them, other kids don’t believe since he often makes things up, they tease him. Ikal believes, but Kucai thinks he just saw watercocks, Sahara admonishes, Trapani says Lintang’s family never saw any and they’ve lived on the coast for generations.
The fishermen believe Mahar and don’t go out; there is a storm so they’re grateful, Mahar still offended at his classmates. He does a painting, the birds are splashes of green and yellow, not clear – painting the legend. He retreats to sarcasm when Samson, Syahdan and Sahara say the painting isn’t clear because he never really saw anything. Mahar hands his project in late and gets a lower grade but he doesn’t care because he’s getting ready for the August 17 carnival.
Bab 17 – Ada Cinta di Toko Kelontong Bobrok Itu
Getting into adolescence is good – school subjects more meaningful, learning English, especially fun to translate pop songs – “Have I told you lately that I love you” tells about a kid who hates to buy chalk for his teacher but one day fate grabs him in the fish market.
Buying chalk the least favorite chore, much better to water the plants, but not good to get water from the scary well. Everyone likes the striped beauty canna especially, the little garden is full of humming bees, a lovely place except for the well.
Going to the stinky fish market NOT pleasant, lots of bad smells. The shopkeeper a hoarder, craziness number 28. Ikal and Syahdan take turns pedaling Pak Harfan’s too-big bike. The fish market on the banks of the river, so garbage can be dumped in, but at high-tide sometimes the garbage pushed back.
Buying chalk at the Sinar Harapan store, have to wait until the people with sarongs on their heads (who’ve been carrying things there) finish their business, talking a bit with Bang Arsyad (known as Bang Sad = bangsat, scoundrel, s.o.b.), a Malay who’s the right hand man of A Miauw, the Chinese shop owner. He’s fat, always wearing a singlet, shorts, and flip-flops. Bang Sad interprets the dialect of the sarong people with A Miauw, three ethnic groups communicating with three different languages. Finally A Miauw yells for someone to give Ikal the chalk, he only sees her hand, with lovely fingernails. Especially the nail of her ring finger – like a ruby. One day she drops the chalk, they come face-to-face, love at first sight. Everything slows down, looks lovely, he rides off singing “Have I told you lately that I love you,” she peeks from behind the screen.
He has to get water from the scary well as punishment for losing chalk but doesn’t care – love-crazy!
Bab 18 – Moran
Mahar is the one hope that, despite its poverty, they will be able to put forth something worthwhile for the 17 August festival, that will raise the prestige of the Muhammadiyah school. The art judge, Mbah Suro, a Javanese, is idealistic and poor (= not corrupt).
They can’t rent nifty costumes like the other schools – ethnic, fanciful, showing their ambitions, clowns on stilts, including Flo, marching band, etc. Muhammadiyah kids look pretty shabby – faded flags, cruddy costumes, humble ambitions. The temptation is to not participate, Pak Harfan rallies them – we have to show we exist, moral teachings, give students like Mahar a chance to show their talents!
Mahar takes it very seriously, students wait like waiting for the new Agatha Christie book. Mahar plays his tabla by himself under the filicium tree, planning out choreography, thinking. Finally announces, they’ll be dancing like the Masai of Africa! They’ll be dressed in leaves, feathers, body paint. Everybody’s happy, practicing. The eight of them will be cows, attacked by 20 cheetahs, protected by 20 Moran, Masai warriors, accompanied by 30 tabla players, also dancing. [??Where are these 70 people coming from??]
Mahar walks around, dressed all in black, with a fanny pack which holds a walkman, pen, sunglasses, batteries, cassettes, deodorant, tells them they must dance with enthusiasm, looking happy, like PN workers getting their quota of cloth, like Sawang getting what’s owed them, like sailors shipwrecked at a nursing school! A Kiong confused – there’s a nursing school on the coast of Belitong? Sahara scorns him for not understanding literary allusion [??”South Pacific” reference??]
