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Monday, January 25, 2010


A couple of days ago I read a very interesting article in JP, the title is “Literature boosts Gus Dur’s spirit of pluralism” written by Setiono Sugiharto. In short, the article tells us that reading literature can maintain the idea of pluralism proposed by – one of pluralism scholars in Indonesia – Gus Dur.

The article reminded me of one class I joined when I was in college “American Multiculturalism”. The professor assigned us to read various kinds of literary works – mostly short stories and poems – written by many American authors from different tribes, such as Native American (e.g. Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Yellow Woman”), African American (e.g. Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat”), Mexican American (e.g. Sandra Cisneros’ “Woman Hollering Creek”), Chinese American (e.g. Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”), until one poet who was born in Indonesia, Li Young Lee; we discussed his poem “Persimmons”. We absolutely also read works written by white American, such as Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where are you going? Where have you been?” The main objective of this class is to provide the students how rich American culture is, and of course also to respect those so-called marginalized authors’ works. America is indeed multicultural.

Going back to Indonesia. After the fall of New Order regime, we can find more various kinds of books – read it novels – written by authors from different ethnic as well as religious groups. It means Indonesian people are more exposed to their own country’s multiculturalism. (However, this ‘freedom’ has recently been stained by the banning of books. SBY followed his predecessor’s way to maintain his position?)

However, we must not forget that in Indonesia books are still considered very expensive so that not all people can afford to buy books. Besides, the interest in reading among Indonesian people is still very low. Not to mention if teachers at school do not read a lot. How can they suggest what books to read by their students? Moreover, if those teachers are not ‘plural’, or do not respect multiculturalism.

Absolutely Setiono Sugiharto’s idea is very good. The implementation needs work hard. Schools as well as public libraries must provide more various kinds of books. Teachers of ‘Bahasa and Sastra Indonesia’ must increase their readings so that they can suggest their students which books to read to increase their awareness of the existence of multiculturalism in Indonesia. Media must help by providing articles written using point of views which support pluralism.

PT56 21.51 24.01.10


johnorford said...

I used to lazily think indonesia was kinda monocultural - or at least not cosmopolitan. But I suppose even in Semarang you have ppl living there all the way from Gorantalo ; )

In a way it's frighteningly multicultural - esp when in Jakarta...

Nana Podungge said...

Dear John,

I am terribly sorry for reading this comment of yours very late. :)

When the first time I left my hometown Semarang to Jogja to study in 1986, I was surprised to face multiculturalism there. Many students were from various regions in Indonesia. :)

I thought it was because I was in Jogja, one city popularly known as 'kota pelajar' or 'student town' :)

However, when my daughter continued her study in one uni in Semarang, she told me about the similar atmosphere there. Of course many students come from various regions too, not just from Semarang. :)