Past Stories

Maut Dan Cinta (Bab 7)

Mochtar Lubis
March 7, 1922 – July 2, 2004

Mochtar Lubis is one of the most well-respected names in Indonesian literature. The world- renowned journalist was a feisty crusader for the freedom of the press and an unwavering believer in universal humanism, truth, and justice. In 1952 he published the first English-language newspaper in Indonesia, the Times of Indonesia. Lubis was a war correspondent with the United Nations during the Korean War. He is primarily remembered as the editor of Indonesia Raya, a daily newspaper that never shied away from voicing balanced criticism of the current government and exposing the ugly truth of corruption and misconduct.

Lubis is additionally recognized as one of the greatest literary figures Indonesia has ever produced. He wrote Senja di Jakarta, possibly his best-known work in the Western world, during his house arrest under the Soekarno government. The work was originally published in the UK as Twilight in Jakarta (Hutchinson & Co. 1963) and is considered the first-ever Indonesian novel translated into English.

Lubis’ endeavors as a journalist and novelist earned him several prestigious international awards. He was the first Indonesian to have received the esteemed Philippine Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism and Literature, in 1958. In 2000, the International Press Institute honored him in its list of 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the past 50 years.



Bab 7

Sadeli telah dua hari kembali ke Singapura. Umar Yunus telah kembali dari Sumatera, membawa muatan yang berharga. Kiriman senjata dan alat-alat radio telah sampai dengan selamat. Pelayaran tak diganggu oleh musuh. Tiga kapal gula telah masuk pula.
Sadeli merasa amat gembira. Penerbangan pertama David telah diaturnya dengan saksama. Dia telah melakukan hubungan radio rahasia dengan Kolonel Suroso. AURI telah dihubungi. Dia ingin ikut dengan penerbangan pertama. Tetapi Kolonel Suroso memerintahkannya supaya tetap tinggal di posnya dan menunggu perintah selanjutnya.

Kini dia hanya menunggu hingga penerbangan pertama berlangsung. Garis penerbangan yang telah mereka pilih adalah Bangkok – Singapura – Jambi -Lampung – Yogyakarta – menyusur pantai selatan Pulau Jawa. Dia akan mengirim Ali Nurdin ikut dengan penerbangan ini. Bukan saja untuk membawa laporan untuk Kolonel Suroso, tetapi agar dia dapat menuliskan pengalamannya untuk disiarkan.

Ali Nurdin mengusulkan untuk mengundang beberapa wartawan luar negeri ikut dalam penerbangan ini. Akan banyak manfaatnya bagi propaganda di luar negeri. Ia telah mengirim kawat minta persetujuan Yogyakarta. Muatan obat-obatan yang amat diperlukan di dalam negeri telah tersedia pula untuk diangkut dengan pesawat udara David Wayne. Dokter Banerji telah memberi bantuan obat-obatan. Malahan sebagian merupakan sumbangan dari penduduk India di Singapura.

Ali Nurdin telah bekerja amat baik. Perhatian dari bantuan masyarakat di Singapura dan Tanah Melayu pada revolusi Indonesia tambah meningkat. Warna Merah Putih amat populer.

Tinggal sebuah masalah yang belum diselesaikannya. Tindakan apa yang mesti diambil terhadap Umar Yunus. Dia telah memeriksa buku-buku Umar Yunus. Dan ternyata amat tak beres. Pembukuan dan pengeluaran uang kacau-balau. Menurut pemeriksaan yang telah dilakukan, terlihat kekurangan kira-kira setengah juta dollar Singapura.

Untuk membaca cerita ini secara lengkap silakan membeli bukunya melalui:




Love, Death And Revolution (Chapter 7)

Stefanny Irawan is a published short story writer, freelance editor, and translator. Her first short story collection, Tidak Ada Kelinci di Bulan! (No Bunny on the Moon!), was published in 2006. She is passionate about theatre and received her Master’s degree in Arts Management at State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo under the Fulbright scholarship. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at Petra Christian University, Surabaya, Indonesia.

She can be reached at



Chapter 7

It had been two days since Sadeli returned to Singapore. Umar Yunus returned from Sumatra bringing valuable cargo. The weapons and radio interceptors had reached their destination point safely. Also, three boats carrying sugar had docked in Singapore.

Sadeli was very happy. He had arranged David’s maiden flight with great care. He made secret radio contact with Colonel Suroso and contacted the Indonesian Air Force. He had wanted to join this flight, but Colonel Suroso ordered him to stay put and wait for the next order.

Now Sadeli was simply waiting for the maiden flight to take off. They had chosen Bangkok-Singapore-Jambi-Lampung-Yogyakarta as the route, and the plane would fly along Java’s southern coastline. Sadeli would send Ali Nurdin on the flight not just to carry a message for Colonel Suroso, but also to write an article for publication.

Ali Nurdin suggested inviting a couple of foreign journalists on the flight. It would be beneficial for their revolution in terms of international propaganda. Sadeli sent a telegram to Yogyakarta, asking for approval. A shipment of much-needed medicine was ready to be loaded on David’s airplane. Doctor Banerji had donated some medicine, and other Indians living in Singapore had also made contributions.
Ali Nurdin had done his job very well. Indonesia had the attention and support from people in Singapore and Malaya. The red and white colors of the Indonesian flag were very popular.

The only problem left for Sadeli was how to handle Umar Yunus’ case. Umar Yunus’ bookkeeping turned out to be inaccurate. Based on the audit, there was about half a million Singapore dollars missing. Since he returned from Sumatra, Umar Yunus seemed somewhat distracted and after Sadeli’s audit he became even tenser.

At first, Sadeli told Umar Yunus to return the half million dollars and in exchange he would ask Colonel Suroso not to prosecute him. Sadeli also suggested Umar Yunus resign from the intelligence service.

Umar Yunus had turned pale and said, “What will happen to me?
You’re so cruel.”

“In my opinion, this is the best way for all of us,” Sadeli said calmly and added, “Don’t forget, we’re still in the middle of a revolution. Under revolution law you will receive the death penalty.”

Umar Yunus’ face paled further. “How can I pay back half a million dollars?”

“You still have the florist, the car, and the house that are partly under your name and partly under Rita’s. You can sell all the jewelry you gave her.”

“No, not that,” Umar Yunus’ voice trembled, “Have mercy on Rita. I don’t have the heart to take things away from her. You don’t understand; you’ve never been in love. You’re cruel. You’re nothing but a tool of the revolution!”

Sadeli shrugged and said, “Think about it. Don’t be angry at me or even consider me an enemy. I’m just carrying out an order. Consider this: you’re having fun here using the revolution’s money while there are soldiers back home who have to die because of the lack of medical supplies. Who knows, if that money…”

“Stop!” Umar Yunus interrupted and covered his ears. “You’re mean. Didn’t I perform the task you gave me? Shouldn’t you take that into consideration? Haven’t I been loyal to the revolution since the Proclamation Day on August 17, 1945? I admit I made a mistake. Can’t the revolution forgive me? Are the revolution, Colonel Suroso, and you all heartless robots?”

“Our revolution is a revolution of freedom for all humans. The spirit of our revolution is love for mankind. I didn’t come with the order to kill you, did I? Didn’t I give you a way out?”

“You came and ruined my happiness. Believe me, I’ve never been as happy as I am with Rita. Will you destroy that? Does your duty allow you to destroy the lives of two people?”

Sadeli sighed. He wondered how he could make Umar Yunus understand his utmost responsibility. Since his experience in Bangkok with Sheila, Derek, David, and Pierre, Sadeli did not take human emotions lightly. Perhaps Umar Yunus did love Rita with the profound love between a man and woman that he had never felt. A love so great it appeared to have a Godly quality someone would die for. Sadeli wondered if he had the right to ruin such an exceptional love. He reasoned that if people found such kind of love, they needed to nurture and protect it, but he was unable to pinpoint the difference between this love and its surrogate.

Sadeli decided to be patient in dealing with Umar Yunus. He didn’t want this to become a scandal in Singapore. It would undoubtedly hurt Indonesia’s reputation and the Dutch would definitely use it for their propaganda. He couldn’t afford for that to happen. He warned Umar Yunus, “You’re still a captain in the Intelligence Service of the Indonesian Republic, and you must obey all orders given.”

Sadeli didn’t want to ask for new orders from Colonel Suroso regarding Umar Yunus. The colonel had given him full authority to take any necessary action.

When Umar Yunus asked for a week to think about everything, Sadeli agreed right away. He also needed time to think about his decision. He was not the cruel person Umar Yunus accused him of being, but he had a heavy responsibility, obligation, and trust to bear. He couldn’t let Umar Yunus off the hook for stealing that much money from the revolution. He asked himself if he should take Umar Yunus’ love for Rita and Rita’s life into consideration. His sense of responsibility toward the revolution told him not to.
The revolution for freedom was most important. Everything else had to give way to it. Personal interests, love, and happiness had to yield. It would be impossible to seize freedom without total dedication to the revolution. Umar Yunus had betrayed the revolution by putting his own happiness above the safety of the revolution and didn’t deserve any special consideration. Sadeli sighed. He now realized how difficult it was to find the right path.

He picked up the phone and asked for Inspector Hawkins’ office. He was happy to hear the inspector’s voice on the other end. “It’s Sadeli. I just came from Bangkok,” he said, “How are you? How are things here? What’s new?”

“Ah, welcome back! Your friends are very upset. They’ve been waiting for their flower delivery, but it never showed up. When can we meet for lunch? You know I owe you one.”

“Alright, I’ll call you tomorrow or the day after. I’ve been quite busy lately.”

“Okay, be careful. Someone had a bad experience a few nights ago and wants revenge.”

“Thank you and goodbye.” Sadeli put down the receiver and chuckled. The inspector undoubtedly referred to Tan Ciat Tong. He noted that Hawkins really knew everything that happened on this island. He had no concerns about dealing with Tan Ciat Tong, but was glad he wasn’t alone on this mission.

Ali Nurdin had done a good job and proved himself to be a talented intelligence agent. Sadeli had given him some intelligence training and told him to read books on the science of intelligence maneuvers. Ali’s unit, as small as it might be, operated efficiently. Now they could mobilize the dockworkers to hold a protest rally against the Dutch vessels at any time. With better funding, Sadeli hoped they would be able to boycott the Dutch ships one day.

Five days later, Sadeli received a coded telegram from Colonel Suroso ordering him to buy radio interceptors and weapons to be shipped to Riau. Considering its large population of Chinese people with questionable loyalty, the Republic wanted to reinforce the
intelligence unit and troops in that area. Moreover, the Riau Islands were very close to Singapore and played a significant role.

Colonel Suroso had ordered Sadeli to take the speedboat, check out the area, and report to Yogyakarta as soon as possible. Then he had to return to his post in Singapore and wait for the next order.

David Wayne and Pierre de Koonig would soon fly to Indonesia. Sadeli worked day and night on the preparation of the flight. He had to purchase the radio interceptors and weapons. He needed to buy the items from someone else, through a third party. He could ask a member of his organization to serve as the go-between and be on constant alert throughout the process. He had to always remember three things: safety, safety, safety.

After a few busy days passed, Sadeli realized Umar Yunus hadn’t shown up for days. When Sadeli phoned him he was told that Umar Yunus was not home. He was about to find out more about Umar Yunus’ strange behavior, when a wire from Bangkok arrived. Tomorrow at eleven – David. Sadeli put his concerns about Umar Yunus aside to focus his attention on the more pressing matter at hand.

Sadeli was so excited, he completely forgot about Umar Yunus. He told Ali Nurdin to get three foreign journalists ready for the trip: one from the International News Service, one from Reuters, and the other from the Associated Press. They also had to inform the local newspapers in Sumatra.

The next morning, long before eleven, Sadeli and Ali Nurdin were already at Changi airport, waiting. Soon, the three foreign journalists joined them. They were ready for the maiden flight.

At a little past eleven, the loudspeaker announced the Dakota plane from Lotus Flights Inc. was about to land. Sadeli’s heart pounded as he watched the yellowish-gray plane descend and make a smooth landing. Now the air connection with my country is established, Sadeli thought happily, as if the plane was actually his.

After David Wayne and Pierre de Koonig exited the immigration room, Sadeli couldn’t hold back his excitement and shook their hands vigorously. “You can just fly out after this. I’ll have the cargo loaded right away. And you have four passengers,” he said and introduced them to Ali Nurdin and the three journalists.

An hour later, the Dakota took off. “Godspeed,” Sadeli wished as the plane disappeared into the clouds.


Bekisar Merah (Bab 4)

Award winning and acclaimed Indonesian author Ahmad Tohari was born on June 13, 1948 in Tinggarjaya, a village near the city of Banyumas in Central Java. Born into a large farming family, Ahmad carried the countryside he loved in his heart wherever work took him during his younger years. He voiced this love in his writing, which mostly centers on village life and morality. His father, a devout Muslim, passed his own strong beliefs to Ahmad, who sees himself as a progressive religious intellectual. He supports Islamic beliefs and laws while living in harmony among Indonesia’s diverse ethnic cultures and traditions.

Ahmad Tohari is a prolific writer and the author of eleven novels, two short story collections, and many other literary accomplishments. He is the recipient of the South East Asian Writers Award and was awarded a fellowship to the International Writing Program of Iowa City, Iowa. He is also a respected journalist who makes regular contributions to Suara Merdeka, the well-known Central Java newspaper, and Tempo, the established Indonesian weekly.

Ahmad Tohari is best known as the author of the trilogy, Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (The Dancing Girl of Paruk Village), published by Gramedia in 2011. The novels have been translated into Dutch, English, German, and Japanese, and producer Shanty Harmain adapted the novels into the film, The Dancer. Tohari is also held in high regard for his knowledge of Javanese art. He currently lives near Purwokerto, where he runs an Islamic school with his family and is consultant for the regional office of the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Education.



Bab 4


Lasi merasa tatapan tamu itu sekilas menyambar mata dan menyapu sekujur tubuhnya. Tetapi hanya sejenak. Detik berikut tamu itu sudah tersenyum seperti seorang guru tua sedang memuji muridnya yang pandai dan cantik. Senyum itu mencairkan kegugupan Lasi.

”Selamat sore, aku Pak Han,” salam Handarbeni. Senyumnya mengembang lagi.

”Selamat sore, Pak. Mari masuk.”

”Terima kasih. Tetapi nanti dulu. Aku mau bilang, Bu Lanting beruntung. Dia bilang punya anak angkat yang cantik. Kamulah orangnya?”

Lasi terkejut oleh pertanyaan yang sama sekali tidak diduganya. Wajah Lasi merona. Dan ia hanya bisa mengangguk kaku untuk menjawab pertanyaan itu. Dari cara Pak Han memandang Lasi sadar bahwa tamu itu adalah lelaki yang ingin melihat perempuan berkimono seperti yang dikatakan Bu Lanting. Lasi bertambah gagap. Tetapi Handarbeni malah senang. Ia menikmati kegagapan perempuan muda di depannya.  “Aku juga sudah tahu namamu. Lasi?”

Lasi mengangguk lagi. Dan menunduk. Bermain dengan jemari tangan yang kukunya bercat merah saga. Dan dengan sikap Lasi itu Handarbeni malah punya kesempatan lebih leluasa memandang bekisar yang akan dibelinya.

Bahkan Handarbeni tiba-tiba mendapat kesenangan aneh karena merasa menjadi kucing jantan yang sangat berpengalaman dan sedang berhadapan dengan tikus betina yang bodoh dan buta. Handarbeni amat menikmati kepuasan itu karena dia terlalu biasa menghadapi tikus-tikus berpengalaman tetapi malah selalu merangsang-rangsang ingin diterkam.

Atau Handarbeni sering merasa seperti disodori pisang yang sudah terkupas; tak ada sisi yang tersisa sebagai wilayah pemburuan atau tempat rahasia keperempuan masih tersimpan. Pisang-pisang yang kelewat matang yang kadang menyebalkan.

“Kamu sangat pantas dengan pakaian itu. Kudengar ayahmu memang orang Jepang?”

Lasi senyum tertahan. Tetapi lekuk pipinya malah jadi lebih indah. Entahlah, dulu di Karangsoga Lasi terlalu risi, bahkan jengkel, bila disebut rambon Jepang. Namun sekarang sebutan itu terdengar sejuk. Mungkin karena orang Karangsoga mengucapkan sebutan itu sebagai pelecehan sedangkan Bu Lanting, dan kini Pak Han, menyebutnya sebagai pujian?



Untuk membaca cerita ini secara lengkap silakan membeli bukunya melalui:

The Red Bekisar (Chapter 4)

Hayat Indriyatno is the managing editor of the Jakarta Globe, an English-language newspaper in Jakarta, having fallen into journalism quite by accident.

An engineer by training, he was born and raised in Tanzania, going to a school near the house where Roald Dahl once lived, and professes a special affection for the works of the world’s greatest children’s author. He went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Natal, Durban, in South Africa.

At age 24 Hayat decided to move to Indonesia, the land of his father’s birth, and was immediately smitten by the novelty of it all. A chance encounter led to a newspaper job, and another presented him with the opportunity to translate into English a book by the award-winning author Okky Madasari. He hasn’t looked back since.

At home, Hayat has a wife and three young children, for whom he has made the wisest investment any parent can make: a box set of Dahl.



Chapter 4


Lasi  sensed him looking her over from head to toe but it only lasted a moment. A second later he smiled like an old teacher praising a clever and pretty student. His smile put Lasi at ease.

“Good afternoon. I’m Pak Han,” Handarbeni’s smile broadened.

“Good afternoon, Pak. Please come in.”

“Thank you, but let me first say, Mrs. Lanting is very fortunate. She told me she adopted a very beautiful young woman. Are you the one?”

Lasi was taken aback by the unexpected question. She blushed and nodded stiffly. She could tell from the way Handarbeni looked at her that he was the man who wanted to see her dressed in a kimono.

As Lasi grew more nervous, Handarbeni became more pleased. He enjoyed the nervousness of the young woman in front of him. “I also know your name. Lasi?”

Lasi fiddled with her fingers and their bright red nails. This gave Handarbeni a greater opportunity to look at the bekisar he was about to purchase.

Handarbeni derived a strange pleasure from feeling like a tomcat staring at a dumb, blind mouse. He relished the sensation because he so often had to deal with experienced mice that wanted to be caught. He had often felt like he was being handed a banana that had already been peeled; not a square inch had been left unexplored, and nothing of that womanly secret was left intact. Overripe bananas were terribly vexing.

“That kimono suits you very well. I heard your father was Japanese.”

Lasi smiled cautiously, which made her dimple more attractive. In Karangsoga, it made her uncomfortable, annoyed even, to be called part Japanese, but Handarbeni made his reference sound refreshing. Mrs. Lanting and Handarbeni used as a compliment what the people of Karangsoga used as an insult.

“Please come in, Pak,” Lasi said to ward off any more questions.

“Okay. Where’s the mistress?”

“She stepped out for a moment, and asked me to stand in for her until she returned.”

Handarbeni smiled and nodded understandingly. That old Mrs. Lanting really was slick, and for once Handarbeni was thankful. His expression grew more cheerful.

“In that case, come sit with me. I’m so used to coming here that I feel like your adopted mother’s brother. Relax, you’re a Jakartan now. You can’t be shy and Jakartan as well. You enjoy living in the city, don’t you?”

Lasi smiled and nodded. She assumed her guest expected that answer. Her thoughts drifted to Kanjat. Where would he be on his way home? 

Handarbeni lit a cigarette. “A lot of people from the country come to the city because life back there is hard. You’re more suited to city life.”

“Do you think so? I’m simple and uneducated.”


“I only completed the village school.”

“Even so, you’re more suited to be a city person. Do you know why?”

Lasi shook her head.

Handarbeni’s laughter eased the tension, and Lasi relaxed.

“It’s because you shouldn’t work in fields under the hot sun, or carry a basket on your back. You’re worthy of being a mistress, living in a nice house, and have a car.”

“That’s right,” Mrs. Lanting cut in. She had stood behind the door for some time. “That’s right, no one can deny that Lasi deserves to be a mistress. Pak Han, do you have a suitor for her?”

“When we look for such a man, we’ll certainly find one. As educated people say, the finest things are always spoken for. Isn’t that right?”

“That’s right, Pak Han. The finest goods always sell quickly.”

Handarbeni and Mrs. Lanting laughed.

Lasi felt uncomfortable being praised so excessively as if she were an item for sale. “I’m sorry, Bu, I haven’t prepared any drinks. Pak Han kept me here in the living room.”

“Any man would want to spend time alone with you. Go on, then, fetch the drinks.”

It was quiet for a moment. Handarbeni took a drag of his cigarette and blew out the smoke. He leaned back in his seat, completely at ease. “I like your bekisar. She almost looks Japanese, except she’s taller. I’m convinced that when it comes to acquiring rare goods, you really are very good.”

“When you’re pleased, the compliments fly out of your mouth like moths in the rainy season.”

“That’s right. Thumbs up to you. How did you ever find such a fine bekisar?”

“There’s no need to mention the obvious. I’m not sure it’s a one hundred percent success. Your bekisar, Pak Han, walks like a country girl, all hurried and stiff. She’s very far from elegant. That’s something I’m working on.”

“Yes, I noticed, but you must understand I don’t want her to turn entirely into a city girl. I’d like her to retain a bit of country color.”

“You’re bored of the artificial look so many women in the city have. You want to indulge in her innocence.”

Handarbeni smiled. He stretched his legs and leaned his head back against the seat cushion.

“If only I could bring my bekisar home with me right now.” He laughed without changing his position.

“Don’t be like a little child with a new toy. We have a long way to go, Pak Han. I know Lasi very much wants to separate from her husband, but she isn’t divorced. That’s one problem. Second, we have to convince her to be your bekisar. That’s the most difficult part.”

“I’m aware of that. I’m also aware the human heart can be unpredictable. Clearly the whole business could get messy if the bekisar doesn’t want to go into the cage I’ve prepared in Slipi.”

“That’s why you need to be patient and wise. Patience is the key. I’ll also ask you to…”

Lasi returned with drinks and snacks, and her presence immediately ended the conversation. From the look on her face, Lasi was unaware that she was the subject.

“I ask for you not to be too pushy,” Mrs. Lanting resumed once Lasi had left the room again.

“I’m over sixty.”

“I know you have a lot of experience. What I mean is you should act passive but sweet. I’ll do the rest and herd the bekisar into your cage, and make sure she goes in willingly. To ensure a satisfactory outcome, Pak Han, you have to wait for two or three months. I have my doubts you’ll be able to comply with my request.”

Handarbeni chuckled and smiled.

“Don’t smile just yet. I have something else. From now on I expect you to take care of all the expenses of caring for the bekisar.”

“There’s no need to mention this because she’s already mine. Even before you asked, I was prepared to bear those costs. All that matters is a guarantee that you’ll succeed.”

“You trust me, don’t you?”

“You’ve proven yourself trustworthy so far.”

“Thank you. Just so you know, I already have the bekisar accustomed to everything from brushing her teeth to repairing her broken fingernails. She knows the names of her makeup items, and food and dishes. But I haven’t succeeded in convincing her that she’s no longer a country girl married to a tapper. She has low self-confidence and doesn’t quite believe in the advantages of her looks. Fortunately, the bekisar is smart. She catches on quickly to what I teach her.”

“Very well, Mrs. Lanting. I’ll leave her with you because I trust you. Call her so I can see her once more before I leave.”

“You’re leaving now?”

“I have business with a friend later this afternoon.”

Lasi entered the room in her red kimono. She blushed as Handarbeni flashed her a compliment in the form of a thumbs up and held out his hand.

“I’m glad you’re content living with Mrs. Lanting. What have you seen since you’ve been in Jakarta?”

Lasi bowed her head and twiddled her fingers.

“We haven’t seen all that much,” Mrs. Lanting said.

“Next time we’ll go out together. Would you like to see Ancol Beach or watch a movie at Hotel Indonesia?”

Lasi blushed.

“Pak Han, why don’t you invite us to your house for a visit?” Mrs. Lanting said.

“Oh, you’re right. I’d like it very much. Pick a time when I can expect you.”

“Certainly, we’ll let you know. Which house should we visit? I’m sure you want us to visit you at the new one you’ve just built in Slipi.”

Handarbeni laughed in agreement. His eyes twinkled as he nodded and smiled at Lasi.


Tanah Tabu (Bab 8)

Anindita Siswanto Thayf was born in Makassar, on the island of Sulawesi. Her love for books began when she was in kindergarten. She started to write because she likes to let her imagination run free. The original of Daughters of Papua, Tanah Tabu (Gramedia 2009) won the 2008 Dewan Kesenian Jakarta (Jakarta Arts Council) Novel Competition. Thayf’s next work is the trilogy, Ular Tangga (Gramedia 2018)

Thayf holds a degree in Engineering from Universitas Hasanudin, Makassar. Public speaking makes her nervous. For the sake of her imagination and writing process, she now lives in Blitar with her husband, Ragil N.

She can be reached at



Bab 8


Sebenarnya aku masih belum puas bermain bersama Yosi. Beberapa permainan mengasyikan belum sempat kami mainkan. Penyebabnya, teriakan kesal mace Helda sudah terdengar menyambar-nyambar telinga. Membuat wajah Yosi meringis, seolah jeweran tangan Ibunya itu sudah singgah di tempatnya yang biasa.

“Aku pulang dulu,” desisnya sangat enggan, menjauh dari arena permainan, sebelum kemudian melayangkan senyum pamit kepadaku sambil melambaikan tangan perpisahan untuk hari itu. Aku pun mengangguk pasrah. Berusaha tidak menghalangi langkahnya dengan kata-kata yang bisa membuat hari sahabatku itu semakin sedih. Sembari melepaskan ikatan karet gelang dari batang pohon pinang yang tumbuh lurus dekat pagar, kuantar kepergiannya dengan pandangan kasihan. Tentunya sangat berat bagi Yosi meninggalkan permainan lompat karet kami. Ia tinggal melakukan satu lompatan terakhir menuju kemenangan. Lompatan Merdeka. Tak hanya itu, aku pun tahu perasaan Yosi pastinya sama denganku. Kami masih ingin bermain lebih lama lagi. Setelah seminggu lebih terkurung dalam rumah karena ada perang yang pecah di jalan besar, bisa bermain kembali rasanya bagai sebuah mimpi yang mewujud nyata.

“Ada kabar gembira! Perang sudah berhenti. Berhenti karena korban yang mati sudah sama. Sepuluh orang dari Kelompok Atas, juga sepuluh dari Kelompok Bawah,” begitu pemberitahuan Mama Mote, lebih dikenal dengan nama Mama Pembawa Berita, yang datang kemarin. Ia muncul dengan sepasang mata yang bersinar di wajah yang sarat ekspresi. Senang, lega, sekaligus sengsara karena itu berarti kehadirannya tidak bakal dinantikan lagi.

Ketika itu, aku sedang bermain rumah-rumahan sendiri di kolong meja. Berpura-pura perang juga sedang terjadi di dunia khayalku, dengan pintu dan jendela rumah harus terus-menerus ditutup rapat, agar bahaya dari luar tetap di luar dan tidak masuk ke dalam, begitu pesan Mace. Aku pun sengaja mengurung diri di bawah meja. Terbentengi ujung-ujung kain taplak yang menjuntai kaku dan kotor di keempat sisinya. Aku tetap berdiam di situ hingga Mama Pembawa Berita datang, duduk di kursi kayu tepat di depanku, lalu mulai mengoceh dengan semangat yang menolak reda.

“Sekarang jalan besar sudah sepi. Semua mayat sudah dibawa pergi. Yang ada hanya genangan darah, anak panah, dan potongan kayu. Ada juga petugas yang dipasang buat jaga-jaga. Petugas yang membawa senjata api. Mereka bilang, orang-orang yang mati itu masih muda-muda semua oo….”


Untuk membaca cerita ini secara lengkap silakan membeli bukunya melalui:

Daughter Of Papua (Chapter 8)

Stefanny Irawan is a published short story writer, , freelance editor, and translator. Her first short story collection, Tidak Ada Kelinci di Bulan! (No Bunny on the Moon!), was published in 2006. She is passionate about theatre and received her Master’s degree in Arts Management at State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo under the Fulbright scholarship. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at Petra Christian University, Surabaya, Indonesia.

She can be reached at



Chapter 8



I want to play with Yosi longer. We have exciting games we haven’t played, but Mama Helda’s yelling is too loud to ignore.

Yosi cringes like she feels her mother pulling her ears. “I need to go.” She walks away, then smiles and waves goodbye.

I try not to stop my best friend with words that will only make her sadder. While I untie the rubber band string from the pinang tree by the fence, I give her a sorry look. It’s hard for her to leave our rubber skipping game. She was one jump away from winning the merdeka jump. More than that, I know Yosi shares my feeling. After being locked in the house for more than a week because of the war, being able to play outside again feels like a dream come true.

“Good news. The war is over. Both sides lost the same number of men, ten highlanders and ten lowlanders,” said Mama Mote, the mama messenger, when she came yesterday. She showed up with shiny eyes and mixed feelings: happy, relieved, and miserable at the same time because it meant that her visits wouldn’t be needed anymore.

I played house by myself under the table. Mace said we had to keep our doors and windows closed all the time to make sure the danger stayed outside, so I pretended that a war had also happened in my imaginary world. I hid under the table where the hanging ends of the stiff and dirty tablecloth protected me like walls of a castle. I stayed there until the mama messenger sat on a wooden chair in front of me and began to talk with nonstop excitement.

“The main street is empty and the corpses have been cleared. There are only blood pools, arrows, and wooden sticks on the ground. A few armed guards are in place just in case something happens. Those who died were still young.”
Mama Mote muttered to herself, saying she would go to the hospital to find out about the poor kids. Maybe she could help deliver the bad news to their family. She kept going until Mabel interrupted.

“Meanwhile, Papua lost another twenty brainless people. Brave but stupid men who were easily poisoned to kill their own brothers. They died so young over something so trivial. When will these people realize….”

Mama Mote answered Mabel with silence. From under the table, I saw her hand reaching down. She’d rather scratch the scabies on her calf until there were long white lines than comment on what Mabel said. But a reaction came from another direction in a form of a loud sigh. I turned my head and watched Mace’s feet with their cracked soles that reminded me of dry ground. The sound must have come from her. I knew her well enough that I could imagine how she frowned when worried. I never know why she behaves like that every time Mabel says things I can’t understand. She acted like Mabel had let out a big secret that would put us in danger if someone found out. I did the same when Yosi accidentally spilled our secret to Karel that I had found a treasure in the field. But usually, Mabel didn’t seem to care that much.

In the next minute, Mace stomped to the kitchen. She came back soon afterward and talked politely.

“Please have some pinang, Mama Mote.”

She tried to swallow her anger in front of her guest.

Just like how kids were not allowed to talk about any ghost or spirit they saw so as not to be possessed, the talk switched from war to the price of things. Mace gave her opinion that we should raise the price of pinang since other things were already getting more expensive. Meanwhile, I got bored playing alone and decided to end my imaginary war to go to Yosi’s house.

“Leksi, where are you going? Can’t you see that no one is out on the street?” Mace’s warning stopped me. My smile turned into a frown. I really wanted to play. I tried to sulk for a few seconds, hoping she would let me go outside. It didn’t work.

“You can play tomorrow. I’m sure Yosi isn’t allowed out today. Try to be patient, Leksi. Tomorrow you can play all you want until late.”

That’s what Mace promised me yesterday, but Mama Helda didn’t make the same promise to Yosi. I’m saying this because when we met again, Yosi had to make dinner for her family like she did every day.

“Leksi!” Yosi’s loud yell startled me, and woke me from my daydreaming. I saw her skinny figure near her porch. With one hand waving, Yosi mouthed words. She tried to send me a silent message from far away. Too bad I couldn’t understand what she said. Somehow, I was sure she made a promise to play together tomorrow. I answered her with a big grin. It was the right answer because I saw her start to smile. Her look of fear returned when Mama Helda’s yelling came thundering from inside the house, “Yosi, move it, or do you want me to hit you?”


I can’t wait to finish my class today. I think about which exciting games I’ll play with Yosi later. But when I get home and tell her the choice I made before the school bell rang, she tells me her mother won’t let her play. She has to take care of Kaye, her sick youngest brother.

“Kaye has a fever, Leksi. Mama told me to take care of him and not to leave the house, let alone play.”

I should have known. Kaye has shown signs of coming down with a fever since early morning. He was so cranky that I woke earlier than normal. His yelling made the roosters crow before they saw the sun. Dogs barked too. Meanwhile, Mabel washed our clothes by the well and guessed at the reason for Kaye’s painful crying.

“Was he beaten or did he fall? Or maybe accidentally squashed in the door?”

Before I leave for school, I see Yosi sweeping the yard. “Yosi, are we going to play later?”

“You bet, Leksi,” she answers. “You decide what game we’ll play.”

She doesn’t expect her mother to give her the duty of caring for her sick brother. When I ask about Kaye, she cheerfully says, “It’s just a fever, but my mama is taking care of him. She might not go to the field today.”

Kaye is only three but he acts like a giant baby. He cries and sulks too easily. Even Mama Helda can’t stand his crankiness.

Yosi is very patient and caring. She never pinches or scolds Kaye when he acts up. She talks to him, buys him candy when she has money, or lets him interrupt her game.

“We’ll play when Kaye is well. I’m sure his fever will be gone by tomorrow,” Yosi says before Kaye’s crying calls her back into the house.

I thought I would be angry all day because my plan to play with Yosi fell through, but that old woman came at the right moment. It was almost noon and I was very bored playing with dirt by myself.

Our guest was Mabel’s. She arrived from Biak. When they meet, the two old ladies shout greetings and hug with tears running down their cheeks for quite a while. Mabel introduces her as her oldest best friend, but the guest corrects her, saying that she is a relative who has gone without seeing Mabel for a long time. Her name is Mama Kori.

“This is my granddaughter. Leksi,” Mabel said, introducing me.

“Leksi? My, my, what a sweet girl. Really sweet.” She praises me in her warm voice and pinches me lovingly in the cheek. I give her my most perfect smile, a smile that gradually fades when she continues with a question to Mabel, “Is she Johanis’ daughter?”

“Yes. That’s her.”

“Oh, no wonder. She has his eyes. And his nose too.”

As she says this, I touch my eyes and nose. Are they like his? In what way? At this moment, I want to run to the mirror in the bedroom and see and enjoy what is alike in our faces — father’s and mine — the way Mama Kori says, because I have never seen his face. I find it really hard to leave the living room. I want to hear the many new things from our guest. I decide to check in the mirror later and stay on Mace’s lap. Mabel introduces her as Johanis’ wife.

“Lisbeth.” Mace says her name as she politely shakes our guest’s hand.

At noon, our house is more cheerful than usual. Not only does Mama Kori bring many souvenirs, she also has stories that make us laugh, although some of them surprise me.

Mama Kori tells about how naughty my father was as a child, including the time they had to take him to the clinic because a goose had pecked his butt. She makes Mabel blush when she tells the story of the charming young man who came to Mabel’s house every day, bringing her the harvest from his field.

“You know, Leksi, that young man was crazy about your Mabel. Back then she was the most beautiful of all. Nobody could compete with her.”


Mama Kori says like it’s just us: “Believe me, child.” She throws a glance at Mabel, who shouts in return.

“Ah, Kori. Come on, just stop this story.”

“No way, Annabel. Your granddaughter must know a little about her grandmother’s past.” She continues: “Just so you know, Leksi, before those wrinkles appeared, your Mabel glowed in beauty like you. Yes, just like you.”

Hearing that, my chest puffs proudly and I smile. Being praised like that by someone I just met was different from being praised by Mabel or Mace. My smile faded in the next second and it was gone completely when I thought about something.

“Mama Kori, will there be a young man coming here every day, bringing me the harvest from his field?”

Again, laughter fills our cramped house, right when Mace finishes placing lunch on the table. “Let us eat, Mama.”

“Thank you, Lisbeth.”

Pum shows up out of nowhere and Mama Kori recognizes him right away. “My goodness, Pum. Is that really you? Looks like we’ve both grown old.”

This day, lunch is a lot merrier than usual.



Kei (Bab 8)

Born in Lipulalongo, a small village of clove growers in Central Sulawesi, Erni Aladjai earned her degree in French literature from the Hasannudin University in Makassar, Sulawesi. She has worked as a journalist and news editor in Makassar.

Several of her poems, essays, and short stories have been published by local as well as national media. Aladjai’s short story Mariantje dan Pasangan Tua first appeared in the Media Indonesia newspaper on April 21, 2013 and was republished in 2014 along with its translation, Mariantje and the old Couple on Dalang Publishing’s website. Her novel, Kei (Gagas Media 2013), took first place in the 2011 Jakarta Arts Council novel competition and was translated under the same title by Nurhayat Indriyatno Mohamed (Dalang Publishing 2014). Other award-winning works include “Sampo Soie Soe, Si Juru Masak” placed third at the 2012 Jakarta International Literary Festival. Her two novellas, Rumah Perahu and Sebelum Hujan di Seasea, took second and third place in the 2011 Femina Writers Competition. Aladjai is also the author of the novels Ning di Bawah Gerhana (Bumen Pustaka Emas, 2013) and Pesan Cinta dari Hujan (Insist Press, 2010).

Aladjai is currently a full-time writer and a freelance fiction editor. She can be reached at:


Bab 8

Langgur, Awal Mei 1999

Angin laut lebih gigil dari bulan-bulan kemarin. Di bibir Pantai Langgur, para lelaki tua dan pemuda berdiri berjejer. Suasana mencekam. Dari jauh, tiga buah sampan dengan nyala lentera meliuk-liuk menuju ke bibir Pantai Langgur.

“Semua siap siaga!” perintah Tinus — lelaki berumur 45 tahun itu adalah pembantu raja di bidang hukum dalam tatanan adat. Para lelaki menahan napas sejenak saat sampan-sampan itu mendekat. Semakin sampan mendekat, suara kecipak dayung mereka semakin terdengar jelas. Tiba-tiba salah satu dari mereka mengangkat lampu lenteranya dan berdiri.

“Oooii yaau ya…!” Sosok yang berteriak itu ternyata seorang perempuan berkerudung.

“Apakah kami bisa masuk, kami membawa makanan dan pakaian untuk keluarga kami yang mengungsi di situ,” ujar salah seorang di dalam perahu. Mereka datang membawakan bantuan makanan untuk saudara-saudara mereka yang mengungsi.

“Ya, saudaraku, kalian bisa masuk dengan aman,” seru Tinus.

Semua lega, ternyata mereka bukanlah para penyerang, bukan pula huin demuan — orang-orang penghasut kerusuhan. Tujuan mereka untuk mengguncang Maluku, tetapi di Kei, baik Islam atau Kristen, sama-sama tetaplah orang Kei.

Para lelaki mengantarkan tiga perempuan itu ke tenda pengungsian. Di sana mereka berpelukan dengan kerabat mereka.

“Kalian jangan sedih, tenang-tenang saja dulu. Kami yakin rusuh ini pasti berhenti. Dan kita bisa bersama lagi. Untuk sementara kami tak bisa lama-lama, kalian mengerti, kan? Ini hanya untuk sementara,” kata perempuan yang bersampan itu sembari menghapus air mata kakak kandungnya.

Kekerabatan orang Kei memang sangat kompleks. Banyak orang Islam menikah dengan orang Kristen. Jadi, jika sang nenek Islam, bisa jadi anak dan cucunya Kristen. Sang suami Kristen, bisa jadi istrinya Islam, atau jika sang kakak Islam, bisa jadi adiknya Kristen atau sepupunya Katolik. Karena itu juga, semua orang Kei bersaudara. Kompleksitas kekerabatan di Kei sama rumitnya dengan irama lagu Bohemian Rhapsody yang dilantunkan grup musik legendaris Queen.

Di hati orang Kei bersemayam snib — wasiat leluhur mereka, yang selalu mengajarkan untuk menjaga, melindungi dan menghormati kaum perempuan. Mereka akan dilindungi lelaki Kei di mana pun, siapa pun dia dan penganut agama apa pun. Pengiriman bantuan makanan yang dibawa tiga orang perempuan yang bersampan itu biasa di Kei, sebab perempuan tahu, mereka tak akan disakiti.


Untuk membaca cerita ini secara lengkap silakan membeli bukunya melalui:

Kei (Chapter 8)

Nurhayat Indriyatno Mohamed is the managing editor of the Jakarta Globe, an English-language newspaper in Jakarta. He was born and raised in Tanzania, and has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Natal, Durban, in South Africa. At age 24 Hayat decided to move to Indonesia, the land of his father’s birth, and was immediately smitten by the novelty of it all.
A chance encounter led to a newspaper job, and another presented him with the opportunity to translate into English a book by the award-winning author Okky Madasari. Hayat translated Erni Aladjai’s award winning novel Kei (GagasMedia 2013) under the same title for Dalang Publishing in 2014.

Hayat can be reached at:






Chapter 8

Langgur, May 1999

The wind from the sea was colder than in previous months. Old and young men lined up on the beach. In the distance, a group of three rowboats lit by lanterns snaked their way closer to the shore.

“Everyone get ready.” At forty-five, Tinus was the tribal leader’s assistant for legal matters. The men held their breath as the rowboats approached. As they drew closer, the sound of the oars churning the water grew clearer. Someone in one of the boats held a lantern aloft and stood up.

“Hey, brothers, we are here,” shouted a woman wearing a jilbab.

“Can we come ashore? We have food and clothes for our families taking refuge here,” another person in the boat said.

“Yes, my brothers and sisters, you can come ashore,” Tinus called out.

Everyone was relieved. They were not attackers or people trying to instigate violence. The latter were out to destabilize Maluku, but on Kei, whether Muslim or Christian, everyone was still a Kei.

The men escorted three of the women from the rowboat to the refugee camp. Once there, they embraced their relatives. “Don’t be sad, just calm down. The conflict will end soon and we can be together again. We can’t do anything for now, do you understand? This is only temporary.” One of the women wiped the tears from her sister’s eyes.

The personal ties among the Kei people had always been complex. Many Muslims married Christians, so if a woman was a Muslim, her grandchild could very well be a Christian. A Christian husband could have a Muslim wife, and a Muslim’s sibling could be Protestant and their cousin Catholic. That was part of the reason why the Kei were brothers. Their relationships were as complex as the arrangement of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.

In the heart of the Kei lived snib — a sacred legacy of the ancestors to always guard, protect, and respect women. Kei men had to protect women everywhere, no matter who they were or what religion they followed. The bringing of food by the women in the rowboats was common in Kei. They knew they would never be hurt.


Long before the conflict came to the Kei islands, the people had built churches and mosques together. Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims alike joined in cheerfully. The Kei had a life philosophy: we are all eggs from the same fish and the same bird. Their traditions and tribal laws dated back to historic times, prevailing through the years and superseding all else, including religious doctrine.

When the conflict started in Ambon in January 1999, the Kei stayed calm and refused to take sides. Then on March 31, just before daybreak, violence erupted in Tual. The Kei people learned about it from television and radio reports after the sun had risen high in the sky. Most of them following the developments were convinced the conflict would never leap to the Kei islands. An imam at a mosque said: “The traditional laws of Kei come first. Only after that do people heed the Qur’an or the Bible. The last law we obey is the law of the State of Indonesia.”

The conflict was crueler than the angel of death. It spread quickly to the small villages and islands in the area, reaching Elaar and Watraan and other places.

As the conflict escalated, the tribal leaders and settlers — the Buginese, Javanese, Makassarese, Buton, and Chinese — gathered to talk about peace.


Namira was trying to calm two young boys at the refugee camp who were arguing and trying to snatch each other’s marbles when Sala came along carrying a pair of yellow flip-flops. He knew she had not worn footwear since he first met her, and did not want her stepping on any more glass shards. Since the night at Max’s house, Sala’s love for Namira had grown by the day. He abandoned his plan of leaving the Kei islands. He wanted the conflict to be over quickly so he could take Namira to Watraan. He wanted to marry her there.

Sala imagined that after a tiring day of forging knives, she would bring him a cup of tea and a plate of fried cassava. His daydreams were filled with the small pleasures of married life. He believed his mother’s soul would be at peace if he went back home and revived the metal shop.

Namira was all the encouragement he needed.

At lunch at the camp, Namira busied herself preparing Sala’s food. It became the talk of everyone working in the kitchen. The volunteers called her and Sala the Romeo and uliet of Langgur. It annoyed and pleased Namira.

“He’s a good man, Ra,” said Rohana. She was short and fat, with round cheeks, and always joking and cheerful.

Namira liked Rohana, and so did many of the other refugees. She told funny stories that made the others laugh as though the violence in Kei had never happened.

One day, the volunteers and social workers were upset because the food aid sent by the government had spoiled. The bread was moldy and the instant noodle packets were torn and infested with ants. Seeing the others upset, Rohana started to chatter.

“A young man named Lius went to the same food stall at lunchtime. One day he asked the woman owning the stall, ‘Aunty, what stew do you have?’

“The owner said, ‘Nail stew, Lius.’

“He ordered the nail stew. The next day he came again at lunchtime. He asked, ‘Aunty, what stew do you have?’

“The woman answered, ‘Bamboo stew, Lius.’

“Then Lius said, ‘Aunty, if this keeps up, tomorrow I’ll
shit a fence.’

”Another time, when the volunteers were gloomy because of news that the military had entered the conflict in Maluku, Rohana had another funny story to tell. She said that when people complain, things only get worse because the universe repays them with more grief. “So let go and laugh,” she said.

The story went like this: A child went home after he was scolded by his teacher at school and told his grandfather. The grandfather became angry and went to the school looking for the teacher. But when he arrived, the teacher had gone home. The grandfather became angrier and went to the teacher’s house. He rolled up his sleeves, revealing his tattoos. When he knocked on the teacher’s door, a soldier in full uniform answered. The soldier was the teacher’s husband. The grandfather suddenly turned coward.

The soldier asked, “Can I help you, pak?”

The grandfather answered, “I wanted to ask the teacher if there was community service at the school today.”

Rohana was endearing to Namira, Sala, other volunteers, and the refugees.


Sala touched Namira’s leg. She woke and rubbed her eyes.

“Sorry.” He felt bad waking her up before daybreak.

Namira rose and went to the well. She washed her face and tied her hair back while Sala waited for her. They walked to the ketapang tree and stood so close they formed a single silhouette. Moonlight seeped between the leaves and branches, and fell in a straight line across the ground. Sala pulled Namira into an embrace. He felt uneasy, yet wished he could spend all of his time showing her his love.

A moment later, they headed toward the road and the beach. They walked through patches of beach morning glory and gravel before they reached the white, wet sand. Namira brought a fish basket and Sala carried a set of oars. The village chief ’s boat was moored on the beach. It was used for fishing so there would be food for the refugees.

“I don’t have a good feeling about today. Maybe you should stay on land,” Namira said. Besides her premonition, she had a vision of corpses floating on the water and the fish nibbling on them. She shuddered to think people ate the same fish.

Namira looked at Sala, her intuition tied up in knots. She took the fish basket back out of the boat and Sala followed her.

Deep in his heart, he felt the same. Martina had told him that a woman’s intuition is stronger than a fortuneteller’s prediction.


“Not going out to sea today, pela?” a volunteer asked.

“No, Namira won’t let me.”

When the sun was directly overhead, the sound that had haunted everyone for the past two months returned. It was heard in Elaar, Watraan, and Ngursoin. The refugees scattered. Once again, there was crying and the noise of gunshots. A mob appeared from nowhere and surrounded Langgur, like “rats that suddenly appear from unknown holes, right at the eruption of war.”

These unknown rats came with machetes, spears, and arrows. This was the most sorrowful conflict of all — against one’s brothers.

A bomb exploded north of Langgur and shook the ground. It felt as though the village would split apart. The refugees ran every direction. Namira could only sit with her wet cheeks and cover her ears. The trauma she experienced in Elaar made her unable to move.

“Those goddamned police and soldiers. Where did these people get their guns if not from them?” One of the volunteers cursed aloud and added, “This is truly crazy.”

Langgur’s main street was divided. To the right were the local men and refugees, and to the left the attackers who barricaded the road. The parties threw rocks at each other and the attackers shot arrows that showered the other side like shooting stars.

The road was strewn with rocks. A food kiosk close to Max’s house caught fire. Three men lay still on the road. No one helped them. Sala broke through the blockade of men wearing red bandanas. Namira was left behind and hid with another volunteer beside a rusty barrel. A man wearing a red bandana pointed his spear at them.

Namira broke out in a cold sweat.

“Are you Muslim?” he asked.

Namira trembled. The volunteer next to her shut her eyes tight, ready to meet her barbaric end with dignity.

“Hey, pela, don’t you hurt those girls or you’ll get hurt yourself.” A voice like a tiger’s roar pierced Namira’s ears. Sala stood in front of the man with the red bandana. “I won’t fight you, pela. I don’t want to give those seeking bloodshed any reasons to cheer.”

Namira looked intently at Sala.

The volunteer babbled, “Oh, Allah, Jesus, Elohim, Hallelujah, Dalai Lama, gods of the sky, bring peace to Kei.”

Sala stepped up to the man with the spear.

“I’m the same as you, I have the same religion. But if we join in the slaughter, we’ll only satisfy those who want to see chaos in Maluku,” Sala said.

It was like a miracle. The man with the red bandana was quiet. He had only been paid to do something that he was reluctant to do. Sala pulled Namira by the arm. She collapsed in his embrace, sobbing. “Please find Esme,” she said between tears.


Black smoke blanketed Langgur and the other villages, resembling a flock of crows passing overhead. The stench of death was like the scent of frangipani at night. The refugees who were still alive fled in boats along with the women and children of the village. This time they headed to Evu.

Sala asked Namira to go there too. He had to remain in Langgur with the other men and protect the village. They planned to secure the public facilities so the village did not have the same fate as the one on the other island — it was best not to mention the name out of decency and horror. The well in that village, the people’s only source of fresh water, was filled with severed body parts. The stench was overwhelming.

The unrest had caused many horrors, stories of corpses without arms or legs, or heads or shoulders or chests. One report from an island to the south reached Langgur, about a gunnysack being found behind the mosque filled with the body of a man and swarming with fat maggots.


Namira gazed at Sala with tears in her eyes. She jumped out of the boat and hugged him, crying. Sala held her tight and stroked her hair. He shed a teardrop. It held sadness more profound than the most hysterical crying.

“Go, wait in Evu. Don’t worry. I’ll find you. The conflict will soon wear itself out. I love you.”

Sala peeled Namira’s arms from his waist and took her to the boat. Once on the water, sea foam lapped at its hull. A sea eagle soared in the sky above Langgur, returning to its nest. Below the bird were people without hope of being reunited with their families.

Namira stared at the yellow flip-flops on her feet. They looked like the sign of a long journey ahead of her.

Far away, Sala stood on the beach.




Perempuan Kembang Jepun (Bab 4)

Lan Fang was born in Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, Indonesia on March 5, 1970, and passed away on December 25, 2011. She was the oldest daughter in the Gautama family of business people.

Despite a law degree from the University of Surabaya, Lan Fang chose to pursue a writing career. Her novel, Lelakon, won the Khatulistiwa Award in 2008. Her short stories have appeared in 20 Cerpen Terbaik Indonesia as a part of the Anugerah Sastra Pena Kencana (Pena Kencana Literary Awards) in 2008 and 2009.

In 2009, the newspaper Kompas published Lan Fang’s “Ciuman di bawah Hujan” as a serial and in 2010 Gramedia Pustaka Utama published the story as a novel under the same title. Other books by Lan Fang from the same publisher include: Reinkarnasi (2003), Pai Yin (2004), Kembang Gunung Purei (2005), Laki-Laki yang Salah (2006), Yang Liu (2006), Perempuan Kembang Jepun (2006; reprinted 2012), Kota Tanpa Kelamin (2007), and Lelakon (2007).

Lan Fang is known in Indonesia as an accomplished writer, and also a philanthropist with deep concern for social welfare. Her beliefs are shown in her writing, as well as through her volunteer work as a mentor for several writing workshops in schools.

Unfortunately, this prolific writer’s life was cut short. Lan Fang passed away at the age of 41 while being treated for liver cancer in Singapore. Her untimely death is a great loss to the Indonesian literary community, and to every reader who appreciates evocative, truthful writing of the heart.



(Bagian 4)

Sejak Hiroshima dan Nagasaki lebur karena bom atom Sekutu, kekalahan Jepang menjadi berita di mana­ mana. Aku mendengar dari radio, berita di koran, ataupun pengumuman yang ditempel di jalan, pemuda­ pemuda Indonesia langsung mengambil tindakan penting. Proklamasi kemerdekaan didengungkan, pemerintahan baru sesegera mungkin dibentuk, tentara-tentara Jepang dilucuti, instansi-instansi penting dikuasai, juga orang-orang Jepang dipulangkan dengan kapal laut. Mereka disuruh mendatakan diri. Sementara ini mereka dikumpulkan di penjara Kalisosok.

Suasana menjadi tidak menentu karena adanya peralihan kekuasaan.

Pagi itu aku sangat gelisah ketika tidak menemukan Matsumi di rumahnya. Halaman rumah tampak sepi. Tidak terlihat siapa pun, termasuk Karmi, pembantu Matsumi.

Perasaan tidak enak langsung menyergap hatiku. Matsumi tidak pernah meninggalkan rumah. Ia merasa canggung berkumpul dengan perempuan-perempuan Cina tetangganya walaupun di sini ia mengaku sebagai orang Cina. Ia tidak pernah ke pasar. Setiap hari Karmi-lah yang berbelanja ke pasar. Matsumi tidak pernah berjalan-jalan tanpa kudampingi. Ia selalu di rumah. Bermain dengan Kaguya, membuat orisuru sambil duduk di pinggir jendela, membiarkan sinar matahari menjilati kulitnya yang gading ⸺ kadang aku cemburu pada sinar matahari yang bisa setiap saat menjilati kulitnya ⸺ selain itu juga bercinta di bawah futon yang hangat denganku.

Aku mengenal Matsumi sebagai kembangnya kelab hiburan di Kembang Jepun. la kerap membeli kain di toko Babah Oen, toko orang Cina tempat aku bekerja. Selanjutnya, Babah Oen sering juga menyuruhku mengirim kain ke kelab tempat Matsumi bekerja. Aku jadi semakin sering melihat dan bertemu dengannya.

“Haiya … Kita lepot sedikit mengantal kain ke kelab tidak apa-apa. Dalam keadaan pelang sepelti ini, dagang sangat susah. Toko sepi. Untuk makan saja olang-olang pada susah, apalagi mau beli kain. Untung ada kesa-kesa (geisha-geisha) yang halus selalu  pakai  baju balu …,” begitu kata Babah Oen kalau menyuruhku mengantarkan kain.


Untuk membaca cerita ini secara lengkap silakan membeli bukunya melalui:


Potion And Paper Cranes (Chapter 4)

Elisabet Titik Murtisari was born and raised in Salatiga, Central Java — a city she loves because of its multicultural community and Dutch history.

She obtained her Masters in Translation Studies from the Australian National University (ANU) and Ph.D in the same field from Monash University, Australia.

To pursue her passion for teaching and research, she returned to her hometown as a lecturer at Satya Wacana Christian University. Her academic interests include translation — especially literary works — culture, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics.







(Part 4)


Surabaya 1943–1945

I am a bastard.

After the Allies dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, news of Japan’s defeat spread across the country by radio, newspapers, and announcements posted in the streets. Indonesian revolutionaries took immediate action. They proclaimed the country’s independence, started forming a new government, took control of important institutions, and disarmed the Japanese soldiers. Japanese citizens were required to register and interned at the Kalisosok Prison while waiting to be returned to their country by ship. What would happen next was uncertain because of the change of power.

That morning I was very anxious when I did not find Matsumi at her house. The yard was quiet. I could find no one, not even Karmi, Matsumi’s maid.

I was worried. Matsumi never left the house without me. Although she tried to be Chinese, she felt awkward among the Chinese women who lived in the neighborhood. That’s why she never went to the market. Karmi shopped for her. I always accompanied Matsumi when she went for a walk. Otherwise, she just stayed home, playing with Kaguya, making orisurus near the window, and letting the sunshine stroke her ivory skin. Sometimes I was jealous of the sun that could enjoy her skin all the time.

I met Matsumi as the star of a club in Kembang Jepun. She often bought cloth from the shop owned by Babah Oen, the Chinese merchant I worked for. Babah Oen sent me to the club to deliver the orders. That gave me the chance to see her more often.

“Aiya, it’s good to be a little bit busier. Business is very difficult with the war. The shop is quiet. Even to eat is hard now, let alone buy clothes. Luckily there are geishas who must always wear new dresses,” Babah Oen said, when he sent me on a delivery. The rise and fall of his Chinese pronunciation changed r’s into l’s.

I did not mind making deliveries to Hanada-san’s club. It was a task I looked forward to because it gave me the opportunity to see its most famous, charming woman.

Her name was Tjoa Kim Hwa and she was referred to as Golden Flower. At first, I thought she was Chinese like most of the women in the club. Only a few of them were Javanese. However, later it turned out that she was Japanese — her real name was Matsumi.

Rumors said she was once the most popular geisha in her country. This did not surprise me. Matsumi was a gorgeous woman and very seductive. She made men’s heart race with her smile. Her sideways glances left them breathless as they tried to control their passion. Their desire to make love to her was certain.

Matsumi had a fair and luminous oval face, with eyes not as narrow as those of many Japanese women. Her mouth was small, genuinely small, not shaped with lip rouge to look little. She had small straight teeth. I often peeked into her kimono’s sleeves and saw the ivory skin of her arms when she took the fabric order from me. She walked with fairly quick small steps and sometimes I saw the long deep curve above her heels under her kimono.

The Javanese said that a woman with such a curve gave extraordinary pleasure in bed, and Matsumi had such a heel. Another Javanese belief was that a woman’s skin should not be too fair because it would be dull, or too dark because it would be unattractive. Matsumi’s skin was ivory. Men like women with full lips that close into an attractively shaped mouth. Matsumi’s lips were perfectly shaped, and enticed men.

People call me a bastard, a bastard who likes “beautiful things.” I think that is normal. God gave man eyes to see beauty, and created the senses to enjoy pleasure. It is normal for a man to desire beauty and pleasure, and Matsumi had both.

I can’t deny I fell in love with her. I was in love with how she looked as well as the inner beauty she exuded. It was not an overstatement to say Matsumi was the perfect woman: she had a pretty face, a gracefully shaped body, and a fragrant scent. She was gentle, intelligent, and had a sense of art. She sang like a lark, cleverly arranged words into poetry, played the shamisen with her slim fingers dancing gracefully over the strings, and was skillful at serving people. She was very good at making men happy, spoiling them, and making them feel like a king in her presence.

I often watched her accompany guests at the club. I also saw her treat a guest to the bathing ritual in the ofuro at the back of the club, until they went to one of the rooms and disappeared behind its sliding door. I heard them talk for a while until their voices softened to whispers that turned into grunts, sighs, and finally an uncontrollable long whine.

The more I saw Matsumi the more I wanted to be with her. When I tried to look at her secretly, she caught me immediately and her melancholic eyes met with mine, arousing me.

Once I accidentally saw her soaking in the ofuro. I had to drop off her fabric order. That afternoon the club was still quiet; no one was at the front and I went straight to the back to make the delivery.

There I saw a naked body in the ofuro. She had a smooth ivory neck, shoulders, and back, so smooth a mosquito might slip when it landed. I held my breath and enjoyed the beautiful sight before me. She stood and left the tub, while I enjoyed another view of her heavenly perfect body: full, round, young breasts with a pink small nipple, small waist, flat stomach, curvy hips, and long legs. I did not allow my eyes to blink. I tried hard to control myself so I would not grab her naked body and pull her into one of the rooms.

Matsumi noticed me and was shocked. She stared at me, then scrambled for her kimono, threw it around her body, and ran soaking wet to her room.

Since then I was determined to sleep with her, like her other rich guests. I asked how much it cost to purchase her service. It turned out to be very expensive; I would have to fast for two years to save up enough. Also, she did not entertain just any guest, only high-ranking military officers and wealthy men.

In my desperation, one day, I stole money from Babah Oen’s shop. They found out and I was fired, but I did not care. I could get a job as a coolie anywhere.

Matsumi was surprised. She did not expect I was the guest waiting in her room, and turned awkward. I knew she was not used to serving a poor man like me. She did not know how to carry herself. She knew what to do with Shosho Kobayashi and other wealthy guests, how to make them happy and lead them to perfect satisfaction. She served those guests with the attributes that came with being the most desired geisha, but now she stood rigid and looked confused. With my desire raging, I took her into my arms. I held her tight before undressing her. After exploring her entire body with all my senses and savoring every inch, I finally went inside her.

At first her smooth, cool body tensed, but she soon started to warm. Her sweet breath blew on my ear, and soft sighs and whimpers passed her lips while her wriggling body eagerly met my movements. Watching her sigh with her eyes closed peaked my desire. Our bodies tensed for a moment before we turned limp in each other’s arms. I ended our game of passion with a long deep kiss.

I was completely satisfied.


My desire to have Matsumi entirely mine made me lose sight of everything else. I wanted to make her pregnant. I wanted to have a daughter as lovely as her, a child from her womb. I repeatedly told Matsumi my dream until she finally wanted the same thing. A woman’s destiny is to get pregnant and give birth. I talked her into changing her mind from never wanting a child to desiring one.

I wanted more than a child from Matsumi. I wanted her and her child. By having a child, she would be absolutely mine. Giving birth would change her beautiful body so she would no longer be able to work as a geisha. She would sleep and wake up beside me. How wonderful the days would be if my beloved Matsumi was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes.

I may have been married and already had a child, but I did not care. My feelings toward Matsumi were incomparable to those I had toward my wife, Sulis.

Finally Matsumi became pregnant.

How happy I was when she told me that she was heavy with child. I kissed every part of her face until she gasped and her cheeks turned red. I was over the moon. Matsumi was mine alone.

Imagine my pride: I, Sujono, only a coolie, was the husband of Matsumi, the most desired woman in Kembang Jepun. Out of the many rich men who were crazy about her, she had chosen me.

I felt very different from the time Sulis told me about her pregnancy. Then I did not feel proud, glad, or happy. Instead, I was angry because she had used me, forcing me to marry her because she claimed to be having my child.

Sulis and I met shortly before we were married. She was a jamu peddler; many coolies along Gula Street often bought her potions.

Sulis was not pretty. Her skin was dark, her eyes big and defiant, and her lips thick. She also had big breasts and coarse black hair. But she was a flirt. She pouted when someone teased her and also liked to giggle. Maybe she did that to attract many customers.

I liked teasing her. I took advantage of her and owed her for jamu—a debt I never paid. I also liked touching her because she gave me the opportunity. She wore a low-cut kebaya, sometimes leaving one button undone so men could see her black bra. She also wore her kain high as if she wanted to show off her legs as she walked. She sat without keeping her knees together and tended to draw her legs apart. Her body language was vulgar and her eyes invited men to tease, touch, kiss, and sleep with her.

I was forced to marry her because she was pregnant.

The child in Matsumi’s womb was mine. I was an experienced man who could tell the difference between soulful lovemaking and the mere union between two sexual organs.

I asked Matsumi to leave Hanada-san’s club because I did not want to share her with other men. She obeyed me and left the club on Kembang Jepun, and gave birth to Kaguya for me.

She bought a house near Kapasan Street, owned by a Chinese and very large compared to my tiny room. It was even too big for Matsumi, Kaguya, and the maid. The windows and doors were always wide open. Sunlight entered the house freely and the air blew in and out through the shutters. The ceilings were high so the inside was cool. The yard was spacious, too.

“I used most of my savings to buy this house. We’ll have many children so we need one that is big enough,” she said.

Matsumi knew how difficult it was to live in a war-torn country. She knew I was poor, and many times unable to buy rice. So she bought things for Sulis, not only rice, but also eggs, vegetables, and fish. She knew I did not have a good education so I could not work in an office. She knew I was not an office worker, only a laborer doing rough work.

She understood I wanted to join the resistance movement. I often imagined myself in a military uniform carrying a rifle over my shoulder. I would stand boldly in a line with other soldiers, defending my motherland and claiming independence. That was what many of us dreamed of right then. With independence, we would be a dignified nation, not an oppressed people who worked as forced laborers under the Dutch and Japanese. We would have the right over our own country.

Slowly, military rank and medals would line up on my shoulders and arms. I would be like Sudirman. Wouldn’t that be something to be proud of rather than thickening my shoulders and arms from carrying Babah Oen’s textile rolls? With the line of medals I would have dignity, not only be a coolie who made Chinese people richer by working for them cheaply. Later, I would tell my children and grandchildren I was one of those who helped found this country.


The mood of Surabaya was uneasy.

The Japanese defeat had crippled the city. No one would go out on the street unless they were forced. Only soldiers walked the streets, Allies and Indonesians, and Japanese soldiers who had been arrested or surrendered. The marching steps of the soldiers made the streets dusty. People were afraid of getting searched while others chose to follow the news from the radio.

I did neither.

I spent days walking along the streets of Kembang Jepun, looking for Matsumi and Kaguya. I did not really know where I should go to find them. First, I went to Hanada-san’s club, but it was already closed and sealed. They had taken the owner to jail.

Without fear, I walked back and forth in front of the former Japanese military headquarters. I tried to peek inside, thinking Matsumi might have gone there. I did not see a glimpse of her. The building was cold, dark, gloomy, and seemed haunted. Too many people had died there, and turned into ghosts that roamed the building. People still heard screams and cries coming from inside, and shadows of headless bodies were seen moving back and forth in the dark. It was an evil building.

Matsumi could not have taken Kaguya there. I also asked her neighbors where they might have gone, but all I got were headshakes and doors shut in my face. Karmi, her maid, had gone God knows where. I felt as if I was searching for a needle in a haystack.

Everyone waited for the new government’s next step. What would Soekarno and Hatta do for the new republic? Meanwhile, what would I do with my life?

I was really desperate. I locked Matsumi’s house.

When despair and yearning tortured me, I would go to the house and sit inside. Nothing had changed. Through the large open windows the sun light still came in to warm the rooms. There were paper cranes piled on a table, the pretty little cups Matsumi used for the tea ceremony, a futon on the tatami, and several nicely folded kimonos. The fragrance of her powder had not left the house, although the dust piled up and spiders built their webs. The breeze coming into the house felt humid because the house was empty.





Namaku Mata Hari (Bab 16)

July 12, 1945 – December 12, 2022

Yapi Panda Abdiel Tambayong, better known as Remy Sylado, was equally lauded as an author, actor, and musician. Dewi Anggraeni translated his novel Namaku Mata Hari (Gramedia, 2010) into English and My Name is Mata Hari was published by Dalang in 2012. We are honored to have been a small part of his remarkable journey and are grateful for his many contributions to Indonesia’s literary landscape.



Bab 16

Aku merasa dikajeni di sanggar seni pinggir Kali Elo ini. Pemimpinnya sendiri merasa senang karena aku ikut-ikutan memanggilnya Mbah Kung.

Di sini aku diberi sebuah rumah kecil, berdinding papan, pas satu kamar, menghadap ke timur. Di depan rumah ini ada burung perkutut dalam sangkar gaya mataraman terbuat dari penjalin dan bambu, yang arang-arang manggungnya, tapi sekali manggung di latar bunyi gamelan, terdengar magis, tak cukup perbendaharaan kata dari pengalaman batin di usiaku yang begini muda untuk bisa menerangkan asrar kedalamannya.

Rencana yang sudah ada dalam pikiranku, adalah aku masih akan tinggal di sini sampai lusa, dan setelah itu aku belum menentukan ke mana arah langkahku. Satu dan lain hal, karena rasa-rasanya aku masih berminat memelihara marahku pada Ruud.

Selain itu, bicara soal lusa, rombongan kesenian pimpinan Mbah Kung ini pada hari itu akan mengisi acara pertunjukan di bawah Candi Borobudur untuk menyambut Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono yang akan datang dari Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat ke sini mengantar seorang tamu agung dari Batavia, J.Th.Cremer, mirip nama Menteri Urusan Koloni.

Mbah Kung memberi kesempatan kepadaku — mudah-mudahan aku sanggup melaksanakannya — menari berdua dengan Astri putrinya. Semua anggota mendukung. Itu membuat aku semakin percaya, bisa menyesuaikan diri sebagai bagian dari masyarakatnya. Di sini aku merasa benar-benar menjadi manusia, bukan bangsa. Kira-kira dengan perasaan ini, hubungannya pas dengan pandanganku sendiri selama ini, tentang keutamaan maknawi atas kata “kemanusiaan” ketimbang “kebangsaan.”

Lihat saja diriku. Siapa sebetulnya aku? Ayahku seorang Fries, dan dengannya, seperti semua orang yang berasal dari provinsi Friesland, tetap merasa bukan bagian dari bangsa Nederland. Kemudian anakku, dari perkawinan dengan orang Skot, harus disebut apa keorangannya? Orang Skot, sebagaimana umumnya mereka yang berasal dari wilayah Skotland, memang berbahasa Inggris, tapi mereka tidak merasa bagian dari bangsa Inggris. Lalu aku siapa pula, kalau ibuku berasal dari tanah tempat aku berdiri saat ini, daerah Borobudur, puser kebudayaan Jawa nan adiluhung. Jadi, tak ragu lagi, aku adalah manusia, dan aku sedang berada di tengah-tengah manusia.


Untuk membaca cerita ini secara lengkap silakan membeli bukunya melalui:

My Name is Mata Hari (Chapter 16)

Dewi Anggraeni was born in Jakarta and now lives in Melbourne. While being the Australia and Pacific correspondent for Tempo News Magazine in Indonesia, she contributed — in both Indonesian and English — to other publications in Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, South Korea, United Kingdom, and United States.

She has published eight works of fiction in the form of novels, novellas and short stories, and five works of non-fiction on social and political topics. Her latest Indonesian novel, Membongkar yang Terkubur, and her bilingual collection of stories, Yang Gaib dan Yang Kasat Mata / The Seen and the Unseen have been published by Penerbit Ombak in 2022.

Dewi Anggraeni:


Chapter Sixteen

In the arts community on the banks of the Elo River, I was welcome and appreciated. The leader showed how pleased he was that I also called him Mbah Kung, the same as the other villagers addressed him.

I was given a small hut for Norman John and myself. The east-facing cottage had wooden walls and one bedroom. A turtledove sang in a cage hanging on the front veranda. It occasionally sang when the gamelan was playing, creating a magical ambience that I was unable to describe. I thought of staying two more days, and after that I had nothing definite planned. I still hadn’t forgiven Ruud.

In two days Mbah Kung’s troupe was to perform at the foot of the Borobudur Temple as part of the ceremony welcoming Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono, the Javanese king who would be visiting from his royal palace in Yogyakarta. He and his entourage were bringing a guest of honor from Batavia, Jacob Theodoor Cremer. The name struck me, as it was the same as that of the Dutch Minister for Colonial Affairs.

Mbah Kung agreed to let me perform a dance with his daughter, Astri. All the other members of the community supported his decision. This gave me the confidence I needed. I hoped I would not disappoint him.

I felt appreciated in this community under his leadership. At the same time, I was reinforced in my stance that humanity was above nationality or ethnicity.

In terms of myself, who was I? My father was born in Friesland, a Dutch province, yet never felt part of the Netherlands. And my son, issue of my marriage with a Scot, would I refer to him as a Scot, as if he were from Scotland? I thought about the Scots, English speakers, but not necessarily a part of England.

How did I refer to myself? My mother originated from the Borobudur region, the cradle of Javanese civilization. No doubt I was human, and lived among other humans.

The next day I had to perform for government officials. It would be a first for me. First experiences always excited me and drove me to keep going. I didn’t want to disgrace myself. I wanted to impress those important persons with my dance.

Mbah Kung told me, “Derive the spirit of the twin dance from the relief images on the walls of the Borobudur Temple.” I was intrigued by his enigmatic instruction and wondered which images he referred to.

That morning I rose before dawn. As soon as light came into our little house, I bathed Norman John, and prepared to go to the Borobudur Temple. Astri came to keep me company and help me find the images. Without her I wouldn’t have known where to search in such a big temple.

Astri took me to the main wall in the second gallery, the Gandavyuha, which had 128 panels. There I saw the image of two dancers with nothing covering their breasts on the right hand side, facing the lead dancer in the middle. I saw nothing irregular about the image.

Astri tried to explain it to me. She spoke in refined Javanese and at first I had difficulty understanding her. Luckily, she pointed to the clothing of the characters in the image and said, “Buddha.” She indicated the lead dancer, and said, “Hindu.”

“Oh, I understand,” I said. “This image is a bit strange because in this Buddhist temple there’s a character wearing a brahmana attire. Is that it?”

“Yes, yes,” she said.

At last we found the image referred to by Mbah Kung. We studied it to draw inspiration for our dance. The image depicted the two dancers tilting their heads slightly upward and to the right. Their right arms lifted with elbows the same height as their chins and the forearms slanted lower, while their left arms extended forward and touched the knees elevated to the height parallel with their breasts.

This was a still stance. Now we had to define the movement prior and following this stance. Combining our imagination we developed the whole, continuous dance, merging body and soul to create beautiful art.

I should have been thinking about the king from Yogyakarta, but instead I concentrated on the official from Batavia. I wanted to know what he looked like. In the end, I was determined to impress the entire audience. Yet I was also aware that what was important was not the quality of the performance, but whether the performers were good looking, and whether they would be willing to be seduced and used. This was conventional practice, Mbah Kung said.

Being away from home the officers and officials took advantage of the situation and requested that their subordinates supply them with live bolster pillows to make their beds more comfortable.

Mbah Kung’s information intrigued me greatly and I wanted to meet such a person. He also said, “All high-ranking officials have two ta-s on their minds: wani-ta, women, and har-ta, wealth.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Mbah Kung explained, “Women are easily tempted by wealth. Understandably, officials are aware of this and take advantage of it.”

How interesting. I knew that an official’s wealth was usually obtained through corrupt practice. The Dutch East India Company was falling because of rampant corruption and the wealth gained from the corruption was used for high living with women. So much for adults and their world. A child’s world is far better.

The following morning I saw the children of the community play a singing game. I watched and listened. The words sounded simple, but contained advice to take life as it was presented because even in the luckiest situation, one still has to overcome obstacles before reaching a goal. And occasionally, despite of one’s efforts, one would still fail.

Chapter Seventeen

I mused about the important gentlemen coming to Borobudur. What would they look like? Would they have moustaches? Would the tallest gentleman be bald? The thought of a bald man made me yawn with boredom.

Luckily, Jacob Theodoor Cremer had a full head of hair. He was neither young nor old. His overall appearance and demeanor reminded me of the Jewish people in Amsterdam who often assessed a situation by its prospects of bringing a profit or a loss.

Three other European gentlemen positioned themselves around Cremer as they toured the different levels of the Borobudur Temple while Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono waited at the ground level.

Cremer’s visit was part of the endeavor to promote the temple as an extraordinary monument that every enlightened European should see. Having completed the tour, Cremer joined the Jogjakarta king to watch the performance. The sun had set and light came from the strategically positioned torches around the field

Someone walked to the front and delivered a speech welcoming the guests of honor. It was very flattering, and he obviously thought he was following the correct protocol. Finally the time came for Astri and I to dance.

As I expected, Cremer sent one of his guards to see me after we finished. A Limburg-accented Dutch guard invited me to see Cremer.

I remembered Mbah Kung talking about the two ta-s when Cremer spoke to me. As we talked, Cremer kept sneaking a look at my breasts. “You are very good at Javanese dancing,” he said.

I smiled modestly, aware he was an official of the colonial administration.

“Where are you from?”

I answered, “I live in Ambarawa,” knowing that was not what he expected to hear.

“I mean, where in Holland?”

“I was born in Leeuwarden.”

“Hm, Friesland?”


“I once bought a hat in Leeuwarden.”

“The manufacturer has long gone bankrupt.”

“How do you know?”

“The business belonged to my father.”

“Heavens. Small world.”

I laughed awkwardly, hoping I didn’t come across like a fool.

Cremer quickly continued. “What is your name?”

I answered, “Mrs. MacLeod.”

He looked serious. “Oh? Your husband is English?”


“So where is Mr. MacLeod?”

“At this moment it does not concern me.”

Cremer’s face relaxed. “You have problems with your husband?”

I didn’t answer, knowing he would keep asking and I was right.

“What happened?”

I decided to challenge him. I said, “Even if I told you, there is nothing
you can do to help.”

Cremer held my hands. For a moment I thought he was being fatherly, albeit with doubtful sincerity, because he also moved closer to my breasts. A certain tension in his hands made me nervous.

“Why not? I am ready to help. What happened?”

“Common domestic problem. He’s old. I’m young.”

“I see, I see,” Cremer said in the manner of a marriage counselor. “This is a serious problem. You are still excited about life, while your husband is already aging.”

I expected him to have dirty thoughts. “That’s not the problem, Mr. Cremer.”

“What is it then? Tell me, and I will help.”

“I would like my husband transferred away from Ambarawa.”

“Who is your husband?”

After I told him, he said as if it was an easy matter, “Where do you want him moved? To Batavia?”

“I leave that to you, Mr. Cremer.”

“I will make the arrangements. In the meantime, I would like to contact you directly. Please write down your address and your maiden name. What is your maiden name?”

“Margaretha Geertruida Zelle.”

“Hm. Yes, of course. Zelle was the brand of the hat. If you move to Batavia, you must work for me.”

“Thank you, Mr. Cremer.” I started to leave.

“Wait,” said Cremer.

I stopped and turned around. “Yes, Mr. Cremer?”

Cremer pulled my hand toward him, placed an arm around the small of my back, and kissed my cheeks, the Dutch way, left, right, then left again. With his arm around my waist, he looked at my breasts and asked, “Are you pregnant?”

A little embarrassed, I replied, ‘Yes, going on three months.”

He moved his hand to my shoulder and said, “Take it easy with your dancing.”

“Yes, Mr. Cremer.” Very Dutch-like, I didn’t show any emotion.

I heard Norman John cry in the distance. Mbah Koeng’s wife had carried him the entire evening.

Chapter Eighteen

I made a point of not going home to Ambarawa until I felt ready. After what had happened with Ruud, I was emotionally distant from him. I did not miss him in the least. I intentionally stayed with the community near the Elo River. While enjoying the fertile land and the peace with nature, I quietly hoped I would also be able to commune with my mother’s ancestral spirit. I was convinced that by now Ruud would be panicking in Ambarawa.

When I returned after a week, Officer van Donck’s wife reported that Ruud had been looking for me everywhere. He had even consulted a hermit who lived on the slope of Mount Ungaran, known as René du Bois. Mrs. van Donck told me that René had tried to find my whereabouts in a pack of cards.

René was a Frenchman who had come to Java twenty years ago as a Dutch officer, posted in Salatiga. The story went that René had come with another French man, Arthur Rimbaud, who was known in his country as a poet. I tended to believe the story because on the table in our house I had found several sheets of paper with Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry. One poem in particular interested me. It was handwritten, titled Départ, and talked about the poet’s satisfaction with the life he lived and his readiness to continue.

I had just picked up the next sheet of paper when Ruud appeared. He startled me with his braying voice.

“Margaretha, darling,” he exclaimed, rushing to hug Norman John and me. “Where on earth have you been?”

I didn’t answer. It was a long story I was not ready to tell.

Ruud showered me with kisses starting on the cheeks to the tips of my fingers. “Oh, darling,” he said, “I was so worried about you and Norman.”

Chapter Nineteen

A Malay proverb says, “Light always comes after dark.” Maybe I could rebuild our relationship from the ruins created when Ruud told me about his idea to bed Nyai Kidhal.

However this was not easy. I wasn’t sure if he had retracted the proposition and was prepared to mend our relationship. I still fretted about him never having said, “sorry,” despite his understanding of the word.

However he never said anything. Maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he couldn’t. In any case, his apology meant nothing if he went on with his crazy idea, nothing but a futile exercise. Oh, why was I so complicated?

Little by little, I learned more about my husband. He was a difficult person to live with. His brain worked like a tangled spool of rough black rope, the kind used to bring up pails of water from the well and blistered my hands. I was left with the unresolved hurt.

I had to admit that during the next five days Ruud treated me with the devotion of a slave toward his sovereign. His behavior after my weeklong absence was more absurd than that of a crazed lover who tried to pluck a star from the heavens for his beloved’s earring.

This bothered me. It was so unusual I expected to see a change any time. Deep down I still waited to hear him say “sorry” for causing me so much hurt. When this never happened, I was very disappointed. Could it be our relationship was the same as it had been in Amsterdam? I felt victorious, but not peaceful.

I assessed a man’s masculinity by his ability to admit to his wife that he was wrong, and apologize.

That night, after putting Norman John to bed, I went to sit on the front verandah. Ruud joined me and put his arm around my shoulders.

Elated, I gazed at the blue sky, but I couldn’t find real peace of mind. Was I too hard to please?

Ruud whispered sweet endearments to me. I was flattered he made the effort. Unfortunately, flattering words only last as long as the scent of a flower. They did not represent the essence of a person’s soul. Had he really abandoned the idea of bedding Nyai Kidhal?

Stroking my belly, Ruud said, “I hope this baby is going to be a girl as pretty as her mother. I’ll be very proud to be her father.” He continued pensively, “Perhaps I’ve not taken fatherhood seriously, but now love has revealed to me the magnitude of being a father to two children.”

I did not respond. I suspected that this idyllic scene was not going to last.

Ruud picked up my hand and kissed my fingers. “What name will we give our child this time?” he asked, still caressing my belly.

“You don’t find many people called Hercules,” I joked, trying to hold on to the constructive atmosphere.

He laughed. “What if it’s a girl?”

“I like Pertiwi.”

“What kind of a name is that?”

“In the West people think of their country as masculine; they call it fatherland. Here in the East, people attribute motherhood to their country, pertiwi.”

“You like that name?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I don’t.”

“Then why did you ask me?”

Ruud may not have been able to see my face in the dark, but if he had any sensibility at all, he should have known I was irritated.

He hastened to kiss my cheek and patted me on the back as if to calm me. And then a miracle happened. He said, “Sorry, darling.”

I turned to him, my mouth gaping. I was speechless.

Ruud didn’t understand my reaction. He waved his hand before my face. “What happened to you?”

I was so happy I grabbed him and kissed him. Crushing him in my embrace, I forgot all my hurt and suspicions. If the sky can produce a full moon, I can find happiness in the future. I’m convinced that love derives from passion. I said, “I’m tired, Ruud.”

He took my hand and we went to bed.

I thought, he loves me.



Only A Girl – Chapter 9

The aftermath of World War II and the turmoil of the Indonesian Independence changed Lian Gouw’s way of life. After living in a foreign country and speaking a foreign language for nearly four decades, she finally had the opportunity to pursue an old dream: to become a writer. Unfortunately, she also realized that she had lost the ability to write in Dutch. Gouw then decided to study creative writing and returned to college. After completing four edits over seven years, in June 2009, Only a Girl was published by Publish America. In April 2010, the Indonesian translation and publishing rights for Only a Girl were purchased by PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama. 

When Gouw founded Dalang Publishing in 2012, she bought back the publishing rights for Only a Girl from Publish America. Since then, the novel has been published by Dalang Publishing and distributed by Ingram. It is available on and some independent bookstores. 

Widjati Hartiningtyas, who translated Only a Girl for P.T Kanisius in Yogyakarta, deserves special kudos for her hard work in finding the right words which resulted in Mengadang Pusaran. (PT Kanisus 2020). 

Lian Gouw can be reached at:  





Nanna covered the tender buds on the rosebushes with empty eggshells to protect them from insects and wished there were a way she could shield her family from harm just as easily. She knew the ancestors and gods would not be able to keep them safe until the war was over. Nanna had always considered war to be a man’s affair, but this war not only involved Carolien, it had also found its way to Jenny.  

The voices of Chip, Ting, and Mundi came from the kitchen area, interspersed with hammering and sawing. Chip had decided that he would use the kitchen cupboard as his hiding place should the Japanese come looking for him, and the dogs would serve as protection. Nanna had not asked for details. She was fully aware of the tension that hung in the air. It made the women nervous and irritable and the men more silent than usual. Nanna spent a lot of time on the front porch bench, looking down the street. When Jenny joined her she silently rubbed the girl’s hand, her heart filled with a mother’s fear for the safety of her children. 

Almost a week went by before a Japanese jeep stopped in front of the house one afternoon. Four Japanese soldiers jumped out and walked up the driveway with their rifles slung loosely across their shoulders. Nanna grabbed Jenny’s arm and drew her close. 

The Japanese halted for a moment in the driveway before the sergeant walked with confident strides up the porch steps. He bowed to Nanna and flashed a big smile to Jenny. He then took a letter out of his shirt pocket and handed Nanna the document. 

She shook her head. “I can’t read.” 

“Who else is home?” The Japanese spoke in heavy accented Malay.  

“My daughters and granddaughters.”  

One of the soldiers offered Jenny a piece of melted chocolate. When she shook her head and scooted closer to Nanna, he shrugged his shoulders.  

“Do you know Ong Chip Hong?” the sergeant asked.  

“Yes, he’s my son.” 

“Where’s he now?” 

“Not home.” 

“When will he be home?” 

“I don’t know.” 

“Who’s the head of the household?” 

“I’m a widow. He’s the oldest son living with me, so he is.” Nanna held the Japanese in a steadfast gaze. “Who’s the letter for?” 

“The head of the household.” The soldier replied, puzzled. 

“Then I guess you have to come back when he is home.”  

The soldier who had offered Jenny the chocolate held his arms out for her. “Come.” His broad smile showed a gold tooth. “At home I have a little girl, just like her.” The soldier patted Jenny on the head, then abruptly turned around and joined the others walking down the driveway. 

Nanna waited for the sound of the jeep to disappear into the empty street before taking Jenny inside the house. She knew it was only a matter of time before the Japanese would be back. Her children’s Dutch involvement drew them, and it would not be possible to hold them off forever. 

Two days later, Nanna and Jenny were dusting the altar tables while Carolien worked on a sewing pattern at the dining room table, when the dogs barged into the room barking furiously. Someone was at the gate.  

Nanna put her dust rag down. “Lock up the dogs,” she said, “and tell Chip and Ting the Japs are here.” Nanna threw a quick glance at her late husband’s portrait on the altar wall.  

The same four Japanese soldiers who had come two days before stood on the porch. The one closest to the door asked, “Is Ong Chip Hong home?” 

“No.” Nanna put an arm around Jenny. 

“We need to search the house,” the soldier said. 

Nanna pulled her shoulders back and looked at each soldier with a steady gaze. “I won’t let you in,” she said firmly. 

Some of the soldiers shifted the guns slung across their shoulders.  

The dogs’ barking became faint. Nanna knew they would be locked up in the kitchen by now. She took a few deep breaths. 

Ting opened the front door and spoke into her back. “Mother, please, let me help these gentlemen.” 

Nanna did not move. She had always given Ting the same preferential treatment reserved for Chip, even though he was only a second son, but now he was asking her to take direction from him. Was this the day that her vision would come true? 

Nanna put a hand on Jenny’s shoulder. She steered the girl past the soldiers. “Jenny, come,” she said, “sit by me.” 

Jenny obeyed quietly. 

The men entered the house as Nanna and Jenny took their seats on the porch. The dogs barked ferociously at the intruders, until a rapid rattling of gunshots rang out, followed by screams from Sue, Emma, and Els, mixed with agitated Japanese voices. Nanna felt her chest expand. She clamped one hand around the edge of her seat and grabbed Jenny’s arm with the other. The dogs were quiet now. Nanna took a deep breath. Something hard and large dislodged itself inside her as she tried to breathe and stay calm. Had the time of mourning come already? 

Els came running through the front door. “Nanna! Nanna! They shot the dogs! The Japs are going to kill us all!”  

Jenny jumped up. “Is Claus dead? Did the Japs kill Claus?” 

“Jenny, stay here!” Nanna pulled Jenny back into her seat. Making room for Els on the bench, Nanna reached for the sobbing girl. 

Voices came closer. The Japanese soldiers came through the front door. Nanna spotted Chip in their midst. She saw Ting, Eddie, Sue, Carolien, and Emma following them and she breathed easier. It seemed the dogs had been the only victims of the gunshots. 

Nanna stiffened when the men walked by. She closed a hand around Els’ shoulder. Pulling Jenny closer, she cast a glance at Chip. He looked away but she caught a glimpse of his battered face and noticed the bright red spots on the handkerchief he held pressed against his mouth. 

Nanna watched Chip climb into the Japanese jeep. He moved slowly, burdened by Dutch secrets. Nanna knew her son would not talk. His blood would be thick and silent. 


Carolien sat on the floor of Ting’s room with Claus’ head in her lap. Ting, sitting next to her, wrapped one of the dog’s front paws in a towel. Claus whimpered and she stroked the dog between his ears.  

One of his pads is cut wide open.” Ting looked up, his face ashen. “He might have stepped on broken glass.”  

“What are you going to do?” Carolien was irritated. She had never understood Ting’s devotion for his dogs. She wanted to tell him to be happy the Japs had only shot the dogs, it could have been any of them, but she knew better. 

“I’ve got to find the shard and take it out. Here, hold the towel against the wound. Try to stem the blood flow.” Ting rose. “I’ve got to get a few things.”  

Once alone in the room, Carolien straightened. Her back hurt from sitting bent over for so long. A heap of bloody towels reminded her of the afternoon. The Japs storming into the house, waving their guns, screaming, “Ong Chip Hong! Come out!” The dogs barking and jumping against the closed kitchen door, the sudden gunfire, the dogs dropping to the floor, her standing there with shaking knees, afraid the bullets would hit the cupboard, penetrate the wood, and hit Chip. What would the Japs do to Chip? Although she was aloof with her brothers, she looked up at Chip and admired him greatly. 

Ting returned, followed by Eddie and Jenny. 

“Claus!” Jenny cried, dropping next to the dog. He lifted his head, whimpering. 

“Here, if you hold his head in your lap, I can help Youngest Uncle check his leg.” Carolien shifted the dog’s head carefully into Jenny’s lap. 

“Oh, Claus. You’ll be okay.” Jenny scratched the dog’s ears. Stroking his muzzle, she repeated, “You’ll be okay. You’ll see.” Claus sighed and slapped the floor with his tail. 

Jenny watched as Ting washed the dog’s paw in a solution of water and iodine before pulling out the shard with a pair of tweezers. “I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up,” she said. 

Ting laughed and Eddie said, “I think you’ll be a good one.” 

Carolien frowned. Jenny was picking up too much of Nanna’s and Ting’s ways. With all the decent occupations to choose from, why did she want to become a veterinarian? 

Eddie helped Ting and Carolien pick up the room before taking a seat on the edge of Ting’s bed. 

“Where are all the other dogs?” Jenny stroked Claus between his ears. 

“Dead.” Eddie clenched his jaws. 