(Above – Masai warrior and Asmat dancers, for comparison)
Bab 19 – Sebuah Kejahatan Terencana
On carnival day, the cheetahs (who are the younger siblings of the students) dressed in some kind of tarp painted yellow, all the others in various colors, leaves, etc. The eight cows especially well-outfitted, brown body paint, striped, wearing headdresses, tails of raffia, ankle bells – they look great. Mahar gives them necklaces made of aren fruit.
The PN marching band very cool – playing Glenn Miller’s In the Mood, Concerto for Trumpet like Wynton Marsalis, shiny costumes, drum majorettes wearing mini skirts, black stockings and metalic knee-high Cortez boots. They look to be used to foreign things, like people who eat jasmine flowers and sip dew-drops – totally different than ordinary people.
And suddenly there’s Mahar and the drummers and dancers – very surprising, amazing the onlookers. Very primal – not like Belitong traditional dances. It has primitive power, a life-cycle ritual, pulls the audience in.
As they wait, the kids start itching from the sap of the aren fruit necklaces, gives them extra pep in jumping around and screaming.
A great success – standing ovations, cheers, speech from Mbah Suro, the art judge: he praises the originality and energy – also uses “daripada” a lot, a typical Javanese Indonesian trait (President Suharto’s style of Indonesian often mocked by repetitious “daripada”). They bring the trophy home in triumph. Mahar has gotten his revenge and won the prize.
Bab 20 – Miang Sui
Ikal longing for the fingernail girl – a nervous daffodil. Can only see her when he gets chalk, so he volunteers to do it, much to Bu Mus’s surprise. He can’t say a word, neither can she, eventually finds out her name is A Ling, a cousin of A Kiong – he’s the only one who can get past the shell curtain. [Note: Syahdan calls Ikal “Kawan,” not “boi.”]
Ikal gets A Kiong to pass on letters to A Ling – why doesn’t he give them to her himself? Malu, he explains, using dramatic language as in magazines and radio dramas – it’s more romantic to pass letters through an intermediary. A Kiong agrees, Ikal does his math homework.
How does A Ling react? Like a duck finding a pond, says A Kiong. Ikal writes a poem, sending white clouds like chrysanthemums to A Ling; she tells him to meet her at the acara sembahyang rebut ["Snatching Ritual"]. Ikal can hardly believe it, bores A Kiong and Syahdan with his plans, reads the message from A Ling backwards and forwards.
Chiong Si Ku, also known as acara sembahyang rebut, an annual ceremony where various things, contributions from all the Chinese – household goods, radios, food, etc. etc. – are laid out on tables at the Chinese temple, [offerings to the ancestors, after they’ve enjoyed them humans try to grab them.] Everyone comes, all the ethnic groups – Chinese, Malay, the island sarung people, and the Sawang.
The most valuable thing is a piece of red cloth called the fung pu, considered very good luck by the Chinese; if you get it you can sell it for millions of rupiah.
Tables are in front of a bamboo and paper effigy of the king of the dead, Thai Tse Ya, representing all the bad things and sins of humans. During the afternoon and night, Chinese who are Kong Hu Cu pray in front of it. At midnight they signal by hitting a big water jar, everyone can grab for the stuff on the tables, which are cleaned off in 25 seconds to a minute. Chaos – even if you get something, it gets broken in the melee.
The Sawang are the superstars – they have a solid organization, work as a group, always get the fung pu, then disappear into the night. The Malays can’t get organized, arguing unconstructively because everybody wants to be the leader.
At the end, they burn the Thai Tse Ya effigy, to get rid of bad luck for the year.
At 3:30, finished with the Ashar afternoon prayer, Ikal waiting and hoping, the note on the chalk box like a message in a bottle. A Kiong and other Chinese all busy getting things set up, A Kiong gives him a thumbs up. Ikal hot, bothered by bees, teased by burung matahari, sweating.
