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November 2007

Just got a copy of the condensed translation of the Serat Centhini by Soewito Santoso and Kestity Pringgoharjono, with great photographs by Fendi Siregar (The Centhini Story: The Javanese Journey of Life, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2006). The philologist in me would like to know more about how the translation was done (what text was used, the multi-volume romanised version?), and how the condensation process occurred, but from a reader's point of view it is very exciting to have the text made available to a wider audience. What is really nice about the book is that it includes photographs of the key sites, and even objects and ceremonies, discussed as the various protagonists wander over the island of Java in the wake of the fall of Demak to the kingdom of Mataram.

The text has an interesting relationship with Panji stories, not just because both are concerned with journeys, but also because the expositions of contemporary life and values is clearly meant to provide models for readers. I look forward to sitting down with this book next to the full Javanese text. It would be nice if this could also provide a precedent for publishers to sponsor translations (preferably in full) of other classics of Indonesian literature. Stuart Robson long ago talked of the need for readable versions of some of the great Kekawin in a series like the Penguin Classics.


Ide Anak Agung Gde Agung, former raja of Gianyar, former Prime Minister of the State of Eastern Indonesia, and Former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Indonesia, has been named in this year's round of 'National Heroes'. This elevation has sparked great controversy in Bali (and elsewhere in the Republic), since his role in Indonesia's achievement of independence was mixed. On a national level he took a pivotal action that brought the Dutch to the negotiating table, but on a local level he was involved for a while in the active suppression of nationalists, and according to the memoirs of Tjokorda Agung Sukawati (Memoirs of a Balinese Prince), the Anak Agung was involved in the torture, and possibly responsible for the deaths, of a number of independence fighters.

The most important action taken by the Anak Agung was in his role as Prime Minister of the State of Eastern Indonesia, which was a Dutch-sponsored state set up as part of their attempt to maintain an Indonesian Federation, in competition with the move to independence of the Republic. After the Second Police Action, a military action that saw the capture of the Republic's leadership and the independence fighters forced into guerilla warfare, Anak Agung brought down the State of Eastern Indonesia as a way of exposing the Dutch Federation as a sham, and thus undermining Dutch attempts to gain legitimacy in international forums. Most importantly this meant the Dutch could no longer maintain US support. From the reports I have seen, this move, which led to the final negotiations for Sovereignty, was what was recognised in the award.

The announcement has seen letters of support from some in Bali, but outcry from others, according to reports in Jawa Pos and the Bali Post over the last two days. Although no one has cited the evidence of Tjokorda Sukawati's book, or other similar accounts such as that of Nyoman S. Pendit, the criticism from surviving veterans of the struggle for independence and their family members has been very strong, and there are even calls to have the President revoke the award.

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Visited the Museum Nasional (alias Museum Gajah) today, for the first time in a number of years. I started with the old section, which is currently being repainted (I see that the workmen have done a great job splashing white paint on many statues in the courtyard, for those not familiar with the Museum, these all date from the 10th to the 15th century, another case of 'Indonesia, who gives a stuff'!). The collection has always amazed me, and walking in I felt overwhelmed to see the four Borobudur statues just at the entrance.

Going through the old building I was struck by how many key pieces seem to have been moved (especially the rebab from the Puri Klungkung gambuh set, taken during the puputan of 1908), and was feeling a bit depressed about this until I went into the new section which has just been opened. What a revelation, in place of the clunky old colonial exhibition halls (which have a certain charm, but zero explanation for the uninitiated) there are four floors of bright new open space with really top class exhibitions on each. When I got to the top floor I was again bowled over, but this time to see what they had done to the treasures, which were now exhibited with a greater sense of their acquisition (a lovely section on the Puputan Klungkung, with the lovely gambuh flute and rebab, and names of the key kris and other weapons--Margaret Wiener please note).

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