“Caesar too?”  

“No. He almost killed one of the Japs. You should’ve seen how that dog attacked.” Eddie rose. “Fortunately, the Japs didn’t shoot him, they only clubbed him. Youngest Uncle was able to get him away in the midst of the commotion and put him with Emma in the servant’s bathroom. He might have gotten away with a broken shoulder.” 

“Why did the Japs take Oldest Uncle with them and why did they kill all the dogs?” Jenny asked, keeping her eyes on Claus. 

“Before the war, Oldest Uncle worked for the Dutch government. As a matter of fact, he still does.” Eddie stopped abruptly when Carolien glared at him. 


“The Japs wanted Oldest Uncle to tell them about his office. He hid in the big kitchen cupboard, we thought he would be safe there. No one expected the Japs to gun down the dogs.”  

“Are the Japs going to kill Oldest Uncle?”  

“Let’s hope not,” Carolien said. “The Dutch will be back soon and I’m sure they’ll set Oldest Uncle free.” She tried to sound convincing, but she knew that no one, including herself, believed her.  


Chip’s capture by the Japanese moved slowly into the background of everyday life. Across the country families bound together to get through the war. With the Dutch government shut down and no salary coming in, Ting and Carolien began trading on the black market. The tobacco store that Chip and Ting had set up as a front for their undercover work now also carried clothing and foodstuffs. Carolien took in sewing. Along with Eddie and Ting, she was active in the Dutch Underground.  

With the Dutch schools shut down Els took responsibility for Jenny’s schooling, tutoring her every day so she wouldn’t fall behind. Els had received her teaching credential just before the war broke out but had not worked in a school yet. The family disapproved of her teaching at a school for natives and there had been no openings yet at any of the Dutch schools. 

By September, the mango blossoms had turned into plump, deep-yellow fruit but the war showed no signs of ending soon. Jenny was in the backyard, helping Nanna and Mundi prop up the laden mango branches, when a car stopped by the front gate and the bell rang. She ran to see who it was, but Nanna called her back and sent Mundi instead.  

Jenny shot Nanna a sideways glance. The dogs lay near her, their ears perked, noses pointed toward the gate. An eerie stillness filled the moments before Mundi returned with a letter in his hand. He fell to his knees and bowed deeply before handing Nanna the brown envelope. 

Nanna straightened herself. “Thank you,” she said. Her voice was steady but her hand trembled as she took the item. “You and Non Jenny finish up while I take this inside.” 

Mundi remained on his knees as Nanna walked away. “It’s all because of the Dutch, Nonnie.” Mundi sighed, rising when Nanna was out of sight. 

“Why do you say that?” Jenny frowned. She wasn’t used to servants talking without being spoken to first. 

 Mundi reached for the bamboo pole Nanna had left leaning against the tree trunk. “It’s time for the Dutch to go back to their country, Young Miss,” Mundi said and walked away. 

Jenny watched Mundi disappear into the garden. Was Mundi against the Dutch? Did he side with the Japs? Maybe Mundi was traitor…. 

After dinner that night Nanna took a letter from the altar table and handed it to Ting. “The Japs delivered this earlier,” she said. 

Ting used his fruit knife to open the envelope. Jenny saw him blinking hard as he glanced at the page. He cleared his throat before reading aloud to the gathered family. “The Japanese Emperor and government regret that prisoner Ong Chip Hong’s uncooperative attitude necessitated the use of more forceful methods than are customary. We further regret to have to inform you that during the course of interrogation, the above mentioned prisoner died on September 27, 1944. The Japanese authorities have disposed of his body.” Ting’s voice faltered. 

Sue burst into tears. Els got up and walked to Nanna. Eddie pulled Jenny on his lap so Els could sit in the chair next to their grandmother. Carolien and Emma cried into their napkins. 

Nanna walked to the altar. She lit a bundle of incense sticks and raised them high in prayer. “The Dutch are asking too much,” she said without turning around. 

Jenny stared at her grandmother’s rigid back and chewed her knuckles. She noticed a new urn on the altar table. When did Nanna place it there? Was Nanna now asking the spirits why Oldest Uncle had to die? What would their answer be? 















Mengadang Pusaran – Bab 9

Widjati Hartiningtyas has a strong interest in languages. The first foreign language she mastered was English. Her love for books and languages led her to choose a language major at high school and an English Literature discipline at the Semarang State University (UNNES). After graduating from UNNES in 2004 with a BA of Letters degree, Tyas worked as a teacher.

Besides working as a freelance translator, she started writing stories for children. Some of her published works are activity books. Ready to go to Elementary School with Piko (PT Tiga Serangkai, 2018) and Rori’s Exciting Adventures series (PT Kanisius, 2017).

Widjati Hartiningtyas can be reached at:




Bab 9  


Nanna menutupi kuncup-kuncup lembut bunga mawar dengan cangkang telur kosong untuk melindunginya dari serangga. Dia berharap semudah itulah cara melindungi keluarganya dari bahaya. Dalam hati kecilnya dia tahu bahwa para dewa dan leluhurnya tidak akan bisa melindungi mereka hingga perang berakhir. Nanna selalu berpikir bahwa perang adalah urusan lelaki. Namun, perang ini tidak hanya melibatkan Chip dan Ting. Perang ini juga telah melibatkan Jenny.  

Suara Chip, Ting, dan Mundi di dapur ditingkahi bunyi orang memalu dan memotong kayu. Chip telah memutuskan untuk bersembunyi di lemari dapur jika orang Jepang mencarinya. Anjing-anjing peliharaan mereka akan bertugas untuk melindunginya.  

Nanna tidak meminta penjelasan secara terperinci. Dia bisa merasakan ketegangan yang ada saat ini. Para perempuan menjadi gugup dan mudah jengkel, sementara para laki-laki menjadi lebih pendiam dari biasanya. Nanna banyak menghabiskan waktu duduk-duduk di beranda depan dan mengawasi jalanan. Ketika Jenny mendatanginya dan dengan manja menggelendotinya, Nanna hanya mengelus-elus tangan gadis itu tanpa mengatakan apa-apa. Hatinya dipenuhi kekhawatiran seorang ibu akan keselamatan anak dan cucunya.  

Suatu siang, hampir seminggu kemudian, sebuah jip Jepang berhenti di depan rumah Nanna. Empat serdadu Jepang turun dari mobil lalu menyusuri jalan masuk dengan senapan melintang di bahu. Nanna meraih lengan Jenny dan menariknya mendekat.  

Serdadu Jepang itu berhenti sesaat di jalan masuk sebelum sang sersan menapaki tangga beranda dengan langkah tegap. Dia membungkukkan badan di depan Nanna lalu menyunggingkan senyum lebar kepada Jenny. Sersan itu mengambil selembar surat dari saku kemejanya kemudian memberikannya kepada Nanna.  

Nanna menggelengkan kepala. “Saya tidak bisa membaca.”  

“Siapa lagi yang ada di rumah?” Sersan itu berbicara dengan bahasa Maleis berlogat asing.  

“Anak perempuan dan cucu perempuan saya.”  


Untuk membaca cerita ini secara lengkap silakan membeli bukunya melalui


Maria Matildis Banda finished her graduate studies at Universitas Udayana (UNUD) in Denpasar, and now teaches at the Faculty of Cultural Studies of UNUD. She started writing short stories in 1981. Teaching and researching the oral traditions of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), the southernmost province of Indonesia, has given her a strong basis for writing novels with an ethnic background. Between 2015 and 2021, she wrote and self-published three novels set in NTT: Wijaya Kusuma dari Kamar Nomor Tiga, about postnatal care in Flores; Suara Samudra, about whale hunting; and Bulan Patah, about childbirth outside of wedlock. A fourth novel, Doben (Lamalera 2017), is set in Timor Island. Maria has written the column “Parodi Situasi” in the Pos Kupang Daily since 2000.

Maria Matildis Banda:



Cuplikan dari novel Pasola yang akan segera terbit


Malam gelap gulita. Ini malam ketujuh menurut perhitungan rato nyale, tetua adat, yang telah memperhitungkan perjalanan bulan gelap pada bulan Maret tahun 1934 itu untuk kedatangan cacing laut, di Pantai Ratenggaro. Sore hari, semua anggota keluarga membersihkan makam leluhur dan keluarga di depan Kampung Ratenggaro dan sekitarnya. Pada malam hari, perempuan dan laki-laki menari dan kawoking di pelataran.

Setelah Waleka mengikuti Limbu Koni dan Biri pulang ke rumah, masih ada banyak orang yang menari sampai jauh malam demi menunggu waktu kedatangan nyale. Pada jam empat pagi, hampir semua orang meninggalkan rumah menuju pantai yang masih gelap.

Waleka berjalan di depan diikuti Inya Peke. Di belakang Inya Peke, ada Limbu Koni yang menggandeng lengan Banu, anak Inya Peke. Mereka diikuti Biri, teman akrab Limbu Koni, kedua orang tua Waleka, serta anggota keluarga lainnya.

“Kenapa nyale datang waktu bulan gelap?” Banu bertanya. “Nyale takut bulan, takut matahari!” Limbu Koni yang menjawab. “Semoga nyale gemuk-gemuk dan ada semua warna,” katanya lagi.

“Nale atau nyale, Inya?” Banu bertanya lagi.

“Nale atau nyale sama saja, sama-sama cacing laut. Yang pasti, cacing laut yang datang hari ini banyak sekali,” sambung Biri.

Angin berembus perlahan membelai wajah-wajah yang diliputi harapan. Mereka berjalan beriringan menuju Pantai Ratenggaro yang jaraknya hanya selemparan batu dari uma parona.

“Engko cocok tinggal di sini. Dekat pantai. Sudah tiga hari di sini engko tidak pernah mengeluh sesak napas,” kata Limbu Koni yang dijawab Biri dengan lantunan memanggil nyale yang sudah didengarnya sejak sore kemarin.

“Laki-laki yang menarik tanganmu itu … Ndalo namanya? Tidak tahu malu!” Biri berbisik.

“Jangan pedulikan. Biarkan saja. Diam,” kata Limbu Koni.

“Kita pesta hari ini!” kata Inya Peke. “Pesta nyale dan pesta pasola. Waleka pasti gagah sekali hari ini.”

“Saya mau jadi to paholong seperti Bapa Waleka,” Banu berceloteh sambil menarik tangan ibunya.

“Bagus sekali. Bapa Waleka adalah to paholong yang duduk di atas pelana. Gagah perkasa seperti siapa?” tanya Limbu Koni.

“Banu!” jawab Banu sambil tertawa.

Dengan gembira mereka berjalan melalui binya bokolo, pintu gerbang utama di antara makam batu, memasuki jalan setapak menuju pantai. Debur ombak terdengar jelas menandakan bahwa pantai berada sangat dekat. Bulan tidak ada. Kerlap-kerlip bintang, harapan, dan kebutuhan adalah petunjuk jalan menuju pantai. Semuanya ingin menemukan nyale di Pantai Ratenggaro.

Waleka melantunkan kawoking,

Nyale ayam wo wo wu

Ibunda nyale bunda nyale bertelur banyak-banyak

Sebanyak-banyaknya seperti telur siput

Sebanyak-banyaknya seperti telur belalang

Potong-potong gumpalan telur yang banyak

Nyale ayam wo wo wu

Ibunda nyale bunda nyale

Banyak seperti telur siput … wo wo wu

Syair dilantunkan bergantian sejak berjalan dari kampung dengan harapan cacing laut datang dalam jumlah banyak seperti telur siput dan telur belalang. Semua orang masuk ke laut yang sudah surut. Dinginnya air laut di keremangan pagi menyengat kulit kaki yang telanjang. Telapak menyentuh pasir dan batu- batu kecil di dasar laut yang terasa licin. Sementara tangan meraba-raba menyentuh cacing yang licin dan geli. “Oh dapat, licin, banyak, geli, wo wo wu … wo wo wuuu,” ramai suara-suara dengan berbagai ucapan sambung-menyambung.

Bau Nyale adalah kebiasaan menangkap cacing nyale. Bau cacing-cacing laut yang ditangkap itu dapat dicium warga yang ada di pantai.

Waleka bergerak kian kemari menjemput nyale dengan penuh semangat. Dia menyentuh dan menggenggam erat cacing-cacing yang didapatnya dari balik batu-batu kecil.

Inya Peke mengikutinya sambil menadah dengan sebuah keranjang. Banu, Limbu Koni, dan Biri juga berada di sekitarnya. Biri selalu meloncat-loncat karena geli, tapi tetap berupaya untuk memasukkan tangannya ke dalam air, merogoh di balik batu untuk menangkap cacing yang bergerak-gerak dan licin.

Limbu Koni berada dekat Waleka. Dia menahan rasa geli saat cacing-cacing itu menyentuh kakinya berkali-kali. Dia menunduk sambil meraba-raba di balik batu. Demikian juga Waleka. Keduanya tertawa saat tangan mereka saling bertemu. Keduanya menangkap cacing-cacing itu di balik batu yang licin. Mereka bangga bukan main saat berhasil menambah jumlah nyale dalam wadah yang dibawa Banu dan Inya Peke.

“Bola nyale!” tiba-tiba Waleka berseru saat kedua tangannya menjemput sarang nyale. Gumpalan cacing itu membentuk bola besar, sedikit lebih besar dari bola kaki. Dia segera keluar dari air menuju tepi pantai diikuti Limbu Koni, Biri, Banu, Bapa, Inya, kakak, serta keluarganya yang lain.

“Tangkap lagi, Bapa,” Banu girang bukan main. Dia memohon agar boleh menangkap lagi karena di tangannya hanya ada beberapa ekor cacing yang kemudian dimasukkan ke dalam wadah kecil yang tergantung di lehernya.

“Cukup,” jawab Waleka, “ini sudah banyak sekali. Bagi-bagi dengan orang lain,” bisiknya di telinga ponakannya.

Kegiatan menangkap cacing laut itu berhenti ketika ujung sinar matahari mulai muncul di cekungan tanjung kecil di bawah tebing Kampung Ratenggaro. Semua orang kembali ke pantai dengan hasil tangkapannya masing-masing. Dengan gembira, mereka pulang ke kampung. Sarang nyale hanya berhasil didapatkan Waleka.

Meskipun Limbu Koni tidak berkata apa pun padanya, Waleka tahu gadis itu bangga dan mengaguminya.

“Itu tanda engko ada untuk Waleka,” Inya Peke menggoda Limbu Koni. “Jodoh. Lancar semuanya.”

“Pesta tidak lama lagi,” sambung Biri.

“Sama dengan engko. Wuri Wona sudah tidak sabar menunggu,” keduanya tertawa.

Sarang nyale diurai di sisi mata api, bagian tengah rumah panggung yang digunakan sebagai dapur. Bola dibagi tiga dan berada dalam genggaman Limbu Koni, Inya Peke, dan Biri. Selanjutnya diurai. Beberapa kali gumpalan terjatuh karena licin dan cacing yang diurai dari gumpalan bergerak dan merayap gelisah kekurangan air.

Banu yang selalu memungut dan meletakkannya kembali ke dalam wadah. Sungguh sangat banyak cacing gemuk dan berwarna-warni cerah dan menggiurkan.

“Merah, hijau, kuning, putih, hitam, wuiih ada semua warna,” kata Banu dengan gembira. Kedua orang tua Waleka, para perempuan dan laki-laki serta segenap anggota keluarga, gembira. “Gemuk-gemuk! Warnanya terang. Tanda apa Inya?” tanya Banu.

“Tanda subur, panen limpah, hidup jadi lebih baik,” jawab Limbu Koni yang disambut dengan syukur oleh Biri dan Inya Peke. Aneka masakan dari bahan nyale mulai diolah. Limbu Koni dan Biri membantu Inya Peke dan keluarga besar Waleka dengan cekatan.

“Nyale palowor,” kata Inya Peke kepada Limbu Koni.

“Ya Inya,” jawab Limbu Koni sambil tertawa. Bersama Inya Peke dan Biri dia memasak nyale palowor. Masakan dengan bahan utama cacing nyale dan santan kental. Baunya harum dan rasanya lezat setelah dilengkapi dengan berbagai bumbu.

“Kita buat bodho juga kah, Inya?” tanya Biri.

“Ya, dendeng nyale itu disimpan di sini,” jawab ibu Waleka sambil menyerahkan sebuah periuk tanah. “Cukup untuk beberapa bulan ke depan! Wah, banyak sekali!” katanya dengan bangga.

Mereka juga membuat sambal dengan bahan dasar lombok hijau dan cacing yang gemuk-gemuk dan terang warnanya.

Limbu Koni dan Biri terlibat secara langsung dalam segenap kegiatan dapur.

Waleka bangga karenanya. Dia terutama bangga pada Limbu Koni.
Keduanya hanya berani curi-curi pandang dan segera menghindar setelah ketahuan satu sama lain. Akan tetapi, Waleka tahu bahwa nanti di lapangan pasola segalanya akan menjadi lebih indah, memesona.

Sarapan pagi dihidangkan sebelum berangkat ke lapangan pasola. Ayah Waleka bicara sebelum makan. Di hadapan sanak saudara yang datang dari jauh, lelaki tua itu menggarisbawahi beberapa hal. Bapa Tua menyampaikan hal itu dalam bahasa setempat.

“Waleka sudah tangkap sarang nyale pada Bau Nyale di pantai. Jaga itu rezeki untuk sepanjang hidup. Sarang nyale yang besar kumpulan nyale berwarna-warni, gemuk, dan bercahaya. Itu khusus, sangat khusus! Tidak semua pencari nyale mendapatnya. Ini tanda untuk rezeki seumur hidup. Hanya engko saja yang dapat sarang nyale. Itu sungguh luar biasa. Engko diberi banyak. Jaga itu. Kalau engko lupa bahwa engko sudah diberi begitu banyak dalam sarang nyale, apa pun akan diambil kembali dari engko.”

“Ya, Bapa,” jawab Waleka dengan yakin.

“Hidup harus setia dan jujur. Bersyukurlah pada apa yang engko punya. Jangan ambil lebih. Apa pun tantangannya, jangan pernah ambil lebih. Apalagi kalo engko ambil yang bukan engko punya,” kata bapanya lagi. Diikuti dengan berbagai pesan untuk anak cucu turun-temurun. Bapa Tua melengkapi pesan yang disampaikan pada acara duduk bersama di rumah panggung mereka.

“Engko akan jadi to paholong terbaik sepanjang hidup,” kata Bapa Tua lagi dan Waleka mendengar nasihat ayahnya dengan saksama.

“Ya Bapa!”

“Setia dan jujur itu kuncinya,” Bapa Tua tegas. “Tidak hanya pada gaya lompat dan kemampuanmu melayang bersama kudamu, Lenggu Lamura, pada titik lembing dilempar,” Bapa Tua berhenti sejenak sebelum bicara lebih lanjut, “tapi juga setia dan jujur pada kuda yang terbang bersama engko. Di lapangan pasola, engko dan Lamura adalah satu,” Bapa Tua menatap Waleka dengan tajam sambil menggarisbawahi, “Lamura dan engko adalah satu. Ingat itu.”

“Ya Bapa!” Waleka menyetujui dengan sepenuh hati.

“Tidak hanya pada kemenangan dan kepuasan mengenai dan menjatuhkan sasaran, tetapi juga pada kerendahan hatimu merangkul dan menolong kembali lawan yang engko kalahkan.” Bapa Tua berbicara kata demi kata dan diperhatikan dengan saksama oleh semua yang hadir, termasuk Limbu Koni.

Calon istri Waleka itu memperhatikan wajah calon mertuanya. Sorot matanya teduh, alis matanya tebal. Tulang pipinya menonjol dan rahangnya tampak kukuh. Wajah Waleka mirip sekali dengan ayahnya.

“Engko harus yakin bahwa setiap tetes keringat dan setiap tetes darah yang jatuh di lapangan itu jatuh dengan jujur dan setia dan tidak akan jadi kering di sana. Tidak hanya untuk panen hasil kebun, tetapi lebih dari itu, demi kehidupan yang sesungguhnya. Setia dan jujur itu kuncinya!”

Limbu Koni terpana oleh kata-kata Bapa Tua. Dia benar-benar seorang kabani pa ate — julukan yang diberikan kepada laki-laki yang pandai dan cerdas.

Pengalaman hidup dan perantauannya membawa ternak sampai ke Flores, Timor, Alor, bahkan sampai di Maluku dan Sulawesi pada masa muda dulu, membuat Bapa Tua itu matang pada hari tua, di hadapan anak-anak, cucu, dan keluarga besarnya. Apalagi di hadapan Waleka, satu-satunya anak laki-laki dalam keluarga.

“Bapa Tua itu kabani pa ate yang luar biasa,” bisik Biri.

“Ya,” jawab Limbu Koni. “Semoga Waleka bisa menjaga kata-kata Bapa Tua sepanjang hidupnya,” kata Biri. “Semoga.”

“Ya,” jawab Limbu Koni. Dirinya merasa kata-kata itu tidak hanya ditujukan bagi Waleka sebagai to paholong, tetapi juga bagi dirinya yang sudah diterima sebagai bagian dari uma parona keluarga besar Waleka.

Waleka pun merasakan hal sama. Dia tahu, sebagai laki-laki Ratenggaro, dia harus menjadi laki-laki yang setia dan jujur. Tergetar hatinya ketika menyadari Bapa Tua sedang menatapnya lekat-lekat.

“Kalau engko jujur dan setia, engko pasti bisa jaga harga diri keluarga, uma parona, Ratenggaro, kabisu, suku, dan tentu saja harga dirimu sendiri,” Bapa Tua tersenyum setelah selesai bicara. Sorot matanya memberi sinar dan harapan bagi Waleka.

Diam tetapi pasti, Koni juga mencatat setiap kata Bapa Tua ke dalam pikiran dan hatinya. Dia angkat wajahnya sejenak memperhatikan wajah laki-laki tua itu lagi. Koni terkenang Bapa Bili, guru di Weetebula, yang selalu bicara dengan tenang setiap kali memberi nasihat. Saat Koni berpindah tatapannya ke wajah Mama Tua, ibu Waleka melempar senyum yang ikhlas.



Since 2005, Yuni Utami Asih has taught the English Education Study Program (FKIP) at her alma mater, Mulawarman University. During her childhood, her father borrowed books for her from the mobile library. In high school, she fell in love with Ermah’s Indonesian translation of The Count of Monte Cristo (Dunia Pustaka Jaya, 1992). She continued her master’s and doctoral studies at the State University of Surabaya. In 2011, she was funded by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture to visit Leiden University in The Netherlands. She stayed for two months to deepen her research for her final doctoral project, the phonology of the Kenyah language.
In addition to teaching, Asih has also been a guest speaker in several English language courses.

Yuni Utami Asih:



An excerpt from Pasola, an upcoming novel


The night was pitch dark. An elder who had calculated the moon journey declared that the nyale, sea worms, were to appear at the Ratenggaro Beach on the seventh night of March 1934. Earlier that afternoon, every family in the Ratenggaro village on Sumba Island, cleaned the ancestral graves and their surroundings. Through the evening, women and men danced and chanted on the village square while waiting for the arrival of the nyale.

After Waleka followed Limbu Koni and Biri home, many people continued to party. Around four in the morning, most of the villagers headed to the dark beach. Bau Nyale was the traditional annual ritual of catching sea worms.

On their way to the beach, Waleka was followed by his sister, Inya Peke. Limbu Koni held Banu, Inya Peke’s son, by the arm as they walked behind them. They were followed by Limbu Koni’s best friend Biri, Waleka’s parents, and other family members.

“Why do nyale come when the moon is dark?” asked Banu.

“The nyale are afraid of the moon and sun!” Limbu Koni replied. “Hopefully there will be a lot of fat, colorful nyale.”

“Nale or nyale, Inya?” Banu asked.

“Nale and nyale mean the same,” Biri replied. “The word refers to a sea worm. I believe that there will be an abundance of sea worms this time.”

The wind gently caressed their hopeful faces as they walked to the Ratenggaro Beach, close to their uma parona, family home. “You should be living here, near a beach,” said Limbu Koni to Biri. “During the three days you’ve been here visiting, you’ve not complained of being short of breath.”

Biri replied by chanting the mantra call for the nyale, then whispered, “The man who pulled your hand — is his name Ndalo? Such a shameless man!”

“Don’t worry about him,” Limbu Koni replied. “Just leave it alone.”

“We’re going to have a party today!” shouted Inya Peke. “We’ll celebrate the nyale catch and the sacred Sumbanese pasola. Waleka will be dashingly handsome at the annual equestrian spear-fighting competition!

“I want to be a to paholong like Bapa Waleka,” Banu said, pulling his mother’s hand.

“That’s good!” Inya Peke replied. “You can be like your Uncle Waleka, a spear fighter who sits high in his saddle. He’s as handsome as …”

“Banu!” Banu replied laughing.

They walked happily through the binya bakolo, the main gate between gravestones, and entered the footpath to the beach. The sound of rolling waves indicated that they were almost there. Starlight, hope, and need led the eager villagers to the Ratenggaro Beach in search of nyale.

Waleka chanted a kawoking, the mantra to call the nyale.

Nyale ayam wo wo wu

The mother of nyale, Mother Nyale

Spawn abundantly

Lay as many eggs as a snail

As many as a grasshopper

Cut up the many egg clusters

Nyale ayam wo wo wu, chicken nyale wo wo wu

The mother of nyale, Mother Nyale

Lay as many eggs as a snail.

The people took turns chanting the mantra as they walked. They hoped the sea worms had been as prolific as grasshoppers and snails. Everyone waded into the receding sea. The chilly water stung their bare legs. Their feet moved across the slippery pebbles while they groped for sea worms. Voices called out in turns: “I caught some!” “They are slippery!” “Wow! There are a lot!” “It tickles!” “Wo wo wu, wo wo wuuu!”

The smell of the sea worm catch filled the air.

Waleka jumped around. Fingering rocks and bed gravel for the sea worms, he held on tightly to the worms he caught.

Inya Peke and Banu followed him, carrying baskets. Limbu Koni, and Biri were nearby. Biri, experiencing her first Bau Nyale, kept dipping her hands in the water, trying to catch the evasive, slippery worms.

Limbu Koni steeled herself when the worms touched her feet. She looked down while fingering a rock. So did Waleka. Both laughed when their hands touched as they caught the worms around the rocks. They proudly added their catch to the growing number of nyale in the baskets Banu and Inya Peke carried.

“A nyale ball!” Waleka shouted as he yanked up a nyale nest. The clump of worms formed a large squirming ball, slightly larger than a soccer ball. He immediately returned to the beach with everyone on his heels.

“Let’s find some more!” Banu shouted excitedly. He wanted to catch more worms because he only had a few in the small basket hanging from his neck.

“We have enough,” Waleka whispered to his nephew. “This is already a lot. We must share with other people.”

The Bau Nyale came to an end as the sun reached the hollow of the small headland below the cliffs of Ratenggaro. Everyone left the shore with their catch and walked cheerfully to the village. Waleka was the only one who had caught a nyale nest.

Though Limbu Koni had not said anything to him, Waleka knew she was proud of him and admired him.

“That is the sign that you are here for Waleka,” Inya Peke teased Limbu Koni. “You are meant for each other. Everything is going smoothly.”

“We will soon have a celebration!” Biri added.

“Just like you. Your fiancé, Wuri Wona, can’t wait.” Limbu Koni and Biri burst out laughing.

Back in the village, the nyale nest was unraveled beside the wood stove, in the center of the stilt house used as a kitchen. The ball was divided into thirds. Limbu Koni, Inya Peke and Biri each took a third. The slippery masses fell several times. The worms, loosened from the ball, writhed and crawled, searching for sea water. Banu always picked them up and put them back into the basket. There were so many fat, bright, colorful, and tantalizing worms!

“Red, green, yellow, white, black — wow, we have every color!” Banu shouted happily. Waleka’s parents and all the other villagers were happy too. “The worms are fat!” Banu shouted again. “They are bright! What does it mean, Mother?”

“It’s a sign of fertile land, abundant harvests, and a better life,” Inya Peke replied. Biri and Limbu Koni agreed, as they skillfully helped Inya Peke and Waleka’s extended family prepare a variety of nyale dishes.

Together with Inya Peke and Biri, Limbu Koni started to prepare nyale palowor, a stew of nyale and thick coconut milk, complemented with various spices. It smelled fragrant and tasted delicious.

They also made a peppery sauce with green chilies and fat, bright, colorful worms. “Are we going to make bodho, too, Inya?” Biri asked.

“Yes, store the nyale jerky here,” Waleka’s mother answered, handing over an earthen pot.

“Wow, we have plenty!” she exclaimed proudly. “This will be enough for several months!”

Waleka was pleased to see Limbu Koni and Biri help with all the kitchen activities. He was especially taken with Limbu Koni. Waleka and Limbu Koni stole furtive glances at each other and immediately looked away after being caught by the other. But Waleka knew that later, on the pasola field, everything would change. Everything would become more beautiful, more intimate.

Finally, breakfast was served. Before everyone started to eat, Waleka’s father, Bapa Tua, gave a speech in the Sumbanese dialect.

In front of the villagers and relatives who had come from afar, the old man underlined several things to the gathering in their stilt house.

“Waleka, you caught a nyale nest during the Bau Nyale on the beach,” he said. “Take care of that fortune throughout life. To find a big nyale nest with colorful, fat, and luminous worms is special, very special indeed! Not all nyale seekers find one. This is a sign of a lifetime fortune. You’re the only one who caught a nyale nest. That is incredible. You’ve been given a lot. Take good care of the gift. If you ever fail to appreciate how much you’ve been given in the form of a nyale nest, you will lose everything.”

“Yes, Father,” Waleka answered confidently.

“Live a life that’s faithful and honest,” his father continued. “Be grateful for everything you have. Don’t take more than you need. Whatever the challenge might be, never take more — let alone things that don’t belong to you.” Bapa Tua continued his speech with life’s wisdoms that had been passed down for generations.

“You will be the best to paholong throughout your life,” Bapa Tua said, and Waleka listened carefully to his father. “Faithfulness and honesty are the keys,” Bapa Tua emphasized. “Not only in the jumping style and your ability to merge with your horse, Lenggu Lamura, when the javelin is thrown, but you also need to be faithful and honest to the horse you are riding. On the pasola field, you and Lamura are one.” Bapa Tua threw Waleka a sharp look before repeating, “You and Lamura are one. Remember that.”

“Yes, Bapa!” Waleka agreed wholeheartedly.

“Keep faithfulness and honesty not only in the victory and satisfaction of defeating an opponent, but also in your humanity in embracing and helping your defeated opponent.” Bapa Tua spoke each word carefully. Everyone present listened attentively, including Limbu Koni.

Waleka’s bride-to-be studied the face of her future father-in-law: calm eyes beneath thick eyebrows, high cheekbones, and a strong jaw. Waleka looked very much like his father.

“You must believe that every drop of sweat and every drop of blood that falls on the field falls honestly and faithfully and will not dry up there. Not just for the harvest, but more than that, for real life. Loyalty and honesty are the keys!”

Limbu Koni was moved by Bapa Tua’s words. He was a true kabani pa ate, a very clever and wise man. In his youth, Bapa Tua had traveled to Flores, Timor, Alor, even as far as Maluku dan Sulawesi to trade livestock. His children, grandchildren, and extended family believed that Bapa Tua’s experience made him wise in his old age. Especially for Waleka, the only son in the family.

“Bapa Tua is an extraordinary kabani pa ate,” Biri whispered to Limbu Koni. “Hopefully, Waleka can live up to Bapa Tua’s words for as long as he lives. Hopefully.”

“Yes,” Limbu Koni replied. She felt that Bapa Tua’s words were not only directed at Waleka as a to paholong, but also at her for being accepted as a part of Waleka’s extended family.

Waleka felt the same. He realized, as a Ratenggaro man, that he must be a faithful and honest man. His heart fluttered when he saw Bapa Tua looking at him intently.

“If you are faithful and honest, you will be able to take care of family pride, uma parona, Ratenggaro, kabisu, tribe, and yourself for sure.” Bapa Tua smiled. The look in his eyes gave Waleka light and hope.

Silently, Limbu Koni recorded all Bapa Tua’s words in her mind and heart. She lifted her head for a moment to watch the old man’s face again. Then Limbu Koni shifted her gaze to Mama Tua. Waleka’s mother threw her a warm smile.

“Do you understand, Waleka?” Bapa Tua asked.

“Yes, Bapa.” Waleka answered confidently.








Yun Labu dan Sayak-betingkat

Benny Arnas‘s short stories have been published in many national newspapers such as Kompas, Koran Tempo, and Horison magazine. He won a number of writing contests. His novel, Kayu Lapuk Membuat Kapal (Diva Press, 2021) won first place in a Novel Writing Contest on Prophet Muhammad in 2021. His other novel, Curriculum Vitae (Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 2017) won the Jakarta Arts Council Novel Writing Contest in 2016.
Since 2009, Arnas has served the Benny Institute, a cultural association in his hometown, by organizing writing classes, acting classes, English classes, ulu literacy classes, book fairs, film festivals, book clubs, etc.

Benny Arnas Instagram: bennyarnas


Yun Labu dan Sayak-betingkat


Di bantaran anak Sungai Musi yang rindang, konon di kawasan yang sekarang dikenal sebagai Musi Rawas Raya, terdapat dua kerajaan. Pagarbesi, kerajaan dengan bala tentara dan abdi yang banyak di bagian selatan dan Batangpuan, yang jauh lebih kecil, di utaranya. Para perempuan, dari dua kerajaan yang suaminya pulang tiga bulan sekali sebab bertugas di Kerajaan Pagarbesi, berkeyakinan bahwa wujud cinta yang berbalas adalah bila sayak-betingkat, wadah makanan dari batok kelapa yang ditumpuk, kembali dalam keadaan kosong. Tidak terkecuali bagi Yun Labu. Putri Kerajaan Batangpuan itu melepas kebangsawanannya setelah dikawini Napalong, pengembara tampan yang berasal dari Kerajaan Pagarbesi.

Pertautan itu tidak mendapat restu Ginde Ulak dan Putri Mayang, orangtuanya yang tidak lain adalah pemuncak Kerajaan Batangpuan. Selain harkat yang tidak sejenjang, cara Napalong mengawini Yun Labu juga membuat mereka merasa diremehkan.

Napalong menculik Yun Labu ⸺ meskipun Yun Labu mengatakan kalau dialah yang minta diculik ⸺ dan membawanya ke kepala puak di kampungnya untuk dikawinkan. Hampir saja, Napalong dibunuh oleh para prajurit Kerajaan Batangpuan, bila Yun Labu tidak mengancam akan terjun ke jurang berbatu di perbatasan Kerajaan Batangpuan.

“Aku tak sudi pengembara itu menjadi bagian dari kerajaan ini,” desis Ginde Ulak dengan gigi bergemeretakan.

“Pun aku.” Putri Mayang tidak mau kalah. “Kabar terakhir yang kudengar, Napalong akan mengajar kuntau di Kerajaan Pagarbesi,” nada suaranya getir.

Ginde Ulak mengangguk-angguk. Bara di matanya belum padam. “Apakah Napalong benar-benar menguasai ilmu bela diri itu hingga dia dijadikan pelatih?”

Putri Mayang tersenyum miring. “Bila Napalong menjadi abdi, Yun Labu akan jarang berjumpa dengannya.”

“Di mana Yun Labu tinggal sekarang?” Ginde Ulak mengerenyitkan dahi. “Kau sudah memerintahkan prajurit membuatkannya pesanggrahan?”

“Napalong sudah membuatkannya pondok,” Putri Mayang mengibaskan ujung selendang yang melingkari pinggangnya.

“Hanya pondok?” Gindek Ulak melotot.

“Lupakah Yun Labu sejak remaja gemar sekali mempermalukan keluarga dengan menjadi Umak Panggung di hajatan rakyat? Dia pasti tidak menggerutu.”

“Ini karena kau terlalu membebaskannya dalam bergaul!”

“Kupikir putri kita benar-benar belajar membuat syair dari Napalong,” jawab Putri Mayang dengan penuh rasa bersalah. “Bukankah bangsawan yang cakap bersyair akan dipandang lebih terhormat dari yang lain?”

“Apa tidak sampai di telingamu kalau pemuda itu justru tak bisa menulis dan membaca huruf Ulu?”

Putri Mayang menatap tajam suaminya. Bagaimana mungkin seseorang disebut pujangga tanpa kecakapan menulis aksara udik. “Tentu saja aku tahu, Kak, tapi orang-orang tua dan peramal justru mengatakan itulah yang membedakan Napalong dengan penyair lain. Belum tersebut sepak terjangnya yang kerap menumpas para pembuat onar!”

“Lalu mengapa kau membiarkan saja Yun Labu bergaul dengan Nenek Bengkuang, bekas juru masak Kerajaan Pagarbesi?” gerutu Ginde Ulak.

“Keinginan Yun Labu untuk berurusan dengan kuali, periuk, tungku, dan rempah, tidak kuasa dicegah siapa pun. Kakak pasti tahu itu. Lagi pula, aku tidak pernah menyangka kalau Yun Labu diam-diam masih mengunjungi Nenek Bengkuang dan memaksa perempuan tua itu mengajarinya memasak,” Putri Mayang membela diri. “Dari dulu Yun Labu memang tidak peduli dengan gelar putri rajanya!” gerutu perempuan paruh baya itu seraya mendengus. “Oh ya, pondok tempat tinggalnya di selatan.”

“Maksudmu kampung yang belum kita namai itu?” sambar Ginde Ulak.

Putri Mayang mengangguk. “Batangpuan dan Pagarbesi ‘kan belum bersepakat siapa yang memiliki hutan di dekat perbatasan itu? Kakak lupakah?”

Ginde Ulak terdiam.

“Oh ya, kabarnya Wak Juai sudah sakit-sakitan.” Putri Mayang tersenyum licik.

“Kenapa kau malah membicarakan abdi Pagarbesi itu?” sahut Ginde Ulak, jengkel. “Lebih baik kausiapkan penyambutan putra kita yang akan tiba dari Tiongkok beberapa hari lagi. Apa kau tidak penasaran melihat Tanjung Samin setelah sepuluh tahun berpisah?”


Kehadiran Napalong membuat Yun Labu tidak lagi menjadikan Nenek Bengkuang sebagai satu-satunya pencecap masakannya sebelum disajikan. Walaupun Napalong tidak pandai memasak, tetap penting bagi Yun Labu untuk memastikan kalau apa-apa yang diraciknya akan disukai pemuda yang paling dia cintai itu.

Napalong dan Nenek Bengkuang tidak pernah berselisih paham tentang rasa masakan yang dihidangkan. Bila sambal terlalu pedas Nenek Bengkuang akan mengatakan kalau itu disebabkan beberapa potong nanas yang baru dia makan. Bila sayur bening terasa hambar, Napalong akan mengatakan dia terlalu banyak menambahkan gula batu pada tehnya hari itu.

Setelah sepekan menghabiskan bulan madu di pondok, Napalong meminta kesediaan Nenek Bengkuang untuk tinggal bersama istrinya. “Nenek dan istriku sudah sangat dekat, tinggal berdua akan membuat saling menjaga.” rayu Napalong.

Jarak antara tempat tinggal Yun Labu dan Kerajaan Pagarbesi tidaklah terlalu jauh, apalagi ditempuh dengan berkuda. Namun, Yun Labu dan Napalong paham benar bagaimana peraturan kerajaan bagi abdi baru. Pada tahun pertama pengabdian, mereka hanya disilakan pulang menemui keluarga sekali dalam tiga bulan. Dan adalah tabiat para istri untuk mengirimi suami mereka makan siang melalui kangantat. Petugas pengantaran barang kerajaan itu akan datang pada waktu Duha dengan kereta yang ditarik dua kuda.

“Berjanjilah,” kata Napalong kala temaram senja. Sedepa dari pondok mereka, di bawah kerimbunan pohon enau, dia masih bisa menangkap binar kedua mata istrinya. “Sebagai tanda kesetiaan, Adik hanya akan memasak masakan-masakan yang pernah kumakan saja.”

Yun Labu tertawa kecil sebelum kemudian membalas, “Tapi Kakak belum pernah kumasakkan gulai tempoyak ikan baung, sambal pie, nawan nangu kuah santan, atau gulai ampai dengan cendawan lebek, yang rasanya pasti bikin ketagihan.”

Napalong tersenyum lebar. “Yang sudah pernah kau masak, lebih dari cukup, Dik.”

Melambung nian perasaan Yun Labu.

“Tapi …,” Napalong menatap Yun Labu, “Benarkah kau akan setia, Dik?”

“Lha?” Yun Labu mengangkat alisnya. “Kenapa sekarang malah engkau yang meragukanku, Kak? Tergantung perasaanmu padaku, Kak.” Meskipun berusaha tegar, Yun Labu gagal menyembunyikan kegalauannya. “Aku akan jadi seperti apa yang kaupikirkan,” tangisnya pecah.

Napalong menyeka air mata istrinya. “Biar adil,” dia merangkulnya, erat. “Adik pun harus memberikan syarat kesetiaan kepada Kakak.”

Yun Labu terdiam sebelum merenggangkan pelukan dan menatap wajah Napalong dengan penuh kelembutan. “Bila sayak-betingkat-ku kembali dalam keadaan kosong, artinya kau masih menyambut kerinduanku. Tapi bila ada makanan tersisa, berarti Kakaklah sudah tak setia.”

Napalong mengangguk.


Dua bulanan kemudian, Kerajaan Pagarbesi berduka. Wak Juai, kangantat sepuh, yang telah mengabdi kepada Pagarbesi sejak masih remaja, berpulang.

Sore harinya, seorang pemuda yang mengaku bernama Rimau menghadap raja di pelataran singgasananya. Dia menyatakan kesanggupannya untuk menggantikan Wak Juai. Untuk meyakinkan pihak kerajaan, dia memamerkan kemampuannya meringankan tubuh sehingga bisa mendatangi tempat yang jauh dalam waktu singkat dengan menunggangi pelepah kelapa.

Raja, permaisuri, dan segenap petinggi Kerajaan Pagarbesi pun takjub dengan kebulatan tekad pemuda yang bersimpuh di hadapan mereka itu. “Baiklah,” Raja merengangkan sandaran bahunya dari singgasana, “Tutupi wajahmu dengan kain kecuali sepasang matamu ketika menjalankan tugas!” Walaupun tidak diungkapkan, Raja Pagarbesi menyimpan kekhawatiran. Ketampanan wajah Rimau mungkin saja menggoda perempuan-perempuan muda yang dengan setia menyiapkan sayak-betingkat untuk suami mereka.

Rimau menyanggupinya.


Meskipun sudah memasuki pekan kedua dari bulan ketiga tugasnya di Kerajaan Pagarbesi, Napalong masih tidak bisa mengajar para prajurit dengan pikiran yang jernih. Sama seperti hari dan pekan sebelumnya, dia tidak sabar menunggu matahari tepat berada di atas kepala, waktu kangantat datang dengan sayak-betingkat kiriman Yun Labu. Ketika pengganti Wak Juai datang, Napalong bertanya tentang keadaan istrinya.

Rimau membungkuk sambil berkata, “Maaf, Kisanak, selain hamba adalah kangantat baru, hamba pun tidak akan mencari tahu tentang para pengirim dan penerima sayak-betingkat.”

Siang itu, Napolong terkejut menemukan makanan yang lain dari yang diharapkan. Sayak-betingkat yang dia terima berisi nasi dan segenggam ikan seluang goreng di sayak paling bawah, gulai tempoyak ikan baung di atasnya, sambal cong di tingkat berikutnya, dan beberapa pucuk kemangi dan terong ungu di sayak paling atas — masakan yang belum pernah Yun Labu sajikan untuknya dalam masa bulan madu mereka. Meskipun begitu, dia memaksakan diri untuk menghabiskan isi sayak-betingkat itu. Dia tidak ingin kehilangan Yun Labu.


Hingga hari kesebelas dari bulan ketiga, setelah kepergian Napalong, Yun Labu tidak bisa lagi menyembunyikan kebahagiaannya karena sayak-betingkat yang dia kirimkan selalu kembali dalam keadaan kosong. Dengan penuh debar, perempuan itu pun menuliskan sajak kerinduannya. Wahai Kakak Sayang, sayang seorang …, Yun Labu menyenyumi larik pertama yang dia tulis, lalu menerawang.

Yun Labu tersenyum menulis larik-larik kerinduan seolah-olah dia sendiri tidak mampu menghentikan tangannya menggoreskan dawat. Diam-diam dia telah menghabiskan dua gulungan daun nipah.

Di hari kedua belas, Yun Labu membuka sayak-betingkat dengan tidak sabaran. Benar saja, yang paling dia tunggu pun ada di sana.

          Ai Adik nun di sana.

Yun Labu memejamkan mata seraya menempelkan daun nipah itu ke dadanya. Ah, Kakak, siapakah kiranya prajurit yang kaumintakan bantuan untuk menuliskan kata-kata indah yang kaututurkan? Yun Labu tersenyum sebelum melanjutkan membaca.

           Tentulah kehormatan tak tepermanai bagi hamba

          yang telah disilakan menikmati hidangan ketulusan

Yun Labu menerawang dengan mata berbinar. Membayangkan sang suami menyebut diri sendiri sebagai hamba dan makan siang kirimannya sebagai hidangan ketulusan membuat perasaan Yun Labu melayang di antara awan-gemawan ketersanjungan.

Yun Labu menyimpan surat itu diam-diam. Dia tidak ingin membagi rasa bahagia itu, kepada Nenek Bengkuang sekalipun. Yang membuatnya makin terharu adalah bahwa laki-laki berjiwa ksatria seperti suaminya telah bersusah payah menurunkan kejemawaannya di hadapan seseorang yang dia mintai bantuan untuk menuliskan syair untuknya.

Yun Labu memegang surat itu erat-erat. Menggulungnya lamat-lamat. Menciumnya dengan penuh penghayatan, seakan-akan bau badan suaminya melekat di daun nipah itu. Belum pernah dia sebahagia ini. Yun Labu pun mengingat-ingat. Kurang dari tiga pekan lagi suaminya akan kembali. Dia membalas:

          Aku tahu Kakak masih bersetia di sana.

          Habiskanlah sajianku. Tunaikanlah amanahmu.

          Adik tunggu dengan hati yang luluh.

Hari keempat belas.

           Di manakah kiranya kau berada, Dik?

          Jangan bermain-main. Cinta telah membuat Kakak buta.

          Pada tempat. Juga tanda-tanda.

Yun Labu tahu apa yang harus dia tulis.

           Tak usah tergesa-gesa, Kak.

          Orang-orang sabar senantiasa diganjar keajaiban.

Hari kelima belas.

           Jangan memanjangkan tali kelambu, Dik.

          Akan Kakak jelang dikau. Ke nirwana. Pun lembah kegelapan.

Kebahagiaan Yun Labu alangkah ruahnya:

          Adik tidak ke mana-mana, Kak.

          Masih setia merindu — di hatimu yang tiba-tiba biru.

Sebagaimana biasa, Yun Labu pun menggulung daun nipah itu lalu menyelipkannya di antara lalapan bunga kunyit di sayak teratas.

Hari keenam belas.

Petang itu, selain mengantar sayak-betingkat yang kosong ke pondok Yun Labu, Rimau juga menyampaikan sebuah amanah. “Maaf Puan, besok aku takkan menjemput sayak-betingkat sebab suamimu ingin makan siang di pondok kalian.”

“Maksudmu apa, wahai Kangantat? Bukankah dia harus tinggal dua pekan lagi di Kerajaan Pagarbesi? Aku minta tolong kepadamu untuk mengingatkannya tentang ini kepadanya.”
Rimau bergeming. Sesungguhnya, sejak kali pertama menggantikan Wak Juai aku menantikan pertemuan kalian besok. Dia kembali ke kereta kudanya dan hilang di balik pepohonan.

“Bila memang benar apa yang dikatakan kangantat itu, kau tak perlu khawatir, Yun,” Nenek Bengkuang yang sedari tadi menyapu di belakang pondok menghampiri dan mencoba menenangkan. “Bisa saja kangantat itu tak tega melihat Napalong yang selalu memikirkanmu.”

“Tapi, Nek,” Yun Labu mencoba menyanggah, “Bukankah setelah kami kawin, Kakak sudah berjanji untuk berhenti mengembara? Tidak mudah menjadi abdi kerajaan. Kenapa Kakak justru hendak menyia-nyiakan kesempatan ini. Dua pekan itu tidak lama bila dia mau bersabar dan benar-benar memikirkan kehidupan kami.”

Nenek Bengkuang mengelus rambut Yun Labu. “Kudengar kangantat itu bukan orang sembarangan. Dia bisa menjangkau suatu tempat dengan perantara daun atau ranting atau pelepah. Siapa tahu dengan kesaktian yang dimilikinya dia akan mengantar Napalong untuk makan siang lalu mengantarnya ke kerajaan sesudahnya. Atau ….”

“Oh, benarkah itu, Nek?” potong Yun Labu. Lalu mengiba, seolah-olah langit mampu mendengar keresahannya, “Semoga dia juga tak lupa mengingatkan suamiku untuk bersabar.”


Sejak pagi Yun Labu memasak semua masakan yang pernah dia buat untuk Napalong. Seolah tahu diri, Nenek Bengkuang pun sigap membersihkan rumah dan menebas rumpun ilalang dan semak sikaduduk di sekitar pondok. Jelang matahari menudungi bumi dengan sempurna, Yun Labu telah mengangkat nasi dari periuk dan membubuhkannya ke dalam bakul daun pandan. Di atas meja kayu setinggi dua jengkal, nasi, lauk, sayur, sambal, dan ayam kampung panggang telah tersaji.

“Yun, perkiraan kita benar!” teriak Nenek Bengkuang dari luar. Suaranya bergetar.

“Kangantat itu benar-benar mengantar Kakak?” sahut Yun Labu juga dengan berteriak. Dia masih sibuk menata-nata meja makan.

“Kangantat itu terbang di atas pelepah nira!” mata Nenek Bengkuang membelalak, tangan kanannya menunjuk-nunjuk langit.

“Bersama Kak Napalong, ‘kan?” Yun Labu merapikan rambutnya. Wajahnya semringah.

“Bersama laki-laki tak dikenal,” Nenek Bengkuang buru-buru menuju Yun Labu, menyeret lengannya ke muka pintu.

Di luar, Yun Labu termangu sejenak sebelum berteriak, “Siapa yang kau bawa ini, Kangantat?” Dia menunjuk laki-laki yang menyunggingkan senyum. Ditaksirnya lelaki itu berusia sepuluh tahun lebih tua dari Napalong.

“Bukankah dia suamimu?” Rimau balik bertanya.

“Kau jangan membuat api di sini, Tuan!” Nenek Bengkuang angkat bicara. “Dia cucuku yang setia.”

“Tapi, bukankah dialah laki-laki yang selalu cucumu kirimi sayak-betingkat itu?” Lagi, Rimau balik bertanya.

“Apakah mendiang Wak Juai tidak mewasiatkan senarai penerima sayak-betingkat untuk penerusnya?” Dada Nenek Bengkuang megap-megap.

“Tentu aku menerimanya, Puan.”

“Lalu mengapa kau mengantar sayak-betingkat-ku kepadanya?” Telunjuk Yun Labu mengarah pada laki-laki yang dibawa Rimau. Dia benar-benar geram. Bukan hanya membayangkan semua masakannya dihabiskan oleh orang tidak dikenal, tapi juga kata-kata dalam surat yang selama ini begitu indah kini menjadi begitu menjijikkan.

“Puan,” ujar Rimau, nada suaranya tegang. “Aku mengantarkan ratusan sayak-betingkat tanpa peduli jati diri penerima — termasuk usia, asal, dan kegemaran mereka.”

“Mengapa kau tak mau tahu?” tanya Nenek Bengkuang, cepat.

“Itu cara terbaik untuk menguji ketangkasan dan ketelitianku.

“Dan kau telah gagal!” sambar Yun Labu.

“Walaupun belum lama mengambil alih pekerjaan Wak Juai, aku belum pernah membuat kekeliruan. Sayak-betingkat-ku selalu sampai di tangan yang tepat yang sebagian besarnya adalah laki-laki, termasuk mereka yang baru menikah. Ada juga, mereka yang dicintai sanak kerabatnya dan orang-orang murah hati yang tak ingin diketahui siapa dirinya. Sebagian lainnya adalah para duda .…”

“Dan aku duda,” sebuah suara tiba-tiba memotong.

Rimau, Yun Labu, dan Nenek Bengkuang, serta merta menoleh ke arah laki-laki yang sedari tadi diam.

“Nah kau!” Yun Labu kembali menunjuk-nunjuk duda itu, “Mengapa kau menghabiskan makan siang yang bukan hakmu. Mengapa kau malah merayuku seolah-olah kau adalah suamiku! Kau … kau … kau ….” tangis Yun Labu pecah.

Duda itu terdiam sejenak sebelum membentang dalih. “Apakah salah kalau aku juga beroleh keberuntungan sebagaimana Wak Dullah, Subir, atau Tuan Halipan, yang dikirimi sayak-betingkat oleh orang-orang yang tidak mereka kenal. Bahkan Subir akhirnya menikah dengan janda yang mengiriminya makan siang. Apakah salah bila aku juga mengharap? Apakah salah bila aku menaruh harapan pada seorang dermawan yang mengirimiku sayak-betingkat? Gadis atau janda sungguh aku tak peduli!”

“Aku bukan keduanya,” Yun Labu membelalak. “Aku seorang perempuan bersuami.”

“Benar kau bukan suaminya?” potong Rimau seraya menoleh ke duda itu. Kain yang melilit wajah menyembunyikan keterkejutannya.

Duda itu terkesiap mendapati pertanyaan Rimau. Dia terburu-buru mengangguk.

“Jawab saja!” desak Rimau.

“Adakah abdi lain di Kerajaan Pagarbesi yang mahir bersyair selain seorang juru tulis kerajaan sepertiku?” suara sang duda bergetar.

“Napalong!” sahut Yun Labu cepat. “Suamiku yang tak lain tak bukan adalah pelatih kuntau di Pagarbesi. Kau pasti kenal.”

Juru tulis kerajaan itu meneguk liur. Bagaimanapun, nama itu sangat masyhur di kerajaan.

Yun Labu mendengus tetapi sebelum sempat menumpahkan kemarahannya, kangantat bersuara.

“Maafkan saya, Puan dan Nenek,” Rimau membungkuk. “Apa yang harus aku lakukan untuk menebus kesalahan ini?”

“Kau antar Yun Labu menemui suaminya besok agar masalah mereka beres!” ketus Nenek Bengkuang sebelum mengajak Yun Labu masuk dan menutup pintu pondok dengan serampangan.


Setelah berhari-hari berjalan kaki melintasi belasan sungai dan rimba, Napalong tiba di pondok mereka dengan kerinduan yang hampir meletus di dadanya. Sepelemparan batu dari pondoknya, dia melihat Yun Labu dan neneknya sedang bercakap-cakap dengan kangantat dan laki-laki yang tidak dia kenali. Sebagai seorang yang memegang syarat, janji, dan tanda-tanda, Napalong berikhtisar kalau dia telah keliru memilih perempuan untuk dititipi kepercayaan. Di matanya, Yun Labu telah mengabaikan kesepakatan sejak mengiriminya sayak-betingkat berisi masakan-masakan yang tidak pernah dia cicipi. Dia benar-benar kesal, bagaimana Yun Labu begitu tega mempermainkan perasaannya.


Sesampai di perguruan Pagarbesi, begitu mengetahui kalau Napalong sudah menghilang sekitar sepekan Yun Labu mati-matian menyembunyikan tangis yang meledak dalam mata dan dada. Peraturan melarang siapa pun meneteskan air mata di lingkungan kerajaan, sebab itu pertanda raja belum mampu menyejahterakan para abdi dan rakyatnya.

Ingin sekali Rimau memeluk Yun Labu. Ingin sekali dia berkata bahwa, kalau sang suami memang mencintainya, dia akan kembali. Namun … Rimau tidak ingin mengacaukan segalanya.


Tanjung Samin dengan bangga menunjukkan peti kecil yang bertuliskan Wasiat Wak Juai dalam huruf Ulu yang terukir indah. Dia telah diterima menggantikan Wak Juai di Kerajaan Pagarbesi sebagai kangantat, pekerjaan yang dilamar olehnya atas perintah orangtuanya.

“Tak percuma kau kami kirim ke Tiongkok untuk belajar siasat dan ilmu kesaktian, wahai putraku” ujar Putri Mayang seraya memeriksa tumpukan bilah-bilah gelumpai yang terdapat dalam peti. Di balik singgasananya, Putri Mayang membentang pesan terakhir Wak Juai. Dia terburu-buru menukar-letak dua nama penerima sayak-betingkat sebelum memasukkannya lagi ke dalam peti. “Sudah Ibu periksa nama-nama para pengirim dan penerima. Lakukanlah tugasmu. Kami yakin kau akan menunaikannya dengan baik,” ujarnya seraya memberikan peti itu kepada putra sulungnya.

“Tidak seperti adikmu, kau benar-benar anak yang membanggakan!” seru Ginde Ulak, jemawa. “Kau tidak mengaku bernama Tanjung Samin, bukan?”

“Aku memperkenalkan diri sebagai Rimau,” jawab Tanjung Samin, tegas dan bangga.

“Juga tidak mengaku berdarah Batangpuan.”

Ginde Ulak mengangguk-angguk puas. “Selain pesan ibumu agar kau mengabaikan jati diri penerima sayak-betingkat, kau juga harus memastikan kalau Yun Labu dalam keadaan baik-baik saja, apalagi memenuhi segala kebutuhannya. Tentu bukan untuk mengajaknya pulang. Bagaimanapun adikmu telah membangkang dan membuat malu keluarga dan kerajaan!”

“Sampai kapan dia dihukum, Yah?” suara Tanjung Samin melemah. Matanya sendu serta-merta.

Ginde Ulak membuang muka.


Nasib membuat keberhasilan Putri Mayang memisahkan Yun Labu dan Napalong dibayar setimpal. Tanjung Samin merasa telah menjadi orang kelaparan yang disajikan buah simalakama. Dan dia telah memilih untuk menyakiti adik yang sangat dia sayangi. Menyesal telah menyebabkan sang adik larut dalam penderitaan, Tanjung Samin kembali ke Tiongkok tanpa pamit kepada Ginde Ulak dan Putri Mayang.


Puluhan tahun kemudian, Tanjung Samin pulang untuk menggantikan Ginde Ulak di singgasana Kerajaan Batangpuan.

Dia memang berhasil membujuk Yun Labu kembali ke kerajaan. Namun, dia tidak kuasa menghentikan sang adik untuk setiap hari menanak nasi dan memasak gulai di dapur istana. Kepada orang-orang yang bertanya tentang perilaku sang adik, tanpa beban Tanjung Samin menjawab, “Memasak bukan hanya membuat kunyahan yang memenuhkan perut, tapi juga memuaskan kerinduan seseorang. Suatu hari, Napalong, sebagaimana orang-orang yang mendengar kisah ini, akan takjub dengan kesetiaan adikku.”




Love in a Coconut Shell

In 2005, Umar Thamrin received a Fulbright grant and a Catherine and William L. Magistretti Graduate Fellowship for his graduate studies in the United States. He completed his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies with the designated emphasis in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. Before returning to Indonesia in 2017, he received a one-year appointment as a research and teaching fellow at the University of Oregon.

Back in his home country, Umar became disturbed by several social conditions he encountered there, and is saddened that the common people have remained marginalized while society ignores the lessons of its history. These conditions have prompted him to think, to remember, and to write. He is currently teaching linguistics at Alauddin State Islamic University.

Umar Thamrin:


Love in a Coconut Shell


On the bank of a shady tributary of the Musi River, on the island of Sumatra, now known as Musi Rawas Raya, there once were two kingdoms — Pagarbesi and Batangpuan. Pagarbesi, which had a substantial army and was well populated, was located in the southern part ⸺ with Batangpuan, which was a much smaller kingdom, just north of it. The men enlisted in the Pagarbesi kingdom army were granted home leave only once every three months during their first year of service. Their wives sent their lunch in a sayak-betingkat — home-cooked food placed in containers of stacked coconut shells. The women believed their husbands expressed requited love when the shells returned empty.

Yun Labu, the princess of the Batangpuan kingdom, was no exception. She had forfeited her nobility by marrying Napalong, a handsome traveler from the Pagarbesi kingdom.

Yun Labu’s parents, the king and queen of the Batangpuan kingdom, did not approve of the marriage. Their daughter had married a commoner and they had been humiliated by the way the couple had married.

Napalong had kidnapped Yun Labu — although Yun Labu claimed it was she who had asked to be kidnapped — and taken her to the chief of his village to marry them. Soldiers of the Batangpuan kingdom would have killed Napalong if Yun Labu had not threatened to kill herself by jumping into a rocky ravine near the border of Batangpuan.

“I don’t want that wanderer to be a part of this kingdom,” hissed the Batangpuan king, Ginde Ulak.

“Neither do I,” Queen Putri Mayang replied, no less fiercely. “The last I heard, Napalong plans to teach martial arts to the soldier recruits in the Pagarbesi kingdom.”
Ginde Ulak nodded. His eyes glowed with anger. “Has Napalong really mastered martial arts so well that he is qualified to teach it?”

“If Napalong becomes a teacher in martial arts at the Pagarbesi court, Yun Labu will rarely see him.” Putri Mayang flicked the end of the shawl wrapped around her waist.

“Where does Yun Labu live now?” Ginde Ulak asked, frowning. “You ordered soldiers to build a house for her, didn’t you?”

“Napalong built her a hut,” Putri Mayang smirked.

Ginde Ulak’s eyes widened. “Just a hut?” he asked furiously.

“Oh, I’m sure she didn’t complain. You forget that when she was a teenager, Yun Labu would embarrass us by hosting commoners’ parties.”

“This happened because you gave our daughter too much freedom.”

“I honestly thought our daughter was learning how to write poetry from Napalong,” Putri Mayang said remorsefully. “Wouldn’t a noble who is good at writing poetry be held in higher esteem?”

Ginde Ulak snorted. “Bah. That young man can’t even write and read Ulu letters.”

Putri Mayang glared at her husband. How was it possible that someone was called a poet without being able to write the traditional script of the upstream region? She said, “Of course I know that, dear. However, according to the elders and fortune tellers, that’s exactly what sets Napalong apart from other poets — not to mention the way he deals with troublemakers!”

“And why did you allow Yun Labu to befriend Grandma Bengkuang, the former cook of the Pagarbesi kingdom?” grumbled Ginde Ulak.

“My dear, you know that no one can keep Yun Labu away from pots, pans, stoves, and spices. Still, I never dreamed that Yun Labu would secretly visit Grandma Bengkuang and compel the old woman to teach her how to cook! Yun Labu never cared about being a princess! And to answer your question, she lives in the south.”

“In the village we haven’t named yet?”

Putri Mayang nodded. “Well, remember, Batangpuan and Pagarbesi haven’t agreed on who owns the forest near the border.”

Ginde Ulak fell silent.

“I heard that Wak Juai is sick.” Putri Mayang smiled slyly.

“Why are you bringing up gossip about the Pagarbesi messenger?” Ginde Ulak snapped.

“You should instead be preparing to welcome our son. He’s arriving from China in just a few days. Aren’t you eager to see Tanjung Samin after ten long years?”


After Napalong and Yun Labu married, Grandma Bengkuang was not the only one who tasted Yun Labu’s cooking before it was served. Napalong was not a good cook, but it was still important to Yun Labu that the young husband she loved liked her cooking.

Grandma Bengkuang and Napalong never disagreed about how Yun Labu’s dishes tasted. If the chili sauce tasted too strong, Grandma Bengkuang blamed the pieces of pineapple she had just eaten. If the spinach soup tasted too bland, Napalong blamed the extra sugar he had added to the tea he just drank.

After spending a week of their honeymoon in their cottage, Napalong asked Grandma Bengkuang if she would be willing to stay with his wife when he left to teach martial arts to the soldier recruits at the Pagarbesi court. “You and my wife have become very close,” Napalong pointed out. “If you two live together, you can take care of each other.”

The couple’s cottage was not too far from the Pagarbesi kingdom, especially on horseback. But Yun Labu and Napalong knew the royal rules for first-year enlisted service members. Home leave was only granted once every three months. It was customary that wives sent their husbands homemade lunches through a kangantat. The royal messenger, who drove a two-horse carriage, arrived by mid-morning every day to pick up the sayak-betingkat lunches the women had packed into coconut shells for their husbands.

One late afternoon, shortly before reporting to the Pagarbesi court, Napalong stood with Yun Labu under a palm tree near their cottage. In the fading twilight, he could still catch the gleam of love in his wife’s eyes. “Promise me,” he said, “that as a token of your loyalty, you will only send me dishes that I know are yours — dishes you have already prepared for me.”

Yun Labu chuckled. “But dear, I haven’t yet cooked you a red-tailed catfish in fermented-durian curry; a chili sauce with shrimp paste; gill mushroom coconut milk soup; or oyster mushrooms in a light curry — dishes that surely will whet your appetite.”

Napalong grinned. “Honey, the dishes you’ve already prepared for me are more than enough.”

Yun Labu flushed with pleasure.

“But …” Napalong held Yun Labu’s eyes, “will you be loyal to me, honey?”

“What?” Yun Labu raised her eyebrows. “You doubt me? My behavior will depend on your feelings toward me.” Yun Labu tried to appear strong but could not hide her anxiety. She burst into tears. “I’ll be whatever you believe me to be!”

Napalong wiped away his wife’s tears and held her tightly. “To be fair,” he said, “you should ask for a token of my loyalty.”

Yun Labu paused then stepped back from Napalong’s embrace. She looked at him tenderly. “If my sayak-betingkat comes back empty, it means you love me and are loyal to me. But if my sayak-betingkat comes back with food left in it, it means that you are no longer loyal.”


Two months later, the Pagarbesi kingdom mourned. Wak Juai, the old kangantat who had served Pagarbesi as its messenger since he was a teenager, had passed away.

That afternoon, a young man came to the Pagarbesi court and introduced himself as Rimau. He said that he was willing to replace Wak Juai as the royal court’s messenger. To convince the king, the queen, and the courtiers, he demonstrated his ability to lighten his body so that he could go to distant places in a short time by riding a coconut frond.

Everyone was amazed by the self-confidence of the young man who stood before them.
The king leaned forward. “Very well,” the king said and continued, “cover your face with a full mask when carrying out your duties.” The king was concerned that the young wives who faithfully prepared a sayak-betingkat for their husbands might be seduced by Rimau’s handsome looks.

Rimau bowed.


Even though it was now the second week of his third month of duty in the Pagarbesi kingdom, Napalong still had trouble focusing on teaching martial arts to the soldiers. Just like the previous days and weeks, he waited impatiently for the sun to reach that part in the sky when the kangantat came with Yun Labu’s sayak-betingkat.

On Rimau’s first day of delivering sayak-betingkat, Napalong eagerly asked Wak Juai’s successor how his wife was doing.

“Pardon me, sir,” Rimau bowed. “Aside from being a new kangantat, I have no intention of meddling in the private affairs between senders and receivers of the sayak-betingkats.”

That day, Napalong was surprised to find dishes he did not expect in the stack of coconut shells that contained his lunch. The bottom shell contained rice and a handful of fried anchovies; the middle shell held a fermented-durian curry and a tomato chili sauce. The top shell held a few sweet basil leaves and a purple eggplant. Yun Labu had never served him any of those dishes during their honeymoon. Still, he forced himself to eat all of it so he could return an empty sayak-betingkat. He did not want to lose Yun Labu.


On the eleventh day of the third month after Napalong had reported to the Pagarbesi court, Yun Labu pulsed with joy. Her sayak-betingkat always returned empty. Unable to contain her happiness, she started writing a love poem to express her longing.

          O my dear, my only love …

Yun Labu smiled at the first line she’d written, then pondered. As if she could not stop her own hand from moving, she finished two scrolls of nipah palm leaves, before she knew it.

On the twelfth day, Yun Labu impatiently opened the returned sayak-betingkat. As she had hoped, what she had been waiting for the most was there.

          My darling, you are far away …

Yun Labu closed her eyes as she pressed the nipah leaf to her chest. Oh, my dear husband, who was the soldier you asked to help write down the beautiful words you spoke? Yun Labu smiled before she continued to read.

          Certainly, the honor is immeasurable for this servant

          who has been asked to enjoy your token of sincerity.

Yun Labu’s eyes sparkled as she mused. Her husband called himself a servant and the lunches she sent were a token of sincerity. The flattery sent her floating in the clouds.

Yun Labu kept the poem a secret. She did not want to share her happiness with anyone ⸺ not even with Grandma Bengkuang. What moved her even more was that a man with a chivalrous spirit like her husband had humbled himself by asking someone to help write the poem for him.

For a while, Yun Labu held the letter tightly. Then she slowly rolled it up and kissed it passionately as if her husband’s scent lingered on the leaf. Never before had she been this happy.

Yun Labu mused, My husband will come back in less than three weeks. She took up her pen and wrote:

          I know you are still faithful

          Enjoy my dishes — fulfill your duty

          Your wife will always await you with a yearning heart.

Fourteenth day. Yun Labu opened the empty coconut shell and read:

          Where are you now, my love?

          Don’t deceive me

          Love has made me blind

          Blind to my surroundings

          Blind to my circumstances.

Yun Labu knew what she had to write.

          No need to be in a hurry

          Patience is always blessed with a miracle.

The fifteenth day.

          Don’t tease me, sweetheart

          I will take you

          To nirvana as well as the valley of unconsciousness.

Yun Labu overcome with desire, wrote,

          I’m not going anywhere, my love

          I’m still faithfully longing

          For your heart that has suddenly turned blue.

As usual, Yun Labu rolled up the palm leaf and tucked it between the turmeric flowers in the top coconut shell of that day’s sayak-betingkat.

On the evening of the sixteenth day, Rimau arrived with the empty sayak-betingkat.

“Pardon me, ma’am,” he said to Yun Labu. “Tomorrow I won’t pick up your sayak-betingkat, because your husband says he wants to have lunch at home.”

“What do you mean, Kangantat?” Yun Labu was alarmed. “Shouldn’t he stay in the Pagarbesi kingdom for another two weeks? Please remind him of this.”

Rimau did not respond. Actually, he thought, since the first time I replaced Wak Juai, I’ve been looking forward to witnessing the two of you reuniting with each other. Rimau returned to his horse-drawn carriage and disappeared between the trees.

“If it’s true what the kangantat said, you don’t need to worry, Yun,” said Grandma Bengkuang, who had been sweeping behind the hut. She joined Yun Labu and tried to calm her. “Perhaps the kangantat can’t bear to see Napalong pining for you.”

“But, Grandma,” Yun Labu argued, “didn’t my husband promise to settle down after we were married? It’s not easy to become a courtier. Why would he waste this opportunity? Two weeks will go by fast if he is patient and takes our future into serious consideration.”

Grandma Bengkuang stroked Yun Labu’s hair. “I heard that the kangantat is not just anyone. He can go anywhere by riding on a leaf, a branch, or a palm frond. Who knows, with his supernatural power, he might fly Napalong here to have lunch with you and then fly him back to the palace undetected. Or —”

“Oh, is that true, Grandma?” Yun Labu interrupted. And as if heaven could hear her anxiety, she exclaimed, “Hopefully, the kangantat also won’t forget to remind my husband to be patient.”


Since early morning the next day, Yun Labu had been cooking all the dishes she had ever prepared for Napalong.

Grandma Bengkuang had cleaned the cottage and cut down the weeds and bushes around it. Before midday, Yun Labu scooped the rice from the pot and moved it into a pandan leaf basket. She arranged the rice and side dishes ⸺ vegetables, chili sauce, and grilled home-raised chicken ⸺ on a short wooden table.

“Yun, we were right!” Grandma Bengkuang shouted from outside.

Yun Labu was still arranging dishes on the dining table. “What? Is the kangantat really bringing my husband?”

“The kangantat is flying on a palm frond!” Grandma Bengkuang shouted in a trembling voice. Gasping, she pointed at the sky.

“Napalong, my husband, is with him, right?” Yun Labu smoothed her hair, smiling.

“He is with a stranger!” Grandmother Bengkuang rushed inside, grabbed Yun Labu by her arm, and dragged her through the front door.

Outside, Yun Labu stood stunned for a moment, then shouted, “Kangantat! Who did you bring here?” She pointed at the smiling man the messenger had brought, figuring him to be about ten years older than Napalong.

Rimau hesitated. “This isn’t your husband?”

“Don’t you stoke a fire here, sir!” Grandma Bengkuang barged into the conversation.

“She’s my faithful granddaughter!”

“But isn’t this the man your granddaughter has been sending her sayak-betingkats to?”

Grandma Bengkuang huffed, “Didn’t the late Wak Juai pass down the list of sayak-betingkat recipients to you, his successor?”

“Of course he did!”

Yun Labu pointed again at the man the kangantat had brought. “Then why did you give my sayak-betingkats to him?” she asked, disgusted. Not only had all of her cooking been consumed by this stranger, but the poems that had been so beautiful to her ears were now equally disgusting.

“Ma’am!” Rimau’s voice was strained. “I deliver hundreds of sayak-betingkats without knowing the recipients’ details. I only know their names, not their ages, origins, or preferences.”

Grandma Bengkuang squinted. “Why don’t you want to know?”

“It’s a good way to test my ability to be accurate without that information.”

“And you have failed!” Yun Labu snapped.

“Even though I just recently took over Wak Juai’s job, I have never made a mistake. Each sayak-betingkat I delivered has reached the right recipient. Most of them are men — newlyweds, as well as those who are loved by relatives and generous people who do not want their identities known. Among the recipients are also widowers —”

“And I’m a widower.”

Rimau, Yun Labu, and Grandma Bengkuang all looked at the man who had so far been silent.

“And you!” Yun Labu pointed at the widower. “Why did you eat the lunches that were not yours? Why did you lure me with words, as if you were my husband! You … you … you ….” Yun Labu broke into tears.

The widower stood silent for a moment, then replied softly. “Would it be wrong if I hoped to have the same luck as some of the men who receive a sayak-betingkat from unknown senders? One man even ended up marrying the widow who sent him lunch. Is it wrong for me to dream? Is it wrong for me to believe that someone generous would send me a sayak-betingkat? Be it a girl or a widow, I really don’t care!”

“I’m neither of those!” Yun Labu exclaimed. “I am a married woman!”

Rimau turned to the widower. “You really aren’t her husband?” Rimau’s mask hid his surprise.

The widower gasped and shook his head nervously.

“Please answer!” Rimau pressed.

“Is there another scribe in the Pagarbesi kingdom who writes poetry as well as I can?” The widower’s voice trembled.

“Napalong!” snapped Yun Labu. “My husband is a martial arts master at Pagarbesi. You must know him.”

The royal messenger swallowed hard. Napalong was indeed well-known in the Pagarbesi kingdom.

Yun Labu fumed, but before she could vent her anger, the kangantat spoke. “Pardon me, ma’am and Grandma.” Rimau bowed. “What can I do to make up for this mistake?”

Grandma Bengkuang’s answer was curt. “Tomorrow, you will escort Yun Labu to the royal training camp to meet her husband and clear up this mistake!” She told Yun Labu to go back into the hut, then slammed the door behind them.


A stone’s throw from the cottage, Napalong stood, watching his wife and Grandma Bengkuang speaking with the kangantat and a man he did not recognize. After days of walking through many jungles and crossing many rivers, Napalong arrived at their cottage with a longing that almost made his chest burst. Now, watching the scene outside their cottage, Napalong concluded that he had been mistaken to trust the woman he had married. As a man devoted to his duties, promises, and obligations, Napalong realized that Yun Labu had broken her promise when she sent him the sayak-betingkats that contained dishes he had never tasted. He was devastated to discover how Yun Labu could be so insensitive to his feelings.


The next day, after arriving at the Pagarbesi training camp, Yun Labu found out that Napalong had left about a week before. Grief filled her eyes and chest, but rules prohibited crying near the palace, because it would show that the king had not led his servants and people to prosperity.

Rimau wanted very much to embrace Yun Labu. He wanted to tell her that if her husband really loved her, he would come back. However, Rimau dared not disrupt the plan his queen mother had devised. He thought back to how it had all come about.


Inside the castle of the Batangpuan kingdom, Tanjung Samin, proudly showed his parents, King Ginde Ulak and Queen Putri Mayang, the nipah scrolls on which Wak Juai’s instructions were written in beautifully engraved Ulu scripts. At the behest of his mother and father, Tanjung Samin had applied for and been accepted to replace Wak Juai in the Pagarbesi kingdom as a kangantat.

“It’s not for nothing that we sent you to China to learn politics and magic, my son,” said Putri Mayang, taking a roll of nipah leaves from a bamboo holder.

Behind the throne, as her husband and son talked, Putri Mayang examined the lontar scrolls of Wak Juai’s instructions. After she found Napalong and Yun Labu’s rolled together names, she hastily took another roll of names and switched the leaves before rolling the scrolls up and stuffing them back into the bamboo holder. “I have checked the names of the senders and recipients,” she said to her son, handing him the bamboo holder. “Do your job. We are sure you will do it well.”

“Unlike your sister, you’re an obedient son!” applauded Ginde Ulak with conceit. “You didn’t tell them that your name is Tanjung Samin, did you?”

“No, I introduced myself as Rimau,” answered Tanjung Samin. “Nor did I tell them I have Batangpuan royal blood.”

Ginde Ulak nodded with satisfaction. “In addition to your mother’s request that you hide the identities of the sayak-betingkat recipients, you must also make sure that Yun Labu is well, that all her needs are met. You may not bring her home, of course. Your sister has disobeyed us and brought shame to the family and the Batangpuan kingdom.”

“For how long will she be punished, Father?” Tanjung Samin’s voice weakened as he lowered his eyes.

Ginde Ulak looked away.


Fate evened the score of Putri Mayang’s victory in separating Yun Labu from Napalong. After seeing that he had broken his sister’s heart by trickery, Tanjung Samin felt like a starving person being served a simalakama. According to local belief, the fruit, if eaten would kill his mother; and if left uneaten would kill his father. He had chosen to hurt his little sister whom he loved very much. Filled with painful regret that he had made his sister suffer, Tanjung Samin returned to China without saying goodbye to Ginde Ulak and Putri Mayang.


Decades later, Tanjung Samin returned to succeed Ginde Ulak on the throne of the Batangpuan kingdom.

He coaxed Yun Labu to return to the kingdom, but he could not prevent her from daily cooking rice and curry in the palace kitchen. To people who asked about his sister’s odd behavior, Tanjung Samin replied lightly, “Cooking not only produces food that satisfies the body, it also fills one’s longing. One day, Napalong, like the people who hear this story, will be astounded and find sustenance in my sister’s loyalty.”



Perempuan Naga

Falantino Eryk Latupapua has published several articles in scientific journals and books. His poems have been published on social media and in the anthologies Pemberontakan dari Timur (CV. Maleo, 2014) and Biarkan Katong Bakalai (Kantor Bahasa Maluku, 2013). Perempuan Naga is his first short story.
In 2004, Latupapua earned a bachelor’s degree in Indonesian language education at the Pattimura University and has served his alma mater as a lecturer since 2005. In 2011, he obtained his master’s degree in Indonesian literature at the Faculty of Cultural Studies, Gadjah Mada University. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in Indonesian literature at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Indonesia.

Falantino Eryk Latupapua:



Perempuan Naga


Ikan kuah kuning itu sudah mendidih. Asap putih tipis mengepulkan wangi daun kemangi bersamaan dengan semburat bau halia, serai, dan kunyit yang sudah dia tambahkan tadi. Tangan kanan Eba memeras sebutir jeruk nipis ke dalam mangkok berwarna kecokelatan yang beberapa bagiannya sudah sumbing karena terbentur.

Sudah siang. Sebentar lagi Joro pulang, batin perempuan itu sambil menyeka keringat yang turun pelan-pelan di pelipisnya dengan sepotong kain cita berwarna jingga pucat yang dihamparkannya di bahu kiri. Rambutnya yang keriting disanggul sekenanya. Beberapa helai anak rambut yang mulai beruban menjuntai melewati kerah kebaya merahnya yang sudah lusuh.

Dalam satu gerakan yang cekatan, Eba menyisihkan biji-biji jeruk nipis itu dengan jemarinya yang legam. Dia lalu membuangnya ke dalam garuru, tempat sampah yang dibuat dari ujung pelepah pohon sagu, yang terletak di kaki tungku. Sambil menuangkan perasan jeruk hingga melebur ke dalam kuah yang tengah menggelegak, Eba mengaduknya pelan-pelan. Beberapa saat kemudian, dia menyendok kuah dan potongan tebal daging ikan cakalang ke dalam mangkuk. Dia membungkukkan kepala, lalu menutup matanya selama beberapa detik sambil menghela napas panjang seakan menghayati kenikmatan masakannya sendiri.

Dengan sepotong kayu, Eba mengacak sisa-sisa api di bawah besi tungku agar benar-benar padam. “Joro akan makan dengan lahap,” bisiknya. Ada senyum tipis tersungging di bibirnya yang tebal. Eba berjalan ke meja makan dan meletakkan mangkuk itu. Di sana sudah ada sepiring kecil irisan jantung pisang yang ditumisnya dengan sepetak bawang dan sejumput garam.

Hati Eba serasa mekar. Dia sudah mengenali perasaan ini dengan baik selama dua puluh tahun pernikahan mereka. Dia sangat suka memasak. Ini yang membuatnya berbeda dari banyak perempuan di Kampung Sameth, Pulau Haruku, tempat mereka tinggal. Perempuan-perempuan itu gemar sekali duduk bergunjing ketimbang berjibaku di dapur. Dibandingkan mereka, dirinya tentu jauh lebih baik dalam menjalani hidup yang paling pantas bagi seorang ibu rumah tangga, yakni melayani suami dan anak-anak.

Tiba-tiba, Eba terpaku di pinggir meja. Tubuhnya menegang. Matanya berair. Dia tahu bahwa perasaan sedih ini akan selalu muncul ketika menyadari bahwa masakan yang disiapkannya akhir-akhir ini semakin sedikit takarannya. Bayangan anak-anaknya saling berebutan menyendok makanan ke piring memeras hatinya. Anak-anaknya sudah mati.

Sambil menggeleng pelan, Eba menghapus air matanya. Sudahlah. Jangan menangis lagi. Nanti tulang-tulang mereka bergerak dalam kubur, tidak tenanglah mereka di sana, di dalam hati dia menasihati dirinya. Ada senyum pahit terbit di bibirnya. Eba meraih tudung saji yang tergantung di dinding lalu dihamparkannya di meja. “Cuma papeda yang belum masak. Akan baik bila aku mengaso sebentar. Air akan kujerang nanti. Papeda akan kusiapkan begitu dia tiba. Joro akan merajuk jika papeda-nya sudah agak dingin.” Eba berbicara pelan. Sambil menghela napas berat, dia membalikkan badannya lalu melangkah pelan ke arah belakang.


Eba berjalan melewati dapur yang masih dipenuhi asap dari tungku yang tadi digunakan untuk memasak. Dia terbatuk-batuk sejenak sambil melangkah melewati pintu, yang seperti dinding-dinding rumah mereka itu, dibuat dari gaba-gaba, pelepah dahan pohon sagu yang berukuran besar. Atap rumah terbuat dari helai-helai daun sagu yang diikat lalu ditopang oleh kerangka yang terbuat dari bilah-bilah bambu. Rumah itu terletak di atas tebing karang, terasing di bagian selatan kampung. Tebing karang hitam yang mencuat menjadi benteng pengadang deburan ombak dahsyat pada saat musim timur. Di belakang rumah yang menghadap laut, Eba dan Joro biasanya duduk sambil memandang Pulau Ambon di kejauhan sana. Jika hari sedang cerah, puncak Gunung Salahutu terlihat amat mengagumkan disiram cahaya matahari. Hari ini gunung itu terlihat agak menakutkan dibalut awan kelabu.

Joro memahat ceruk kecil di sela-sela dinding karang yang terjal. Lewat ceruk itulah mereka bisa berjalan menuruni tebing menuju bibir pantai di bawah sana untuk sekadar berak, mencari kerang, atau memancing ikan.

Eba menghempaskan pantatnya ke atas balai-balai yang terbuat dari gaba-gaba di bawah jejeran pohon ketapang. Pohon ketapang yang paling tinggi ditanam oleh Joro dua hari sesudah anak lelaki bungsu mereka mati, dua tahun lalu. Anak itu jatuh lalu terseret ombak saat mengambil kerang laut yang menempel di tebing karang. “Diambil setan laut,” demikian kata para tetua kampung. Mayatnya ditemukan mengapung di lautan oleh nelayan dari desa tetangga, sehari kemudian. Tubuh itu sudah membengkak. Mulutnya menganga. Setelah dua hari menangisi anak itu, Eba dan Joro memutuskan untuk menanam sepohon ketapang untuk mengingat hari penuh kesedihan itu.

Sekarang, Eba memejamkan matanya. Dia merasa kesedihan itu mulai kembali datang dan mencoba menepiskannya dengan menghirup bau laut dalam-dalam. Bau garam yang bercampur dengan semburat bau ikan cakalang setengah kering menguar dari atas jemuran bambu yang membujur di samping rumah. Jemuran bambu itu didirikan oleh anak tertuanya sebelum mati sebulan lalu. Tiada sakit yang anak itu derita. Pada subuh di hari Minggu, dia ditemukan sudah tidak bernyawa oleh Joro yang bersiap pergi memancing ikan. Mata anak itu masih terbuka, tubuhnya menegang dengan bekas cekikan di lehernya. Tangis Eba pecah.

“Dicekik setan,” demikian gumaman tertahan dari beberapa orang kampung sambil menatap Eba dengan pandangan yang sulit dia pahami.

Seminggu sesudah masa berkabung lewat, Joro menanam anakan pohon ketapang yang ketiga persis di sebelah kanan pohon ketapang kedua yang mulai tumbuh besar. Pohon ketapang yang kedua itu ditanam oleh Joro saat anak perempuan mereka mati, setahun lalu. Anak perempuan satu-satunya itu disengat kelabang yang sepertinya jatuh dari atap rumah ke atas tempat tidurnya. Tidak lama kemudian, tubuh anak itu kejang sambil menjerit kesakitan dengan mata membelalak, lalu mati. Kelabang itu menghilang entah ke mana.

Dahan ketapang kering melayang dan jatuh di pangkuan Eba. Menurut Joro, pohon ketapang yang ditanamnya adalah lambang pengharapan akan kehidupan, agar tidak ada lagi kematian. Akan tetapi, setelah kehilangan yang bertubi-tubi itu, Eba merasa suaminya itu hanya mengada-ada. Anak-anaknya mati satu demi satu, berguguran bagaikan daun-daun ketapang itu.

Eba ingat kepada anak perempuannya yang cantik dan rajin, anak lelaki bungsunya yang nakal tetapi menggemaskan, dan anak sulungnya yang penurut dan tampan, sama seperti bapaknya. Eba kembali dihumbalang oleh perasaan benci yang sama dahsyatnya dengan kebencian yang serta-merta menjalari dirinya tatkala mendengar bisik-bisik perempuan kampung yang menyebut-nyebut sesuatu seperti “digigit setan” saat melayat jenazah anak itu.

Eba tidak punya kekuatan untuk melawan perlakuan penduduk kampung terhadap dirinya. Semua penduduk kampung ini adalah kerabat suaminya. Eba merasa akan melukai perasaan Joro apabila dia bertengkar melawan perlakuan mereka yang semena-mena itu. Akhirnya, dia selalu diam dan menelan rasa benci itu untuk dirinya sendiri.


Eba seorang yatim piatu. Dia lahir dan tumbuh di Kampung Kairatu, di Pulau Seram. Bapaknya mati empat bulan sebelum dia lahir. Eba lalu dibesarkan oleh Nenek, dukun kampung yang membantu persalinan ibunya. Ibunya meninggal empat hari sesudah melahirkannya. “Dimakan naga,” demikian jawaban beberapa perempuan di Kampung Kairatu yang ditanyai tentang asal-muasal kematian ibunya. Sang Nenek, seperti biasanya, selalu bungkam ketika ditanya.

Nenek membesarkannya dengan penuh sayang. Perempuan tua itu amat suka menari. Nenek biasanya menari di dalam kamarnya yang temaram. Dia menggumamkan semacam nyanyian tanpa kata untuk mengiringi gerakannya.

Beberapa kali Eba melihatnya menari di halaman belakang gubuk mereka pada malam hari, terutama saat bulan sedang penuh. Sesekali, Nenek akan memanggil Eba, lalu memintanya mengikuti gerakan tarian itu.

Eba tidak kunjung memahami maksud Nenek menyuruhnya ikut menari. Akan tetapi, lama-kelamaan dia semakin suka menari. Eba bisa menirukan tarian Nenek dengan sempurna sambil menutup mata. Meskipun begitu, dia tetap tidak bisa menggumamkan nyanyian Nenek yang sering dia dengar.

Joro dan Eba berjumpa pada pesta katreji, tarian khas Maluku yang dipengaruhi budaya Portugis, di Kampung Kairatu. Pertemuan itu terjadi setahun sesudah Eba kehilangan Ica, suami pertamanya.

Ica mati diserang seekor celeng ketika berburu di hutan.

Joro datang ke pesta dansa itu bersama-sama dengan pemuda-pemudi lain atas undangan penyelenggara pesta. Mereka segera saling jatuh cinta pada pandangan pertama. Joro ingin segera menikahi Eba. Akan tetapi, niat Joro itu ditentang keras oleh kerabat mereka, termasuk para tetua Kampung Sameth. Selain Eba adalah seorang janda, pertentangan itu juga disebabkan kedua kampung memiliki hubungan pela gandong, hubungan persaudaraan antarkampung secara adat. Seorang laki-laki dari Kampung Sameth tidak boleh menikahi perempuan dari Kampung Kairatu. “Pamali. Leluhur akan marah. Kita semua akan kena musibah,” kata mereka. Di samping itu, desas-desus bahwa Eba adalah perempuan suanggi, pengamal ilmu hitam, telah santer terdengar di Kampung Sameth.

Seperti biasa, Joro diam saja. Dia adalah laki-laki yang rajin dan sederhana, tidak pernah banyak bicara. Joro lalu mengajak Eba kawin lari ke rumah sahabatnya di Kampung Tala, di sebelah barat Pulau Seram. Sesudah melangsungkan pernikahan, mereka bertekad untuk menetap dan membangun hidup baru di Kampung Tala.

Empat bulan kemudian, datanglah berita dari Kampung Sameth. Ibu Joro hampir mati karena sakit. “Dia dirasuki suanggi,” demikian tukas beberapa kerabat sambil menatap Eba dengan tajam dan penuh kecurigaan saat mereka berdua tiba di sana.