At 3:55, still waiting, tired, legs falling asleep (= kesemutan); positions himself carefully so he can see if she comes, she still hasn’t come. At 3:57, he’s almost giving up, thinking of throwing himself in the river. 4:02, still wating, a nervous wreck, getting ready to ride off on his bike, a soft voice heard behind him: What’s your name? A Ling, his Michele Yeoh. She’s gorgeous, taller than him, hair done up, her pretty fingernails holding a joss stick, lovely slanted eyes. Wearing a necklace with a bead, with Chinese characters Miang Sui, meaning fate/fortune [=nasib]. They run off to a quiet spot, tell each other their plans – she wants to become a fashion designer, he feels like a better person, like someone in a film.
They run off towards the ferris wheel, the loveliest evening of his life.
Bab 21 – Rindu
Stories – Indians on horseback, on the plains of the Yellowstone, hunting moose, coyotes, Chinookcuk trying to preserve the purity of the Pequot tribe, isolated, like the lost tribe of the Amazon… the Belitong Malays were isolated once, too, on their island – their only source of contact the postal service – the safe which contained the postage stamps their window to the outside world. The post master very important: “Seharusnya kita, khususnya kami, orang-orang Melayu Belitong, menghaturkan terima kasih yang tak terperikan.” = “ We (Indonesians), especially we Belitong Malays, should give them the thanks that were never expressed.” But the post master has so much to do, has to get up before dawn, Ikal wants to become a writer or a badminton player, anything but a postal worker.
The postman brings Ikal a letter from A Ling when he’s in school – postman teases him, letter smells of incense, Ikal reads it under the filicium tree. A poem called Rindu (“longing”) from A Ling – she loves him! He’s happy, but has a premonition something bad will happen (flashback to the crocodile and Bodenga.
Bab 22 – Early Morning Blue
Ikal has low blood pressure, can’t get up quickly or will be dizzy, seeing stars, Samson doesn’t care, pounds on him with a rolled-up mat so they can get ready for morning prayers. They’ve all slept at the mosque because after the dawn prayer they’re going to climb Mt. Selumar. Riding bikes to the top is a way for young men to impress their girlfriends with their stamina. They enjoy the view, the trees, the birds and animals, the fresh air – often picnic there, usually don’t bother going all the way to the top but this time Ikal wants to, supported by the Laskar Pelangi.
Ikal wants to get a flower – Callistemon laevis, red needle flower, and maybe the little yellow flower with four petals, Diplotaxis muralis, to make a lovely bouquet.
They get to the top, everyone exclaims at the view, they can see their poor little school, looking like a copra shed. Mahar makes up a legend that the mountain is a dragon, only A Kiong takes him seriously. Ikal looks down at A Ling’s house, feeling separate from his friends, holding his bouquet. The panorama like music, with clouds and bird-song, looking down on the branches of the Lenggang River which is swallowed by the estuary the length of Manggar beach to Cape Kelumpang. He writes a poem – A Ling, I climbed Mt. Selumar to the top, just so I could see the roof of your house, my heart is at peace.
Bab 23 – Billitonite
Ikal all ready on Monday morning to give A Ling the poem and the flowers. But she’s not there – instead the big ugly hand of Bang Sad, with billitonite rings, gives him the chalk.
Ikal stunned, A Miauw tells him A Ling is going to Jakarta, to stay with her aunt who’s all alone, and go to a good school. “If fate allows, you’ll meet again,” gives him a little box from A Ling. Ikal watches the plane take off, carrying his first love away. The box contains a book by James Herriot, If Only They Could Talk, about his work as a veterinarian, and A Ling’s diary, where she’s written down all his poems.
Bab 24 – Tuk Bayan Tula
Ikal has nightmares – global warming, hurricanes, Belitong Malays are dwarves, eaten by crocodiles…Bad dreams because of his frustration, can’t think straight. He gets sick, just like frustrated lovers in Indian films. His friends come, Mahar, A Kiong and Syahdan, Mahar performs a ritual with turmeric, cuts it, rubs it on Ikal’s forehead, slaps his body all over with leafy branch while mumbling something. A Kiong squirts water over him. All this to remove sickness caused by the three jin children who were mad that Ikal peed around their kingdom near the school well. Mahar has chased them off, Ikal will get better.
A month later everything in turmoil because Flo is lost. Everyone’s looking for her on the mountain, crocodiles. Tuk Bayan Tula (Tuk > datuk, grandfather; Bayan = parrot, like his totem; Tula = kualat = accursed) a shaman, lives on Lanun (= pirate) Island. Seen as powerful, mysterious, possibly doing black magic, or maybe driving out black magic practitioners? Going against Islam? Mystery attracts many, including Mahar.
People panicked about Flo, irrational, send a delegation of mystics and dukun to ask Tuk Bayan Tula about her. They return with a little scroll of paper – tell about his cave, how he met them, gave them the paper, which says Flo is in a hut in an abandoned field, need to find her soon or she’ll be drowned in mangrove roots. This hut used by people who steal tin, panning for it outside of the PN Timah – the company is very harsh to them, if they’re caught, might get their heads blown off with AKA 47s.
Climbing around the mountain, the kids spy (with a plastic telescope) a hut beside the Buta River – a dangerous area with crocs and snakes, Mahar insists they go look. Turns out there is an abandoned orchard, taken over by wild animals now. They make their way carefully, chase off the monkeys; then nearly pee their pants in shock – Flo is laughing on the branch above them.
Bab 25 – Rencana B
Mahar trying to use Ikal as a guinea pig for his mystic curing, A Ling carrying his battered suitcase. Bu Mus comes to his house and gives him an APC pill, which makes him better. Ikal’s heart still broken, starts reading “If only they could talk,” which page by page dries his tears as he reads about the village of Edensor, enchanted by Herriot’s description of its beauty, realizes there’s still things to love, power of literature. Also the resiliance of youth – he can let go of his love for A Ling and be grateful for what he had with her. He still doesn’t understand women. Takes to heart the words of John Lennon, life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans. He works on Plan A and Plan B – he loves literature, is very good at badminton. His ambition: be a badminton champion, a great writer, or both. If not, anything but a post clerk.
His classmates also have ambitions: Sahara wants to fight for women’s rights, A Kiong wants to be a ship captain, Kucai a politician, Syahdan an actor, Mahar a theatrical direct and spiritual advisor/hypnotist. Samson just wants to be a ticket taker at the movies, so he can watch them for free. Trapani wants to be a teacher, Harun wants to be Trapani. All are inspired by Lintang, who wants to be the first Malay mathematician.
Need to have a plan B – Ikal’s is to write a book about badminton; imagines all the famous badminton players praising it: Ivana Lie will say, “Reading this book, I feel I want to embrace the writer.”
Bab 26 – Be There or Be Damned!
Bu Mus asks Mahar about his plan A and plan B, he’s leaving it to God; Bu Mus getting fed up with him – his mysticism is anti-Islam and stupid. Flo joins the class, doesn’t want to go to the PN school anymore. Unfortunately for Bu Mus, she’s also rebelious, allies with Mahar, much to Sahara’s disappointment. Flo has lots of school supplies, pocket money, she’s driven to school by a chauffeur, has breakfast from a thing that makes bread jump.
Flo a fan of Mahar’s and the Laskar Pelangi since they found her on Mt. Selumar. She takes the rainbow oath, a loyal friend, even crazier than Mahar re: paranormal activities. They have a secret organization, Ikal is the secretary and has to issue invitation for emergency meeting, Be there or be damned!