Eba bisa merasakan bahwa mereka mencurigai dirinya telah mengirim guna-guna hingga ibu mertuanya jatuh sakit.

Joro adalah anak tunggal dari salah satu tetua Kampung Sameth. Bapaknya terbunuh saat kerusuhan berdarah antara orang-orang Islam dan Kristen di pulau itu pada 1999, dua puluh tahun lalu. Oleh karenanya, para tetua kampung meminta agar dia tetap tinggal di rumah pusaka untuk menjaga warisan keluarga mereka.

Joro tahu bahwa perempuan yang menjadi istrinya tidak diinginkan oleh keluarga besarnya. Dia tetap bergeming. Laki-laki itu tetap melaut dan pergi ke hutan. Permintaan para tetua agar membuang perempuan itu dan mencari istri yang sepadan tidak dia dengarkan. Joro tidak pernah menyatakan perasaan cintanya dengan cara memeluk Eba atau sekadar mengusap kepala anak-anaknya. Akan tetapi, dia tidak pernah ringan tangan atau tidak setia. Di mata Eba, dia laki-laki sempurna. Dia tidak banyak berubah sejak saat pertama Eba menangkap kilatan penuh sayang di matanya.

Saat anak bungsu mereka mati, desas-desus yang berkembang di kampung mengenai Eba sebagai pembawa petaka bagi keluarga besar mereka makin santer. Hal itu sampai ke telinga Eba, juga ke telinga Joro dan kedua anak mereka yang tersisa. Eba masih belum lupa perlakuan perempuan-perempuan kampung yang memunggunginya saat tiba di sungai untuk membasuh perabotan dapur atau mencuci pakaian. Berbulan-bulan mereka semua menolak berbicara dengannya.

Eba tidak tahan lagi.

Joro pun demikian. Dia segera membawa Eba dan kedua anak mereka menjauh ke pinggiran kampung dan mendirikan rumah sederhana untuk mereka tinggali. Joro tidak lagi sering bertemu dengan orang-orang kampung. Dia selalu pergi ke hutan dan memancing seorang diri. Kebunnya pun dikerjakan seorang diri.

Saat kematian ketiga menghampiri keluarga mereka, orang-orang kampung itu makin berani. Mereka meneriaki Eba dengan sengit, menyebut-nyebutnya sebagai perempuan naga dan suanggi.

Menurut Joro, orang-orang kampung percaya bahwa dalam tubuh Eba bersemayam seekor naga yang akan membunuh anggota keluarganya pelan-pelan dengan berbagai cara. Naga itu berdiam di dalam jiwa perempuan keturunan suanggi.

Beberapa orang lain bersikeras bahwa itu adalah akibat yang harus ditanggung oleh Eba dan Joro karena berani melangsungkan pernikahan meskipun punya hubungan pela gandong. Mereka tidak segan mengusir dan meludahi Eba saat berpapasan.

Eba lebih sering mengurung diri di rumah. Dia tidak pernah muncul di kebaktian gereja, bahkan tidak pernah lagi pergi ke sungai untuk mencuci baju dan perabotannya. Dia merasa marah atas segala tuduhan yang dilontarkan padanya oleh warga kampung. Dia sendiri tidak mengerti mengapa hidupnya dikelilingi kematian. Dia juga tidak memahami pikiran mereka yang menganggap dirinya sebagai pembawa kematian. Dia bukan suanggi. Dia pun tidak percaya pada takhayul tentang naga dan hubungan pela gandong yang bisa membunuh anak-anaknya. Sejak kecil, Nenek selalu membawanya ke gereja dan mengajarinya berdoa. Di setiap ruangan di gubuk Nenek ada gambar Tuhan, kecuali di kamar temaram tempat Nenek menari.

Eba percaya pada Tuhan. Saat kecil, dia kadang-kadang menangis sambil menatap gambar di dinding gubuk, meminta orangtuanya hidup lagi, atau meminta supaya Nenek jangan mati karena dia tidak sanggup membayangkan akan menjalani hidup seorang diri. Meskipun orang tuanya tidak pernah hidup lagi dan Nenek akhirnya mati, Eba tetap suka pada Tuhan yang selalu disebutnya dalam doa.


“Mama Eba! Mama Eba! Buka pintu! Buka!” suara ketukan keras di pintu depan yang diringi teriakan seseorang membuat Eba terperangah. Dia tersadar dari lamunannya. Eba segera berdiri dari balai-balai, lalu mengayunkan langkah setengah berlari melewati dapur menuju ruang depan.

“Mama Eba! Buka pintu! Cepat!” suara itu semakin keras. Eba meraih gerendel pintunya, lalu menggeserkan pengaitnya ke arah kiri.

Seraut wajah kecokelatan yang kurus dan penuh keringat menatapnya dengan mata merah membelalak seakan terkejut bercampur takut. Eba mengenali anak gadis itu. Namanya Pite, anak dari adik sepupu suaminya. Sebelum Eba membuka mulutnya untuk berbicara, Pite kembali berteriak dengan kencang. Tubuhnya bergetar makin hebat. “Mama Eba! Mama Eba! Bapa Joro jatuh dari pohon cengkeh. Bapa Joro sudah mati! Bapa Joro sudah mati!” anak itu berbicara dengan tersengal-sengal sambil menahan tangis.

Dunia di hadapan Eba tiba-tiba gulita. Bibirnya tidak sanggup bicara. Dia mundur selangkah sambil berpegangan pada daun pintu. Tangan dan kakinya gemetar. Air matanya menggenang, tetapi tenggorokannya seperti tercekat, tidak mampu mengeluarkan suara.

“Mama Eba … Mama Eba …!” teriak Pite sambil menunjuk ke arah kejauhan di lembah.

Orang-orang tampak menyemut di sana. Sebagian dari mereka mengenakan pakaian berwarna hitam yang biasanya dikenakan oleh para tetua kampung. Mereka menyusuri jalan menanjak yang mengarah rumah Eba. Diiringi tabuhan tifa bertalu-talu yang menyiarkan kematian ke penjuru kampung, mereka mengusung sesosok tubuh dengan langkah yang terburu-buru.

“Joro …!” raungan Eba tenggelam dalam keriuhan warga kampung yang mendekati rumah Eba.

Terdengar ratap para perempuan menyebut-nyebut nama Joro bersahut-sahutan dengan gemuruh suara para lelaki meneriakkan serentetan kalimat yang bernada marah. “Perempuan suanggi! Pembunuh Joro! Perempuan naga! Usir dia! Eba! Keluar kamu!”

Eba dibekap kebekuan. Kakinya yang baru mulai berlari untuk menemui tubuh yang ditandu itu seakan terpaku. “Joroo!” Teriakan yang terasa memarut tenggorokkannya tidak juga melewati bibirnya yang kering, bergetar.

Tiba-tiba Eba terlempar ke masa tiga puluh tahun lalu, saat pertama kali dia menyadari bahwa orang-orang yang dikuasai amarah sanggup berbuat apa saja. Peristiwa serupa telah menimpa Nenek ketika ratusan warga Kampung Kairatu tiba-tiba mendatangi rumahnya sambil meneriakinya dengan sebutan suanggi lalu menghancurkan rumah dan segala isinya.

Eba didera kerinduan yang tak terperikan pada Nenek. Dia berlari meninggalkan Pite, menuju ke kamar tidurnya. Dia membuka lemari kayu tua dan mengeluarkan kotak kayu yang terletak di salah satu sudutnya. Air matanya berguguran membasahi kotak itu. Dia membukanya dengan tergesa-gesa lalu meletakkannya di atas meja. Pada bagian dalamnya terukir gambar kepala naga. Eba melepaskan tusuk kondenya hingga rambutnya tergerai lepas. Dia memejamkan matanya. Tubuhnya mulai bergoyang pelan. Dorongan yang gaib mengantar Eba ke dalam tarian yang dulu membuat orang-orang Kampung Kairatu menuduh Nenek sebagai suanggi.

Bunyi riuh teriakan manusia diselingi ratap tangis itu makin dekat. Eba mempercepat gerakan tariannya. Bayangan Nenek muncul di hadapannya berujar lirih, “Ingatlah, setiap perempuan adalah naga yang mampu menghanguskan seisi dunia dengan dengan api. Bahkan jika harus menangis pun, api itu tidak akan bisa dipadamkan oleh air mata. Jangan biarkan kekuatan dalam dirimu kalah dengan kepahitan!”

Gerakan tarian Eba semakin liar. Kepalanya mendongak ke atas. Satu demi satu gambaran muncul di dalam ingatannya. Anaknya yang mati satu demi satu; tarian yang dilakukannya diam-diam di hadapan kotak kayu Nenek yang terbuka; Joro yang selalu tersenyum di hadapan sepiring ikan kuah kuning; perempuan-perempuan kampung yang menggunjingkan kotak kayu bergambar naga miliknya; serta para tetua kampung yang selalu menatapnya dengan pandangan penuh kebencian.

Dengan lengan kirinya, Eba meraih kotak berisi ukiran naga itu. Dia memeluk kotak pemberian Nenek itu erat-erat. Satu-satunya peninggalan Nenek yang mampu dia selamatkan dari amuk orang-orang Kampung Kairatu yang menuduh perempuan tua itu suanggi. Nenek yang sangat dia sayangi, yang mengajarinya menari, berdoa, dan memasak papeda dan ikan kuah kuning paling enak di dunia.

Suara riuh orang-orang dan gegap tabuhan tifa makin dekat dan begitu mengancam. Beberapa saat kemudian, telinganya menangkap suara batu yang berjatuhan melubangi atap rumah yang terbuat dari daun sagu. Suara puluhan laki-laki dan perempuan bersahutan, “Keluar kamu, Eba! Perempuan suanggi! Joro mati! Enyahlah kamu!”

Eba membuka mata saat merasakan hawa panas di sekelilingnya. Api telah menjalari dinding rumah itu dengan amat cepat. Matanya perih dan nafasnya mulai sesak karena dikepung asap tebal. Di tengah kobaran api sekeliling lemari kayu, Nenek tersenyum penuh sayang sambil membuka kedua lengannya. Eba menari sambil bergerak maju lalu melebur dalam pelukan Nenek. Kotak kayu jatuh ke lantai saat Eba menyandarkan kepalanya di dada Nenek. Panas membara di sekeliling berganti menjadi kehangatan yang melenakan Eba. Dia kembali menutup mata. Senyum yang manis tersungging di bibirnya. Bersamaan dengan itu, suara gemeretak yang keras disusul gemuruh bangunan roboh membubungkan asap hitam pekat dan pijaran bunga-bunga api ke langit yang mulai memerah.


Tabuhan tifa berhenti. Keriuhan orang-orang yang berkumpul di sekeliling rumah itu berangsur hening. Hanya terdengar suara ombak menghantam tebing karang. Pada sela-sela gumpalan asap tebal yang masih mengepul dari reruntuhan rumah, terlihat barisan para tetua kampung yang berpakaian hitam. Mereka menatap kobaran api pada reruntuhan rumah dengan pandangan penuh kemarahan.

Di tengah barisan para tetua, berdiri seorang laki-laki bertubuh subur. Dia berpakaian hitam panjang. Kulitnya bersih, wajahnya bulat, dengan rambut yang berminyak. Laki-laki itu berdiri sambil menatap lurus ke depan. Dia menengadahkan telapak tangan kanan ke arah reruntuhan rumah. Tangan kirinya memegang buku tebal berwarna hitam yang sedang terbuka. Dengan suara berat dan lantang, laki-laki itu berkata, “Saudara-Saudaraku dalam iman! Ini adalah suatu peringatan tentang hukuman Tuhan bagi siapa saja yang menyembah berhala. Ingatlah, Tuhan kita adalah Tuhan yang pencemburu. Tuhan akan menghukum manusia yang menduakan-Nya. Seperti ada tertulis di dalam firman ….” Laki-laki itu diam sejenak, lalu menunduk. Dia menatap buku tebal yang ada di tangan kirinya. Dia menghela napas dalam-dalam, lalu mengucapkan dengan lantang kata-kata yang dibacanya dari buku itu, “Enyahlah dari hadapan-Ku, hai kamu orang-orang terkutuk, enyahlah ke dalam api yang kekal yang telah sedia untuk iblis dan malaikat-malaikatnya. Amin!”

Lautan manusia menggumamkan, “Amin.” Gerimis perlahan turun dari langit yang mulai gelap. Satu per satu orang-orang itu berjalan menjauh dari reruntuhan rumah yang hampir habis dilalap api. Beberapa laki-laki kembali menggotong mayat Joro yang terbaring di atas tandu dan ditutup sehelai kain hitam. Mereka semua berjalan dengan langkah pelan dan dalam diam menuruni lembah menuju ke arah kampung.



Dragon Woman

In 2005, Umar Thamrin received a Fulbright grant and a Catherine and William L. Magistretti Graduate Fellowship for his graduate studies in the United States. He completed his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies with the designated emphasis in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. Before returning to Indonesia in 2017, he received a one-year appointment as a research and teaching fellow at the University of Oregon.

Back in his home country, Umar became disturbed by several social conditions he encountered there, and is saddened that the common people have remained marginalized while society ignores the lessons of its history. These conditions have prompted him to think, to remember, and to write. He is currently teaching linguistics at Alauddin State Islamic University.

Umar Thamrin:


Dragon Woman


Eba squeezed lime juice into a small brown bowl with a chipped rim. Her curly graying hair was put up in a bun. Damp ringlets fell over the collar of her shabby red kebaya. With a corner of the pale orange shawl draped around her shoulders, Eba dabbed at the beaded sweat on her temples and thought, It is already afternoon. Joro will be home soon.

The skipjack tuna soup was simmering. Thin spirals of steam rose with the scent of basil, ginger, lemongrass, and turmeric from the golden broth. Using her fingers, Eba deftly removed the lime seeds from the bowl, tossed them into the garuru, a basket made from woven sago palm fronds, and poured the juice into the bubbling broth. After a few stirs, she spooned the broth and thick chunks of skipjack tuna into a serving bowl. She brought her face closer to the steaming bowl and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. She enjoyed her cooking.

Eba scattered the remaining embers of the earthen stove until the flames were completely extinguished. “Joro will enjoy it,” she whispered. A thin smile curled Eba’s thick lips as she placed the bowl on the table, next to a small plate of ​​banana blossom slices she had fried with a handful of onions and a pinch of salt.

Eba bloomed with joy. During her twenty years of marriage, she had learned to recognize this feeling of satisfaction after she prepared a meal. She really liked to cook. This was what made her different from many of the other women in Sameth, a village on Indonesia’s Haruku Island, where she and Joro lived. Most women on the island preferred to sit and gossip instead of spend time in the kitchen. Compared to them, Eba was certainly a much better housewife. She lived to serve her husband and children.

Eba froze at the edge of the table. Her eyes grew misty and a familiar sadness washed over her, as she looked at the table. Once, the portions she cooked had been much larger. Children had stood around the table vying to fill their plates. But her children had all died. Now, thinking of them, Eba’s heart felt like a pincushion with numerous pins stuck into it.

Eba shook her head slowly, and wiped her eyes. That’s enough. Don’t cry anymore. Crying will only make their bones tremble in their graves; they will not be able to rest peacefully. A bittersweet smile replaced her tears.

Eba reached for a food cover hanging on the wall and placed it over the dishes on the table. “All that’s left to prepare is the papeda,” she said quietly, referring to the traditional Moluccan sago congee dish. “I’ll take a short break and boil the water later. Then I can prepare the sago congee as soon as Joro arrives. He will sulk if I serve him cold papeda.” She took a deep breath and turned away from the table.


Eba walked through the kitchen, where the cooking fire was still smoldering, and stepped outside through a door made of gaba-gaba. Like the rest of the house, the door was made from slats cut out of sago palm midribs while the thatched roof was held up by bamboo beams. Their house stood secluded on a cliff, in the southern part of Sameth, with its main door facing the sea. The black coral cliffs extended into the water, serving as a bulkhead that protected them from the mighty waves during the east monsoon.

Behind the house, where Eba now stood, she and Joro used to sit and look at Ambon Island in the distance. On a clear day, they could see the peak of Mount Salahutu, bathed proudly in the sunlight. Today, the mountain, wrapped in dark clouds, looked a little ominous.

Joro had chiseled out a narrow path between the steep rocky slopes so they could walk from their house down to the beach, where they fished, dug for clams, and responded to the call of nature.

Eba slumped onto a bench built with gaba-gaba. The bench was shaded by three ketapang trees. Joro had planted the tallest of these sea almond trees the day after they buried their youngest son two years ago. The boy had been harvesting barnacles off the cliff when he fell and was swept away by the sea.

“He was taken by the sea devil,” said the village elder when, the next day, fishermen from a neighboring village found the boy’s open-mouthed, bloated body floating in the ocean. After two days of mourning, Eba and Joro decided to plant a ketapang tree in remembrance of their son and that sorrowful day.

Eba closed her eyes. Inhaling the scents of the sea, she tried to dismiss the melancholy, lingering in her mind. She caught a whiff of the skipjack tuna drying on the bamboo racks lined up along the side of the house. Her eldest son had built the racks before he died on a Sunday, just a month ago. Joro had been getting ready to go fishing at dawn when he found his son’s dead body. The boy’s eyes were open, and bruises circled his neck. The boy had never been sick. Eba began to cry, remembering how the villagers had given her strange looks while muttering, “Strangled by the devil.”

After the customary week of mourning, Joro planted the third ketapang sapling, just to the right of the second which he had planted a year ago when their only daughter died. The girl had been stung by a centipede that had fallen from the ceiling onto her bed. The child jolted upright and, wide-eyed, screamed in pain. She died while the centipede disappeared.

A dry ketapang twig dropped onto Eba’s lap. Each time Joro had planted a ketapang tree, he told her it was a symbol of hope for life and a prevention of more death. But after her continual losses, Eba came to believe that her husband was just making up stories to soothe her. Her children had fallen one by one, like the dried ketapang leaves.

Eba remembered her beautiful and diligent daughter; her youngest son, who was naughty but adorable; and her obedient, eldest son who was handsome, just like his father. A hatred flared in her heart — a hatred as terrible as what she had felt during the wake for her daughter, when she overheard the village women whisper, “Bitten by a demon.”

Eba had not wanted to confront the villagers who treated her badly. Everyone in this village was related to her husband, and Eba didn’t want to hurt Joro’s feelings. She therefore kept silent and dealt with the hatred she felt, alone.


Eba was an orphan. She was born and raised in Kairatu, a village on Seram Island. Her father had died four months before she was born, and her mother died four days after giving birth to her. Eba’s grandmother, the village midwife who had helped Eba’s mother give birth to her, raised Eba. “Eaten by a dragon,” was the reason several village women attached to her mother’s death. Eba’s grandmother, as usual, kept silent.

Eba’s grandmother raised her with great affection. The old woman loved to dance. She usually danced in her dimly lit room while humming a mantra but several times, Eba saw her dancing at night in their hut’s backyard during the full moon. Occasionally, her grandmother called to Eba to dance with her.

Although Eba did not understand why her grandmother asked her to join in the dance, she gradually began to like dancing. Soon, Eba could imitate her grandmother’s moves with her eyes closed. But she still could not hum her grandmother’s strange song.

Eba’s first husband, Ica, had been killed by a boar while he was hunting in the forest. A year after Eba lost Ica, she met Joro in Kairatu at a katreji, a traditional Moluccan dance influenced by Portuguese culture. Joro had been invited to the dance party along with other young people.

It was love at first sight. Joro wanted to marry Eba immediately, but Joro’s relatives, and the village elders of Sameth, were opposed. Besides the fact that Eba was a widow, Kairatu and Sameth had a pela relationship, a traditional alliance between villages that did not allow a man from Sameth to marry a woman from Kairatu. “Taboo,” the villagers said. “The ancestors will be angry. Bad luck will befall all of us.” Moreover, the widely-spread rumor in Sameth was that Eba was a suanggi, a witch who practiced black magic.

As usual, Joro was silent. He was a diligent, simple, reserved man. He asked Eba to elope with him to his best friend’s house in Tala, a village on the west side of Seram Island. After their marriage, they settled down and built a new life in Tala.

However, four months later, they received news from Sameth. Joro’s mother was dying. When they arrived, several relatives eyed Eba suspiciously. “She’s possessed by a suanggi,” they said, as if Eba had cast a spell to make her mother-in-law ill.

Joro had been the only child of a Sameth elder who was killed during the bloody riot between Muslims and Christians on the island in 1999, twenty years ago. The village elders now wanted Joro to move back to his ancestral house in Sameth, to protect their family’s heritage.

Joro was well aware of his extended family’s rejection of his wife, but he ignored it. He and Eba moved to Sameth. Turning a deaf ear to the elders’ requests to rid himself of Eba and find a suitable wife, Joro simply continued his routine of fishing and working the land. He never expressed his love by hugging Eba or stroking their children’s heads, but he was never abusive or unfaithful. And to Eba, he was the perfect man. He had not changed much from the time Eba had first caught an affectionate glint in his eyes.

When their youngest child died, the rumor spread that Eba was the bearer of bad luck. The rumor reached the ears of Eba and Joro, as well as their two remaining children. Eba would never forget how the village women turned their backs on her when she came to the river to wash clothes and kitchenware. For months, they all refused to speak to her. Finally, Eba could not take it anymore.

Joro felt the same. He took Eba and their two children to the outskirts of the village and built a hut for them to live in. Joro no longer mingled with the Sameth villagers. He went alone to hunt in the forest and fish in the sea. He worked his garden by himself.

When the third death struck Joro’s family, the village people grew contentious. Screaming fiercely at Eba, they called her a dragon woman and a suanggi. The villagers blamed Eba and Joro for breaking the pela relationship. They shooed and spit on Eba whenever they passed her.

Joro explained to Eba that the villagers believed that a dragon lived in her body and that the beast would slowly kill off her family in various ways. The dragon was passed down through generations of women.

Eba secluded herself at home. She no longer attended church and never went to the river to wash her clothes and kitchenware. She raged at all the villagers’ accusations against her. She didn’t understand why her life was surrounded by death. Nor did she understand why everyone thought of her as a jinx. She was not a suanggi. She did not believe the superstitions about dragons and the violations of pela relationships that could kill her children. If only they knew that during her childhood, her grandmother used to take her to church and taught her to pray. A picture of God hung in every room in her grandmother’s hut — except in the dim room where she danced.

Eba believed in God. When she was a child, she would sometimes sit and cry while staring at one of the pictures of God, hanging in her grandmother’s hut, begging God to let her parents live again or begging God not to let her grandmother die because she could not even bear to imagine living her life alone. And even though her parents never lived again and her grandmother eventually died, Eba still loved God, and always called on Him in her prayers.


“Mama Eba! Mama Eba! Open the door! Open the door!” The screaming and rattling of the front door jolted Eba out of her daydream. She jumped up from the bench and ran to the front door.

“Mama Eba! Open the door! Hurry up!” the voice screamed louder. Eba flung the slide bolt to the left.

A sweaty brown face stared up at her, with wide, bloodshot eyes filled with shock and fear. Eba recognized the skinny girl. Pite was the daughter of one of her husband’s cousins. Before Eba could utter a single word, Pite started to scream again. Shaking violently, she cried, “Mama Eba! Mama Eba! Uncle Joro fell out of a clove tree. Uncle Joro’s dead! Uncle Joro’s dead!”

The world around Eba turned black. Trembling, she took a step back, still holding onto the door. Her eyes filled, and her throat tightened. She couldn’t make a sound.

“Mama Eba! Mama Eba! Look!” Pite pointed at the throngs of people gathering below them at the base of the cliff. Some wore the black clothes typically worn by village elders. The crowd rushed up the path that led to Eba’s hut, accompanied by the drumming of tifas. The single-headed goblet drums broadcasted Joro’s death throughout the village.

“Joro!” Eba’s howl was drowned out by the clamor of the villagers approaching Eba’s house, carrying Joro’s body.

The women wailed, calling Joro’s name, while the men shouted a series of angry accusations. “Suanggi bitch! Joro’s killer! Dragon bitch! Banish her! Eba! Get out!”

Eba stood paralyzed, stunned with fear. “Jorooo!” The scream caught in her throat before it could pass her dry, trembling lips.

Without warning, Eba was thrown back thirty years in time, when she first realized that people driven by hate were capable of doing anything. She had been with her grandmother when a similar incident had happened. Hundreds of people from Kairatu had swarmed her grandmother’s house, called her a suanggi, and then destroyed the house and everything in it.

Overcome by an unspeakable longing for her grandmother, Eba spun away from Pite and ran to her bedroom. She opened the cupboard and took out a wooden box tucked back in a corner of a shelf. Tears fell on the box as she hurriedly opened it and placed it on the table. A dragon’s head was carved in the bottom of the box.

Eba snatched out the hairpin holding her bun, and her hair fell loose. She closed her eyes, and her body began to slowly sway. A supernatural urge led Eba to perform the dance that had caused the people of Kairatu to accuse her grandmother of being a suanggi.

Outside, screams interspersed with wailing grew louder. Eba’s movements grew faster. Her grandmother’s image appeared to her and whispered, “Remember, every woman is a dragon capable of scorching the whole world with her fire. But even if she is compelled to cry, her tears will not extinguish that fire. Do not allow hardship to weaken you!”

Eba’s dance became wilder. She looked up. One image after another appeared in her mind. Her children who died, one by one; Joro, who always smiled in front of a plate of papeda and yellow fish soup; the dance she performed surreptitiously in front of her grandmother’s open dragon box; the village women who gossiped about the box; the village elders who always stared at her with a hateful gaze.

Eba grabbed her grandmother’s dragon box and hugged it tightly to her chest. The dragon box was the only thing she had saved from the fury of the Kairatu people who accused the old woman of being a suanggi — the grandmother she loved so much, who had taught her to dance, pray, and cook the world’s most delicious papeda and yellow fish soup.

The wailing, along with the threatening clamor of boisterous screams and the drumming of tifas, were so close. Rocks pelted the roof of sago palm leaves, as the voices of dozens of men and women shouted, “Get out, Eba! Suanggi bitch! Joro is dead! Kill her!”

Eba opened her eyes when she felt the heat surround her. The fire had spread through the hut very quickly. Her eyes stung and she choked on the thick smoke. Amid the flames flaring from the wood cupboard, her grandmother emerged and smiled lovingly as she opened her arms.

Eba danced into her grandmother’s arms. The dragon box fell to the floor as Eba rested her head on her grandmother’s chest. The scorching heat turned into a comforting warmth and lulled her. Eba closed her eyes again. A sweet smile tugged at her lips.

A loud crackling sound was followed by the rumbling of the hut’s collapsing frame. Thick black smoke billowed. Sparks of fire merged with the crimson sky.


The drumming of the tifas stopped. The crowd surrounding the house gradually quieted. Now, only the waves crashing against the cliffs was heard. Cloaked by the thick plumes of smoke rising from the ruins of Eba and Joro’s hut stood a row of village elders dressed in black. With eyes ablaze with anger, they stared at the lingering flames licking at the charred ruins.

In the middle of the line of elders stood a man dressed in a long black cassock. He was fair-skinned and well-groomed. Looking straight ahead, he turned his right palm towards the burned hut. His left hand held an open, thick, black book. With a deep, loud voice, the man intoned, “My brothers and sisters in the faith! This is a warning! God will punish anyone who worships idols. Remember, our God is a jealous God. God will punish people who doubt Him. As it is written in this book …” The man paused, then lowered his head. He stared at the book in his left hand. He took a deep breath, then read aloud from the book, “Get away from me! God has cursed you! Go into the everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels! Amen!”

The ​​crowd murmured, “Amen.”

A light rain drizzled from the dark sky. The crowd turned away from the ruins of a hut almost completely devoured by fire. Several men carried the stretcher with Joro’s body, covered with a black sheet. They all walked slowly and silently down the cliff towards the village.
















Rubini dan Ibu Ratu

Berti Nurul Khajati received her undergraduate degree in English language studies from the Muhammadiyah University in Purworejo. In 2021, she received her master’s degree in Indonesian language studies from the Professor Dr. Hamka University in Jakarta. Khajati lives in Bekasi, West Java, where she teaches at Setia Asih 06, an elementary school in Tarumajaya, West Java. Collaborating with her colleagues, she published two children’s books, Aku Anak Laut [I Am a Sea Boy] (Rose Book, 2019) and Mencari Harta Karun [Treasure Hunting] (Rumah Imaji, 2022). Her articles have been published in academic journals, yet writing her first short story for Dalang Publishing posed a new challenge, as it was the first time she had to write without using English loanwords.

Berti Nurul Khajati:



Rubini dan Ibu Ratu


“Dini hari, tanggal 6 Maret 1942, Purworejo diserang oleh satuan Isoroku Yamamoto. Pasukan Jepang ini bergerak dari arah Yogyakarta. Purworejo yang masih dikuasai oleh Belanda dengan tentara KNIL-nya sempat melancarkan perlawanan sengit di wilayah tenggara Kota Purworejo. Namun, pasukan Jepang mampu memadamkan perlawanan itu sehingga pada pukul sebelas siang, Kota Purworejo sudah dikuasai.” Tuso mendengarkan siaran radio sambil berjongkok di depan tungku. Sebilah arit berkilat-kilat terselip di dinding berkilau memantulkan sinar api tungku ke wajah Tuso.

Siaran radio masih berlangsung. Gawat! Jepang sudah masuk Purworejo, bisik hatinya. Dia melirik ke arah istrinya. Dada Tuso berdegup kencang mengingat perintah Pak Lurah untuk memimpin perlawanan jika tentara Jepang menyerang.

Rubini tengah mondar-mandir menyiapkan nasi liwet dan daun singkong berkuah santan. Dia menaruh piring dan mangkuk di atas meja kayu sambil bersenandung lirih. Padi di sawah mereka sudah menguning. Beberapa hari lagi mereka panen.

Dor! Dor! Dor! Tiba-tiba terdengar suara tembakan. Tuso dan Rubini saling pandang.

Dengan sigap, Tuso meraih arit yang terselip di dinding dan menarik tangan Rubini. “Cepat keluar! Bersembunyilah di sawah! Merunduk di antara batang-batang padi!”

“Kang Tuso mau ke mana?” Rubini berteriak gemetar.

“Jangan khawatirkan aku! Cepat sembunyi sebelum mereka datang!”

Rubini menyibak batang-batang padi yang dipenuhi oleh bulir-bulir yang membulat. Padi-padi sudah saatnya dipanen. Namun tiba-tiba Desa Clapar, desa terpencil di atas bukit dekat Purworejo itu, menjadi medan pertempuran antara tentara Jepang dan Belanda.

Rubini tetap bertahan di antara batang-batang padi yang tumbuh subur dengan bulir-bulir gabahnya yang tajam menusuk kulit. Rasa gatal bercampur perih membuat Rubini tidak betah, tetapi untuk keluar dari tempat persembunyiannya pun dia tidak punya keberanian.

Matahari sore sudah waktunya terbenam. Warna merah lembayung menyemburat di ufuk barat, seakan melengkapi ceceran darah dari tubuh-tubuh yang bergelimpangan di sepanjang jalan yang membelah desa. Dengan kepala terunduk, Rubini mengintip dari kerimbunan batang padi. Letusan bedil masih terdengar sesekali, sebelum akhirnya sunyi menguasai malam yang gelap-gulita karena tidak seorang pun menyalakan pelita. Dengan tubuh penuh goresan luka, Rubini mengangkat kakinya yang lama terbenam di lumpur sawah dengan susah-payah. Sebagian lumpur mengering di betisnya.

Dari tempat persembunyiannya, Rubini melihat tentara Jepang menggelandang beberapa pemuda desa dengan tangan terikat ke belakang dan meninggalkan tubuh-tubuh meregang nyawa itu begitu saja. Pembantaian oleh tentara Jepang, dengan cara menembaki para lelaki desa yang tidak memiliki senjata, telah usai. Dengan cepat, mereka berderap mengikuti perintah pemimpinnya ke luar dari Clapar.

Para perempuan mulai berani keluar dari persembunyiannya dan suasana semakin gaduh. Terhuyung Rubini menghampiri tubuh-tubuh yang tergeletak bersimbah darah. Tubuh-tubuh penuh luka masih bergelimpangan. Erangan demi erangan semakin menghilang seiring suara mengorok yang menandakan lepasnya nyawa dari badan. Desah napas yang memburu berganti dengan cekaman kesunyian yang menakutkan. Desa Clapar telah berubah menjadi desa mati. Para lelaki yang semula menghidupkan desa dan mengolah sawah telah dibantai oleh serangan tiba-tiba. Mereka hanya membawa senjata berupa arit yang biasanya digunakan sebagai alat untuk memanen padi.

Perempuan-perempuan Desa Clapar tidak sempat lagi menangisi kematian suami dan anak lelaki mereka. Mereka harus segera menggali kuburan agar tubuh-tubuh tidak bernyawa itu dapat dimakamkan malam itu juga. Suara jangkrik berselingan dengan suara linggis dan pacul yang berbenturan dengan tanah dan bebatuan merindingkan bulu roma Rubini.

Di pinggir jalan setapak yang ditumbuhi rerumputan, tubuh Tuso tergeletak bersimbah darah. Bau anyirnya menusuk hidung Rubini. Dia bersimpuh sambil memegang dadanya yang tiba-tiba sesak. Orang yang dicintainya meninggal dengan cara mengenaskan. Sama seperti perempuan-perempuan lain, Rubini menguburkan Tuso dengan pakaian yang melekat di badan. Tidak ada waktu lagi untuk mencari kain kafan. Tanah yang digali pun tidak terlalu dalam. Keterbatasan tenaga perempuan membuat kuburan-kuburan itu lebih mirip kuburan kucing daripada kuburan manusia.

Usai menguburkan jasad suaminya, Rubini bergegas membungkus pakaian seadanya. Para perempuan memutuskan untuk segera keluar dari Desa Clapar agar terhindar dari serangan tentara esok hari. Mereka meninggalkan Desa Clapar dengan berbekal buntalan sekadarnya, menyebar ke mana saja.

Rubini menuju Bapangsari dengan harapan bertemu sepupunya yang tinggal di desa atas perbukitan Menoreh itu. Gonggongan anjing di kejauhan dan rasa dingin yang menggigit kulit membuat hati Rubini berdesir. Bulan sabit di langit tidak cukup menerangi langkahnya.

Jalan menuju Bapangsari lengang ketika Rubini keluar dari Desa Clapar. Dia berjalan semalaman. Tiba-tiba, hari sudah berganti. Terik matahari yang mulai tajam bersama debu yang ditebarkan angin menyengat kulit Rubini. Perjalanan yang ditempuhnya sudah cukup jauh dari Clapar. Kakinya pegal dan perutnya lapar. Dengan gontai, dia melangkah menuju pohon asam untuk melepaskan lelahnya. Ada selokan kecil berair bening tidak jauh dari pohon. Rubini segera ke sana, menciduk airnya dengan tangan, lalu meneguknya. Segarnya air terasa membasahi kerongkongannya. Rubini kembali ke pohon asam dan bersandar pada batangnya. Angin semilir yang bertiup membuatnya mengantuk.

“He, kamu! Di mana laki-lakimu sembunyi?”

Rubini tersentak membuka matanya. Di depannya berdiri tiga tentara Jepang bersenjatakan bedil. Dia menolehkan kepala ke segala arah, namun tidak seorang pun tampak kecuali ketiga tentara yang berwajah garang. Terhuyung Rubini berusaha bangkit.

“Saya tidak punya laki-laki, Tuan. Saya janda.”

“Janda, he? Kau orang punya laki-laki melawan kami!” Wajah tentara itu terlihat kejam.

Matanya melotot dan urat-urat lehernya tampak seperti kawat-kawat yang menjulur tidak beraturan.

“Tidak, Tuan. Suami saya mati karena sakit.”

“He! Kamu orang bohong, ya? Itu apa kaubawa?” Bayonet yang tergantung di pinggangnya diangkat dan diarahkan pada buntalan yang tergeletak di tanah.

“Ini buntalan baju, Tuan. Saya mengunjungi sepupu.”

“Bohong!” Tentara itu mengangkat bedilnya. Diacungkannya senjata itu tepat di dada Rubini.

Rubini terkejut; keringat dingin mengalir di sekujur tubuhnya. Dengan tangan gemetar, dia mencari pegangan pada batang pohon tempatnya istirahat.

Seorang tentara yang sudah agak tua berbicara dalam bahasa mereka. Tampaknya teman-temannya dapat menerima omongan tentara tua itu. Mereka melanjutkan perjalanannya dengan langkah cepat.

Dengan lutut yang masih lemas, Rubini meraih buntalan pakaiannya dan melanjutkan perjalanan ke Bapangsari.


Segera setelah berhasil menguasai Purworejo, Jepang membangun benteng pertahanannya. Benteng besar itu harus dikerjakan siang malam karena akan digunakan sebagai tempat untuk mengintai keberadaan KNIL.

Dari Desa Bapangsari, yang letaknya tinggi di atas perbukitan Menoreh di antara Kota Yogyakarta dan Purworejo, garis pantai dari Jatimalang sampai Congot memang jelas terlihat. Namun di sekitar bukit itu, ternyata masih banyak rumah-rumah penduduk yang mengganggu jalannya pembangunan benteng Jepang. Jepang memerintahkan Pak Lurah untuk merobohkan rumah-rumah itu.


Hari beranjak sore ketika Rubini tiba di Bapangsari. Langkahnya sudah terseok-seok. Tumitnya yang pecah-pecah dengan beberapa luka lecet di jari-jarinya membuat Rubini meringis menahan pedih. Dia berhenti di dekat batu besar. Di sekelilingnya ada orang-orang yang bekerja. Mereka menggunakan pacul dan linggis untuk menggali tanah yang keras berbatu. Bentuk galian itu memanjang dari ujung selatan ke utara. Rubini melihat bekas rumah-rumah yang dibongkar. Di ujung jalan Desa Bapangsari yang dulu sering dilalui ketika berkunjung ke rumah Karmin, sepupunya, dia melihat gundukan tanah bekas galian. Rumah sepupunya telah dibongkar dan digali menjadi parit juga.

Wajah Rubini pucat-pasi. Harapan untuk bertemu sepupunya hilang sudah. Hatinya ngeri dengan kenyataan di depan matanya. Sepupunya sudah kehilangan rumah. Rubini memandangi kesibukan yang terjadi di depan matanya. Dengan perasaan bingung, dia menolehkan kepalanya ke kanan-kiri. Ada di mana Karmin sekarang, batin Rubini.

Tiba-tiba, seorang pekerja yang memanggul pacul melewati Rubini, berhenti dalam perjalanannya. Dia membalikkan badan dan, setelah menatapnya dengan cermat, datang menghampiri Rubini.

Mulut Rubini terbuka dan berteriak, “Karmin!” Hati Rubini membuncah. Matanya bersinar.
Karmin dengan cepat meletakkan jari telunjuk di bibirnya. “Kamu harus segera pergi dari sini!” Matanya yang cekung memancarkan kekhawatiran. Dia memegang bahu Rubini dan mendorongnya.

“Tapi …,” Rubini berusaha bertahan. Dipegangnya lengan Karmin. Dia berkeras untuk tinggal.

Karmin melanjutkan ucapannya dengan berbisik, “Bapangsari sudah dikuasai Jepang.

Kami laki-laki di desa ini harus bekerja menggali parit. Kamu harus pergi dari sini! Kalau ketahuan Jepang, kamu bisa celaka. Cepat pergi!” Karmin berbisik.

“Tolonglah saya, Kang.” Rubini memohon dengan mata berkaca-kaca. “Saya sekarang sebatang kara. Suamiku sudah dibunuh Jepang. Kamulah satu-satunya pelindungku.” Suaranya berbisik parau. Hatinya hancur melihat rumah sepupunya yang sudah dibongkar.

Tiba-tiba, dari balik timbunan tanah bekas galian, muncul seorang laki-laki bertubuh pendek. Dengan topi yang menutupi tengkuk, dia meneriakkan perintah kepada para pekerja dengan logat yang terdengar aneh.

Seketika Karmin merunduk dan mendorong Rubini dengan paksa. “Cepatlah pergi! Jika tertangkap, kamu akan dijadikan jugun ianfu.”

“Jugun ianfu? Apa itu?” Sergah Rubini.

“Melayani tentara Jepang seperti kamu melayani suamimu,” balas Karmin cepat. Hatinya kecut mengingat beberapa perempuan desa yang sudah menjadi jugun ianfu. Dia tidak rela Rubini menjadi bagian dari mereka. Ditatapnya wajah Rubini yang tiba-tiba memerah, lalu memucat.

Rubini pasrah saja ketika Karmin mengajaknya menjauh dari tempat itu.

Karmin menarik Rubini yang sudah kepayahan berjalan. Mereka menyusuri pematang sawah supaya terlihat seperti petani dan menjauh dari Bapangsari ke arah barat. Kira-kira dua jam berjalan, mereka menemukan sebuah dangau di tengah sawah. Setelah yakin keadaan aman, Karmin mengajak Rubini berhenti. Hatinya iba melihat keadaan Rubini. Namun jika membiarkannya tetap di Bapangsari, akan sangat berbahaya.

“Kamu akan kuantarkan ke Karangbolong. Ingat Yu Srini? Dia adalah bibi kita.” Karmin berbicara dengan sungguh-sungguh. Dia membenamkan tangannya ke dalam lumpur sawah. Lalu dengan sekali sentakan, dia menariknya. Seekor belut gemuk tertangkap olehnya. Karmin membuang isi perut dan mencuci belut itu dengan air sawah.

Sinar matahari sudah meredup ketika Rubini menyantap belut bakar.

“Saya menurut nasihatmu saja, Kang. Ngeri hatiku mendengar pekerjaan jugun ianfu.” Wajah Rubini bergidik membayangkan pekerjaan yang tidak pernah terpikirkan olehnya.

Dalam kegelapan yang membungkus dangau, Karmin melindungi sepupunya. Dia berjaga semalaman agar Rubini dapat beristirahat. Dilihatnya Rubini yang tertidur pulas dan mendengkur halus dengan penuh iba.

Ketika bangun keesokan harinya, Rubini merasa lebih kuat. Wajahnya lebih segar meskipun masih ada sisa-sisa kelelahan. Pegal di kakinya jauh berkurang. Mereka berjalan menyusuri kebun-kebun penduduk sehingga dapat memetik kacang panjang dan menggali sedikit ubi untuk mengisi perut. Ketika malam tiba, mereka menumpang di dangau petani di tengah ladang.

Dua hari satu malam mereka berjalan, tibalah di rumah Yu Srini. Di depan rumah kayu berdinding gedek, Karmin mengetuk pintu. “Kulonuwun ⸺ Permisi.”

Monggo ⸺ Silakan masuk.” Perempuan berambut putih yang digelung sederhana membukakan pintu. Wajahnya sejenak menegang,; lalu dia berteriak, “Karmin?” Senyumnya mengembang di bibir tuanya yang keriput.

Karmin menyalami bibinya. Jantungnya berdebar. Hatinya bahagia melihat bibinya sehat. Tebersit rasa khawatir kalau bibinya berkeberatan menampung Rubini di rumahnya.

Yu Srini mengalihkan pandangannya kepada Rubini. “Lho! Ini Rubini, kan? Aku masih ingat. Apa yang terjadi?” Yu Srini tidak dapat menahan hasratnya untuk bertanya.

Rubini tidak menjawab. Dia malah menggenggam tangan Yu Srini erat-erat lalu menubruk tubuh renta itu dan menangis di pundaknya.

Yu Srini mengelus punggung Rubini. “Kita bicara di dalam, ya.” Dia menggandeng tangan Rubini dan menyuruhnya duduk di bangku kayu.

Karmin mengikuti di belakang mereka. Sambil menikmati air putih dan singkong rebus, Karmin bercerita. “Rumahku di Bapangsari telah dihancurkan. Tempatnya digunakan untuk membangun benteng Jepang. Aku mau menitipkan Rubini di sini. Aku tidak mampu melindunginya dari Jepang karena aku pun harus bekerja untuk mereka sebagai romusha ⸺ pekerja paksa yang tidak dibayar.”

Yu Srini terhenyak. “Terus kamu tinggal di mana?”

Karmin menukas, “Aku bisa tinggal di mana saja. Tapi Rubini tidak. Dia butuh perlindungan. Suaminya dibunuh oleh Jepang sehingga tidak mungkin baginya untuk kembali ke Clapar.”

Yu Srini menyimak cerita Karmin dengan wajah sendu. Matanya memerah. Dia mengusap air matanya dengan ujung kebaya.

Sementara, Rubini hanya mampu menunduk terisak-isak.


Yu Srini tinggal sendiri di rumah peninggalan suaminya. Perempuan berusia enam puluh tahun itu berjualan makanan di depan rumahnya. “Terkadang orang yang mau pergi ke pantai belum sempat sarapan,” kata Yu Srini sambil menata dagangannya di atas pelupuh. Meja pendek yang terbuat dari bambu itu, berlubang di bagian tengah agak ke belakang agar dia dapat duduk sambil melayani pembeli. Beberapa lelaki datang dan duduk di dingklik di depan pelupuh. Mereka memesan nasi dan lauk-pauk sambil duduk di kursi bambu pendek itu.

Rubini segera menyesuaikan diri dengan kehidupan Yu Srini. Dia membantu memasak nasi dan lauk-pauk di dapur dan membawanya keluar.

Dari tempat Yu Srini berjualan, Rubini dapat melihat pantai berbatu karang di kejauhan. Ketika pembeli sudah sepi, dia sering mengamati kegiatan di pantai itu. Dilihatnya lelaki-lelaki Karangbolong merayapi tangga-tangga bambu yang dipasang di ketinggian batu karang. Tangga-tangga itu dibuat untuk memanen sarang burung walet yang dipercayai sebagai obat beraneka penyakit.

Burung-burung yang membuat sarang dengan air liurnya itu menjadi tumpuan penduduk Karangbolong. Pemanen harus bergelantungan di tangga-tangga bambu. Gemuruh ombak memecah karang disertai cipratan air dan tiupan angin kencang menjadi tantangan berat. Selain itu, bertarung dengan sambaran-sambaran burung walet yang berusaha mempertahankan sarangnya juga sering membuat perhatian mereka terpecah. Jika sudah begitu keadaannya, kemungkinan untuk jatuh menjadi semakin besar. Barang yang dipanen dengan taruhan nyawa itu harganya sangat mahal. Pembelinya, kebanyakan para pedagang keturunan Cina yang berasal dari luar kota, seperti Purworejo dan Yogyakarta. Mereka akan meramu sarang burung walet menjadi obat untuk menyembuhkan dan memulihkan tenaga orang yang sakit parah dan memperbanyak air susu perempuan yang baru melahirkan.

Dengan menjual hasil panennya, laki-laki Karangbolong mencukupi kehidupan keluarganya.


Penanggalan di dinding telah menunjukkan bulan Agustus 1945. Wulan Kesanga, bulan kesembilan dalam penanggalan Jawa, sudah tiba. Saatnya untuk panen sarang burung walet.

Para lelaki sudah siap dengan peralatannya. Tali-tali berukuran besar digulung dan disampirkan di atas bahu. Tali-tali itu akan digunakan untuk menggantung keranjang-keranjang bambu tempat menampung hasil panen. Mereka dibantu oleh istri-istri mereka. Perempuan-perempuan itu melangkahkan kaki dan mengangkut keranjang-keranjang itu di atas kepala mereka.

Rubini merasakan detak jantungnya berpacu melihat laki-laki Karangbolong merambati tangga bambu yang digunakan untuk memanen sarang burung walet. Merayap di kecuraman tebing karang tempat burung walet bersarang, mereka tampak seperti semut yang merangkak-rangkak di dinding raksasa. Oh, alangkah kecilnya nyawa mereka, batin Rubini sambil memandang ombak yang datang silih berganti. Gulungan ombak itu mengingatkan Rubini pada Ibu Ratu, panggilan untuk Nyi Roro Kidul, yang dipercaya oleh penduduk Karangbolong sebagai pelindung mereka. Mereka melaksanakan upacara sedekah laut sebagai ungkapan rasa terima kasih kepada Ibu Ratu setiap musim panen sarang burung walet tiba.

Matahari sore menyisakan warna jingga. Bayang-bayang para pemanjat memanjang di hamparan pasir pantai. Satu per satu mereka menuruni tangga-tangga bambu, lalu berjalan beriringan menuju desa. Panen sarang burung walet hari itu usai sudah. Bersama perempuan-perempuan yang lain, Rubini berlari kecil membawa ceret dan cangkir menyambut para lelaki yang pulang dengan selamat.


Yu Srini menyetel radio tua peninggalan suaminya. “Jepang menyerah tanpa syarat kepada Amerika setelah Kota Hiroshima dan Nagasaki dibom atom. Kesempatan ini digunakan oleh para pemuda untuk mewujudkan cita-cita perjuangannya. Hari ini, 17 Agustus 1945, Sukarno – Hatta telah menyatakan kemerdekaan Indonesia dan bendera merah putih berkibar di Jakarta.” Siaran radio berkumandang ke segala penjuru. Terdengar sorak-sorai orang berkumpul di pantai.

Rubini menyusul. Dia ikut larut dalam kegembiraan orang ramai. Sudah tiga tahun Rubini menumpang di rumah Yu Srini. Selain merayakan kemerdekaan Republik Indonesia, hari ini Rubini juga akan turut melaksanakan sedekah laut yang ketiga kalinya. Dia sibuk membantu bibinya menyiapkan bunga melati, mawar, dan kantil untuk sesaji. Tangannya sudah cekatan menata bunga-bunga itu di atas nampan beralaskan kain putih. Terbayang olehnya tokoh Adipati Surti, utusan Pangeran Kartasura, dalam dongeng Karangbolong. Dia memetik sarang burung walet yang akan digunakan untuk menyembuhkan permaisuri Kesultanan Kartasura yang sedang sakit keras. Tiba-tiba, wajah Tuso terbayang di pelupuk mata Rubini. Aku masih mencintaimu, Kang.

Malam itu bulan purnama. Rubini bersiap dengan pakaiannya yang terbaik, berdandan agar kelihatan pantas saat menghadap Ibu Ratu. Dibawanya seperangkat sesaji yang berisi bunga-bunga. Rubini bersandar pada bongkahan batu karang di tepi pantai. Matanya menatap ke laut lepas. Perjalanan hidupnya penuh liku. Dia kehilangan suami karena kekejaman Jepang. Usahanya mencari perlindungan ke Bapangsari tidak berhasil. Akhirnya bibinya yang sudah renta bersedia menampungnya di Karangbolong. Inilah yang terbaik bagi Rubini. Tekadnya sudah bulat. Angin pantai yang bertiup ke tengah laut mendorong Rubini melangkah semakin jauh ke tengah laut. Tidak ada yang dapat menghalanginya. Rubini, perempuan sederhana dari Desa Clapar, memasrahkan dirinya menjadi pengabdi Ibu Ratu.

Ketika air laut mencapai pahanya, Rubini melepaskan sesaji. Dilihatnya kuntum-kuntum bunga itu mengambang beberapa saat sampai hilang terbawa ombak ke tengah laut. Dia menarik napas dalam-dalam untuk memenuhi paru-parunya dengan udara berbau garam itu.



The Sacrifice

In 2005, Umar Thamrin received a Fulbright grant and a Catherine and William L. Magistretti Graduate Fellowship for his graduate studies in the United States. He completed his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies with the designated emphasis in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. Before returning to Indonesia in 2017, he received a one-year appointment as a research and teaching fellow at the University of Oregon.

Back in his home country, Umar became disturbed by several social conditions he encountered there, and is saddened that the common people have remained marginalized while society ignores the lessons of its history. These conditions have prompted him to think, to remember, and to write. He is currently teaching linguistics at Alauddin State Islamic University.

Umar Thamrin:


The Sacrifice


“At dawn, on March 6, 1942, Isoroku Yamamoto’s Japanese troops attacked the Dutch territory in the southeastern region of Purworejo City from the direction of Yogyakarta, Java. The Dutch Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) troops staged a fierce resistance, but the Japanese unit quelled the opposition, and by eleven o’clock that morning, they controlled the entire city.”

In Clapar, a remote village on a hillside near Purworejo, Tuso crouched in front of a clay wood stove, listening to the radio. The glint of a sharp sickle, tucked into the woven bamboo wall, reflected the glow of the stove’s fire onto his face.

Glancing at his wife, Rubini, Tuso’s heartbeat raced. Cripes! The Japs have entered Purworejo! He remembered the village chief ordering him to lead the villagers to fight the Japanese if they attacked.

Rubini was busily preparing a soup of cassava leaves and coconut milk. Nasi liwet, a rice dish cooked the traditional way, simmered in a heavy claypot filled with just enough water to turn the hard grains into soft fluffy rice atop a brown crust.

Humming softly, she placed the plates and bowls on the wooden table. The rice in their field had turned yellow. In a few days, they could harvest.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Gunshots pierced the air.

Tuso grabbed the sickle and pulled Rubini by the hand. “Hurry! Hide in the rice field! Duck down between the rice stalks and stay there!”

Rubini screamed, “Where are you going?”

“Don’t worry about me! Hurry! Go hide before they get here!”

Rubini ran to the rice field and parted the stalks, heavy with plump grains. The paddies were ready for harvest. But, alas, Clapar had become a battlefield of the Japanese and Dutch troops. The sharp grains pricked her skin, making her itchy and sore. But Rubini did not dare leave her hiding place, amid the intermittent gunshots.

The late afternoon sun shimmered crimson on the western horizon as if to mirror the bloodied bodies lying along the road that divided the village.

Still bent, Rubini peeked through the thick wall of rice stalks. From her hiding place, she saw Japanese soldiers herding several village youths, their hands tied behind their backs. The wounded were left to die on the street. Following their commander’s order, the invading unit now quickly left the village. The Japanese-led massacre of the unarmed village men was over.

Late afternoon faded into night with a blanket of silence and darkness. No one dared to light a lamp. Covered with scratches and dried mud on her calves, Rubini struggled to pull her feet out of the wet soil of the rice field.

As the women ventured out from their hiding places, the village filled with their wailing. Rubini staggered toward the bloody bodies strewn about the village, listening as moan after moan ended with snorts of released souls and an eerie, stifling silence.

In the span of a few hours, Clapar had become a village of the dead. The men who had founded the village and cultivated the rice fields, armed only with the sickles they used for harvesting rice, had been slaughtered.

The women of Clapar had no time to grieve over their husbands and sons. They had to quickly bury the bodies before morning’s light. The chirps of crickets mingling with the thumping and clanging of crowbars and hoes biting into soil and stones, terrified Rubini.

On the side of a path overgrown with grass, Rubini found Tuso’s body, covered in blood. She knelt, the rancid smell piercing her nose, and held her heaving chest. The man she loved had died a miserable death. As did the other women, Rubini buried Tuso with the clothes he wore. There was no time to look for a shroud. The women were not strong enough to dig deep. The shallow graves were more fitting for a cat than a human being.

After burying her husband, Rubini rushed home to pack some clothes. The women had decided to leave Clapar immediately to escape a possible military attack the next day. They only carried basic supplies, bundled in their sarongs, and they spread out, without any particular destination in mind.

Rubini decided to head for Bapangsari, a village located on the Menoreh hills between Yogyakarta and Purworejo. She hoped to find her cousin who lived there. The light of the crescent moon was too weak to illuminate her path, and she shivered in the frigid air, as dogs howled in the distance.

The road to Bapangsari was deserted when Rubini left Clapar. She walked all night until, suddenly, morning dawned. Soon, the blazing sun and flying dust stung her skin. Her feet ached, and she was hungry. Rubini dragged herself to a nearby tamarind tree to rest. Near the tree, she spied a small ditch with clear running water, and she rushed to it, gulping down a handful. The cool water refreshed her. Rubini returned to the tamarind tree and sat down, leaning against its trunk. The soft breeze lulled Rubini to sleep.

“Hey, you! Where is your man hiding?”

Rubini jerked awake and opened her eyes. Three ferocious-looking Japanese soldiers, armed with rifles, stood looking down at her. She looked around, but saw no one in sight. Rubini staggered as she stood up. “I don’t have a husband, sir. I am a widow.”

“A widow, huh? Your husband dared to fight us?” The soldier’s eyes bulged from his cruel face. The veins in his neck pulsed like tangled live wires.

“No, sir. My husband died because he was sick.”

“Damn liar! What do you have in there?” The soldier pointed his bayonet at the bundle on the ground.

“That is a bundle of clothes, sir. I’m on my way to visit my cousin.”

“Liar!” The soldier raised his rifle and pointed the gun at Rubini’s chest.

Rubini gasped. Trembling, she groped for a hold on the tree she had rested under.

The oldest among the soldiers said something in Japanese. The other soldiers seemed to agree, and they all left quickly.

Rubini, still shaking, grabbed her bundle of clothes and resumed her journey toward Bapangsari.


Immediately after occupying Purworejo, the Japanese started the construction of a big, tall fort in Bapangsari. The around-the-clock operation completed the fort in a very short time. The fort was used to monitor the movement of KNIL soldiers. From Bapangsari, the coastline from Jatimalang Beach to Congot Beach was clearly visible because the Japanese had ordered the village head to destroy the houses that hindered the construction and sightline of the Japanese fort.


It was late afternoon when Rubini arrived at Bapangsari. Her heels were cracked and her toes were blistered. Wincing, she shuffled to a nearby boulder. Around her, men were digging up the hard, rocky ground with shovels and crowbars. They were hollowing out a moat that ran south to north. Rubini saw the ruins of the demolished houses. At the end of the road, she took to visit her cousin, she saw a mound of excavated soil. Her cousin’s house had also been demolished and turned into a moat.

Rubini paled, horrified by what she saw. Gone was her hope of meeting up with her cousin. Rubini looked at the bustle around her. Where is my cousin Karmin now?

A worker carrying a hoe passed by Rubini. Suddenly, he stopped and turned around. Peering at her closely, he walked up to her.

Rubini gasped. “Karmin!” she shouted. Her heart swelled with joy and her eyes sparkled.

Karmin quickly put his index finger to his lips. His sunken eyes brimmed with worry. “Shh! You must leave immediately!” He grabbed Rubini by the shoulder and pushed her ahead of him.

Rubini resisted. She held on to Karmin’s arm and insisted on staying.

Karmin whispered, “The Japanese are in control of Bapangsari. All the men in this village have to dig ditches. You must get out of here! If the Japanese catch you, they’ll hurt you! Go! Hurry!”

“Help me, Karmin,” Rubini pleaded with teary eyes. She looked at the ruins of her cousin’s house and whispered hoarsely, “I’m alone now. The Japanese killed my husband. You’re the only one I can ask for help.”

From behind the pile of excavated earth, a short man appeared wearing a flap cap that protected his head and neck from the sun. He shouted orders to the workers with a strange accent.

Karmin crouched and pushed Rubini. “Go! Hurry! If you’re caught, they’ll turn you into a jugun ianfu.”

“Jugun ianfu? What’s that?” Rubini asked, alarmed.

“A ‘comfort woman.’ You’ll be forced to ‘serve’ the Japanese soldiers in the same way you ‘served’ your husband.” Karmin winced, remembering the village women who had been turned into jugun ianfu.”

Horrified, Rubini shuddered.

Karmin stared at Rubini’s flushed face. I can’t let you endure the same fate. He pulled her with him, telling her they had to leave.

Exhausted, Rubini numbly obeyed.

In order to appear like farmers, they walked along the rice fields, heading west. After two hours, they came upon an empty hut in the middle of a rice field. After making sure the hut was safe, Karmin told Rubini she could rest there. He felt sorry for his cousin, but if he let her stay in Bapangsari, it would be too dangerous for her.

“I’ll take you to Karangbolong,” Karmin said. “Remember our aunt, Yu Srini?” Karmin solemnly pushed his hands down into the muddy water of the rice field. When he jerked them up, he held a big flapping eel. Karmin gutted the eel and washed it in the paddy’s irrigation ditch.

Twilight had already begun to set in when Rubini took her first bite of the grilled eel. Thinking about having to work as a jugun ianfu and performing the duties of an occupation she could not imagine existed, Rubini shuddered and said, “I’ll just follow your advice.”

In the darkness that enveloped the hut, Karmin kept watch all night so Rubini could sleep soundly and rest. With pity, he listened to her soft snoring.

Rubini woke in the morning feeling refreshed, although her face still showed traces of tiredness. The soreness in her legs felt more bearable.

She and Karmin walked along agricultural plantations so they could find vegetables like long beans and sweet potatoes to eat. After being on the road for two days and one night, they arrived at Yu Srini’s door.

Karmin knocked on the door of a house with woven bamboo walls and called, “Kulonuwun, excuse me.”

Someone answered, “Monggo — Please, come in.” A woman with white hair put up in a simple bun opened the door. She stiffened for a moment, then exclaimed, “Karmin?” A smile stretched across her wrinkled old lips.

Relieved and happy to find his aunt healthy, Karmin bowed. Bringing his hands together, he took his aunt’s fingertips and brought her hands to his forehead in traditional greeting. Meanwhile he worried that she might not be willing to take in Rubini.

Yu Srini turned to Rubini. “Oh! This is Rubini, right? I still remember ….” She paused but then could not help asking, “What happened to you?”

Rubini did not answer. Instead, she held Yu Srini’s hand tightly. Collapsing against the old woman, Rubini burst out crying on her aunt’s shoulder.

Yu Srini stroked Rubini’s back. “Let’s talk inside,” she said, taking Rubini’s hand to seat her on a wooden bench. Karmin followed behind them.

While enjoying some boiled cassava and a mug of water, Karmin told their story. “My house in Bapangsari has been destroyed. The land was used to build a Japanese fort. I want to leave Rubini here. I can’t protect her from the Japanese because I have to work for them as a romusha — unpaid forced labor – for food and shelter.”

Yu Srini gasped. “Then where do you live now?”

“I can live anywhere,” Karmin replied. “But Rubini can’t. She needs someone to protect her. Her husband was killed by the Japanese, and it’s impossible for her to return to Clapar.”

Yu Srini’s eyes turned red. She wiped her tears with the hem of her kebaya, the long-sleeved blouse worn by native women.

Sobbing, Rubini lowered her head.


Yu Srini lived alone in the house she had inherited from her deceased husband. The sixty-year-old woman sold food in front of her house. “Sometimes people who go to the beach don’t have time to eat breakfast,” said Yu Srini, arranging her wares on a short, horseshoe-shaped bamboo table that allowed her to easily serve her customers. Several men took a seat on the short bamboo stools in front of the table. They ordered rice and side dishes.

Rubini quickly adjusted to Yu Srini’s lifestyle. In the kitchen, she helped with cooking the rice and side dishes. Later, she carried the food out.

From in front of the house where Yu Srini operated her food stall, Rubini could see a rocky beach in the distance. When there were no customers, she watched the activity on the beach ⸺ Karangbolong men climbing bamboo ladders set high on the rocks to
harvest swiftlet nests, which were believed to have medicinal properties that cured various diseases.

Built with the birds’ saliva, swiftlet nests were the mainstay of the Karangbolong people’s livelihood. The roar of the waves crashing on the rocks, high winds, and bird attacks from swiftlets defending their nests posed formidable challenges. Distracted, a climber could lose his balance and fall.

The nests that were harvested by risking a man’s life were very expensive. The buyers were mostly Chinese traders from cities such as Purworejo and Yogyakarta. The traders used the nests to concoct medicine to heal and revitalize the sick. The broth made from the birds’ nests was also often used to increase breast milk from new mothers. By selling the swiftlet nests, Karangbolong men could support their families.


The wall calendar showed August 1945. It was also Wulan Kesanga, the ninth month on the Javanese calendar. It was the time to harvest the swiftlet nests.

The men stood ready, equipped with their tools. Each carried a coil of large rope draped over their shoulders. The ropes were used to hang bamboo baskets in which the harvest was placed. The men were assisted by their wives, who carried the harvesting baskets on their heads.

Watching the Karangbolong men climb the bamboo ladders, Rubini’s heartbeat quickened. As the men crawled up the steep cliff to reach the swiftlet nests, they looked like ants crawling on a giant wall. Oh, how futile their life is, thought Rubini, watching the waves roll in, one after another.

The waves reminded Rubini of Ibu Ratu, the appellation for Nyi Roro Kidul, the spirit that reigned over the sea and protected the people of Karangbolong. At the beginning of every swiftlet nest harvest season, a sea alms ritual was carried out as an expression of gratitude to Nyi Roro Kidul.

The cliffs glowed orange in the late afternoon sun. The shadows of the climbers stretched across the sandy beach. One by one, they climbed down the bamboo steps, then walked together back towards the village. The swiftlet nest harvest of that day was over. Together with the other women, Rubini, carrying a jug of water and cups, hurried to meet the men who had managed to come home safely.


Yu Srini turned on her husband’s old radio. “Japan surrendered unconditionally to America after atomic bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our youth has seized this opportunity to realize the purpose of their struggle. Today, on August 17, 1945, Indonesian President Soekarno and Vice President Hatta have proclaimed Indonesia’s independence, and the red and white flag is flying in Jakarta.” The radio broadcasts echoed in all directions. The people gathered on the beach cheered.

Rubini joined the joyful crowd on the beach. It had been three years since she came to live in Yu Srini’s house. After the celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day, Rubini would perform the sea alms ritual for the third time.

Helping her aunt prepare for the event, Rubini arranged the jasmine, roses, and white champaca flowers on a tray lined with a white cloth. She remembered the Karangbolong fable, where Adipati Surti, envoy to Prince Kartasura, fetched a swiftlet nest to heal the dying empress of the Kartasura sultanate. Suddenly, Tuso’s face flashed before Rubini’s eyes. I still love you.

That night, a full moon lit the sky. Rubini was dressed in her best clothes. She wanted to look proper for Nyi Roro Kidul, the sea goddess. She carried the tray of floral offerings to the beach. Rubini leaned against a boulder on the shore and looked out to sea.

Her life had been full of twists and turns. Japanese cruelty had taken her husband. She had unsuccessfully sought refuge in Bapangsari and now lived with her old aunt in Karangbolong. But this was what was best for her. She had made up her mind.
The coastal wind blowing out to sea enticed Rubini to wade farther out. There was nothing that could stop her.

Rubini, a simple woman from Clapar, gave herself to serve Nyi Roro Kidul. When the seawater reached her thighs, Rubini released her offerings. The flowers floated for a while until the waves carried them away. Taking a deep breath, Rubini filled her lungs with the salty air.
















Pekik Burung Kedasi di Tepi Kahayan

Born in Ponorogo, East Java, on October 21, 1977, widely-published author Han Gagas is an alumnus of the Faculty of Geodesy at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta. His short stories have appeared in mass media such as Horison, Kompas, Tempo, Republika, and Suara Merdeka. His novel Orang-orang Gila was published by Buku Mojok in 2018. In June 2021, Interlude Publishers published his latest work, Sepasang Mata Gagak di Yerusalem, a short story collection. Balada Sepasang Kekasih Gila was the winner of the 2020 Falcon Script Hunt competition, and Falcon Pictures has signed to turn the novel into a movie. Gagas’s travel journal, titled Adzan di Israel, will be published by Ivory Publishers at the end of 2021.

Han Gagas currently lives in Solo, Central Java. Aside from working on his own writing, he also manages an online publication He can be reached at



Pekik Burung Kedasi di Tepi Kahayan


Setelah berkuliah selama lima tahun di Yogyakarta, Mawinei baru bisa pulang kampung ke desanya yang terletak jauh di pedalaman Kalimantan Tengah. Dia menyimpan kerinduan yang amat sangat pada keluarga dan kawan-kawan masa kecilnya yang mengajaknya berkumpul kembali.

Kerinduan yang begitu kuat membuatnya rela menempuh perjalanan panjang dengan bis kota dari Yogyakarta ke Surabaya, kemudian naik kapal laut sehari semalam ke Pelabuhan Sampit, di Kalimantan Tengah. Dari sini, dia menempuh jalur darat dengan bis kota ke Palangkaraya dan berlanjut ke kampungnya yang terletak di Kabupaten Gunung Mas di tepi Sungai Kahayan. Di kendaraan, dia mendengar para penumpang sedang membicarakan pembukaan Asian Games 2018 di Jakarta yang dibuka Presiden Jokowi dengan meriah saat dia masih di kapal laut semalam.

Semua orang menyambut kedatangan Mawinei sebagai satu-satunya perempuan yang jadi sarjana di kampung ini. Mawinei diharapkan bisa mengangkat mutu kehidupan orang tuanya, juga kaum di desanya sebagai keturunan Dayak Ngaju. Rumah betang, rumah panjang Dayak, dihiasi janur dan ramai didatangi banyak orang, termasuk Danum, Simpei, dan Ekot. Mereka adalah anak tetangga dan teman main Mawinei sejak anak-anak.

Berbagai makanan tersaji. Masakan kesukaan yang diharapkan Mawinei juga ada. Kandas sarai, sambal serai yang dicampur dengan ikan baung bakar, menjadi pelepas kerinduannya akan kelezatan masakan Dayak yang khas. Mawinei mendekati Danum yang berkumpul dengan Simpei dan Ekot. Mereka makan bersama sambil bersendau gurau. Bapak-bapak mengobrol dan tertawa terbahak-bahak sembari minum baram, minuman keras yang terbuat dari peragian air beras dan singkong. Baram dalam botol dituangkan dalam gelas-gelas kecil yang beredar dari satu tangan pria ke tangan pria lain. Semua terlihat bergembira, makan bersama.

Namun, Mawinei merasa ada yang lain, ada sesuatu yang tengah terjadi, yang belum dia ketahui. Dalam kegembiraan orang-orang itu, Mawinei merasakan ada kegelisahan yang samar yang coba disembunyikan. Sejak kecil, Mawinei seperti memiliki kepekaan menduga kecemasan.

Benar pula, sehari setelah Mawinei tiba di kampungnya, ketakutan menyeruak tiba-tiba di pagi buta, saat Mina, Bibi, Sanja berteriak minta tolong. “Tolong! Hanjak, Hanjak berak darah!”

Kabut pagi berangsur menghilang berganti dengan terang tanah. Orang-orang berdatangan. Tampak Mina Sanja kebingungan, wajahnya dibasahi air mata.

Balian, bapa dukun, segera dipanggil. Lelaki tua itu datang dengan raut muka tenang. Dia duduk dan mulai menyandah, menerawang untuk melihat sebab penyakit. Dia melanjutkannya dengan upacara sangiang, pengobatan dengan bantuan roh leluhur. Tubuh kurus balian terlihat bergetar seperti kerasukan roh. Setelah kembali tersadar, dia berbicara dengan pembantu utamanya dalam urusan perdukunan. Lelaki itu segera berlari mengajak para tetangga masuk hutan, mendongkel beberapa tanaman untuk diambil akar dan dedaunannya.

Daun dan akar rumput bulu ditumbuk, lalu dibalurkan di pusar Hanjak. Ada pula yang menyeduh dedaunan itu, dan air saringannya diminumkan ke Hanjak. Akar halalang dan bopot turut pula ditumbuk dan diseduh dengan air panas, kemudian diminumkan. Ketiga jenis tanaman ini diyakini sebagai obat sakit perut dan muntaberak, serta dapat mengatasi pendarahan.

Sehari kemudian, anehnya, keadaan Hanjak memburuk. Mina Sanja bingung bukan kepalang. Walau muntahberaknya berhenti, suhu tubuh Hanjak masih panas sekali. Biasanya, setelah diobati balian, orang sakit jadi sembuh. Namun kali ini keadaan tidak berubah jadi baik. Seperti ada keganjilan yang terjadi.

Udara memang terasa lebih menyengat kulit, dan angin seperti jarang berembus. Alam seperti berubah, tidak seperti biasanya. Langit sepenuhnya biru, tidak ada awan bergerombol sedikit pun. Burung kedasih yang dipercayai penduduk sebagai penanda keburukan dan kematian bercokol di pucuk pohon meranti, berbunyi nyaring, suaranya seperti memekik-mekik.

Paras wajah Hanjak tampak pucat dan bibirnya membiru. Tubuhnya kejang-kejang hebat, matanya terbelalak, dadanya tersengal-sengal seperti orang yang kehabisan napas. Tanpa siapapun duga, Hanjak mengembuskan napas terakhir.

Mina Sanja hanya mampu menangis.


Sehari setelah Hanjak dimakamkan, Danum datang berkunjung Mawinei. Mawinei tersenyum sumringah. Mereka kawan karib selama bersekolah di SD Bukit Tunggal, dan telah lama tidak berakrab-akraban lagi. Sebelum pergi kuliah, Mawinei juga bersekolah SMA di Palangkaraya., Karena jaraknya jauh, dia kos di sana, sedangkan Danum tetap tinggal di desa. Orang tuanya tidak memiliki biaya untuk menyekolahkannya tinggi-tinggi. Untuk sekian tahun, kedua dara ini pun tidak bisa bertemu karena terpisahkan jarak.

Narai kabar, apa kabar?” kata Danum dengan hati senang, senyumnya merekah lebar. Dia memeluk erat Mawinei yang balas memeluknya dengan hangat.

Kabar bahalap, en ikau kenampi, kabarku baik, dan kamu? Mawinei memegang kedua bahu Danum, lalu melangkah mundur dan menatap temannya dengan saksama.

Danum tersenyum lebar. Sambil memegang lengan Mawinei, dia berkata, “Kabarkuh bahalap.”

Mereka melepas pelukan, dan duduk bersebelahan di kursi serambi.

“Udara terasa panas ya…” kata Mawinei sambil mengipas-ngipaskan jemarinya ke muka.

“Iya.” Danum terlihat sedih. Dia menarik napas panjang lalu berkata, “awalnya aku kira cuaca yang panas ini membawa penyakit pada warga. Namun, setelah apa yang terjadi pada Hanjak, kemarin, aku yakin semua ini karena Sungai Kahayan yang kotor.”

“Kahayan kotor?” tanya Mawinei sambil menatap sepasang mata Danum yang resah.

“Kau belum tahu, sungai yang kita sering main dulu, kini sangat kotor, airnya bikin gatal-gatal. Tambang-tambang itu buang limbah ke sungai.”

“Tambang?” tanya Mawinei tidak mengerti.

Danum mengangguk mantap.

Benar pula, Mawinei melihat sebagian besar anak yang bermain gundu kakinya busik, korengan.

“Kau sarjana ilmu lingkungan kan, kau bisa teliti air sungai nanti,” kata Danum. Mawinei mengangguk sambil tersenyum.


Mawinei dan Danum melangkah melewati kebun durian dan rotan milik Bapa Dukun. Setelah melewati pohon cempedak yang buahnya sering mereka nikmati semasa kecil, mereka tiba di setapak penuh rerumputan. Tampak beberapa huma di lereng bukit terlihat kehijauan penuh kebun sayur yang subur.

Langkah mereka tiba di bibir sungai, dan terkejutlah Mawinei ketika melihat sungai. “Wah, airnya coklat!” teriaknya.

“Sudah tak jernih seperti dulu, padahal lima tahun lalu masih jernih. Katanya karena lahan gambut di hulu sana yang bikin coklat,” kata Danum dengan muka yang sedih.

“Bukan, dulu sungai ini jernih, aneh, sekarang seperti berlumpur,” selidik Mawinei sambil menatap pinggiran sungai.

“Kau masih ingat kan, dulu masa kita kecil, juga kadang minum air sungai ini, tanpa pakai direbus, perut juga tak sakit.” Suara Danum bergetar. Dia mengarahkan pandangannya jauh mengikuti alur sungai yang seperti lumpur cair dengan garis-garis berkilauan di permukaannya.

Mawinei mengangguk. Ingatannya merawang ke waktu masa sekolah dasarnya. Bersama Simpei, Ekot, dan anak-anak lain, mereka sering bermain di situ saat sungai mendangkal. Air sangat jernih dan surut meninggalkan pinggiran yang landai, berpasir agak putih ⸺ tidak berlumpur seperti ini. Mereka asyik bermain pengantin-pengantinan. Danum jadi pasangannya Simpei. Ekot jadi penghulu, dipasangi jenggot dari sabut kelapa di dagunya dengan cara dilem dengan pulut. Si penghulu duduk di gundukan pasir yang dibentuk seperti singgasana. Mawinei jadi saksi pernikahan, ditambah seorang anak lain. Beberapa anak menonton sambil cekikikan.

Hujan yang sebelumnya gerimis, tiba-tiba berubah deras dalam waktu cepat. Upacara perkawinan anak-anak itu langsung buyar. Mereka berlarian cepat untuk kembali ke betang, tetapi jalan setapak sungguh licin membuat sebagian bocah terjatuh dengan bokong kesakitan. Mereka yang tidak jatuh, menertawainya. Sesampainya di rumah, semua anak dimarahi orang tuanya masing-masing. Pagi buta saat berangkat sekolah, sebagian memperlihatkan pahanya yang memerah bekas cubitan ibunya.

Mawinei tersenyum-senyum saat mengingat kejadian itu.

Danum menepuk bahu Mawinei, menyadarkannya dari lamunan.

“Seperti ada bau, tercemar ini,” kata Mawinei setelah mendekatkan tangkupan air di tangan ke hidungnya. Air sungai tampak berminyak, ada cairan tertentu yang tidak menyatu dengan air. Angin berembus kencang. Rambut Mawinei yang sepinggang sebagian berterbangan, menutupi parasnya yang tampak prihatin. Tangannya segera merapikan rambutnya kembali. Dia berkata, “Aku ingin lihat tambang yang kau katakan. Mari kita pergi ke sana.”

“Jangan, jauh di hulu,” kata Danum mencegah, sebelum lanjut, “harus naik perahu. Besok saja sambil ajak Ekot dan Simpei.”


Besok paginya, sesudah subuh, Mawinei telah bersama Danum. Simpei dan Ekot juga sudah bergabung. Mereka berempat berkumpul di jalan masuk dermaga kecil di pinggir sungai. Lanting-lanting mulai terlihat. Rumah-rumah yang berdiri di atas sungai itu mengandalkan tiang-tiang kayu ulin yang kokoh, serta didirikan di atas gelondongan kayu dan ditambatkan pada pohon atau tonggak-tonggak yang ditanam di daratan tepi sungai. Beberapa perahu tertambat di pokok-pokok kayu atau tiang-tiang beton. Beberapa lentera di perahu dan di lanting-lanting yang belum dimatikan, masih berpendar syahdu.

Mawinei bersama teman-temannya berniat berangkat pagi-pagi agar waktu lebih panjang karena berharap bisa kembali ke rumah sebelum gelap malam. Gelapnya subuh menuju pagi tidak membuat mereka takut, justru merasa segar.

Mereka berjalan mendekati pinggir sungai, menyusuri dermaga kecil dengan papan-papan kayu dari ulin sebagai jembatan yang menghubungkan perahu dan kapal. Gelaran air sungai yang sebelumnya gelap mulai berkilauan oleh sinar matahari pagi. Ufuk timur berwarna kuning terang. Cahaya matahari yang lembut, membuat orang-orang tampak bersemangat di pagi hari itu.

Seorang bapak mendekati Ekot, dan berbicara tentang harga, sambil menunjuk beberapa perahu ketinting yang tertambat di tepi sungai. Ekot menyanggupi. Mereka menyewa perahu khas Kalimantan yang bisa menampung empat sampai sepuluh orang itu untuk menyusuri sungai hingga sejauh mungkin ke hulu.

Air muka Mawinei tampak sangat gembira, sudah lama dia tidak menyusuri sungai dengan perahu ketinting.

Danum juga terlihat senang saat masuk perahu.

“Kau masih ingat nggak, dulu sering renang di situ,” tunjuk Ekot ke sungai belakang lanting-lanting.

“Iya, tentu, di situ kan?” tunjuk Simpei ke lanting paling besar di antara lanting-lanting lain.

“Oh ya, betul.” Wajah Ekot jadi cerah, tampak gembira membicarakan masa anak-anak yang bahagia.

“Tapi kau takut jumpalitan, payah, kau hanya berani terjun, hahaha,” ejek Simpei.

“Ya lompatanlah,” balas Ekot.

“Iya tapi jumpalitan takut, wekwekwek.” Simpei memukul lengan Ekot membuatnya mengaduh sakit.

Namun, sedetik kemudian Ekot tidak lagi meringis kesakitan, tapi nyengir cengengesan.

“Iya, ngaku kalah, tapi siapa yang berani renang menyeberang, ayo siapa?” ledeknya. Dan Simpei pun terpaksa mengangguk sambil menunjuk Ekot. Memang Ekot anak paling berani berenang menyeberang sungai walaupun arusnya deras. Anak-anak lain takut keterbawa arus. Mereka hanya berenang sepanjang tepian.

Mereka, sebagaimana anak-anak Kalimantan lain di tepi Sungai Kahayan, tidak perlu belajar renang pada siapa pun. Kehidupan nenek moyang mereka tidak pernah jauh dari kehidupan sungai. Sejak bayi, mereka sudah dimandikan di sungai. Oleh ibu, tubuh mereka diapung-apungkan di air, sehingga secara alami sejak kecil sudah pandai mengapung. Makin beranjak besar, biasanya sepulang sekolah pada siang jelang sore hari, saat masih terik, mereka akan terjun ke sungai, berenang sepuasnya, dengan gaya apa pun yang mereka bisa lakukan. Ada gaya katak, lumba-lumba, bebas, macam-macamlah, yang penting bisa berenang dan tidak tenggelam. Sesekali mereka juga membawa bola untuk permainan, lempar sana lempar sini, diperebutkan.

Juru mudi perahu duduk paling belakang mengendalikan perahu dengan mesinnya, terkadang menggeser tungkai mesin ke kiri dan ke kanan mengikuti jalur sungai.

Ekot duduk paling depan, disusul Simpei, Mawinei, dan Danum.

Suara mesin menderu, menyibak air, menciptakan arus dan mendorong perahu melaju kencang. Zaman dulu, perahu didayung dengan bilah kayu ulin yang liat dan kuat. Kini alat yang canggih telah memudahkan manusia untuk bisa cepat sampai tujuan.

Sungai membentang lebar kecoklatan. Gelaran airnya beriak-riak. Beberapa perahu melintas berlawanan arah. Di antaranya seorang nelayan dengan jala di perahunya, tampak hendak menjaring ikan di sungai.

Di bantaran kedua sisi sungai, tumbuh pepohonan lebat. Rimbunan bambu, serta pohon buah-buahan macam pisang, nangka, durian, karamunting, dan jambu monyet juga banyak tumbuh.

Tanah Kalimantan yang bergambut merupakan lahan subur untuk pohon-pohon buah semacam itu. Sungai besar ini mengalir sepanjang enam ratus kilometer dari Pegunungan Muller atau Pegunungan Raya yang membelah Palangkaraya, Kabupaten Pulang Pisau, dan Kabupaten Gunung Mas di Kalimantan Tengah, sampai akhirnya bermuara di Laut Jawa.

Simpei mengeluarkan rokoknya, mengambilnya sebatang. Korek api digeretnya, lalu ujung rokok itu disentuhkannya pada api. Simpei mengisap dalam-dalam rokoknya, lalu memberikan bungkusan rokok beserta koreknya kepada Ekot.

Ekot menolak halus.

Wajah Simpei tampak nikmat setelah mengisap rokok sembari menikmati empasan angin di atas perahu yang melaju.

Pohon loa, yang kokoh dan besar, sesekali terlihat di tepi sungai menjadi tameng agar pinggiran sungai tidak tergerus. Buah-buahnya yang merah disukai monyet, tupai, dan burung.,

Perahu makin menjauhi permukiman. Lanting-lanting sudah tidak kelihatan. Sesekali terdengar bunyi burung-burung dan pekik bekantan dari hutan. Pinggir-pinggir sungai masih ditumbuhi pepohonan dan rimbunan hutan karamunting.

Mereka menyusuri sungai di bawah jembatan dan makin melaju menuju hulu. Wajah pinggir-pinggir sungai mulai berbeda. Daratan pinggir sungai banyak terbuka lebar oleh kegiatan masyarakat. Air terlihat makin coklat dan berbuih.

“Orang-orang sukanya ikut-ikutan, karena harga karet mahal, semua pada nanam karet, hutan pada ditebangi untuk diganti kebun karet. Kini orang-orang pada keblinger menanam sawit, kalau sawit milik rakyat tak seberapa, tapi kalau milik perusahaan sampai ribuan hektar, pohon-pohon hutan habis ditebangi,” keluh Ekot.

“Harga karet sudah lama turun, orang-orang tak mau menyadap getah karet lagi, sekarang lihat, kerjaan masyarakat cari emas,” tunjuk Simpei.

Di daratan terlihat kegiatan masyarakat menambang emas. Tanah-tanah di pinggir sungai telah rusak, tidak ada kehijaun tanaman sama sekali. Tanah berlumpur coklat menciptakan air berbuih yang kotor. Daratan jadi becek, penuh kubangan air coklat. Alat tambang, sebuah kotak yang menyambung panjang dan lurus untuk “menangkap” emas, menjulur hingga ke sungai.

Gubuk-gubuk penambang berserakan di dekat mesin diesel. Dan selang-selang besar menggelontorkan air ke bawah. Tanah-tanah bagian atas sungai tergerus dengan kocoran air yang disemburkan oleh selang-selang raksasa, membuat daratan pinggir sungai longsor dan langsung terjun ke sungai, tak hanya menciptakan kerusakan sungai tapi juga pendangkalan.

Bahkan sebagian alat-alat tambang itu berdiri di atas sungai, berlandaskan kayu-kayu ulin seperti rumah-rumah lanting. Pipa-pipa membentang ke sana-sini, mencurahkan air kotor, menggempur tanah, dan membuang segala lumpur langsung ke sungai.

Sungai tidak hanya berlumpur, tetapi juga bercampur dengan minyak tumpahan solar sisa mesin diesel. Kilau-kilau minyak di permukaan air sungai memendar berwarna kebiruan tersapu cahaya matahari, mengilat-ngilat berbentuk bundaran-bundaran yang kemudian hanyut menjauh. Mesin terus menderu, tanpa henti, menggaruk tanah dasar sungai yang diyakini ada bijih-bijih emas. Kilau-kilau minyak itu bercampur dengan merkuri yang sangat berbahaya bagi lingkungan hidup. Dengan memanfaatkan sifat merkuri yang berupa air raksa sebagai pelarut, nantinya emas akan dengan sendirinya terpisahkan dari bebatuan lainnya.

“Berarti karena tambang-tambang ini yang bikin perut anak-anak sakit, pada gatal-gatal semua, karena merkuri,” kata Mawinei.

Danum mengangguk mantap.

Perahu mereka berjalan pelan. Ekot mengeluarkan kameranya, dan sesekali dengan diam-diam memotret kegiatan tambang emas itu. Beberapa penambang tampak waspada saat perahu mereka agak dekat.

“Kini hal sama terulang, bukan Belanda atau Jepang yang kita lawan, tapi keserakahan manusia merusak alam, dan yang paling menyedihkan mereka sebangsa dengan kita,” kata Ekot sedih.

“Anugerah Tuhan sesungguhnya tak pernah sepadan dengan uang,” tambah Mawinei.

Perahu terus melaju, dan Mawinei tampak makin prihatin melihat begitu banyak tambang bertebaran di pinggir-pinggir sungai. Sekelompok orang menjalankan alat yang berbeda dengan sebelumnya yang mereka lihat, ditambah kapal keruk dan pompa air. Alat itu makin besar daya rusaknya dalam menggerus bibir sungai, menciptakan lumpur dan endapan-endapan kotor yang jauh lebih banyak. Di sepanjang bantaran sungai, terdapat banyak lubang menganga berisi lumpur.

“Besok aku akan menemui Idris, kawanku di LSM. Kita tak bisa biarkan ini terus terjadi,” kata Ekot.

“Kalian belum tahu yang terjadi di hutan sana,” Simpei menunjuk ke ladang gundul di perbukitan samping kanan dari sungai dan lanjut, “itu tambang batubara yang jauh lebih besar membuat hutan gundul. Tak hanya itu, juga kebun sawit milik perusahaan,” tambah Simpei.

“Iya itu juga. Beberapa anak mati tenggelam saat bermain di bekas galian tambang yang dibiarkan terbengkalai,” sahut Ekot dengan wajah meredam amarah.

“Yang jadi danau itu?” tanya Simpei.

Ekot mengangguk.

“Kita tak bisa biarkan semua kejahatan ini terus berlangsung!” teriak Mawinei


Beberapa hari kemudian, Idris, Ekot, dan Mawinei menemui pegawai pemerintah daerah yang bertugas mengurusi bagian pertambangan. Danum dan Simpei terpaksa menunggu di luar karena hanya dibatasi tiga orang yang bisa masuk ruangan petugas. Mereka sebelumnya telah mengambil contoh air sungai dan Mawinei menelitinya di makmal di Kota Kuala Kurun. Hasilnya menunjukkan terjadi pencemaran air sungai yang sangat tinggi.

“Sebagian besar tak berizin,” kata pegawai itu.

“Kami tak bisa melarang karena mesin tambang mereka berdiri di atas tanah hak mereka. Punya surat izin tanah juga,” tambahnya.

“Iya Pak, tapi akibatnya terjadi pencemaran lingkungan, dampaknya ke kita semua, kepentingan bersama atas sungai itu terganggu,” kata Idris keras.

“Masalahnya, alasan mereka itu untuk mata pencaharian, untuk cari nafkah. Kalau dihentikan, apa kalian mau ngasih mereka pekerjaan, ngasih mereka makan?” sahut bapak itu tidak mau kalah.

“Ya tetap harus ditertibkan, Pak. Bukan masalah orang cari nafkah, tapi tambang itu pakai merkuri, Pak, itu yang berbahaya,” jawab Ekot tegas.

“Jangan sampai ada yang kehilangan nyawa, Pak,” Mawinei ikut tambah kata, wajahnya tampak geram. “Banyak yang sakit perut, mencret,” katanya dengan gusar.

Mawinei menyerahkan berkas keluhan warga di kampungnya yang sudah ditandatangani banyak orang.

Ekot menyerahkan berbagai foto dan bukti rekaman kegiatan tambang itu.

Idris menyerahkan hasil penelitian air sungai dari makmal.

“Iya kalian tunggu saja, kami akan segera bertindak.” kata petugas yang mulai mengerti kerisauan anak-anak muda itu setelah melihat bukti-bukti yang lengkap.


Sebulan setelah pertemuan itu, tambang-tambang tidak berizin dihentikan. Bahan merkuri disita. Namun, banyak tambang lain yang masih berjalan. Suatu perusahaan tambang yang mendapat dukungan kekuasaan yang sangat besar mengajukan para pengacara untuk melawan laporan LSM yang dipimpin Idris. Para pegawai pemerintah daerah itu pun tidak mampu bertindak lebih jauh lagi.

“Setidaknya kita telah berjuang, pencemaran air sungai ini telah berkurang,” kata Mawinei mencoba sedikit menenangkan Idris yang masih tidak terima.