Bab 27 – Detik-Detik Kebenaran
The academic competition – Ikal, Sahara, and Lintang, vs. the state schools and the PN school, which have books the Muhammadiyah kids have never seen. But Bu Mus has prepared them well, giving them lots of difficult practice problems. The art deco school filled with supporters, judges at a mahogany table, Lintang’s tire sandals still smell burnt, the PN supporters wear team jackets with VINI, VIDI, VICI on them. The PN teams were prepared by a new young brilliant teacher, named Drs. Zulfikar. [Note: Drs. stands for dokter anders, = Dutch Doctorandus, equivalent of master’s, and/or bachelor’s of social science]
Flo and Mahar lead the Muhammadiyah supporters – PN students see Flo as traitor. Trapani gave his place to Sahara because she’s better at geography, Lintang not saying anything – his father, mother, and sisters are there, the first time they’ve come to the kabupaten capital, Tanjong Pandan. Lintang keeps his eyes on his family, Sahara has stage fright, Ikal concentrating on not losing.
Lintang answering all the questions, racking up points, Pak Harfan clapping his hands like a little kid, Bu Mus looking happier, muttering “Subhanallah” [= glory be to God] as Lintang answers questions about everything: “Vincent Van Gogh, menyasszonytanc [Dance of the Hungarian Bride], The Hunchback of Notredame, water paradox…fluoxetine hydrochloride, etc. etc. Everyone is awed. Answer of Newton’s Rings challenged by Drs. Zulfikar – the question was improperly stated, answer wrong, everyone’s confused – Pak Zulfikar pulling a classic educated Indonesian gambit, using big words and abstract theory that nobody understands to show off his knowledge and put down poor people as stupid, and they can’t challenge. But Lintang beats him at his own game, showing his superior understanding, bringing credit to the school, winning the trophy. Triumph!
Bab 28 – Societeit de Limpai
The Limpai Society, Limpai being a legendary monster in Belitong mythology; on the coast seen as a kind of fairy living in the mountains. In the middle of the island they think it’s a big animal, white, like an elephant or a mammoth, to the north it’s a wind which knocks down trees and tears up the rice plants. Other regions think it’s a big black bogeyman – all sorts of beliefs, but narrator says it’s a mist in the heads of the stupid who are lacking in piety, and don’t have anything better to do.
Ikal is the secretary of the secret society, led by Mahar and Flo, with various village people – bank teller, retired people, a Chinese goldsmith, a drop-out electrical technology student who runs a bike repair shop, and Mujis, the anti-mosquito sprayer.
All sorts of investigations into the paranormal – the drop-out helps make some sort of electromagnetic spirit detector, looking for ectoplasmic mist, ghosts, visit graves. They do de-bunk some myths – a tree that has flashes on its top has frightened people for years, turns out to be an electric line that sags after the rain.
Flo and Mahar tell of archeological finds, also looking for pictographs in a hidden cave. They managed to get to a cave in a deep chasm, animals, roots, finally get in, there’s a stream, leeches, bats – scary! Very dramatic story – they raise the lamp and see the cave paintings, spend the night in the cave. Mahar claims he dreamt the paintings spoke to him, giving him a prophesy: the power of Belitung will soon fall, Belitong Malays will fall into poverty, will have to make their living from the forest and the sea, while the outside world will make quick progress, computers will make the practice of accountancy obsolete…
Bab 29 – Pulau Lanun
No dramatic soap operas in the Muhammadiyah school – peaceful in its poverty. But now things are different, because of the dramatics of Mahar and Flo, whose grades are plummeting, they have to choose between mysticism and school. They decide to go get magical help from Tuk Bayan Tula on Pirate Island, with the help of the Limpai Society – they have to collect money to rent a boat with at least a 40 HP engine, plus hire an experienced boatman. They manage to get it – Mahar sells his bike, Flo her jewelry, people work overtime, raid their piggy banks, etc., they’ve got 1.5 million rupiah! Ikal holds tight to it; when you have money, everybody looks like a thief.