Danum mendesah, matanya menerawang gelisah.

Simpei menghisap rokoknya dalam-dalam.

“Tambang-tambang besar, terutama batubara, sulit dihentikan karena menghasilkan pendapatan yang besar bagi pemerintah,” kata Ekot dengan wajah masam.

“Jadi, perjuangan kita masih panjang, kawan,” kata Mawinei yang disambut anggukan kawan-kawannya.

“Iya dan jangan mudah menyerah!” seru Danum tegas.




Crying Cuckoos over the Kahayan

In 2005, Umar Thamrin received a Fulbright grant and a Catherine and William L. Magistretti Graduate Fellowship for his graduate studies in the United States. He completed his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies with the designated emphasis in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. Before returning to Indonesia in 2017, he received a one-year appointment as a research and teaching fellow at the University of Oregon.

Back in his home country, Umar became disturbed by several social conditions he encountered there, and is saddened that the common people have remained marginalized while society ignores the lessons of its history. These conditions have prompted him to think, to remember, and to write. He is currently teaching linguistics at Alauddin State Islamic University.

Umar can be reached at:



Crying Cuckoos over the Kahayan


Mawinei had just finished her studies in Yogyakarta and, after five years away from home, she yearned to return to her remote village in Central Kalimantan. She felt a deep longing for family and childhood friends who were urging her to come home.

Her intense nostalgia made her decide to take the long, arduous journey home. She took a bus from Yogyakarta to the port city Surabaya, then a ship overnight from Surabaya to Sampit Harbor in Central Kalimantan. After arriving the following day, she took a bus from the harbor to the Palangkaraya bus station, where she transferred to another bus to her village in the Gunung Mas Regency, on the banks of the Kahayan River. On the bus, Mawinei listened to the passengers talking about the spectacular opening of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta that had taken place while she was crossing the Java Sea. They said President Jokowi had delivered the welcoming speech.

At her village, everyone welcomed Mawinei’s return. She was the only woman there with a bachelor’s degree. The villagers — descendants of Borneo’s indigenous Dayak Ngaju tribe — hoped that with her education, Mawinei could improve the lives of not only her parents, but also of the entire community. The betang, a traditional Dayak longhouse now used as a village center, was decorated with janur — young, still-yellow coconut leaves — and crowded with people. Danum, Simpei, and Ekot, Mawinei’s childhood playmates, were there too.

Various traditional dishes were served. Grilled mystus fish, dressed with a lemongrass chili sauce, satisfied her longing for the special flavor of Dayak cuisine.

Mawinei excitedly joined Danum who sat with Simpei and Ekot. The four of them had a good time, sharing food and catching up.

The elders chatted and laughed loudly while passing tiny shot glasses of baram, liquor made from fermented rice water and cassava. Everyone ate and drank, while enjoying themselves.

But Mawinei sensed that something was amiss. She had been sensitive to other people’s feelings since she was a child, and now, amid this happy atmosphere, she felt a touch of anxiety lurking beneath the surface.


In the early morning after the reunion, fear gripped the village when people were awakened by Sanja’s screams. “Help! Hanjak is passing blood!” People came running to see what was happening. They found Sanja, crying and looking bewildered. Her five-year-old son lay listless on a cot.

A balian, shaman elder, was immediately called upon.

As the morning mist gradually lifted, the old man arrived with his assistant. They entered the room quietly and sat down. Leaning against the wall, the balian stood observing Hanjak to figure out the cause of the child’s bloody diarrhea. Next, he performed the traditional healing ritual, seeking help from the ancestral spirits. During the sangiang, the balian’s thin body trembled, and he appeared to be possessed by the supernatural. After he regained cognizance, the balian quietly spoke to his assistant, who rushed out from the room toward the small forest behind the house. Several men followed him.

They returned with a bag filled with special roots and leaves. Some neighbors ground the billygoat roots and leaves making a poultice to spread on Hanjak’s navel. Others brewed a tea from the spear grass and white jasmine roots for him to drink. The villagers believed that these three plants were natural remedies for treating gastric disorders.

The next morning, Hanjak looked worse. Sanja was baffled. Even though Hanjak had recovered from the diarrhea, he still had a high fever. This was unusual; the balian never failed to heal his patients.

Something else felt strange in the village. The weather had changed. The still air felt prickly. The cloudless sky was a stark blue. A plaintive cuckoo perched in the top of a shorea tree, shrieking. The ear-piercing noise frightened the villagers, who believed the bird to be a bearer of evil and death,.

By nightfall, Hanjak lay shivering, his eyes wide open in his pale face, gasping for breath. Mystified, the balian started to chant. A few moments later, Hanjak was dead. Sanja wailed inconsolably.


The day after Hanjak was buried, Danum went to visit Mawinei. Mawinei was happy to have some alone time with her best friend from elementary school days; they had been separated a long time. Mawinei had attended middle and high school in Palangkaraya, living in a boarding house nearby her school. She then had moved to Yogyakarta to attend college while Danum had stayed in the village. Her parents could not afford to provide her with a higher education. That distance had kept the two best friends from seeing each other all those years.

“How are you?” Danum grinned.

Mawinei grabbed Danum’s shoulders, then stepped back and took a good look at her friend. “Good, and you?”

“I’m good too.”

The two young women hugged each other tightly then took a seat on the porch chairs.

“It’s awfully hot, isn’t it?” Mawinei fanned her face with her hands.

“Yes, it’s abnormally hot.” Danum took a deep breath. “At first, I thought the unusually hot weather was causing villagers to get sick. But now, after what happened to Hanjak, I think we’re getting sick because the Kahayan River is so polluted.”

“The Kahayan is polluted?” Startled, Mawinei looked into Danum’s troubled eyes.

“The river we used to play in is now very dirty. The water makes you itch. The miners have been dumping their toxic waste into the river.”

“Miners?” Mawinei couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Danum nodded.

Mawinei thoughts turned to the children she had seen playing marbles. They all had scabs on their legs.

“You have a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences, right?” Danum smiled. “You can check the river water yourself.”


Their walk to the river, took Mawinei and Danum through a durian and rattan plantation owned by a shaman elder. They passed the cempedak trees, which reminded them of the sweet, creamy, durian-like fruit they had enjoyed as children, and arrived at a footpath overgrown by weedy grasses. The hillside was covered with a lush green of thriving vegetable gardens.

At the river’s edge, Mawinei halted, shocked. “Oh, my God, the water’s brown!”

“Five years ago, it was still clear,” Danum said sadly. “People say that the destruction of the peatland upstream is doing it.”

“I don’t think so,” Mawinei said, examining the riverbank. “The river water used to be crystal clear, and now it’s muddy. This is strange.”

“Do you remember how, when we were little, we sometimes drank the water straight from this river? And yet we didn’t get sick.” Danum looked at the river of her childhood, now a slimy stream of mud with sparkling oil lines on its surface.

Mawinei nodded. She remembered playing there with Simpei, Ekot, and other children at low tide, when the clean, receded water left a sloping riverbank covered with white sand ⸺ not mud.

They had a lot of fun. She remembered the day they pretended to hold a wedding there, in the light rain. Danum was Simpei’s bride. Ekot, as the village priest, was given a beard made of coconut husk and attached to his chin with jackfruit tree sap. He officiated on a sand mound they had shaped like a throne. Mawinei and another child posed as witnesses, while other children watched them, giggling. The drizzle had suddenly turned into a heavy rain. The make-believe wedding was instantly forgotten, as everyone scurried to the betang. But the slippery footpath made some of them fall on their behinds. Those who did not fall laughed at the ones who did and held their butts with a painful grimace. When they arrived at the betang, the children were scolded by their parents, and the next day, on their way to school early in the morning, some showed the red pinch marks their mothers had left on their thighs.

Mawinei smiled remembering the incident. Danum tapped Mawinei’s shoulder, and woke her from the daydream.

Mawinei scooped up a handful of river water and brought it to her nose. “It stinks!” She scowled and sniffed again. “It is polluted.” The river water looked oily from waste liquids that did not mix with the water. The heavy wind blew Mawinei’s waist-length hair across her face. She quickly tied her hair back and said, “I want to see those mines you mentioned. Let’s go there.”

“We can’t go now,” Danum said. “It’s too far upstream. We have to take a boat. Let’s go tomorrow and ask Ekot and Simpei to come with us.”


The next morning, at daybreak, the four friends gathered at the entrance of the small pier by the river. They wanted to leave early so they would have plenty of time and still get home before dark. The dawn wind was refreshing.

Lantings lined the water’s edge. The traditional stilt houses were built with sturdy Kalimantan ironwood and floated atop pilings driven deep into the riverbed. Several boats, tied to wooden poles or concrete pillars, rocked in their moorings. Several lanterns still glimmered in the boats and stilt houses, casting a hazy light on the water’s surface.

Mawinei and her friends walked along the pier to the end of the ulin-planked bridge where the boats were moored. The eastern horizon turned a bright yellow. The river water sparkled when the morning light hit its surface. The soft morning light energized the workers.

A man approached Ekot and, pointing to several ketintings docked along the river, began negotiating a price. Ekot rented one of the dugout canoes, outfitted with an engine and outriggers, that could hold up to ten people to go as far as possible upstream.

Mawinei felt happy; it had been a long time since she had sailed on the river in a ketinting. Danum also looked happy when she boarded the boat.

The engine roared. It pushed the boat forward, splitting the water into wakes. In the old days, sturdy ironwood paddles rowed ketintings to their destination. Now, technology quickly transported people from one place to another.

The helmsman sat at the back of the boat, controlling the engine. He moved the rudder to the left and right as needed, adjusting to the river’s current.

Ekot sat at the front; Simpei sat behind him; then came Mawinei and Danum.

“Do you remember when we used to swim there?” Ekot pointed to the water behind the stilt houses.

“Sure, over there, right?” Simpei pointed at the biggest stilt house.

“Yeah, right!” Ekot’s face brightened while talking about their happy childhood days.

“But you were afraid to do a backflip ⸺ chicken!” Simpei teased. “You were only brave enough to jump.”

“At least I jumped!” Ekot retorted.

“Yeah, but still, you were too much of a scaredy-cat to do a flip.” Simpei slapped Ekot’s arm.

Ekot screamed theatrically, then grinned mischievously. “Okay, I admit defeat, but who dared to swim across the river? Come on, tell me, who?”

Simpei could only nod and point at Ekot, who was indeed the most courageous swimmer in the group. The others, too afraid of being swept away by the current, only swam along the riverbank.

Like other Kalimantan children who lived by the Kahayan River, the four friends needed no one to teach them how to swim. Their ancestors never lived far from the river. When they were babies, their mothers had bathed them in the river, laying them on their backs atop the water until they quickly learned to float naturally on their own. In elementary school the children usually went home at noon, the hottest part of the day.They would plunge into the river and swim as long as they wanted, using whatever style came naturally to them. Some swam like a frog, others like a dolphin — or anything else, as long as they remained afloat and kept from drowning. Sometimes they brought a ball to throw back and forth among them. The one who caught the ball would throw it randomly, and everyone one would race to catch it.

As the river widened, its rippling water grew browner. Several boats passed them, traveling in the opposite direction. On one, a fisherman was preparing to cast his net into the river.

Both sides of the riverbank were overgrown with small groves of bamboo, coconut, and fruit trees interspersed by patches of brush and flowering rose myrtles. The fruit trees — bananas, jackfruits, durians, cluster figs and cashews — thrived in the fertile soil of Kalimantan’s peatland.

The great Kahayan River river was six hundred kilometers long, spilling from its birthplace in the Muller Mountains; it divided Palangkaraya, ran through the Pulau Pisau dan Gunung Mas Regencies in Central Kalimantan, until it emptied into the Java Sea.

Simpei lit a cigarette and took a long drag. He offered the pack of cigarettes and lighter to Ekot, who politely refused. Simpei relaxed and enjoyed the cigarette and the breeze.

The cluster fig trees that grew on the riverbanks helped prevent erosion. Their red fruits were favored by monkeys, squirrels, and birds.

The boat moved farther and farther from civilization. The stilt houses were now out of sight. Above the noise of the motor, they caught the occasional birds chirping and monkeys squealing from the forest.

Cruising under a bridge, they continued upstream. Now the scenery changed. Large areas of vegetation had been cleared away for community activities. The river water turned darker and dirtier.

“People are quick to jump on the bandwagon,” Ekot complained. “As soon as the price of rubber skyrocketed, everyone started clearing land in the forest to plant rubber. Now everyone is clearing land to plant palm trees. Privately-owned palm tree orchards aren’t that large, but when big corporations build palm tree farms, they can stretch across thousands of hectares, and the forest trees are done.”

“The price of rubber dropped a long time ago,” Simpei added. “People don’t want to tap rubber anymore. Now people are mining gold. Just look at them!” Simpei pointed at a group panning gold along a destroyed section of the riverbank that was completely void of vegetation.

The sodden land was riddled with stagnant, grimy puddles. Long, narrow sluice boxes, used to separate gravel from gold, extended far into the river. Huts that housed the miners were scattered around the diesel engine. The forceful spray of water, gushing from giant hoses, had eroded the riverbanks. At those places, the river had become shallow.

Some of the mining equipment was installed directly over the river. Just like the lanting houses, they had been built on pilings made of ironwood. A maze of pipes gouged the earth, spewing toxic waste directly into the river.

The river was not only muddy, it was contaminated by diesel fuel spilling from the engine. Rainbows of glistening oil shimmered in the sunlight, swirling on the river’s surface as the current moved them.

Engines roared ceaselessly while tearing up the riverbed in search of gold ore. To separate gold ore from gravel, the miners used mercury. The elemental metal mixed with oil and sparkled dangerously on the water’s surface. The environment was under attack.

“Now it’s obvious,” Mawinei said. “These mines are causing the sickness in our village.”

Danum nodded.

Their boat slowed. Ekot took out his camera, and began capturing pictures of the gold-mining activities. Some miners looked at them suspiciously.

“History is repeating itself.” Ekot was clearly distressed. “But now, we’re not fighting the Netherlands or Japan. Instead, we’re fighting against human greed that is destroying our habitat. And the saddest thing is that the culprits are our own people.”

“God’s gifts are priceless.” Mawinei murmured.

The boat continued upstream, and Mawinei became increasingly alarmed at the ubiquitous gold panning along the riverbanks. They passed a group of people using a set of equipment different from what they had seen earlier. The powerful dredgers and giant water pumps caused even more destruction, turning the riverbank into one giant mudhole.

“Tomorrow, I’m going to see my friend Idris,” said Ekot. “He’s involved with a non-governmental organization that advocates for environmental issues. We can’t let this continue to happen,”

“Look!” Simpei shouted. “Look what’s happening, in the hills over there!” He pointed to a barren field on the hill to their right. “That large coal mine caused this deforestation. And they’re not the only vandals! Don’t forget the corporate-owned oil palm plantations.”

Ekot’s face flushed with anger. “Worse than that, some children drowned while playing in an abandoned mine pit.”

“The one that has become a lake?” asked Simpei.

Ekot nodded.

“We can’t let all these crimes continue!” Mawinei shouted.


A few days later, Idris, Ekot, and Mawinei met with the local government official assigned to deal with mining issues. Danum and Simpei had to wait outside because only three people were allowed in the official’s room. They had brought a water sample they had taken from the river, which Mawinei had examined in a laboratory in nearby Kuala Kurun, the capital of the Gunung Mas Regency. The test results showed an unacceptably elevated level of pollution.

“Most of them are unlicensed,” the official said of the gold miners. “We can’t restrict their activities because they’re using their equipment on their own property, and they have proof of ownership.”

“Regardless, sir, they are destroying the environment, and the pollution they’re causing is impacting all of us,” Idris said, irritated. “Our lives are centered around this river, which is now making us sick.”

“The problem is that gold mining is their livelihood.” The official became indignant. “If we stop them, will you give them jobs or provide food for their families?”

“You must do something, sir,” Ekot joined in. “It’s not about allowing them to keep their jobs and feed their families; it’s about not allowing them to use dangerous toxins like mercury in their operations.”

“Please don’t wait until we have fatalities, sir.” Mawinei added, obviously upset. “Many villagers are suffering — and dying — from strange illnesses.” She handed the official a piece of paper with signed complaints from people in her village.

Ekot gave him the photos he took that evidenced the destruction caused by the mining activities.

Idris presented the lab results from the river water tests.

As the official carefully read thorough the documentation, he frowned. He was holding sufficient evidence of a potentially deadly situation. He looked up slowly. “Please give us time,” he said. “We will take action. Immediately.”


A month after the meeting, the unlicensed mines were prohibited from continuing their operations. All materials that contained mercury was confiscated. Even so, many other mines still operated. A big mining company, with the backing of powerful people, retained lawyers to dispute the reports Idris had presented. This stymied the local government officials.

“At least we tried, and the pollution of this river has been reduced,” said Mawinei, trying to calm Idris who still couldn’t accept their setback.

Danum sighed and looked anxiously into the distance.

Simpei took a long drag on his cigarette.

“Big mining companies, especially coal companies, are nearly unstoppable because they generate huge revenue for the government,” said Ekot.

“So we still have a long way to go, my friend.” Mawinei ’s words were greeted by nods from her friends.

“Yes!” they cheered. “And we won’t give up easily!”









Cenning Rara

In 2005, Umar Thamrin received a Fulbright grant and a Catherine and William L. Magistretti Graduate Fellowship for his graduate studies in the United States. He completed his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies with the designated emphasis in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. Before returning to Indonesia in 2017, he received a one-year appointment as a research and teaching fellow at the University of Oregon.

Back in his home country, Umar became disturbed by several social conditions he encountered there, and is saddened that the common people have remained marginalized while society ignores the lessons of its history. These conditions have prompted him to think, to remember, and to write. He is currently teaching linguistics at Alauddin State Islamic University.

Umar can be reached at:



Cenning Rara


Caya berdiri dengan tangan terkepal menggenggam kerikil mengadang traktor yang akan merobohkan rumah teman halusnya. Dahan-dahan pohon ara sebesar dua kali lengan orang dewasa itu menjuntai menyentuh tanah. Sopir traktor sudah meneriakinya berkali-kali, tetapi Caya malah membalasnya dengan makian dan lemparan kerikil. Orang-orang yang berkerumun menggeleng-geleng. Gadis remaja kurus dengan tubuh cekung dan rambut terurai sampai ke pinggang itu benar-benar nekat. Bujukan yang disampaikan orang-orang pun tidak digubrisnya. Malah Caya menuduh orang-orang desanya bersekongkol untuk mengusir teman halusnya.

“Pergi,” teriak Caya sambil melempari traktor dengan kerikil.

Ayahnya muncul dari balik kerumunan.

“Papa, tolong usir pergi pengacau itu!” Caya menangis sejadi-jadinya sambil menunjuk sopir traktor. “Dia mau bongkar rumah temanku. Temanku tidak salah.”

Yusuf membujuk putri semata wayangnya itu. Caya kehilangan ibunya saat dia dilahirkan. Teman-temannya tidak ada yang mau bermain dengannya karena dia mengidap ayan. Yusuf meminta sopir traktor itu memberinya waktu membujuk anaknya.

Sopir traktor itu menggeleng. Dia tidak bisa menunggu. Pekerjaannya harus selesai hari ini. Kalau tidak, dia bisa dipecat. Dia punya keluarga yang butuh makan.

Yusuf terpaksa bermohon-mohon.

Karena sudah menjelang sore, akhirnya sopir traktor memberinya waktu sampai besok pagi.

Yusuf kembali menghampiri Caya yang tersenyum puas menyambutnya meskipun wajahnya masih basah dengan air mata. Yusuf duduk di dekat Caya, bersandar pada pohon ara. “Teman halusmu di mana, Nak?”

“Dia di dalam, tidak mau keluar, takut sekali lihat raksasa besi itu.”

Desa yang terletak di hulu Sungai Sampara, dekat Kota Kolaka, di Sulawesi Tenggara ini, dulunya adalah hutan belukar. Penghuninya ular, buaya, dan makhluk halus. Sekarang ular dan buaya sudah jarang terlihat. Makhluk halus pun merasa tidak lagi nyaman tinggal bersama manusia.

“Kenapa teman halusmu masih bertahan di sini, Nak?”

Caya menarik napas panjang, lalu menjelaskan. Teman halusnya iba melihatnya dan memutuskan tinggal untuk menemaninya. “Sekarang bagaimana saya bisa tega membiarkan rumahnya dibongkar?” kata Caya dengan nada haru sambil memandang traktor yang terparkir di tepi jalan. Beberapa pohon di sekitarnya bergelimpangan, tercabut dengan akar-akarnya.

“Jalanan ini ndak aman lagi,” kata Yusuf. Dari cerita kepala pelebaran jalan, dia tahu jalan ini akan ramai dilalui truk-truk raksasa pengangkut hasil tambang nikel. Persawahan sebentar lagi akan menjadi perumahan. “Nak, kamu harus kasi tahu teman halusmu, beginilah yang manusia sebut perkembangan.”

Caya mendongak, menatap daun-daun ara yang berisik tertiup angin.

“Temanmu pasti ndak tahan dengan suara ribut.” Yusuf terdiam sejenak, meluruskan punggungnya yang bersandar pada pohon ara, lalu berkata, “Kamu bicara dengannya, Nak. Kamu perlu melepaskannya. Dia juga pasti tahu apa yang sedang terjadi di desa ini.” Yusuf mengusap-usap kepala Caya, lalu berdiri dan melangkah pergi.


Yusuf duduk termenung di toko kelontongnya yang makin hari makin sepi. Dia sudah berusaha membujuk anaknya untuk merelakan pohon itu dirobohkan. Namun, dia kasihan juga melihat anaknya yang kesepian. Terkadang dia tidak habis pikir kenapa Tuhan tega menyiksa anaknya seperti itu. Tuhan sudah mengambil ibu Caya, dan Caya sendiri mengidap ayan. Mungkin ini karma. Sebelum istrinya meninggal, Yusuf memang bekerja sebagai lintah darat. Namun, semua penghasilan pekerjaan haram itu sudah dikembalikan kepada masyarakat.

Uang yang dipakai untuk modal toko kelontong adalah uang hasil penjualan kebun warisan orangtuanya. Tidak ada alasan Tuhan untuk menghukum anaknya. Anak itu tidak makan uang haram. Anak itu tidak berdosa.

Diam-diam Yusuf juga bangga melihat anaknya mengadang traktor itu dengan berani untuk membela teman halusnya. Tidak seperti diriku yang benar-benar lemah, tidak bisa membela anakku sendiri saat anakku membutuhkan. Caya kesepian dan satu-satunya teman bicaranya hanyalah teman halusnya. Yusuf merasa benar-benar tidak berguna sama sekali. Seharusnya dia malu kepada istrinya yang berkorban untuk melahirkan Caya dengan selamat. Yusuf memaki-maki dirinya sendiri.

Seseorang muncul di pintu.

Yusuf terkesiap. Baru kali ini dia melihat seorang calabai, bencong, berpakaian seperti ulama — Dia bersarung dan sorban putih melingkar menutupi songkok hajinya, sementara bagian ujung sorban itu menjuntai sampai ke bahu.

“Saya Bissu Saleh,” kata calabai itu, dan belum sempat Yusuf menjawab, dia pun menyambung, sambil mengerling kepada Caya yang duduk membisu di sudut toko, “Anak Puang bukan anak sembarangan.”

Yusuf menyambut uluran tangan Saleh.

“Banyak yang mengira saya ini calabai,” Saleh membuka pembicaraan. Dia pun bercerita tentang perbedaan antara bissu dan calabai. Bissu adalah calabai suci penasihat rohani kerajaan kuno Bugis-Makassar. Makanya, banyak orang menyangka bissu bukan Muslim. Saat kerajaan Bugis Makassar menerima Islam sebagai agama kerajaan, bissu patuh, dan menjadi Muslim. Hanya saja, bissu tidak menunaikan salat di masjid karena tidak ada saf untuk calabai. Banyak bissu yang sudah berhaji. “Saya tidak pakai ini, kalau saya belum haji,” kata Saleh menunjuk songkok hajinya. Saat menunaikan haji, dia harus memilih menjadi laki-laki, dan kembali menjadi calabai saat kembali ke desanya.

Saleh sama seperti Caya; dia mempunyai teman halus. Teman halusnya itu mengikutinya ke mana saja dia pergi. Bahkan dalam setiap pekerjaannya, teman halusnya ikut membantu.

Yusuf mengangguk-angguk mendengar penjelasan Saleh.

Sebenarnya Saleh datang atas panggilan saudaranya untuk menjadi indo’botting, perias pengantin Bugis, pada perkawinan putri saudaranya. Dia mendengar dari seorang ibu penjual nasi kuning, langganan pekerja jalanan, tentang Caya yang mengadang traktor untuk membela teman halusnya.

“Nak Caya akan kesepian terus sebelum dia punya sesuatu yang bisa bikin dia diterima masyarakat.” Saleh menatap Yusuf tidak lagi seringan tadi.

“Jadi?” sambar Yusuf.

Saleh tersenyum dan menyabarkan Yusuf untuk mendengarkan ceritanya. Semua orang mempunyai sesuatu yang membuat mereka bisa diterima di masyarakat. Pedagang mempunyai dagangan, orang-orang pintar ilmu pengetahuan, petani tanaman. “Kalau Caya apa?”

Yusuf menggeleng. Caya tidak bersekolah. Dia tidak tahan diejek teman-temannya.

Saleh cerita, dia dulu seperti Caya — terkucilkan sampai akhirnya dia bertemu Puang Matoa, pimpinan bissu. Puang Matoa mendidiknya menjadi bissu. Dia bukan lagi calabai bus malam, calabai yang hanya senang hura-hura dan meresahkan masyarakat.

“Saya mau minta izin Puang untuk mengangkat Caya menjadi anak muridku.”

Yusuf menoleh kepada Caya yang bersungguh-sungguh memperhatikan Saleh.

“Ilmu apa yang akan Bissu Saleh ajarkan?” Yusuf mendesak.

“Ilmu cenning rara,” jawab Saleh.

“Ilmu apa itu?” Yusuf diam menunggu penjelasan.

Namun, Saleh hanya menatapnya, lalu sambil berpaling kepada Caya dia bertanya,

“Puang tidak kasihan sama Nak Caya?”

“Saya harus tahu dulu, ilmu macam apa itu?” Suara Yusuf meninggi.

“Ilmu pemikat leluhur Bugis,” jawab Saleh sambil menyilangkan tangannya di depan dada.

“Ilmu musyrik,” sergah Yusuf.

Saleh meraih gelas air minum di depannya yang disajikan Caya, meneguknya, lalu meletakkannya kembali ke atas meja dengan perlahan-lahan.

“Puang tahu gincu?” tanya Saleh dengan tatapan masih tertuju pada gelas. “Dulu, di Eropa, perempuan yang memakai gincu dianggap pemuja setan.”

Yusuf menyeringai, “Pernah ke Eropa?”

“Pernah, kami keliling Eropa, pentas,” kata Saleh dengan dagu terangkat.

Yusuf meringis.

“Memang banyak yang salah sangka, orang-orang pikir bissu itu tinggal di desa terpencil, dan tidak tahu dunia luar.” Saleh pun menceritakan perjalanannya keliling Eropa.

Caya bersemangat mendengar. Sesekali dia menyela, bertanya saat ada hal yang menarik baginya.

Yusuf hanya terdiam mendengarkan, sambil memperhatikan Caya yang tersenyum lebar. Belum pernah anaknya sebahagia saat ini.

“Jadi Puang mengizinkan?” tanya Saleh dengan tatapan menodong.

Yusuf menghela napas, memperbaiki sikap duduknya, lalu berkata, “Anak bukan barang. Saat kita mati, putus hubungan. Doa anak bisa melapangkan dan menerangi kubur orangtuanya.”

“Tapi…” Saleh merapatkan punggungnya pada sandaran kursi.

“Tadi saya yang diam mendengar, sekarang tolong saya didengar juga,” hardik Yusuf dengan badan condong kepada Saleh.

Saleh terdiam.

Yusuf menjelaskan ketakutannya. Dia muslim yang taat. Kemusyrikan masuk dosa besar. Mereka yang musyrik tidak ditanya lagi saat kiamat nanti, langsung dilempar ke kerak neraka. Percaya pada mantra-mantra itu kemusyrikan. “Cukup sudah kita menderita di dunia ini, jangan lagi di akhirat.”

Matahari dengan cahayanya kemuning merasuk dari sela-sela dinding papan. Induk ayam berkotek-kotek memanggil anak-anaknya yang masuk mencari remah-remah makanan. Caya berdiri mengusir keluar anak-anak ayam itu, lalu kembali duduk.

“Boleh saya jelaskan, Puang?” tanya Saleh dengan sabar.

Yusuf mengangguk.

Saleh menjelaskan mantra bukan sesuatu yang tertulis di atas batu. Mantra mengikuti perkembangan kerohanian masyarakat. Dulu mantra-mantra itu berbahasa Bugis-Makassar kuno. Sejak Islam masuk, mantra-mantra memakai ayat-ayat dari Alquran. “Kita tidak lagi berdoa kepada dewata, tapi kepada Allah,” kata Saleh menutup penjelasannya.

“Untuk usir setan, iya, tapi untuk bikin orang suka kita, saya baru dengar,” sela Yusuf.

Saleh terdiam.

Yusuf pun melanjutkan, “Musyrik itu orang yang pake Alquran untuk guna-gunai orang supaya orang suka dia.”

“Percaya saya Puang. Saya ini haji,” kata Saleh dengan nada membujuk.

“Haji bukan jaminan. Lihat saja, banyak yang pergi haji, setelah pulang tambah rakus, makan uang rakyat.” Suara Yusuf kembali meninggi.

Saleh tersenyum. “Saya hanya menawarkan bantuan. Puang yang putuskan terima atau tidak.”

Caya memegang lengan kursi kuat-kuat, tetapi tangannya tidak cukup kuat untuk menahan badannya yang terempas ke depan.

Yusuf melompat menangkapnya, tetapi terlambat.

Caya terkapar dengan badan mengejang dan mulut berbusa.

Yusuf membopong Caya masuk ke kamarnya, lalu kembali ke ruang toko, dan berkata,

“Anak itu kalau terlalu tertekan, ayannya muncul.”

Saleh tidak lagi berkata apa-apa, kecuali minta pamit.

“Sampai kapan Bissu Saleh di sini?” Suara Yusuf tidak setegas sebelumnya.

“Kembali ke Pangkajene lusa.” Saleh berpamitan. Azan magrib mendayu-dayu mengiringi kepergian Saleh yang akhirnya menghilang di balik rimbunan bambu.

Tengah malam, Yusuf bermunajat. “Ya Allah, aku hanya ingin melihat anakku bahagia.” Yusuf mengulang-ulang perkataannya. Tidak seperti biasanya, suara-suara kalong yang berebut buah tidak terdengar. Angin pun berhenti bertiup. Yusuf terkesiap saat Caya menyentuh punggungnya.

“Pa, ayo kita ke masjid,” kata Caya.

Yusuf memandang wajah Caya yang bersinar dengan senyumnya. Azan subuh sayup-sayup terdengar. “Iya Nak, kita ke masjid,” kata Yusuf.

Dalam perjalanan pulang dari masjid, Yusuf berkata kepada Caya dengan nada bersungguh-sungguh, “Musyrik itu dosa besar. Setiap saat kita bisa musyrik. Iblis sangat lihai menipu manusia. Bahkan menjelang kematian kita, iblis masih bisa membuat kita musyrik.” Daun-daun bambu bekersik menggigil tertiup angin subuh di sudut jalan. Yusuf dan Caya berbelok masuk ke jalanan kecil menuju rumah. Yusuf bertanya pelan, “Kamu tahu Nak kapan kita selamat dari kemusyrikan?”

Caya menggeleng.

“Kita mengucapkan syahadat saat mengembuskan napas terakhir kita.”


Yusuf mengantarkan Caya ke terminal bus. Sepanjang jalan, tidak sepatah kata pun terucap dari mulutnya. Yusuf mengelus-elus kepala Caya saat anaknya mencium tangannya sebelum naik ke bus yang membawanya ke Pangkajene.

Saleh dengan sabar menunggu Caya melepaskan tangan ayahnya. “Jangan khawatir Puang, Caya sudah jadi anak saya sendiri.”

Yusuf mengangguk dengan isak yang tertahan di tenggorokannya.

“Kamu baik-baik di sana, Nak. Dengar Bissu Saleh.” Yusuf menyodorkan wajahnya lewat kaca jendela yang terbuka.

Caya secepatnya menghapus air matanya, lalu mengangguk-angguk.

Bus bergerak perlahan keluar dari terminal.

Caya menoleh ke belakang memandang ayahnya yang berdiri di tepi jalan sampai akhirnya pandangannnya terhalang oleh bus yang mengekor, lalu merebahkan punggungnya dan memandang truk-truk yang menumpahkan tanah ke atas persawahan yang mengering. Desa ini benar-benar sudah ramai. Rumah dan toko nampak di mana-mana. Segerombolan burung-burung pipit beterbangan saat bus berbelok di dekat semak-semak. Seharusnya bukan aku yang harus pergi belajar cenning rara agar pendatang-pendatang itu bisa menerimaku. Pendatang-pendatang itu yang harus bisa menerima diriku.

Caya menengok ke belakang sebelum bus berbelok dan merayap ke jalan yang memutar di pinggang gunung. Desanya sudah tidak nampak. Caya mengusap air matanya yang meleleh di sudut matanya. Aku harus secepatnya kembali. Kasihan ayahku, hidup sendirian.

Saleh duduk tenang di sampingnya.

Caya masih tidak percaya Saleh mau mengangkatnya menjadi anak murid, padahal dia baru saja mengenalnya. Alasannya hanya karena dia dulu bernasib sama dengan dirinya, terkucilkan, tidak masuk akal. Pasti ada alasan di balik itu, tetapi untuk apa aku menanyakannya. Yang terpenting Wa’ Saleh mau mengajarkanku sesuatu yang membuat aku tidak lagi kesepian.

“Kamu sudah lupa dengan temanmu?” tanya Saleh sambil mengangkat dagu seakan menunjuk di sampingnya. “Temanmu itu enak, naik bus, ndak bayar.”

Caya menoleh. “Iya Wa’, rumahnya juga ndak dibayar,” jawabnya dengan mata berbinar.

Saleh langsung menutup mulutnya dengan tangan, dan wajahnya memerah menahan tawa. “Ndak salah Nak saya mengangkatmu menjadi muridku,” katanya di sela-sela tawanya yang tertahan.

Caya menerima pujian itu dengan anggukan.

Bus meraung-raung saat melewati kelokan terakhir di puncak gunung, lalu meluncur dengan ringan melewati jalan yang menurun.

“Dulu saat saya kecil, saya seperti kamu, pemberontak.” Sepanjang jalan Saleh bercerita tentang masa kecilnya. Orang-orang membencinya hanya karena dia berjalan seperti perempuan. Ayahnya memukul kakinya sampai bengkak supaya dia berhenti berjalan seperti itu. Dia pernah mencoba, tetapi temannya mengejeknya. Kata mereka, cara jalannya seperti anak baru sunatan. Akhirnya dia capek mencoba, ayahnya juga capek memukulnya, teman-temannya capek mengejeknya.

Saat dia dewasa, dia senang membantu ibunya memasak. Ibunya dengan sabar menjelaskan bahwa memasak itu pekerjaan perempuan. “Kamu bantu ayahmu bertani,” kata ibunya. Dia pun membantu ayahnya menanam padi di sawah. Namun baru beberapa ikat selesai, dan matahari belum terlalu terik, ayannya muncul. Akhirnya ayahnya tidak pernah lagi mengajaknya ke sawah.

Untungnya setiap pagi, ibunya sangat sibuk. Mereka tujuh bersaudara, dan masih kecil-kecil. Terpaksa ayahnya mengizinkannya membantu ibunya menyiapkan sarapan. Dia bertugas membuat kopi dan teh. Setelah ibunya mengajarkannya, dia mahir membuat kopi dan teh. Malah lebih nikmat dari kopi dan teh buatan ibunya. Pelan-pelan, dia membantu ibunya membuat segala jenis sarapan, seperti nasi goreng, nasi ketan, dan bubur jagung.

Keahlian masak-memasak Saleh berkembang. Akhirnya dia mahir dalam memasak acara hajatan. Dalam sebuah pesta perkawinan dia bertemu Puang Matoa, pimpinan Bissu. Saat itu Puang Matoa diundang untuk menampilkan tarian ma’giri, tarian sakral bissu yang memperlihatkan kemampuan mereka menari dengan gemulai dan kekebalan tubuh dari senjata tajam. Hanya bissu yang mampu melakukan itu dan syarat menjadi bissu sangat susah. Dia harus suci dan harus punya roh pelindung. Dia harus berpuasa selama tiga hari. Setelah itu dia dikafani seperti sudah mati. Selama dikafani, rohnya akan menjelajahi alam gaib sedangkan calon bissu terselap. Seberapa jauh rohnya menjelajah, tergantung pada kekuatan roh bissu itu. Ketika roh pulang ke tubuh, saat itulah dia sah menjadi bissu. Kalau rohnya tidak pulang, dia akan mati.

“Kenapa Wa’ bisa nekat?” Caya melirik kepada Saleh.

“Ya, memang sudah nasib,” kata Saleh sambil mengusap-usap dada.


Pangkajene ternyata sebuah kota kecil dekat Makassar. Kota ini diapit oleh laut dan perbukitan batu. Sungai besar bernama Kali Bersih membelah kota kecil itu. Bukit-bukit batu mulai terkikis habis untuk dijadikan semen dan marmer. Saleh tinggal di sebuah rumah kayu panggung di tepi sungai belakang pasar. Suara bising tidak sedetik pun berhenti. Truk-truk di jalan dan ketinting-ketinting di sungai menderu-deru. Caya tidak bisa tidur sampai terdengar azan subuh. Azan subuh pun membahana dari segala penjuru, saling berlomba menggapai langit.

“Kamu ndak bisa tidur, Nak,” kata Saleh saat Caya keluar ke ruang tamu.

“Iya Wa’.” Caya merapikan rambut yang terurai di wajahnya.

“Beginilah nanti desamu, kamu harus mulai belajar.” Saleh meneguk kopi hangatnya. “Tapi bagus, makin ramai tambang, makin ramai juga masjid.”

Keramaian kota ini membuat Caya ingin segera kembali ke desanya. Untung, pada malam itu, dia sudah memulai pelajarannya.

Saleh memperkenalkannya kepada teman halusnya. Saleh memberi salam saat membuka pintu kamar arajang, pusaka, itu dan bau kemenyan merebak. Kamar itu lebih kecil dari kamar yang ditempati Caya. Di dalamnya, ada sebuah ranjang mungil, ditutupi kelambu. Kamar itu gelap, hanya cahaya dari ruang tamu yang menyelusup masuk. Saleh bersila dan berdoa sejenak, lalu membuka kelambu itu. Saleh menunu dupa di dalam mangkuk tembikar di sudut kanan depan ranjang. Nampak pernak-pernik kuno tertata rapi di atas ranjang. Saleh berbicara akrab kepada teman halusnya, lalu menarik tangan Caya mendekat dan duduk di sampingnya.

Saleh memperkenalkan Caya dan menjelaskan maksud Caya untuk belajar cenning rara.

Caya merasakan dirinya melayang, dan melihat teman halusnya berangkulan dengan seseorang berjubah putih yang bercahaya menyilaukan. Makin dia menatap lelaki berjubah itu, makin menyilaukan. Akhirnya, Caya harus menutup matanya dengan kedua tangannya, tetapi cahaya itu tetap terasa, bahkan makin menyilaukan. Caya pun berteriak sejadi-jadinya. Setelah itu, cahaya tadi menghilang, dan penglihatannya menjadi gelap gulita. Saat kesadaran Caya kembali, dia bertanya, “Apa yang terjadi?”

“Kamu lihat Nak?” Saleh menggenggam tangan Caya.

Caya pun menceritakan apa yang dilihatnya. “Sebenarnya siapa itu?”

“Seorang sufi. Tidak boleh saya sebut namanya.” Saleh meminta Caya berwudu, memakai sarung, dan kembali masuk ke kamar arajang. Mereka bersila di hadapan arajang lalu Saleh mengajarkan Caya mantra cenning rara.

Saleh mewanti-wanti agar Caya jangan menggunakan cenning rara untuk keburukan. Kalau dia melakukan itu, lelaki berjubah cahaya itu yang akan datang dan menghukumnya.

Caya mengangguk gembira dengan anggapan dia bisa segera kembali ke desanya, bertemu ayahnya, dan bisa tidur lelap.

Ternyata, Saleh masih menahannya. Dia masih harus mengajarkan Caya menggunakan cenning rara untuk merias pengantin. Dalam tiga bulan ke depan, ada tiga acara perkawinan, dan Saleh meminta Caya untuk membantunya menjadi indo’ botting.

Saleh mengajarkannya cara merias pengantin. Terkadang, dia tidak bisa menahan luapan kemarahannya, saat perhatian Caya terpecah. “Itulah gunanya kamu baca cenning rara saat merias, supaya kamu betul-betul perhatikan setiap garis yang kamu bikin. Ini bukan kertas, ini muka orang.”

Anak perempuan yang menjadi korban percobaan riasan Caya terkikik-kikik mendengar Saleh marah.

Caya pun membaca mantra cenning rara.

“Belum sekarang, nanti,” hardik Saleh, “kalau pengantin betulan.”

Anak perempuan itu memegang perutnya, tertawa terbahak-bahak.

Caya jengkel ditertawai dan diriasnya anak itu mirip topeng monyet.

Saleh tertawa terpingkal-pingkal.


“Kamu sudah siap, Nak,” kata Saleh saat melihat hasil merias Caya pada minggu kedua.

Awalnya Caya canggung saat merias pengantin untuk pertama kalinya dan di depan orang banyak. Namun, akhirnya dia bisa menunjukkan keterampilannya. Saleh memujinya.

Malam akhir pekan bulan ketiga, Caya duduk di teras dengan Saleh sambil memandangi gerimis. Raungan truk di jalan dan katinting di sungai bersahut-sahutan. Caya tersenyum. Suara bising yang dulu membuatnya tidak bisa tidur, sekarang malah membawanya terlelap.

“Kenapa kamu senyum-senyum?” tanya Saleh.

“Saya mulai senang tinggal di sini, Wa’.”

“Bagaimana perasaanmu, Nak, waktu berhasil merias?”

“Senang sekali,” kata Caya tersenyum lebar dengan mata berbinar-binar.

“Masa panen sudah lewat. Masa menanam sudah tiba. Musim panen, musim kawin; musim bekerja sebagai indo’ botting,” kata Saleh tersenyum simpul.

Gerimis bermain riang dengan cahaya lampu jalan yang temaram. “Akhirnya,” Saleh menghela napas panjang, “janjiku kepada Puang Matoa sudah saya tepati.”

Caya tersadar, rupanya itulah alasan Saleh mengajarinya.

“Kamu harus pulang besok. Papamu pasti sudah rindu sekali.”

“Terima kasih, Wa’,” kata Caya dengan lirih.

“Sama-sama, Nak.” Saleh berdiri dan masuk ke kamarnya.


Caya mengubah toko kelontong ayahnya menjadi salon kecantikan. Orang-orang menyukai caranya merias yang apik. Pelanggannya membeludak. Setelah menyelesaikan pekerjaan terakhirnya hari ini, Caya duduk beristirahat.

Yusuf datang menghampirinya. “Papa bangga sekali.” Setelah terdiam sejenak, dia melanjutkan, “Bagaimana dengan teman halusmu?”

“Malah bertambah banyak.” Caya tersenyum lebar.

Yusuf melemparkan pandangannya ke persimpangan jalan raya di mana dulu ada pohon ara. “Terima kasih, Nak,” kata Yusuf lirih.

“Saya yang berterima kasih, Pa.” Caya meraih tangan ayahnya dan menciumnya.




Cenning Rara

Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.

Read some of his essays and book reviews at: and

He can be reached at




Cenning Rara


Caya, defiant with her clenched fist full of pebbles, stood her ground and blocked the tractor about to demolish her imaginary friend’s house. The bodhi tree’s branches, twice the width of a man’s arm, scraped the ground.

The tractor driver had yelled at her many times, but Caya answered with angry words and pelted pebbles. The gathered villagers shook their heads. The skinny young girl with hair down to her waist must be really desperate. Unmoved by anyone’s persuasion, she refused to budge and even accused the villagers of conspiring to evict her imaginary friend.

“Go away!” Caya yelled, throwing pebbles at the tractor.

Her father emerged from the crowd, and Caya pointed at the tractor driver. “Father, please tell that intruder to go!” she cried. “He wants to destroy my friend’s house. My friend hasn’t done anything wrong!”

Yusuf tried to calm his daughter, his only child. Because of her epilepsy, no one wanted to play with her. He knew that Caya was lonely, and her imaginary friend was the only person she had to talk to. Yusuf asked the tractor driver to give him a few minutes to reason with his daughter.

The driver shook his head. No, he could not wait. He had to finish clearing this area today. He could not afford to be fired. He had a family to feed.

Yusuf pleaded for more time.

The two bantered back and forth until finally, because it had become so late, the driver climbed out of the tractor cab and told Yusuf he would return the next morning to complete his job of clearing the land.

Yusuf walked back to Caya, whose smile shined through a face wet with tears. “Where is your friend now, Caya?”

“She is inside her house in the tree. She doesn’t want to come out. She is afraid of that steel monster.”

Yusuf’s and Caya’s village, upstream on the Sumpara River, near Kolaka City in Southwest Sulawesi, was once a forest, only inhabited by snakes, crocodiles, and forest spirits. Now, snakes and crocodiles were rarely seen, and the forest spirits, not comfortable living near humans, had moved to the mountains.

Yusuf sat down at the base of the bodhi tree and drew his daughter to him, “Why does your friend remain here when the others have gone, Caya?”

Caya sighed. “She feels sorry for me and stays to keep me company.” Caya stared at the tractor parked near the roadside, surrounded by uprooted trees. “How could I allow anyone to destroy her house?”

“This road is no longer safe,” Yusuf told his daughter. “These rice fields will soon be transformed into a housing complex. This road will become busy with giant trucks transporting nickel ore.” He paused. “Caya, you must tell your friend what is going on. This is what we humans call progress.”

Caya raised her head, and looked at the heart-shaped leaves of the bodhi tree rustling above her in the wind.

“Your friend would definitely not like the noise.” Yusuf straightened his back and stretched. “You must talk to her, Caya. You have to let her go. I’m sure she already knows what is happening to this village.”

Yusuf stroked Caya’s hair, then rose and left.


Yusuf sat lost in thought in his convenience store. Fewer customers were visiting his shop with each passing day. Yusuf had eventually persuaded his daughter not to interfere with the felling of the bodhi tree, but he worried about this lonely daughter of his, sitting quietly beside him. At times he could not accept God punishing his daughter so harshly. Not only had God taken Caya’s mother during childbirth, but He had also cursed his daughter with epilepsy. Maybe it was karma. Yusuf had been a loan shark. But when his wife died giving birth to the imperfect baby daughter he held in his arms, he had returned all the blood money to the community. He had sold the land inherited from his parents and used the money to build his convenience store. So there was no reason for God to punish his innocent daughter. She had played no part in the dirty money.

Secretly, Yusuf felt proud of his daughter for standing up to the tractor to protect her imaginary friend. She had been so brave and strong — unlike himself, who was too weak to defend his own daughter when she needed him. Yusuf felt useless. He would be ashamed to face his wife, who had sacrificed her life to give birth to Caya. Yusuf cursed himself.

The store’s front door opened.

Yusuf’s eyes widened. He saw a calabai wearing the attire of a religious man — a sarong and a white turban wrapped around his hajj skullcap. He had heard about calabai. According to the Bugis gender system, calabai were generally born male but took on the role of a heterosexual female. Their fashions and mannerisms were distinctly feminine but did not match that of “typical” heterosexual women. Yusuf had never seen a calabai dressed like a holy man.

“I am Saleh,” said the calabai, and before Yusuf could reply, the calabai continued, looking at Caya who sat quietly in a corner of the store, “Your child, sir, is a gifted child.”

Yusuf shook the hand Saleh offered while Caya placed a glass of water in front of him.

Saleh opened the conversation. “Many people think I am a calabai, but I am bissu— the so-called ‘fifth gender’ in the Bugis gender system.” Sensing Yusuf’s curiosity, he then explained the difference between a bissu and a calabai. “Originally,” he said, “a bissu was a sacred Bugis-Makassar transvestite who worked as the spiritual adviser at the court of the ancient Bugis-Makassar kingdom. Because they were transvestites, many people thought that bissus could not be Muslims. But when the Bugis-Makassar kingdom accepted Islam as the state religion, the bissus followed and embraced Islam, except that they could not pray in the mosque. Why? Because in a mosque the places for men and women to worship were clearly marked — there were no designated places marked for bissus. Yet many bissus had completed the pilgrimage to Mecca and were therefore hajis. “I could not wear this,” Saleh said, pointing at his skullcap, “if I had not gone on a pilgrimage.” During his pilgrimage, he had to choose to be a man. But when he returned to his village, he went back to being a calabai again.

Saleh, like Caya, had a mystical spirit-friend. This spirit-friend accompanied Saleh everywhere he went; it even helped him with his work.

Yusuf and Caya listened carefully.

Saleh had been invited to their village by a relative who wanted him to be the indo’botting, Bugis bridal makeup artist and counsel, at his daughter’s wedding. After arriving in the village, Saleh had overheard the woman who sold turmeric rice to the road construction workers talk about Caya blocking the tractor to save her imaginary friend’s house.

“Unless Caya can be a meaningful part of society, she will be lonely,” Saleh said.

“And?” Yusuf probed.

Saleh smiled and asked for Yusuf’s patience while listening to his story. “To be accepted by society, a person must have something to offer. Traders, for instance, offered their goods; educated people offered their knowledge; and farmers offered their crops. What does Caya have to offer?”

Yusuf shook his head. Caya couldn’t even go to school because of her schoolmates’ bullying.

“I, too, was ostracized before I met Puang Matoa, the bissu leader,” Saleh told Yusuf. The elder transvestite taught him to become a bissu, and Saleh turned from a streetcorner prostitute and public annoyance who liked to party into a holy transgender. “Yusuf,” Saleh said, “I ask your permission to make Caya my disciple.”

Yusuf glanced at Caya. “What will you teach her, Bissu Saleh?” he asked cautiously

Cenning Rara,” Saleh answered.

“What is that?”

Saleh glanced at Yusuf, then tilted his head toward Caya. “Don’t you feel sorry for her?”

“I need to know what you are going to teach her.” Concern raised Yusef’s voice.

“Cenning Rara, the Bugis love spell.” Saleh folded his arms across his chest.

“That sounds like black magic,” Yusuf said, alarmed.

Saleh reached for the glass of water Caya had served him earlier. After taking a sip, he slowly placed the glass on the table.

“You know what lipstick is,” Saleh said while looking at the glass. “But did you know that a long time ago, European women who wore lipstick were labeled satan worshippers?”

“Oh, and you’ve been to Europe?” Yusef scoffed.

“Actually, yes, I have toured all across Europe.”

Astonished, Yusuf had nothing to say.

“Many people make the wrong assumption that bissus live in secluded villages and are oblivious to the outside world,” Saleh said. “Now, let me tell you about my adventures around Europe.”

During Saleh’s storytelling, Caya sat mesmerized, completely drawn into Saleh’s tales. She interrupted him occasionally, asking for more information whenever she found something he said particularly interesting.

Yusuf listened quietly, watching how engaged his daughter was. He had never seen Caya this happy and alive.

After Saleh finished his European tales, he looked at Yusuf. “So, do you give me your permission?”

Yusuf squirmed in his seat. “A child is not an object to possess,” he said. “When a person dies, they lose all their possessions. But a child’s prayer can bring joy and light to a parent’s grave —”

“But —”

“But, I have listened to you without interrupting, now please listen to me.” Yusuf leaned toward Saleh, who quietly settled back into his chair.

“I am apprehensive,” Yusuf began. “As a devout Muslim, I view idolatry as a great sin.

Those who serve idols will not be judged on Judgment Day; rather, they will be cast immediately into the depths of hell. Believing in spells is an act of idolatry. It is enough to suffer in this world: I don’t want to suffer in the afterlife.”

The bright afternoon sun crept through the slits in the planked wall. A hen clucked loudly, looking for the chicks that had entered the shop, pecking for food crumbs. Caya shooed the chicks out, and returned to her seat.

“Let me explain it to you,” Saleh said, patiently. “Cenning Rara is a spell that is handed down by our Buginese ancestors. It makes the practitioner’s client appear youthful and healthy, with an alluring attraction in her visage. Such a spell may succeed in enticing a member of another sex without producing any harmful side effects for the one the spell is cast upon. Indeed, Cenning Rara and other sorts of love magic are regarded as rather common.”

Saleh told Yusuf that spells, like Cenning Rara, were not something written down like a permanent formula. Rather, spells evolved and changed in accordance with a society’s spiritual development. For example, after the arrival of Islam, spells that were written in the ancient Bugis-Makassar language transitioned into spells that used verses from the Quran. “We no longer pray to a pantheon of gods, but to Allah the Almighty God,” Saleh concluded.

“You can probably use those spells to drive out evil spirits, but this is the first time I’ve heard that they can be used to make someone desire you,” Yusuf said. “Idol worshippers use verses from the Quran to trick people into liking them.”

“Please believe me, sir, that is not the case. I am a haji.”

“Being a haji is no guarantee that you’re telling the truth!” Yusuf became agitated again.

“Just look around you! After returning from the pilgrimage, many hajis are even greedier and more prone to embezzle public funds.”

Saleh smiled. “I can only offer help. It is up to you whether you want to receive my help or not.”

The clattering of Caya’s chair interrupted the conversation. Caya clenched the arms of her chair, as an epileptic seizure contorted her body. Yusuf jumped up to keep her from toppling forward, but he was too late. Caya writhed on the floor, eyelids fluttering.

Yusuf carried her into her room behind the shop. When he returned, he told Saleh, “This is what happens when Caya is placed under too much stress.”

Saleh had nothing more to say. He rose and excused himself to leave.

“How long will you be here in the village?” Yusuf’s voice was kinder.

“I return to Pangkajene the day after tomorrow,” Saleh said, as he walked out the door.

The soft, melodious magrib, twilight call to prayer, accompanied his departure until he disappeared behind a bamboo grove.

At midnight, Yusuf prayed desperately. “Oh, God, please, I only wish for my child’s happiness.” The night was unusually quiet. There were no bats shrieking as they fought over fruit. Yusuf repeated his prayers over and over until even the wind had stopped blowing.

He startled when Caya touched his back as the call to the dawn prayer softly announced a new day. “Father, let’s go to the mosque.” Caya smiled.

On their way home from morning prayers, Yusuf told Caya, “Idolatry is a grave sin. We can be tempted into committing idolatry at any time. The devil is very good at tricking humans. He can even trick us into sinning while we’re on our death bed.”

The morning breeze caressed the bamboo leaves at the street corner. Yusuf and Caya turned and followed the small path to their home. “Do you know how to escape the sin of idolatry, my daughter?”

Caya shook her head.

“We say the shahadah, confession of faith, before taking our last breath.”


Yusuf said nothing as he accompanied Caya to the bus station for her journey to Pangkajene. At the station, Yusuf stroked his daughter’s head when she kissed his hand.

Saleh waited patiently as father and daughter said goodbye. “Don’t worry, sir,” he said. “I will take care of Caya as if she were my own child.”

Yusuf couldn’t speak. He simply nodded.

Caya and Saleh boarded the bus. Yusuf ran to the open bus window. “Take care of yourself, Caya! Obey Bissu Saleh!”

Caya wiped her tears and waved.

Slowly, the bus pulled out of the station. Caya looked back at her father, standing on the roadside. When she could no longer see him, she settled into her seat, watching the passing scenery of trucks burying dry rice fields with dirt.

Saleh sat calmly beside her.

Caya saw that her village was indeed bustling with construction. New houses and shops had sprung up everywhere. A flock of birds flared up when the bus took a turn near their bushes. I shouldn’t be the one who has to learn Cenning Rara so people will accept me. They should learn to accept me as I am.

Caya took a last look back before the bus took another turn and she could no longer see her village. As they crawled up the twisting road of the mountainside, Caya dried her eyes. I’ll come back as soon as I can. Poor Father is all alone.


Caya was still in disbelief that Saleh wanted her as his student. He barely knew her! His only reason was that she suffered the same fate he did, being ostracized. There must be another reason behind it — but why question it? Saleh is going to teach me a skill that will keep me from being lonely, and that is all that matters.

“Have you already forgotten your friend?” Saleh pointed his chin to the empty seat next to him. “Your friend is lucky. She didn’t have to pay to get on the bus.”

Caya turned to him, eyes sparkling. “Yes, and she didn’t have to pay rent either.”

Saleh quickly covered his mouth. His face reddened as he tried to keep from laughing. “I wasn’t wrong when I invited you to become one of my disciples.” He chuckled.

The bus engine growled as it crawled up the last part of the mountainside before it cruised leisurely down the other side.

“When I was a child, I was like you, a rebel,” Saleh said. “People ridiculed me for walking like a woman. My father beat my legs until they were swollen, trying to change my natural gait.”

Saleh sighed, remembering. “Whenever I tried to walk like a man, my friends said I looked like a boy who had just been circumcised. In the end, I grew tired of trying, my father grew tired of beating me, and my friends grew tired of teasing me.”

Saleh smiled, looking down at Caya. “When I was growing up, I enjoyed helping my mother cook. My mother was a patient woman, but she told me that cooking was a woman’s job. She told me that I should help my father in the fields. So I tried doing that, and I went to help him early in the day. But after working just a few rows, I had an epileptic seizure. My father never asked me to work in the fields again.”

Cayla listened, rapt.

“I was one of seven children. Fortunately, my mother’s busy-ness in the morning turned to my advantage. My father had no choice but let me help my mother make breakfast. My job was to prepare the coffee and tea. Under my mother’s guidance, I soon became an expert in making coffee and tea — even better than my mother! Little by little, I started helping her make all kinds of breakfast dishes, like fried rice, glutinous rice, and grits.

“As my cooking skills improved, I began catering for parties. It was at one of the wedding receptions I had been commissioned to cook for, that I met Puang Matoa, the bissu leader. He had been invited to perform the ma’giri, a sacred bissu dance that showed how a bissu’s graceful body was invulnerable to sharp objects. Only bissus were able to perform the dance and it was extremely difficult to become a bissu.”

The process of becoming a bissu, said Saleh, required him to be sanctified and have a protective spirit. After a three-day fast, he would be wrapped in a burial cloth as if he were dead. His soul would then depart his body and travel to the spirit world. The distance his soul traveled depended on the strength of his spirit. If his soul returned, he would be confirmed as a bissu. If his soul did not return, he would die.

“Why would you risk your life like that?” Caya glanced at Saleh.

“Because it was my destiny.”


The Kali Bersih river divided Pangkajene, a small mining town near Makassar on the island of Sulawesi. The quarries nearby had gouged the rocky hills for mining operations. Saleh lived in a wooden stilt house on a noisy street behind the market. Cars and trucks honked endlessly on the busy street, accompanied by the rush of the river.

On her first night in Saleh’s house, Caya lay awake until she heard the dawn call for prayer. Several mosques blared prayer calls from every direction, as if competing with each other to reach heaven.

“You couldn’t sleep?” Saleh asked when Caya walked into the living room.

“No, it was too noisy,” Caya said, fluffing her flat, bed hair.

“Your village will soon become just as busy, and you will have to learn to live with it.” Saleh sipped his hot coffee. “But it is all good; the booming mining industry will also increase attendance at the mosque.”

Caya felt a tug of homesickness. If it were not for the fact that Saleh would start her lessons that night, Caya would have asked to return to her village.

Saleh invited Caya to meet his guiding spirit. When he opened the door to the arajang, sacred chamber, the aroma of frankincense enveloped them. The room was smaller than Caya’s room. It had a small bed, draped with a mosquito net that served as a spirit-altar. The only light in the room came from the living room. Saleh seated himself cross-legged on the floor in front of the bed. After saying a short prayer, he stood, opened the mosquito net, and lit the frankincense in its earthen container at the front of the bed. The bed was decorated with antique trinkets.

As Saleh talked with his guiding spirit, he pulled Caya’s hand to sit next to him. Saleh introduced Caya to his guiding spirit and explained why Caya wanted to learn how to cast the Cenning Rara spell.

As Caya entered the spiritual world, she began to float. She saw her imaginary friend embrace an old man dressed in a white robe, enveloped in a blinding aura. The longer she looked at him, the brighter the light became. Caya put her hands over her eyes, but she couldn’t shut out the light. She screamed. The light disappeared, and Caya plunged into a deep, unconscious darkness.


“What happened?” Caya asked when she came to.

Saleh grabbed Caya’s hands. “What did you see?”

“I saw an old man, dressed in a white robe, surrounded by a blinding light.” Caya told Saleh. “Who was that?”

“A sufi, a mystic,” Saleh said. “I’m not allowed to speak his name.” He told Caya to perform ablution, change into a sarong, and return to the arajang chamber.

They sat cross-legged in front of the small bed. “Now I will teach you the Cenning Rara,” Saleh said. “You must never use the spell for evil purposes. If you do, the man you saw will punish you.”

Assuming that she could immediately return to her village, be with her father, and sleep soundly in her own bed that night, Caya nodded happily. But Saleh kept her in Pangkajene. Caya still needed to learn how to use Cenning Rara for bridal makeup.

There were three weddings coming up during the next three months and Saleh told Caya to assist him as he performed his task as an indo’botting. Saleh taught her how to skillfully apply bridal makeup. At times, he lost his temper when Caya became distracted. “That’s why you must recite the Cenning Rara mantra while you work,” he scolded. “That way, you’ll be focused on every line you draw. Remember, you’re not drawing on a piece of paper! You’re working on a human face.”

The girl who was Caya’s practice model giggled when Saleh reprimanded Caya. When Caya dutifully started reciting the Cenning Rara mantra, Saleh snapped, “Not now! Wait until you work on a real bride!” At that, the model burst out laughing.

Upset over being laughed at, Caya made the girl look like a monkey. And then it was Saleh who could not control his laughter.


After Caya had worked for two weeks as his apprentice, Saleh told her she was ready to work on her own. Initially, Caya felt awkward when she had to do the makeup in front of so many people. But in the end, she proved herself, and Saleh congratulated her.

Caya had lived with Saleh for almost three months when, one evening, they sat relaxing on the porch, watching a light rain. The sounds of passing trucks and boats filled the evening air. Caya smiled. The noise that used to keep her awake now lulled her to sleep.

“Why are you smiling?” Saleh asked.

“I’m beginning to enjoy my stay here.”

“How did you feel after you finished your first job?”

“I was delighted.” Caya’s eyes sparkled. “It made me very happy.”

“The harvest season is the wedding season — that’s when the indo’botting is busiest,” Saleh said, showing his crooked smile. “But the harvest season is over, and now it is time for planting.”

The drizzle danced through the light of the dim streetlamp. Saleh let out a long sigh then said slowly, “I have finally fulfilled my promise to Puang Matoa.”

Caya then realized, why Saleh had taught her. He had passed on his knowledge.

“You will go home tomorrow,” Saleh said. “Your father must have missed you very much.”

Saleh rose and went into his room.


Caya remodeled her father’s store into a beauty salon. People liked her makeup style and she quickly became in very high demand. After serving her last customer for the day, Caya sat down in one of the salon chairs.

Yusuf joined her and said, “I am so proud of you.” After a moment of silence, he asked, “How is your imaginary friend?”

Caya broke into a big smile and said, “Oh, there are many of her now!”

Yusuf gazed across the road where the bodhi tree once stood. “Thank you, my daughter,” he said, gently.

“It is I who should thank you.” Caya took her father’s hand and kissed it.



Laki-Laki dari Ratenggaro

Maria Matildis Banda finished her graduate studies at Universitas Udayana (UNUD) in Denpasar, and now teaches at the Faculty of Cultural Studies of UNUD. She started writing short stories in 1981. Teaching and researching the oral traditions of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), the southernmost province of Indonesia, has given her a strong basis for writing novels with an ethnic background. Between 2015 and 2021, she wrote and self-published three novels set in NTT: Wijaya Kusuma dari Kamar Nomor Tiga, about postnatal care in Flores; Suara Samudra, about whale hunting; and Bulan Patah, about childbirth outside of wedlock. A fourth novel, Doben (Lamalera 2017), is set in Timor Island. Maria has written the column “Parodi Situasi” in the Pos Kupang Daily since 2000.

Maria can be reached at:


Laki-Laki dari Ratenggaro


“Selamat datang kembali, Julia. Kamu cantik seperti dulu,” Rita melepaskan pelukannya dan memperhatikan dengan saksama wajah Julia. Digenggamnya tangan Julia erat-erat, lalu membawanya ke dalam mobil. “Terima kasih sudah mau datang. Terima kasih Julia,” Rita menghapus air matanya.

Gha Bili tetap menjadi guru. Sama dengan Yusak, guru SMP,” kata-kata Rita mengantarkan mereka ke masa lalu, saat mereka berkawan akrab meski berada di sekolah yang berbeda. Rita dan kakaknya, Bili, datang dari Pulau Sumba bersama Yusak, teman Bili, untuk melanjutkan sekolah di Kupang. Rita yang datang untuk bersekolah Sekolah Pendidikan Keperawatan segera bersahabat dengan Julia dan menjadi simpul yang menghubungkan mereka berempat.

“Harusnya Gha Bili tahu kamu datang untuknya. Ya Tuhan… kamu sungguh-sungguh datang untuk Bilikah?” Rita melirik Julia sekilas.


Perjalanan dari Bandara Tambolaka di Weetebula, ke Ratenggaro, melewati padang-padang luas, menambatkan Julia pada kenangannya. Dia bersandar di sudut kursi dan melihat ke luar jendela.

“Terkenangkah?” tanya Rita dengan pelan. “Nanti kita akan lewat lapangan Maliti Bondo Ate.”

Julia hanya mengangguk. Dia terhanyut dalam gelombang kenangan tentang pertama kali dia datang untuk menghadiri pasola, acara adat Sumba Barat yang diselenggarakan setiap tahun antara bulan Februari dan Maret. Sesaat itu, dia nginap di sebuah hotel di Weetebula. Sebelumnya, Bili sudah menjelaskan kepadanya bahwa pasola itu adalah pertandingan ketangkasan berkuda sambil melemparkan lembing tumpul untuk menjatuhkan lawan.

Julia tersenyum saat teringat belajar kayikiling, bersuara seperti ringkikan kuda yang dikumandangkan para perempuan untuk mendukung perjuangan laki-lakinya di lapangan pasola.

Rita tertawa saat Julia berhasil dan berlari ke lapangan.

Dari tempat duduknya di panggung, Julia memperhatikan Rita yang penuh semangat sedang bercakap-cakap dengan Bili.

Bili mengangkat kepalanya sambil mengacungkan tangan tinggi-tinggi dan melambai.

Julia membalas lambaian itu dengan jantung berdebar. Rasa cinta memenuhi hatinya. Dia mengambil tas yang dibawanya, membuka kancing, dan memastikan bahwa lukisan Bili di atas punggung kuda dengan latar belakang pohon konji ada di dalamnya. Dia tersenyum saat terkenang bagaimana Bili meyakinkannya bahwa konji itu mirip sakura.

Saat itu, mereka sedang mengopi pada waktu istirahat kelas. Bili yang gemar memotret itu menyodorkan foto konji berbunga kepadanya. “Tumbuh di kampung,” kata Bili. Melihat ketertarikannya pada foto itu, Bili menyambung, “Di Sumba Barat, pohon konji tidak sebanyak di Sumba Timur. Yang pasti, konji ada di sekitar Ratenggaro, kampung saya. Nanti saya akan antar engko ke sana biar saksikan sendiri indahnya,” kata Bili.

“Sakura Sumba!” kata Julia.

“Konji Sumba. Bukan sakura Sumba.” Bili memperbaiki.

Sekarang, sambil bersandar pada kursi mobil yang sedang melewati lapangan kosong, Julia tersenyum teringat lukisan konji itu. Dia melukis pohon konji yang tinggi dan rindang bunganya memenuhi dahan dan ranting. Bili berpakaian Sumba lengkap. Dia duduk di punggung kuda dinaungi rindang bunga konji. Lukisan itu akan diberikan pada hari disaksikannya sendiri bagaimana Bili berlaga di lapangan Maliti Bondo Ate.

Namun hadiah itu tidak pernah sempat diberikan.


Ingatan Julia mengantarkannya kembali pada pasola 1979. Puluhan ekor kuda dengan to paholong, pelaku pasola, tampak berkejaran. Bili berada di tempat terdepan. Tubuhnya tampak lebih tinggi dari to paholong lainnya. Henggul, destar, berwarna merah melingkari kepala. Hanggi, sarung, melingkari pinggang dan menyilang di dadanya yang telanjang. Kudanya berlari kencang dan Bili mengangkat lembing, siap melempar.

“Ririri… ririri… ririri… riririiiii,” begitulah suara yang ditimbulkan ujung lidah bergetar menyentuh bagian bawah langit-langit gigi. Perempuan di sekitar melompat. Rita dan Julia pun melompat girang ketika Bili berhasil menjatuhkan lawan.

Terlihat Bili dan pengiringnya mengitari lapangan sekali dan berhenti di dekat kerumunan laki-laki dari kelompok lawan yang berupaya menolong anggota kelompok mereka yang terjatuh.

Julia dan Rita bergabung dengan kerumunan yang mengelilingi Bili dan korbannya.

“Oh, itu Gha Yusak,” Rita berkata ringan.

“Mereka tidak balas dendam? Setelah dijatuhkan tersungkur begitu, tidak marah?” tanya Julia sambil mengerutkan kening.

“Tidak.” Rita selanjutnya menjelaskan bahwa pasola adalah upacara adat Sumba yang diselenggarakan setiap tahun demi adat, keluarga, dan kemasyarakatan yang menjunjung tinggi sikap jujur, setia, dan kesatria.

Ketika pasola berakhir, Bili bersama beberapa to paholong pergi untuk memastikan Yusak dalam keadaan baik di kampungnya.

Julia bersama Rita dan beberapa perempuan duduk di kaki panggung. Banyak orang yang bertanya langsung siapa Julia. Tidak henti-hentinya Rita menjelaskan dengan ramah bahwa Julia adalah kekasih Bili yang bekerja di Kupang sebagai seorang perawat. Kelak akan tinggal di Ratenggaro bersama Bili.

Salah satu dari mereka bertanya, “Sudah ikut Bili tinggal di Ratenggaro?”

“Segera setelah nikah,” Rita tertawa sambil melanjutkan, “Julia orang Kupang. Dia tidak mau ikut Bili sebelum Bili datang melamar ke keluarganya di Kupang dan menikah.”

Derap kaki kuda mendekat dan memasuki lapangan pasola menarik perhatian mereka. Julia ingat jelas bagaimana dia memperhatikan segerombolan kuda dengan masing-masing dua penunggang berhenti di kaki panggung. Beberapa orang yang dibonceng melompat turun. Dalam waktu sangat singkat dan tanpa kata-kata, para laki-laki itu mengangkat tubuh Rita.

Rita berteriak dan memberontak, tetapi tenaganya tidak seimbang dengan tenaga para laki-laki itu.

Julia kembali bergidik saat diingatnya kembali peristiwa siang itu yang selama ini disimpan dan terkunci dengan baik. Dia kembali merasakan kebingungan, tidak mengerti apa yang terjadi. Dengan mata berkunang-kunang, dia melihat Rita didudukkan dengan paksa di belakang salah satu penunggang. Lalu, satu laki-laki meloncat duduk di belakang Rita yang terus-terusan memberontak dan berteriak-teriak marah. Laki-laki di belakangnya membekapnya erat-erat.

Julia berlari mengejar sambil berteriak-teriak memanggil Rita.

Sementara, orang-orang yang masih tersisa di lapangan menertawakannya.

“Rita dibawa ke mana?” tanya Julia.

“Diculik! Kawin tangkap!”

“Kawin tangkap? Maksudnya?” tanyanya lagi dengan wajah pucat ketakutan.

“Kawin tangkap. Dijadikan istri, karena ada yang sayang, karena keluarga mau, nanti perempuan juga mau,” jawab salah satu perempuan sambil tertawa ringan. “Dibawa ke rumah laki-laki, masuk kamar, dan tidak keluar lagi sebelum jadi istri. Ya, namanya juga sudah diculik dan dimasukkan ke kamar untuk tidur sama-sama. Ya nikah tinggal diurus…”

“Siapa laki-laki itu? Dari kampung mana? Saya akan lapor polisi,” Julia tambah pucat, tambah ketakutan ketika orang-orang meninggalkan lapangan tanpa beban.

Julia pun teringat jelas kegugupannya saat berjalan ke sisi jalan sendirian. Dia berharap penculikan itu hanya main-main antara orang-orang muda di sana. Dia mematung dan tidak mau beranjak saat beberapa orang penonton mengajaknya ke Ratenggaro, menunggu Bili di sana. Angin berembus kencang menimbulkan gemuruh saat merebahkan ilalang di padang-padang terbuka. Julia berjalan kian kemari, duduk dan berdiri, melihat di kejauhan, memasang telinganya untuk menangkap derap kaki kuda yang datang mendekat, mengharapkan Bili segera datang menjemputnya. Beberapa saat kemudian, didengarnya derap kaki kuda yang muncul dari arah Ratenggaro. Kian lama kian dekat. Julia memberanikan diri untuk menghentikan seorang laki-laki tua yang tampak terburu-buru.

Julia menceritakan dengan singkat apa yang terjadi dengan Rita dan memohon bantuan untuk sampai di jalan raya menuju Weetebula.

“Kawin tangkap,” kata laki-laki itu, “dalam satu tahun ini, sudah tiga terjadi. Rita jadi yang keempat.”

“Bapa tahu dia dibawa ke mana? Apakah ada yang melaporkan ke polisi?” tanya Julia.
Laki-laki itu menggeleng dan mengatakan bahwa hari ini juga keluarga penculik akan datang ke rumah keluarga perempuan.

Julia diam. Hatinya lega. Dia pun meninggalkan lapangan. Dia hanya ingin menjauh dari kegegeran kawin tangkap itu. Dia sangat takut mengalami hal yang sama.

Laki-laki itu mengantarnya sampai di tepi jalan raya.

“Hati-hati di jalan,” katanya.

Jantung Julia berdebar menyadari kebaikan laki-laki tua itu. Dia mengucapkan terima kasih beberapa kali, lalu segera naik angkutan umum ke Weetebula.

Julia memejamkan matanya. Dia memaksa dirinya untuk menyelesaikan ingatan pahit itu yang mengubah kehidupannya.

Di Weetebula, Julia mengurung diri di dalam kamar penginapan menunggu kedatangan Bili. Pada malam hari, salah satu anggota keluarga Bili mengantarkan sepucuk surat. Bili memintanya menunggu di penginapan selama dua atau tiga hari. Katanya dia akan menyusul Julia setelah urusan Rita selesai.

Hingga kini, Julia sukar menerima bahwa hal seperti itu bisa terjadi pada Rita, seorang perawat yang bekerja di Puskesmas Pembantu di desanya. Bagaimana mungkin Rita mau dinikahkan. Pertanyaan-pertanyaan dan rasa marah masih menetap di dalam hatinya ⸺ sulit dihapusnya. Julia menekankan tangannya pada dadanya. Dia menelungkupkan wajahnya dalam telapak tangan dan mengangkatnya kembali sambil mendesah. Dihapusnya air mata yang mengalir di pipinya.

Rita meraih tangannya dan meremasnya. “Engko terkenang tujuh tahun lalukah? Sudah,” katanya lembut, “engko sudah di sini sekarang. Gha Bili pasti akan senang sekali.”

Julia membuka jendela lebih lebar. Angin laut mengeringkan airmatanya dengan usapan segar. Julia menekan kepalanya ke sandaran kursi dan menuruskan kenangannya.

Terasa kembali risaunya ketika Bili belum juga datang ketika pada hari ketiga matahari mulai condong ke barat. Julia ingat dirinya keluar dari rumah penginapan dan berdiri di gerbang. Tiba-tiba, sebuah bemo menepi di tempatnya berdiri. Penumpangnya segera turun dan, dalam sekejap, Julia diangkut ke dalam bemo. Sopir segera tancap gas dengan kecepatan tinggi.

“Mana Bili!” Julia berteriak dan berusaha sekuat tenaga mendobrak pintu. Dia memukul dan menendang, terempas ke kiri dan ke kanan. Dia berteriak dan menangis kehilangan akal. Kedua lengannya lebam akibat genggaman tangan laki-laki yang mendekapnya.

Selebihnya dia hanya menangis kelelahan. Kendaraan tetap melaju kencang berbelok-belok, memasuki jalan yang lebih kecil, melewati padang-padang luas, dan berhenti di gerbang sebuah kampung saat senja sudah dijemput malam. Bili kamu di mana? jeritnya dalam hati.

Pintu bemo dibuka perlahan.

“Kamu berani culik saya? Kamu kira bisa kawin tangkap dengan saya? Awas kamu saya lapor ke polisi. Awas kalau sampai Bili pacar saya tahu!” Julia berteriak. Ketika dia menjejakkan kakinya di tanah, saat itu juga dia diangkut oleh empat laki-laki penculik. Dia segera dibawa naik ke rumah panggung dan segera pula dibawa masuk ke dalam salah satu kamar. Suara teriakannya menimbulkan keramaian warga kampung yang penuh sesak. Mereka mengepung dan menjaga Julia dengan ketat.

Julia merasa terancam. Dia menangis dan berusaha tenang. Sepertinya tidak ada ruang sedikit pun untuk kabur. Kamar itu berukuran satu setengah kali dua meter, berdinding bilah bambu yang disusun meninggi dan dirangkai tali. Loteng kamar adalah bagian dari ujung atap dari lipatan alang-alang. Lantai kamar sekaligus digunakan sebagai alas tidur yang dibuat dari susunan bambu bulat berjejer rapat terangkai tali dilengkapi dengan sebuah bantal tipis bersarung yang tampak masih baru. Kamar itu benar-benar untuk satu atau dua orang tidur. Kamar tanpa kain pintu dan tanpa daun pintu. Sekelompok perempuan berjaga-jaga tepat di depannya.

Suara gong dipukul beberapa kali dan keramaian di luar rumah lebih menakutkan Julia. Makanan yang disodorkan padanya tidak disentuhnya sama sekali. Dia duduk meringkuk di sudut kamar mendengarkan suara-suara di luar.

“Jangan takut,” suara seorang perempuan penjaga bicara. “Nanti laki-laki Inya akan datang. Baik-baik saja. Jangan berteriak. Nanti Inya akan ditertawakan orang-orang yang berjaga-jaga. Tabah saja supaya Inya tidak bertambah sakit.”

Sebutan inya, panggilan untuk perempuan yang dihormati dan dicintai menurut kebiasaan setempat, agak menenangkan Julia.

“Makanlah supaya Inya punya tenaga,” perempuan itu membujuk.

Hari makin malam dan suasana rumah itu makin ramai.

Tidak pernah terlintas sekilas pun dalam pikiran Julia bahwa dia akan mengalami nasib mengerikan seperti itu. Julia terisak, berusaha keras memikirkan cara untuk menyelinap dan menghilang dari keangkeran rumah yang akan menjadi saksi dirinya dibekap laki-laki yang tidak dikenalnya sama sekali. Tubuhnya sangat penat dan rasa sakit membalut hatinya.

Tengah malam Julia terkejut.

Tiba-tiba, seorang laki-laki muncul di kegelapan dan mendekapnya dengan memutar badannya supaya Julia tidak dapat melihatnya.

Julia memberontak. Tendangannya yang melayang kian kemari menimbulkan bunyi-bunyi di lantai dan dinding kamar. Suara tawa di luar kamar membuatnya lebih menggigil ketakutan sekaligus menjadikannya berbuat nekat. Dia menggigit dengan sekuat tenaga lengan laki-laki yang memeluknya.

“Tenang Julia, ini saya! Julia. Sayang…” suara laki-laki diikuti pelukan erat. “Jangan kuatir. Ini saya, Bili!”

“Kak Bili,” Julia tersentak dan terjatuh dalam pelukan Bili sambil menangis tersedu-sedu.

Suara-suara di luar kamar diliputi tawa dengan penuh tanda tanya tentang berlangsungnya kawin tangkap yang sedang terjadi antara perempuan yang diculik dan laki-laki yang memperistrinya. Sudah biasa, malam pertama yang menegangkan dan menyakitkan itu menjadi sesuatu yang menyenangkan bagi kedua belah pihak. Urusan lainnya dapat diatur kemudian.

“Julia…sayang,” kata Bili lagi sambil mendekap Julia erat-erat.

“Kenapa kamu tega buat begini?” tanya Julia sambil menghapus air mata. Napasnya terengah-engah, sesak dengan kemarahan.

Julia berada dalam dekapan Bili tetapi masih dengan kewaspadaan penuh pada napas Bili yang memburu. “Saya mohon jangan lakukan apa pun. Diam saja,” Julia menangis perlahan Bagaimana kekasihnya sendiri bisa melakukan penculikan terhadap dirinya dengan tujuan kawin tangkap? Julia berusaha tenang dan berpikir keras apa yang akan dilakukannya.

Suara orang yang berjaga-jaga mulai berkurang. Cahaya pagi menyelinap melalui kisi-kisi dinding kamar dan jatuh pada wajah Bili. Betapa cintanya dia pada laki-laki itu, tetapi betapa bencinya pada kenyataan yang dipaksakan padanya.


Julia menarik napas panjang. Berikutnya bagian yang paling menakutkan dari ingatan itu. Dia mengambil sebotol air dari tasnya dan meneguknya, sebelum kembali ke masa lalu.

Hari itu, Julia menghadapi semua kejutan dengan tenang. Dia telah membuat perencanaan yang akan diwujudkannya satu per satu.

Dia diterima dengan ramah oleh ayah Bili dan segenap anggota keluarga.

“Bapa!” Julia tersentak kaget. Laki-laki yang mengantarnya ke tepi jalan raya ternyata adalah ayah Bili.

Julia menikmati hidangan nasi dan ayam rebus yang disiapkan ibu Bili.

Hatinya gelisah, ingin sekali dia bertanya tentang Rita, tetapi tidak ditanyakannya. Dia memperhatikan sekilas kampung dengan rumah-rumah beratap tinggi menjulang ke langit. Dia merasakan berembusnya angin pantai dan debur ombak yang memecah sepanjang waktu di kaki tebing kampung.

“Tolong antar saya ke Weetebula untuk ambil tas pakaian dan ole-ole lukisan yang saya bawa untukmu,” Julia berkata dengan berusaha santai ketika mereka kembali sendirian.

“Kita naik kuda. Berani?” tanya Bili sambil mengedipkan mata. “Sesuai janji, saya akan membawamu berkeliling sampai di tempat pohon konji berbunga. Saya akan ambil beberapa fotomu di sana. Kita berkuda,” Bili tertawa gembira.

Bulan Maret bukan saatnya konji berbunga, kata Julia di dalam hatinya. Namun dia berkata, “Ya, setelah kembali dari Weetebula. Saya harus ganti baju sebelum difoto. Kita kan akan kembali lagi ke sini? Bukankah penculikan ini artinya saya sudah jadi istri kamu?”

“Ya, beberapa hari ini keluarga akan ke Kupang melamarmu dan kita segera menikah di sana,” jawab Bili dengan bangga.

“Ya,” Julia berupaya melemparkan senyum, sedangkan pikiran dan hatinya mendidih oleh rasa marah.


Julia tidak pernah bertemu Bili lagi.

Di Weetebula, Julia masuk ke dalam kamar penginapan dan tanpa membawa apa-apa menyelinap keluar melalui jendela kamar mandi, melompati pagar belakang, dan segera menuju lapangan terbang Tambolaka dengan angkutan umum yang kebetulan lewat dan disewa khusus. Dia kembali ke Kupang dengan penerbangan pertama.

Berbagai upaya dilakukan Bili dan keluarganya untuk menebus kesalahan kawin tangkap itu. Mereka datang dengan sejumlah antaran sarung adat, kuda, sapi, dan kerbau sebagai tanda maaf dengan tulus. Kedua orang tua dan adik-adik Bili, termasuk Rita, ikut turun tangan meminta Julia menerima Bili kembali.

Rita menceritakan bahwa otak penculikan terhadap mereka sebenarnya adalah Yusak yang dijatuhkan Bili di lapangan Pasola dan teman baik mereka ketika sekolah bersama di Kupang. Rita tidak memiliki kekuatan menolak akibat rasa malu karena sudah dibawa ke rumah laki-laki itu.

Akan tetapi, Julia tetap menolak. Dia tetap merasa bahwa kawin tangkap melalui penculikan itu telah menenggelamkannya ke dalam ketakutan. Dia takut hidup di lingkungan itu sebagai seorang istri dari lelaki yang ikut dalam kebiasaan yang ditentangnya.

Julia mengepalkan tangan. Hari itu dia menutup riwayat cintanya dengan Bili. Sekarang dia sudah bertahan tujuh tahun. Dia meneguk air dari botol minumnya.


Tujuh tahun berlalu. Kini Julia bersama Rita dalam mobil menuju Ratenggaro.

Rita bercerita tentang Bili. Katanya, Bili tidak pernah membicarakan Julia. Guru SMP itu menghabiskan waktunya setelah pulang sekolah dengan beternak di padang, duduk sendirian atau bersama kudanya di bawah pohon konji, menulis buku, dan berjaya di lapangan pasola setiap musim.

“Apakah engko masih marah?” tanya Rita. Setelah beberapa saat dalam keheningan, dia melanjutkan dengan lembut, “Sudah lama sekali…. Sejak melahirkan anak pertama, rasa marah saya berangsur-angsur hilang. Yusak laki-laki yang baik. Entah mengapa dia memilih menikahi saya dengan cara kawin tangkap. Kami memiliki dua anak perempuan. Gha Yusak dan Gha Bili bertobat dan berjanji menjadi penentang kawin tangkap. Mereka sadar bahwa perlakuan kawin tangkap adalah penghinaan pada perempuan dan gadis-gadis zaman sekarang tidak boleh mengalaminya. Kamu bagaimana? Sudah tujuh tahun, Julia. Inya dan Bapa juga sudah tidak ada. Apakah kamu datang untuk Bili?”

Julia tidak menjawabnya. Setelah bekerja di Puskesmas Kota Kupang selama tiga tahun, Julia melanjutkan kuliah di Fakultas Keperawatan selama empat tahun. Pekerjaan dan kuliahnya lancar dan berhasil baik. Dalam kesendiriannya, dia tahu bahwa dia masih mencintai Bili. Akhirnya dia memutuskan bertemu Rita dan berkunjung ke Ratenggaro untuk memastikan bagaimana keadaan Bili sekarang.

Mereka hampir tiba. Debur ombak dari kejauhan menyambut kedatangannya. Mereka melewati barisan kubur-kubur batu di kiri kanan jalan menuju gerbang. Mobil berhenti di dalam gerbang utama Kampung Ratenggaro yang menelannya ke dalam masa lalu.

Rita turun dari mobil dan Julia menyusul.

“Gha Bili,” Rita berteriak.

Bili keluar dari kambu luna, kolong rumah, yang baru saja dibersihkannya. Laki-laki itu terpaku menatap Julia.

Julia menatapnya tanpa kata-kata. Tubuh Bili tampak lebih tinggi dan kurus. Rambutnya terpangkas rapi. Rahangnya kukuh dan sorot matanya tampak teduh. Mata itulah yang pernah membuat Julia jatuh cinta setengah mati. Julia mengulurkan tangan.

Bili diam menatap wajah Julia lekat-lekat. Diraihnya tangan Julia, lalu ditangkupnya dengan kedua tangannya. “Saya tahu saya menyakitimu, Julia,” kata Bili dengan suara serak. Dia menunduk. Setelah diam sejenak, diangkatnya kembali kepalanya dan berkata pelan,

“Pulanglah. Saya tahu kamu masih sendiri. Terima kasih. Pada waktunya nanti, saya dan keluarga akan ke Kupang melamarmu dengan cara yang seharusnya.” Bili membawa tangan Julia ke dadanya. Beberapa saat kemudian, tangan Julia dilepaskannya.

Bili berbalik dan berjalan menuju kudanya yang sedang merumput dalam rindang pohon beringin di samping rumahnya. Dia melepaskan tambatan dan melompat ke atas punggung kuda, menarik tali kendali, dan membawa kudanya lari melalui gerbang kampung.

Julia memperhatikan punggung laki-laki itu yang menjauh menuruni jalan di antara makam. Derap kaki kuda melesat jauh meninggalkan Ratenggaro.

Julia mengikuti Rita memasuki rumah yang dulu begitu mengerikan baginya. Tergetar hatinya saat Rita mengajaknya ke kamar tidur Bili. Kamar tidur di mana dia diringkukkan tujuh tahun lalu. Julia terpaku pada lukisan di dinding yang menampilkan laki-laki dari Ratenggaro itu tegak di atas kudanya dengan latar belakang pohon konji yang sedang berbunga lebat.

Julia teringat lukisan yang ditinggalkan saat melarikan diri dari penginapan tujuh tahun yang lalu. Saat itu, dia berharap Bili akan mengantarnya ke tempat konji berbunga. Waktu itu bulan Maret dan konji belum berbunga. Julia tersenyum sekilas menyadari saat ini konji sedang berbunga dan menampilkan keindahannya pada musim kemarau.

Sementara itu, Bili menghentikan kudanya di bawah pohon konji yang berbunga lebat ⸺ tempat pertemuan yang dijanjikan pada kekasihnya yang gemar melukis itu.


The Man from Ratenggaro

Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.

Read some of his essays and book reviews at: and

Oni Suryaman:



The Man from Ratenggaro


“Welcome back, Julia.” Tearfully, Rita released her embrace and grasped Julia’s hands. She looked at her friend closely. “You are as beautiful as ever. I appreciate you coming.”

Rita made conversation on their way to the car. “Gha Bili is still teaching,” she said, using the Sumbanese word “gha” to refer to her older brother. “Just like Yusak, he works at a middle school.”

Rita’s words took the friends back to the past when the four of them were close, even though they had attended different colleges. Rita and Bili were from Sumba Island in eastern Indonesia. They went to Kupang, together with Yusak, Bili’s friend, to continue their education. Rita went to nursing school, where she immediately befriended Julia. Rita became the thread that tied the four together.

“I wish Bili knew that you are here to visit me. Oh, my God! You really came here for Bili, didn’t you?”


The drive from the Tambolaka Airport in the Southwest Sumba Regency to the Ratenggaro village, took them through the vast savanna. Julia settled back into the corner of her seat and looked out the car window, watching her memories return.

“We’ll drive by the Maliti Bondo Ate pasola field later,” Rita said softly. “Do you remember?”
Julia nodded and began reliving her first pasola on her first visit to Sumba Island when she stayed in a hotel in Weetebula.


Bili had explained to her that pasolas were a series of traditional javelin fights on horseback between villages throughout Sumba Island to herald the beginning of the planting season. The annual celebrations were held between February and March, in a festival-like atmosphere.

Sitting in the bleachers before the match, Julia had learned how to kayikiling — bray like a horse — with the other women, as they cheered for their men competing on the pasola field. Rita had run out onto the field to tell Bili about Julia’s accomplishment. During their lively conversation, Bili had looked up and waved at Julia. She waved back, her heart pounding with love. She reached for the large portfolio bag at her feet, to make sure her painting of Bili on horseback beneath a flowering konji tree was still there.


Julia smiled, remembering when Bili had tried to explain to her that konji blossoms were not cherry blossoms.

They were having coffee between classes, talking about Bili’s photography hobby, when Bili showed her photos he had taken of blossoming konji trees. “They grow in my village,” Bili said. Noting Julia’s interest, he continued. “In the western part of Sumba, konji trees are not as common as they are on the eastern side. But for sure, they grow around Ratenggaro, my village. I will take you there so you can see for yourself how beautiful they are.”

“Sumba cherry blossoms!” Julia had exclaimed.

And Bili had corrected her, “Sumba konji ⸺ not cherry — blossoms.”

Now, leaning against the back of her car seat, passing stretches of open fields, Julia thought about the konji painting she had kept in her bag of Bili, wearing traditional Sumbanese attire, sitting high on his horse, shaded by the lofty branches of a mature konji tree in full glory, draped with blossoms.

She had planned to give Bili the painting after his competition at the Maliti Bondo Ate pasola field that day. But the gift had never been given.

Julia decided it was time to open the door to the memory she’d kept locked away for seven years.


The pasola of 1979.

On the Maliti Bondo Ate pasola field, horses carrying their to paholong, pasola riders, chased one another. Bili was in the front row. He looked taller than the others. He wore a red henggul, triangular headband, and hanggi, a handwoven heirloom cloth wrapped crosswise around his waist and bare chest. Spurring his horse into a gallop, Bili raised his blunted javelin, aiming to throw.

“Ririri! Ririri! Ririri! Riririiiii!” Trilled the women spectators, their cheers shredding the air. Everyone, including Rita and Julia, jumped up excitedly when Bili unhorsed his opponent.

Bili and his team circled the field once in triumph before halting near the crowd gathered around the opposing team, busy helping their fallen teammate.

Julia and Rita joined the crowd.

“Ah, poor Gha Yusak,” Rita said casually.

“Won’t those two hate each other now?” Julia frowned. “How could Yusak not be angry, after Bili knocked him down like that?”

Rita explained a time-honored component of the pasola was to uphold the tradition of family values regarding honesty, loyalty, and chivalry.

After the pasola had ended, Bili and several of his teammates had gone to Yusak’s village to check on their friend, while Julia, Rita, and the other women gathered at the lowest rung of bleachers.

The women were curious about who Julia was. Rita answered their questions, explaining tirelessly that Julia worked in Kupang as a nurse and was Bili’s girlfriend.

“Is she staying with Bili in Ratenggaro?” asked a villager.

“No — but she will as soon as they are married!” Rita laughed. “Julia doesn’t want to live with Bili until Bili has proposed to her family in Kupang and married her!”

The sound of horses galloping onto the pasola field, drew their attention. Julia remembered clearly how the team of horses — two riders on each horse — reined in right in front of them. Three men quickly dismounted. Without saying a word, they grabbed Rita and pushed her up onto the saddle behind a rider, as another man leaped onto the saddle behind her. Rita’s screamed were cut short as the man behind her gagged her. Her struggles meant nothing in the arms of such strong men.

Terrified, Julia had run after them, screaming while the other women watched her, laughing.

“Where are they taking Rita?” Julia cried.

“She is being kidnapped! Bride kidnapping!”

Bride kidnapping?” Julia blanched.

“For marriage!” a woman answered lightheartedly. “Either someone wants her as a wife, or a family wants her as a daughter-in-law. A kidnapped bride is taken to the man’s house and kept in a room. It is only natural that the man and woman will sleep together, and after that — what else but a wedding ceremony can follow?”

“Who is the man? Where does he live? I’ll report him to the police!” Julia grew more frightened when everyone started leaving the pasola field as if nothing had happened.

She had hoped it was just a practical joke ⸺ a Sumbese prank that young people pulled. She stood petrified, not wanting to leave, even when several spectators offered to take her to Ratenggaro to wait for Bili there. Wearily, she walked to the roadside alone.

A strong wind whistled across the open pasola field, bending the tall grasses surrounding it. Standing on the roadside, Julia peered hopefully into the distance, listening for the pounding hooves of Bili’s horse, coming to pick her up.

When an old man on horseback appeared on the road, coming from the direction of Ratenggaro, Julia mustered up her courage and waved at him to stop. The old man seemed to be in a hurry, but listened patiently as Julia told him briefly what had happened to Rita,

The old man nodded. “We’ve had three bride kidnappings already this year. Your friend Rita makes the fourth.”

“Do you know how I can find out where they took her? Will anyone contact the police?”

The old man shook his head. “No, I imagine that the kidnapper’s family will contact your friend’s family later today.”

Julia fell silent. She just wanted to distance herself from the confusion of this bride-kidnapping business. What if it happened to her?

Julia asked the old man for a lift to the main road to the airport.

“Be careful,” he said when he let her off at the main road.

Julia was touched by the old man’s kindness. She thanked the good man many times, then boarded a bus to Weetebula.


In the car, Julia closed her eyes, reliving the confusion, the not knowing what had happened or what was going to happen next. She still couldn’t reconcile the Rita she’d known as an educated nurse working at the village’s health center with the Rita who had been a kidnapped bride. Why did Rita accept that forced marriage? Julia still harbored resentment in her heart. Sighing, she wiped her eyes and lifted her head.

Rita reached for Julia’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Let it go. You’re here now. Gha Bili will be very happy.”

Julia lowered the car window. The refreshing sea breeze cooled her damp cheeks. She pressed her head back into the car seat and continued to reminisce.


In Weetebula, she locked herself in her hotel room and waited for Bili. That evening, a letter arrived from him, asking her to wait at the hotel while he handled the matter of Rita’s kidnapping. He would meet her there in two or three days.

She remembered being anxious when on the third day Bili had not shown up when it began to get dark. She had left the hotel room and was standing at the front of the gate when a bemo, motorized rickshaw, pulled up. Four men jumped out and forced her into the vehicle.

She shouted, “Where is Bili?” while kicking at the bemo’s door and banging her fists against its closed windows. She could not keep her balance and was thrown from side to side, as the vehicle sped through winding, narrow roads and a vast savanna. Terrified, she screamed and cried, losing her mind. Her arms ached from the men restraining her. Finally, exhausted and depleted, she could only whimper as the vehicle raced on. It was dusk when the bemo finally stopped at a village gate. Bili, where are you? The bemo door opened, slowly.

Fury fueled her courage. “How dare you kidnap me?” she shrieked. “You think you can force me into a marriage by kidnapping me? No! I will report you to the police. Just wait until my boyfriend Bili finds out about this!” Julia continued yelling and struggling as her kidnappers hauled her up the ladder of a stilt house and directly into a room.

Her screaming had drawn the attention of the villagers, who crowded into the area and surrounded the house like a barricade to prevent her from escaping.

Inside the stilt house, Julia had tried to calm herself. She assessed the small room that was now her prison. The walls were made of bamboo slats tied together by ropes. The ceiling was thatched grass. The floor was made of bamboo poles, strapped together. On the floor, a thin pillow in a fresh pillowcase indicated where she was expected to sleep.

The room was about five feet by seven feet, just big enough to accommodate two people. It had neither a door nor a door curtain. Instead, a group of women guarded the room’s access.

Outside, a gong sounded. Julia heard the crowd grow louder and rowdier.

Julia huddled in the corner. Leaving the food offered her untouched, she listened to the escalating commotion outside.

“Don’t be afraid, Inya,” one of the women guards soothed. “Your man will come soon. Just relax; everything will be fine. Don’t scream; the people outside will only laugh at you. Don’t fight it; you’ll only make yourself sick.”

When Julia heard the woman address her as “Inya” — the word used by locals to address a woman they respected and loved, she became calmer.

“Eat something,” the woman coached. “It will give you some strength.”

The later it became, the more crowd noise grew around the house.

Julia hurt everywhere. Terrified by the thought that a man she had never met would soon overpower her, she tried to focus on how to escape. It had never crossed her mind she would ever have to go through such a horrific experience.

At midnight, she was startled by the appearance of a man who grabbed her and spun her around so that she stood with her back against his chest. She could not see his face.

Julia struggled to break free, and the scuffling of her kicking feet and flaying arms on the floor and walls drew laughter from outside the little room. That boisterous merriment frightened her so much that she bit down hard on the arm of the man who held her tightly against him.

“Calm down, Julia, it is me! Julia, my love!” the man loosened his grip into an embrace. “Don’t worry. It’s me, Bili!”

“Bili!” Stunned, she fell limp into Bili’s embrace, sobbing.

The voices outside of the room were filled with amusement, as people speculated about the goings-on between the man and the kidnapped woman inside the room. The crowd knew that every couple’s first night together started tense and uncomfortable, but usually ended quite pleasantly for them. Everything else could be arranged later.

“Julia, love,” Bili murmured, holding her tightly.

“How could you have the heart to do this to me?” Julia gasped, angrily. She had felt weary in Bili’s arms, and “Please, don’t do anything. Can you just keep still,” How could her own boyfriend kidnap her and try to force her into marriage? She tried to remain calm and figure out what to do next.

The voices of the waiting crowd thinned. The morning light slipped through the slits of the bamboo wall and fell on Bili’s face.

How much she loved this man, and at the same time hated the way he had forced this experience on her.


Julia took another deep breath as the countryside sped past her window. The next part of the experience had scared her the most. She removed a water bottle from her bag and took a sip before sinking back into the past again.

The day after the kidnapping, she had forced herself to appear relaxed. She had formulated a plan that she was going to execute, step by step.

Julia was well received by Bili’s entire family. She had been surprised to discover that the kind old man on horseback who had taken her to the main road, was Bili’s father. Regardless, she enjoyed the rice and boiled chicken that Bili’s mother had prepared. She wanted to ask about Rita, but felt too nervous to do so. Instead, she looked around at the Ratenggaro village, taking in the traditional houses with their high-hat roofs, feeling the restful sea breeze, and hearing the waves break against the foot of the cliff that carried the village.

When she and Bili were alone again, she said, “I need to return to my hotel room in Weetebula to get my travelling bag and the painting I brought for you.”

“Would you dare to go on horseback?” Bili winked, then laughed happily. “As I promised, I will take you to the place where the konji trees bloom. I want to photograph you there. Let’s go on horseback.”

After all those years, Julia still remembered thinking, You told me that konji trees do not bloom in March, while saying calmly, “Yes, after we collect my things from Weetebula, I want to change before you take my picture.” For good measure, she had added, “We will return here afterwards to spend the night, right? Your bride-kidnapping me means that I am already your wife?”

“Yes,” Bili had said proudly. “During the next few days, my family will go to Kupang to ask for your hand. After that, we’ll get married there right away.”

Julia had smiled, but inside, she was consumed with fury.

When they arrived at her hotel in Weetebula, Bili waited on his horse. Julia went into her room, grabbed her bare necessities, climbed out through the bathroom window, and jumped over the backyard fence of the hotel. She waved down a passing cab, sped to the Tambolaka Airport, and took the first flight out to Kupang. That had been the last time Julia had seen Bili.

Bili’s family tried to make amends for their cultural misunderstanding of kidnapping a non-Sumbanese woman. They traveled to Kupang, bringing the traditional handwoven fabric, a horse, cow, and buffalo as tokens of their apology. Bili’s parents and siblings, including Rita, asked Julia to accept Bili again.

Rita told Julia that the mastermind behind the kidnappings had been Bili’s friend Yusak, who Bili had unhorsed during the pasola. “How could I refuse to marry Yusak after I had spent the night with him at his house?” Rita asked. “I was too ashamed to do so.”

But Julia remained steadfast. The trauma of her abduction had placed her in a state of constant fear. How could she be a loving wife to a man she feared? How could she be a loving wife to a man who engaged in activities that she considered immoral?

That day, on her way to the Tambolaka Airport, she closed the final chapter of her love story with Bili.


Now, seven years later, here she was in a car with Rita on the road to Ratenggaro. Julia clenched her fist, took another sip from her water bottle, and returned to the present.

“Let me tell you about Bili after you left,” Rita said. “He never spoke about you. After school, he always spent his time tending to livestock on the savanna and sitting alone with his horse under a konji tree, writing a book. He continued to participate in every pasola season — and came out a winner. Are you still angry?”

After her question was met with silence, Rita continued, “It has been a long time. After my first child was born, my anger dissolved into love. Yusak is a good man. I may not understand what made him kidnap me as a part of our wedding arrangements, but now we have two daughters. Yusak and Bili have repented, realizing that bride kidnapping is an insult to women and that no woman should have to go through this trauma. What about you? It has been seven years, Julia. Bili’s and my parents have passed away. Are you here to see Bili?”

Julia still did not answer. She had worked three years at the Kupang City Health Center, then continued her education at the Faculty of Nursing in Kupang for another four years. She did well in her career and education, but she had been lonely. She knew she still felt love for Bili, and had finally decided to visit Rita in Ratenggaro to find out if her lingering feelings for him were real.

They were almost there. The distant sound of crashing waves welcomed them as they drove by a row of stone graves. Rita braked inside the gate of the Ratenggaro village, in front of the stilt house where Julia’s imprisonment had occurred seven years ago.

“Gha Bili!” Rita called, as she and Julia got out of the car.

Bili emerged from the kambu luna, the stable beneath the stilt house, which he had just finished cleaning. He saw Julia and froze.

Julia looked at him silently. Bili looked taller and thinner. His hair was well kept. She searched the dark eyes that had once made her fall helplessly in love and offered Bili her hand.

Bili’s jaw set. Solemnly, he took Julia’s hand and held it with both of his. He bowed his head. “I hurt you, Julia,” he said with a husky voice. After hearing no response, Bili raised his head and said quietly, “Thank you for coming. but go home. I know that you are still single. Soon, my family and I will go to Kupang and propose to you properly.” Bili brought Julia’s hand to his chest and held it there tightly.

Then, Bili let it go. He turned away and walked to his horse tethered in the shade of the banyan tree next to the stilt house. He leapt into the saddle took the reins, and spurred the horse out the village gate. Julia watched Bili gallop away past the cemetery and the gates of Ratenggaro.

She and Rita entered the stilt house of Julia’s nightmares. Julia shuddered when she and Rita entered Bili’s room. It was the room where, seven years ago, she had spent hours in terror.

Julia startled when her eye caught sight of a painting showing a pasola rider sitting high on his horse with a blooming konji tree in the background. She now remembered having left the painting in her hotel room when she fled Sumba Island seven years ago.

Seven years ago, she had wished Bili would take her there. But it was March then, and the konji tree was not blooming. Julia smiled. The konji bloomed in the summer, now.

At that same moment, as if by osmosis, Bili halted his horse under a blooming konji tree — the place he had promised to take a girl who loved to paint and lived in his heart.


Semayamkan Mamak

Lintang Amartya Padmarini was born in 2002 and raised in Sleman, Yogyakarta. She is a student of Peace and Conflict Studies at Gadjah Mada University (UGM). She is also involved in Girl Up UGM, an association that promotes gender equality on campus. Her studies at the university ignite her interest in many issues, including the promotion of women’s empowerment, nonviolence, and peace. But Lintang’s interest also includes Indonesian literature and its authors, especially Ahmad Tohari, whose novel Lintang Kemukus Dini Hari inspired her name.

She can be reached at:




Semayamkan Mamak


Tidak bosan-bosannya aku mengenang kisah hidup Mamak yang dia ceritakan sendiri selama hidupnya. Menurut cerita tersebut, aku terlahir sebagai anak haram. Mamakku wanita Jawa baik-baik, dilahirkan oleh keluarga terhormat yang bermukim di Semarang, sebuah kota pelabuhan di Pulau Jawa, jauh dari Pulau Buru ini. Dia mengungkapkan bahwa dirinya dan serombongan gadis seumurannya diboyong paksa ke Pulau Buru untuk dijadikan wanita penghibur oleh tentara Dai Nippon. Mamak berkata merekalah yang menduduki tanah air kita selama Perang Dunia II berlangsung di Indopasifik dari 1942 hingga 1944.

Mamak mengutuk para serdadu keparat yang setelah menghamili gadis-gadis itu, langsung pergi meninggalkan mereka begitu Jepang dikabarkan kalah. Miris hatiku mendengar penggambaran Mamak akan betapa kejamnya perilaku serdadu Jepang tersebut.

Tidak hanya sampai di situ, Mamak turut mengenang bagaimana dia dan sekumpulan gadis-gadis lainnya tidak punya perlindungan di tengah-tengah pulau terpencil yang langka penghuni. Mereka terancam kelaparan, melahirkan tidak selamat, dan terjangkit penyakit malaria. Satu per satu tumbang. Hanya Mamak dan seorang temannya yang selamat. Keduanya akhirnya menikah dengan laki-laki penduduk suku Alfuru, seorang di antaranya adalah bapak tiriku. Berdasarkan kisahnya, Mamak dan bapak tiriku menikah hanya karena dengan itulah, Mamak dapat bertahan hidup, sedangkan Bapak menikahi Mamak karena kecantikannya.

Lahirlah aku di tengah-tengah suku Alfuru, suku pedalaman di Pulau Buru, pulau terpencil yang adalah bagian dari kepulauan Maluku. Akulah satu-satunya kulit kuning di antara kulit kehitaman khas penduduk asli pulau itu. Satu-satunya sipit di antara wajah-wajah bermata bulat di pulau itu. Rasanya seperti diriku ini memang ditakdirkan untuk diasingkan. Tidak ada yang mau berteman denganku, apalagi mengajak berburu. Temanku hanya Mamak, orang pertama yang mengajariku bahasa Indonesia. Setiap kali waktuku tidak kuhabiskan untuk berburu, pastilah aku bercengkerama dengan Mamak menggunakan bahasa Indonesia. Mamak adalah wanita cerdas yang dapat dengan mudahnya mengenalkanku ke bahasa ibunya itu, sehingga jadilah bahasa itu bahasa rahasia kami berdua di Pulau Buru.

Karena Mamak dan bapak tiriku tidak menikah atas dasar cinta, begitupun hubunganku dengan bapak tiriku itu. Dia tidak punya pilihan lain selain menerima keberadaanku karena dengan demikian, Mamak mau mempertahankan pernikahan mereka. Mustahil menghadirkan adik sambung yang dapat memperbaiki hubungan kami karena setelah melahirkanku dengan susah payah, rahim Mamak tidak kuat menaungi jabang bayi lagi. Hubungan kami tetap dingin, hampir-hampir disisipi benci. Setiap kali bapak tiriku mulai mencak-mencak karena gagal menangkap hewan buruan, Mamak selalu berbisik kepadaku dalam bahasa Indonesia, “Lari! Lari sebelum kamu kena pukul.”


Di tahun 1969, beberapa bulan setelah Mamak meninggal ketika umurku 25, Pulau Buru kedatangan penghuni baru. Mereka orang-orang dari Jawa, kebanyakan lelaki. Semuanya bisa bicara bahasa Indonesia. Perawakan sebagian besar diantaranya mirip Mamak, bahkan ketika kutemui lebih dekat, cara bicara mereka juga mirip. Kagum betul aku. Walau ternyata mereka lebih kagum — dan juga kaget — ketika melihat lelaki sipit kuning berpakaian bawahan kolor khas Alfuru tapi mirip Asia Timur. Para penghuni baru ini lebih kaget lagi ketika mengetahui aku mampu berbahasa Indonesia, walau jauh dari kata mahir.

Diketahuilah bahwa orang-orang itu adalah tahanan. Aku melihat bagaimana mereka ditertibkan dengan kekerasan, sebagaimana yang dilakukan bapak tiriku kepadaku. Pada waktu itu memang kemampuan bahasaku sangat payah, tapi manusia tetap bisa mencium amarah dan penindasan, dalam keterbatasan berbahasa sekalipun. Terenyuhlah aku melihat mereka, mengingat kami sama-sama korban amarah dan penindasan.

Ada seorang di antara mereka yang sangat membekas. Karman namanya. Lelaki yang gagah, tegap, seumur bapak tiriku. Bedanya dengan bapak tiriku, Karman tidak pernah memarahi, apalagi memukulku. Kami berteman baik sejak dia mendapati kehadiranku yang malu-malu mengintip dari balik pagar penjara. Dia menyapaku dan menggaetku dalam perbincangan mendalam. Kami sama-sama diselimuti rasa ingin tahu yang sama kuatnya. Dia yang menganggap kehadiran laki-laki kulit kuning di Buru ini janggal, dan aku yang baru sekali ini melihat orang Jawa selain Mamak. Aku serbu dia dengan pertanyaan tentang Jawa. Kuceritakan pula tentang Mamak yang katanya lahir di Jawa, tetapi telah berpulang beberapa bulan lalu, dan pada saat-saat terakhirnya mengharap dikuburkan di sana.

Karman tertawa kecil ketika kutanyai. Matanya menerawang, sepertinya dia tidak sabar ingin pulang. “Jawa itu pulau besar, tak seperti Buru ini,” katanya.

Aku manggut-manggut. Seperti apa, sih, pulau yang besar itu? Kupikir pulauku ini sudah cukup besar, ternyata masih ada yang lebih besar lagi. Aku memikirkan Mamak yang minta dikebumikan di Jawa. Pasti menyenangkan jika bisa bersatu dengan tanah yang luar biasa luasnya.

“Bagaimana dengan Semarang? Mamak lahir dan ingin dimakamkan di sana. Apakah kotanya cukup luas?” tanyaku. Karman membalasnya dengan anggukan.

“Kalau kau ingin memenuhi kemauan mamakmu, pergilah ke Jawa naik perahu,” ujar Karman sambil berlari mundur ketika ada seruan meneriaki namanya. Itu seruan sipir penjara, memanggil nama tahanan yang masih keluyuran meski sudah waktunya bagi mereka untuk kembali melakukan kerja paksa. Karman menambahkan di sela-sela napasnya yang terengah, “Semarang itu kota pelabuhan yang ramai.”

Begitu lama aku berpikir, hingga tak sadar Karman lenyap dari mata. Rupanya dia sudah kembali ke dalam bangunan penjara. Belum juga sempat aku melambaikan kepergiannya.
Untung kami bertemu lagi. Aku dan Karman mulai lebih akrab. Seiring dengan semakin banyaknya jumlah pertemuan rahasia kami, begitupun kemampuan berbahasa Indonesiaku semakin membaik. Sebetulnya, mustahil juga pertemuan ini disebut rahasia.

Kami bukan pasangan muda dimabuk cinta yang sembunyi-sembunyi bertemu di semak-semak. Siapapun yang berdiri cukup dekat dengan kami akan dengan mudahnya mendapati bahwa kami duduk saling membelakangi, dibatasi oleh pagar hunian tahanan di Pulau Buru, supaya kalau kami ketahuan, aku tinggal lari.

Baru juga kuketahui di kemudian hari bahwa Karman dan kawan-kawannya ini bukan tahanan biasa, mereka adalah tahanan politik. Di mataku yang saat itu masih awam dengan kemutlakan kuasa negara, sulit untuk membayangkan bagaimana seseorang bisa ditahan hanya karena berpolitik. Karman dipenjara karena ikut andil dalam PKI yang dituduh menyulut pemberontakan yang menghabisi nyawa 7 petinggi militer, walau sebetulnya dia tidak tahu-menahu tentang pemberontakan itu. Maklum, tahu apa seorang juru tulis pemula tentang pembunuhan pembesar militer? Yang Karman lakukan hanya menulis persuratan sesuai perintah, tahu-tahu saja dia ditangkap.

Mungkin karena itulah Karman tidak pandai berburu. Dia bukan pembunuh ulung. Dia tidak ditahan karena menghilangkan nyawa seseorang, tetapi karena menulis. Badannya tegap tapi tidak berguna, dia terlampau kikuk untuk membidik ayam hutan. Jemarinya yang panjang lebih sering dipakai untuk diam-diam berguru menulis pada Pak Pram, salah seorang tahanan yang lebih mahir dalam kepenulisan, dan bukannya untuk melepaskan anak panah. Walau ini bukan masalah besar baginya. Dia tetap bisa menyantap rangsum untuk makanan sehari-hari. Namun, bagiku, tanpa tangkapan unggas atau ikan harian, aku tidak akan bisa makan. Alhasil, pada hari kami berjanji untuk bertemu, tangan kami berdua selalu penuh oleh hasil buruanku. Satu dua kubawa pulang untuk dimakan bersama bapak tiriku yang sudah jompo, sisanya diperdagangkan ke kepala sipir dengan Karman sebagai perantara. Bukan apa-apa, aku hanya menjual hasil buruanku untuk mendapatkan uang. Karman memberitahuku bahwa orang tidak lagi mempertukarkan barang dan jasa dengan hasil buruan, tetapi menggunakan uang. Karenanya, aku gigih mengumpulkan uang tersebut untuk membiayai perjalananku ke Jawa demi memakamkan Mamak, meskipun Karman sempat tergelak melihatnya. Agaknya butuh ribuan hari jika hasil buruanmu hanya sebatas unggas, begitu katanya.

“Lain kali, cobalah berburu celeng. Kurasa harganya lebih mahal,” Karman terkekeh melihatku menyodorkan bangkai ayam hutan lewat celah pagar.

“Kau pikir mudah menangkap celeng seorang diri?” dengusku.

“Memang tidak. Kenapa tak minta bantuan orang lain?”

Aku terhenyak. Sudah seumur hidup dikucilkan, kukira aku sudah kebal. Rupanya aku tetap tertohok ketika tersadarkan bahwa aku memang terasingkan. Untungnya, Karman tidak menunggu jawaban, buru-buru dia memilah hasil buruanku hari ini. Iseng saja aku menyeletuk, “Karman, menurutmu mengapa Mamakku minta dimakamkan di Jawa?”

“Entahlah. Mungkin Buru bukan tempat pulang bagi beliau,” Karman mengedikkan bahu.

“Bahkan meskipun anak semata wayangnya ada di sini?” kepalaku tertunduk, tungkaiku lunglai. Aku memalingkan wajahku, takut-takut mendengar jawaban dari Karman, apapun itu.

Karman mendongak cepat ketika mendengar pertanyaanku. “Yang benar saja? Aku yakin bukan itu maksud beliau.”

Aku mengangguk lesu. Tidak dapat kumungkiri bahwa kerisauan ini sudah lama bercokol di ujung pikiranku, “Aku juga berharap demikian.”

“Jawab jujur. Memangnya kau sendiri merasa nyaman berada di Buru? Jangan menyamakan rasa nyaman dengan kebiasaan, kau juga tahu bahwa keduanya berbeda.

Siapa tahu tempatmu bukan di sini, siapa tahu mamakmu ingin mencarikanmu kenyamanan yang selama ini tak kau dapatkan. Tidak ada salahnya mencoba melancong ke Jawa, kalau memang itu yang kau hendaki.”

Aku merengut mendengar jawaban Karman. Harga diriku mencoba berontak biarpun kalah ketika pikiranku mengiyakan Karman. Alhasil, kami kembali terjebak dalam diam.

“Ngomong-ngomong, kalau nanti aku mati, apakah kau keberatan menguburkanku di Buru ini?”

Aku sudah menduga Karman akan buka suara duluan, hanya tidak menyangka dia akan menanyakan itu. Sejenak teringat tatapan mengawang Karman ketika belum lama aku menghujaninya dengan pertanyaan seputar Jawa. Sepertinya aku salah duga, barangkali tatapan itu bukan tatapan mendamba ingin pulang, justru tatapan pedih karena tak merasa rindu dengan tanah sendiri. Ibu Pertiwi pasti bercanda, bagaimana bisa ada sekian banyak anak manusia yang tercerai berai dari rumahnya?


Tahun ini 1972, tiga tahun berselang setelah meninggalnya Mamak. Jumlah manusia di bumi Indonesia ini sudah semakin banyak, tetapi baru sekali ini dalam 28 tahun aku hidup kulihat kerumunan manusia sebanyak ini. Kudapati diriku terkungkung di tengah lautan manusia khas kerumunan di kota pelabuhan, Semarang. Memang benar, semasa hidupnya, Mamak sering bercerita tentang betapa sibuknya Semarang. Walau ternyata, bagi seseorang yang dibesarkan di pedalaman Pulau Buru sepertiku, tempat ini masih jauh lebih bising daripada apa yang aku bayangkan. Tidak habis-habisnya aku tercengang ketika mendapati bahwa tanpa bergerak pun, bahuku tetap bersenggolan dengan bahu manusia-manusia lain yang lalu-lalang di pelabuhan. Sudah seramai ini, padahal matahari masih menyebul malu-malu di ufuk timur.

Kakiku terus melangkah hingga akhirnya menjauh dari tepi pelabuhan. Tujuanku hadir di kota ini hanya satu, yaitu mencari adik Mamak, bernama Sumarni yang lebih akrab dipanggil Marni. Menurut cerita Mamak, beliau tinggal di Kelurahan Tanjung Mas, tidak jauh dari pelabuhan. Atau semisal aku gagal menemukan beliau, paling tidak aku harus mendapati keturunan R. Projowinoto, yang menurut catatan yang diberikan Mamak, kakekku sendiri, mantan polisi pelabuhan di Semarang.

“Permisi,” ujarku seraya menghampiri sekumpulan bapak-bapak yang tengah bersenda gurau di warung kopi Pelabuhan Tanjung Mas. “Bisakah saya ditunjukkan kediaman Bapak R. Projowinoto? Beliau mantan polisi yang pernah ditempatkan di pelabuhan ini.”

Bapak-bapak tersebut mengernyitkan kening. Salah seorang di antara mereka bertanya,

“Anda siapanya? Bapak R. Projowinoto sudah meninggal sejak lama.”

Aku manggut-manggut. Masuk akal bahwa kakekku sudah meninggal karena anak sulungnya saja juga sudah. Akan tetapi, sepertinya sulit dipercaya kalau aku bilang akulah cucunya. Kujawab saja sekenanya, “Hanya kerabat.”

Mereka terlihat lebih bingung lagi. Tentunya bingung mendapati lelaki muda sepertiku, bermata sipit, berkulit kuning, tetapi mengaku berkerabat dengan R. Projowinoto, yang kuduga terlihat seperti lelaki Jawa pada umumnya.

“Kerabat?” tanya seorang dari bapak-bapak tersebut. Pandangannya tidak bersahabat.

Aku menelan ludah lalu menjawab, “Saya cucunya.”

Sontak bapak-bapak itu tak kuasa menahan raut terkejut. Seorang di antara mereka bertanya dengan salah satu alis terangkat, “Betul kamu cucunya? Siapa ibumu? Lahir dari putri yang mana kamu?”

“Mamak saya Sumaryati, Pak.” jawabku dengan sedikit terganggu.

Lebih terkejut lagi raut bapak-bapak itu. Seorang lain menanggapi, “Ya Gusti, Sumaryati yang itu? Yang sudah lama hilang itu?”

Mendengar tanggapan tersebut, sepertinya Mamak dianggap hilang oleh orang-orang di kampungnya.

Sek digowo karo Jepang kuwi? Yang dibawa oleh Jepang itu?” Bapak-bapak itu saling bertanya dalam bahasa daerah yang tidak dapat kupahami.

Salah seorang turut menimpali. “Maryati adalah temanku di Sekolah Rakyat.”

Seorang bapak kemudian melihat ke arahku dan bertanya, “Ada bukti apa yang bisa menunjukkan kalau kamu benar anak Maryati?”

Tanganku merogoh bungkusan sederhana yang aku bawa dari Pulau Buru. Kusodorkan foto Mamak semasa gadis. Foto itu disimpan Mamak baik-baik, sebelum akhirnya diwariskan ke aku. Sambil memperhatikan bapak-bapak itu mencermati foto Mamak, aku diam-diam tersenyum. Foto itu mengingatkanku pada cerita Mamak. Kata beliau, waktu kecil, aku begitu heran melihat Mamak ada di kertas.

“Betul, ini memang Maryati,” ujar seseorang, ditanggapi dengan anggukan oleh lainnya yang ikut mencermati foto Mamak.

“Karena Bapak R. Projowinoto sudah berpulang, bisakah saya diantar ke rumah Ibu Marni?” aku menyela. Beliaulah adik kesayangan Mamak yang namanya kerap muncul dalam igauan dan yang agaknya Mamak rindukan di alam bawah sadarnya. Di saat nyawanya digerogoti malaria sekalipun, hanya Marnilah nama yang Mamak serukan.

Bapak-bapak tersebut mengangguk. Beriring-iringanlah kami menyusuri tepi jalan raya menuju kediaman Marni.

Ke rumah kayu yang kokoh itulah aku diantarkan oleh bapak-bapak warung kopi. Kulihat lalu-lalang manusia yang sibuk menjemur dan mencelup kain di halamannya. Kain panjang bercorak berukuran besar-besar digantung di tali-tali yang melintang disangga tongkat, warna dan coraknya yang beragam mengingatkanku pada cerita Mamak akan indahnya kain yang bernama batik. Para wanita di sini terlihat masih menggunakannya, walau tidak sedikit juga yang tidak.

Aku menunggu di ambang gerbang sementara para bapak memasuki halaman rumah dan menemui seorang perempuan tak jauh dari pintu utama. Mereka berbincang, samar-samar kudengar mereka menyebut nama Mamak dan Marni. Salah satu bapak berseru menyuruhku mendekat, mengenalkanku kepada perempuan berkebaya dan berkain batik yang sedari tadi mereka ajak bicara. “Marni, ini dia. Anak muda yang mengaku putranya Maryati.”

Pandanganku bertumpu ke sepasang mata milik Marni, bibiku. Marni mirip sekali dengan Mamak, walau Mamak lebih kurus dan kumal sedangkan Bibi Marni nampak molek. Awalnya aku tangkap raut curiga ketika dia melihat ke arahku dengan raut tidak percaya, keningnya mengernyit dan mulutnya sedikit terbuka. Lalu kutangkap pula raut haru ketika lamat-lamat dia melihatku. Dihampirinya aku, dilihatinya aku dan semakin kentara raut harunya melihatku.

“Siapa namamu, Nak?” tanya Marni.

“Man Beta, Bibi.”

Marni, yang tampak terhenyak, mengatupkan tangannya di mulut. Sebelum bertanya lebih lanjut, tak lupa dia mengucap terima kasih kepada para bapak yang mengantarkanku.

Matur nuwun, terima kasih,” begitu ucapnya, lantas dibalas oleh bungkuk hormat dari para bapak yang izin pamit.

Sepeninggal para bapak, Marni mengajakku untuk masuk dan duduk berhadapan di meja ruang tamu. Dia memperhatikan garis wajahku lebih seksama sambil bergumam, “Walau sipit begini, begitu mirip kamu dengan Mbakyuku, Maryati.” Senyum tipis merekah di bibirnya, air mukanya penuh haru. “Bagaimana kabarnya sekarang? Apakah dia baik-baik saja? Bisakah aku bertemu dengannya?”

Aku menggeleng, “Mamak sudah meninggal sejak lama. Sakit malaria, tak tertolong.”

Marni terkejut, lalu menengadahkan kepala. “Gusti, belum juga aku sempat bertemu lagi dengan Mamakmu. Rupanya dia sudah tenang di atas sana, cepat sekali dia berpulang.”

Sorot mata Marni meredup, bahunya terkulai lemas.

Aku tersenyum getir, menunjukkan belas kasihku.

Suasana hening sejenak, Marni masih berusaha melumat kabar duka. Sementara, aku tidak enak mengusiknya. Tidak terbayang seperti apa rasanya dipisahkan berpuluh tahun hanya untuk mendengar kabar bahwa yang tercinta sudah tiada.

“Jadi, selama ini dimana kau tinggal? Di mana Mbakyuku tinggal?” tanya Marni.

“Di Pulau Buru, Bibi. Pulau kecil di timur sana, jauh dari Jawa.”

“Astaga, jadi para Jepang itu membawa Mbakyu jauh ke sana? Ke pulau terpencil?

Bahkan aku tak tahu ada pulau bernama itu di timur.” Marni menghela napas untuk kesekian kalinya, tatapannya merana seakan penuh penyesalan karena tidak dapat mengelakkan takdir yang tidak mengenakkan.

“Ya, Bibi,” jawabku dengan sendu.

“Jangan bilang, kau anak dari Jepang itu?”

“Benar, Bibi.”

Marni mengusap wajahnya gusar. “Astaga, tak kusangka. Ternyata Mbakyuku sendiri yang jadi korban tentara Jepang. Sungguh kasihan, padahal Bapak bilang Mbakyu akan disekolahkan.” Tatapannya yang tadinya merana kini berkilat-kilat penuh kebencian, agaknya Marni tersakiti karena dikhianati.

“Betul, Bibi.”

“Ada maksud apa kau kemari?” Kata-katanya lugas, tetapi memancarkan kehangatan.

Aku mengeluarkan kantong istimewa dari dalam buntel kadutku. “Aku hendak menguburkan Mamak.”

Gemeletak bunyinya ketika kantong tersebut kuletakkan di atas meja. Rasanya seakan tapak kaki Mamak kembali mengetuk bumi ini.


Tidak butuh waktu lama bagi Marni untuk segera menghubungi adik laki-lakinya dan memanggil pemuka agama setempat ke rumahnya. Langsung dipastikan bahwa Mamak akan dimakamkan sekarang ini juga di pemakaman keluarga. Kantong berisi Mamak sudah diambil alih oleh Marni dan adiknya, aku hanya terbengong-bengong hingga Marni menyerukan namaku untuk ikut bergegas. Di tengah huru-hara pemakaman sekalipun, masih kudapati adik Marni mendelik ke arahku sembari bertanya ke kakaknya, “Berarti, sekarang tanah warisan Bapak akan dibagi tiga?” Marni hanya mendesis menyuruh adiknya diam.

Perjalanan dari rumah Marni menuju tempat kuburan terasa begitu panjang. Kakiku berat melangkah, walau pikiranku berulang kali meyakinkan diri bahwa inilah yang Mamak mau.

Aku tidak kuasa menahan nuraniku untuk tidak mengenang Mamak. Berkali-kali ku camkan bahwa kepulangannya tidak sama dengan kehilangannya, bahwa dia tetap bersamaku.

Mamakku, Mamakku yang manis. Yang kini tinggal belulang.

Mamakku yang ku pertanyakan. Mamakku yang entah dimana, tapi orang bilang dia sudah tenang di atas sana. Di atas yang mana?

Mamakku yang kupertanyakan. Katanya harus dimandikan, biarpun hanya tinggal belulang. Padahal di Buru sana, aku yang mengais kuburannya dengan hati-hati, mengelapi sisa-sisanya tiap hari menjelang keberangkatanku ke Jawa. Apakah masih tidak cukup bersih?

Mamakku yang kupertanyakan. Kata pemuka agama harus didoakan dengan salat, padahal aku tak tahu Mamak punya agama. Padahal aku sendiri pun tak punya.

Mamakku, Mamakku.

Yang dikebumikan dengan tata aturan yang bahkan aku tidak mengerti. Dibungkus kain, didoakan dengan rapalan doa yang berbeda dengan yang dibacakan tetua adat di Pulau Buru. Liang lahatnya digali dengan pacul, berlainan dengan kuburnya di Pulau Buru dulu yang hanya boleh digali dengan kayu. Salah satu kebaya kesayangannya tidak boleh ikut dikuburkan, bertolak belakang dengan di Pulau Buru. Tidak mengapa.

Yang dikuburkan diiringi dengan pertengkaran adik-adiknya mengenai warisan kakek, soal apakah aku yang anak orang asing ini patut mendapatkannya atau tidak. Soal adik Marni yang tidak terima ketika kakaknya berniat menyisakan warisan untukku, walaupun aku sendiri tidak menginginkannya. “Untuk apa memberikan warisan kepada seseorang yang tidak mengharapkannya? Tidak ada guna!” begitu seru adik Marni ketika menentang kakaknya. Tidak mengapa.

Yang disemayamkan tanpa aku ikut serta di dalamnya.

Ketika liang lahat sudah digali, tanah merah sudah menganga, wajah-wajah asing mengelilingi liang. Tukang kubur sudah membawa seonggok kain putih berisi Mamak, walau sudah bukan Mamak yang kubungkus dengan kantong anyaman. Saat itulah aku menjerit.

Susah payah aku katakan pada tukang kubur untuk serahkan Mamak padaku. Tak ada yang mengerti raunganku meminta Mamak. Wajah-wajah itu menatapku keheranan. Tidak sedikit pula yang risih melihat lelaki dewasa menangis meraung di pekuburan.

Barulah ketika Marni menyerahkan Mamak kepadaku, aku terdiam.

Wajah-wajah itu seakan diberi jawaban atas keheranannya.

Angin bertiup hening, kicau burung terdengar samar di kejauhan.

Selamat berpulang, Mamak. Setelah penantian panjang, berlabuhlah engkau dalam kedamaian tiada ujung. Putramu ini telah semayamkan engkau.



Mother’s Footsteps

In 2005, Umar Thamrin received a Fulbright grant and a Catherine and William L. Magistretti Graduate Fellowship for his graduate studies in the United States. He completed his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies with the designated emphasis in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. Before returning to Indonesia in 2017, he received a one-year appointment as a research and teaching fellow at the University of Oregon.

Back in his home country, Umar became disturbed by several social conditions he encountered there, and is saddened that the common people have remained marginalized while society ignores the lessons of its history. These conditions have prompted him to think, to remember, and to write. He is currently teaching linguistics at Alauddin State Islamic University.

Umar can be reached at:



Mother’s Footsteps


I never tired of reminiscing about the stories my mother told me about her life. Although she was born to a respectable family in Semarang, a port city on Java Island, I was an illegitimate child. Mother said that when the Japanese occupied our country during World War II, they forced her and other teenage girls to be their “comfort women” on Buru Island, a remote island within the Maluku Islands of Indonesia.

Mother cursed the soldiers who used the girls as sex slaves, then abandoned them — pregnant girls and young mothers alike — as soon as Japan lost the war. Mother’s stories about the cruelty of the Japanese soldiers always made me sad.

Mother also told me stories about how hard life was for her and the other girls on this almost uninhabited desert island. With no one to protect them, children were born without any medical help and young mothers suffered from malnutrition and malaria. In the end, only Mother and one other girl survived. They eventually married men of Buru’s Alfuru tribe. Mother said that the only reason she married my stepfather was to save our lives.

Thus, I was born into the Alfuru tribe of Buru Island. I was the only one among the black islanders who had light skin; the only one among the round-eyed faces who had slanted eyes. I felt destined to be ostracized. No one wanted to be friends with a boy who looked like me, let alone ask me to go hunting with them. My only friend was Mother, who was very smart. She easily taught me to speak her mother tongue, and whenever I wasn’t hunting for food, I chatted with Mother in Indonesian, which became our secret language on Buru Island.

My mother did not marry my stepfather out of love, and their strained relationship impacted that of mine with my stepfather. He had no choice but to accept me, as doing so was his only assurance that mother would stay in their marriage. A sibling might have eased my relationship with my stepfather, but after giving birth to me, Mother was too weak to bear another child.

Therefore, my interactions with my stepfather remained cold and indifferent, bordering on hate. Whenever my stepfather started yelling at me because his fishing net came up empty or his arrows missed their prey, Mother always whispered to me in Indonesian, “Run! Run before he hits you!”


In 1969, a few months after Mother died, a boatload of people landed at Buru Island. They were from Java — mostly men — and I was very surprised to discover that all of them spoke Indonesian. Most of them had the same physical features Mother had; even their way of speaking sounded like Mother’s.

However, I, in turn, surprised them as well. Clearly they were startled to see a light-skinned young man with slanted eyes, dressed in the drawstring pants that Alfuru men wore. When I spoke to them in halted Indonesian, they stared at me in disbelief.

Later, I learned that the boat people were prisoners. I watched them being forced into submission with the same cruelty my stepfather exhibited toward me. Despite my poor Indonesian, I could understand their emotional words of anger and oppression. I felt sorry for them. We were all victims of anger and oppression.

I will always remember Karman, a handsome, strong man about my stepfather’s age. But unlike my stepfather, Karman never said a harsh word to me, let alone hit me. We became best friends after he caught me peeking over the prison fence. He greeted me, and we engaged in a friendly conversation. We were curious about each other. He said the presence of an Asian-looking man on Buru struck him as odd, and I said it was the first time I’d met a Javanese other than my mother. I told him about Mother — that she had been born on Java and had passed away a few months ago. I also told him about her wish to be buried on her home island.

Then I grilled him with questions about Java.

Karman chuckled and looked sadly into the distance, as if he could see the homeland he longed for. “Java is a big island.” He paused. “Nothing like Buru.”

“How big is the island?” I thought Buru Island was big, but apparently Java was a bigger one. I thought about Mother’s last wish to be buried on Java: It would be nice to be buried on such a big island.

“How about Semarang? Is that a big city?” I asked. “It’s where Mother was born, and she still has relatives there. That’s where she wants to be buried.”

Karman nodded. “To fulfill your mother’s wish, you’ll have to go to Java by boat.”
A prison guard hollered out the names of the prisoners who had not reported in for their period of forced labor.

“Semarang is a bustling port city,” Karman said while trotting backward toward the guard. I was so buried in my thoughts about Semarang, I didn’t realize Karman had disappeared into the prison building before I could wave goodbye.

Slowly, Karman and I began getting to know each other better. As the number of our secret meetings grew, so did my Indonesian vocabulary. Our meetings were not secret in the sense of young lovers meeting clandestinely; anyone with eyes could easily see us, sitting back to back, separated by the prison fence. If anyone objected to my sitting there,

I could just run away.

I found out that Karman and the other boat people were not ordinary prisoners; they were political prisoners. At that time, I had no idea about the absolute power of the Indonesian government. Therefore, it did not make sense to me to hear that someone could be arrested just because of his political affiliation.

Karman said he was imprisoned for being a member of the PKI, the Communist Party of Indonesia, that was accused of carrying out a coup against the current Indonesian government and killing seven of Indonesia’s top military officers. Karman was arrested even though he knew nothing about the coup.

“What would a clerk like me know about assassinating military officers?” he asked. “All I had done was my job ⸺ writing letters. I was not arrested for being a skillful killer, but simply for writing.”

That explained why Karman was not a good hunter. His body was sturdy but useless in that regard. His fingers were too clumsy to aim an arrow at wild chickens or birds. Instead, he used his long fingers to learn how to write stories from Pak Pram, a fellow prisoner who was also more proficient at writing than aiming arrows.

But being a competent hunter was not as big of a necessity for Karman as it was for me. Without hunting, he could still eat — he had his prison food rations — but I would starve. Consequently, on the days we promised to meet, I always took one or two birds from my bag home to eat with my elderly stepfather, and sold the rest to the prison guards, with Karman as an intermediary.

Karman had told me that people no longer bartered goods and services. Instead, they used money. Therefore, I was determined to earn enough money to pay for my trip to Java to bury Mother, even though Karman laughed when I told him my plan.

“If all you sold were your hunted birds, it would take thousands of days to earn enough money to travel to Java!” Karman chuckled as I wriggled a dead wild chicken through the gap in the fence. “Now, a wild boar might bring you more money!”

“You think it’s easy to catch a wild boar by yourself?” I grumbled.

“Of course not!” Karman gave me a once-over. “Why don’t you ask a friend to help you?”

Karman’s question startled me. Having been ostracized all my life, I thought I was accustomed to being on my own. But his question made me realize how lonely I was. Fortunately, Karman did not wait for my answer; he was too busy inspecting my catch of the day.

“Karman, do you know why my mother wanted to be buried in Java?”

“I have no idea.” Karman shrugged. “Maybe Buru never became home for her.”

“Even though her only son was born here and lives here?” I looked down, afraid to hear Karman’s answer, whatever it was.

Karman quickly looked up. “I’m sure that’s not the way she looked at it.”

I nodded wearily. “I hope you’re right.” The thought had been brewing in my mind for a long time.

Karman looked at me closely. “Are you comfortable living in Buru all by yourself? Be honest. Don’t confuse comfort with habit; you know they are different. Perhaps you don’t really belong here. Who knows? Your mother may have wanted you to find the comfort you’ve never experienced so far. There’s nothing wrong with traveling to Java, if that’s what you want.”

I scowled at Karman’s answer, but I knew he was right, and I remained silent.

“By the way,” Karman continued, “when I die, will you bury me here in Buru?”

Though I had expected Karman to continue our conversation, I had not expected him to continue it with a question like that. I thought back to Karman’s empty gaze when I bombarded him with questions about Java. Perhaps I had been wrong in thinking that he was homesick then. Perhaps his sadness came from the fact he had no place to be homesick for. Could Mother Nature be so cruel that she would allow so many of her children to be torn from their homes?


I had heard that the population in Indonesia had grown, but it was not until 1972, three years after Mother’s death, that I saw as many people as I saw upon arrival in Semarang. I quickly found myself trapped in their midst.

During her life, Mother had often told me how busy Semarang was. And she was right! But, as a man who was born and raised on Buru Island for all of my twenty-eight years of life, I never imagined any place could be as busy as this. Even though dawn was just breaking, people crowded the street. Even standing to the side of the road, I could not avoid being bumped by other people as they hurried by.

I continued walking away from the port. I had to find my mother’s sister, Aunt Marni. Mother had told me that her sister lived in Tanjung Mas, a neighborhood adjacent to the port. According to the note Mother had left me, I needed to find either my Aunt Marni, or a relation of Raden Projowinoto — my grandfather and a former policeman in this port.

A group of gentlemen were sitting around at the Tanjung Mas Harbor Coffee Shop. “Excuse me,” I said, interrupting their lively conversation. “Do any of you know a Raden Projowinoto? He used to be a policeman at this harbor.”

The men frowned. “Who are you?” one of them asked. “Mr. Projowinoto died a long time ago.”

I nodded. I had not expected my grandfather to still be alive. After all, even his eldest daughter — my mother — was dead. But realizing I would have to tell a long, complicated story if I identified myself as his grandson, I simply said, “I’m just a relative.”

Now everyone looked at me, clearly confused. It must have indeed been mystifying to hear a young, Asian-looking man, speaking Indonesian, state that he was related to Raden Projowinoto, who I imagined looked like a typical Javanese man.

“A relative?” asked one of the men, scrutinizing me.

“I am his grandson.”

The men could not contain their surprise. “Really?” one of them asked with raised eyebrows. “Who is your mother?”

“My mother was Sumaryati, sir.” I was starting to feel annoyed with their suspicious questions.

Now the men looked stunned. “Oh, my Lord!” one exclaimed. “That Sumaryati? The one the Japanese took away?”

The man turned to the others, and everyone started talking at once in an animated, regional dialect that I could not understand.

One of the men looked up at me. “Maryati was my friend in elementary school.”

“Can you prove you’re Maryati’s son?” asked another.

I reached into my bag and pulled out the picture of Mother as a young girl. She had always cherished the picture, now after her death, it was mine to cherish.

While watching everyone crowd over Mother’s picture, I quietly smiled, remembering Mother telling me that when I was little and saw the picture for the first time, I was startled to see her face on a piece of paper.

“I’m sure, this is Maryati,” said the man I had given Mother’s picture to. The others nodded.

I quickly spoke up to prevent them from further interrogating me. “Perhaps one of you could show me the way to my Aunt Marni’s house?”

Aunt Marni was Mother’s favorite sibling ⸺ the one she said she missed the most. Marni’s name had been the one Mother called most often during the delirium of her final days, before succumbing to malaria.

The men nodded, and we all walked along the sidewalk to Aunt Marni’s house.
As we entered her neighborhood, we passed people drying and dyeing textiles in their yards. Long, large-patterned cloths hung on the clotheslines. The assorted colors and motifs reminded me of Mother’s stories about the beautiful Javanese batik cloth. Many of the women here still wore it, although just as many of them did not.

I waited at the gate while the men entered the front yard of a sturdy wood house. A woman met them at the door. I could faintly hear them mentioning Mother’s and Aunt Marni’s names. One of the men called out for me to come closer and introduced me to a woman dressed in a kebaya, Indonesian blouse, and batik sarong. “Marni,” he said, as he waved me closer, “this is the young man who claims to be Maryati’s son.”

I looked at Aunt Marni. She resembled Mother, except that Mother had been skinny and disheveled while Aunt Marni looked healthy and cared for.

At first, Aunt Marni looked at me suspiciously. Frowning, she took stock of me for several seconds. Then I saw her eyes change. The longer she looked at me the sadder her eyes grew. She whispered, “What is your name, son?”

“Man Beta, Aunt Marni.”

Aunt Marni’s hand flew to her mouth, and she quickly thanked the men who had brought me.

They bowed and said goodbye.

Aunt Marni invited me in, and we sat together in the living room. She took a closer look at my face and murmured, “Even though you have slanted eyes, you still look like my sister, Maryati.” Her lips curved into a gentle smile, and her eyes filled with tears. “How is she now? Is she fine? Can I see her?”

I shook my head. “Mother died from malaria, three years ago.”

Aunt Marni’s face turned to shock. “Oh, my God! My sister went to heaven before I had the chance to see her. She passed away at such a young age.” Aunt Marni’s eyes dimmed, and her shoulders drooped. She grew silent, trying to process the bad news I’d delivered.

I grimaced; I felt her sorrow. I could only imagine what it must have been like to be separated from one’s sister for decades only to be told that the beloved sister had passed away.

“So where have you been living all this time?” asked Aunt Marni. “Where did my sister live?”

“We lived on Buru Island, Aunt. A small, deserted island in Maluku, far from Java.”

“So the Japanese took my sister all the way there, to a small, deserted island,” Aunt Marni murmured. “I didn’t even know there was such an island in the east.” Aunt Marni’s gaze languished, as if regretting her powerlessness to reverse fate.

“You’re a Japanese soldier’s son?”

“That’s right, Aunt.”

Aunt Marni ran a hand brusquely across her face. “This is so hard to believe. My poor sister was a war victim of the Japanese army. Father had told me that the Japanese would send her to a school.” Her eyes now glittered with the hatred of betrayal. “Why did you come here?” Her question was straightforward yet warm.

I took a woven drawstring sack out of my bag. “Mother wanted to be buried here,” I said. The sack made a tapping sound when I put it on the table. It sounded like Mother’s footsteps.


Aunt Marni immediately contacted her younger brother, my uncle, and the neighborhood priest. They decided to bury Mother that same afternoon in the family plot. Aunt Marni and my uncle took my drawstring sack containing Mother’s bones from me. Everything was happening so fast! I sat bewildered until Aunt Marni called my name and hurried me along.
In the midst of the busy funeral arrangements, my uncle, glaring at me, asked Aunt Marni,

“Does our inheritance now have to be divided into thirds?”

Aunt Marni hushed Uncle.

The journey from Aunt Marni’s house to the cemetery felt much longer than the actual distance. My feet moved reluctantly, even though I repeatedly reminded myself that this was Mother’s wish. Over and over I told myself that Mother’s return to her birthplace was not the same as her leaving me and my birthplace. She was still with me, would always be with me.

Mother, my dear, sweet mother. Now only her bones were left.

Mother, my dear, sweet mother. I did not know where she was, but people said she was at peace up there. Where was “up there”?

Mother, my dear, sweet mother. The priest said her bones had to be bathed, even though in Buru, after I had carefully dug up her grave, I had wiped her bones every day before my departure for Java. Even in death, was Mother still not clean enough?

Mother, my dear, sweet mother. The priest said we had to say their funeral prayer for her. I didn’t know if Mother had practiced any faith. I didn’t.

Mother, my dear, sweet mother.

She was buried in a way that even I did not understand. Here, she was wrapped in a cloth, her bones were prayed over with a prayer different from that of the elders on Buru Island. Here, they dug her grave with shovels and hoes; while in Buru, only wooden tools were allowed to dig her grave. In Buru, she was allowed to be buried with her favorite kebaya; here, this was not allowed.

It did not matter.

I watched the gravediggers shovel out Mother’s final resting place while her siblings squabbled over Grandfather’s inheritance ⸺ about whether I, the son of a foreigner, deserved a share. Uncle argued with Aunt Marni, who wanted to share their inheritance with me, even though I had told them I did not want anything. “Why share our inheritance with someone who doesn’t expect it?” Uncle yelled at Aunt Marni “It doesn’t make sense!”

It did not matter.

When Mother’s grave, a gaping hole in the red earth, was ready, strangers surrounded the pit. The gravedigger picked up the bundle of white cloth that now contained Mother’s bones and prepared to lower it into the grave. And even though they were no longer the bones I had wrapped in a woven drawstring sack and carried with me all the way from Buru to Java, I screamed at the gravedigger, “No! Give Mother to me! I am the one who must bury Mother!”

And this mattered.

No one understood why I was screaming. Some looked confused; others were irritated to see a grown man wailing in the cemetery.
It was only when Aunt Marni took the white bag from the gravedigger and handed Mother to me that I fell silent.

Everyone suddenly seemed to understand.

The wind blew quietly, birds chirped in the distance.

Goodbye, Mother. After your long voyage, you have finally arrived in a place of endless peace. Your son has buried you according to your wish.














Suatu Subuh di Cihanjuang

Candra Padmasvasti was born in Bandung, October 11, 1974. She was raised in a family that values education and literature. Reading and keeping a diary have been her passions since childhood. As a consultant in children’s and women’s rights for national and international institutions, Candra often writes activity reports, training materials, and policy drafts.

The Sacred Waterfall is her first short story. Writing this story has underscored her belief that writing demands the courage to dream and an honesty to oneself.

Candra can be reached at



Suatu Subuh di Cihanjuang


Alunan karinding, alat musik dari bilah bambu khas Jawa Barat, mengeluarkan nada tinggi melengking, berpadu dengan embusan angin malam yang dingin. Karinding selalu dimainkan di acara adat. Suara mendengung hasil perpaduan sentilan jari dan tiupan udara dari mulut si pemain, membuat suasana di pertemuan adat terasa mendebarkan.

Setelah acara selesai. Panitren, sang penjaga adat, berlari dari Bale Saresehan menghampiri jendela dapur Uwa Enok yang masih terbuka. “Sudah diputuskan! Citrik akan dinikahkan dengan Kang Dayat!” ujarnya di antara tarikan napas dan langkah kakinya yang bergegas menjauh. 

Uwa Enok yang sedang duduk di atas dipan di dekat jendela dapurnya langsung menutup wajah dengan kedua telapak tangannya. Wanita tua itu menangis, berusaha mencerna berita yang disampaikan oleh panitren.

Citrik yang sedang duduk menghangatkan tubuhnya di depan hawu, tungku kayu bakar, seketika merasa mual. Pepes jamur, lauk makan malam tadi, terasa mengimpit kerongkongannya. Gadis remaja tigabelas tahun itu menggelugut membayangkan Mang Dayat, lelaki paruh baya yang biasa dia panggil paman, akan menjadi suaminya.

Pernikahan Mang Dayat dengan Bi Nenden memang belum dikaruniai keturunan. Perilaku mereka sangat berlawanan, Mang Dayat suka berbicara, sedangkan Bi Nenden sangat pendiam. Perempuan di kampung kerap menggunjingkan kelakuan Mang Dayat, yang sering punya hubungan khusus dengan perempuan dari luar Cihanjuang. Sebagian dari mereka menuduh Bi Nenden yang tidak dapat memberikan anak, sebagai alasannya.

Mengapa harus aku yang memberinya anak? Citrik merasa jijik. Tangannya menarik tepian kain sarung dari sisi kedua lengannya, membungkus tubuh mungilnya, dan membenamkan kepalanya.

Citrik teringat kejadian beberapa hari lalu. Kala itu dia dan Uwa Enok sedang berjalan sepulang dari sungai.

Tiba-tiba dari barisan pohon, Mang Dayat muncul menghadang mereka. “Aduh wanginya,” goda Mang Dayat sambil mendekatkan kepalanya ke arah tubuh Citrik.

Citrik langsung menjerit dan berlindung di belakang badan Uwa Enok. Gelung Citrik terlepas, rambutnya yang hitam jatuh tergerai melewati pundaknya yang basah. Tubuh gadis itu hanya dibalut kain sarung, selepas mandi di sungai.

Citrik merinding karena masih bisa merasakan napas Mang Dayat di lengannya.

“Mau apa kamu, Dayat?” Uwa Enok membentak.

“Mau menikah dengan ponakanmu,” ujar Mang Dayat tergelak. Bau minyak rambut Mang Dayat tercium begitu kuat, mengalahkan wangi sabun mandi dari tubuh Citrik dan Uwa Enok. Mang Dayat mengusap kumisnya sambil menatap Citrik. Mata lelaki tua itu bergerak menyapu wajah pucat Citrik. Pandangannya menjelajahi leher yang jenjang lalu turun ke pundak nan putih. Bola matanya kian membesar saat tilikannya tiba pada pinggul sintal Citrik yang terbalut kain sarung basah.

“Jangan kurang ajar!”  Uwa Enok berteriak marah.

“Aku akan buatkan rumah terbagus di Cihanjuang untukmu, Citrik,” ucap Mang Dayat merayu Citrik tanpa menghiraukan hardikan Uwa Enok. “Kamu bisa dapat semua yang kau mau dengan uang hasil usaha ternakku.” 

Citrik masih tidak menjawab, kedua tangannya terus memeluk keranjang berisi baju yang baru dicuci sebagai tumpuan tubuhnya yang gemetar.

“Anak ini sudah mendapat rumah dari ku.” Uwa Enok berucap sambil mengangkat dagu, matanya menatap tajam lelaki yang ada di depannya. Lalu bibirnya mengatup, tarikan napasnya yang pendek diembuskan lewat kedua lubang hidungnya. 

“Rumah usang bekas perawan tua tidak pantas untuk gadis cantik seperti Citrik,” ejek Mang Dayat diikuti suara tertawanya yang menjengkelkan.

Wajah Uwa Enok memerah. Tangannya mengepal menahan amarah. “Awas! Aku laporkan kepada sesepuh adat!” Uwa Enok berteriak lantang.

Mang Dayat justru tertawa liar. “Dengan kepandaian ilmu sirep akan aku tembus mimpi sesepuh adat. Dia akan menuruti semua kemauanku.”

Uwa Enok tersentak. Dia diam kehabisan kata-kata.

Melihat perubahan sikap Uwa Enok, Mang Dayat kembali tertawa keras. Kedua tangannya bertengger di pinggang, menampakkan perutnya yang montok berguncang. “Aku berkuasa di Cihanjuang! Perempuan tua macam kamu tidak ada artinya bagiku.” Mang Dayat menunjukkan jari telunjuknya ke arah Citrik. “Dia milik aku!”

Citrik merasa dirinya diperlakukan layaknya barang untuk dimiliki. Tenggorokannya tercekat menahan tangis.

Uwa Enok masih diam mematung.

Mang Dayat berlalu menjauh.

Uwa Enok berbalik badan dan memeluk Citrik.

Keduanya bertangisan di sisi jalan setapak. Sesaat mereka merasa agak tenang, Uwa Enok mengajak Citrik pulang ke rumah.

“Ayo pulang malu jika ada yang melihat kita sedang bertangisan,” Uwa Enok mengusap air mata Citrik, “Kita pasti akan dapat jalan keluarnya.”

Kalimat terakhir Uwa Enok membuat hati Citrik tenang. Dua perempuan itu pun berjalan menuju ke rumah.


Keesokan harinya, pendar matahari lamat-lamat menerobos celah dinding dapur yang terbuat dari bambu. Citrik masih masygul menerima keputusan adat. Hanya dengan memasak pikirannya dapat teralihkan. Wangi dapur ini yang berlantai tanah dengan empat batang kayu pohon hanjuang di setiap sudutnya, seakan menjadi rahim ibu yang memberinya rasa tenteram. Uwa Enok pernah bertutur tentang pohon hanjuang. Batangnya terkenal kuat menopang bangunan. Daunnya berwarna merah dan hijau, melambangkan keseimbangan antara manusia dan alam. Menurutnya, pohon hanjuang adalah lambang perempuan Cihanjuang, yang kuat dan mampu menjaga keseimbangan keluarga. Singgasana perempuan Cihanjuang adalah dapur, tempat dia bertahta, mengolah apa yang diberikan alam menjadi makanan untuk keluarganya. “Kelak dapur dan seluruh isinya ini akan menjadi milikmu, Citrik,” Uwa Enok berkaul.

Tangan Citrik menggeser selot kayu, membuka jendela. Angin pagi yang dingin membuat pipinya yang putih bersemu merah. Kedua matanya menatap langit sejenak. Alis mata yang tebal dan bulu mata yang lentik, membuat Citrik terlihat cantik alami.

Dia teringat saat datang bersama Bapak dari Bandung ke Cihanjuang di bulan Agustus 1949. Cihanjuang, desa kecil di pegunungan Sukabumi adalah tanah kelahiran Bapak dimana Uwa Enok, kakak perempuan satu-satunya, menetap. Bapak menangis di pangkuan Uwa Enok, sambil menceritakan perihal rumah yang dibakar dan Ibu yang dibunuh gerombolan Tentara Islam Indonesia.

Saat itu, usia Citrik masih lima tahun. Kejadiannya terjadi begitu cepat. Malam itu dia terbangun sudah berada di gendongan Bapak. Pandangannya kabur tertutup asap, napasnya sesak oleh udara yang terasa panas sampai ke dada. Bapak berusaha keluar dari rumah, berlomba dengan jilatan api yang berasal dari rumah-rumah lainnya. Orang-orang berlarian, suara jeritan dan tangisan terdengar dimana-mana. Bapak dan Citrik menanti Ibu keluar dari rumah untuk mengajaknya berlari menjauhi kampung. Namun sayang, Ibu tidak pernah keluar dari rumah.

Bapak sering bercerita tentang dendamnya pada gerombolan yang membuat Ibu mati. “Kartosoewirjo, pemimpin gerombolan itu tidak puas dengan kemerdekaan Indonesia yang masih dibayang-bayangi Belanda,” kata Bapak berapi-api, “Dia memaksa Jawa Barat menjadi Negara Islam Indonesia.”

Menurut Bapak, gerombolan itu bergerilya di hutan-hutan untuk mempertahankan diri dari kejaran TNI-AD. Mereka membutuhkan persediaan makanan yang banyak. Biasanya, saat tentara Indonesia tahu bahwa gerombolan akan mendatangi kampung untuk mencari bahan makanan, mereka akan meminta warga kampung mengungsi. Gerombolan itu mengharuskan setiap rumah menyediakan beras atau bahan makanan di teras rumah. Jika tidak disediakan maka mereka akan merusak atau membakar rumah tersebut.

“Malam itu gerombolan Tentara Islam Indonesia di Tasikmalaya menyerang markas TNI-AD disana sehingga TNI-AD di wilayah Kabupaten Bandung harus berpindah tugas ke sana. Tidak ada yang tahu bahwa gerombolan itu akan datang ke kampung kita,” ujar Bapak pilu.

Sejak itu, setelah sekian tahun tinggal di Kabupaten Bandung bersama Ibu dan Citrik, Bapak kembali tinggal di Cihanjuang, kampung kelahirannya. Hari-hari Bapak hanya diisi dengan meratapi kematian Ibu. Sampai akhirnya Bapak mulai sering berbicara sendiri dan julukan orang gila melekat pada dirinya.

Tak sampai dua tahun sejak Citrik tinggal di Cihanjuang, pada suatu subuh Uwa Enok menemukan tubuh Bapak sudah kaku. Ajal menjemput Bapak di kala tidur. Kedukaan yang menimpa Citrik, membuatnya tumbuh menjadi gadis pendiam, yang jarang bergaul dengan anak-anak sebayanya.


Jemari Citrik yang lentik mengambil tiga batang kayu bakar, memasukkan satu per satu ke lubang hawu. Citrik menempelkan bibirnya yang tipis pada sepotong bambu pendek lalu meniupkan udara ke arah bara sampai menjadi api. Tiba-tiba dia tersadar belum melihat Uwa Enok sejak fajar.

Walaupun Uwa Enok terkenal jarang berbicara, Citrik selalu merasa lebih tenang jika berada di dekatnya. Uwa Enok adalah pengganti orang tuanya.

Citrik mengangkat langseng, alat untuk memasak air dan mengukus makanan, dan meletakkannya di atas hawu.  Langseng tembaga berwarna kuning keemasan itu terlihat seperti topi pesulap terbalik. Citrik berpendapat memasak itu memang mirip melakukan pertunjukan sulap.

Uwa Enok lah yang memperkenalkannya pada serunya memasak. Semua orang di Cihanjuang mengakui kepiawaian Uwa Enok memasak, karena masakannya selalu mendapat pujian dari sesepuh adat. Kata Uwa Enok, kemampuan memasak penting bagi perempuan Cihanjuang, tidak saja karena nikmatnya masakan akan membuat keluarga bahagia, tapi juga sebagai bentuk syukur atas apa yang kita dapatkan dari alam.

Saat masih tinggal bersama orangtuanya, Citrik membayangkan dia akan bersekolah seperti anak-anak lain. Namun bayangan itu pupus, karena di Cihanjuang belum ada sekolah. Anak-anak di Cihanjuang belajar dari alam.  Mereka belajar makna kesabaran dan keuletan melalui bertani.

“Alam adalah guru terbaik bagi manusia,” demikian wejangan Uwa Enok saat mengajarkan tentang ngahuma, menanam padi di ladang dengan cara tumpang sari. Padi ditanam bersama tanaman jagung dan pisang yang sudah ditanam terlebih dulu, sehingga tanah menjadi subur dan panen melimpah. Adat ngahuma ini adalah aturan yang tidak boleh dilanggar, supaya manusia tidak lupa dari mana dia berasal dan menghormati alam yang telah memberinya kehidupan.

Suara ketukan keras diikuti bunyi pintu dapur yang didorong kasar menyadarkan Citrik dari lamunannya. Dia membalikkan badan.

Terlihat Bi Nenden berjalan cepat menghampirinya. Istri dari Mang Dayat itu terlihat marah, tidak seperti biasanya. “Kamu pikir bisa memiliki suamiku karena kamu lebih muda?” Bi Nenden berteriak.

Citrik kaget merengket ketakutan.

“Perempuan tidak tahu malu!” Tangan Bi Nenden mendorong lengan Citrik dengan keras.

“Nenden!” Sebuah suara keras terdengar dari arah luar. Uwa Enok berjalan mendekat.

Saur kudu dibubut!” Uwa Enok mengingatkan falsafah adat untuk berbicara dengan hati-hati. “Ini rumahku. Kamu harus menghormatinya!” Uwa Enok berdiri di depan Citrik dengan sikap melindungi. Bibirnya bergerak merapalkan sesuatu. Tiba-tiba udara dapur terasa lembab. “Aku pun tak sudi Citrik menjadi istri kedua suamimu,” kata Uwa Enok tegas.

Semburat marah di mata Bi Nenden perlahan berubah menjadi tatapan kosong dan dia pun menangis tersedu-sedu. “Hampura, mohon maaf, Bi Nenden merajuk sambil berjongkok. “Kamu tahu bagaimana aku sudah lelah menghadapi suamiku yang buta oleh nafsu.”

“Dari mana suamimu belajar ilmu sirep?” Uwa Enok bertanya dengan nada memaksa. Pandangannya menyelidik menatap mata Bi Nenden yang langsung terlihat gugup.

“Dia belajar kepada seseorang dari selatan Pulau Jawa.” Bi Nenden menjawab lemah. “Ilmu itu menghancurkan suamiku.” Bi Nenden terisak.

Uwa Enok mengambil gelas dari rak bambu, mengisinya dengan air dari kendi, lalu meniup gelas itu sebelum disodorkan kepada Bi Nenden yang langsung meminumnya habis.

Uwa Enok berjongkok sejajar dengan Bi Nenden dan berbisik dengan suara lirih, “Mari kita ke mata air untuk minta petunjuk dari Nyi Mas Hanjuang.” Mata air Nyi Mas Hanjuang adalah tempat sakral yang berada di balik bukit. Uwa Enok sering berdoa di sana.

Kedua perempuan itu perlahan bangun dari jongkok. Uwa Enok menatap mata Bi Nenden lalu mengangguk dan menggerakkan kepalanya ke samping sebagai ajakan untuk berangkat. Mereka berjalan keluar dari dapur.

Jantung Citrik berdegup kencang saat dia memandang punggung kedua perempuan yang terlihat menjauh itu.


Hari sudah gelap, tapi Uwa Enok tak kunjung pulang sejak berangkat ke mata air Nyi Mas Hanjuang bersama Bi Nenden. Walaupun Citrik tahu Uwa Enok sudah biasa pergi ke mata air, hati Citrik tetap khawatir. Apakah Uwa Enok sudah makan? tanyanya dalam hati. Dia memandang lauk ulukutek leunca yang dimasaknya tadi pagi masakan kesukaan Uwa Enok yang terbuat dari oncom, campuran peragian tempe dengan leunca, jenis sayuran lalapan yang banyak tumbuh di daerah Jawa Barat. Citrik menunggu Uwa Enok sambil bergolek di pembaringan. Tidak berkuasa untuk tetap terjaga, akhirnya gadis itu pun terlelap.


Di tengah malam Citrik masih terlelap di pembaringan. Sinar lampu cempor membuat bayangan lekuk pinggulnya tampak di dinding. Suara tokek yang keras membuat Citrik terjaga dari tidurnya. Gadis itu mencari tubuh Uwa Enok di sebelahnya, tetapi hanya ada dirinya di pembaringan. Uwa Enok kenapa masih belum kunjung datang?  Citrik mengkhawatirkan Uwa Enok yang harus berjalan jauh ke mata air Nyi Mas Hanjuang.

Citrik teringat saat pertama kali berdoa di mata air Nyi Mas Hanjuang tahun lalu. Saat itu Citrik baru saja selesai mendapat haid yang pertama, dan Uwa Enok mengutarakan padanya bahwa sudah waktunya Citrik belajar doa khusus karena sudah menjadi perempuan dewasa. Perjalanan ke mata air Nyi Mas Hanjuang harus melewati hutan larangan. Hutan yang membentang di punggung bukit ini adalah wilayah sakral yang dilindungi oleh adat. Peraturan adat melarang wilayah hutan larangan digunakan untuk bercocok tanam, apalagi memotong pohonnya tanpa ijin dari sesepuh adat. “Tidak boleh pakai alas kaki dan tidak boleh bicara sepatah kata pun.” Uwa Enok menjelaskan adab sebelum melewati hutan larangan.

Malam itu, suara jangkrik yang riuh berirama menemani perjalanan dua orang perempuan, melalui hutan larangan.  Citrik berjalan di belakang Uwa Enok yang memegang obor. Citrik teringat rasa dingin di telapak kakinya saat menapaki tanah yang lembab. Baju hangat dan kain kebaya tebal tidak mampu menahan angin gunung yang menusuk sampai tulang. Saat itu, sebenarnya dia sudah lelah dan kedinginan, tapi mengadu pada Uwa Enok hanya akan membuat perempuan tua itu gusar. Citrik sudah hapal tabiat Uwa Enok. Jika keinginannya tidak terpenuhi pasti akan marah, berbeda dengan sifat dirinya yang selalu mengalah.

Air terjun Nyi Mas Hanjuang adalah sebuah bengkahan kecil di antara tebing. Mereka tiba di sana hampir tengah malam. Cahaya obor menunjukkan bebatuan besar di sekitarnya. Citrik mendengar suara air yang keras, menunjukkan air terjun ini deras dan letaknya cukup tinggi.

Uwa Enok menjura dan duduk di atas batu, diikuti oleh Citrik.

Tetap tanpa suara, Citrik langsung mengambil sesajen dari kain gendongan. Baskom berukuran kecil berisi satu ekor ayam panggang, sebuah kelapa muda dan bunga kenanga segenggam tertata rapi di atas batu.

Uwa Enok membakar dupa. Lalu kedua perempuan itu duduk bersila, mulai berdoa. Hanya terdengar derasnya suara air terjun, Citrik semakin tenggelam dalam semedinya. Wajah dan tubuhnya basah terkena cipratan air yang memandikannya. Rasa dingin di tubuhnya berangsur-angsur menjadi biasa. Wangi dupa memenuhi relung hidung dan mengantarkan pikiran Citrik melayang, mengapung, membubung bersama mantra yang mengalir dari bibirnya.

“Aku terima yang kau berikan” sebuah suara wanita yang lembut tiba-tiba terdengar di antara rapalan mantra. Nadanya jelas dan terdengar bersahaja. Suara itu bukan masuk ke telinga Citrik, lebih tepat terdengar di dalam kepalanya.

“Saya sudah melengkapi seluruh syarat yang Nyi Mas minta,” suara Uwa Enok, masih terdengar di dalam kepala Citrik.

“Ada di tanganmu,” suara lembut itu terdengar lagi.

Uwa Enok mengatupkan kedua telapak tangannya di atas kepala untuk beberapa saat, lalu menariknya ke pangkuan dengan gerakan cepat. Sesaat dibukanya kedua telapak tangan, terlihat besi tipis dan kecil berwarna emas kehitaman sepanjang telapak tangan. Uwa Enok kembali menjura dan mengucapkan rasa terima kasih.

“Keris ini adalah titipan yang harus kau jaga” suara lembut itu kembali terdengar, “Gunakanlah untuk menjaga keselarasan antara manusia dan alam.”

Uwa Enok kembali mengucapkan terima kasih lalu menyentuh lengan Citrik mengajak pamit pulang. Mereka berjalan menjauh dari mata air. Perjalanan pulang tidak seberat saat berangkat, terasa lebih cepat berlalu. Mereka tiba di kampung saat subuh mulai menyentuh punggung Gunung Cimentang.

Citrik melamun sambil rebahan di pembaringan. Lamunannya mengantarkan kantuknya kembali menyerang. Gadis itu pun kembali tertidur pulas.


Kabut subuh masih menyelimuti kampung Cihanjuang, ketika Uwa Enok membuka pintu dapur. Perempuan tua itu masuk dengan gerakan perlahan. Buliran keringat terlihat di dahinya, dia nampak kelelahan namun bibirnya tersenyum saat memandang Citrik yang terlelap di atas dipan bambu. Uwa Enok menarik selimut yang tergulung di kaki Citrik, dan menyelimuti tubuh gadis itu. Diusapnya kepala Citrik perlahan, sebelum merebahkan dirinya untuk beristirahat.


Saat malam Jumat Kliwon, malam Jumat yang dikenal keramat oleh penghuni Dessa Cihanjuang, Citrik menyiapkan sesajen di dapur seperti biasanya. Empat butir telur rebus, segelas kopi pahit, lima kuncup bunga mawar, segenggam bunga kenanga, satu butir kelapa hijau, dan satu sisir pisang mas. Sesajen disimpan di pojok ruangan bersisian dengan hawu. Uwa Enok yang mulai membakar dupa, merogoh isi kutang dan mengambil kain putih yang membungkus Keris Nyi Mas Hanjuang. Perlahan Uwa Enok menempatkan keris itu di antara sesajen setelah melepaskan kain pembungkusnya.  

Harum dupa mengisi dapur sampai ke langit-langit. Asap dupa dan hawu bersatu. Citrik duduk bersila di sebelah Uwa Enok. Keduanya menjura ke arah sesajen lalu menempatkan kedua telapak tangan di atas tungkai.

Uwa Enok mulai membaca mantra dengan suara lirih.

Hanjuang beureum hejo.  Hanjuang berwarna merah hijau.

Hanjuang nu ngaleupaskeun. Membebaskan simpul yang tercengkeram. 

Ti kiwa tengen luhung mancur. Hanjuang pembawa ilmu. 

Poek mongkleng sateuacan isuk. Di gelap gulita sebelum pagi.

Mantranya berbeda dari yang biasa kita baca setiap malam Jumat ya, Uwa?” tanya Citrik

“Perintah Nyi Mas Hanjuang.” Uwa Enok menjawab tanpa memandang wajah Citrik.

Melihat bahasa tubuh Uwa Enok, Citrik enggan bertanya lebih lanjut. Dia pun memejamkan mata dan mulai mengikuti rapalan mantra Uwa Enok. Beberapa saat kemudian, udara di dapur terasa lebih panas. Citrik melayang, mengapung, membubung bersama mantra yang mengalir dari bibirnya. Malam semakin tua, kabut dingin menyelimuti Cihanjuang, dan wangi kenanga ajek di dapur sepanjang malam.


Matahari dari balik Gunung Cimentang mulai beranjak naik. Citrik terlihat cantik menggunakan kebaya putih dan sarung berwarna hijau. Dia menunggu Uwa Enok menyiapkan dirinya untuk hadir di acara adat.

Tirai kamar tersibak dan Uwa Enok melangkah keluar. Wangi kenanga kembali menelusup ceruk hidung. Dia mengenakan kebaya putih yang biasanya, tetapi dia terlihat berbeda. Uwa Enok terlihat sangat anggun. Rambutnya disanggul cepol ke atas. Walaupun kulitnya telah keriput, tetapi terlihat bersinar. Uwa Enok tersenyum dan mengajak Citrik mengikutinya.

Citrik berjalan di belakang Uwa Enok, sesekali mencoba bersisian agar dapat mengintip wajah Uwa Enok. Citrik memeluk baskom berisi kue apem di dadanya, risau terjatuh.

Di Bale Saresehan sudah banyak warga yang datang untuk berdoa. Semua mata memandang Uwa Enok yang melangkah masuk. Dagunya terangkat, cepolnya yang tinggi membuat tulang pipinya menonjol.

Di ujung ruangan, terlihat kain batik dengan corak daun berwarna hijau dan merah, menutupi tubuh manusia beralaskan tikar pandan. Tadi pagi, panitren memukul kentongan dan mengabarkan kematian Mang Dayat kepada warga. Mang Dayat ditemukan meninggal saat tidur. Tubuhnya sudah kaku kala subuh menyentuh bumi.

Bi Nenden terlihat duduk menunduk di dekat jenazah.

Citrik menempatkan baskom yang dia pegang bersama kumpulan sesajen di dekat jenazah, lalu duduk di sebelah Uwa Enok. Wangi pandan di sekitar jenazah terpintal bersama harum kenanga dari tubuh Uwa Enok. Nada karinding melambat. Sebentar lagi acara doa kematian akan dimulai. Citrik melirik ke arah Uwa Enok.

Mata Uwa Enok memandang ke arah Bi Nenden.

Perlahan kepala Bi Nenden terangkat dan keduanya saling menatap.

Uwa Enok pun mengangguk lamban.

Sekelebat, Citrik melihat ada segaris senyum tipis di wajah kedua perempuan itu. Citrik tertegun. Daun-daun pohon hanjuang di sekitar Bale Saresehan berlenggok tertiup angin. Kematian selalu mengundang pilu, tapi kali ini tidak.




The Sacred Waterfall

In 2005, Umar Thamrin received a Fulbright grant and a Catherine and William L. Magistretti Graduate Fellowship for his graduate studies in the United States. He completed his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Studies with the designated emphasis in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. Before returning to Indonesia in 2017, he received a one-year appointment as a research and teaching fellow at the University of Oregon.

Back in his home country, Umar became disturbed by several social conditions he encountered there, and is saddened that the common people have remained marginalized while society ignores the lessons of its history. These conditions have prompted him to think, to remember, and to write. He is currently teaching linguistics at Alauddin State Islamic University.

Umar can be reached at:


The Sacred Waterfall


The reverberating tones of a bamboo karinding, mingled with the sighs of the cold night wind. As was custom, the Sudanese mouth harp was played during a meeting of the village elders. With the karinding placed between his lips, the player tapped the end of the instrument with his fingers to create the thin vibrations that added to the tension in the Bale Sarasehan.

At the end of the meeting, a village elder rushed from the civic center to Uwa Enok’s open kitchen window. “It’s confirmed!” cried the panitren to the old maid. “Citrik will marry Dayat!” Panting, he hurried away.

Seated on a bench inside the open kitchen window, Uwa Enok covered her face with both hands and wept, trying to make sense of what the panitren’s announcement meant for her niece.

Thirteen-year-old Citrik huddled near the hawu. The kitchen’s clay stove warmed her. The pepes — roasted mushrooms wrapped in banana leaves — she had eaten at dinner weren’t settling well in her stomach. Now, hearing the panitren’s words, she shivered, picturing the middle-aged man she’d always addressed as uncle becoming her husband.

Dayat and his wife, Bi Nenden, were childless. The couple were complete opposites. Dayat was talkative; Bi Nenden was quiet. The women in the village gossiped about Dayat’s affair with a woman who lived outside of Cihanjuang, a small village near Sukabumi in West Java. Some of them blamed Bi Nenden’s infertility for Dayat’s infidelity.

Why do I have to be the one who gives him children? Disgusted, Citrik nestled her slender body into her sarong and buried her face in her arms. She thought about the incident with Dayat that had happened a few days ago. Remembering the old man’s breath on her arm, Citrik shuddered.


That day, she and Uwa Enok had been walking home after doing laundry and bathing in the river. Citrik’s sarong was wrapped tightly around her body; her wet black hair fell loosely over her damp shoulders.

Unexpectedly Dayat had emerged from behind the treeline and blocked their passage. Leaning into Citrik, he teased, “My, my, don’t you smell nice!”

Startled, Citrik ducked behind Uwa Enok.

“What do you want, Dayat?” Uwa Enok had snapped.

“I want to marry your niece.” Mang Dayat chuckled. The cloying smell of his pomade completely smothered Citrik’s and Uwa Enok’s clean fragrance. The old man stroked his mustache and peered into Citrik’s pale face. His greedy gaze slid down her slender neck, landing briefly on her white shoulders, and — eyes widening — settled on the curves of Citrik’s hips swaddled in the wet sarong.

“Don’t be vulgar!” Uwa Enok screamed, furiously.

Mang Dayat ignored Uwa Enok and continued leering at Citrik. “I’ll build the most beautiful house in Cihanjuang for you, Citrik. I can give you everything you want with the money I make in my cattle business.”

Citrik remained silent behind her aunt, pressing her full basket of freshly-washed clothes against her trembling body.

Uwa Enok raised her chin and glared at Dayat. “Citrik will inherit my house,” she hissed through pressed lips.

Dayat laughed. “An old house from an old maid is not suitable for a girl as beautiful as Citrik.”

Fury flushed a dangerous red in Uwa Enok’s face. “Watch your mouth!” she snarled. “I’ll report you to the elders!”

Dayat burst into boisterous laughter. “With my sirep, mantra, I can hypnotize the elders, and, under the spell of my magic, I can make them do anything I say!”

Uwa Enok gasped.

Taking full delight in springing his secret on Uwa Enok, Dayat put his hands on his hips, and snickered, exposing his fat shaking belly, “I’m the law in Cihanjuang! I don’t listen to old maids like you.” Pointing at Citrik, he declared, “She’s mine!”

Citrik’s throat tightened, trying to swallow the terror of being treated as an object that could be owned by another.

Uwa Enok stood rigid until Dayat walked away. Then she turned around and hugged Citrik. In tears, they held one another on the side of the path until they calmed down. Uwa Enok wiped Citrik’s tears. “Let’s go home. People are looking at us,” she said and soothed,

“We’ll find a way out of this problem.”


The morning after the village elders’ decision, as the sun crept between the bamboo slats of the kitchen wall, Citrik, still upset, tried to distract herself by preparing breakfast. This kitchen, with the floor’s earthy aroma and the four strong hanjuang tree trunks anchoring each corner, felt as safe as a mother’s womb.

Uwa Enok had told her about the hanjuang tree. Its trunk, widely praised for its strength, was used as building pillars. Its red and green leaves symbolized harmony between mankind and nature. Uwa Enok had also told her that hanjuang trees were like the Cihanjuang women, who had to be strong to maintain unity in their families. Cihanjuang women reigned in the kitchen, where they turned nature’s gifts into sustenance for their families. “This kitchen, and everything in it, will be yours, Citrik.” Uwa Enok had promised her.

Citrik unhooked the wooden latch and pushed the window open. The cold morning breeze brought some color to her pale cheeks. Her thick eyebrows and curled eyelashes added to Citrik’s natural beauty. For a moment, she stared at the sky.


Citrick and her father first moved to Cihanjuang from the Bandung Regency in August 1949. Cihanjuang, a small village in the mountains surrounding Sukabumi, West Java, was her father’s home village, where Uwa Enok, his only sister, lived. Her father had wept on Uwa Enok’s lap as he told her about the Islamic Armed Forces of Indonesia setting fire to their village.

Citrik was five years old. It had happened so fast. She remembered waking up in her father’s arms, her vision blurred by the thick smoke. She gasped as the hot air filled her lungs.

Clutching her to his chest, her father raced out of the burning house, with the fire raging around them. Outside was a chaos of panicked people running, screaming, and crying.

Citrik’s mother didn’t make it out of their house.

“That night, a mob from the Islamic Armed Forces in Tasikmalaya attacked the Indonesian Army’s headquarter there,” Citrik’s father told his sister bitterly. “No one expected the mob to attack our village. That mob leader, Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosoewirjo, wants West Java to become the Islamic State of Indonesia. According to him, the current government is allowing the Dutch to maintain control and therefore he is planning an insurgence.”

When the Indonesian Army came too close, the Islamic Armed Forces mob retreated to the forest. Because the mob needed a large supply of food to survive while hiding in the forest, they demanded that each village household leave rice and other food items on the porch before they abandoned their villages. They destroyed the houses of those who did not comply.

After having lived for so many years in the Bandung Regency with Citrik and her mother, Citrik’s father’s days back in his home village were filled with grieving his wife’s death.

Soon, he began talking to himself, and neighbors started whispering about “the crazy man.” Then, one morning, Uwa Enok found her brother, after living less than two years in Cihanjuang, lying cold on his bed. He had died in his sleep.

Grief made Citrik grow into a quiet, lonely girl.


Citrik’s slender fingers placed three sticks of firewood, one by one, into the hawu hole. She pressed her thin lips against a short piece of bamboo and gently blew air onto the coals until they flamed. Citrik wondered where Uwa Enok was that morning. Even though Uwa Enok rarely spoke, Citrik felt safer when her aunt was around.

Citrik lifted the langseng and placed it on the hawu. The large copper pot was used to boil water, but it was also used as a water pan for steaming. The golden yellow pot looked like an upside-down magician’s hat. Cooking, Citrik thought was just like performing a magic show.