They go through wild waves, through a storm, risking their lives, hopeless, weeping (except for Flo, who never cries). They’re almost done for, hear the call of the azan from the harbor master, the waves calm down. They reach the island, palm trees gleaming in the moonlight – at the mercy of Tuk Bayan Tula. They finally reach him, he’s powerful, frightening – listens to their tale of woe, Mahar tells him he and Flo need to pass their exams. Mahar gives him a piece of paper and a pen, Tuk Bayan Tula re-enters his cave, lots of yelling, he’s fighting with spirits, lots of stuff thrown out – pans, fish bones, coconut shells, Balinese calendar, Javanese horoscope, books in Old Malay and the Kek language. After lots of noise, he comes out with rolled up paper: “See, oh you useless worms… I’ve defeated devils … receive this gift, because you’ve braved death to find me…” and gives the paper to Mahar.
Everyone impressed that the Limpai Society has made it back, having met Tuk Bayan. After school Mahar and Flo unroll the piece of paper: “This is the message of Tuk Bayan Tula for the two of you: if you want to pass your test, open your books and study!”
Bab 30 – Elvis Has Left the Building
Arguing with Samson about the scary film they saw, only Sahara, Flo and Harun were brave enough to watch when S. Bagyo chased by a witch – Samson insists that S. Bagyo chased the witch. Guys are jerks, say Sahara. They need Lintang to settle the argument, but Lintang isn’t in school, for the first time in nine years. After a week, Bu Mus gets a letter, the first time they see her cry: Lintang’s father has died.
No choice – he has to quit school and take responsibility for his family. He makes his goodbyes under the filicium tree, Ikal feels empty inside, others crying. Lintang is our Newton, Adam Smith, Andre Ampere (18th century, founder of study of electromagnetism), emits positive energy from every pore, an inspiration for all, a star, a meteor out of Cassiopeia, has to leave school four months before graduating high school. Ikal is very bitter – such a needless waste, like a mouse starving to death in an overflowing rice barn.
A classic story of a smart kid from a poor family. Ikal hates the people living the easy life in the Estate, hates himself because he can’t help since he’s poor as well. Sad scene of farewell, the saddest afternoon.
Ikal aware that he and his classmates are light and fire, swearing loyalty under the lightning bolts and slashing winds – layers of the most beautiful rainbow that was ever created by God.
[ http://youtu.be/C86lc5kc5uw is a news story about “Who is Lintang?”]
Dua belas tahun kemudian
Bab 31 – Zaal Batu
Middle-aged woman – clearly has lived outside Indonesia, fed up with inefficiency of the post office, which Ikal now works at. She chews him out, in Dutch. His plans have not worked out, his book about badminton has gone nowhere so he throws it in the river. God works in mysterious ways,
Only bright spot is his neice, Eryn, whose father, Ikal’s older brother, has been laid off, so Ikal has taken responsibility for paying for her school. She’s very positive – helps to counteract the trauma he still feels about Lintang. She needs to do field work for her dissertation, about a psychological problem of someone being so dependent on someone else they can’t do anything without them.
Turns out she can do a case study at the Zaal Batu mental hospital, on Bangka Island, next to Belitung.
They go, it’s an extreme mother complex – turns out to be Trapani and his mother, a terrible hopeless situation.
Bab 32 – Agnostik
A little scene – the Sinar Harapan shop hasn’t changed much, the bus that’s bringing Ikal home goes past it, next door is a shop called Sinar Perkasa; the shop coolie is carrying a lot of stuff for a fat lady, he puts it in a pick-up truck, gets his tip – he’s happy, good-looking, strong, clearly friends with the boss.
Ikal is happy with his memories of A Ling, still reading “If only they could talk.” “Life is like a box of chocolates” a la Forest Gump; Ikal trying to stay optimistic. A week after he threw away his badminton book, heard about a scholarship to go abroad, starts studying hard. He’s interviewed by a former minister who smokes like a chimney but who likes his motivation letter and research project – thanks to Pak Harfan, Bu Mus, Lintang, Laskar Pelangi, even to the postal job that taught him discipline, he gets the scholarship.