It was Uwa Enok who had introduced Citrik to the adventure of cooking. In Cihanjuang, Uwa Enok was known as a skilled cook. The village elders always praised her culinary talent. Uwa Enok said that cooking was an important skill for Cihanjuang women to possess, not only because well-prepared food brought joy to their family, but also because it was an expression of gratitude for nature’s gifts.

Uwa Enok taught Citrik many things. While living in Bandung, Citrik had assumed she would go to school like the other children. But that notion disappeared when she and her father arrived in Cihanjuang, which had no schools.

“Nature is our best teacher,” Uwa Enok had advised Citrik, while showing her ngahuma, farming rice by intercropping. Rice was planted next to corn and bananas to fertilize the soil, resulting in a more abundant harvest. The ngahuma was an important tradition that reminded humans of their humble origins and to respect nature as the source of life. Thus, children in Cihanjuang learned the meaning of patience and courage through farming.

A loud knock on the kitchen door startled Citrik from her daydream. She whirled around as the door flung open with a loud bang.

Bi Nenden rushed in, her placid face contorted with outrage. “You think you can steal my husband because you’re younger?” shouted Mang Dayat’s wife.

Stunned, Citrik began to tremble.

“Shameless bitch!” Bi Nenden grabbed Citrik’s arm and shoved her hard.

“Nenden!” Shouted a voice from outside. Uwa Enok walked through the door. “Saur kudu dibubut!” she said, standing protectively in front of Citrik. “This is my house. You must be respectful!” Uwa Enok’s lips moved, as if chanting silently, and the air in the kitchen turned damp. “I don’t want Citrik to be your husband’s wife, either,” she said.

The fury in Bi Nenden’s eyes dissolved into a blank stare. She started to cry. “Hampura, forgive me,” Bi Nenden moaned as she slumped into a squat on the earthen floor. “If only you knew how tired I am of dealing with a husband who’s blinded by lust.”

“Where did your husband learn hypnotism?” Uwa Enok asked, looking intently at Bi Nenden.

“He learned it from someone in the southern part of Java,” Bi Nenden answered softly between tears. “That knowledge destroyed my husband.”

Uwa Enok took a glass from the bamboo rack and filled it with water from a clay jug. She blew her support on the glass before handing it to Bi Nenden, who emptied it immediately.

Uwa Enok squatted on the floor next to Bi Nenden. “Let’s go to the waterfall to ask Nyi Mas Hanjuang for advice,” she whispered encouragingly. The Nyi Mas Hanjuang waterfall was a sacred place on the other side of a sacred forest on the mountain ridge. Uwa Enok often went there to pray. The old woman looked into Bi Nenden’s eyes, nodded, and tilted her head toward the door. The two women rose and slowly walked out of the kitchen.

Watching the two women’s backs as they walked away, Citrik’s heartbeat quickened.


It was already dark, but Uwa Enok and Bi Nenden had not returned home from their visit to the Nyi Mas Hanjuang waterfall. Even though Citrik knew that Uwa Enok was accustomed to visiting the waterfall, she still worried.

Looking at the ulukutek leunca she had cooked earlier that morning, Citrik wondered if Uwa Enok had eaten yet. The traditional Sundanese salad was her aunt’s favorite dish. It was made from oncom, fermented tempeh, and fruit and leaves of leunca, black nightshade, a flowering plant that grew in West Java.

Citrik decided to lie down while waiting for her aunt’s return. Unable to stay awake, the girl finally fell asleep.


Midnight came, and Citrik was still fast asleep on her bed. The light of the oil lamp cast a shadow of her curved hip against the wall. A gecko’s deep, throaty call woke Citrik. The girl looked for Uwa Enok next to her, but she was alone on the bed. Why is Uwa Enok not home yet? Citrik grew more worried. It was quite a long walk to the Nyi Mas Hanjuang waterfall.

Citrik thought about another midnight, one year ago, when she had prayed for her first time at the Nyi Mas Hanjuang waterfall. Citrik had just completed her first menstrual cycle, and now that she had become a woman, Uwa Enok told her it was time to learn the special prayers.

To get to the Nyi Mas Hanjuang waterfall, they had to travel through  an enchanted forest on a mountain ridge protected by traditional law. The area could not be used for farming, and no trees could be cut without permission from the village elders. “We must walk barefooted, and we are not allowed to speak,” Uwa Enok had explained to Citrik before they entered.

That night, accompanied by the lively chirping of crickets, Uwa Enok and Citrik walked barefoot through the sacred forest. Citrik walked behind Uwa Enok, who carried a torch.

Citrik still remembered how cold her feet were as she stepped across the damp ground. Her warm clothes and heavy kebaya, long-sleeved blouse, had not been enough to protect her from the cold mountain wind that pierced her to the core. But although she was tired and cold, Citrik knew better than to complain. She knew her aunt’s character well. Unlike herself, who was always compliant, Uwa Enok became angry when she didn’t get her way.

It was almost midnight when they arrived at the Nyi Mas Hanjuang waterfall. The water broke out of a steep cliff. The light from Uwa Enok’s torch illuminated the large steep rocks around it. Citrik could hear the roar of cascading water, which told her that the feeder stream was heavy, and the waterfall was high.

Uwa Enok bowed and sat down on a flat rock. Citrik silently unfastened the sarong sling that held their offerings. She took the small bowl filled with a roasted whole chicken, a young coconut, and a handful of cananga flowers, and arranged everything neatly on the rock.

Uwa Enok lit incense. Then, seated cross-legged, they began to pray. The only sound came from the rushing water. Citrik sank deeper into her meditation as the falling water misted her face and body. The scent of the incense filled Citrik’s nostrils. Her thoughts drifted as her mind followed the cadence of the mantra she recited.

“I accept your offering.” A soft female voice interrupted Citrik’s silent chanting. The voice was clear and its tone unassuming.

“I have done everything you asked for.” Citrik heard Uwa Enok’s voice.

“It’s in your hands,” answered the soft female voice.

Uwa Enok clasped her hands above her head. She held them there for a moment before bringing them down to her lap with one swift movement. When she opened her hands, she held a thin piece of metal the length of her palm. Uwa Enok bowed and expressed her gratitude.

“This kris is entrusted to you,” said the soft female voice. “Use it to maintain harmony between humans and their natural environment.”

Uwa Enok again thanked the spirit. She touched Citrik’s arm, motioning that they were leaving. The journey back home was not as laborious as their trip to the waterfall. They arrived at the village as dawn crawled up the back of Mount Cimentang.

Citrik’s mind wandered as she remembered that first visit. Soon, she fell asleep again.


The early morning mist still veiled Cihanjuang when Uwa Enok opened the kitchen door. The old woman entered slowly. Perspiration dampened her forehead. Though exhausted, she smiled looking at her niece, fast asleep on the bamboo cot. Uwa Enok pulled up the blanket that had rolled down to Citrik’s feet and covered the girl. She gently stroked Citrik’s head before lying down beside her.

Thursday nights were sacred nights in the Cihanjuang village, and Citrik prepared the offerings in the kitchen as usual. Four boiled eggs, a cup of black coffee, five rose buds, a handful of cananga flowers, a young green coconut, and a hand of lady-finger bananas.

She placed the offerings in the corner of the room next to the hawu.

Uwa Enok lit the incense. She reached inside her camisole and took out the Nyi Mas Hanjuang kris, wrapped in white cloth. She slowly unwrapped the kris and placed it carefully among the other offerings. The scent of incense spiraled up to the kitchen ceiling, its smoke mingling with that of the kitchen fire.

Citrik sat cross-legged next to Uwa Enok. Placing their palms on their thighs, they bowed toward the offerings.

Uwa Enok began to whisper a chant in Sundanese.

Hanjuang beureum héjo,

Hanjuang is red and green,

Hanjuang nu ngaleupaskeun,

Hanjuang frees those in bondage,

Ti kiwa tengen luhung mancur,

Hanjuang brings knowledge,

Poek mongkleng sateuacan isuk,

During the dark hours before the break of dawn.

“Uwa, is the mantra different from the one we usually chant on Thursday nights?” Citrik asked.

“It is the way Nyi Mas Hanjuang ordered it,” Uwa Enok answered, without looking at Citrik.

Sensing that now was not a good time to question her aunt any further, Citrik closed her eyes and began to follow Uwa Enok’s chanting. A few moments later, the temperature in the kitchen rose — it became very hot. As she recited the mantra, Citrik fell under its spell. The night was growing older and a cold fog shrouded Cihanjuang. Throughout the night, the cananga fragrance lingered in the kitchen.


The rising sun peeked out from behind Mount Cimentang. Citrik looked beautiful, dressed in a white kebaya and green sarong. She waited for Uwa Enok to get ready.

The room’s door curtain parted, and the fragrance of cananga filled Citrik’s nostrils again. Uwa Enok wore her usual white kebaya, but she looked different — she looked elegant. Her hair was tied in a bun on top of her head, and her wrinkled skin was radiant. Uwa Enok smiled and asked Citrik to follow her.

Carrying a bowl of apem, steamed cakes made of palm sugar and rice flour, Citrik walked behind Uwa Enok. Worried that she would drop the bowl, Citrik held it tightly against her chest. Every so often, Citrik moved next to Uwa Enok to glance at the older woman’s face.

At the Bale Saresehan, many people had already arrived to pray. All eyes were on Uwa Enok as she entered the hall with her chin raised. Her high bun accentuated her cheekbones.

At the end of the hall, a batik cloth patterned with green and red leaves covered a body lying on a pandan mat. Earlier that morning, a village elder had beaten the bamboo drum and announced Mang Dayat’s death to the villagers. Mang Dayat had died in his sleep. His body was already stiff when the first light of dawn broke through the horizon.

Bi Nenden sat next to the body, staring at the floor.

Citrik placed the bowl of cakes with the other offerings near the shrouded body, then sat down next to Uwa Enok. The pandan’s fragrance mixed with the cananga scent from Uwa Enok’s skin. The karinding music tapered off. Soon, the funeral prayer would begin. Citrik glanced at Uwa Enok.

Uwa Enok was looking at Bi Nenden.

Bi Nenden raised her head slowly, and the two women looked at each other.

Uwa Enok nodded briefly.

Stunned, Citrik saw the two women exchange faint smiles.

The foliage of the hanjuang trees around the Bale Saresehan swayed in the wind.

Death usually invites grief and mourning — but not this time.










Wina Bojonegoro is the recipient of the 2018 Anugerah Sabda Budaya Sastra Award from Universitas Brawijaya, the 2021 Award. She has been writing short stories since 1988. Her stories have been published in several national media and dozens of anthologies.

In March 2021, she established Perempuan Penulis Padma to accommodate graduates from Padmedia, a writing group of female writers. Wina lives in Omah Padma, Pasuruan. She can be contacted at, and more information about her can be found at




Lelaki yang rambutnya memutih itu duduk di teras samping rumahnya, menatap pohon mangga lalijiwo yang tengah menunggu musim panen tiba. Seharusnya Wibowo bahagia, seperti musim-musim sebelumnya. Tetapi kali ini, ada sesuatu yang meruyak pikirannya.

“Aku telah gagal,” gumamnya seraya menghela nafas panjang seolah dia hendak membuang segenap benih kekacauan.

“Kita tidak gagal.” Suara istrinya menelikung dari arah samping, melalui kembara hening yang menggenggam sore itu. “Dia berhasil menyelesaikan pendidikan strata dua di Jerman dengan beasiswa. Sekarang telah bekerja sebagai peneliti pada lembaga besar dengan gaji yang bagus. Kita tidak sia-sia mendidiknya.”

Wibowo menoleh ke samping. Di kursi yang sejajar dengan dirinya duduk Respati Rahayu, yang telah dinikahi lebih dari tiga puluh lima tahun. Selama ini perempuan itulah yang mendukungnya untuk menentukan apapun. Pilihan hidup, membangun rumah, bahkan memilih calon menantu di antara sekian lelaki yang disodorkan anak semata wayang mereka.

“Kurasa kita selama ini sepakat, bahwa keberhasilan orang tua dalam mendidik anak bukan sekedar ditandai pada pendidikan tinggi.” Wibowo ingin berpidato panjang lebar, tetapi melihat isterinya menyuguhkan teh serai kesukaannya, dia menelan ludah, lalu membuang nafas lagi. Direguknya teh serai wangi yang selalu menjadi teman mereka berbincang di sore hari. Irisan jahe dalam campuran serai menerbitkan pedas hangat di tenggorokannya. Kosarasa yang selalu dikenang saat mereka berjauhan, teh serai dengan irisan jahe buatan Respati Rahayu.

“Sementara orang lain tidak tahu harus bagaimana menangani pendidikan anaknya, kita berhasil menanamkan nilai, bahwa sekolah dengan bea siswa itu sebuah kehormatan.” Sang isteri memulai lagi. “Kita tak perlu menyuap agar anak kita mendapatkan pendidikan baik. Mulai SD sampai S2 dia selalu masuk sekolah terbaik. Palupi tumbuh menjadi anak mandiri, tanpa merepotkan kita. Ini pencapaian kita sebagai orang tua.”

“Keberhasilan orang tua, yang paling penting adalah menanamkan nilai-nilai kebangsaan,” ujar Wibowo sembari menggenggamkan tangan. “Pendidikan memang sangat penting; tetapi menanamkan nilai kebangsaan, itulah dasar dari semua sikap dan perilaku.”

Respati Rahayu menoleh kepada suaminya dengan mata memicing. “Jadi anak kita tidak punya wawasan kebangsaan?” Suaranya meninggi. “Kurang apa? Dia hapal pancasila. Punya bendera di lemari yang siap dikibarkan kapan saja, hapal lagu Indonesia Raya tiga stansa.” Mata Respati yang biasanya lembut, kali ini terlihat nyalang. “Malah kita punya seperangkat gamelan yang masih dimainkan. Kita menggunakan bahasa Jawa dan bahasa negara dalam perbincangan sehari-hari. Anak kita juga….”

“Bagaimana bisa kamu bilang anakmu itu berkebangsaan?” Wibowo menyela. “Mencari nama buat calon anaknya saja impor. Apa tidak ada nama Indonesia atau Jawa yang indah dan gagah?” wajah Wibowo yang sudah tegang sejak semula, menjadi kian kencang. Lelaki Jawa yang bersikeras membangun joglo di bagian depan rumah induk itu terlihat sangat masgul.

Nama Wibowo Besari yang disandangnya adalah pesan leluhur yang berarti: lelaki berwibawa, digdaya tanpa menyakiti, besar tetapi tidak jumawa, mengayomi tanpa merendahkan. Nama itu serupa titah sang romo yang pernah menjabat sebagai camat di kawasan Tejowangi ini.

Wong Jowo ojo nganti ilang Jawane. Jadi orang Jawa jangan sampai hilang jati dirinya.” Ucapan ayah Wibowo Besari itu, dijadikan pegangan dalam menjalani hidup. Sebab demikianlah takdir telah disematkan atas dirinya sebagai wong Jowo, maka dibuatlah rumah joglo, pendopo seni, sebagai ciri kejawaan dan membeli seperangkat gamelan slendro dan pelog. Lalu, dia mengajak para tetangga memainkannya. Sesekali jika rejeki membaik, keluarga ini mengundang tetangga untuk kenduri di rumah joglo itu. Nasi tumpeng dengan ayam ingkung, ayam panggang dalam keseluruhannya, menjadi hidangan wajib yang disuguhkan.


Terngiang di kotak ingatan Respati perselisihan lama antara dirinya dan sang suami. “Palupi Retnaningrum Hapsari itu kepanjangan. Cukup dua nama seperti kita. Wibowo Besari. Respati Rahayu.” Keluh Respati sembari mengelus perutnya yang membuncit.

“Diajeng tahu artinya tiga nama itu?” Tanya Wibowo muda dengan senyum menggoda.

“Ya tahulah. ‘Palupi’ artinya teladan. ‘Hapsari’ artinya permata yang bersinar. Sek sek… ‘Retnaningrum’ artinya apa ya Mas?”

“Retnaningrum artinya kepribadian yang luwes dan welas asih. Jadi harapanku anak ini kelak menjadi pribadi yang welas asih, berhati mulia, menjadi teladan bagi orang-orang di sekelilingnya.” Sepasang mata Wibowo muda berkilau.

“Itu kalau anak kita perempuan. Lha, kalau lelaki?” Respati melirik tajam ke arah suaminya.

“Dia akan kuberi nama Jagad Reksaning Bawono. Tetapi kata bu bidan, anak kita perempuan.” Wibowo tersenyum lebar, tanda kemenangan.

Saat itulah Respati paham bahwa nama dalam tatanan kemasyarakatan Jawa memiliki aturan tak tertulis. Satu nama menandakan keluarga itu dari golongan petani atau pekerja tingkat bawah. Dua nama biasa digunakan dalam keluarga pegawai pemerintahan, guru atau pedagang. Tiga nama lazim digunakan keluarga ningrat atau pejabat tinggi. Namun, saat ini penggolongan itu tidak lagi menjadi pakem. Meski begitu, Wibowo memiliki pendirian: menggunakan nama Jawa pada anak cucunya adalah wajib, agar darah yang mengalir di tubuh mereka terpantulkan dari nama yang disematkan.


Kabar saat Palupi mengandung anak pertama, tentu menjadi sebuah cahaya bagi pasangan yang terlambat memiliki cucu. Hasil pemeriksaan USG mengabarkan anak dalam kandungan Palupi adalah perempuan. Wibowo mulai menderas nama berminggu-minggu, hingga suatu hari dia tampak tersenyum simpul di rumah joglo.

“Aku telah menemukan nama yang tepat buat cucu kita,” katanya pada Respati yang menyusul duduk di kursi rotan jengki. “Maharani Mahisa Suramardini.” Dengan pengucapan patah-patah dan suara didengung-dengungkan, Wibowo mengucapkan nama itu disertai wajah puas.

Respati mendelik.

“Kenapa? Hebat kan?” tanya sang suami.

Respati menggeleng. “Orang Jawa kalau keberatan nama bisa sakit-sakitan.”

“Tunggu dulu.” Wibowo melanjutkan dengan mata berbinar-binar, “Maharani Mahisa Suramardini adalah gelar Ratu Sima, raja Kalingga yang mashur. Dia bukan saja ratu yang adil dan bisa menerima perbedaan agama, namun juga cantik jelita. Budi pekertinya luhur, sehingga dicintai kaum jelata, disegani golongan kelas atas.”

“Tapi kita ini bukan golongan atasan, Pak. Apalagi trah raja atau ratu. Kita cuma pensiunan pegawai negeri. Kebetulan saja mertuaku pensiunan camat. Masa iya memberi nama cucu seberat itu?” tangkis Respati dengan pikiran ruwet. Setelah diam sejenak, dia berkata, “Mengeja namanya saja susah. Bagiku nama Ningsih, Endang, Wati, itu jauh lebih mudah dan indah.”

Wibowo tersenyum lebar, “Sudah kurenungkan berminggu-minggu. Kucarikan padanan dan perbandingan, lihat itu di buku catatanku. Ada berapa ratus nama dengan artinya?” Wibowo meraih buku catatan bersampul biru di atas meja kecil, mengacungkannya pada Respati sambil berkata, “Ini perjuangan tak mudah untuk menemukan nama yang tepat buat cucu pertama kita. Sebagai kakek, aku ingin turut andil dalam melestarikan nama, tanda kecintaan kita pada leluhur.”

Respati hanya bisa mengangkat pundak. Darahnya pun Jawa tulen, seluruh urutan garis leluhurnya adalah Jawa. Namun dalam melakoninya sehari-hari, suaminya jauh lebih Jawa dari dirinya.

Wibowo memegang teguh falsafah Memayu Hayuning Bawana yang memiliki makna menjunjung tinggi kemanfaatan diri bagi dunia dan isinya. Barang siapa berbuat kebaikan, dia akan selamat dunia akhirat. Salah satu wujudnya adalah, menolak pagar beton atau besi. Dia menggantinya dengan pagar pohon beluntas, yang ditanam rapat mengelilingi batas halaman sebagai kesadaran hidup bertetangga yang saling menghidupi. Beluntas itu menjadi sayuran yang boleh diambil siapa saja sebagai bahan urap-urap atau pecel.

Merasa telah menemukan wangsit nan jitu, Wibowo menelpon Palupi dengan gegap gempita. “Maharani Mahisa Suramardini. Ini nama yang luar biasa, Ndhuk. Jejak kita sebagai wong Jowo akan terekam dalam nama anakmu. Kelak ketika dia dewasa, orang-orang luar sana akan mengenal anakmu sebagai orang Jawa. Jangan lupa, jika ada yang bertanya, kakeknya yang memberi nama!” calon kakek itu tertawa riang.

“Romo…,” suara Palupi mengandung keengganan, dari nadanya dia terdengar ingin melawan.

“Bagaimana? Bagus kan nama pilihan Romo?” Nada bangga Wibowo masih tergambar.

“Tapi Romo, maaf, kami telah menemukan nama buat bayi kami.”

Jawaban Palupi itu seketika mencegah Wibowo untuk berkata selanjutnya. Raut wajahnya mendadak kaku dan pasi. Dia menatap istrinya, yang juga tengah menatapnya.

Kekecewaan mewarnai mata sang calon kakek.

“Lalu siapa nama yang akan kau berikan pada anakmu?” Respati tampak mencoba mencairkan ketegangan yang mendadak hadir di antara dua pihak.

“Alexa Caroline Andromeda,” jawab Palupi kembali riang, seakan dia telah menemukan gugusan bintang di langit yang mudah diraih dengan kedua lengannya.

“Artinya?” tanya sang ibu lagi.

“Alexa itu bahasa Yunani, artinya perempuan pembela manusia. Caroline artinya tangguh dan mengagumkan. Andromeda adalah nama gugusan bintang di alam semesta yang sangat luas, jauh lebih besar dari Bimasakti.”

“Kenapa harus pakai bahasa Yunani? Tidak adakah nama asli Indonesia atau Jawa yang cukup memadai sebagai pengganti anak perempuan hebat?” Sesungguhnya ini kalimat Wibowo. Respati mencoba mengutipnya.

“Anu Bu, sudah terlanjur.” Suara Palupi terdengar gamang.

“Terlanjur bagaimana? Wong anak belum lahir kok.” Sekarang Respati yang mulai merasa masgul. Dia tak ingin anaknya salah menyikapi bayinya, sesuatu yang sangat dilarang dalam budaya Jawa.

“Sudah memesan pakaian bayi, keranjang tidur, dan lukisan dinding kamar tidur dengan nama itu.” Nada suaranya menurun, seakan menyesal telah menyampaikan.

“Kamu kok lancang tho, Nduk?” Wibowo menyela. “Kamu jangan nggege mongso ⸺ mendahului kehendak Tuhan. Jangan membeli perlengkapan bayi sebelum upacara tingkeban yang diadakan saat kandungan berusia tujuh bulan agar kamu dan bayimu sehat dan persalinannya lancar. Keheningan hadir setelah kalimat itu terlontar.

“Palupi, kamu tahu kenapa huruf ha na ca ra ka itu nyaris lenyap?” tiba-tiba sang ayah mendesak.

Palupi terdiam.

Respati membasuh wajah dengan kedua tangan, menyadari kegentingan akan panjang.

“Sepertinya anak-anak muda sudah tidak ngajeni leluhurnya.” Wibowo berhenti sejenak, kemudian melanjutkan dengan suara meninggi, “Kenapa nama saja harus impor? Nama seharusnya digunakan untuk menjaga nilai kedirian, agar anak-anak muda tak lupa akar leluhurnya.” Wibowo menunggu tanggapan Palupi. Ketika tidak juga muncul, dia menyerang, “Mestinya kalian malu sama orang Jepang. Mereka maju. Mengikuti jaman, tapi perilakunya tetap Jepang. Budaya mereka abadi. Hurup kanji dipakai sampai sekarang.” Wibowo berhenti terengah-engah sebelum menyambung dengan tegas, “Nama mereka pun tetap Jepang.”

Palupi tetap membeku.

Dengan berusaha menerobos keheningan, Wibowo mengakhiri dengan berteriak, “Kamu apa? Jawa? Indonesia? Bule bangsa apa?”


Sejak hari itu, Wibowo enggan berbicara dengan Palupi, anak perempuan yang dulu sangat dipujanya. Dia lupa, Palupi pernah menjadi bahan pembicaraan di pertemuan apapun, dengan siapapun.

Respati, sebagaimana seorang ibu, selalu berusaha menjadi jembatan dalam hubungan antara ayah dan anak yang membeku sejak persoalan nama itu mencuat.

“Ndhuk, apakah kamu tak ingin menyapa romomu lebih dulu?” Sang calon nenek menelpon tanpa sepengetahuan suaminya.

Palupi mendesah.

Embusan napasnya terdengar oleh Respati yang meneruskan dengan desakan, “Apa sulitnya menerima usulan nama romo?” Pertanyaannya hanya disambut dengan jeda panjang.

Kemudian Palupi berkata, “Bu, Palupi memang orang Jawa. Itu darah yang mengalir di tubuh saya tak dapat disangkal. Namun, sebagai seseorang, saya berhak memberi nama anak saya sesuai dengan selera. Seperti Romo dulu juga memberi nama Palupi sesuai dengan keinginan Romo dan Ibu.”

“Boleh. Tetapi yang tidak disukai romo adalah nama impor itu. Gunakan nama Jawa atau Indonesia yang mampu menjadi jati diri leluhurmu.” Dada Respati penuh, tetapi ditahannya kuat-kuat. Sebagai ibu, dia tidak pernah mengalami perselisihan seruncing ini dengan anaknya. “Seandainya kamu tahu, bagaimana romo berjuang menderas nama buat cucu pertamanya, kamu akan bangga ditakdirkan lahir dari benihnya.”

“Saya mengerti. Tetapi saya harus menghormati suami saya. Dia punya hak memberi nama pada darah dagingnya.”

Bendungan yang menahan beban akhirnya meluber. Pelan-pelan air mata bergulir di pipi Respati yang telah kehilangan kemulusannya. Matanya kelabu. Benar, dia tak salah mendidik Palupi. Tetapi sungguh, dia tak menyangka akan sekokoh ini sikapnya. “Apakah kamu sudah bicara dengan suamimu soal nama itu?” suara parau meluncur dari tenggorokan Respati.

“Belum. Seperti Ibu menghormati sikap Romo, saya pun menghormati suami. Bukankah itu yang Ibu ajarkan? Saya menunggu waktu yang tepat untuk membahas soal nama Jawa dengan Bang Syarif. Pada saat itu baru saya akan usulkan.”

Hening menjaga jarak di antara ibu-anak.

“Ibu berharap suamimu mengerti.” Respati merendahkan suaranya. “Nama yang kita sematkan untuk anak kita adalah upaya melestarikan jatidiri. Kelak mereka pasti akan menelusuri jejak budaya dan leluhurnya, setidaknya dimulai dari bertanya arti namanya,”

Respati merasa menemukan kalimat yang tepat. “Ciri khas daerah dalam nama itu akan selalu dibawa oleh si anak ke mana pun dia pergi, dan menjadi ciri khas di negeri manapun, dia akan dikenali sebagai anak Indonesia, khusunya Jawa.”

Palupi tahu, ketika ibunya telah berbicara dalam nada rendah, itu adalah perasaan penting yang keluar dari hati. Dia tidak menyela ketika ibunya melanjutkan, “Tetapi meski terlahir sebagai wong Jawa, kami tak ingin menjadi kolot. Masih ingat? Ketika kamu menyodorkan calon suami, pertanyaan romo waktu itu bukan kenapa bukan orang Jawa? Apakah sudah punya rumah? Dari keluarga apa? Tidak kan? Pertanyaan Romo hanya satu: apakah dia menjunjung tinggi kehormatanmu sebagai perempuan?

Terdengar isak kecil dari seberang.

Respati menahan diri agar tak larut dalam suasana. Dia menyadari, dalam dunia yang serba cepat dan tanpa batas saat ini, menjaga jejak kebangsaan melalui nama amatlah muskil. Nama berbau dunia luar seringkali lebih terlihat kekinian. Menjaga nama-nama Jawa tetap digunakan bagaikan menegakkan benang basah.


Makan malam yang seharusnya sederhana dan riang sebagaimana tiga tahun berjalan, tidak lagi malam ini. Palupi terlihat menahan gelombang di dadanya. Sementara Syarif Hidayatullah, sang suami, mengunyah makanan lambat-lambat seperti tak ada rasa dalam masakan itu. Suara televisi menyiarkan berita banjir di sana sini, membuat Palupi semakin tegang. Dia mematikan TV.

Lelaki campuran Bugis – Palembang yang meminang Palupi dengan seperangkat alat sholat dan perhiasan emas itu menyudahi makan malam dalam diam. Dia meneguk air putih lalu berdiri, tak ingin melanjutkan perbincangan yang sudah dimulai oleh Palupi sejak mereka duduk di ruang makan itu.

“Tunggu, Bang. Kita belum selesai,” sergah Palupi.

Syarif kembali duduk dengan enggan, jemarinya memain-mainkan gelas yang telah kosong.

“Kumohon Abang bisa menerima ini. Soal nama anak kita, dan soal upacara tingkeban yang diminta Ibu.” Suara lembut Palupi terdengar seperti rayuan.

Syarif menatap isterinya dalam-dalam. Isi kepalanya mengatakan tak ingin membahas soal nama anak, baginya itu harga mati. Orang tua berhak memberi nama anak masing-masing tanpa campur tangan siapapun.

“Memang tidak menyenangkan hidup sebagai anak tunggal.” Suara Palupi berubah menjadi tegas. “Ada kewajiban secara tidak tertulis untuk meneruskan adat, dan leluhur. Aku sudah berusaha menolak mereka soal nama dan tingkeban, tapi hasilnya aku bertengkar dengan Romo dan Ibu ⸺ sesuatu yang tidak pernah terjadi seumur hidupku.” Palupi tertunduk, air mata bergulir di sepasang pipinya.

Syarif menutup mulutnya dengan kedua tangan sambil sikunya bertelekan pada meja. Ada selembar rasa bersalah melintas di hatinya. Tetapi sisi lain menolak. “Bukankah setiap anak perempuan yang diserahkan kepada mempelai pria saat akad nikah, menjadi hak sepenuhnya sang suami?” suara Syarif pelan dan datar, tetapi Palupi menyahut dengan cepat.

“Suami memberi mahar pada isteri bukan berarti membeli.” Kalimat itu terdengar garang di telinga Syarif, perempuan ini seperti bukan Palupi yang biasanya. “Murah sekali jika seorang lelaki membeli perempuan dengan seperangkat alat sholat, lalu dia berhak sepenuhnya atas perempuan itu.” Palupi menatap tajam mata suaminya yang hitam kelam.

“Berapa biaya yang dikeluarkan lelaki untuk mendapatkan seorang perempuan dalam keadaan terbaik mereka? Lalu bandingkan dengan berapa biaya orang tua merawat anak perempuan itu sejak dia dalam kandungan, hingga usia pantas menikah. Berapa nilai modal yang ditanam?”

Kata-kata yang sudah tersimpan di mulut Syarif raib.

“Aku menyerahkan diriku padamu, suamiku, karena aku mencintaimu.” Berbaris-baris kalimat telah siap dilontarkan oleh Palupi, tetapi dia menjaga martabat suaminya.

Syarif terlihat makin membeku.

“Setelah seluruh cinta mereka tumpah ruah demi anaknya semata wayang, agar aku menjadi perempuan berpendidikan dan berbudi pekerti baik, sehat jasmani dan rohani, aku menyerahkan diri sepenuhnya untukmu secara suka rela. Sekarang, sulitkah bagimu menerima nama hadiah dari orang tuaku karena semata kau ayah bayi ini?”

Syarif melihat sepasang mata istrinya berkilat. Selama tiga tahun pernikahannya, Palupi tidak pernah bicara berapi-api seperti malam ini.

“Baiklah.” Akhirnya Syarif merendah. “Nama bayi pertama boleh memakai hadiah dari romo. Tetapi soal tingkeban, itu tidak ada dalam ajaran agama kita.”

Palupi berdiri gesit, tubuhnya terlihat tegap meskipun dalam keadaan hamil menjelang tujuh bulan. “Adat dan agama dua hal yang tak bisa menyatu, Bang. Mereka berjalan beriringan seperti rel kereta untuk mencapai satu tujuan, kerukunan.” Palupi meninggalkan Syarif sendirian di ruang makan dan berjalan cepat-cepat menuju kamar untuk menelpon ibunya.


Kyai Brajadenta, gamelan milik keluarga Wibowo, siang itu mengalun lembut di rumah joglo Wibowo. Gamelan yang ditabuh oleh sebelas lelaki dan beberapa perempuan tetangga itu menampakkan sisi terbaik dari sebuah pasugatan, jamuan untuk tamu-tamu yang dihormati. Suasana ramah dan penuh canda memenuhi joglo dan rumah induk yang rimbun oleh pepohonan. Orang-orang yang belum tentu setahun sekali berjumpa, hari ini berkumpul dalam suasana semanak.

Semalam telah dilakukan pengajian untuk mendoakan sang ibu dan janin dengan sajian makanan langka, tujuh buah tumpeng ditambah jajanan pasar, ketan kolak, pisang raja. Sekarang saatnya rangkaian upacara lengkap yang dimulai dengan siraman.

Sebuah sudut telah disiapkan dengan hiasan aneka kembang dan jambangan berisi air dari tujuh sumber dan bunga tujuh rupa: mawar, melati, kenanga, gading, sedap malam, kemuning, pacar banyu. Palupi dengan riasan sederhana dan kemben jumputan merah hati, menggunakan hiasan melati ronce menutupi pundak dan dadanya. Dia duduk di sebuah kursi kayu, siap memulai upacara siraman oleh para tetua termasuk keluarga besan yang jauh-jauh datang dari Makassar.

Syarif tak henti menebar senyum. Keluarga besar di Makassar ternyata menyambut baik upacara adat tingkeban ini. Para perempuan justru sangat senang dan sukarela mengenakan kebaya dan jarit, sedangkan para lelaki menggunakan blangkon dan beskap. Segala keriuhan itu menjadi sebuah tontonan menarik di mata adik bungsu Syarif, yang mengabadikan semuanya untuk santapan youtube.




Alvin Steviro was raised in an evangelical family. He became obsessed with existential questions and Western philosophy during his teenage years. Steviro holds a bachelor’s degree in English Studies and a master’s degree in Cultural Studies.

In addition to his interest in social, political, and cultural issues, he also addresses the practical sides of life. He is currently employed as a content writer and freelance translator.






The man with greying hair sat on the side porch of his house, looking at a lalijiwa mango tree, laden with fruit ready to harvest. Wibowo should’ve felt as happy as he had the seasons before, but this year, something disturbed him terribly. “I have failed,” he murmured and sighed deeply, wishing to rid himself of the unrest.

“No, we haven’t.” His wife’s voice rose from alongside him, breaking through the stifling silence of the afternoon. “She finished her master’s study in Germany with a scholarship. Now she’s working as a researcher at a big institution, earning good pay. We didn’t raise her in vain.”

Wibowo looked at Respati Rahayu, his wife of more than thirty-five years. During all those years, this woman had supported his decisions on everything: from life choices to decisions regarding the construction of their new home and even selecting a son-in-law from the many candidates their only child introduced to them. “I thought we agreed that the parents’ success in educating their child is not measured by how educated the child turns out to be.”

Wibowo was about to embark on a long lecture, but when his wife offered him his favorite lemongrass tea, he merely swallowed and sighed once more. He then took a sip of the fragrant tea, their ever-faithful companion during their afternoon talks. Sliced ginger in the tea warmed his throat. It was the vocabulary of taste that lingered in his mind whenever they were apart ⸺ the lemongrass tea with ginger, brewed by Respati Rahayu. His wife resumed their conversation. “While a lot of people don’t know how to handle their children’s education, we taught our daughter that getting a degree with a scholarship award is an honor. We did not have to bribe anyone to secure a good education for our child. She always went to the best schools, from elementary to graduate studies. In addition, Palupi grew into an independent adult who doesn’t trouble us. This is our achievement as her parents.”

“The most important achievement as her parents is to impart the value of nationalism,” Wibowo said, clenching his fists. “Education is very important, yes, but nationalism is the foundation of a person’s character.”

Respati Rahayu squinted at her husband. “You don’t think our daughter is nationalistic enough?” Her voice rose. “She can recite the Pancasila — Indonesia’s official philosophical theory — by heart. In one of her closets she stores an Indonesian flag she can raise anytime. She can sing all three stanzas of the Indonesia Raya, our national anthem. What more do you expect of her?” Respati’s gentle eyes now flashed. “We even have gamelan instruments that we still play! We speak Javanese and Indonesian in our daily conversations. Our daughter also —”

“How can you say that your daughter is nationalistic enough?” Wibowo interrupted. “She even chose an imported name for her child as if there are no Indonesian or Javanese names that carry a sense of beauty or pride!” Wibowo’s taut face tightened even more. Sorrow clouded the eyes of the Javanese man who had insisted on building a joglo — a large gazebo with a traditionally trapezoid-shaped roof — in front of the main house.

His name, Wibowo Besari, carried an important message from his ancestors: he was to be a gentleman, an unbeatable man who does no harm, a man noble yet humble, a protector who doesn’t belittle others. Wibowo’s name resonated his father’s wishes.

“A person of Javanese descent should never let go of his Javanese-ness,” his father had told him. “He should never lose his identity.” His father, who once served as the head of the Tejowangi district, considered a name to be a directive of one’s lifestyle. Fate had made Wibowo a Javanese man, and, as befitted a Javanese man, he showed his Javanese-ness: He built a joglo and bought slendro and pelog gamelan instruments to play. Occasionally, when he came by some extra money, he invited his neighbors to the joglo for a kenduri, a celebration of gratitude, where he served the Javanese staple dishes for such an occasion: nasi tumpeng — coned rice cooked in coconut milk, turmeric, and other spices — and ayam ingkung, a whole spiced, roasted chicken.


“Palupi Retnaningrum Hapsari is too long,” Respati remembered arguing with her husband while being pregnant of their daughter. “A two-word name, like we have: Wibowo Besari, Respati Rahayu, is enough,” she had grumbled, rubbing her growing belly.

“Do you know what the three words mean, dear?” Young Wibowo had teased, smiling.

“Of course, I do! ‘Palupi’ means role model. ‘Hapsari’ means shining gem. And ‘Retnaningrum’ — wait, what does ‘Retnaningrum’ mean?”

“Retnaningrum means a flexible and compassionate personality. I hope that one day this child will be a generous, noble person admired by the people around her.” Young Wibowo’s eyes sparkled.

“That’s if our child is a girl.” Respati peered at her husband. “What if it’s a boy?”

“Then I’ll name him Jagad Reksaning Bawono!” Wibowo grinned victoriously. “But the midwife said that our child will be a girl.”

It was then that Respati realized that there were unwritten rules for naming in the Javanese community. Having only a one-word name marked a person as coming from a low, working-class or farming family. Civil servants, teachers, and traders commonly had two-word names. Three-word names signified a lineage of royal blood or high-ranking officials.

While such name-ranking was no longer relevant in modern Indonesian times, Wibowo was firm. His children and grandchildren must be given three-word Javanese names that reflected the rank of blood that flowed through their veins.


The news that their daughter, Palupi, was expecting her first child brought some light to the lives of the old couple who had waited a long time for a grandchild. When the sonogram revealed that Palupi’s child was a girl, Wibowo started thinking of possible names. For weeks he pondered, until one day, Respati found him sitting in his joglo, smiling.

“I have found the perfect name for our granddaughter,” he said to his wife when she pulled up a wicker chair and joined him. “Maharani Mahisa Suramardini.” Wibowo looked content as he carefully pronounced each word.

Respati’s eyes widened.

“What’s the matter?” Wibowo asked smugly. “Isn’t it perfect?”

Respati shook her head. “According to Javanese belief, a child with such a pretentious name may be prone to illness.”

“Now, just wait a minute.” Wibowo’s eyes glowed. “Maharani Mahisa Suramardini is the title of Queen Shima, the seventh-century ruler of the great Kalingga kingdom. She was not only fair and capable of reconciling religious differences, but she was also beautiful. She was noble, so she was loved by the commoners and respected by royalty.”

“But we’re not nobility, dear, let alone royalty,” Respati countered, confused. “Yes, your father was a district head before he retired, so we’re just a family of a retired civil servant. Would it be proper to give our grandchild such a regal name?” After a moment of silence, she continued, “Just spelling the names is already difficult. For me, names like Ningsih, Endang, and Wati are easier to pronounce and more beautiful.”

Wibowo smiled radiantly. “I’ve thought about this for weeks! I searched for names and compared them. Look in my notebook. You’ll see how many hundreds of names and their meanings I went through.” Wibowo reached for a blue notebook on the small table and handed it to Respati. “Finding the best name for our first grandchild wasn’t easy. As her grandfather, I’d like to partake in conserving our traditional names, as a token of love for our ancestors.”

Respati could only shrug. Like all of her ancestors, she, too, was full-blooded Javanese. But, when it came to adhering to Javanese culture and tradition, her husband had far more Javanese-ness than she did.

Wibowo clung to the philosophy of Memayu Hayuning Bawana — doing the best you can for the world and everything that lives within it. Those who did good in this life would be rewarded in the hereafter. In practicing this belief, Wibowo refused to build a concrete wall or iron fence around his home. Instead, he planted a camphorweed hedge which would also be beneficial for the neighborhood as anyone was allowed to take cuttings of the camphorweed for their vegetable salad.

Certain that he had found the perfect name, Wibowo excitedly called Palupi. “Maharani Mahisa Suramardini!” he crowed into the phone. ” It’s perfect! Our Javanese bloodline will be recorded in your daughter’s name. As she grows up, people will recognize your daughter as a Javanese. Don’t forget to tell everyone who asks that her grandfather gave her the name!” The soon-to-be grandfather laughed cheerfully.

“Dad,” Palupi’s voice was filled with reluctance.

“So what do you think?” Wibowo could not hide his pride. “Didn’t I pick a great name?”

“Yes, Dad, but we’ve already picked a name for our baby.”

Wibowo stiffened, speechless. His face fell. He looked helplessly at his wife, who stood looking at him.

“So,” Respati said into the speaker phone, wanting to relax the sudden tension between the two, “what will you name her?”

“Alexa Caroline Andromeda,” Palupi replied happily, as if she had plucked a star from a celestial constellation.

“What does it mean?” Respati inquired.

“Alexa comes from a Greek word that means a woman who fights for mankind. Caroline means tough and amazing. Andromeda is the name of a galaxy greater than the Milky Way!”

“Why do you want to borrow Greek words?” Respati spoke Wibowo’s words for him. “Aren’t there any Indonesian or Javanese names that describe an amazing girl?”

“Oh, well, Mom, it’s a done deal.” Palupi sounded anxious.

Now Respati was the one who started to feel concerned. In Javanese culture, a baby’s name wasn’t a “done deal” until the baby was born. Respati didn’t want her daughter’s actions to tempt fate. The Javanese culture strongly opposed making any preparations for the baby’s birth before the fetus was seven months old. She probed, “How can that be? The child hasn’t been born yet.”

“Mom, we’ve already ordered monogrammed clothing and a crib. The mural in the baby’s room also has that name on it.” Palupi lowered her voice as if she were sorry for having told them.

“How dare you!” Wibowo interrupted “You can’t act ahead of God’s will! You can’t buy things for the baby before the seventh month of your pregnancy, when we hold the tingkeban ritual for you and your baby’s wellbeing and an easy delivery!”
Silence followed Wibowo’s outburst.

“Palupi.” Wibowo suddenly probed, “Do you know why the ha na ca ra ka letters, the Javanese script, have nearly vanished?”

Still, Palupi remained silent.

Respati wiped her face with both hands. She realized this argument would last for some time.

“It seems that this younger generation no longer respects their ancestors.” Wibowo’s voice rose again. “Why do you have to use foreign words for something as essential as a name? A name should be used to preserve one’s sense of self, so that the young won’t forget where they came from!”

Wibowo stopped, waiting for Palupi’s response. But as Palupi gave none, he grew more furious. “You should be ashamed! Look at the Japanese. They are a developed nation. They’ve adapted to the times, but their behavior is still Japanese. Their culture is eternally Japanese. Their kanji script is still used to this day.” Wibowo caught his breath then continued firmly, “Their names are still Japanese!”

Palupi still would not respond.

Desperate to break through her silence, Wibowo shouted, “What are you? A Javanese? An Indonesian? Or are you a foreigner? From which country?”


Ever since that day, Wibowo refused to talk to Palupi, the daughter he had always been so proud of, the daughter who had been the topic of every conversation he had regardless of with whom and the occasion.

Just like any mother would, Respati tried to repair the rift between father and daughter. The soon-to-be grandmother called her daughter without telling Wibowo. “Dear, shouldn’t you reach out to your father first?”

Palupi only sighed.

Respati heard her sigh and pressed on. “What’s so difficult about accepting your father’s suggested name for the baby?”

The question was met by a long pause before Palupi eventually replied. “Mom, I am Javanese. There’s no denying that the blood that flows through my veins is Javanese. But as an individual, I have the right to name my child the way I see fit ⸺ just like you and Dad named me ‘Palupi’ according to your wishes as my parents.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Respati conceded. “What your father doesn’t like are the foreign names. Can’t you use some Javanese or Indonesian names that pay tribute to your ancestors and heritage?” Respati had never experienced such a sharp disagreement with her daughter. It bothered her very much but she rallied, “If only you knew how your father labored over his first granddaughter’s name, you would be proud to be his daughter.”

“I understand, Mom. But I have to respect my husband’s preferences, too. Syarif also has a say in naming his own child.”

Respati’s strength crumbled. Slowly, tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. She knew she had not steered Palupi wrong, but she had never expected her daughter to hold on this strongly to her opinion. “So have you discussed the name problem with your husband?” Respati’s asked hoarsly.

“No, I haven’t. I’m still waiting for the right time to discuss Javanese names with Syarif. When we do I’ll let him know what I think. I respect my husband just like you respect Dad. Isn’t that what you taught me?”

Silence strained the distance between mother and daughter.

“I hope your husband will understand.” Respati lowered her voice. “The name we give to our children is an attempt to preserve our Javanese identity. One day, the children will trace their cultural and ancestral origins, first and foremost by asking what their names mean.”

Respati felt she had found the right words. “The uniqueness of a place will be stamped in the name a child will carry wherever it goes. Whichever country your daughter travels to, she’ll be known as an Indonesian, more specifically, a Javanese.”

Palupi knew that when her mother lowered her voice, she was sharing her innermost feelings. Palupi didn’t interrupt, and Respati continued. “Although we’re born Javanese, we also try to be less old-fashioned. Do you remember when you first introduced Syarif to us? Your father didn’t ask you why he wasn’t Javanese; he didn’t ask whether Syarif owned a nice house; he didn’t ask which family he came from. He didn’t. He only asked you if this suitor upheld your honor as a woman.”

Respati heard her daughter’s choked sob through the phone. She steeled herself, not allowing the emotionally-charged atmosphere to get the better of her. She realized that in a borderless world where everything moved at lightning speed, conserving traces of nationality was an arduous, quixotic task. Foreign names sounded more modern. Preserving Javanese names was like trying to keep a wet thread standing upright.


Dinner had always been simple and joyful over the course of three years of marriage, but not tonight. Palupi was noticeably restless while her husband chewed his food indifferently. The TV broadcast of widespread flooding added to Palupi’s anxiety, and she turned it off.

Syarif Hidayatullah, the Bugis-Palembang man who had courted Palupi with gold jewelry and a Islamic prayer rug, beads, robe and Quran, finished his dinner in silence. Reluctant to continue the conversation Palupi had started when they first sat down to dinner, he finished his glass of water and rose.

“Wait, dear.” Palupi touched his arm. “We’re not done.”

Reluctantly, Syarif sat back down and started spinning the empty water glass.

“Please accept the Javanese name for our child,” Palupi pleaded softly, “and the tingkeban ritual that my mother is asking for.”

Syarif held his wife’s eyes. He was done with this discussion. The naming issue was non-negotiable. It’s the parents’ right to name their children without anyone’s interference.

“It’s not simple being the only child.” Palupi continued in a firmer tone. “There are unwritten responsibilities and expectations about passing on cultural and ancestral heritages. I tried to refuse their suggestions for the baby’s name and their request to hold the tingkeban ritual, and all I accomplished was getting into a fight with my parents ⸺ something that has never happened.” Palupi bowed her head, tears running down her cheeks.

Syarif planted his elbows on the table and dropped his chin into his hands, covering his mouth. Guilt crept into his heart, but his mind was made up. “When a daughter is handed over to a man in a wedding ceremony, doesn’t she become her husband’s possession?” Syarif asked matter-of-factly.

Fury rose in Palupi. “No! Just because a husband presents his wife with a dowry, it does not mean that he purchased her!”

Her words struck Syarif as harsh. This wasn’t the Palupi he knew. He glared at her.

“If a man could purchase full ownership of a woman in the prime of her life with just some gold jewelry, a set of Islamic praying beads, robe, mat, and Quran, then how does that expenditure compare to how much her parents spent on raising her, from conception till she walks down the aisle? How big was their investment?”

Syarif swallowed the words he had been ready to speak.

Palupi was ready to deliver several carefully prepared sentences, but she was mindful of her husband’s dignity. She said, “I surrendered myself to you, my husband, because I love you.”

Syarif remained silent, dumbfounded.

“After my parents gave all their love to their only child and raised me to be an educated and well-mannered woman in good physical and spiritual health, I voluntarily handed myself over to you. Now, why is it so hard to accept the cultural gift from my parents in the form of a Javanese name for our baby just because you’re the father of this child?”

Syarif saw the anger in his wife’s eyes. During their three years of marriage, Palupi had never once spoken with such force as she had tonight.

“All right,” Syarif slowly conceded. “Our first child can be named according to your father’s gift. But our religion doesn’t acknowledge the meaning of a tingkeban ceremony.”

Despite her large belly, Palupi rose quickly and straightened herself. “Tradition and religion are two things that cannot merge. They walk side-by-side, like railroad tracks headed for one destination ⸺ in this case, harmony!” Palupi left Syarif sitting at the dining room table and hurried to the bedroom to call her mother.


Gamelan music floated softly through Wibowo’s joglo. Played by men and women from the neighborhood, it was the best part of welcoming the honored guests. A warm and relaxed atmosphere filled the joglo and the main house, surrounded by mature trees. People who might not see each other even once a year, came together that day for the celebratory occasion.

The previous evening, prayers were said for Palupi and her unborn baby. Seven trays of coned rice surrounded by miscellaneous rare side dishes, native Javanese snacks, a sticky rice compote, and a special variety of banana were served. Today, it was time for the complete tingkeban ceremony, which started with the siraman a component of the ritual.

In a corner, decorated with flowers, stood a special container filled with water from seven different sources and seven different types of flowers: rose, jasmine, cananga, magnolia, tuberose, orange jasmine, and impatience. Palupi wore simple make-up and a red, tie-dyed kemben, bustier. A shawl of laced jasmine covered her shoulders and chest. Seated on a wood chair, Palupi was ready for the siraman. All present elders, including those on her husband’s side who had come all the way from Makassar, stood ready to pour a ladle of the flowered water over her.

As for Syarif, he could not stop smiling. His family had gladly accepted the tingkeban ceremony. The women were excited to wear the kebaya, Javanese long-sleeved blouse, and sarong. The men eagerly donned the traditional blangkon, Javanese cap, and beskap, jacket. All these formalities delighted Syarif’s youngest brother, who recorded everything for a YouTube presentation.



Yang Beralih

At age 46, Rinto Andriono survived a stroke, caused by a blockage in his brain vessels, which paralyzed the right side of his body. Writing was one of the healing activities his neurologist recommended as a means to restore his ability to reason. Rinto began to write in June 2018, six months after he had the stroke.

Prior to this, Rinto was a post-disaster recovery planner, who worked extensively in various disaster sites throughout Indonesia and Asia. Now, during his post-stroke period, he is more involved in studies and online training and writing on post-disaster mitigations. In his spare time, Rinto likes to go for walks and read material with philosophical content regarding the protection of the natural environment.

Rinto writes to find meaning in his life, which now has limitations. Writing frees his soul and mind, both of which might have been constricted before his stroke, even though, at that time, he had no physical constraints.

Under the guidance of Ahmad Yulden Erwin, Rinto wrote a dozen short stories, which he compiled in an e-book titled Kencan Hikikomori, Hikikomori’s Courtship.

Rinto Andriono passed away at 8:30 a.m. on November 29th, 2021, in Dr. Sardjito Hospital, Yogyakarta from a heart attack.

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Rinto Andriono, one of our talented writers. He is survived by his wife, Dati Fatimah, a son and a daughter.

Farewell, dear friend. May you rest in peace.


 Yang Beralih


Matahari sudah tinggi, udara Yogya sudah berjam-jam membungkus badan Soumi dengan gerah. Lengket, panas dan lembab menyatu mengumpulkan resah. Soumi resah, hatinya sangat resah. Resah yang berkepanjangan membuatnya gundah. Gundah pada kehidupan sepinya. Kehidupan yang dipilihnya sendiri semenjak itu. Hidup yang telah memenangkan hati memang bisa jadi sulit, karena ternyata hidupnya tidak selalu bisa dimenangkannya. Tetapi bukan semata-mata dia yang membentuk hidupnya – ada dengus bengis yang turut mendorongnya menyeberangi jati dirinya.


“Soumi, bangunlah, sudah subuh!” teriak Karyo dari luar kamar.

Saat itu ibu Soumi sedang menginap di rumah sepupunya yang belum sehari menjanda. Soumi ditinggal serumah hanya berdua dengan Karyo, suami Ibunya yang tentara. Karyo bukan bapak kandungnya. Soumi adalah buah pernikahan ibunya dengan suami sebelumnya. Ibunya dan Karyo tidak beranak. Hanya Soumi semata wayang anak mereka.

Ingatan Soumi cepat mengisi sepenuh kesadarannya, dia sudah terbiasa bangun sebelum subuh. Galibnya ibunya menjerang air di perapian. Pagi ini, dia yang akan melakukan itu tanpa ibunya. Soumi riang dan ringan. Bagai kedasih yang berbahagia dia bangkit dari pembaringan. Soumi segera menyahuti Karyo sambil melangkah membuka gerendel kamarnya.

Tiba-tiba dengan sangat berdaya, pintunya terdorong terbuka. “Heh ….” Seolah kerbau dungu Karyo mendengus dan menyergapnya.

“Ahh ….” Soumi tidak cukup sigap dan berdaya untuk melawan.

Ratusan lukisan hidupnya koyak seketika. Lukisan-lukisan yang polos tentang masa lalunya, yang warna-warni tentang cita-citanya, yang bergelora tentang cintanya dan yang masih samar-samar tentang masa depannya. Semua berubah bagi Soumi pagi itu. Seketika, dia menjadi kain mota yang koyak, luruh dan tidak berguna!


Dari dalam kamarnya, Soumi membaui wewangian badan Karyo yang sudah mandi dan hendak pergi bekerja. Seketika Soumi mual. Lantas dia mendengar Karyo pergi sambil bersiul-siul, seolah tidak terjadi apa-apa.

Soumi bergegas pergi ke kamar mandi dengan hati luluh lantak. Dia mandi lama sekali. Seolah noda yang dipaparkan Karyo sangat sulit hilang, dia menggosok tubuhnya lagi dan lagi. Air bilasan mengalir tanpa henti, tapi perasaan ternoda dalam hatinya tetap tidak mau pergi.

Kembali di kamarnya, dia menekuri foto-foto dirinya, kemudian berucap, “Apa gunanya foto-foto ini?” Dia membakar semua foto-foto masa kecilnya, raport sekolah, ijazah tiga kali kelulusan di SD, SMP dan SMA, kartu penduduk serta akta kelahirannya. Dia mengemasi barangnya sekaligus mengemasi batinnya. Soumi merasa harus meninggalkan rumah lamanya dengan segala kelemahan dan kekalahan sebagai perempuan yang pernah dikenalnya.

“Aku tidak mau hidup sebagai perempuan!” ikrar Soumi yang masih dalam tubuh perempuannya, “Dunia ini memang bukan untuk perempuan!”

Sekarang Soumi memang menjadi butuh jati diri yang baru. Namun Soumi belum memikirkan, kemungkinan menjadi lelaki. Dia masih jijik dengan jenis kelamin Karyo.

“Aku tidak ingin berubah menjadi pemerkosa seperti Karyo! Aku juga tidak akan lagi menjadi korban permekosaan siapa pun!” kata Soumi mantap meninggalkan rumahnya.

Bagi Soumi, rumah sudah kehilangan teduhnya, bahkan, dia pergi tanpa merasa perlu menghiraukan pintunya yang masih dibiarkan menganga. Dia hanya meninggalkan pesan pendek untuk berpamitan pada ibunya. Riwayat rumah itu sudah padam bagi Soumi.

“Ini sudah bukan rumah!” Soumi pergi dari rumahnya, sekaligus meninggalkan jati dirinya.


Setelah mencobai hidup di Malang dan Surabaya, akhirnya Soumi terdampar di Yogya. Kota berhati nyaman yang telah membuka diri untuknya. Soumi sekarang bertubuh lebih kekar. Dia melatih dirinya dengan bela diri tinju dari Thailand. Rambutnya pun terpotong pendek dan rapi. Dia menggunakan jel rambut yang pekat. Jejak sisir nampak jelas di rambutnya.

Sebelum wabah covid, Soumi bekerja menjadi pramusaji di sebuah rumah makan modern. Pembawaannya yang rapi bahkan cenderung halus membuatnya banyak disukai orang-orang. Pekerjaannya pun membaik, dia tidak hanya menjadi pramusaji namun telah dipercaya menjadi penyelia. Soumi merasa hidup kini telah berpihak padanya. Namun semua kandas setelah wabah covid berjalan hingga bulan kedelapan. Rumah makannya tidak lagi sanggup melawan gempuran kehilangan pelanggan disertai kenaikan harga-harga bahan baku. Benteng penghidupan. Soumi pun ikut runtuh bersamaan dengan itu.

Siang itu, dia berpeluh mengantri. Wabah covid yang berumur setahun telah memakan kehidupannya hingga tersisa remah-remah terakhir. Soumi mengantri untuk mendaftar menjadi penerima Bantuan Langsung Tunai (BLT) dari pemerintah.

“Nama?” tanya petugas Kepanewonan Mergangsan pendek.


Petugas yang bosan mendongak, mendesak, “Yang benar?”

“Benar, Pak, saya Soumi.” Soumi menegaskan diiringi goresan enggan sang petugas di borang pendaftaran.

“Kau laki-laki atau perempuan?” tanya sang petugas menyelidik.

“Bukan keduanya.” jawab Soumi dengan penuh keyakinan.

Petugas itu berhenti menulis. Dia bersandar di kursinya seolah paling benar. Dia menarik nafas dalam-dalam seperti mempersiapkan sebuah ceramah panjang tentang ragam jenis kelamin yang diijinkan untuk surat-surat kependudukan di negara kesatuan ini. Serangkaian kata berhamburan dari mulut ceroboh tak bermasker. Mulai dari pilihan di borang hingga perintah agama. Intinya, Soumi harus memilih, laki-laki atau perempuan. Titik!

Bagi Soumi, perintah mengisi borang ini sangat berat. Dia enggan membuka kenangan pahit masa lalunya – saat dia masih perempuan dan lemah. Meski sekarang sudah tidak menganggap dirinya perempuan, dia tidak lantas menyebut dirinya laki-laki. Dia sudah mantap dengan dirinya yang bukan keduanya. Kemantapan itu seiring dengan kekosongan jati dirinya yang mulai terlukis dengan gambaran diri yang baru. Soumi merasa nyaman dengan dirinya sekarang yang jauh dari dirinya dahulu, tetapi dia tetap bukan Karyo yang laki-laki dan bengis serta jumawa.

“Coba lihat KTP?” pinta petugas yang mulai putus asa dengan keterangan Soumi.

“Saya tidak punya KTP, hanya kartu penduduk musiman dari Kelurahan,” jawab Soumi.

“Tidak punya KTP tidak boleh mendapat BLT.” kata petugas pendek memungkasi upaya Soumi untuk menyambung hidupnya.

Soumi sebenarnya enggan beradu mulut, tetapi dia sangat membutuhkan BLT untuk kelangsungan hidupnya. Dan jawaban dari petugas di manapun selalu seragam. Jawaban yang sudah dihafal Soumi dari pengalamannya mengurus surat-surat kependudukan. Seolah memutar pita rekaman rusak, Soumi pun mengulang membacakan berbagai rujukan Kesepakatan Internasional tentang pengakuan terhadap jenis kelamin ketiga. Masalah ini sebetulnya bisa teratasi bila Soumi pulang ke kampung halamannya dan mengurus surat pindah. Tapi itu mustahil bagi Soumi karena Karyo masih hidup dan dia sudah tidak menginginkan jati dirinya yang lampau. Lukisan yang telah koyak biarlah usang. Soumi sedang melukis yang baru.

“Urus KTP dulu, baru bisa ambil BLT,” kata petugas ketus memungkasi adu mulut dengan berteriak, “Antrian berikutnya!”


Di bulan Maret 2021, Soumi dan kawan-kawannya telah memasuki bulan kelima kehilangan pekerjaan di rumah makan. Wabah ini mengharuskan mereka memutar otak lebih kencang. Inilah saatnya dimana dunia manusia berubah sedemikian cepat sehingga meninggalkan manusia-manusia yang hidup di dalamnya. Para manusia tunggang-langgang mengikuti dunianya yang telah bergeser tidak sekehendaknya. Ini ibarat rumah yang justru pergi meninggalkan penghuninya.

Soumi dan kawan-kawan pun berangsur kehilangan isi tabungannya dengan pasti. Mereka berusaha menyambung hidupnya dengan berbagai cara. Mengurangi catuan makanan harian adalah pilihan pertamanya. Soumi pun berkeras untuk tidak berobat meski batuk atau demam datang mendera. Soumi telah berpindah ke kamar sewaan yang lebih sempit, kumuh, terpencil, tetapi murah. Sambil mencari pekerjaan apa pun yang mungkin diraihnya.

Kawan-kawannya pun berlaku sama. Pilihannya, terus berusaha sebisanya atau punah. Suatu ketika mereka bersepakat bertemu. Kepencilan masa wabah membuat mereka saling terasing. Mereka butuh bertemu di taman kota untuk sekedar mengadukan keluh dan mendengarkan resah.

“Kau sekarang jadi apa, Gar?” tanya Wulan, dulu sesama pramusaji dengan Soumi.

“Aku jualan ikan cupang,” jawab Tegar, mantan kasir rumah makan yang tegar. “Ikan kecil biaya pemeliharaannya irit.”

“Aku bikin lumpia, tapi harus pesan dulu baru nanti kubuat dan kukirim ke pemesan.” terang Wulan.

Soumi senang kawan-kawannya terus berusaha semampunya. Di masa wabah ini yang penting obah mamah – terus bergerak meski hasilnya sedikit, hanya cukup untuk makan.

“Sekarang pendapatan keluarga kami menjadi lebih sedikit,” papar Wulan, “anak-anak sudah tidak pernah bisa plesir lagi.”

“Ya … tidak ada lagi cukup uang untuk kebutuhan sampingan,” lanjut Tegar, “semua mendapat rejeki tipis-tipis tapi rata, ini waktunya berbagi.”

“Sudah sebulan ini, kami selalu melewatkan sarapan, bukan karena ingin langsing seperti orang-orang gedongan, tapi biar irit,” timpal Wulan.

Lain Wulan dan Tegar, lain pula Yanto. Dia adalah mantan satpam rumah makan. Tubuhnya kekar dan sehat. Memenuhi syarat sebagai penjaga keamanan yang baik. Namun nasibnya tidak sebagus badannya. Yanto ketularan covid dan menghabiskan dua setengah minggu di rumah sakit untuk sembuh dari penyakit ini. Dia sampai harus menggadaikan kendaraannya untuk mencukupi kebutuhan keluarganya.

Hidup mereka seperti buah simalakama; bila tidak bekerja maka tidak bisa makan tetapi bila terus berusaha maka bahayanya adalah kemungkinan tertular covid.

“Rasanya bagaimana, Yanto?” tanya Tegar.

“Kau pernah merasakan influensa yang sangat berat?” tanya Yanto kembali.

“Iya,” jawab Tegar.

“Nah, rasa itu kau kalikan tiga, begitu rasanya.” terang Yanto. “Pertama kau akan kehilangan penciumanmu, lalu zat asam tidak bisa disera tubuh karena paru-paru berlendir. Bila tak dibantu pasokan zat asam, kau akan lemas dan menemui ajal.”

“Hiiii.” nyali Tegar mengkeret.

Soumi mendapati Jamila, mantan tukang masak di tempat kerjanya dulu, menyendiri dan kurang bersemangat.

“Hai, Jamila.” sapa Soumi.

“Kita ini menyaksikan rumah makan tempat kita bekerja tidak mampu lagi mencari makan.” kata Jamila, tukang masak yang sudah belasan tahun bekerja di situ, seolah menyesali keadaan.

“Sekarang kau kerja apa, Jamila?” tanya Soumi.

“Aku belum dapat, seumurku sudah susah mencari kerja dan memulai dari awal lagi.”

“Tapi kau bisa memasak!” yakin Soumi, “Usaha yang besar memang bertumbangan, tapi usaha yang kecil masih ada peluang tumbuh kembang.”

“Tidak mungkin aku bisa hidup, aku butuh biaya besar.”

“Heh, kau tidak boleh patah.”

Jamila tidak menyahuti Soumi, Dia mengeloyor pulang.

Mereka berpisah, hingga seminggu kemudian, mereka bertemu lagi.

Mereka berkunjung ke rumah sewaan Jamila sebagai pelayat yang hendak menghormati Jamal untuk terakhir kalinya. Wabah covid ini memang seperti saringan yang telah memisahkan manusia yang kuat dari yang lemah dengan garis pembatas yang tegas.

Dari teman-temannya, Soumi tahu bahwa Jamila menderita hepatitis C semenjak dari Jamila masih bujangan tua yang dikenal sebagai Jamal.


Sepanjang hidupnya Jamal telah lelah memperjuangkan KTP untuk mendapat Bantuan dari Badan Penyelenggara Jaminan Kesehatan (BPJS). Penyakitnya membutuhkan perawatan berlanjutan yang tidak murah. Dia membutuhkan pengobat yang mahal. Semua ongkos perawatan kesehatan itu tidak mampu dibayarnya. Saran kepala desa di kampungnya, Jamal bisa saja mendapatkan KTP asal tidak terlalu keras kepala untuk mengakui bahwa dia berkelamin lelaki.

“Surat Kelahiranmu laki-laki kan, Mal?” kata Kepala Desa, “Isian jenis kelamin di KTP-mu ikut Surat Kelahiranmu saja, biar nanti bisa dapat BPJS.”

“Iya.” kata Jamal berat.

“Nyatanya yang busuk menggantung itu juga kelamin laki-laki,” sindir Kepala Desa, “jakunmu itu lho, tidak bisa menipu, hahaha ….”

Namun hingga setua ini Jamal alias Jamila enggan mengakui kenyataan tubuhnya. Semenjak akil balik dia tidak pernah merasakan dirinya sebagai laki-laki. Jamal remaja tidak pernah menyelesaikan sekolah menengahnya. Dia tidak betah terus menerus dirisak oleh kawan-kawan juga gurunya. Mereka memanggilnya banci.

Ayahnya pun gemar memukulinya dan ibunya tidak berdaya. Ayahnya tidak bisa menerima Jamal yang berperilaku gemulai seperti perempuan. Dia mendidik Jamal kecil dengan penuh kekerasan karena keyakinannya agar Jamal bisa menjadi lelaki tulen. Dia berpikir, bila sering dipukuli maka Jamal akan berubah menjadi seperti lelaki.

Jamal remaja yang tidak pernah ingin menjadi laki-laki, memilih kabur dari rumah. Dia lebih senang dengan jati diri Jamila-nya. Dia merasa lebih nyaman memasak dan memakai daster yang sejuk. Jamila cukup beruntung, dia tidak pernah terpaksa melacur. Kebisaannya memasak menjaga hidupnya dengan tetap bekerja puluhan tahun dari warung hingga rumah makan. Jamila piawai mencampur bumbu dan mengolahnya sehingga tiap-tiap rempah mengeluarkan rasa terbaiknya.

Namun kini, demi agar ongkos pengobatannya bisa ditanggung negara, akhirnya Jamal luluh. Dia menyerah. Dia nyaris mendapatkan KTP laki-laki untuk mengurus BPJS. Namun takdir berkata lain. Hidupnya telah lebih dahulu luluh sebagai korban pemaksaan jati diri. Kematian adalah cara termurah untuk menghemat biaya pengobatan seorang waria sakit, penganggur, dan putus asa.


Sambil menunggui jasad Jamila di rumahnya, Soumi mengenang sahabatnya. Dia berkenalan dengan Jamila di rumah makan itu, sebagai rekan kerja. Namun pertemuan itu sangat bermakna. Jamila membuat Soumi mampu menuntut kembali hidupnya. Soumi masih ingat bahwa Jamila adalah tukang masak yang diandalkan di rumah makan itu. Dia baik pada sesama rekan kerja. Dia kakak yang baik bagi Soumi. Sayangnya, di akhir hidupnya, Jamila harus berjuang keras membujuk negara untuk mendapatkan pengakuan dengan jenis kelamin ketiganya. Perjuangannya itu berpacu dengan penyakitnya. Sayang, penyakitnya berjalan lebih cepat dari pada perjuangannya. Saat Jamila mau mengalah menerima pilihan antara dua jenis kelamin yang disediakan oleh negara, penyakitnya sudah semakin genting.

Jamila yang selama ini mendukung Soumi dan menghibur hatinya. Dia yang menyembuhkan luka-luka hati Soumi. Jamila yang memperkenalkan Soumi pada banyak paguyuban orang-orang berjenis kelamin ketiga. Dari paguyuban itu, Soumi tahu bahwa Tuhan tidak hanya menciptakan siang dan malam, tetapi ada juga fajar dan senja seperti Jamila dan kawan-kawan. Mereka perempuan yang terjebak dalam tubuh lelaki, atau sebaliknya. Bahkan yang seperti Soumi, yang tidak merasa aman sebagai perempuan tetapi merasa jijik sebagai lelaki pun ada dan mereka saling menguatkan jati diri.

“Bukankah fajar dan senja yang membuat semesta menjadi lebih indah?” kata mendiang Jamila pada Soumi dulu, “Jika hanya ada siang dan malam maka bumi akan membosankan.”

Soumi benar-benar mencamkan perkataan Jamila itu. Dia mulai bangkit melukisi lagi kain mota hidupnya dengan berbekal kalimat itu. Soumi merasa dia berhak pula hidup di dunia sebagai ciptaan Tuhan yang setara dengan yang lain. Dia boleh saja tidak merasa sebagai laki-laki atau perempuan, tapi Soumi adalah manusia, itu yang ditekankan Jamila.

“Aku juga manusia.” tegas Soumi saat itu.

“Dulu, sosok banci adalah wajar di pertunjukan wayang kulit,” cerita Jamila pada Soumi dalam salah satu obrolannya,

“Betulkah?” tanya Soumi.

“Iya dan ketahuilah wayang kulit adalah cerminan dari masyarakat kita.”

“Lelaki dan perempuan sama-sama dibutuhkan dalam hidup ini.” lanjut Jamila, “Batari Durga yang garang, sebelumnya adalah Dewi Uma yang lembut.”

“Ya, Dewi Uma moksa menjadi Batari Durga yang raksasa dalam rangka melawan nafsu Batara Guru.” timpal Soumi lamat-lamat. Dia pernah mendengar kisah itu. Kisah perubahan jati diri Dewi Uma itu yang mendorong Soumi menjadi seperti sekarang ini. Dia menolak sebagian sisi perempuan dirinya yang lemah dan berusaha menambalnya dengan sisi lelakinya yang kekar. Namun Soumi tidak serta-merta menganggap dirinya lelaki. Dia beralih menjadi jenis kelamin ketiga yang membuatnya menjadi lebih nyaman sekarang ini. Dia sekarang lebih siap bila harus membela diri jika dirundung Karyo lagi.

“Hidup kita pun seharusnya begitu, siapapun setara di muka bumi ini dan harus saling menjaga,” pungkas Jamila.

Namun rupanya, cita-cita Jamila tidak terjadi hingga ajal menjemputnya. Kawan-kawannya tetap harus mengasongkan tubuh Jamila, mencari kampung yang masih mau menerima jenazah waria di kuburan milik mereka. Sedikit kampung yang mau menerima pemakaman waria. Mereka menganggapnya sebagai aib. Akhirnya sebuah kampung di perbatasan Kota Yogya dan Bantul mau menerima, itupun dengan biaya bedah bumi yang tidak mudah ditanggung oleh kawan-kawan waria yang terdampak kemelut keuangan pada waktu wabah covid ini.


Wabah ini diikuti oleh masalah keuangan yang menekan semua pengeluaran warga. Beberapa bidang usaha bahkan tidak dapat bertahan memperebutkan pelanggan yang semakin sedikit. Seperti rumah makan tempat Soumi dan Jamila bekerja. Sebagian besar mahluk indah jenis kelamin ketiga ini bekerja di bidang jasa. Jasa-jasa itu adalah kebutuhan yang akan disingkirkan warga dari senarai belanjanya bila pendapatan menurun. Perempuan mengurangi belanja perawatan tubuh di salon. Pria hidung belang tidak lagi beruang untuk membiarkan mulut waria memuaskan kelaminnya. Tidak ada uang kecil untuk waria pengamen.

“Ih, maharani amat, mengubur bangkai saja semahal itu ongkosnya?” kata Shinta, waria yang menawarkan jasa di Perlimaan Kalasan.

“Ah, kau jangan sirsak, cin, jangan pelita hati begitu, ini demi Kak Jamila.” sanggah Diana bendahara patembayan saat menghimpun saweran agar Shinta tidak culas dan pelit.

Akira kan sudah lama tidak laku nyebong!” aku Shinta.

“Ah … nggak percaya, kau tiap malam berapose begitu?” Dewi menawar.

“Covid, Boo … akira jual harga obral ini ….” kata Shinta sambil mengangsurkan uangnya yang kumal.

“Cari BLT sana, kan pemerintah sudah bagi-bagi enam ratus kepeng.” sahut Dewi sambil menyambar uang Shinta.

“Nggak dapat BLT, Booo …,” nyinyir Shinta, “Aku nggak ada KTP.”

“Ahhh … kau sembuh dulu dari banci, baru bisa punya KTP,” Dewi mengelak.

“Emang banci itu penyakit, koq pakai sembuh? Kata Dinsos, itu penyakit kemasyarakatan,” pungkas Shinta masih dengan nada nyinyir.

Soumi yang dari tadi menguping pembicaraan para pelayat di rumah Jamila membatin, Huh, penyakit kemasyarakatan ….

Bagi Soumi yang sudah belajar dari Jamila ini adalah akar masalahnya. Selama jenis kelamin ketiga dianggap sebagai penyimpangan yang harus diluruskan oleh negara maka selamanya nasib Jamal-Jamila yang lain akan selalu begitu. Mereka akan terus diburu dan dipaksa untuk menerima jati diri yang hanya memperhitungkan bentuk alat kelamin yang menempel di tubuh. Padahal pengakuanlah yang dibutuhkan Jamila dan kawan-kawan.

“Waktu fajar dan senja memang sempit, karena itu mereka yang terlahir tidak siang dan tidak malam adalah kelompok yang terbatas jumlahnya.” Soumi menderas mengulang perkataan Jamila tentang kaum waria.

“Namun bukan berarti kita bisa ditindas”, berontak batin Soumi, “hidupku pun akan seperti Jamila, akan kuhabiskan untuk melawan!”

Soumi teringat bahwa Jamila pernah bercerita bahwa di Sulawesi ada adat yang pernah mengakui lima jenis kelamin secara setara di masyarakat. Di Bugis selain laki-laki dan perempuan, ada calalai yang bertubuh perempuan tetapi mengambil peran-peran laki-laki dalam kesehariannya. Ada juga calabai yang memerankan peran perempuan namun bertubuh lelaki. Dan jenis kelamin kelima, adalah kelompok para bissu yang tidak laki-laki maupun perempuan. Soumi merasa nyaman dengan kelompok ini. Kelimanya pernah diakui disana secara adat, meski adat sekarang sudah sering digugat.

“Orang-orang hanya belum mengerti,” tiba-tiba suara Jamila menyahut di kepala Soumi. Dengan sangat jelas, Soumi seolah melihat sosok Jamila. Dia melihat Jamila melempar senyum.

“Jamila ….” sapa Soumi lirih.

“Kau hanya perlu terus mewartakannya.” kembali suara Jamila mengiang.

“Akan kulakukan sepenuh hidupku,” janji Soumi mantap.

“Kita semua tercipta setara,” Jamila yakin sebelum bayangannya kembali memudar.

Soumi kembali nelangsa kehilangan Jamila yang seumur hidupnya gagal berdamai dengan khalayak.

Bisik Soumi memandang tubuh kaku Jamila yang sedang menunggu pengangkutan ke liang lahat. Hati Soumi merasakan sedemikian, pelupuk matanya menghangat seketika. Air matanya kemudian merebak. “Jamila, aku tahu, kau ingin mati sebagai perempuan.”


Yogyakarta, Mei 2021




The Third Gender

Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.

Read some of his essays and book reviews at: and

He can be reached at




The Third Gender


It was already midday, and the stifling, muggy, Yogyakarta air enveloped Soumi’s perspiring body. The humidity made Soumi restless. And as the restlessness dragged on, she became depressed about her lonely life — the life she had chosen on that terrible day. Indeed, anyone’s life could be difficult, for it might not always turn out to be the most rewarding. But Soumi had not deliberately chosen this life. A violent force had driven her to cross the boundary of her identity.


“Soumi, get up!” Karyo shouted from outside Soumi’s room. “It is dawn already!”

That morning, Soumi was home alone with Karyo, her mother’s husband. Soumi’s mother was staying with her cousin, whose husband had died the day before. Karyo, who served in the military, was not Soumi’s biological father. Soumi was the only child from her mother’s previous husband, and she was the only child in the family. Soumi’s mother and Karyo didn’t have children.

Soumi was used to getting up before dawn, and she quickly rose. Usually, her mother boiled the water. This morning Soumi would have to do it herself. Happy like a lovebird flying into the morning, she answered Karyo’s call and lifted the door latch.

The door slammed into her, shoved open forcefully by Karyo, who lunged at her, snorting like a bull in heat.

Caught off guard, Soumi was neither ready — nor strong enough — to fight back.

Hundreds of life’s memories tore apart all at once: the innocence of her past, the colorful fantasies of her aspirations, the passionate hopes of love to come, and the anticipation of her unknown future. Everything changed that morning. Her entire life had turned into a torn, crumpled, useless canvas.


Afterwards, in her room, Soumi smelled Karyo’s cologne. He had showered and was ready to go to work. Soumi felt nauseated. She heard Karyo leave, whistling as if nothing had happened.

Totally undone, Soumi rushed to the bathroom. She showered for a long time. She scrubbed her body over and over again as if she could never wash away the stain Karyo had left on her. But despite the endless streams of water, she could not rinse away the blotch in her heart.

Back in her room, Soumi pulled out her photo albums and scrapbooks. What good are these for? she thought, and she burned all her childhood pictures, her school diplomas, her identification card, and her birth certificate. Then she packed up what was left of her belongings, along with her heart. Soumi felt forced to leave the house she had lived in as a female, with her weaknesses and defeat.

“I don’t want to live as a female anymore!” Soumi declared to herself. “This world definitely doesn’t belong to women!”

Now Soumi would need a new identity. She considered disguising herself as a man, but she was disgusted by the male sexuality. “I don’t want to be a rapist like Karyo!” Soumi said firmly to herself. “Nor do I want to ever be raped by anyone again!”

For Soumi, the house had lost its protective meaning. She was no longer a part of the house’s story. She left a short message for her mother. “This is no longer home,” Soumi said, and, leaving the front door wide open, she left the house, as well as her sexual identity as a woman.


After trying to make a living in Malang and Surabaya, Soumi arrived in Yogyakarta. The charming city welcomed her. Soumi now had a masculine appearance. She wore her hair short and neat, and she used hair gel that made grooves in her freshly combed hair. She practiced self-defense with Thai boxing.

Soumi worked as a waitress in a modern restaurant. Her well-kept, almost delicate appearance made many people like her. She did her job well and was promoted. Soumi felt that life was finally on her side. But it all ended during the eighth month of the COVID pandemic. The restaurant could no longer survive the decreasing number of customers and the increasing cost. Soumi’s life fell apart together with the restaurant.

A year into the pandemic, Soumi stood in a long queue, drenched in perspiration. The ongoing COVID pandemic had depleted the last of her savings. She was now lined up to register for the cash subsidy the government was providing.

“Your name?” asked the unmasked officer from the Mergangsan District.


The bored officer looked up. “Really?”

“Yes, sir. My name is Soumi.” The officer scribbled on the registration form.

“Male or a female?” The officer scrutinized Soumi.

“Neither,” Soumi answered firmly.

The officer stopped writing. He leaned back in his chair with a righteous air. He took a deep breath, readying himself to deliver a long speech about the legal aspects of the gender entry on the government application form. A barrage of words burst from his mouth. His lecture started by pointing out the stated gender options on the registry form and went on to discuss the religious views on the matter. Bottom line, he said, Soumi had to choose between being male or female. Period!

Soumi filled out the form with difficulty. She didn’t want to remember the bitter past when she was a weak woman, but she did not refer to herself as a man either. She had affirmed to herself that she was neither man nor woman, and she had begun a fresh painting of herself on a new canvas. She felt comfortable with her new self — someone very different from her previous self, but still not a man, like Karyo, who was cruel and conceited.

“Your ID, please?” The official was losing patience with Soumi.

“I don’t have an ID. I only have the temporary resident registration card from the precinct.”

The officer abruptly ended Soumi’s application to survive. “Without a proper ID, you are not eligible for the subsidy.”

The official answers were always the same, wherever she went. She remembered the answers well from her attempts to obtain legal identity documents. Over and over again, sounding like a broken record, Soumi recited the list of the many international agreements that recognize the third gender, which is neither male nor female.

Soumi could solve the problem by obtaining relocation papers from the authorities in her former neighborhood. But for Soumi, that was impossible because Karyo still lived there and she didn’t want to face him — or her former self. The torn painting of her past should be left to deteriorate; Soumi was painting a new one.

“After you obtain the proper ID, you can come back and get the subsidy,” the official said bluntly and turned away. “Next in line!” he shouted.


In March 2021 it was five months that Soumi and her workmates had been laid off from their job at the restaurant. The pandemic had forced them to get creative to survive. The world was spinning so fast, it left its inhabitants behind. People were required to catch up with a world that had moved on without their consent, like a house that had abandoned its residents.

Soumi and her friends had depleted their savings. They tried to survive in various ways. Eating less was their first option. Soumi decided not to see the doctor when she had a fever and cough. Soumi moved to a smaller room. The boardinghouse was located in a secluded corner of a slum, but the rent was cheap. She tried to find any job she could get; her friends were doing the same. They either survived or perished.

One day, the friends all arranged to meet at the city park. The isolation necessitated by the pandemic had alienated them from one another. They needed to meet just to share their worries.

“What are you doing now, Gar?” Wulan asked Tegar. Like Soumi, she used to work as a waitress.

“I am selling betta fish, the Siamese fighting fish,” Tegar answered. He used to be the cashier. “Taking care of these small fish is cheap.”

“I make and deliver spring rolls, on order,” Wulan said.

Soumi was happy that her friends were doing their best to survive. During this pandemic, it was critical to do whatever was necessary to make enough to eat.

“Because money is so tight,” Wulan continued, “the children can’t have a vacation.”

“Yeah, we no longer have extra money for entertainment,” Tegar answered. “Our meager income is spread thin.”

“This month,” Wulan added, “we skipped breakfast, not because we eat a rich person’s diet, but to save money.”

Just as things were different for Wulan and Tegar, they were also different for Yanto. He had been the restaurant’s security guard. His athletic build had made him a good fit for the job, but, unfortunately, his immune system was not as strong as his body. He caught COVID and spent almost three weeks in the hospital. Yanto had to pawn his vehicle to pay the bills.

Their lives were in a no-win situation – if they didn’t work, they could not eat; if they did work, they risked catching COVID.

“How did it feel to have COVID, Yanto?” Tegar asked.

“Have you ever caught a really bad cold? Multiply that feeling by three, and you’ll get an idea of how it felt. First, you lose your sense of smell; then, you can’t breathe because your lungs are filled with phlegm. Unless you get oxygen, you suffocate and die.”

Tegar cringed. “Oh, gawd!”

Soumi walked over to Jamila. The cook at their former workplace sat alone, not engaging with the others.

“Hi, Jamila,” Soumi said. “What are you doing now?”

“I don’t have a job. It is difficult for someone my age to find a new job and start all over again.” Jamila, who had worked at the restaurant for more than ten years, lamented the situation. “We have witnessed how the restaurant where we worked lost its business.”

“But you can cook!” Soumi asserted. “The big businesses may have collapsed, but a small business might still have a chance to grow.”

“It is impossible; I need a lot of money.”

“Hey, don’t lose hope!” Soumi encouraged.

Instead of answering, Jamila went home.

The friends parted only to meet again one week later when they went to Jamila’s rented house to pay their last respects to her. The pandemic functioned as a sieve, separating the strong from the weak. Jamila was suffering from hepatitis C — and had been ever since she had been known as Jamal, an old bachelor.


Jamal had tried for many years to obtain a formal ID so that he would be eligible for the government’s health insurance subsidy to treat his hepatitis C. The treatment for his illness was expensive, and he could not afford to pay the medical expenses. The village chief had told him that it was quite possible to obtain a formal ID if Jamal would just check the box for “male” on the application.

“Your birth certificate states you are a male, right?” the village chief asked. “Just fill out the form according to the information on your birth certificate. After that, you can apply for health insurance.”

Jamal hesitated.

“Look,” the village chief sneered, “that thing hanging between your legs is a male sex organ — and you cannot hide your Adam’s apple either.”

But Jamal refused to accept his physical appearance. Since adolescence, he had never identified as a male. Jamal, the teenager, didn’t finish high school. He could not bear the bullying from his classmates and teachers. They called him banci — a fag.

His father often beat him, and his mother was powerless to protect him. His father could not accept Jamal’s effeminate behavior, and he believed that beating Jamal would toughen him up. If I beat him often, he’ll change and become a real man, the father thought.

But Jamal had no intention of ever being identified as a man, and he finally chose to leave home. Jamal was much more comfortable being known as Jamila. He felt better when he could cook wearing a loose long dress. He was lucky enough that he did not have to resort to becoming a prostitute. For decades, Jamila worked as a cook in small eating stalls and then moved as a chef from one restaurant to another. Jamila was an expert in mixing spices to bring out the best flavor of each component of the dish.

But now that Jamila had to depend on a government subsidy for her hepatitis C medication, she gave up. She could have obtained a formal ID as Jamal, a male, but fate had a different plan for her. Caught between gender identities, Jamila’s life quickly deteriorated. Death was the cheapest way out for a sick, unemployed, and desperate transgender.


At Jamila’s wake, Soumi reminisced about her friend. She had met Jamila in the restaurant, but their relationship was more meaningful than that of mere co-workers. Jamila enabled Soumi to move on with her life. Jamila had been a respected chef at the restaurant; she had been kind to her workmates and was like a good sister to Soumi, who had watched Jamila’s struggle to convince the government to acknowledge her choice of gender. Soumi also had watched Jamila racing against her disease’s progression, and losing the race. When Jamila finally gave in and chose the gender “male” stated on the government form, her disease had become acute.

But all through her struggle, Jamila had supported Soumi. She helped mend Soumi’s broken heart. She introduced Soumi to the transgender community and support systems. Soumi learned that God not only created night and day, but also dawn and dusk. Soumi and her friends were neither night nor day; they were people trapped inside mislabeled bodies. As individuals with conflicting identities, Soumi and her friends supported each other.

“Aren’t dawn and dusk making the universe more beautiful?” Jamila used to ask Soumi. “This world would be a dull place with only night and day.”

Soumi had taken Jamila’s words to heart when she started the new painting on the canvas of her life.

Jamila had stressed to Soumi that although the current world might not allow her to choose something other than being a man or a woman, she was still a human being who had the right to live as one of God’s creations, just like everyone else.

“I am a human being,” Soumi asserted to herself.

Soumi also remembered Jamila telling her, “There used to be transgender characters in the shadow puppet play.”

Really? Soumi had wondered then.

“The shadow puppet play simply reflects the condition of our society.” Jamila started to explain. “Men and women are both needed in this life,” Jamila said. “The character Batari Durga is indeed fearsome, but before that, she was as gentle as Dewi Uma.”

“Yes,” Soumi said softly, “Dewi Uma attained moksha and became the giantess Batari Durga to fight the lustful Batara Guru.”

Soumi had heard that story. The transformation of Dewi Uma had encouraged Soumi to become who she was now. While she rejected the weak female part of herself and tried to supplement it with the tough male part, Soumi didn’t automatically consider herself to be a man. Instead, she had slipped into the third gender to make herself comfortable with the way she felt now. She was prepared to defend herself should a Karyo attack her again.

“Everyone who lives on this earth is equal and must look after each other,” Jamila had concluded.

But Jamila’s aspiration was not fulfilled until her death. Her friends carried her body from one village to another, trying to find a village cemetery that would accept a transgender for burial. Most villages considered having a transgender buried in their cemetery a stigma. Finally, the friends found a village on the outskirts of Yogyakarta, bordering Bantul, that allowed them to bury Jamila in their cemetery. They were charged an exorbitant fee, which they had collected with great difficulty from their financially-strapped transgender friends.


“Ew, that’s a lot of money!” exclaimed Shinta, a transgender who worked as a prostitute near the Kalasan intersection. “Does it cost that much just to bury a dead body?”

The pandemic had put a financial burden on everyone. Most transgenders had to work in the service sector. When people’s incomes decreased, they cut their spending on luxuries first. People cut back on personal grooming. Pleasure seekers didn’t have enough money to pay the transgender prostitutes. There was no small change for transgender buskers.

“Aw, don’t be such a tight ass; this is for our sister Jamila,” Diana retorted, trying to keep Shinta from being stingy while she was collecting money for Jamila’s burial.

“I haven’t been able to hook up with a john for a long time,” Shinta whined.

“Oh, I don’t believe you. How much do you charge for a trick?” Dewi asked.

“It is COVID, dear, I’m having a sale.” Shinta handed over some crumpled bills.

Dewi grabbed Shinta’s money. “Go get some subsidy; the government is handing out six hundred thousand!”