A Kiong had been an agnostic, but then became a Muslim, took the name Muhammad Jundullah Gufron Nur Zaman, soldier of God who has obtained forgiveness and light. He’s been in love with Sahara, finally got the nerve to ask her to marry him, turns out she loved him all along. They own the Sinar Perkasa store, the strong young man who works for them is Samson. They’re all very happy.
Lintang works as a truck driver, hauling sand to barges, lives in cruddy barracks. Still as smart as ever, but should be in such a different place. He says, don’t be sad, at least I fulfilled my father’s wish not to be a fisherman. Ikal is angry, curses the pretentious people who don’t appreciate their education and chances.
Ikal finallly is able to leave the post sorting table, never to return. Some people are in certain professions because they once met someone. Just ask Mahar, Flo, and the Limpai society, after they met with Tuk Bayan Tula and got his message to study. Mahar and Flo reformed completely, studied hard. Flo a new woman, wears jilbab, teaches school, has two sets of twin boys.
Mahar didn’t get schooling beyond high school, had to stay and take care of his sickly old mother. Eventually started writng articles about traditional Malay culture, eventually wrote several books. One thing led to another, now he teaches and arranges cultural activities. Also gets money from the coastal people, for training apes to get coconuts.
Syahdan, always sort of a loser, went to Jakarta and became an actor, but got bored portraying weird creatures, took a computer course and became a tech guy – still wants to be an actor.
Bab 33 – Anakronisme
Sad tale of Babel = the province of Bangka-Belitung – when the tin market collapsed, everybody in PN Timah lost their jobs, estate looted, the staff has to go back to farming, fishing, etc. Anachronistic, they go back to living like the primitive Malays who worshipped the moon. Very hard on them, some end up in Zaal Batu, thrown off the merry-go-round.
But the destruction of PN Timah a blessing in disguise for the Belitong natives, who are free to mine tin the old-fashioned way, make a living doing this on a small scale, now more prosperous.
In 1991 the Muhammadiyah education system closed, but the high moral standard of Islamic education had strong influence on all who studied at the school, even if they didn’t have much material success. Pak Harfan and other Muhammadiyah teachers continue to proclaim Islam, Bu Mus given more training, teaches math at a state elementary school; although she’s been a teacher for 34 years, never has had students as spectacular as Lintang, Flo and Mahar.
Bab 34 – Gotik
Syahdan, now narrating, on a panel with Malay culture experts, for the launch of Mahar’s new book, a novel about beautiful friendship, he’s happy to take time away from his busy schedule in Bandung and come back to Belitong.
Bu Mus and Pak Harfan are present, also Kucai, who’s a Drs. and an MBA and wearing a safari suit, having fulfilled his ambition to become a politician, the head of a faction in the regional legislature of Belitong – he’s very progressive.
He misses Ikal, who became a post sorter – but now has a scholarship to continue his education.
Syahdan and friends took the bus to see Ikal’s mother, saw Trapani in the market, traipsing along happily behind his mother – they got out of the mental hospital.
At Ikal’s mother’s house, they ask about him, she’s not that happy. Ikal send her a letter with a photo of himself and friends at a student art festival; faces all marked up – call that art? He says it’s Goth Art! Kids these days! She’s furious – the face is like someone who never prays. She spits out betel juice.
Kucai can’t contain his laughter, Mahar’s tuft of hair is shaking with laughter, Kucai repeatedly asks pardon of Ikal’s mother, not of Mahar, but he nods respectfully to Nur Zaman.
Followed by a glossary of the various terms, esp. Latin names for plants and animals, and a short epilogue about how Andrea burst on the scene, not from literary circles. Also tells of Andrea's tetralogy, beginning with Laskar Pelangi, followed by Sang Pemimpi = dream play of two Malay village kids, Ikal and Arai; Edensor = about having the courage to dream, the strength of love, having faith in oneself; Maryamah Karpov = satire, irony, about a kind of woman rarely written about by Indonesian writers nowadays. Reading the four novels, we can appreciate a quality epic, also witness how a talented writer evolves from one novel to the next, towards his masterpiece.