“No subsidy for me, dear,” Shinta sighed. “I don’t even have an ID.”

“Ah, first you must be cured from being a queer, then you can get an ID,” Dewi shrugged.

“Yeah, who says that being a queer is a disease that has to be cured?” Shinta asked, sarcastically. “The social service says that being queer is a social disease.”

Soumi, listening to the conversation at the wake, thought, Social disease, huh …

Soumi had learned from Jamila that this attitude was the root of the problem. As long as the third gender was considered an aberration, the fate of the other Jamal–Jamilas would stay the same. All they actually needed was recognition and acceptance.

Soumi repeated Jamila’s words: “The dawn and dusk do not last long; therefore, they who are not born as day or night are limited in number.”

But that doesn’t mean we can be persecuted. Soumi’s spirits rose. “I will be like Jamila; I will spend the rest of my life striving for justice.”

Soumi remembered Jamila telling her that a tradition in Bugis, Sulawesi, recognizes five equal genders in society. In addition to man and woman, there is calalai, a woman who has the role of a man in society. There is calabai, a man who has the role of a woman. The fifth gender, bissu, is neither male nor female. Although tradition recognizes these five genders, today, many contest it.

Suddenly, Soumi heard Jamila’s voice: “People just do not understand.” It was so clear, she almost could see Jamila smiling at her.

“Jamila …” Soumi said, softly.

“Keep spreading this awareness.” Jamila’s voice continued.

“I will do it for the rest of my life,” Soumi promised.

“We are all created equal,” Jamila declared before her shadow faded away.

Soumi was overcome with her loss of Jamila, who had failed to make peace with society. With her eyes burning and tears running down her cheeks, Soumi looked at Jamila’s corpse, waiting to be buried. Soumi whispered, “Jamila, I know that you wanted to die as a woman and you did.”




















Horas, Ibu!

Reni Renatawati was born on January 6, 2001 in Jakarta, Indonesia, from parents who come from the islands of Sumatra and Java. She is a senior student at the Universitas Kristen Satya Wacana in Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia where she studies English literature. Reni, who enjoys reading, drawing, and listening to music, dreams of becoming a professional writer. Her fiction writing is based on her research about cultural and social issues which are currently being experienced by Indonesian communities. She hopes to raise an awareness of these problems in the Indonesian population.

Reni can be reached at



Horas, Ibu!


Hembusan semilir angin senja memainkan rambut Jakob yang mulai memutih. Kedua netranya menatap nanar tanah merah tempat ibunya dikubur. Sudah lewat duabelas tahun, sejak kematian ibunya, dan limabelas tahun tanpa kehadiran kedua saudaranya yang lenyap di tanah orang karena beralasan mau mengadu untung dan nasib. Kedua saudaranya yang pergi ke tanah Jawa dan menghilang dari Siborong-borong, kampungnya di Sumatera Utara, kini berdiri di samping Jakob, menatap kubur ibu mereka dengan khidmat sembari membiarkan para tukang gali kubur membongkar kubur dan peti mati ibunya.

Di tanah batak, adalah hal wajar untuk keluarga melakukan upacara kematian bagi para leluhur, termasuk kepada orang tua yang telah lama meninggal dengan memindahkan tulang belulang mereka ke tempat yang lebih baik dari sebelumnya. Maksud dari adat ini adalah untuk menghormati mereka. Saat itu pula, seluruh sanak saudara haruslah kembali dari perantauan ke kampung halaman untuk mempersiapkan upacara, seperti yang sedang terjadi pada keluarga Jakob dan kedua abangnya.


Dua bulan yang lalu, saat Jakob dan istrinya hendak berjualan di pasar, kedua abangnya tiba-tiba muncul di halaman rumahnya. Walau waktu itu matahari belum tampak, tetapi Jakob bisa melihat wajah kedua abangnya yang secerah mentari. Ketika istri Jakob menyambut mereka ramah, Jakob membeku di ambang pintu. Dia baru tersadar ketika istrinya menggoyangkan bahunya dan memintanya untuk segera memotong babi peliharaan mereka untuk dijadikan jamuan. Meskipun Jakob melakukan apa yang diminta istrinya dan menerima kedua abang beserta keluarga mereka masuk, hatinya meneriakkan kata tidak suka dengan kedatangan mereka.

Ketidaksukaan Jakob pada abang-abangnya itu bukan tanpa alasan. Saat kedua abangnya memutuskan untuk pergi hampir dua dasawarsa yang lalu, ibu sedang sekarat dimakan penyakit. Dan seakan mengejek harapannya, ibunya yang mati-matian bertahan hidup akhirnya pergi tanpa pamit dalam tidur. Tidak memiliki uang yang cukup, Jakob menguburkan ibunya di belakang rumah dengan acara sederhana, tanpa kehadiran kedua abangnya.

Tiga hari setelah kedatangan dua abangnya, saat matahari telah lama terbenam dan seluruh keluarga mereka sudah tertelan mimpi, tiga pria masih terjaga dibawah rona lampu teplok. Tidak ada sepatah katapun yang keluar dari bibir mereka sampai akhirnya abang tertua, amang Lamsihar menghembuskan napas panjang sambil menatap Jakob lekat-lekat. “Kami sudah mendengar soal ibu,” katanya pelan, “Dia dikubur dimana, Jakob?”

Jakob tidak segera menjawab. Buta karena amarah dan kesedihan, dia kembali menatap kedua abangnya dan menarik napas dalam-dalam, seakan enggan untuk memberitahukan keberadaan ibunya. Tapi dalam hatinya, Jakob sadar kalau kedua abangnya juga berhak untuk mengetahui keberadaan ibu mereka. Mau bagaimanapun keadaan mereka dan dirinya, mereka adalah keluarga. Pada akhirnya, Jakob menghembuskan napas perlahan, dan memberitahu mereka bahwa dia di kubur di belakang rumah.

“Kenapa ibu dikuburkan di sana?” tanya amang Ruhut, “Bukankah dulu ibu pernah bilang kalau dia ingin dikuburkan di antara leluhur kita?”

Mendengar perkataan amang Ruhut, hati Jakob serasa diiris pisau tumpul. Dia berusaha mengatupkan bibirnya serapat mungkin. Jakob mulai tertawa lirih, tetapi masih cukup terdengar oleh kedua abangnya yang menatapnya bingung. Dalam hati kecilnya, Jakob berharap kalau abangnya mengerti kesusahan dan sakit hati yang dicicipinya saat pemakaman ibunya terjadi.

“Hatiku sakit melihat kalian berdua,” tutur Jakob sambil mengepalkan kedua tangannya, berusaha mengendalikan rasa perih di hatinya yang kembali muncul, tetapi gagal ketika dia kembali menatap kedua abangnya dengan netranya yang memerah dan berkaca-kaca. “Abang bisa saja makmur di tanah Jawa. Punya uang, punya jabatan, punya keluarga yang sejahtera, tapi rasanya sekarang semuanya percuma saja.”

“Apa maksudmu, Jakob?” tanya amang Lamsihar dengan suara bergetar.

“Buat apa uang sebanyak pasir lautan, jabatan setinggi awan kalau kalian tidak pernah mendengar ratapan ibu?” Sambarnya pedas, “Jujur saja aku heran dengan ibu yang menangisi dua orang yang melupakan keluarganya di kampung.”

Jakob melihat air muka amang Ruhut yang mengeras, sementara amang Lamsihar hanya terdiam dengan lekukan memilukan menghiasi wajahnya yang keriput. Tidak ingin menuang minyak ke dalam api, Jakob berdiri tanpa mengatakan apapun dan meninggalkan kedua abangnya dalam kesunyian.

Sesampainya di kamar tidur, istri Jakob yang mengetahui sikap Jakob terhadap kedua abangnya berusaha menenangkan suaminya. Dia mengatakan bahwa ibu mertuanya tak akan senang dengan sikap Jakob yang terkesan kekanak-kanakan, dan tidak mau mendengarkan kedua abangnya yang sudah datang jauh-jauh demi melihat ibu mereka yang sudah tiada. “Adalah salah kalau kau mengusir mereka, Pak,” katanya selembut kain satin, “Jangan lupa, kalau kalian itu saudara satu darah dan ibu.”

“Lantas kenapa?” tanya Jakob sembari menggelengkan kepalanya, “Aku bukan marah karena mereka pergi ke Jawa demi memperbaiki keuangan mereka. Aku marah karena tidak sekalipun mereka pulang untuk menjenguk ibu. Dan sekarang, setelah ibu sudah mati selama dua belas tahun, mereka baru datang? Sudah tidak ada gunanya lagi keberadaan mereka disini.”

Tak mengatakan apapun, istrinya duduk di samping suaminya dan mengelus-elus pundaknya.

“Pak,” sanggah istrinya, “sadarkah kamu kalau apa yang baru saja kau katakan itu jahat? Janganlah hatimu jadi gelap karena ketidaktahuanmu itu.”

Jakob diam seribu bahasa sementara istrinya melanjutkan, “Bukalah hatimu, Pak. Beri mereka kesempatan dan waktu, itu saja.” Ujar istrinya meyakinkan.


Paginya, Jakob tengah bersiap untuk memberi makan ternak ketika tanpa sengaja dia melihat kedua abangnya yang tengah mengisap tembakau di depan rumah sambil menyesap kopi hitam yang masih mengepul. Sayup-sayup, Jakob dapat mendengar apa yang tengah mereka bicarakan. Dia tidak dapat mempercayai telinganya ketika amang Ruhut mengangkat suaranya, menyatakan penyesalannya karena tidak pulang kampung lebih cepat.

“Aku hanya bisa berandai, Bang,” ucapnya lesu, “seandainya aku pulang lebih cepat, mungkin aku masih bisa bertemu ibu. Dan mungkin saja Jakob tidak semarah ini.”

Jakob termenung. Ucapan amang Ruhut terus menerus berputar dalam kepalanya tanpa henti. Namun Jakob menggelengkan kepalanya dan pergi dari tempatnya berdiri tanpa memiliki niat untuk membuka hati. Rasa sakit hatinya sudah terlalu dalam menguasai dirinya.

Selepas memberi makan babi dan ayam peliharaannya, Jakob berjalan sembari mengenang ibunya. Pikirannya sekalut hatinya.

Saat Jakob melihat sekitarnya, dia sudah berdiri di samping kuburan ibunya dibelakang rumahnya. Jakob menatap kuburan ibunya sambil menghela napas panjang sebelum tersenyum kecil. Dia merasa kalau ibunyalah yang membawa dia kemari.

“Bu, ini anakmu, Jakob,” sapanya dalam hening, “Maaf kalau beberapa hari ini aku tidak bisa datang menjenguk.”

Jakob menceritakan kepada ibunya yang berada di langit bahwa kedua abangnya sudah kembali dari tanah Jawa setelah lama menghilang ditelan waktu dan bumi. Dia juga menceritakan keluh kesah yang tersembunyi dalam hatinya yang tidak memiliki kesempatan untuk berbicara.

“Entahlah Bu,” desahnya lirih, “Rasanya sudah tidak ada lagi yang benar dalam diriku ini,” katanya sambil menatap langit biru. “Aku merasa… apa yang aku lakukan ini tidaklah benar.”

Tidak ada yang menjawab selain suara tawa keponakannya dari dalam rumah. Jakob mengerjapkan kedua matanya beberapa kali sebelum menghela napas panjang sembari mengusap wajahnya yang sekasar pasir dengan gusar. Batinnya lelah. Sungguh, dia berharap ibunya dapat berbicara kepadanya sekarang dan memberikan sebuah petunjuk atau apapun. Namun kenyataan bahwa ibunya tidak lagi akan bisa membantu, menamparnya keras. Pada akhirnya, Jakob memutuskan untuk kembali masuk ke rumah tanpa mendapatkan jawaban dari siapapun.


Malamnya, Jakob terbangun dari tidurnya dan tidak bisa mempercayai matanya. Dia yakin sekali kalau semalam dia jatuh tertidur di dalam kamarnya dan bukannya di alam terbuka. Terlebih, yang membuat Jakob bergegas bangkit berdiri dari pembaringan adalah keberadaan ibunya yang tengah duduk bersila di sampingnya. Seakan mengajaknya untuk menari, rumput dihadapannya bergoyang dengan gemulai. Rambut ibunya yang digelung rapi dan mulai berwarna seputih tulang tersisir oleh angin. Ibunya menatap Jakob hangat dan tidak mengatakan apapun sambil menepuk tanah di sampingnya, meminta Jakob untuk duduk. Ragu-ragu, Jakob duduk di sebelah ibunya dengan kaku.

Tak ada yang berbicara di antara mereka untuk waktu yang cukup lama. Jakob sibuk dengan pikirannya yang mulai meracau. Dia sama sekali tidak tahu apakah ini tanda petaka, atau petunjuk dari Tuhan.

“Jakob,” panggil ibunya, “Bagaimana kabarmu?”

Jakob terdiam. Belum pernah dia mendengar suara ibunya yang sehalus sutera, bahkan ketika ibunya masih hidup. Mati-matian Jakob berusaha menahan tangis dengan mengangguk-anggukan kepalanya.

Ibunya mengelus pucuk kepala anaknya. Terlihat jelas guratan kebahagiaan terpancar dari wajahnya. “Bagus, bagus,” ibunya terus mengatakan hal yang sama sembari membiarkan Jakob tidur bertumpu pada pangkuannya, “Ibu lihat, kedua abang mu sudah pulang, ya.”

Jakob mengangguk dalam diam dan menutup kedua matanya, menikmati sentuhan kasih ibunya yang sudah lama tiada.

“Ibu senang sekali saat akangmu pulang setelah sekian lama tinggal di tanah Jawa,” ucapnya bahagia sebelum menatap netra Jakob dengan matanya yang bersinar, “Ibu lihat anak-anakmu dan anak kedua akangmu baik-baik.”

Jakob hanya mengangguk.

“Jakob, anakku,” lanjutnya, “Kenapa dengan hatimu, Nak?”

Jakob tercengang mendengar ibunya. Dia benar-benar tidak menyangka kalau ibunya mendengar perkataannya pagi tadi. Ingin rasanya dirinya bangkit dan membela dirinya, tapi bagai tersihir, tubuhnya tidak menuruti kemauannya.

“Mendengar perkataanmu pagi tadi, aku jadi teringat saat kamu berusaha membela keluarga kita empatbelas tahun lalu,” katanya sambil tertawa renyah.

Perkataan ibunya membuat Jakob teringat saat dirinya melemparkan tinju ke wajah salah satu pedagang yang dikenalnya di pasar. Sesungguhnya, Jakob tidak ingin menimbulkan kekacauan, tapi cibiran pedagang itu pada keluarganya membuat dirinya lepas kendali.

“Mana ada keluarga yang lupa akan kedudukannya!” serunya pada Jakob, “Tak pernahkah ibumu mengajari soal itu? Atau memang benar kalau sudah tak ada adat di keluargamu dengan mengizinkan akangmu pergi merantau dan membiarkan mereka melupakan dari mana mereka berasal?”

Hari itu pula, ibunya berkali-kali berlutut meminta maaf kepada seluruh orang di pasar karena keributan yang berkesan kekanakan yang dilakukan Jakob.

“Apa yang kau lakukan ke pedagang itu sama dengan apa yang kau lakukan pada kedua akangmu,” tuturnya, “Kau tidak mau mendengarkan kedua akangmu dan terlalu berpaku pada sakit hatimu.”

“Lalu aku harus apa?” tanya Jakob lemas, “Bukannya sudah terlambat buat mereka untuk melihat ibu?”

“Mereka kemari bukan tanpa alasan,” jawab ibunya sabar, “Ingat apa yang pernah istrimu katakan beberapa malam lalu?”

“Ya. Dia memintaku untuk membuka hatiku,” jawab Jakob sambil menahan tangis.

“Kalau begitu, lakukanlah,” kata ibunya sambil mengusap rambut Jakob yang seputih tulang, “Ibu yakin, mereka datang untuk kebaikan kalian bertiga.”

Jakob mengangguk lemah. Rasa berat di hatinya kini sirna terbawa angin saat air mata mengalir deras dari kedua matanya dan membasahi pakaian ibunya yang tertawa sambil menepuk-nepuk bahu Jakob.

“Janganlah menangisi aku, Nak,” hiburnya, “Tangisilah hatimu, dan ingat kalau tidak ada kata terlambat untuk meminta maaf.” Ibunya kini bangkit berdiri dan mulai berjalan menjauhi Jakob yang termenung menatap punggung ringkih ibunya yang semakin menjauh dan menghilang terbawa angin.

Jakob menutup kedua matanya, membiarkan air mata yang menggenangi kedua pelupuk matanya mengalir melintasi pipinya yang tirus sebelum terbangun dari tidurnya.

Istrinya yang tidur di sebelahnya terbangun. Dia mendapati suaminya yang duduk di ranjang, gemetaran dengan wajah seputih kertas. “Ada apa, Pak?” tanya istrinya sambil mengusap pelan pungung Jakob yang berkeringat.

“Aku tidak apa,” jawab Jakob dengan suara bergetar, “Hanya, mendapat sebuah pencerahan.”


Lepas beberapa hari, seluruh keluarga dari Jakob dan kedua abangnya berkumpul di ruang tengah. Jakob sendiri duduk diam sambil sesekali menghisap tembakau saat abangnya membenarkan tempat duduknya dan mulai berbicara mengenai alasan mereka pulang kampung. “Abang sudah membicarakan ini dengan amang Ruhut jauh sebelum kami sekeluarga berencana untuk datang, dan Ruhut beserta keluarga bersedia ikut serta,” ujar amang Lamsihar, “Akan tetapi Jakob, adat ini tidak akan bisa dilakukan tanpa restu darimu juga.”

Jakob menatap lurus amang Lamsihar. Meskipun dia paham akan adat yang dimaksud oleh kedua abangnya, rasa penasarannya memadamkan bara amarah yang tersisa dalam hatinya. “Apa maksud abang berdua?” tanyanya sebelum dia bisa menguasai bibirnya.

“Kami mau minta keikutsertaan dari keluargamu untuk memindahkan tulang belulang ibu ke tempat yang lebih baik.” balas amang Lamsihar, “Itulah alasan kami datang di saat yang bersamaan.”

“Kami tahu mungkin sudah terlambat bagi kami untuk bisa melihat ibu,” sambung amang Ruhut sambil tersenyum sendu, “Tapi hanya inilah yang bisa kami lakukan, setidaknya agar beliau bisa memiliki tempat peristirahatan yang lebih layak.”

Isak tangis terdengar dari bibir Jakob, diiringi dengan air mata yang mengalir semakin deras. Kedua abangnya terkejut melihat tangisan Jakob dan menanyakan ada apa gerangan. Jakob mengutarakan segala yang ada di dalam hatinya selama ini, terutama amarah yang menguasai dirinya. Berkali-kali Jakob membungkukan badan hingga kepalanya nyaris menyentuh lantai, memohon pengampunan dari kedua abang dan keluarganya.

“Jakob, janganlah membungkuk,” sambar amang Ruhut, “Kami juga sama bersalahnya dengan dirimu. Biarlah kita memperbaiki apa yang rusak, diawali dengan memindahkan ibu ke tempat yang lebih baik.”

Pagi itu, kabut yang seakan menutupi rumah kini lenyap, diganti dengan rona hangat matahari.


“Horas! Horas! Horas!” seru para penggali kubur, menandakan tulang ibu si empunya acara telah ditemukan. Jakob bersama abang-abangnya segera membalas seruan yang bermakna doa ucapan syukur itu. Mereka sudah siap dengan kain putih di tangan masing-masing untuk menerima tulang ibu mereka. Mereka membawa tumpukan tulang ibunya ke tempat yang telah disediakan untuk dibersihkan dengan air campuran kunyit dan jeruk nipis.

Saat Jakob membersihkan tulang ibunya, perkataan ibunya menghampiri pikirannya. Terngiang di telinganya suara ibunya yang lembut, yang menyibakkan tabir amarah yang menyelubungi mata hatinya. Satu-satunya suara yang membimbing hati Jakob keluar dari ketersesatan di kekelaman. Air mata kelegaan meleleh dari pelupuk mata Jakob.


Rest in Peace, Mother!

Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.

She currently teaches English literature courses at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Novita can be reached at or


Rest in Peace, Mother!


The late afternoon breeze ruffled Jakob’s graying hair. He stared at the red earth of his mother’s grave. Twelve years had gone by since his mother’s passing, and fifteen years without the presence of his two brothers, who had left Siborong-borong, their village in North Sumatra, to seek their fortune in Java. Now, the two brothers stood beside Jakob, gazing solemnly at their mother’s grave while the gravediggers unearthed her coffin.

One of the Batak customs is to honor deceased ancestors, including those who died long ago, by moving their bones to a better burial place and holding a proper funeral ceremony. On such occasions, all relatives had to come home to prepare for the ceremony, and this was now happening in Jakob’s family.


Two months ago, when Jakob and his wife were about to leave their house to sell some produce at the market, his two brothers and their families suddenly appeared in his front yard. Even though the sun had not yet risen, Jakob could see his two brothers were as cheerful as the sun. While Jakob’s wife greeted them kindly, Jakob stood frozen in the doorway. He only returned to reality when his wife shook his shoulder and asked him to go slaughter one of their pigs to prepare a welcome feast. Although Jakob did as his wife asked and invited his two brothers and their families to come in, he spurned their arrival.

Jakob’s anger with his brothers was not without reason. When his two brothers decided to leave home fifteen years ago, their mother was suffering from a severe illness. Despite Jakob’s hopes and her desperate attempts to survive, their mother died in her sleep without saying goodbye. Not having enough money for a proper burial, Jakob buried his mother in his back yard with a simple ceremony, without the presence of his two brothers.

Now, three days after the arrival of his two brothers, after the sun had long set and the other family members were fast asleep, the three brothers sat by the light of the oil lamp. They were silent, until finally Lamsihar, the eldest brother, sighed. “We heard about Mother’s passing,” he said quietly. “Where did you bury her, Jakob?”

Jakob did not answer immediately. Consumed by anger and sadness, he looked silently at his brothers. As if reluctant to reveal the location of their mother’s grave, Jakob took a deep breath. Deep in his heart, Jakob knew that his two brothers had the right to know this information, and that despite their circumstances, they were still family. Jakob sighed, “Our mother is buried in the back yard.”

“Why did you bury Mother there?” asked Ruhut, the middle brother. “Didn’t she say that she wanted to be buried among our ancestors?”

His brothers looked at him, confused.

Jakob wanted his brothers to understand the heartache he had experienced at their mother’s makeshift funeral. “It hurts me to look at the two of you,” Jakob said, clenching his fists. He tried to control the pain in his heart, but couldn’t. Looking at his two brothers with red teary eyes, he said, “Perhaps you succeeded in making your fortune in Java — you have money, you have position, your families are privileged — but now all of that seems pointless.”

“What do you mean, Jakob?” asked Lamsihar in a trembling voice.

“What’s the use of owning as much money as there is sand on the beach, and holding a position as high as the clouds, if you never listened to Mother’s crying?” Jakob snapped. “Honestly, it always surprised me why Mother cried for two men who had deserted their family.”

Jakob saw Ruhut’s jaw set, while Lamsihar remained silent, a sad curve settling on his wrinkled face. Not wanting to add any more fuel to the fire, Jakob rose and, without saying anything, left his two brothers.

In their bedroom, Jakob’s wife tried to calm him. She knew how her husband felt toward his brothers. Nonetheless she told him that his mother would not be happy with his childish attitude and his refusal to listen to his two brothers. Afterall, they had come from far away to see their deceased mother. “It would be wrong for you to throw them out, dear,” she said softly. “Remember that you are blood brothers.”

“So what?” Jakob shook his head angrily. “It doesn’t bother me that they went to Java to better their financial situation; it bothers me that they not once came home to see Mother. And now, they come twelve years after she died? There’s no point in having them here anymore.”

Jakob’s wife sat down beside her husband and caressed his shoulder. “Darling,” she soothed, “don’t you realize that what you just said is evil? Don’t close your heart because of your ignorance.”

Jakob remained silent.

His wife continued reassuringly, “Open your heart, dear. Just give them a chance and time. That’s all.”


The next morning, Jakob was preparing to feed the livestock when, by chance, he saw his two brothers smoking in front of the house while sipping their hot, black coffee. He could faintly hear their conversation and couldn’t believe it when he heard Ruhut loudly regret not returning home sooner.

“If only,” Ruhut said wearily to his brother, “I had come home earlier, I might have seen Mother, and maybe Jakob wouldn’t be so angry.”

Jakob contemplated Ruhut’s words echoing in his mind. Then, shaking his head, Jakob was again consumed by resentment and continued on without any intention of forgiving his brothers.

After feeding his cattle, pigs, and chickens, Jakob paced aimlessly around, thinking about his mother and feeling troubled. He soon found himself standing beside his mother’s grave in the garden behind his house. Jakob stared at his mother’s resting place and exhaled a long sigh. Smiling a little, he felt that it was his mother who had brought him here.

“Mother, here’s your son Jakob,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry I couldn’t visit you for a few days.” Jakob told his mother that his two brothers had returned from Java after having been gone for a long time. He also told her about the grievances he carried in his heart.

“I don’t know, Mother,” he sighed softly. “I don’t think I’m a good person.” Looking up at the blue sky, he continued, “I feel that what I’m doing is not right.”

No one answered. There was only the sound of his nephews’ laughter from inside the house. Jakob blinked a few times before taking another deep breath. Irritated, he ran a hand across his weathered face. He was tired and fervently wished that his mother could talk to him now and advise him. Realizing once again that his mother was not available to help, upset him. Finally, Jakob turned to go home, even though no one had answered his questions.


Later that night, Jakob woke up and couldn’t believe his eyes. There was his mother, sitting cross-legged beside him. The grasses in front of them swayed gracefully as if tempting her to dance. Jakob was sure he had fallen asleep in his room and not outdoors, but he rushed to get up. His mother’s hair was neatly tied back and had started to turn as white as ivory. The wind sifted playfully through the strands. She looked at Jakob warmly and patted the ground beside her.

Hesitating, Jakob stiffly sat down next to his mother.

For a long time, neither of them spoke. Jakob was preoccupied with his jumbled thoughts. He had absolutely no idea if this was a sign of disaster, or a sign from God.

“Jakob, how are you?” his mother asked.

Jacob remained silent. He had never heard his mother speak with such a silken voice, even when she was still alive. Nodding his head, Jakob desperately tried to hold back his tears.

Jakob’s mother caressed the top of his head. Happily, she said, “It is all right; things are good.” While motioning Jakob to lay his head on her lap, she said, “I know that your two brothers have come home.”

Jakob nodded. He closed his eyes and enjoyed his mother’s loving touch that he had missed so much.

“I’m very happy to see your brothers have come home after living in Java for such a long time,” Jakob’s mother continued cheerfully. Her eyes sparkled. “I see that your children and your brothers’ children are doing well.”

When Jacob nodded without commenting, his mother continued, “Jakob, what’s wrong with you, Son?”

Jakob was surprised. He had not expected that his mother had heard him talking to her that morning. He wanted to lift his head and defend himself, but somehow, he couldn’t.

“What you said this morning reminded me of the time you tried to defend our family fourteen years ago.” Jakob could hear the smile in her voice. He remembered that day in the market when he punched a shopkeeper he knew in the face. Jakob had not meant to cause any trouble, but had lost his temper when the man insulted his family.

“How can one forget his family?” the shopkeeper had yelled at Jakob. “Didn’t your mother ever teach your brothers about that? Or does your family no longer uphold any tradition and thus allows your brothers to leave and forget their homeland?”

On that day, his mother repeatedly knelt to apologize to everyone in the market for the childish commotion Jakob had caused.

“What you did to that shopkeeper back then is the same as what you’re doing to your two brothers now,” she said. “You don’t want to listen to your two brothers because your anger won’t let you.”

“Then, what should I do?” asked Jakob miserably. “Isn’t it too late for them to visit you, Mother?”

“They’re not here without reason,” his mother answered patiently. “Remember what your wife said a few days ago?”

“Yes,” replied Jakob, holding back his tears. “She asked me to open my heart.”

“Then listen to her,” his mother said, stroking Jakob’s graying hair. “I’m sure your brothers came for the good of the three of you.”

Jakob nodded in relief. He no longer felt burdened. He burst out crying, wetting his mother’s clothes with his tears. His mother laughed and patted Jakob’s shoulder.

“Don’t cry for me, my child,” she comforted. “Cry for yourself. Remember that it’s never too late to make amends.” Jakob sat up as his mother rose. He watched his mother’s frail back slowly disappear in the wind.

Jakob closed his eyes. When he opened them, he was in his own bed with tears flowing down his hollow cheeks.

His wife, asleep next to him, woke up. Gently rubbing Jakob’s damp back, she felt him shaking and saw his ashen face. “What’s the matter, Jakob?”

“I’m fine,” Jakob replied in a quivering voice. “I’ve just had some revelations.”


A few days later, Jakob and his two brothers gathered in the living room with their families. Jakob sat quietly, occasionally taking a drag of his cigarette, as Lamsihar adjusted his seat and started talking about the reason for coming home. “I discussed this situation with Ruhut long before we planned to visit,” Lamsihar said. “Ruhut and his family were willing to join us. Still, Jakob, it is not possible to perform this funeral ceremony without your consent.”

Jakob looked evenly at Lamsihar. Although he knew about the custom his two brothers were talking about, his curiosity about their sincerity snuffed the last of the burning embers of anger he still carried in his heart. “What do you two mean?” he asked.

“We would like to ask your family to participate in moving Mother’s remains to a more suitable place,” replied Lamsihar. “That’s why we all came home together.”

“We knew that it was too late for us to see Mother,” Ruhut added, with a sad smile. “But this is the only thing we can do at least Mother can have a better resting place.”

Jakob began to sob.

His two brothers were shocked by Jakob’s reaction. Jakob confessed that anger had taken the better of him all this time. Bowing several times until his head almost touched the floor, he begged for forgiveness from his two brothers and their families.

“Jakob, stop it, please!” Ruhut exclaimed. “We are just as guilty as you are. Now, let us fix what is broken, starting with relocating Mother’s grave to a better place.”

That morning, the fog that usually covered the house was gone. It was replaced by the warm glow of the sun.


“Horas! Horas! Horas!” the gravediggers called out, signaling they had found the bones of Jakob’s mother. Jakob immediately joined his two brothers in responding to the call which meant a prayer of thanksgiving. The three brothers stood, holding white cloths in their hands, ready to receive their mother’s bones.

They carried the bones to the place they had prepared, and cleaned them with a mixture of turmeric and lime juice.

While Jakob cleaned the bones, he recalled his mother’s words. Her gentle voice had removed the shroud of anger that had covered him. Hers was the only voice that had been able to guide him out of the darkness. Tears of joy streamed from Jakob’s eyes.



Hikayat Jarot di Agustusan

Born in Ponorogo, East Java, on October 21, 1977, widely-published author Han Gagas is an alumnus of the Faculty of Geodesy at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta. His short stories have appeared in mass media such as Horison, Kompas, Tempo, Republika, and Suara Merdeka. His novel Orang-orang Gila was published by Buku Mojok in 2018. In June 2021, Interlude Publishers published his latest work, Sepasang Mata Gagak di Yerusalem, a short story collection. Balada Sepasang Kekasih Gila was the winner of the 2020 Falcon Script Hunt competition, and Falcon Pictures has signed to turn the novel into a movie. Gagas’s travel journal, titled Adzan di Israel, will be published by Ivory Publishers at the end of 2021.

Han Gagas currently lives in Solo, Central Java. Aside from working on his own writing, he also manages an online publication He can be reached at




Hikayat Jarot di Agustusan


Para penghuni kolong jembatan sebagian masih terlelap; sebagian ngopi, sebagian yang lain mancing dan menjaring ikan. Ada pula yang mendengarkan siaran radio, “Pidato Kemerdekaan oleh Bapak Presiden, dilanjutkan lagu kebangsaan Indonesia Raya.”

Jarot sedang membangun bedeng untuk tempat tinggalnya. Saat matanya melihat gitar bas terapung mengalir di arus sungai, dia berlari mengambil. Jarot membersihkan, dan mulai memperbaikinya.

Jarot mau ngamen dengan gitar bas itu buat cari uang. Dia membuat senar dari ban dalam sepeda, dan memasangkannya. Dia coba memetik dan berbunyi “dung-dung-dung.”

Jarot mulai bernyanyi menjajal gitar, sebuah lagu didendangkan:

Di sini senang, di sana senang. Di mana-mana hatiku senang. Lalalalalalala, lalalalalala, lalalala, lalalalalaa, lalalalala, lalalala….


Jarot menenteng gitar bas memasuki perkampungan yang penuh bendera merah putih, umbul-umbul terpasang di tepi jalan, berjajar-jajar, semarak karena Agustusan, perayaan kemerdekaan. Dia mendekati sebuah rumah dan mulai menyanyi.

Halo-halo Bandung, ibu kota Periangan. Halo-halo Bandung, kota kenang-kenangan, sudah lama beta… tidak berjumpa dengan kau, sekarang telah menjadi lautan api, mari bung rebut kembali!

Jarot bernyanyi dengan gegap gempita, hingga banyak orang yang mendengar pada senyum-senyum sendiri.

“Edan, ngamen pakai lagu kebangsaan, hehehe,” terdengar suara seseorang.

Jarot juga menyanyi lagu Indonesia Raya, suaranya semangat penuh seluruh.

“Indonesia Tanah Airku/Tanah Tumpah Darahku/Di sanalah aku berdiri jadi pandu ibuku/ Indonesia-kebangsaanku/Bangsa dan tanah airku/Marilah kita berseru/Indonesia bersatu.”

Banyak orang yang mendengar jadi turut menyanyi, terutama pada kalimat, Indonesia bersatu! Seruan itu menggetarkan dan mengobarkan semangat semua terlecut sifat kebangsaannya bahkan beberapa anak mulai mengekornya saat mengamen.

Orang-orang tua, yang dimulai oleh seorang mantan pejuang kemerdekaan yang berbaju coklat, juga ikut. Jadinya mulai banyak orang-orang tua termasuk emak-emak turut mengekor Jarot.

Sambil menyanyi makin semangat, Jarot mengamen dari rumah ke rumah, termasuk kios-kios dan toko.

Semua yang mengekor ikut menyanyi bagai paduan suara jalanan yang penuh gelora. Bulan Agustus, bulan perayaan kemerdekaan Republik Indonesia, ini tahun terasa lebih ramai dan semangat. Sebagian warga segera mengenakan pakaian terbaik yang mereka miliki, sebagian lain mengambil ember untuk suara tabuhan. Suara Jarot dan paduan suara jalanan itu makin menggetarkan bendera merah putih dan baliho yang berkibar-kibar di seantero jalanan.

Saat menemukan bendera berkibar di depan SD, Jarot berhenti dan berteriak, “Siiiiiiaaaaaaappppp! Graaaakkkk!!” Orang-orang tua yang mengekornya, termasuk anak-anak turut berdiri dalam keadaan siap.

“Kepada bendera merah putih, hormaaaatttttttt graakkk!” seru Jarot.

Jarot menghormati bendera. Orang-orang mengikuti.

Masyarakat yang menonton jadi senyum-senyum sendiri.

Tak jauh dari arak-arakan Jarot, di sebuah warung, sejumlah orang bercakap-cakap sambil makan.

“Orang edan, gemblung kok diikuti!”

“Ndaklah, dia menyatukan mereka, coba lihat, itu ada yang sukunya Batak, Jawa, Sunda, macam-macam jadi satu, iya khan hehehe….”

“Iya seh, hehehe.”

“Eh, pengamen itu siapa namanya?” tanya yang lain. Dia menunjuk Jarot yang wajahnya seperti orang lugu, hidungnya pesek, dan giginya tonggos.

“Jarot tha, kenapa?”

“Asyik orangnya, kemarin aku lihat dia membersihkan sungai. Sampah-sampah dia kumpulkan dan dia pilah mana yang secara alamiah dapat terurai dan mana yang tidak, sebagian dia bakar. Dia juga menanami bantaran sungai dengan bibit pohon mangga.”

“Wah, sungai yang bersih sana itu tha?

Ibu penjual yang mendengar ikut menyahut: “Iya, Jarot yang bersihin!


Lambat laun sejumlah penduduk membantu Jarot maka sungai yang sebelumnya sangat kotor dan dipenuhi semak belukar itu kini jadi lebih bersih dan tertata. Seiring berjalannya waktu pohon-pohon makin membesar dan meninggi membuat lingkungan sekitar sungai jadi rindang dan teduh, sehingga jadi tempat yang enak buat memancing. Kadang-kadang pula Jarot ikut memancing, dan memperoleh hasil yang lumayan untuk lauk makan.

Makin hari kehidupan di sekitar sungai makin bertambah maju, dengan dibangunnya taman dan tempat bermain anak-anak. Saran itu adalah usulan yang disampaikan Jarot di rapat warga yang disetujui Ketua RT dan RW. Dengan bantuan dana dari pemerintah kota, taman dan tempat bermain anak itu dibangun. Makin majulah kehidupan di sekitar sungai, dan itu jadi percontohan tempat-tempat lain untuk memajukan wilayahnya masing-masing.

Jarot sendiri makin dikenal sebagai penggiat lingkungan. Kehidupan di tepian sungai itu yang sebelumnya sepi-sepi saja sekarang berkembang.

Jasa parkir dibuka di dekat bantaran sungai, beberapa warung tenda dibuka untuk melayani pengunjung taman. Toko pulsa, tukang cukur, warung nasi, jualan es, jualan bensin dan toko kelontong mendadak ramai, bisa dibilang berkat Jarot usaha para warga sekitar jadi makin laku, makin banyak mendatangkan keuntungan.

Jarot sendiri tak memungut beaya dari siapa saja yang ingin menikmati taman dan tempat bermain anak-anak itu. Hanya ada seorang tetangga yang bertugas mengawasi kendaraan sambil memasang kaleng besar buat wadah uang seikhlasnya untuk membayar parkir. Lembaran-lembaran uang yang masuk ke dalam kaleng itu nanti akan digunakan untuk kebutuhan warga, khususnya untuk membantu biaya pengobatan bila ada yang sakit, dan biaya melahirkan.

Hari-hari jadi penuh kesibukan, penuh kesungguhan. Semua berjalan sesuai adatnya selama beberapa tahun hingga pada satu malam yang tak biasanya, Jarot bermimpi aneh yang membuatnya merasa gelisah, merasa terancam.

Ada bayangan gelap membekapnya malam-malam. Jarot megap-megap tak berdaya, dan terbangun saat dia nyaris kehabisan napas. Keringat dingin bercucuran di dahi.

Dia tak tahu siapa pemilik bayangan itu. Jarot mulai menyelidiki hal ikhwal yang barangkali berhubungan dengan mimpinya. Dia menelisik ke dalam dirinya sendiri. Dia tahu ada sikap suka dan tidak suka dari warga masyarakat mengenai dirinya. Baginya semua itu wajar sepanjang dia tak diganggu, dia sendiri tak berniat mengganggu yang lain, dia akan menjalani semua hal dengan hati ringan.

Dia selalu percaya pada naluri yang kerap terbukti, bahwa ada orang lain yang tak menyukai kehadirannya. Pastinya pemilik bayangan itu. Wajahnya gelap.

Saat Jarot mencoba menerawang lebih dalam dan khusyuk, secara aneh tabir hitam menutupi parasnya membuat muka itu jadi rata. Hanya bagian pakaian yang samar-samar bisa dilihat. Setelan bajunya rapi, berjas dan berdasi, jam berantai emas terselip di saku baju, dia bersepatu selop.

Mimpi buruk tak cuma sekali mendatanginya. Termasuk malam itu, mimpi lebih menyeramkan! Tak hanya bayangan gelap yang membekap tetapi juga puluhan orang datang menyerbu, sedangkan sosok malaikat kematian pun datang mengancamnya. Dini hari itu, Jarot terbangun dengan keringat bercucuran, bayangan itu tak juga lekas pergi. Cukup lama dia terbangun dan cukup lama bayangan itu ada di pelupuk matanya, seakan menjerat ingatannya. Jarot segera mendaraskan wirid yang panjang, bersembahyang sampai subuh menjelang hingga hatinya merasa tenang.

Hari itu Jarot berpuasa.

Dia berpikir barangkali dalam hidupnya pernah melakukan hal tak baik yang tak dia sadari. Dia ingin menebus hal tak baik itu yang barangkali ada hubungannya dengan mimpi buruknya selama ini. Semua hal baik dia upayakan di hari itu, namun kesialan bisa datang kapan saja, tanpa diduga.

Malam itu sesudah Jarot berbuka puasa, seperti biasa dia mempersiapkan diri dengan semangat untuk esok hari merayakan hari kemerdekaan. Jarot mengumpulkan bendera untuk persiapan upacara bendera.

Tiba-tiba datang puluhan orang.

“Jarot!” teriak seseorang.

Dalam kegelapan, gelaran air sungai masih terlihat hamparannya karena tersirami cahaya sinar rembulan. Lampu merkuri di pojok jembatan berkemilau bergoyang-goyang karena

cahayanya terhambat bebatuan.

Tak banyak orang di kolong jembatan pada malam itu, andai pun ada akan menyingkir melihat puluhan orang datang membawa ancaman.

“Keluar kau!” teriak orang-orang itu lebih keras.

Jarot tergeragap, hatinya berdesir, jantungnya berdetak tak biasa, namun dia segera menenangkan diri, melangkah keluar dari bedengnya.

“Ada apa? Tenang, semua bisa dibicarakan.”

“Persetan dengan omonganmu!”

Beberapa orang langsung merangsek menyerang Jarot, mengeroyoknya.

“Tenang, sabar, apa mau kalian? Ayo bicara baik-baik,” kata Jarot sebelum berbagai tonjokan dan tendangan menghantam tubuhnya, bertubi-tubi. Hidungnya berleleran darah, perutnya nyeri tanpa ampun. Kepalanya pusing, pening, ngilu, dan rasa nyeri meradang di sekujur tubuhnya.

“Pergi dari sini kalau kau tak mau mati!” Hajaran itu berlangsung makin beringas tak peduli.

Jarot diam tak melawan. Tubuhnya tersungkur ke tanah.

“Minggat! Kalau besok kau masih ada, kau akan kami habisi!”

“Ingat itu!”

Sejumlah orang meludahi muka Jarot, “Cuihh! Cuihh! Cuihh!”

“Pergi jauh dari sini! Kalau tidak, kau mampus! atau mereka warga kampung akan kami habisi, rumah mereka akan kami bakar!”


Diluar sepengetahuan Jarot, sesudah kejadian malam itu, di sebuah kantor pemerintah daerah, seorang yang berbaju rapi, berjas dan berdasi, dengan jam berantai emas di saku kanan dan bersepatu selop, berbincang dengan seseorang.


“Sudah kami bereskan, Tuan.”

“Bagus. Tak ada yang bisa menghubungkan gembel itu denganku, karena beberapa bulan lagi pembangunan baru akan dimulai, hahaha.”

“Benar sekali Tuan, hehehe.”

Lelaki yang dipanggil tuan itu puas siasatnya berhasil dengan baik. Dia tahu betul bahwa Jarot bisa jadi ancaman pada pembangunan jembatannya. Dia tahu Jarot punya kemampuan menghalangi rencana pembangunan yang akan merubuhkan jembatan lama dan menggantikannya dengan yang lebih lebar dan besar.

Namun perbaikan itu tidak akan dapat terlaksana tanpa merusak taman Jarot dan menyingkirkan penduduk desa. Belum tersebut dampak pembangunan yang akan timbul pada lingkungan sekitar sungai. Seorang pengusaha juga telah berjanji akan mendirikan sebuah pabrik besar di tepi sungai itu baginya.

Semua jalan telah ditempuhnya. Sesama teman pejabat pemerintah sudah disuap. Hanya baru-baru ini dia menyadari ada perubahan pola pikir dari warga di sekitar jembatan dan sungai, dan itu berasal dari pergerakan yang disebarkan oleh Jarot. Hal itu mudah dilihat dengan semakin bersih dan tertatanya lingkungan sekitar sungai. Dia yakin Jarot bukan orang sembarangan. Dia yakin, Jarot disusupkan oleh gerakan kelompok tertentu. Setidaknya oleh para penggiat lingkungan, atau HAM, LSM kiri, atau kelompok ikatan buruh.


Di malam menjelang hari perayaan kemerdekaan, Jarot melangkah kesakitan menjauhi kampung yang telah membuatnya jatuh cinta. Malam itu malam yang naas bagi kehidupan Jarot yang direnggut kebebasannya.

Di hari kebebasan bangsa Indonesia dari penjajah, Jarot terusir dari gubuk tempat tinggalnya selama ini.

Paginya, orang-orang kampung geger, semua bingung tanpa Jarot.

Tak ada Jarot yang memandu upacara bendera, tak ada lagi arak-arakan dan paduan suara yang membahana di kampung itu tepat di Hari Kemerdekaan.



Jarot’s Independence Day

Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.

She currently teaches English literature courses at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Novita can be reached at or





Jarot’s Independence Day


Some of the folks who lived under the bridge were still asleep; some sat drinking coffee; others fished the river. Still others listened to the radio broadcast: “The President’s Independence Day speech will be followed by the national anthem, Indonesia Raya.”

Jarot was building a shelter to live in when he saw a bass guitar floating in the river. He ran for it. After Jarot caught the instrument, he cleaned it and tried to fix it. He used the inner tubes of a bicycle to make strings for the guitar. Fancying himself performing with the bass guitar to earn money, he tried to pluck. Boom, boom, boom!

Strumming the guitar, Jarot sang, “I’m happy here, I’m happy there. I am happy everywhere. Lalalalalala, lalalalalala, lalalala, lalalalala, lalalalala, lalalala …”


Carrying his bass guitar, Jarot entered the village, decorated with red and white Indonesian flags and banners lining the roadsides in celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day on August 17. He approached a house and began to sing.

“Hello, hello, Bandung, capital of the Periangan. Hello, hello, Bandung, city of memories. I haven’t seen you for a long time; now you’ve become a sea of​​ flames; let’s reclaim it!”

Jarot sang so loud that he made many people smile.

“He is crazy, singing patriotic songs,” someone said, laughing.

Jarot also sang Indonesia Raya with enthusiasm.

“Indonesia is my homeland, the land where I spilled my blood. It’s where I stand to support my fatherland. Indonesia is my nationality, my nation and homeland. Let us shout: Indonesia unite!”

Many people began to sing along, repeating, especially, the phrase “Indonesia unite!” It was such a rousing call that it ignited everyone’s feelings of nationalism. Some children even began to follow the street singer, as he moved about the village.

The elderly, led by a brown-uniformed ex-freedom fighter, also joined. Thus, many adults, including mothers, started to trail behind Jarot.

Jarot’s singing became more and more enthusiastic as he went door to door, visiting food stalls and shops.

His followers looked like a lively street choir. This year’s August celebration of the independence of the Republic of Indonesia seemed livelier and more spirited. Some residents put on their best clothes; others took pails to use as drums. The voices of Jarot and the street choir seemed to make the red-and-white flags and banners decorating the streets flutter faster.

When Jarot saw the flag flying in front of an elementary school, he stopped and shouted, Attention!” The parents and children who followed him straightened up.

“Salute the colors!” cried Jarot and saluted the flag.

Everyone followed suit.

The bystanders watching them, smiled.

In a food stall, not far from the Jarot-led procession, a number of people were eating and making comments.

“Foolish people. Why are they following Fatso?”

“Jarot unites them. Look! Amongst them are Bataknese, Javanese, and Sundanese. Don’t you think all of them are having a good time together?

Even some of the old people have joined him!” The commenter laughed.

“Hey, what’s the busker’s name?” another asked, pointing at Jarot.

With his flat nose and protruding teeth Jarot looked like the village fool.

“That’s Jarot. Why?”

“He is a busy person. Yesterday, I saw him taking trash out of the river. After he sorted the garbage, separating the biodegradable from the non-biodegradable, he burned some of it. He also planted mango saplings on the riverbanks.”

“Wow! Is that the river he cleaned up over there?”

The food stall owner was listening to the conversation and chimed in, “Yes, Jarot is the one who cleaned it!”


Gradually, over time, a number of residents began helping Jarot clean up the river. Previously very dirty and filled with shrubs, the river was now cleaner and the surroundings were better managed. As time went by, the trees grew bigger and taller, creating a cool and shady environment, a good place for fishing. Sometimes Jarot joined the fishermen and caught a good meal.

At a community meeting, Jarot put forth an idea that was approved by the neighborhood and hamlet leaders. With help from the government’s city funding, the community built a park and children’s playground. Life around the river became more prosperous, and the settlement became a model for other places to develop their rundown areas.

Jarot became increasingly recognized as an environmental activist. The previously dreary life on the riverbanks was now flourishing.

A parking lot and several tent stalls opened near the riverbank to serve visitors. Cellphone shops, barbershops, food stalls, a gasoline outlet, and variety stores now buzzed with customers. Jarot could be credited for the booming businesses of the local residents, as well as for their now thriving lives.

Jarot did not collect any fees from people who wanted to enjoy the park and the children’s playground. Instead, a person from the neighborhood was put in charge of the parking lot, where visitors could place their voluntary donations in a large can. The money was used to help residents with medical expenses, such as childbirth.

Jarot’s days were filled with noble activities. Everything continued as usual for many years until one night, he had a strange dream that made him feel uneasy and threatened.

In his dream, a dark shadow appeared and swiftly smothered him until he could hardly breathe. Gasping helplessly, Jarot woke up just as he was about to suffocate. Cold sweat dripped down his forehead.

He didn’t know who the shadow belonged to. Jarot began to investigate things that might explain his nightmare. He looked within himself. He knew that in the community there were people who liked him and people who disliked him. To Jarot, this was to be expected, as long as no one disturbed him. He was a light-hearted person and did not intend to bother others.

But Jarot had always believed his often-proved instinct that some people didn’t like his presence. Jarot figured that one of these people must be the owner of the shadow. His face was dark. When Jarot tried to take a better look, the black veil that covered the strange figure flattened his face. Only his clothes were vaguely visible. Standing in loafers, the figure was dressed in a nice suit and wore a necktie. A gold chain was attached to the watch tucked in his vest’s pocket.

The nightmare returned. This time, the dream was even more sinister. Not only did the shadowy figure rush in, but so did dozens of people. The dark shadow of the “angel of death” was amongst them.

Jarot woke up sweating profusely. The image of the shadow remained, even after Jarot had been awake for a long time. It seemed to be stamped into his memory. Jarot immediately recited a long wirid, hoping that the prayer said after the regular prayers, would calm him.

That day, Jarot fasted.

He wondered if perhaps he had inadvertently done something wrong. He wanted to make up for the bad thing that might have something to do with his recurring nightmare. All day, he tried to do good, but he knew that bad luck could come at any time, unexpectedly.

That evening, after Jarot broke his fast, he prepared himself with his usual enthusiasm for the celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day. Inside his shack, Jarot was gathering flags for the flag ceremony when suddenly dozens of people stormed the bridge.

“Jarot!” someone shouted.

In the darkness, the riverbank was visible, basking under the moonlight. The light from the lantern at the corner of the bridge, shimmered between the rocks.

There weren’t many people under the bridge that night, and even if there had been, they would have fled when they saw dozens of menacing people arrive.

“Get out!” the people shouted louder.

Jarot staggered, his heart hammering. Quickly, he calmed himself and walked out of his shack.

“What is wrong?” he asked the crowd. “Calm down. Everything can be discussed.”

“To hell with your talk!” Several people charged at Jarot, ganging up on him.

“Calm down, be patient, what do you want? Let’s talk!” Jarot cried before he was overtaken by the mob and repeatedly punched and kicked. His nose was bloodied. His stomach hurt terribly. He was dizzy and ached all over.

“Get out of here if you want to stay alive!”

The beating from the mob accelerated without mercy. Jarot did not fight back. He fell to the ground.

“Get lost! If you’re still around tomorrow, we’ll kill you!”


Several people spat on Jarot’s face. Ptui! Ptui! Ptui!

“Leave! Or you’ll die! We’ll burn this village and kill the residents!”


Later that night, a local government official was holding a conversation with a man standing in loafers, wearing a nice suit fitted with a necktie. A gold chain was attached to the watch tucked in the man’s vest pocket.

“Well?” the official asked.

“We’ve taken care of it, sir.”

“Good! I don’t want to have anything to do with that scumbag. In a few months, the new bridge construction project will start.” The official laughed.

“That’s right, sir,” the man said, joining in the laughter.

The official was satisfied that his scare tactic had worked. Only recently had he noticed a change in the mindset of the population living under the bridge and on the riverbanks. Jarot’s ideas had changed them. This was evidenced by the cleaner and more orderly environment around the river. He was sure that Jarot was not an ordinary person, and he was sure that causes such as human rights activists, leftist NGOs, and labor union groups supported Jarot.

Therefore, the official knew very well the threat that Jarot posed to carrying out his bridge construction plans. He also knew that Jarot had the ability to block the construction project, which could not take place without destroying Jarot’s shack and removing the other villagers in order to tear down the old bridge and replace it with a wider and bigger one. The negative impact that the development would have on the river’s environment was another factor, as was the large factory that a businessman promised to build for him on the riverbank.

But now, all safety measures had been taken. The official had even bribed his government colleagues.


On the eve of Indonesia’s Independence Day, the day when the Indonesian people celebrate their freedom from the colonizers, Jarot left the place he had fallen in love with. He was evicted from the shack under the bridge, which he had called home all this time and pain-ridden from the fateful night that had stripped off his freedom.

On the morning of August 17, there was a big commotion among the villagers. Without Jarot, everyone was confused. And on that Independence Day there was no one to direct the flag ceremony, no one to lead the parades, and no one to direct the street choirs in the riverbank settlement under the bridge.












Mengenang Padewakkang

Andi Batara Al Isra was born in Ujung Pandang, SO. Sulawesi, on January 9, 1994.

He is currently studying anthropology on a scholarship of the Lembaga Pengelola Dana Pendidikan at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand.

His poems and short stories have been published in several magazines and newspapers such as Fajar and Berita Pagi. His work has been included in several anthologies and won several national writing competitions. Batara’s short story Keranda Puang was given honorable mention in the FLP Awards 2017. His collection of poems, Di Seberang Gelombang was published by Penerbit Shofia in 2019. Gersik dalam Matriks is a collection of poems Batara self-published in 2020. Mengenang Padewakkang is Batara’s first work translated in the English language.

Batara is active on the following social media platforms: Forum Lingkar Pena, Yayasan Antropos Indonesia, Wijen Projects, and Perpustakaan Antropologi FISIP Unhas. His website accepts submissions of prose and poetry. Batara can be reached on his facebook page: Andi Batara Al Isra or on Twitter and Instagram @bataraisra. His email address is









Mengenang Padewakkang


ARNHEM Land, Australia, Desember 1945

Sudah bertahun-tahun Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing menatap kosong kaki langit. Di tangannya ada pipa tembakau dari kayu yang sejak lama tak pernah lagi mengepul. Dia menunggu kapal-kapal dari Makassar kembali menanam sauh seperti dulu. Setelah angin tenggara yang bertiup antara akhir Maret hingga April, membawa layar padewakkang, kapal dagang milik orang Makassar, ke utara puluhan tahun silam, tak ada lagi yang tersisa selain kenangan. Kepergian mereka seperti kehilangan sebagian dari diri sendiri.

Burarrwanga, lelaki berambut putih dan berkulit gelap itu, adalah pemimpin kelompok suku Yolngu, penduduk pribumi kawasan ini. Meski keriput, meski tubuhnya terlihat rapuh dihantam angin pantai dan gurun, harapannya tidak pernah pupus. Lama sekali, setiap tahun, ketika baarramirri, angin dari arah barat laut, tiba antara Desember dan Januari, sepanjang pantai ini penuh orang dan kapal yang tertambat. Ada yang mengangkat keranjang, ada yang menyelam mencari teripang, dan ada yang mengasapi hasil buruan tersebut. Bayangan tentang masa indah itu tidak pernah hilang dari ingatan Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing. Dia akan terus menunggu Daeng Gassing bersama para pelaut Makassar lainnya datang dari seberang lautan dengan membawa beras, emas, dan tembakau. Memang sudah sejak ratusan tahun lalu, orang Makassar kerap datang ke Arnhem Land, membangun hubungan baik yang saling menguntungkan dengan penduduk asli di sana, termasuk leluhur Burarrwanga. Hubungan baik tersebut berjalan hingga kini.

“Mungkin mereka ditelan ular petir di tengah lautan,” kata Marika, istri Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing.

“Jangan bilang sembarangan. Ular petir hanya menyerang orang jahat yang berlayar. Orang baik seperti mereka tidak akan ditenggelamkan.”

“Sudahlah, Burarrwanga, masih ada pohon asam yang dulu mereka tanam. Kau bisa istirahat di bawahnya,” lanjut Marika.

“Sudah lama nama itu tidak kudengar. Terakhir kali kau memanggilku seperti itu saat mereka masih di sini kan?”

“Ya, orang-orang, bahkan para orang kulit putih sekarang lebih mengenalmu dengan Dayn Gatjing ketimbang nama lahirmu.”

Sambil menghela napas, Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing mengingat kembali apa yang telah dilakukan orang-orang berkulit putih itu pada hidupnya. Kapal-kapal padewakkang milik orang Makassar sudah tiada, diusir oleh Persemakmuran Australia engan alasan-alasan yang tidak masuk akal. Sekarang, yang berseliweran hanyalah kapal-kapal mereka, menguasai lautan dan menguras hasilnya tanpa ampun, terutama teripang. Orang Yolngu tidak mendapatkan apa-apa. Mereka tidak dilibatkan dalam pasar. Persemakmuran Australia mengambil semuanya.

Ingatan Burarrwanga lalu terbang ke masa puluhan tahun silam. Masa ketika pantai-pantai Arnhem Land masih dipenuhi layar padewakkang orang Makassar.


Siang yang terik di bulan Januari 1905 seolah matahari berlipat ganda di tanah ini. Meski begitu, beberapa awak kapal serta orang-orang Yolngu bertelanjang dada dan kaki tetap sibuk mengangkat keranjang bambu berisi puluhan teripang yang baru saja ditangkap dari dasar laut. Teripang-teripang tersebut akan dibawa ke sebuah tempat pengasapan di mana Daeng Gassing, seorang pemimpin kapal asal Makassar, duduk mencatat jumlah pikul yang hari ini berhasil dikumpulkan.

Di sebelahnya, Burarrwanga duduk mengawasi anggota kelompoknya yang ikut membantu kegiatan tersebut. Di tangannya terdapat pipa kayu berisi tembakau pemberian bapaknya, yang jauh di masa lalu adalah juga pemberian seorang pelayar asal Makassar. Hampir setiap pria dewasa di kelompoknya memiliki benda ini. Mereka menyebutnya pipa Makassar sebab orang Makassarlah yang membawa benda ini dari seberang lautan.

“Tembakau yang saya simpan sejak setahun lalu kau ke sini sudah habis. Sekarang kau bawa lagi,” ucap Burarrwanga sambil asap keluar dari hidungnya.

“Itu yang leluhur kita selalu lakukan sejak ratusan tahun lalu. Sudah kebiasaan bukan? Setiap tahun, kami, orang-orang Makassar, bawakan kalian barang dan sebagai gantinya, kalian sebagai penduduk asli di sini bantu kami kumpulkan teripang,” kata Daeng Gassing sambil mencatat angka-angka yang kurang dimengerti oleh Burarrwanga. Orang-orang di Arnhem Land tidak begitu mengerti tulisan. Mereka tidak punya aksara. Jika ingin merawat ingatan, mereka menggambar atau mengukir kayu serta batu.

“Kami tidak akan merasa sebaik ini jika di masa lalu, orang-orangmu tidak ke tanah ini mengumpulkan teripang. Kalian bisa ambil itu semua, kami tidak memakannya,” kata Burarrwanga sambil sedikit tertawa.

“Rasanya memang tidak enak. Tidak ada orang Makassar yang makan hewan aneh ini. Kami jual ke Tiongkok. Harganya mahal. Pantaimu menghasilkan banyak sekali teripang dengan mutu bagus,” sambung Daeng Gassing.

“Kau tahu, aku berharap suatu hari aku bisa mengunjungi kampung halamanmu. Pasti tempat itu sangat makmur dan maju. Banyak kapal dan rumah besar, kan?” tanya Burarrwanga.

“Kalau tanah itu sangat makmur, kami tidak mungkin ke sini mencari teripang. Di sana banyak masalah, terutama setelah orang Belanda menguasai Makassar. Namun di sisi lain, kami senang bisa ke sini, leluhur kami pun pasti senang,” jawab Daeng Gassing.

Apa yang lelaki Makassar itu mungkin tidak sadari adalah bahwa selama ratusan tahun, leluhurnya telah membawa perubahan besar bagi kehidupan di Arnhem Land. Mereka memberikan beras, logam, tembakau, minuman keras dan barang-barang lain yang tidak pernah dilihat orang Arnhem Land sebelumnya. Tanah ini sudah seperti bagian dari mereka. Bahkan di masa lalu, desas-desus pernah menyebar bahwa Arnhem Land adalah bagian kekuasaan Kerajaan Gowa. Itu pula alasan mengapa orang Makassar memiliki nama khusus bagi tanah ini. Mereka menyebutnya Maregeq.

Di tengah percakapan itu, Marika yang sedang hamil besar tiba-tiba mendatangi mereka berdua. Dia berlari-lari kecil dengan napas tersengal-sengal.

“Orang Persemakmuran… ada orang Persemakmuran Australia … saya lihat mereka … bawa pistol … senapan … ke sini.”

Mendengar itu, Daeng Gassing dan Burarrwanga langsung meminta orang-orangnya menyiapkan senjata. Orang Makassar menyelipkan badik dan parang di balik sarung, sementara orang Yolngu menyiapkan tombak dan panah. Mereka tidak ingin kekerasan. Hanya saja, karena orang-orang Persemakmuran Australia membawa senjata, segala kemungkinan harus dipersiapkan.

“Anda terlalu jauh dari kampung halaman dan sudah terlalu banyak mengambil teripang di tanah orang. Anggap saja ini peringatan.” Kata seorang polisi Persemakmuran Australia begitu dia berhadapan dengan Daeng Gassing.

“Kapal-kapal saya terdaftar di syahbandar Port Bowen. Apa yang perlu diperingatkan?”

“Lihat,” polisi itu mengeluarkan selembar kertas, “saya ditugaskan mengawasi kalian karena meracuni orang-orang asli sini. Kalian mengajarkan mereka mabuk!”

“Hei, apa urusanmu menganggu kesenangan kami?” Burarrwanga angkat suara. Dia tidak senang melihat orang Persemakmuran Australia mencampuri kehidupan orang-orangnya.

“Itu yang sering dikatakan para penjahat. Dengar, tanpa sadar, kalian dirusak oleh orang-orang ini yang entah datang dari mana,” polisi itu menatap Burarrwanga sambil tangannya menunjuk Daeng Gassing.

“Bukan kau yang memerintah di sini!” Dengan geram, Burarrwanga sekonyong-konyongnya berusaha meninju polisi yang berada di depannya. Sedikit meleset, tetapi polisi itu kehilangan keseimbangan dan jatuh ke belakang.

Begitu tersungkur, polisi itu tiba-tiba melepaskan tembakan peringatan ke angkasa. Orang-orang di sekitarnya menutup telinga. Kini, orang-orang Makassar dan Yolngu menghunus senjata tajam, siap menyerbu pasukan polisi berkulit putih. Namun, Daeng Gassing memberikan isyarat agar menahan serangan.

“Karena ini hanyalah peringatan, kami akan pergi. Kami sebenarnya tidak ingin ada pertumpahan darah. Tapi, sebelum itu, pukulan harus dibalas dengan pukulan…” Debuk! Bogem mentah mendarat di wajah Burarrwanga.

Polisi Australia berambut pirang itu pergi membawa pasukannya begitu saja setelah menghantam tulang pipi Burarrwanga.

Orang-orang kini mengeremuni Burarrwanga. Beberapa yang lain hendak melawan balik dan mengejar polisi Persemakmuran Australia, tetapi Burarrwanga yang setengah sadar memberikan isyarat agar menyudahi persoalan ini. Pukulan polisi itu terlampau keras. Kepala Burarrwanga berkunang-kunang, seperti ada banyak kanguru yang melompat-lompat di sekelilingnya. Pandangannya semakin kabur, dia tidak lagi melihat wajah Daeng Gassing dengan jelas. Semuanya berubah hitam. Dia pingsan.


Dua tahun setelah peristiwa peringatan pada 1905, tiba waktu dimana orang Makassar harus benar-benar hengkang dari Arnhem Land sebab Persemakmuran Australia yang telah mengeluarkan larangan pelayaran bagi orang Makassar untuk memasuki wilayah Australia. Berita itu merupakan kabar buruk. Lebih buruk dari badai yang sering menghantam padewakkang saat melintasi lautan. Bagaimana tidak, mencari teripang sampai ke tanah jauh adalah kebiasaan yang sudah dilakukan turun-temurun sejak pertengahan 1600. Leluhur Daeng Gassing yang berlayar lebih dulu ke Arnhem Land ketimbang orang berkulit putih yang datang belakangan bersama ribuan tahanan dan senapan.

Mata Burarrwanga belum lepas dari lidah api unggun yang menjilat sunyi. Menit-menit berlalu, belasan orang yang duduk mengelilingi penerang itu tak mengeluarkan suara sama sekali. Yang terdengar hanya debur ombak menyapu pasir, decit papan kapal yang digoyang arus, dan ranting patah yang dilahap api. Mereka bingung, marah, sekaligus sedih, sebab esok hari, setelah padewakkang pergi, mereka mungkin tidak akan pernah bertemu lagi.

Burarrwanga mengais-ngais api dengan ranting. Dilihatnya sisa bakaran yang telah jadi abu, persis harapan orang-orangnya. Dia menghela napas lalu mengembuskannya kuat-kuat. Dia terlampau pusing. Banyak hal jumpalitan di kepalanya seperti kanguru yang biasa dia buru di padang sabana. Dia memikirkan nasib orang-orang dan keturunannya kelak jika dia bersama istri dan anaknya memutuskan ikut ke Makassar bersama para pelayar yang telah dia kenal bahkan sejak dia mulai bisa mengingat.

Persis di hadapannya, di sebelah kobar api yang menari-nari, dia melihat wajah murung Daeng Gassing. Burarrwanga heran, harusnya lelaki berkumis tebal dan berambut panjang itu tidak perlu terlalu sedih sebab Daeng Gassing akan kembali ke Makassar beserta belasan awak kapal yang rindu melihat nyiur pelepah.

“Kau yakin mau tinggalkan Arnhem Land?” Daeng Gassing memecah sunyi.

“Saya harus. Orang Persemakmuran Australia telah mengambil semuanya, tidak ada lagi yang bisa saya pertahankan. Kami tidak bisa hidup tanpa kalian,” jawab Burarrwanga sambil tangannya melempar ranting ke dalam api.

“Tapi orang-orangmu? Kau mau biarkan mereka?”

“Para tetua akan memilih pemimpin suku yang baru setelah saya pergi. Ini kesempatan terakhir saya seberangi gelombang dan melihat ada apa di balik kaki langit. Aku ingin kehidupan yang lebih baik bagi istri dan anakku.

Mereka bersitatap. Bara seolah berpindah dari arang ke mata dua orang yang sudah seperti saudara itu. Daeng Gassing tidak ingin Burarrwanga meninggalkan orang-orangnya begitu saja. Namun dia bisa apa. Dia tidak berhak menghalangi mimpi seseorang.

“Kemarin saya bertemu seorang ibu, dia menangis sambil terduduk dan memukul-mukul pasir begitu tahu kita akan pergi,” kata Marika.

Daeng Gassing masih tertunduk. Tangannya memegang sejenis gelas dari bambu berisi ballo, minuman keras khas Makassar yang terbuat dari nira enau atau kelapa, yang jauh-jauh dia bawa dari Makassar. Tak lama berselang, dia bangkit lalu menyerahkan gelas itu pada Burarrwanga. “Ini malam terakhir kita bersenang-senang. Di sana masih banyak, habiskan saja,” tawar Daeng Gassing yang disambut oleh Burarrwanga dengan senang hati.

“Saya, sebenarnya, tidak mau pergi. Bagaimana pun, di sini saya lahir. Di sini pula saya harus mati,” Marika kembali bersuara dengan sirih pinang di mulutnya. Pernyataannya membuat orang-orang di sekeliling api unggun itu kaget.

“Hanya kau dan anak kita yang tidak bisa saya tinggalkan. Saya rela melepaskan apa pun, tapi kalian? Saya tidak bisa.” Burarrwanga sambil menggelengkan kepala.

Malam masih pekat. Orang-orang mulai beradu mulut. Setelah Marika mengeluarkan pendapat, anggota kelompok lain mulai ikut bicara. Sebagian besar mereka tidak sepakat jika Burarrwanga pergi. Kepergian orang Makassar sudah cukup menyakitkan. Jika pemimpin kelompok yang beberapa tahun lalu berjasa atas keberaniannya terhadap pasukan Persemakmuran Australia juga pergi, mereka betul-betul kehilangan harapan.

Adu mulut tersebut berakhir dengan ketidak sepakatan antara Burarrwanga dengan orang-orangnya, termasuk Marika. Burarrwanga masih keras kepala. Dia masih ngotot akan membawa Marika ke Makassar meski Marika sendiri tidak ingin ikut dan anggota kelompok lain sudah mencegahnya. Burarrwanga lalu sekonyong-konyongnya meninggalkan api unggun dan menuju gubuknya untuk tidur. Dia sudah sangat mengantuk.


Dalam mimpinya, Burarrwanga bangkit dan menoleh ke sana kemari. Jantungnya berdebar. Dia mencari Daeng Gassing dan orang-orang Makassar yang lain. Burarrwanga tak melihat satu pun dari mereka. Dia gugup. Harusnya hari ini, dia, Marika, dan anak semata wayangnya ikut ke Makassar.

Hari mulai sedikit terang. Dari kejauhan, matahari mulai menyingsing sedikit demi sedikit meski bintang kejora seperti enggan pergi. Jangan-jangan, padewakkang telah berlayar meninggalkannya? Pikir Burarrwanga. Dia curiga sebab semalam, dalam ingatannya, Daeng Gassing dan beberapa orang Yolngu tidak sepakat jika dia harus ikut ke Makassar. Burarrwanga lantas mencari orang-orangnya. Dia kesal. Dia merasa dikhianati.

Burarrwanga mulai heran. Dia belum mendapat satu pun anggota kelompoknya bahkan di gubuk-gubuk yang mereka dirikan. Ke mana mereka? Diculik orang Persemakmuran Australia? Batin Burarrwanga.

“Tidak, mereka tidak diculik,” teriak seseorang dari kejauhan.

Mendengar suara itu, Burarrwanga membalikkan badan. Namun tak ada siapa-siapa. Seseorang jelas-jelas bersuara dan mendengar suara batinnya. Dia menoleh ke sekitar, hanya seekor kanguru yang menatapnya dari atas bukit karang.

“Kau tersesat?”

Burarrwanga kembali menoleh ke depan dan didapatnya seekor kanguru tepat di hadapan wajahnya. Dia berteriak lalu tersungkur. Burarrwanga menoleh ke arah bukit tempat kanguru itu awalnya terlihat, tetapi ia sudah tak ada. Entah bagaimana kanguru itu berpindah secepat kilat ke hadapannya. Yang lebih aneh lagi, kanguru itu bisa bicara. Burarrwanga mulai bertanya-tanya, apakah semua ini nyata atau hanya sekadar mimpi belaka sebab tidak mungkin ada kanguru yang bisa bicara.

“Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing, kau mau tinggalkan orang-orangmu begitu saja?”

“Dari mana kau tahu nama saya? Dayn Gatjing? Nama saya hanya Burarrwanga!”

“Oh, kau akan tahu nanti. Tidak lama lagi.”

Kanguru itu lantas mengubah wujudnya dengan cara yang sukar dipercaya. Ia menjadi seorang wanita berkulit kuning. Mirip seperti kulit orang-orang Makassar yang lebih terang dari kulit orang-orang Yolngu. Wanita itu melayang. Lalu dengan sekali lambaian, bukit-bukit rata dengan tanah. Sungai mengalir ke angkasa lalu jatuh sebagai hujan yang lembut. Matahari yang sudah setengah naik tiba-tiba tenggelam lagi. Malam datang dan bintang-bintang muncul kembali. Di langit, mereka berputar mengelilingi Burarrwanga. Benda-benda indah lainnya muncul seperti lukisan. Warna malam tidak hanya hitam, paduan kabut merah, hijau, biru, kuning, dan warna-warna lain yang belum pernah Burarrwanga lihat sebelumnya seolah ditumpahkan begitu saja. Burarrwanga takjub melihat pemandangan itu.

“Kau… kau Baiyini, leluhur pertama orang Yolngu?”

“Aku adalah apa yang kau pikirkan, Dayn Gatjing. Aku melukis semua ini, lalu mengirimnya ke alam tempat kalian hidup.”

“Kau … Mimi, roh pelukis? Bukan, kau… Barnumbirr, roh penciptaan!” Burarrwanga hendak sujud tetapi sosok gaib itu menyuruhnya untuk bangun.

“Tegarlah, dan kembalilah ke orang-orangmu. Kau hanya tersesat. Kau takut tanah ini mengecewakanmu lebih jauh. Tapi apa kau lupa? Orang-orang sebelummu bertahan sejak ribuan tahun, bahkan sebelum padewakkang orang Makassar datang dan sebelum para orang kulit putih menembakkan senapan kali pertama. Kalian akan baik-baik saja puluhan hingga ratusan tahun ke depan. Tinggallah di tanah ini, kenanglah yang pergi.”

Burarrwanga terbangun menangis masih mendengar petuah sosok itu. Kini dia mengerti. Dia tadi berada di wongar, alam mimpi. Alam tempat roh leluhur hidup dan menciptakan dunia. Tidak sembarang orang bisa ke sana. Menurut cerita para tetua, hanya mereka yang terpilih oleh roh leluhur saja yang bisa mendapat petunjuk melalui mimpi dan membuka gerbang ke wongar untuk melihat wujud asli para pencipta. Dia mendapat penglihatan dan telah diberkati.


Abu dan sisa-sisa unggun semalam masih teronggok di pesisir. Air telah pasang. Orang-orang sibuk mengangkat barang dan keranjang terakhir berisi teripang kering ke atas padewakkang. Angin tenggara sudah bertiup kencang. Para awak kapal mulai menyiapkan layar. Sauh akan dilepas, tetapi Daeng Gassing masih berdiri di tepian.

“Tiba-tiba sekali kau putuskan tidak pergi. Kau dapat mimpi?”

“Ya, aku berada di wongar dan bertemu kanguru. Sulit kujelaskan, tapi leluhur menyuruhku tetap di sini.”

Hal itu memang sangat sulit dimengerti oleh Daeng Gassing. Seseorang yang semalam sangat bersikeras untuk pergi dari tanah ini dan ikut berlayar, kini berubah pikiran hanya dengan alasan diberi petunjuk oleh seekor kanguru dalam mimpi.

Namun itu kepercayaan Burarrwanga. Entah dia bertemu leluhur atau apa di alam sana, Daeng Gassing tidak mau memikirkannya lebih jauh. Dia lega Burarrwanga batal meninggalkan kampung dan orang-orangnya. Yang Daeng Gassing yakini, Burarrwanga harus terus berjuang merebut kembali hak-hak atas tanah leluhurnya dari orang-orang Persemakmuran Australia.

“Oh iya, bisakah saya mengambil namamu? Akan saya taruh di belakang nama saya. Burarrwanga Daeng Gassing, atau dengan penyebutan orang Yolngu, Dayn Gatjing. Ya, Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing!”

“Tanda persaudaraan?”

“Saya akan mewariskan nama-nama Makassar dan menceritakan kisah kalian kepada anak saya, kepada cucu saya, kepada cucu dari cucu saya. Panggil saya Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing!”

“Tentu. Kita mungkin akan bertemu kembali suatu hari ketika musim baarra tiba dan angin mamirri bertiup,” Daeng Gassing kurang yakin dengan istilah Yolngu yang dia pakai.

“Hahaha, baarramirri, musim ketika angin bertiup dari arah barat laut.” Burarrwanga melambaikan tangan terakhir kali, diikuti oleh orang-orang Yolngu. Mata mereka terpaku pada layar padewakkang hingga tidak terlihat lagi di kaki langit.


Remembering Padewakkang

Award winning author Junaedi Setiyono was born in Kebumen, Central Java, on December 16, 1965. He received all of his education from grade school to university in Purworedjo a small city near Yogyakarta, Central Java. In 2013, Setiyono was awarded a scholarship by The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, to conduct research as a part of his doctorate degree in language education, which he received in 2016 from the State University of Semarang.

Setiyono worked as a high school English teacher. Since 1997, he has taught at his alma mater in Purworejo, usually on the subjects of writing and translation.

Setiyono’s short stories have been widely published. His first novel, Glonggong (Penerbit Serambi, 2008), won the Jakarta Art Council Novel Writing Award in 2006. In 2008, the same novel was on the five-title shortlist for the Kusala Sastra Khatulistiwa Literary Award, which recognizes Indonesia’s best prose and poetry. His second novel, Arumdalu (Penerbit Serambi, 2010), was on the ten-title shortlist for the Khatulistiwa Literary Award in 2010. In 2012, the manuscript for what would become his third novel, Dasamuka (Penerbit Ombak, 2017), won the Jakarta Art Council Novel Manuscript Award. The novel was translated into English in 2017 and published under the same title by Dalang Publishing. The novel won the 2020 literary award of the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Education.

Currently, in addition to writing his next novel, Setiyono is also researching how teaching the English language can be a catalyst to promote Indonesian teaching in Indonesia.

Setiyono can be contacted via his email:



Remembering Padewakkang


ARNHEM Land, Australia, December 1945

Holding a wooden tobacco pipe that had not been lit for a long time, Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing stared at the horizon. He waited for the merchant ships from Makassar, which used to cast their anchor here. Decades ago, the southeast winds that blew in March and April had blown the padewakkang sails northward. Their departure had been like losing a part of himself.

However, Burarrwanga, the dark-skinned, gray-haired chief of the Yolngu tribe the natives who lived in the region — had never lost hope that once again, just like a long time ago, the baarramirri, the northwestern winds that blew in December and January, would bring back the padewakkang vessels to moor in these waters. People would once again crowd the coastal area, filling their baskets with the teripang, sea cucumbers, they had gathered. Some of them smoked their catch. The image of such a beautiful time was ingrained in Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing’s memory. He kept waiting for Daeng Gassing and the other Makassar sailors, who came from the other side of ocean and brought rice, gold, and tobacco. Some hundred years ago, the Makassaran people had first come to Arnhem Land. The good relationship they established with Burarrwanga’s ancestors and the natives of Arnhem Land had been maintained all this time.

“Perhaps they were swallowed by the thunder snake in the middle of the ocean,” said Marika, Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing’s wife.

“Don’t talk nonsense. The thunder snake only attacks the wicked men at sea. Good men, like the Makassar sailors, wouldn’t be sunk.”

“Never mind, Burarrwanga,” Marika said. “There is still that tamarind tree they planted. You can take a rest under it.”

“I haven’t heard you call me by that name for a long time. The last time you used it was when they were here, right?”

“Yes, everyone, even the white men, now know you better as Dayn Gatjing than by your birth name.”

With a heavy sigh, Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing recalled what the white men had done to his life. The padewakkangs were gone. They had been banned forty years ago by the Australian Commonwealth for irrational reasons. Now, only the white men sailed back and forth, ruling the ocean and exploiting its wealth, especially the teripangs. The Yolngu people were no longer involved in any of the trading and did not receive anything the Australian Commonwealth took everything.

Burarrwanga would never forget the days when the coastal area of Arnhem Land was crowded by padewakkangs, merchant vessels owned by Makassaran people.


It was quite hot during the month of January in 1905. It was as if the sun’s heat was multiplying. Despite the conditions, bare-chested, barefooted ship crews and Yolngu people continued to lift bamboo baskets filled with just-harvested teripangs from the seabed. These sea cucumbers were taken to a smoking place where Daeng Gassing, captain of one of the docked Makassaran trade vessels, sat taking notes of how many pikuls of teripangs were collected that day. Each pikul weighed about 133 pounds.

Sitting next to Daeng Gassing, Burarrwanga smoked his pipe and watched members of his tribe working with the Makassarans. The pipe was a gift from his father, who in turn had received it as a gift from a Makassaran sailor quite a long time ago. Almost all of the adult males in Burarrwanga’s tribe owned such a pipe. They called it pipa Makassar because the Makassaran sailors were the ones who brought these pipes to them from the other side of the ocean.

“I’ve used the tobacco you gave me when you came a year ago.” Burarrwanga exhaled smoke through his nostrils. “But now you’ve brought me more again.”

“This is a custom our people have upheld over hundreds of years,” Daeng Gassing said while making notes Burarrwanga could not decipher. The Yolngu were illiterate. When they wanted to remember something, they drew or carved pictures on wood or stone. “Every year, we Makassaran merchants bring you certain items. In return, your people help us gather the teripangs.”

“We wouldn’t be doing so well if your men didn’t come here to gather teripangs.” Burarrwanga grinned. “You can take all of them. We don’t eat them.”

“Teripangs actually taste pretty bad,” Daeng Gassing agreed. “No one in Makassar eats these strange animals, either. We sell them in China, where sea cucumbers are expensive. Your teripangs are good quality.”

“I hope that one day I can visit your home. I am sure your native village is prosperous and developed.” Burarrwanga sighed before asking, “Are there a lot of ships and big houses?”

“If were prosperous back home, we’d unlikely be here looking for teripangs.” Daeng Gassing paused a moment before continuing. “There are many problems back home especially after the Dutch took control over Makassar. On the other hand, we are happy to come here. I’m sure this is also making our ancestors happy.”

The Makassaran sea captain most likely did not fully realize the enormity of the great changes the Makassarans had brought to the lives of Arnhem Land’s natives over the centuries. Along with bringing them rice, metal, tobacco, and liquor, the Makassar merchants also brought other goods that the people of Arnhem Land had never seen before. Arnhem Land became a part of the Makassar sailors’ homeland. They called this land Maregeq because of an old rumor that said Arnhem Land was a part of the Gowa Kingdom.

During Burarrwanga and Daeng Gassing’s conversation, Marika, who was more than six months pregnant, suddenly came running towards them. “The Commonwealth men …,” she panted, stumbling towards them. “I saw them … they’re carrying guns ….” Marika stood in front of her husband and the captain, shaking and gasping for breath.

Daeng Gassing and Burarrwanga quickly alerted their men. The Makassaran sailors grabbed their machetes and axes while the Yolngu men prepared their spears and arrows. They didn’t like violence, but if the Commonwealth men came armed, they had to be prepared for every possibility.

Soon, an Australian Commonwealth constable stood in front of Daeng Gassing. “You have strayed too far from your homeland, and you’re harvesting too many teripangs in an area which is not yours. Consider this a warning.”

“My ships have been registered by the harbormaster of Port Bowen,” Daeng Gassing retorted. “What are you warning me for?”

“Look at this.” The constable took out a piece of paper. “I have orders to watch all of you Makassarans because you’re a bad influence on these natives. You’re causing them to become drunkards.”

“Hey, this is not your business, is it?” Burarrwanga raised his voice. He didn’t like the Australian Commonwealth interfering with their lives. “Why do you bother us?”

“Listen.” The constable shot Burarrwanga a sharp look, then continued while pointing at Daeng Gassing, “These men — only God knows where they came from — will get you in trouble.”

“You have no say here!” Burarrwanga suddenly swung at the constable. His punch was a bit off target, but the constable lost his balance and fell backward. He drew his pistol and fired a warning shot into the sky.

Startled, those around Burarrwanga covered their ears.

Both the Makassaran and Yolngu men reached for their weapons, ready to attack the group of white-skinned constables. But Daeng Gassing signaled to hold off the attack.

“Because this is only a warning, we will leave,” said the constable. “We don’t want any violence here, but one punch deserves another.” The blond constable landed a well-aimed punch on Burarrwanga’s cheek and left.

People crowded around the dazed Burarrwanga. Some of them made ready to chase the constable, but Burarrwanga signaled them to stop. The constable’s punch made Burarrwanga see stars and many kangaroos jumping around him. Everything turned blurry then became dark. He fainted.


Two years after the incident in 1905, the Australian Commonwealth banned Makassar ships from entering Australian territory. This was worse than the storms that frequently hit the padewakkangs while crossing the ocean. Makassaran fishermen had come to harvest teripangs off the Arnhem Land coast since the mid-1600s. The olive-skinned ancestors of Daeng Gassing had sailed to Arnhem Land much earlier than any of the white-skinned Commonwealth men who arrived on these shores with thousands of prisoners and rifles.

On the night before the padewakkangs lifted anchor from Arnhem Land for the final time, Burarrwanga sat staring at the flames of the fire that absorbed the silence. Time passed, as a dozen men sat around the fire without uttering a word. The only sounds that broke the silence were the breaking waves sweeping the sand, the creaking boards of ships swaying in the water, and the crackling of broken branches being swallowed by the flames. The men gathered around the fire were confused, angry, and sad. It was unlikely that after the padewakkangs set sail the next day, they would ever see each other again.

Burarrwanga raked the fire with a branch. For a moment he rested his eyes on the pile of ashes in the fire pit. It occurred to him that the ashes resembled their hopes. Burarrwanga sighed, then blew onto the smoldering branches until he became dizzy. Suddenly, many thoughts somersaulted inside his head. It was as if the kangaroos he used to hunt in the savanna had jumped into his head. He could leave with the sailors, whom he’d known for as long as his memory could serve him. He contemplated the fate of his tribe and his descendants if he decided to move to Makassar with his family.

Across the fire, Burarrwanga saw Daeng Gassing’s gloomy face lit by the dancing flames. Burarrwanga wondered why the man with the thick moustache and long hair looked sad. Afterall, he and his crew were about to go home. Burarrwanga had spoken his thoughts.

“Are you sure you want to leave Arnhem Land?” Daeng Gassing’s voice broke the silence.

“I have to.” Burarrwanga threw some branches into the flames. “The Australian Commonwealth men have taken everything. There is nothing left that I am able to protect. We cannot live without you and your men.”

“But what about your tribe? You will just leave everyone?”

“The elders will choose a new chief after I’m gone. This is the last opportunity for me to cross the ocean and see something behind the horizon. I want to have a better life for my wife and son.”

The two men stared at one another. The heat of the fire seemed to move into the eyes of the two men who had become like brothers.

Daeng Gassing didn’t want Burarrwanga to abandon his tribe, but there was nothing he could do. He had no right to keep Burarrwanga from pursuing his dream.

Marika rose and broke into their thoughts. “Yesterday, I met a mother. When I told her that we were leaving, the woman dropped to the ground, crying. She punched the sand repeatedly while begging me to stay.”

Daeng Gassing bowed his head. He held a bamboo mug containing ballo, an alcoholic drink from Makassar made from coconut flower sap. He rose and handed the mug to Burarrwanga. “Tonight is the last time to have fun together. There is still plenty of ballo where this came from. Drink up!”

Burarrwanga happily accepted the mug.

“I don’t want to go,” Marika said between chews on the roll of betel leaves in her mouth. “I was born here, and I want to die here too.” Her words surprised everyone sitting around the fire.

“I can’t leave you and our son,” Burarrwanga said. “I am ready to leave everything, but not you.” Burarrwanga shook his head. “No that I cannot do.”

It was a dark and gloomy night. People started arguing. After Marika stated her preferences openly, other people started joining in the discussion. Most of them did not want Burarrwanga to leave for Makassar. The departure of the Makassaran men already hurt them. If Burarrwanga, their chief, who protected their land with his bravery against the Australian Commonwealth forces, was gone too, they would be totally lost.

Arguing bitterly, Burarrwanga, his people, and Marika could not reach an agreement. Burarrwanga stubbornly held on to his opinion. He intended to take Marika and their son with him to Makassar, even if Marika herself didn’t want to accompany her husband and even though his council of elders had already forbidden him to do so. Suddenly, Burarrwanga felt very sleepy. He abruptly rose and, leaving the fire, headed for his hut. He needed to get some sleep.

The discussion ended without any solution.


That night, in Burarrwanga’s dream, he rose and looked around. His heart pounding, he searched nervously for Daeng Gassing and the other Makassaran men. Burarrwanga didn’t see any of them. He, his wife, and his only child were supposed to leave for Makassar that day.

The sky began to brighten. In the distance, the sun started to rise gradually, while the morning star seemed reluctant to leave. Did the padewakkangs sail without me? Burarrwanga wondered. He suspected that Daeng Gassing and his crew had betrayed him, but Burarrwanga had considered those men to be his friends. He remembered that Daeng Gassing and some of the Yolngu men hadn’t agreed with his decision to follow Daeng Gassing to Makassar. Irritated and feeling deceived, Burarrwanga looked for his tribe’s men.

He was astonished not to find anyone. Even the hut they had built was empty. Where are they? Had they been kidnapped by the Australian Commonwealth men?

“No, they haven’t been kidnapped,” came a shout from afar.

Burarrwanga looked around anxiously, but there was no one. He had clearly heard someone shouting, someone responding to his inner dialogue. Burarrwanga looked around again. A kangaroo sitting on top of a dead coral rock, was the only living creature around.

“Are you lost?”

Burarrwanga fastened his eyes on the dead coral rock again, but the kangaroo had vanished. How strange, Burarrwanga thought, a talking kangaroo. He began to wonder if what was happening was real or if he was dreaming. It was impossible for a kangaroo to talk!

“Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing, are you simply going to abandon your tribe?” The kangaroo again appeared on the dead coral rock.

“Who told you that my name is Dayn Gatjing?” Burarrwanga shouted, rubbing his eyes. “My name is just Burarrwanga!”

“Oh, you will find out, soon. Just wait a moment.” The kangaroo then turned into an olive-skinned woman.

Burarrwanga could hardly believe his own eyes. The woman’s skin color resembled that of the Makassaran people, lighter than the skin of the Yolngu people. The woman floated through the air. With a wave of her hand, the hills became as flat as the plains. Rivers flowed to the sky and then fell as soft rain. The sun, which had already risen halfway into the sky, suddenly sunk again. Night came, and stars emerged and circled in the sky around Burarrwanga. Other beautiful things appeared like paintings. The night was not just black. It was a hazy combination of red, green, blue, yellow, and other colors Burarrwanga had never seen before. The colors seem to spill around him. Burarrwanga was astonished seeing such a scene.

“You …” Burarrwanga stammered, “are you Baiyini, the First Being of the Yolngu people?”

“I am whoever you think I am, Dayn Gatjing. These are all my paintings. I send them to the world you live in.”

“You … are you Mimi, the painter’s spirit? No, you … you are Barnumbirr, the spirit of creation.” Burarrwanga knelt, but the mysterious creature asked him to rise.

“Take heart and return to your people,” said the spirit. “You are only lost. You are afraid that this land will continue to disappoint you. But you must remember that your ancestors stood firm for thousands of years. They were here long before the Makassaran merchants moored their padewakkangs here and long before the white-skinned people fired their first gunshot here. You will be all right for decades, even centuries to come. Just stay here and remember those who have to depart.”

Burarrwanga woke up crying. He could still hear the apparition’s advice. Now he understood. He had visited a wongar, the dream place where the Yolngu’s ancestral spirits lived and created this world. Not just anyone could visit there. According to the elders, only the chosen ones were given guidance in a dream and could enter the gate to wongar to see the creators in their real form. Burarrwanga had just received such guidance and, therefore, had been blessed.


The ashes of the previous night’s fire were still piled on the beach. The tide was already high. Crew hands were busy carrying the last baskets containing dried teripang onto the padewakkangs. The southeast wind started to pick up. The ship crews began preparing the sails. The anchors would soon be lifted. But Daeng Gassing still stood on the beach.

“You decided not to go quite suddenly,” he said to Burarrwanga. “Did you have a dream?”

“Yes, I was in a wongar and met a kangaroo. It is difficult to explain. In short, my tribe’s ancestors asked me to stay here.”

Daeng Gassing could not understand Burarrwanga’s behavior. How could someone who only the night before was so eager to leave this land and sail to Makassar change his mind just because of a dream — a dream about a kangaroo that had advised him to stay?

But that was Burarrwanga’s belief. Whether or not he met his ancestor or whoever in a mystical world, Daeng Gassing didn’t want to pursue it further. He was relieved that Burarrwanga had changed his mind about leaving his homeland and his people. The only thing that Daeng Gassing wanted to ensure was that Burarrwanga would keep fighting to get back his homeland’s rights from the Australian Commonwealth people.

“By the way, may I take your name and add it to the end of my real name?” asked Burarrwanga. “My new name would then become Burarrwanga Daeng Gassing or, using the Yolngu pronunciation, Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing!”

“Is it a sign of brotherhood?” Daeng Gassing asked.

“I will pass down the Makassaran name and tell the story about you to my son, my grandson, the grandson of my grandson. Call me Burarrwanga Dayn Gatjing!”

“Of course. We will possibly meet again one day, when the baarra season comes and the mamirri blows.” Daeng Gassing was not sure if he had used the proper Yolngu terms.

“Hah!” Burarrwanga laughed. “It’s baarramirri, the season when the wind blows from the northwest.” Burarrwanga raised his hand and waved goodbye for the last time. The Yolngu people around him followed his gesture. Everyone’s eyes remained glued to the padewakkang sails until they vanished in the horizon.





Pohon Pongo

Everyone should view themself in a philosophical way in order to find meaning in their life.

At age 46, Rinto Andriono survived a stroke, caused by a blockage in his brain vessels, which paralyzed the right side of his body. Writing was one of the healing activities his neurologist recommended as a means to restore his ability to reason. Rinto began to write in June 2018, six months after he had the stroke.

Prior to this, Rinto was a post-disaster recovery planner, who worked extensively in various disaster sites throughout Indonesia and Asia. Now, during his post-stroke period, he is more involved in studies and online training and writing on post-disaster mitigations. In his spare time, Rinto likes to go for walks and read material with philosophical content regarding the protection of the natural environment.

Rinto writes to find meaning in his life, which now has limitations. Writing frees his soul and mind, both of which might have been constricted before his stroke, even though, at that time, he had no physical constraints.

Under the guidance of Ahmad Yulden Erwin, Rinto wrote a dozen short stories, which he compiled in an e-book titled Kencan Hikikomori, Hikikomori’s Courtship.

Rinto now participates in an on-line writing workshop facilitated by Purwanti Kusumaningtyas and Lian Gouw at the University of Satya Wacana in Salatiga. Rinto’s current writing project features the character of a beautiful, God-created creature who undergoes a gender change.

Rinto can be reached at



Pohon Pongo


Miranti terbangun dari tidurnya, dia berpeluh di tengah malam yang dingin. Napasnya tersengal-sengal. Di dalam kepala Miranti masih menggema bisikan Lukman baru saja.

“Mir, pergilah ke Pohon Tempat Memohon! Bawa serta Kasih bersamamu.” Kata-kata Lukman begitu bening mengiang dalam tidurnya.

Miranti menatap Kasih, putrinya yang sedang terlelap di sampingnya. Berbeda dengannya, tiada peluh yang membasahi badan Kasih. Udara malam itu memang sedang dingin, lumrahnya udara musim kemarau yang kering dan panas?

Miranti sudah tidak bisa lagi memicingkan mata. Malam terlalu rusuh dan hatinya sudah terlalu resah. Baru-baru ini dia sering bermimpi tentang Lukman, suaminya yang menghilang di tengah Rimba Raya Sebangau, di Kalimantan Tengah, sejak tiga tahun yang lalu. Berpuluh rombongan pencari sudah menghutan berbulan untuk mencari suaminya. Namun sampai kehabisan perbekalan, hasilnya selalu hampa. Sehampa hati Miranti yang kembali menjadi separuh setelah biasanya penuh bersama Lukman.

Lulusan dari Kedokteran Hewan Institute Pertanian Bogor, Miranti sekarang bekerja sebagai perawat kesehatan orangutan-orangutan untuk Taman Nasional Sebangau dalam kerja sama dengan Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, BOSF. Kedukaan mendalam karena kehilangan suaminya membuat Miranti enggan kembali ke Bogor, kota kelahirannya. Pengetahuannya tentang siloka yang diwarisi dari para karuhun Sunda membuat Miranti yakin bahwa kekasihnya masih hidup di suatu tempat di hutan raya Kalimantan ini. Dalam bisikan mimpi Miranti, Lukman sedang mempersiapkan sesuatu untuk masa depan mereka dan anaknya, untuk kehidupan yang pernah mereka impikan hidup menyatu dengan hutan. Untuk itu, Miranti yakin, dia dan Kasih putri mereka, hanya perlu menunggu waktunya tiba.

“Lukman, aku tahu kau akan datang untuk menjemput kami, tapi kapan? Aku sudah lelah,” ratap Miranti sambil mendekap Kasih.

Miranti termenung, dia mengingat kembali kata demi kata percakapan mereka sebelum Lukman beranjak dari pelukannya demi nasib hutan yang mereka cintai. Dalam mimpinya malam itu, Miranti seolah terlempar ke masa lalu, memang belakangan ini garis waktu semakin semena-mena melengkung dari masa kini ke masa lalu Miranti. Dan Lukman berganti-ganti antara hidup dan tiada. Ingin rasanya Miranti tidak pernah tersadar dari mimpinya, dimana Lukman nyata bersamanya.

“Aku akan pergi sebentar. Jaga baik-baik anak kita, ya,” Lukman berkata kepada Miranti pada hari buruk yang selalu mengawan di hati Miranti dan membuat hari-harinya kelabu.

Miranti masih mengingat jelas kata-kata yang timbul dari hati risaunya itu. “Apakah kau tidak bisa menunda kepergianmu?”

“Tidak, aku hanya hendak memenuhi baktiku.”

“Tetapi terlalu berbahaya, para preman kebun sawit sedang mencarimu.”

“Sang Roh adalah segala cahaya hidupku, aku hanyalah pantulan cahayanya.” Itu yang dikatakan Lukman saat itu, saat mereka beradu mulut tentang bahaya yang mengancam Lukman selaku rimbawan pegiat kelestarian.

Miranti teringat saat dia mencegah, “Ya, tetapi keadaan di Taman Nasional Sebangau sedang genting, mereka masih kesal karena kau gagalkan upaya mereka menyerobot wilayah taman.”

Miranti tahu, Lukman bukannya tidak sungguh-sungguh memikirkan ucapannya. Miranti merasa Lukman sedang menghadapi buah simalakama. Miranti teringat melihat Lukman termenung, menghentikan gerak tangannya membungkus barang-barang. Lukman pasti ingat belaka betapa dia dan kawan-kawan suku Dayak Ngaju telah mempermalukan para pengusaha sawit dengan bukti penyerobotan kawasan taman.

“Cahaya yang membimbingku ke sana segera,” Lukman menukas, setelah menyingkirkan semua kebimbangan.

“Mereka tak kan berhenti berusaha memperluas kebun sawitnya hingga ke dalam wilayah taman, Roh memang sudah membimbingmu tapi bisakah kau melakukannya nanti?”

“Tidak bisa, Sayang, mungkin darmaku sedang dibutuhkan hutan ini sekarang, percayalah!” Lukman berusaha menenangkannya.

“Ya, tapi waktunya itu lho yang tidak tepat!”

Lukman tidak menggubris penyanggahannya.

Kemudian hening melingkupi keduanya, mereka terdiam menahan kerisauan masing-masing. Malam itu, Lukman pergi dan menghilang begitu saja di dalam rimba.

Kawan-kawan rimbawan pegiat lingkungan menduga Lukman telah dilenyapkan di tengah prahara yang melanda hutan. Beberapa orang mempercayainya bahwa inilah bentuk balas dendam dari para mandor kebun karena Lukman telah giat menggalang perlindungan bagi hutan. Mereka sepertinya menganggap Lukman sebagai pelaku penjegalan terhadap perluasan kebun sawit yang jauh menjorok ke Taman Nasional Sebangau. Namun tidak ada yang bisa membuktikan kebenarannya.

Itu adalah adu mulut terakhir Lukman dengannya. Miranti terhenyak dari lamunannya. Dia menghela nafas sambil mengusap kening Kasih yang mulai terbangun.

Miranti mendengar sayup-sayup lolongan dan seruan orangutan. Miranti menajamkan telinganya.

Para orangutan berida terdengar memimpin barzanji. Miranti semakin risau, dia tahu belaka bahwa orangutan adalah mahluk batiniah yang bisa turut merasakan nasib rimba. Mereka seolah bisa mendengar senandung paduan suara hutan yang makin lama makin lirih dan parau. Itu adalah nyanyian hutan yang sedang sekarat. Hanya orangutan-orangutan paham benar dengan suara itu.

Pagi kembali menyingsing dengan kesibukan Miranti pada tugas-tugas perawatan orangutan. Banyak orangutan yang diselamatkan para jagawana dari taman nasional mengalami luka bakar parah, lemas dan kekurangan air. Sisi timur Taman yang berdekatan dengan wilayah Ibu Kota Negara di Sepaku, wilayah Penajam Paser Utara, mulai terbakar. Banyak satwa liar dan orangutan terluka.

Untungnya semua kejadian pilu ini tidaklah mempengaruhi masa kecil Kasih. Sebagai anak yang selalu ingin tahu, Kasih setiap hari mengikuti perjalanan para jagawana memberikan makan pada orangutan. Kasih begitu menyukai kegiatan ugahari bersama para jagawana itu. Bahkan dia sering tidak menghabiskan buah makan siangnya. Dia sangat suka menyisakan bekal buahnya untuk Pongo, anak orangutan kesayangannya. Mereka adalah dua makhluk berlainan jenis, tapi nampak seperti telah lama saling kenal. Mereka sering saling mengulurkan tangan, bertukar ubi dengan pisang. Kadang mereka kedapatan sedang bermain bersama. Sementara itu Laksmi, ibu Pongo, dan Miranti sama-sama hanya mengawasi dari kejauhan.

“Bu, ayo kasih makan Pongo dan Laksmi ….” Kasih merajuk ibunya. Miranti melihat dari jendelanya dua orangutan itu sudah menanti di luar, di pinggir hutan.

Miranti dan Kasih beranjak menemui Laksmi dan Pongo.

Laksmi adalah orangutan betina dewasa, yang sudah hampir dua puluh tahun hidup di Taman Nasional Sebangau. Di balik bulunya, tubuh Laksmi penuh dengan carut bekas luka, yang dia peroleh dari para mandor, semenjak maraknya perkebunan sawit di situ. Berangkat dari pengalaman itulah, Laksmi menjadi orangutan yang selalu waspada. Nyawanya pernah hampir melayang bila tidak diselamatkan oleh para jagawana, akibat siksaan mandor yang kejam. Mirantilah yang memberinya nama Laksmi. Ia adalah salah satu induk orangutan di Taman dan sekaligus penyintas yang ulet. Laksmi menjadi orangutan yang selalu waspada.

Pagi ini kabar kebakaran taman semakin meluas. Gambut yang kering karena kemarau yang panjang menjadi penghantar api yang baik. Kebakaran tidak dari ujung dahan yang hijau, namun bara merayap dari dasar akar tanah gambut tak terkendali. Bau kayu lembab yang terbakar mulai menguar dihantarkan asap putih menebal campuran uap air dan zat asam arang. Satwa-satwa dan penduduk kampung tepi rimba pun sesak nafas dibuatnya.

Laksmi menatap Miranti tak seperti biasa. Matanya yang coklat terasa menghampiri hati Miranti dengan kepiluan mendalam. Miranti mahfum. Dia tahu belaka soal kabar kebakaran itu. Dia merasa, Laksmi punya rasa yang sama tentang kebakaran itu. Mereka ibu yang sama-sama risau dengan keselamatan dirinya dan anaknya. Seolah ada satu pertanyaan yang mempertautkan keduanya, Akankah mereka masih bisa menemukan hari esok yang kembali menghijau?

Sesaat kemudian, tempat pemberian makan para orangutan menjadi riuh. Para orangutan yang sedang sarapan seolah tiba-tiba menyahut sebuah panggilan dari dalam rimba. Miranti turut menoleh ke arah rimba. Laksmi sontak menjadi gelisah. Sejenak dia menatap Miranti tanpa bersuara. Lalu, sambil mengerang, Laksmi menarik tangan Pongo untuk kembali menghutan.

“Barzanji lagi? Tadi sudah.” Miranti merasa merinding ketika para orangutan itu semakin sering barzanji, seolah mereka bertanya, “Apa yang salah dengan kehidupan hutan ini?”

Miranti melihat Pongo enggan mengikuti ibunya. Ia masih sibuk menghisap daging ubi yang manis yang baru saja diberikan kepadanya oleh Kasih. Namun sepertinya hati Laksmi sudah terpanggil ke sisi lain hutan. Pongo melambaikan tangannya pada Kasih yang kecewa dengan tingkah Pongo dan Laksmi yang tidak biasa.

Mawas dengan suasana orangutan yang tampak genting, Miranti juga menggenggam tangan Kasih yang sedang penuh tanda tanya.

“Kenapa mereka pergi cepat kembali menghutan, Bu?” tanya Kasih.

“Mereka harus menghadap Sang Roh Rimba.”

Kasih tidak puas dengan jawaban ibunya, tetapi dia harus bergegas mengikuti langkah ibunya yang juga tergesa-gesa kembali ke pusat perawatan.

Sesampainya di Pusat Perawatan, Kasih masih tidak terima. Dia masih memberondong ibunya dengan pertanyaan-pertanyaan atas apa yang baru saja dialaminya di pinggir hutan.

“Siapakah Sang Roh Rimba?” cecar Kasih.

“Dia adalah kekuatan atas segala kekuatan yang menghidupi segala sesuatu di dalam hutan. Dia yang menghidupkan dan mematikan semua yang ada di dalam rimba.”

“Termasuk Ayah?” Tanya Kasih.

Pelan dan lirih Miranti menjawab, “Iya ….”

Dalam benak Miranti, dia tertegun dengan pertanyaan Kasih baru saja. Miranti pun baru beberapa hari ini merasa bahwa Lukman tidak mati. Dia tinggal bersama Sang Roh Hutan dan belakangan sering mengunjunginya di dalam mimpi. Mimpi-mimpi yang membuatnya risau sepanjang hari.

Dalam pengamatan Miranti, hidup terberat Laksmi, Pongo dan para orangutan adalah saat musim kering. Saat kemarau seperti ini hutan akan penuh asap, banyak pohon yang terbakar. Mereka juga kesulitan memperoleh makanan. Laksmi dan Pongo sering hanya mengandalkan sedikit ubi dan pisang dari Taman Nasional, sekadar untuk ganjal. Makanan sedang susah didapat.

Jatah makan dari Taman Nasional hanya diberikan satu kali sehari. Pongo dan kawan-kawan masih lapar. Karena mereka rindu akan pucuk daun dan buah manis yang makin susah didapat saat kemarau, mereka menyerbu umbut sawit di kebun sawit pinggiran Taman Nasional Sebangau. Makanan yang bila tak hati-hati, akan menghadiahkan bilur pegal dan ruam panas di badan, akibat siksaan para mandor. Para mandor sering mengusir orangutan kelaparan dengan senapan angin, air panas, racun babi hutan atau cairan asam.

Sepengetahuan Miranti, pada musim kemarau putih penuh asap seperti ini, orangutan-orangutan sering berkumpul di Pohon Agung di penjuru Taman. Mereka bersama-sama barzanji dipimpin oleh orangutan berida. Mereka menyerahkan jiwa dan tubuh yang sedang kelaparan ini pada Sang Roh yang kali ini mewujud sebagai Pohon Agung, bersama dengan kelaparan, api yang melelehkan kulit dan asap yang membuat sesak nafas. Semua itu adalah jelmaan Sang Roh Rimba.

Pohon Agung tempat mereka barzanji adalah pohon berbuah buni. Bijinya yang lezat disukai orangutan, tupai, dan burung-burung. Batangnya besar, dahannya kekar, kulit batangnya obat yang mujarab, jerubung yang rimbun merupakan rumah buat aneka satwa termasuk orangutan. Akar Pohon Agung itu kuat dan menancap dalam untuk menahan perawakan yang tinggi besar. Pohon Werkodara demikian Kasih dan Miranti yang berdarah Parahiyangan menyebut pohon besar sekeluarga Pohon Bodhi ini.

Miranti sudah beberapa kali menyaksikan dalam tugasnya sebagai dokter orangutan di hutan, bagaimana sekumpulan orangutan menampilkan kerisauan mereka dengan barzanji. Para berida seperti kesurupan, mereka berayun, melolong, meraung dan terus mencoba meraih dahan, daun, dan ranting pohon. Ini pohon bukan sembarang pohon, ini adalah Pohon Tempat Memohon. Orangutan itu seolah menyerahkan seluruh jiwa dan tubuhnya untuk dirasuki roh.

Selama delapan tahun bekerja, Miranti berpendapat bahwa para orangutan itu adalah mahluk yang sangat rohaniah. Meskipun mereka seolah kesurupan saat barzanji, sebenarnya mereka sedang menghadap Roh Rimba. Miranti percaya pada ketulusan hati orangutan.

Pada saat barzanji, Miranti merasa seekor orangutan berida tertua meraung berkata, “Roh pasti akan memelihara kita. Dia hadir di mana-mana, sebagai yang baik dan yang buruk.”

Dengan raungan yang kuat orangutan berida itu lanjut seperti berkata, “Dia yang kita takuti, tapi sekaligus yang kita rindukan.”

Riuh di hutan mereda. Miranti membayangkan barzanji para orangutan telah selesai. Menurut Miranti memang para orangutan itu bukan sedang menggugat Sang Roh atas kebakaran dan kelaparan yang berkepanjangan ini. Mereka tak pernah menggugat. Mereka tak pula sedang memohon azab bagi para mandor yang kejam atau para cukong sawit yang serakah. Mereka bukan pendendam. Mereka hanya menyerahkan diri mereka pada keseimbangan alam. Mereka percaya bahwa alam hanyalah bandul yang bergerak di antara titik keseimbangan. Mereka ikhlas-ikhlas saja bila dalam pergerakan bandulan itu berarti adalah kepunahan jenis mereka.

Miranti yakin, hutan yang bernyanyi dengan parau inilah yang didengar oleh para orangutan yang tadi berkumpul melakukan barzanji. Hal ini tidak bisa didengar oleh manusia yang terlalu banyak tuntutan dan praduga. Hanya makhluk yang lugulah yang bisa mendengarkan nyanyian hutan dan riuhnya pertautan perasaan pohon-pohon di dalam jaringan syaraf di dasar rimba. Hanya merekalah yang bisa mendengar suara bariton pohon mahoni tua, suara sopran pohon ulin yang kokoh atau suara tenor pohon meranti yang tinggi langsing. Pada hutan yang sehat, suara-suara itu menjadi sebuah senandung paduan yang merdu.


Kebakaran hutan Taman Nasional Sebangau pada puncak kemarau 2019 sungguh hebat. Kebakaran terjadi bersamaan dengan rencana pembangunan Kawasan Sepaku, Penajem Paser Utara sebagai ibukota negara yang baru. Ibukota yang lama telah terlampau banyak beban. Pemerintah meniatkan membangun ibukota yang baru dengan gagasan lapis sanding antara manusia dengan alam. Namun, sepertinya, pelaksanaan gagasan tersebut banyak kecolongan dalam penerapannya. Kebakaran adalah cara yang paling hemat dan mudah untuk membuka hutan.

Taman Nasional Sebangau pun ikut terbakar hebat. Bara api begitu dalam dan luas membakar jaringan syaraf akar di dasar rimba. Hutan sekarat. Udara pengap, zat asam berubah menjadi asam arang yang mematikan kehidupan. Senandung paduan suara pohon-pohon tertelan riuh gemertak dahan yang terbakar menjauhi kebakaran yang tak kunjung ada ujungnya. Mereka terpontang-panting menjauh. Kelelahan dan nafasnya sesak zat asam arang. Akhirnya jatuh dan terpanggang.

Orang-orang mengungsi keluar kota atau bersembunyi di dalam rumah. Mereka yang tidak memiliki kemewahan mengungsi ke pulau yang aman, akan bersembunyi saja di dalam rumah.

Miranti sangat berat hati untuk mengungsi. Perasaannya akan kehadiran Lukman justru semakin menguat di saat genting ini. Namun demi kesehatan Kasih, Miranti pun terpaksa memesan tiket pesawat dengan masygul. Menghadapi kenyataan seperti ini, hati Miranti seperti hendak terbelah ke dua sisi yang berbeda.

Gerak hatinya mengajaknya tetap di sini untuk tetap dekat dengan Lukman. Namun, kewarasan pikirannya berkata lain. Belakangan ini, penampakan Lukman semakin nyata di dalam mimpi dan lamunannya. Dia semakin mengejawantah dalam keseharian Miranti. Seolah dia menemani.


Pagi Rabu itu, di puncak kemarau tahun 2019, kelabu menutup langit Taman Nasional Sebangau. Seolah paham dengan perasaan ibunya, Kasih pun nampak bergeming untuk tidak pergi dari Kompleks Perumahan Taman Nasional Sebangau. Kasih selalu mengkhawatirkan nasib Pongo. Kekhawatiran ini bertambah sejak Pongo dan Laksmi meninggalkannya dengan tiba-tiba beberapa hari lalu di tempat pemberian jatah makan orangutan.

“Ayo, kita ke tempat pemberian makan orangutan!” rengek Kasih pagi itu.

Sudah dua hari ini, karena kelangkaan pasokan bahan baku, Pengelola Taman sementara menghentikan pemberian makan kepada orangutan.

“Tapi tidak ada jagawana yang memberikan makan di sana,” kata Miranti.

“Aku ingin ketemu Pongo.” Kasih memaksa.

“Para jagawana sedang sibuk, mereka membantu pemadaman kebakaran hutan.” Miranti membujuk.

“Ya… kita saja yang ke sana saja.”

Akhirnya Miranti pun menyerah. Namun dia membuat semacam penawaran pada Kasih.

“Tapi setelah itu, jika kita terpaksa harus mengungsi ke Bogor, Kasih mau ikut ya.” Miranti membuat penawaran sekedarnya, dia sendiri enggan pergi meskipun akal nalarnya menyuruh dia pergi dari tempat ini.

Kasih mengangguk, meski Miranti meragukan anggukan Kasih juga sampai ke hati anak itu. Miranti merasa, Kasih seolah melihat jalan keselamatan yang lain, yang tidak bisa dia ceritakan.

Miranti memasangkan masker penyaring udara menutupi hidung dan mulut Kasih. Tempat pemberian makan orangutan hanya jarak yang dekat saja, jarak jalan kaki. Namun kali ini terasa sangat jauh. Miranti sangat merasa tidak aman. Dia membawa beberapa tabung oksigen kecil di dalam ranselnya, bersama air dan sedikit kudapan.

Taman Nasional gelap dan sangat berasap. Langit pun jingga, seolah turut terbakar. Udara amat panas.

Sebentar kemudian mereka sudah tiba di tempat pemberian makan. Tempat yang biasanya ramai, kini sepi dan kelabu. Tidak ada reriungan para orangutan seperti biasanya.

“Pongo, sini dong,” celoteh Kasih dengan riang.

Ibunya masygul membisu. Angin bertiup membawa asap yang semakin tebal. Membelah keabuan, dua sosok nampak tertatih datang dari kejauhan. Pongo dan Laksmi datang menghampiri.

“Kamu lapar, Pongo?” Kasih mengeluarkan beberapa buah pisang.

Kewarasan akal pikiran Miranti risau dengan keselamatan mereka di tengah hawa pengap kebakaran hutan ini. Tetapi sepertinya pikiran waras itu sudah bertekuk lutut pada daya gerak hatinya. Dia membiarkan Kasih berceloteh riang dengan Pongo. Laksmi hanya menatap dari kejauhan seperti biasa. Tiba-tiba hidung Miranti seperti mencium bau Lukman. Bau yang dahulu pernah akrab dan kini hanya terekam dalam kenangan.

“Baumu sekarang dapat kurasakan kembali di hidungku Lukman,” gumam Miranti. Bau itu mengudara di sekitar tubuh Miranti bersisihan dengan bau asap yang mematikan. Miranti tak kuasa menolak daya tarik bau itu. Dia sadar dirinya harus menggapai tabung oksigen yang dibawanya, tetapi tak dilakukannya. Bau Lukman sangat kuat membawa Miranti pada kedamaian yang selama ini dirindukannya. Kedamaian yang salah tempat, apa boleh buat. Gerah rusuh suasana hati Miranti. Udara semakin panas. Miranti limbung.

Dalam limbungnya, segala sesuatu seolah mencari jalan selamat sendiri-sendiri. Kewarasan nalar Miranti berusaha menggerakkannya untuk menyelamatkan diri segera. Namun batinnya membuai dengan bayangan kedamaian bertiga bersama Lukman dan Kasih di dalam rimba. Sementara jantung dan paru-parunya mulai memberontak kekurangan zat asam. Dengan mata berkunang-kunang dia melihat tampak Laksmi kembali merimba menggandeng tangan Pongo. Seperti tidak rela ketinggalan, Kasih pun menyeret tangan Miranti mengikuti Laksmi dan Pongo. Kaki-kaki Miranti terseok-seok mengikuti Kasih yang menjadi sangat yakin dengan langkah-langkahnya. Nampaknya mereka akan pergi menjauh ke dalam rimba ke pohon tempat memohon.

Dalam keadaan kabut itu, Miranti semakin merasakan kehadiran Lukman. Baunya semakin menguat di tengah kabut asap. Sesampai di bawah pohon tempat memohon dengan mata setengah terkatup, Miranti seolah melihat bayangan Lukman muncul tampak segar bugar dari lubuk naungan rimba yang terdalam.

Dia menyapa, “Aku telah lama menunggu kalian, Mir ….”

Miranti tersenyum. Nalarnya sudah sepenuhnya bertekuk lutut, terlebih saat melihat Kasih melompat-lompat kegirangan menyambut Lukman.

Tidak ada asap dan gemertak suara ranting terbakar. Hanya suara Lukman yang bening menyapa. Tidak ada cukong sawit dan mandor jahanam. Hutan pun masih sangat perawan. Seperti pertama kali semesta membuatnya. Semua mahluk hidup seolah roh yang segar bugar, meninggalkan jasad yang renta dan penuh masalah.

Lukman membungkuk untuk menggendong Kasih. “Biarkan ibumu menyelesaikan moksanya,” kata Lukman mencubit hidung Kasih.

Langit jingga telah menjadi merah.

Miranti terbaring dengan landasan akar besar Pohon Tempat Memohon.



Pongo’s Caring Tree

Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.

She currently teaches English literature courses at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Novita can be reached at or












Pongo’s Caring Tree


Miranti awoke in the middle of the cold night, sweating and short of breath. Lukman’s soft voice still echoed in her head.

“Mir, go to the Caring Tree! Take Kasih with you.” Lukman’s words had been clear in her sleep.

Miranti looked at Kasih, her daughter, sleeping next to her. Unlike her, Kasih was not soaked in perspiration. The air that night was unusually cold for the hot, dry season.

Miranti could not fall back asleep. The night had been too restless, and now, she too felt unsettled. Recently, she’d been dreaming about Lukman often — Lukman, her husband, who had disappeared in the Rimba Raya Sebangau, a jungle in Central Kalimantan, three years ago. For months, numerous search-and-rescue units looked for her husband. But although they searched until they ran out of supplies, they always came back empty-handed — as empty as the half of Miranti’s heart that was usually filled with Lukman’s presence.

A graduate of the Veterinary School of the Bogor Agricultural Institute, Miranti worked as a veterinarian, in collaboration with the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, BOSF, at the Sebangau National Park, a large nature reserve that was carved out of the Rimba Raya Sebangau jungle. She was in charge of the welfare of the orangutan population in the park. The deep sorrow of losing her husband made Miranti reluctant to return to Bogor, her hometown. Miranti inherited her knowledge of siloka, a mystical cultural belief, from her Sundanese karuhun, ancestors. Siloka convinced her that Lukman was still alive somewhere in the Kalimantan jungle. In Miranti’s dream, Lukman was preparing something for their family’s future, for the life they had dreamed of: a life in union with the forest.

Miranti believed that she and their daughter Kasih just needed to wait for the right time. “Lukman, I know you’ll come for us, but when?” Miranti whimpered, holding Kasih. “I’m so tired.”

Miranti remembered their conversation, word for word, the day Lukman walked out of her embrace for the sake of their beloved forest. In her dream that night, it was as if she were thrown into the past. Indeed, lately she often moved back and forth in time, while Lukman alternated between life and nothing. Miranti wished she would never wake up from her dream, where Lukman was with her.

“I’ll be gone for a while,” Lukman had said to her on that terrible day that always darkened Miranti’s heart and saddened her days. “Take good care of our child, will you?”

“Can’t you delay your trip?” Miranti clearly remembered the words that had risen from her troubled mind.

“No, I need to fulfill my duty.”

“But it is too dangerous; the palm oil thugs are looking for you.”

“The Spirit is the light of my life; I am only a reflection of its light.” That was what Lukman always said when they argued about the dangers that threatened him as a forester and conservation activist.

“Yes, but the situation in Sebangau National Park is precarious; the palm oil thugs are still upset because you prevented them from invading the park area.” Miranti remembered her effort to keep Lukman from leaving.

She knew that Lukman was not really ignoring her fear; she knew Lukman was faced with a dilemma. Lukman had stopped his packing to think for a while. She now wondered if he had been remembering then how he and his friends from the Dayak Ngaju tribe had humiliated the palm oil entrepreneurs with evidence of their invasion into the park area.

“The light is leading me to it right now,” Lukman had finally said, after clearing all his doubts.

“They won’t stop trying to expand their palm plantations into the park area,” Miranti had persisted. “Yes, Roh, the Spirit, has already guided you, but can’t you do it later?”

“I can’t, honey.” Lukman had tried to calm her. “It seems that this forest needs my service right now. Trust me!”

“Yes, but the timing is not right.”

Lukman ignored her refutation.

In the silence that followed, they each held their own worries. That night, Lukman disappeared into the jungle.

Environmental activist and forester friends suspected that Lukman had been killed in the midst of the disaster that was sweeping the forest. Some people believed that his disappearance expressed revenge from the plantation foremen against Lukman’s activism. The foremen considered Lukman the perpetrator in blocking the encroachment of the expanding palm plantations into the Sebangau National Park. But they had no proof.

That was Lukman’s last argument with her.

Miranti broke out of her daydream. Kashi started to wake up. Sighing, Miranti rubbed the child’s forehead. She looked up when she heard the screeching and screams interspersed with the soulful calling of the orangutans in the forest.

The senior orangutans were leading the barzanji, a litany of woe. Miranti’s worry heightened. Orangutans were creatures who shared the fate of the jungle. They seemed able to hear the song of the dying jungle. The chorus, which grew fainter and sounded hoarse from time to time. Only orangutans understood that voice.

The morning came and presented Miranti with tasks to care for the orangutans in the national park. Many of the rescued orangutans were weak from dehydration and suffered from severe burns. The Penajam Paser Utara region, at the eastern side of the park adjacent to the state capital area in Sepaku, had caught fire, injuring many orangutans and other wild animals.

Fortunately, these many sad events did not affect Kasih’s childhood. Every day, Kasih followed the rangers as they fed the orangutans. Kasih truly enjoyed this daily activity. In fact, she often saved her fruit from lunch for Pongo, her favorite orangutan. Although she and Pongo were two creatures of different species, they didn’t act like it. They often reached out to each other, as if they had known each other for a long time, and sometimes Pongo exchanged sweet potatoes for bananas. They played together while Miranti and Laksmi, Pongo’s mother, just watched from a distance.

“Mom, let’s feed Pongo and Laksmi!” Kasih nudged her mother. Miranti looked out of the window and saw the two orangutans waiting outside, at the edge of the forest.

Miranti and Kasih went to meet Laksmi and Pongo.

Laksmi had lived in the Sebangau National Park for almost twenty years. Amid her fur, her skin was mottled with scars evidence of the cruel plantation foremen who had arrived in the park along with the development of the palm plantations. Laksmi quickly became a wary orangutan. If a ranger had not rescued her, she would have died from the foremen’s torture. Miranti gave her the name Laksmi. One of the resilient survivors in the park, Laksmi remained vigilant of her surroundings.

That morning’s news had reported that the park fires had spread. The dry peat, a result of the long drought, was a good conductor of fire. The fires did not spread from the tips of green branches, but rather crept uncontrollably along the peat-covered soil. The smell of burning damp wood wafted through the area. A mixture of water vapor and carbonic acid filled the air with thick white smoke, which made it hard for the animals and the village inhabitants at the edge of the forest to breathe.

Laksmi gave Miranti an unusual look. Her brown eyes seemed to reach out with a deep sorrow. Miranti understood. She felt she and Laksmi shared the same feelings about the fire. They were both mothers who worried about their safety and their children’s. It seemed that one question connected the two of them: Would they still be able to find a green forest in the future?

Suddenly, the orangutans having breakfast stopped eating and became very noisy. They seemed to answer a call from the jungle. Miranti looked towards the woods.

Barzanji again? They just did it. Miranti felt goosebumps. When the orangutans repeated barzanji again and again, it was as if they were asking, “What’s wrong with the life of this forest?”

Laksmi became restless. For a moment, she stared silently at Miranti then grunting, grabbed Pongo’s hand, and turned back to the woods.

Miranti saw that Pongo was reluctant to go with his mother. He was still busy munching on the sweet potato Kasih had just given him. But Laksmi’s instinct urged her to move to the other side of the forest. Pongo waved at Kasih, who was disappointed by Pongo’s and Laksmi’s unusual behavior.

Aware of the precarious orangutan atmosphere, Miranti held Kasih’s hand.

“Why did they leave so quickly, Mom?” Kasih asked.

“They must face the Spirit of the jungle.”

Kasih was hardly satisfied with that answer, but her mother was hurrying the two of them back to the Care Centre.

Kasih was still full of curiosity. She kept bombarding her mother with questions about the experience at the edge of the forest. “Who is the Spirit of the jungle?” Kasih probed.

“He is the power of all forces that support everything in the forest. He is the one who regulates everything in the jungle.”

“Including Dad?” asked Kasih.

“Yes,” Miranti replied, slowly and softly.

Kasih’s question stunned Miranti. She had only recently began feeling that Lukman was still alive. In her mind, he lived with the Spirit and, lately, had begun visiting her in dreams that bothered her all day long.

In Miranti’s observations, the hardest time for Laksmi, Pongo, and the other orangutans to survive was the dry season, when many trees burned, filling the forest with smoke. Food was scarce. Laksmi and Pongo often relied on a few sweet potatoes and bananas from the Sebangau National Park rangers, which was barely enough to keep the hunger pangs away. Food rations were given only once a day and left Pongo and his friends still hungry. Starving for the now-scarce tender leaves and sweet fruit of the forest, the orangutans ransacked the palm shoots sprouting from the tree tops at the plantations on the outskirts of Sebangau National Park. If the orangutans weren’t careful, their rampaging for food could result in injury or death. The plantation foremen used air guns, hot water, wild boar poison, or acid to get rid of the hungry apes.

Miranti knew that during this white, smoke-filled dry season, orangutans often gathered at the Caring Tree across the park. Led by the berida, a senior orangutan, they performed a litany of woe: surrendering their starving bodies, suffocated by the smoke and sinched by the fire, to the Spirit, manifested this time as the Caring Tree. It was all the manifestation of the Spirit of the jungle.

The Caring Tree, where they performed their barzanji, was a buni tree, an offshoot of the bodhi tree family. Its delicious seeds were treats for orangutans, squirrels, and birds. The trunk was large, the branches were stout, the bark contained an effective medicine, and the lush canopy was a home for various animals, including orangutans. The roots of the Caring Tree were strong and bored deep into the soil to uphold the tree’s enormous stature. Kasih and Sundanese-blooded Miranti, knew this big tree to be the werkodara tree.

As a veterinarian, Miranti had observed several times how a group of orangutans performed a barzanji to express their anxiety. During the ritual, the elderly orangutans appeared entranced. They swung, screeching, from branch to branch while ripping branches, leaves, and twigs of a big tree which was no ordinary tree. It was the Caring Tree where the orangutans seemed to surrender their entire bodies and souls to the Spirit of the jungle.

During her eight years of working at the center, Miranti had concluded that orangutans were very spiritual creatures. Even though they acted possessed during the barzanji, they were actually facing the jungle’s Spirit. Miranti believed in the orangutans’ sincerity.

During this most recent barzanji, Miranti believed that the old orangutan’s roar said, “The Spirit will surely take care of us. He is present everywhere, in the good, as well as in the bad.” With a strong moan, the elderly orangutan continued, as if saying, “The Spirit is the one we fear and miss at the same time.”

The boisterousness in the forest died down. Miranti imagined the orangutans’ barzanji had finished. In Miranti’s mind, the orangutans were not blaming the Spirit for the prolonged fire and hunger. They never accused. Nor did they plead for punishment of the cruel foremen or the greedy palm oil barons. Orangutans were not vengeful. They merely surrendered themselves to the balance of nature. They believed that nature was just a pendulum swinging between points of equilibrium, and they would simply accept the fact if the pendulum’s movement meant the extinction of their kind.

Miranti was sure that the forest’s hoarse singing was heard by the orangutans who had gathered to perform a barzanji. Humans, with too many demands and preconceived notions, could not hear the song of the forest. Only innocent creatures could hear that song and the raucous feelings of the trees embedded in the jungle floor. Only the forest creatures could hear the baritone of an old mahogany tree, a sturdy ironwood’s soprano, or the tenor of the tall, slender meranti tree. In a healthy forest, the voices would turn into a melodious chorus.


The Sebangau National Park’s forest fires at the peak of the 2019 dry season were enormous. The fires occurred at the same time as the plan to develop Kawasan Sepaku, Penajem Paser Utara, as the new capital of Indonesia. The old capital had become too outdated. The Indonesian government intended to build a new capital, with the idea to juxtapose humans and nature. However, the implementation of these ideas encountered their own problems: fire was the most economical and easy way to clear forests.

The flames were so intense and widespread that they burned the root networks beneath the jungle floor. Now, the forest was dying. The air was stuffy, and acidic substances turned into deadly charcoal. The crackle of burning branches choked the trees’ choir.

The chirpy larks tried to escape the never-ending fire. Fatigued and short of breath from the carbonic acid in the air, the birds fluttered frantically. They finally fell and were roasted.

People fled from the city. Those who did not have the luxury of fleeing to safety hid in their homes.

Miranti was very reluctant to leave. Her sense of Lukman’s presence was even stronger at this critical time. But for the sake of Kasih’s health, Miranti was, miserably, forced to book a plane ticket. Facing this reality, Miranti’s heart split into two.

While Miranti’s rational mind urged her to leave, her emotional impulses urged her to stay near the forest, to stay close to Lukman. His presence had become more and more evident in her dreams and fantasies. He was increasingly present in Miranti’s daily life. It was as if he were keeping her company.


That eventful Wednesday morning, at the peak of the 2019 dry season, the skies of Sebangau National Park were gray. As if she understood her mother’s feelings, Kasih wasn’t interested in leaving the Sebangau National Park housing complex. Kasih was worried about Pongo. Her concern had grown after Pongo and Laksmi had suddenly left her at the orangutan feeding site, a few days ago.

“Come on, let’s go to the orangutan feeding place!” Kasih cajoled her mother that morning, not knowing that the park had temporarily stopped feeding the orangutans due to scarce supplies.

“But there is no ranger to feed them there,” Miranti said.

“I want to see Pongo,” Kasih pleaded.

“The rangers are busy,” said Miranti, trying to convince her. “They’re helping out with the forest fires.”

“That’s okay,” insisted Kasih. “We can go by ourselves.”

Finally, Miranti gave up. However, she used her consent as a bargaining chip with Kasih. “But if after we visit, we are forced to flee to Bogor, you must come with me without fussing.” Miranti spoke half-heartedly; she, herself, was reluctant to leave, despite what her common sense told her.

Kasih nodded, but Miranti doubted that Kasih’s nod was sincere. She wondered if Kasih saw another way of salvation, one she could not verbalize.

Miranti placed an air filter mask over Kasih’s nose and mouth. The orangutan feeding site was only a short walking distance away, but this morning, it seemed to be so far. Feeling very anxious, Miranti placed several small oxygen cylinders in her backpack, along with water and a few snacks.

The Sebangau National Park was dark and dreadfully smoky. The sky was orange, as if it too were on fire. The air was horribly hot.

When Miranti and Kasih arrived at the feeding site, the usually busy place was now deserted and gray. There were no happy orangutan sounds.

“Pongo, come here!” Kasih called out cheerfully.

Miranti remained speechless.

The wind carried the thickening smoke. Parting the gray air, two limping figures appeared in the distance. Pongo and Laksmi were coming closer.

“Are you hungry, Pongo?” Kasih took out a few bananas.

Miranti worried about their safety in the midst of this forest fire’s suffocating air. But her rational mind buckled again under her heart’s impulse. She let Kasih chat happily with Pongo, as Laksmi watched from a distance as usual. Suddenly, Miranti caught Lukman’s aroma — the scent that had once been so familiar, now had become only a memory.

“I can smell your presence, Lukman,” murmured Miranti. His scent seemed to envelope her along with the deadly smoke. Miranti could not resist the scent’s appeal. She realized she needed the oxygen cylinder she carried, but she didn’t reach for it. The scent of Lukman was very strong. It brought Miranti the peace she had been longing for. It didn’t seem to matter that it was a misplaced peace.

The air was getting hotter.

Miranti staggered.

In her confusion, everything seemed to seek its own way of survival. Miranti’s sensibilities tried to move her to save Kasih and herself immediately. Instead, she lulled herself into the notion of peace with Lukman and Kasih in the forest. Meanwhile, her heart and lungs battled oxygen deficiency. Light-headed, she saw Laksmi take Pongo’s hand and walk back into the woods. Not wanting to be left behind, Kasih grabbed Miranti’s hand and followed them without hesitation.

Miranti, still stunned at the crossroads of destiny, lumbered along. In the choking fog, Lukman’s presence was even more apparent. After they arrived at the Caring Tree, his scent grew stronger, overpowering the smog. Through her half- closed eyes, Miranti saw Lukman’s shadow appear from the deepest shade of the woods. Looking refreshed, he said, “I’ve been waiting for the two of you for a long time, Mir.”

Miranti smiled. As she watched Kasih happily greet Lukman, her sensibilities left her completely.

There was no smell of smoke, no crackle of burning branches — there was only Lukman’s voice greeting her clearly. There were no palm oil barons and foremen. The forest was still virgin like the first time the universe made it. All living things were spirits in good health, who had left their frail and problem-riddled bodies behind.

Lukman bent to pick up Kasih. “Let your mother finish her transition, her moksha.” Lukman pinched Kasih’s nose playfully.

The orange sky turned red.

Miranti lay at the base of a large root of the Caring Tree.



Mitoni Terakhir

Ranang Aji SP is an Indonesian fiction and nonfiction writer. He was born in Klaten, Central Java, on December 1, 1978. His short stories have appeared in anthologies such as Srigala Yang Berzikir Di Akhir Waktu (Nyala, 2018), Hujan Klise (Penerbit Buku Kompas, 2019), and Urban(is)me (Binsar Hiras, 2020). Ranang has a presence in both printed and online publications, as well as numerous newspapers, including Kompas, Koran Tempo, Media Indonesia, Republika, Jawa Pos, Lampung Post, Harian Fajar Makasar. His essay, “Sepotong Senja Untuk Pacarku: Antara Sastra Modern-PascaModern, Makna Dan Jejak Terpengaruhannya,” was included in Antologi Kritik Sastra: Teks, Pengarang dan Masyarakat an anthology of the 20 best essays from the 2020 Literary Criticism Contest, held by the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Education.
Ranang Aji SP currently lives in Magelang, Central Java.

He can be reached via email at



Mitoni Terakhir


Di halaman belakang rumah, peninggalan suamiku, aku duduk sendiri, memandang pohon randu alas yang meranggas. Kukira, waktuku sudah segera akan tiba. Aku tidak tahu kapan itu terjadi, tapi, cepat atau lambat, malaikat maut itu pasti akan segera datang menjemputku. Menyusul para leluhurku untuk berkumpul bersama. Kematian adalah kepastian buat siapa saja, apalagi buat perempuan seusiaku saat ini. Sebelum ajalku, aku hanya ingin merasakan, menyaksikkan dan memberikan berkah pada darah dagingku yang terlahir di bumi ini, agar tumbuh sehat sebagai jiwa terberkati. Seperti para leluhurku juga memberkatiku di masa lalu.

Dari rahimku ini, telah lahir tujuh anak perempuan dan setiap anak telah melahirkan anak-anaknya, para cucuku yang lucu. Kecuali anak bungsuku, Setyaningsih, dia baru dua tahun menikah dan belum sempat mendapatkan anak. Semua anak dan cucuku mendapat restu dan berkah dari orangtuanya dengan cara yang sama. Eka Yuningsih, anak pertamaku, ketika mengandung anak pertamanya, semua menyambutnya dengan bahagia. Ketika usia kandungannya menginjak tujuh bulan, seperti adat Jawa yang terberkati, kami, ayah dan ibunya menggelar acara mitoni. Demikian pula dengan anak-anakku yang lain.

Dalam setiap hajatan itu, semua kerabat datang, semua tetangga hadir juga anak-anak sekitar yang ceria menonton rangkaian acara. Mereka tertawa sembari berdesak-desakan di halaman. Terkadang mereka ikut melihat bagaimana kami mengguyur tubuh anak dan cucuku yang masih di dalam rahimnya, dengan air bunga. Tentu saja aku tahu anak-anak itu menginginkan dawet ayu, dan juga semua makanan yang kami sediakan untuk hajatan ini. Aku membiarkan mereka ribut, gaduh di antara suara gending Jawa yang mengiringi. Terkadang, aku berpura-pura marah, meminta mereka agar diam dan menunggu di latar. Sambil aku tanya, sudah bawa kereweng belum. Kereweng adalah pecahan genteng. Dalam acara mitoni, biasanya ditukarkan dengan dawet, dan lain-lain.

“Sudaah,” jawab mereka serempak.

Namun, semua upayaku agar mereka diam, sia-sia belaka. Para mahluk kecil nan berisik itu, selalu tak tertaklukkan oleh siapa saja, kecuali oleh dawet ayu. Perut mereka yang seluas langit dan sedalam lautan, tak juga kunjung puas, meskipun bermangkok-mangkok dawet sudah disiramkan ke dalam perutnya. Bahkan ketika perut itu sudah dijejali oleh jajanan yang mereka inginkan. Ah, dasar anak-anak.

Semua tampak menjadi sibuk dan repot, memang, namun kerepotan itu membuat kami, para orangtua bahagia. Karena, aku dan mereka tahu, bahwa semua kerepotan dan keringat dari para kerabat, tetangga yang berkumpul dalam acara itu, adalah pancaran tangan kami semua yang menjemput cahaya berkah dari langit. Cahaya berkah yang kemudian kami berikan pada anak dan cucuku di dalam kandungan. Agar kelak, mereka juga tumbuh dan meneruskan berkah itu pada anak cucu mereka. Juga melalui cara ini, sebagai orang Jawa.

Dahulu, di masa kecilku, aku juga seperti mereka anak-anak kampung yang ceria itu ketika ada hajatan, tak kecuali juga ketika ada yang menggelar hajatan bagi seorang calon ibu. Aku bersama kangmasku, setelah mendengar kabar itu, segera berlari gembira di sepanjang jalan kampung, mengumpulkan pecahan genteng, berebut dengan teman-teman yang lain. Semua itu nanti kami tukarkan dengan segelas dawet dan makanan lain. Kami juga dizinkan ayah menonton pergelaran wayang orang atau wayang kulit setelahnya.

Biasanya, anak-anak punya cara agar mendapatkan lebih dawet ayu. Mereka antri sampai berkali-kali, hingga akhirnya, ibu-ibu tua yang menjaga dan melayani, menegur mereka dengan suara serak dan muka cemberut, “Sudah, gantian sama yang lain. Masak terus menerus berputar seperti itu.”

Kami selalu suka dengan semua hajatan, tanpa kecuali. Kami sadar, semua itu cara para leluhur, agar kami anak cucunya bersyukur dan menghargai lingkungan. Tanah yang menumbuhkan semua kebutuhan kami, dan juga pada Sang Hyang Widi di atas langit. Semua itu, tentu saja, seperti kata bapakku, Mitoni adalah cara orang Jawa mencintai, menghargai kehidupan mereka di muka bumi. Juga tentang persoalan bagaimana kelak seluruh keturunan bisa menjalani kehidupan dengan berkah orangtua mereka yang mengemban amanah menjaga kehidupan hingga anak cucu di masa depan.

Namun, sayang, Setyaningsih, anak bungsuku, agak berbeda. Ketika hamil pada akhirnya, dia menolak melakukan hajatan mitoni. Katanya, adat itu sudah terlalu kuno – tak lagi mencerminkan lingkungan masyarakat dan pendidikannya. Katanya, negara barat, Amerika, tempatnya bersekolah, tak ada kebiasaan seperti hajatan di Jawa. Dia memang berniat melakukan hajatan, tetapi dengan cara yang berbeda. Cara yang lebih sederhana. Dia sebut hajatan itu dalam bahasa Inggris, baby shower. Aku belum pernah mendengar sebelumnya, sampai dia katakan itu.

“Teman-teman sudah seperti itu semua, Bu,” katanya mencoba meyakinkanku.

“Apa bedanya, Nduk? Lagipula kenapa harus seperti teman-temanmu?”

“Repot, Bu, hajatan seperti itu, ribet dan tak masuk akal,” katanya padaku, sedikit tampak enggan menjawab.

“Tentu saja tidak begitu,” kataku sedih. “Tentu saja di sana tak ada mitoni. Semua tempat punya caranya sendiri.” Kupandangi mukanya yang bersih dan halus. Dia perempuan yang cantik. Bahkan lebih cantik dari aku. Lebih pintar dariku. Semua yang diidamkan perempuan, ada padanya. Dia bisa membentuk apa yang dia suka dalam wajah dan tubuhnya, dengan uangnya. Begitu cantik dirinya dengan semua perubahan itu, sampai aku tak yakin apakah benar dia anakku, Setyaningsih. Semua agak berubah, dari alisnya, bentuk bibirnya dan hidungnya yang menjadi mancung. Hampir semuanya tak lagi milikku, atau suamiku.

Aku mulai sadar, dunia ini memang mudah berubah. Semua akan selalu berubah. Tak ada kepastian, selain kematian, bukan? Anakku, Setyaningsih juga tampak jauh berubah. Dia tak lagi seperti anak-anak yang dulu selalu kurawat dan kuberikan pendidikan, agar nantinya dia tumbuh menjadi perempuan Jawa yang ikut merawat miliknya sendiri, dengan percaya diri.

Tapi, tampaknya dia begitu terpesona dengan dunia yang berbeda dari yang dimilikinya. Setyaningsih juga selalu berbahasa lain, yang saudara-saudaranya tak menggunakannya. Berpakaian seperti noni-noni berambut jerami yang menjadi teman-temannya. Suaminya, sama saja. Pramono, seorang pengusaha berhasil yang lebih banyak hidup di negara asing dan mulai kesulitan melafalkan bahasa-bahasa setempat. Dia nurutin saja semua apa yang dikatakan istrinya. Katanya, “Ibu tak usah repot-repot bikin hajatan itu. Biar kami sendiri yang menangani.”

Dari tujuh anak perempuanku, Setyaningsih memang berbeda. Persis seperti pepatah lama, tak ada yang sempurna dari semua telur milik kita. Aku tak menyalahkannya. Dia mendapatkan sekolah yang telah membuatnya berpikir dia lebih pintar dari orang lain. Aku hanya ingin dirinya menjadi diri sendiri, sebagai orang Jawa. Menjalani upacara adat yang sudah menjadi baju masyarakatnya sejak dulu. Itu saja.

Usiaku mungkin akan selesai dalam hitungan waktu yang tidak terlalu lama. Meskipun usia manusia hanya Tuhan yang tahu akan berapa lama. Aku hanya ingin menjalani sekali lagi merasakan bagaimana indahnya memberikan berkat pada anak cucuku yang masih sempat aku lihat. Memberkati bersama para kerabat, tetangga dan anak-anak yang lucu nan bandel dalam acara mitoni.

Eka Yuningsih sudah membantuku menyampaikan semua keinginanku pada Setyaningsih. Katanya, aku harus bersabar. Tidak perlu ngotot dan memaksanya yang sudah punya pendapatnya sendiri. Dia ingin membuat acaranya sendiri, seperti semangat zamannya yang ingin seperti bangsa lain.

“Mungkin paling penting adalah doa ibu saja,” bujuk Yuningsih padaku, setelah gagal membujuk Setyaningsih.

“Ibu, jika tetap berkeras hati juga, nanti malah jatuh sakit. Ibu harus jaga kesehatan Ibu, agar bisa menyaksikkan cucu-cucu tumbuh.”

“Apakah Ibu salah, jika ingin memberikan berkah pada kandungan anakku. Doa terakhir yang tak akan terdengar lagi setelah kematianku nanti?” Yuningsih kulihat bimbang. Dia hanya diam dan mencium tanganku.

“Ibu jangan bicara seperti itu,” katanya kemudian.

Di halaman belakang rumah warisan suamiku ini, aku duduk menatap pohon randu alas yang meranggas –pohon yang tak lagi berdaun di musim kemarau. Mendengarkan tembang megatruh yang mengingatkanku agar bersiap dijemput kematian. Di sana, aku merenung dalam sendiriku. Mungkin aku salah. Mungkin aku semacam orangtua yang kaku. Mungkin aku terlalu memaksakan keinginanku sendiri pada anak-anakku. Orangtua yang sudah tidak sesuai dengan keinginan zaman. Keinginan anak-anaknya. Tidak tahu keinginan anak-anaknya? Hmm ….

Sekilas, aku lihat langit yang penuh awan, di antara sela-sela ranting pohon randu alas yang meranggas. Aku bersedih mengingatnya, jika begitu. Namun, kesedihanku bukan semata karena aku tak dituruti keinginanku. Mungkin memang iya. Aku tak boleh berbohong. Tapi, kesedihanku juga karena mengingat bahwa kematianku nanti, mungkin berarti juga kematian warisan leluhurku di tanahnya sendiri. Kematian doa-doa yang penuh berkah dari langit. Ah, semoga tidak. Aku masih berharap Setyaningsih, anakku yang cantik itu, sadar – sehingga aku masih bisa memberkati anak cucuku dalam hajatan itu untuk terakhir kali. Sebelum ajal menjemputku. Aku berharap seperti itu.


The Last Mitoni

Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.

She currently teaches English literature courses at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Novita can be reached at or



The Last Mitoni


Sitting alone in the backyard of the house I inherited from my husband, I look at the withered tree. I think my time will come soon. I do not know when it will be, but, sooner or later, the angel of death shall come to unite me with my ancestors. Death is a certainty for everyone, especially for a woman of my age. But, before my time comes, I just want to feel, witness, and bless my children so that they become healthy, honorable souls. I’d like to give them what my ancestors gave to me.

I have given birth to seven daughters and six have given birth to my adorable grandchildren. My youngest daughter, Setyaningsih, has been married for two years and has yet to have children. All my children and grandchildren have received their parents’ blessings in the traditional Javanese way.

When Eka Yuningsih, my eldest daughter, was pregnant with her first child, everyone was happy. When she reached her seventh month of pregnancy, following revered Javanese custom, we, her parents, held a mitoni, a ceremonial celebration to bless the mother and unborn child. We did this also for our other children.

All of my relatives and neighbors came with their children to every celebration. The children enjoyed the entire affair. They crowded into the yard, laughing. Sometimes they came to watch how we poured water, scented with flower petals, over our daughter and unborn grandchild.

I knew for sure that the children craved dawet ayu, a Javanese cold drink made of coconut milk and flavored tapioca balls, and all the food we provided for these celebrations. I allowed the children to make a lot of noise while an orchestra played Javanese music. Sometimes, I pretended to be angry and told them to be quiet and wait in the front yard. I asked them, “Have you brought kereweng with you?” At a mitoni, these roof-tile chips are used as tokens to exchange for dawet ayu and other snacks.

“Yes, we sure have,” the children chanted.

But all my efforts to quiet them were in vain. Nothing but dawet ayu could quiet these noisy little creatures whose stomachs were as wide as the sky and as deep as the sea. And, even though they had poured bowls of dawet ayu into their bellies and stuffed their tummies with snacks, they wanted more. Ah, that’s just the way children are.

Everyone seemed to be in a frenzy. But the flurry of activities made us parents happy. We all knew that the efforts made by relatives and neighbors who had gathered for the event reflected the light and blessings from the sky — blessings that we then bestowed upon my child and the grandchild inside her womb so that, later, they could pass on these blessing to their children and grandchildren in a similar manner. This is the Javanese way.

Back then, in my childhood, I also acted like those cheerful village children when there was a celebration. One held for a prospective mother was no exception. As soon as we heard that there would be a celebration, my kangmas, brother, and I immediately ran happily along the village road to collect shards of roof tile, fighting over them with other children. Later, we would exchange the shards for a glass of dawet ayu and other snacks. My father also allowed us to watch the puppet show afterwards.

Usually, children would find a way to get more dawet ayu. They would line up many times until, finally, the old woman in charge of the dawet table scolded them. “That’s enough!” Frowning, she would add, “Let others have a turn. Don’t keep coming back for more.”
We always loved celebrations of all kinds, without exception. We all knew that through these celebrations our elders showed us how to be grateful and respect our environment, how to revere the land that grows all our needs, and honor Sang Hyang Widi, The Great One, in heaven. Above all, my father said, mitoni is the way Javanese people show love and respect for their life on earth. It is the ability to live a life full of blessings from our parents, who fulfilled the task of protecting the environment for future generations.

Unfortunately, Setyaningsih, my youngest child, thinks a little different. When she finally became pregnant, she refused to celebrate the occasion with a mitoni. She said that the practice was too old-fashioned; it no longer reflected her community and social environment. She said that in Western countries, like America, where she received her education, people do not have traditions like those of the Javanese. She intended to celebrate the rite of passage, but in a different way. A simpler way. She said the celebration was called a baby shower in English. I had never heard the expression before she used it.

“All my friends throw a baby shower, Mom,” Setyaningsih said, trying to convince me.

“What’s the difference?” I said. “Besides, why do you have to be like your friends?”

My daughter hesitated for a moment, then said, “Mom, a mitoni is troublesome, complicated, and absurd.”

“That’s not true,” I said, hurt.

“Of course there is no mitoni over there in America. Every culture has its own traditions.” I looked at my daughter’s clean, smooth face. She was a beautiful woman. Prettier than me. Smarter than me. She had everything that a woman could want. With her money, she shaped her face and body any way she desired.

All of her shapings had made her so beautiful that I wasn’t sure if she really was Setyaningsih, my daughter. All her features seemed changed: the curve of the eyebrows, the shape of the lips, and the nose that had turned pointy. Nothing about her was mine or my husband’s.

I began to realize that change was easily made in this world. Everything would always change. Apart from death, there was no certainty. My daughter, Setyaningsih, had also changed. She was no longer the child I had raised and cared for so that she could grow into a Javanese woman who confidently took care of her own children.

Instead, it seemed that Setyaningsih was fascinated with a world different from her own. Setyaningsih now spoke a language her siblings did not use. She dressed like her friends, the straw-haired noni-noni, young women of Dutch descent.

Her husband was no different. Pramono, a successful businessman who lived mostly in a foreign country, started to have difficulty pronouncing words of our Javanese language. He followed his wife’s footsteps and said to me, “You don’t have to bother preparing for the celebration. Let us handle it ourselves.”

Of my seven daughters, Setyaningsih is the different one. Just as the old saying goes, nothing is perfect. I don’t blame her, especially considering her education that gave her the ability to think differently than most people. I just want her to be herself, a Javanese. To perform a ceremony that has been a tradition of our people for a long time is all I want. I am old and likely to die soon. Even though only God knows when that will happen, I just want — one more time — to feel how beautiful it is to bless my grandchildren, to hold a mitoni with relatives, neighbors, and children who are mischievous but loveable, while I still have time.

Eka Yuningsih has helped to convey all my wishes to Setyaningsih. Yuningsih told me to be patient. Setyaningsih had her own opinions and wanted to make her own plans. True to the spirit of her generation, she wanted to be like someone of another nation.

“Perhaps, your prayers are the most important,” Yuningsih said after she failed to persuade Setyaningsih to change her mind. She added, “Mom, if you continue to force the issue, you will get sick. You have to take care of your health, so you can watch your grandchildren grow.”

“Am I wrong for wanting to bless the womb of my own daughter? Say the prayer no one will hear again after my death?” I saw Yuningsih turn uncertain.

She quietly kissed my hand and said, “Mom, don’t say that.”

I’m sitting in the backyard of the house my husband left me, staring at the bare cotton tree a tree that loses its leaves in the dry season. Listening to a megatruh, a Javanese song that reminds me to be ready to meet the angel of death, I contemplate: Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I am some kind of a willful parent. Maybe I am imposing my own will too much on my children. A parent who is not in sync with the aspirations of the times, oblivious of what her children want. Hmm ….

Between the bare branches of the cotton tree, I see a clouded sky. My sadness is not only a result of me not getting my way. Or, maybe it is. I can’t pretend. But my sadness also comes from the knowledge that my death might mean the death of my ancestral heritage in its very own place of birth. The expiration of the blessings from heaven. Ah, I do hope it won’t. I still hope that Setyaningsih, my beautiful daughter, will come to her senses so I can for the last time bestow my blessings upon my children and grandchildren in this celebration before the angel of death comes to collect me. I do hope so.




Kuli Kontrak

Mochtar Lubis is one of the prominent literary figures in Indonesia. He was born in Padang, West Sumatra on March 7, 1922 and died in Jakarta on July 2, 2004. His novels are Jalan Tak Ada Ujung (1952), Harimau! Harimau! (1975), and a short stories collection Perempuan (1956). His novel Maut dan Cinta (1977) was translated into English and published by Dalang Publishing into Love Death and Revolution (2015).

Published in December 2020. Translation copyright ©2020 by Novita Dewi.




Kuli Kontrak


Lampu-lampu di beranda dan kamar depan telah dipadamkan. Ayah sedang menulis di kamar kerjanya. Dan kami anak-anak berkumpul di kamar tidur ayah dan ibu, mendengarkan cerita ibu  sebelum kami disuruh tidur. Ibu bercerita tentang seorang pelesit, pemakan orang, yang dapat menukar- nukar tubuhnya dari manusia menjadi macan dan kemudian jadi manusia kembali, berganti-ganti.

Untuk mengenal pelesit itu orang harus melihat bandar bibirnya yang licin di bawah hidung, dan kalau dia berjalan maka tumitnya yang ke depan. Sungguh amat menakutkan dan mengasyikkan cerita ibu itu, dan kami duduk sekelilingnya berlindung dalam selimut; agak ketakutan, amat menyenangkan benar.

Sedang kami begitulah tiba-tiba terdengar ribut di luar rumah dan kemudian terdengar opas penjaga rumah kami berteriak-teriak memanggil ayah dari luar, “Inyik! Inyik!”

Kami semua terkejut.

Ibu berhenti bercerita.

Ayah terdengar bergegas membuka pintu kamar kantornya dan terus ke beranda.

“Aduh, ada lagi kampung yang perang, barangkali,” seru ibu.

Dan kami pun mengikutinya ke beranda.

Di masa itu ayah bekerja sebagai demang di Kerinci dan dalam tahun dua puluhan dan tiga puluhan itu keadaan daerah itu seperti di masa abad pertengahan saja. Karena soal pembagian air sawah, soal kerbau dan sebagainya, satu kampung lalu menyatakan perang kepada kampung yang lain. Senjata yang lazim dipakai dalam perang ini ialah batu sebesar telur ayam diayunkan ke arah musuh dengan tali-tali istimewa untuk pengayunkannya. Baru semingguan yang lalu ayah pergi ke Sungai Deras menghentikan perang semacam ini dan dia kena peluru batu kesasar yang merenggutkan topi helmnya dari kepalanya. Untunglah tidak tepat, kenanya. Hanya pening juga kepala ayah beberapa lama dibuatnya.

Baru setelah perkelahian dapat dihentikan oleh polisi dengan menembakkan senapan berkali-kali  ke udara dan kedua kepala  kampung dari desa yang berperang itu dipertemukan, dan mereka mendengar ayah nyaris kena lemparan batu mereka yang berperang, maka kepala-kepala  kampung itu meminta-minta maaf dan ampun, dan berkata bahwa mereka tidak bermaksud memerangi ayah sama sekali. Akhirnya karena menyesalnya mereka dengan batu yang menyasar itu, maka dengan mudah mereka menerima usul perdamaian ayah dan membagi air untuk sawah-sawah mereka dengan berdamai.

Ketika opas penjaga rumah berteriak-teriak memanggili ayah, hari hampir jam sembilan malam. Di bawah, beberapa orang polisi dengan komandannya berdiri, dan tidak terdengar olehku mula-mula apa katanya pada ayah. Kami segera juga disuruh masuk, oleh ayah, kembali.

Ayah masuk sebentar dan dengan cepat berpakaian. Dia mengenakan sepatu kulitnya yang panjang, mengenakan pistolnya di pinggangnya, topi helmnya, dan kemudian segera ke luar.

Tiada lama kemudian ibu masuk, dan berkata, “Nah, kini anak-anak semua, tidurlah. Ayah mesti pergi. Ada kuli kontrak lari.” Kelihatan ibu merasa cemas di hatinya.

Esok pagi kami dengar dari Abdullah, opas penjaga rumah bahwa ada lima kuli kontrak yang melarikan diri dari onderneming Kayu Aro, setelah menikam opzichter Belanda.


Ketika kami pulang sekolah jam 12 siang, ayah belum kembali juga. Ketika dekat magrib, ayah belum juga pulang. Ibu mulai cemas dan sebentar-sebentar dia ke depan melihat ke jalan. Beberapa  kali aku dengar ibu bercakap-cakap  dengan opas Abdullah, yang berkata supaya ibu jangan khawatir.

Ayah tiba ketika hari telah malam dan kami semua telah disuruh tidur. Aku dengar ayah bercakap-cakap dengan ibu sampai jauh malam dan kemudian rumah pun sunyilah.

Esoknya kami dengar bahwa kuli-kuli kontrak itu telah tertangkap semuanya dan telah dibawa ke penjara. Penjara terletak di bawah bukit kecil di belakang rumah kami. Dari kebun buah-buahan dan sayur di belakang rumah, jika kami naik pohon jeruk  yang  besar,  dapatlah  dilihat  lapangan  belakang  penjara,  tempat  orang hukuman dibariskan tiap hari atau diberi hukuman.

Dari kebun itulah terdengar suara orang gila yang ditahan dalam penjara, menyanyi-nyanyi atau memaki-maki. Mengapa di masa itu orang gila dimasukkan penjara dan tidak ke rumah sakit tidak jadi pertanyaan bagiku, waktu itu. Kadang- kadang asyik juga aku mendengarkan nyanyiannya yang beriba-iba, kemudian lantang mengeras, dan lebih hebat lagi jika telah mulai memaki-maki, amat sangat kotornya kata-katanya. Sungguh sedap selagi kecil itu dapat mendengar perkataan-perkataan yang terlarang demikian.

Kemudian ibu bercerita bahwa ayah dan polisi dapat menangkap tiga orang kuli kontrak yang melawan opzichter Belanda itu. Hanya tiga orang, tidak lima orang seperti diceritakannya semula. Mereka tertangkap dalam hutan tidak jauh dari onderneming, separuh kelaparan dan kedinginan dan penuh ketakutan. Mereka tiada melawan sama sekali. Dan ketika melihat ayah maka mereka segera datang menyerah dan berkata, “Pada kanjeng kami menyerahkan nasib dan memohon keadilan.”

Menurut ibu, yang didengarnya dari ayah, sebabnya terjadi penikaman terhadap opzichter Belanda itu karena opzichter itu selalu mengganggu istri mereka. Dan rupa-rupanya kuli-kuli kontrak itu sudah mata gelap dan tak dapat lagi menahan hati melihat opzichter itu mengganggu istri-istri mereka. Itulah maka mereka memutuskan ramai-ramai menyerang si opzichter.

“Tidak salah, mereka itu,” kata ibu yang rupanya merasa gusar sekali melihat kuli-kuli kontrak yang ditangkap itu. “Mestinya opzichter jahat itulah yang ditangkap,” tambah ibu.

“Mengapa tidak ditangkap, dia?” tanya kami anak-anak.

Ibu memandangi kami, dan berkata dengan suara yang lunak, “Karena yang berkuasa Belanda! Belanda tidak pernah salah.”

“Tetapi dia yang jahat,” kata kami mendesak ibu.

“Ibu tidak mengerti,” sahut ibu, “tapi jangan kamu tanya-tanya pada ayah tentang ini. Dia sudah marah-marah saja, sejak pulang dari onderneming.”

Ketika ayah pulang kantor dan setelah dia makan, maka kami semua dipanggil ke kamar kerjanya. Kelihatan muka ayah agak suram. Sesuatu yang berat menekan pikirannya. Setelah kami berkumpul, maka ayah berkata, “Tidak seorang yang boleh ke sana. Ayah larang anak-anak pergi ke kebun belakang. Ayah akan marah sekali pada siapa saja yang melanggar larangan ini.”

“Mengapa, ayah?” tanya kami.

“Turut saja perintah ayah!” sahut ayah dengan pendek.

Kami pun  mengerti. Jika ayah telah bersikap demikian tak ada gunanya membantah-bantah.  Tapi hati kami penuh macam-macam pertanyaan, Mengapa dilarang? Ada apa?

Segera juga ibu kami serbu, hingga akhimya untuk mendiamkan  kami ibu pun berkata bahwa esok hari ketiga kuli kontrak itu akan diberi hukuman. Sebelum perkaranya dibawa ke depan hakim maka mereka akan dilecuti, karena telah menyerang opzichter Belanda.

Kecut  hatiku  mendengar cerita  ibu. Rasanya badanku dingin menggigil. Dan setelah masuk kamar tidur, amat lama baru aku bisa tidur. Pikiranku terganggu mendengar kuli-kuli kontrak yang akan dilecuti esok pagi di penjara. Ketakutan berganti-ganti dengan nafsu hendak melihat betapa manusia melecut manusia dengan cemeti.

Pagi-pagi saudara-saudaraku yang harus ke sekolah telah berangkat. Dan kami yang belum bersekolah diberi tahu lagi oleh ayah dan ibu supaya jangan pergi ke kebun di belakang rumah kami.

Dari opas Abdullah kudengar mereka akan dilecut mulai jam sembilan pagi. Semakin dekat jam sembilan semakin resah dan gelisah rasa hatiku. Hasrat hatiku melihat mereka dilecut bertambah besar saja.

Ketika hari telah hampir lima menit menjelang jam sembilan hatiku tak dapat lagi kutahan, dan  sambil berteriak pada ibu bahwa aku pergi bermain ke rumah sebelah maka aku lari ke luar pekarangan di depan rumah, ke jalan besar, berlari terus memutar jalan ke jalan besar di belakang rumah, masuk pekarangan rumah sakit, terus berlari ke belakang rumah sakit yang berbatasan  dengan kebun di belakang rumah  kami, memanjat pagar kawat, meloncat ke dalam kebun, dan dengan napas terengah-engah memanjat pohon jeruk, hingga sampai ke dahan di atasnya tempat aku biasa duduk dan melihat-lihat ke bawah, ke pekarangan belakang rumah penjara.

Pekarangan itu ditutupi batu kerikil. Di tengah-tengahnya telah terpasang tiga buah bangku kayu. Sepasukan kecil polisi bersenjata senapan berdiri berbaris di sisi sebelah  kiri. Kemudian kulihat ayah  keluar dari gang menuju pekarangan di belakang penjara, di sebelahnya kontrolir orang Belanda, asisten wedana, polisi, dokter rumah sakit. Dan kemudian dari gang lain keluarlah tiga orang yang akan dilecuti itu. Mereka hanya memakai celana pendek dan tangan mereka diikat ke belakang, diiringi oleh kepala rumah penjara dan dua orang polisi.

Hatiku berdebar-debar, dan takut kembali meremasi perutku. Akan tetapi aku tak hendak  meninggalkan tempat persembunyianku. Aku hendak melihat juga apa yang akan terjadi.

Ketika kuli kontrak itu dibariskan dekat bangku-bangku kayu yang telah tersedia, mereka disuruh jongkok. Kepala rumah penjara kemudian membacakan sehelai surat. Dan aku lihat kontrolir mengangguk-angguk. Ayah berdiri tegang tidak bergerak-gerak. Kemudian ketiga kuli kontrak itu dibuka ikatan tangan mereka di belakang, ditidurkan telungkup di  atas perut  mereka di bangku, dan  kaki  dan tangan mereka diikatkan ke bangku.

Tiga orang mandor penjara kemudian maju ke depan, kira-kira 2 meter dari setiap bangku, di tangan mereka sehelai cemeti panjang yang hitam warnanya. Kemudian kepala penjara berseru, “Satu!”

Suaranya keras dan lantang. Tiga orang mandor penjara mulai mengayunkan tangan mereka ke belakang. Cemeti panjang berhelak ke udara seperti ular hitam yang hendak menyambar, mengerikan. Dan terdengarlah bunyi membelah udara, mendengung tajam; lalu bunyi cemeti melanggar daging manusia, yang segera disusuli jeritan kuli kontrak yang di tengah melonjakkan kepalanya ke belakang. Dari mulutnya yang ternganga itu keluarlah suara jeritan yang belum pernah aku dengar dijeritkan manusia: melengking tajam membelah udara, menusuk seluruh hatiku, dan membuat tubuhku seketika lemah-lunglai.

Karena amat sangat terpengaruh dengan apa yang kulihat, maka ketika hendak turun dan pohon aku salah meletakkan kakiku ke bawah dan menjerit terkejut, jatuh ke bawah amat sakitnya. Beberapa saat aku terhentak diam di tanah, dan kemudian aku menangis kesakitan. Opas Abdullah yang sedang berada di dapur datang ke belakang, melihat aku terbaring lalu cepat menggendongku ke rumah.

Sikuku amat sakitnya. Ibu memeriksanya dan berkata, “Sikumu  terkilir. Dan lalu ditambahnya,  “Ayah  akan  marah  sekali,  engkau melanggar perintahnya. Mengapa kau di kebun?”

Aku hanya menangis. Aku segera dibawa ke rumah sakit dan setelah manteri rumah sakit menarik tanganku, yang rasanya menambah sakit sikuku saja, dan kemudian tanganku diperban, aku disuruhnya tidur dan tidak boleh bermain-main.

Petangnya ayah pulang dari kantor. Aku ketakutan saja menunggunya. Setelah dia makan kudengar ibu bercakap-cakap dengan ayah. Tentu mengadukan aku, pikirku dengan takut.

Tak lama kemudian ayah datang melihat aku. Dia duduk di pinggir tempat tidur. Ditatapnya mukaku diam-diam, hingga aku pun terpaksa menundukkan mata.

“Engkau melihat semuanya?” tanya ayah.

“Ya. Aku salah. Ayah,” kataku dengan suara gemetar ketakutan.

Ayah pegang tanganku dan kemudian berkata dengan suara yang halus sekali, akan tetapi yang amat sungguh-sungguhnya,

“Jika engkau besar, jangan sekali-kali kau jadi pegawai negeri. Jadi pamong praja! Mengerti?”

“Ya, Ayah!” jawabku.

“Kau masih terlalu kecil untuk mengerti,” kata ayahku. “Sebab sebagai pegawai negeri orang harus banyak menjalankan pekerjaan yang sama sekali tak disetujuinya. Bahkan yang bertentangan dengan jiwanya. Untuk kepentingan orang yang berkuasa, maka sering pula yang haram menjadi halal, dan sebaliknya.”

Kelihatannya ayah hendak meneruskan pembicaraannya. Tetapi dia lalu berhenti dan cuma berkata, “Ah, tidurlah engkau!”






The Contract Coolies

Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.

She currently teaches English literature courses at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Novita can be reached at or



The Contract Coolies


The lights on the porch and in the front room were turned off. Ayah, Father, was writing in his study. And we children were gathered in our parents’ bedroom, listening to Ibu, Mother, tell us a bedtime story. Ibu told us about a pelesit, man-eater, who could transform from a human into a tiger.

To recognize a pelesit, Ibu said, look for a shallow groove at the center of his clean-shaven, upper lip; and when he walks, his heels point forward.

Ibu’s story was very frightening yet thrilling, and we, wrapped in a blanket, huddled around her, slightly scared, enormously enthralled.

All of a sudden, there was a noise outside the house, followed by our opas, gatekeeper, calling for Ayah. “Sir! Master!”

We were all startled.

Ibu stopped telling her story.

We heard Ayah open his office door and hurry to the porch.

“Oh, dear, perhaps there’s war again in one of the villages,” Ibu exclaimed.

And we followed her to the porch.

In those days, my father worked as a demang, district head, for the Kerinci Regency, in Jambi Province, Sumatra; and in the 1920s and 1930s, conditions there were like those in the Middle Ages. Simple issues, such as the distribution of irrigation water for rice fields, problems regarding buffaloes, etc., could cause villages to declare war on one another.

The weapons most commonly used in these wars were slings made with special ropes to hold stones as big as chicken eggs. The sling was swung in an arc, releasing the stone with high-velocity force at the enemy.

Just a week ago, when my father went to the Deras River to stop a war there, a stray stone hit his helmet. Luckily, it was just a scrape. But, it still gave Ayah a headache for several days.

The war at Deras River ended only after police fired their rifles many times into the air, and the two leaders from the warring villages were brought together. After hearing that one of their stones had hit Ayah’s helmet, the village heads apologized, saying that they did not intend to hurt Ayah at all, and they asked his forgiveness. Because they were deeply sorry about the errant stone, both village heads quickly accepted Ayah’s proposed solution and peacefully divided the water for their fields.

When Abdullah the gatekeeper called out for my father that night, it was almost nine o’clock. Several police officers and their commander stood in the yard outside the house. I couldn’t hear what the commander told my father, because Ayah immediately sent Ibu and us children back inside.

When Ayah came back in, he quickly dressed. He pulled on his leather boots, strapped his gun to his waist, put on his helmet, and then left.

Not long after, Ibu came into our bedroom, looking worried. “Well, all of you go to sleep now. Your father left. Some contract coolies, laborers, ran away.”

The next morning, Abdullah the gatekeeper told us that five contract coolies had fled from the Kayu Aro onderneming, plantation, after stabbing a Dutch opzichter, supervisor.


When we came home from school at noon that day, my father had still not returned. By twilight, he had still not come home.

Ibu began to worry, and she kept going outside to look down the street. Several times, I heard Ibu talking to Abdullah, who kept telling her not to worry.

Ayah arrived late that night, after we children had been told to go to sleep. I heard him and my mother talking deep into the night, and then the house was quiet.

The next day, we heard that all the contract coolies had been caught and jailed.

The prison was located at the foot of a small hill behind our house. If we climbed up the large orange tree in the fruit and vegetable garden behind our house, we could see the prison yard, where, every day, prisoners were punished.

From our garden, we could hear the singing and cursing of imprisoned lunatics. At that time, I didn’t question why insane people were put in prison instead of an asylum. Sometimes I eagerly listened to their soulful singing, which became louder when they started cursing. For me, as a young child, hearing such forbidden words was delightful.

Ibu said that Ayah and the police had arrested the three contract coolies who had taken a stand against the Dutch supervisor. There were only three contract coolies, not five, as we had been told earlier. They were caught in a forest, not far from the plantation, hungry, cold, and filled with fear. They did not put up any fight. When they saw Ayah, they immediately surrendered and said, “To you, kanjeng, sir, we surrender our fate and beg for justice.”

Ibu said that Ayah told her that the coolies had stabbed the Dutch opzichter because he was always harassing their wives. Apparently, the contract coolies had gone berserk when they could no longer bear to watch the opzichter torment their wives.

“The contract coolies are not wrong,” Ibu fumed. “Instead, they should have arrested that evil opzichter.” Ibu was furious about the coolies’ arrest.

“Why was the Dutch opzichter not arrested?” we asked.

Ibu looked at us and said softly, “The Netherlands has the power. The Dutch are never wrong.”

“But he is the evil one,” we insisted.

“I don’t understand,” said Ibu, “but don’t ask your father about this. He has been in a bad mood since he came home from the plantation.”

After Ayah finished his dinner, he called all of us to his office. Ayah looked gloomy. Something heavy weighed on him, making him depressed. After we gathered, Ayah said, “No one is allowed to go into the backyard. I forbid all of you to go there. I will be very angry with anyone who violates this prohibition.”

“Why, Ayah?” we asked.

“Just follow my orders!” Ayah said shortly.

We understood. When Ayah behaved like that, there was no point in arguing. But our heads were full of questions: Why was it prohibited? What was wrong?

We immediately pestered Ibu with our questions.

She finally silenced us by saying that the three contract coolies would be punished the next morning. Even before the case was brought before a judge, they would be whipped for attacking the Dutch opzichter.

I was saddened to hear this. Shivering, I went to my bedroom. For quite some time, I couldn’t sleep. Hearing that the contract coolies would be flogged the next morning made me toss and turn. Fear alternated with an intense curiosity to see how humans lashed other humans with whips.

The next morning, my older brothers left early for school. The rest of us, who were not yet old enough to attend school, were reminded not to go to the garden behind our house.

I heard from Opas Abdullah that the whipping would start at nine o’clock. The closer the time came, the more restless and uneasy I became. I anxiously waited to watch the lashing.

At five minutes to nine, I could no longer restrain myself. I yelled to Ibu that I was going to play next door, then I ran through the front yard and onto a big road. I continued to run on the big road as it wound behind my house. There, I entered the prison’s hospital grounds.

The hospital backed up to the garden behind our house.

I climbed the wire fence that separated the hospital grounds from our garden and jumped into our backyard. Panting, I climbed the orange tree until I reached the branch where I always sat to look down into the prison yard.

The prison yard was covered with gravel. Three wooden benches had been placed in the center.

A small group of police, armed with rifles, was lined up on the left side of the yard.

I saw Ayah walk out of the alley that ran behind the prison toward the prison yard.

A Dutch controller, the district chief assistant, a police officer, and a physician from the hospital were with him.

Then the three contract coolies appeared from another alley. They only wore shorts and had their hands tied behind them. They were accompanied by the warden and three prison guards.

My heart was pounding and fear squeezed my stomach. But I did not want to leave my hiding place. I was too eager to see what would happen.

The contract coolies were told to line up near the wooden benches. The warden then read a document.

I watched the controller nod.

Ayah stood silently, straight and rigid.

The hands of the three contract coolies were untied. The men were each placed on a bench, lying on their stomachs face down, then tied to the bench by their legs and arms.

Three prison guards, each holding a black whip, then came forward. They halted about six feet from each bench.

The warden bellowed, “One!”

The prison guards swung their arms backward. The long whip snapped into the air like a black snake about to grab its prey. It was terrifying. A sound split the air, buzzing sharply; then came the sound of the whip ripping human flesh, immediately followed by the coolies’ screams as they jerked their heads back. From their open mouths came screams that I had never heard before: the sharp, shrill screams filled the air, penetrated my whole heart, and instantly weakened me.

I was so much affected by what I saw that I missed my step as I climbed down the tree. Startled, I yelled and fell down very hard. For a moment, I lay gasping on the ground, then cried out in pain.

Opas Abdullah, who was in the kitchen, came to the backyard and found me lying on the ground.  He quickly carried me to the house.

My elbow hurt badly.

Ibu examined it and said, “Your elbow is dislocated.” She added, “Ayah will be very angry; you violated his orders. Why were you in the garden?”

I just cried. Ibu took me to the hospital.

The hospital’s doctor pulled my hand to relocate my elbow, which only added to my pain. After he bandaged my arm, he told me to rest and not to play.

My father came home from work in the afternoon.

Afraid, I just waited for him. After he ate, I heard Ibu talking to him. I feared she was telling him about what had happened.

Shortly afterwards, Ayah came to see me. He sat down on the edge of the bed. He quietly looked at me, so I was forced to lower my eyes.

“Did you see everything?” Ayah asked.

“Yes. I did wrong, Ayah.” My voice trembled with fear.

Father took my hand and then softly but firmly said, “When you grow up, don’t ever become a civil servant. No civil service! Understand?”

“Yes, Yah!” I replied.

“You’re still too young to understand,” my father said. “People who are civil servants are forced to do many things they don’t approve of at all. Even if it goes against all their personal morals. For the benefit of those in power, what is otherwise sinful becomes lawful and vice versa.”

Ayah paused. It seemed he still had something to say. But finally, he only said, “Ah, nevermind. Go to sleep.”


Tukang Cukur

Budi Darma is an Indonesian novelist, essayist, and short-story writer. He is often cited as an absurdist writer. His novel Olenka (Balai Pustaka, 1980) won the 1980 Jakarta Art Council Prize. Other novels are Rafilus (Balai Pustaka, 1988) and Ny. Talis: Kisah mengenai Madras (PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 1996). Harmonium (Pustaka Pelajar, 1995) is his book of literary criticism. “Mata yang Indah (Beautiful Eyes)” was included in his short story collection, Kritikus Adinan (Bentang Budaya, 2002). Currently, Budi Darma is a professor of English literature at the Surabaya National University in Indonesia.

Published in October 2020. Copyright ©2020 by Budi Darma. Published with permission from the author. Translation copyright ©2020 by Novita Dewi.



Tukang Cukur


Gito, anak Getas Pejaten, kawasan pinggiran kota Kudus, setiap hari, kecuali Minggu dan hari libur, berjalan kaki pergi pulang hampir empat belas kilo, ke sekolahnya, sekolah dasar di Jalan Daendels. Karena banyak jalan menuju ke sekolahnya, Gito bisa memilih jalan mana yang paling disukainya. Kalau perlu, dia juga lewat jalan-jalan kecil yang lebih jauh, untuk menyenangkan hatinya.

Seperti anak-anak lain, Gito sehari hanya makan satu kali, setelah pulang sekolah. Juga seperti anak-anak lain, Gito tidak mempunyai sandal, apa lagi sepatu. Guru-guru pun bertelanjang kaki. Kalau ada guru memakai sepatu, atau sandal, pasti sepatu atau sandalnya sudah reyot.

Pakaian Gito, demikian juga pakaian teman-temannya, serba compang-camping, penuh tambalan, demikian pula pakaian para guru. Semua pakaian sudah luntur warnanya, dan kalau diwenter warnanya bisa tampak agak cerah, tapi dalam waktu singkat luntur lagi.

Gito tahu cara menangkal kelaparan. Kalau mau, dia bisa menangkap ikan di sungai tidak jauh dari rumahnya.  Pada waktu pulang dari sekolah, kadang-kadang Gito lewat Pasar Johar, tidak jauh dari setasiun jurusan Pati, Juana, Rembang, dan jurusan Pecangakan, Jepara. Di pasar itu dia bisa memunguti remah-remah gula jawa, gula yang bermanfaat untuk melawan rasa lapar.

Tidak jauh dari rumahnya ada pabrik bungkil kacang tanah, untuk pakan ternak. Kadang-kadang Gito juga memunguti remah-remah bungkil kacang tanah, meskipun dia tahu bungkil kacang tanah bisa menyebabkan sakit perut dan gondongen, leher bisa membengkak sampai besar.

Di rumah, kalau beras padi habis, ayah, ibu, dan Gito, satu-satunya anak ayah dan ibunya, makan beras jagung, dan kalau beras jagung habis, mereka makan ketela pohung.

Pada suatu hari, ketika  pulang dan melewati kedai gulai kambing kakek Leman, seorang laki-laki tua yang selalu memakai udeng Jawa di kepalanya, Gito dipanggil oleh kakek Leman. Gito diberi makan, lalu, seperti biasa, disuruh membersihkan rumput di pekarangan belakang kedai.

Kakek Leman bertanya: “’t tukang cukur di bawah pohon cemara?”

Kakek Leman membuka udengnya, lalu memutar tubuhnya, kemudian berkata: “Lihat ini,” sambil meminggirkan rambutnya.

Tampak bekas luka, bukan luka biasa, tapi agak dalam.

Kakek Leman bercerita, tanpa diketahui dari mana asal-usulnya, tiba-tiba pada suatu hari ada tukang cukur di bawah pohon cemara dekat simpang tiga jalan yang menghubungkan jalan Setasiun dengan jalan Bitingan. Beberapa langganan kakek Leman, kata kakek Leman, juga heran mengapa tiba-tiba ada tukang cukur di situ.

Di antara lima pelanggan kakek Leman yang pernah dicukur di situ, tiga orang telah dilukai kepalanya. Tukang cukur selalu meminta maaf, katanya tanpa sengaja, tapi semua korban yakin, tukang cukur itu memang sengaja melukai mereka.

Tukang cukur berkata, kata langganan kakek Leman, tukang cukur adalah pekerjaan yang paling mulia. Hanya tukang cukurlah yang berhak memegang-megang kepala orang lain. Kalau bukan tukang cukur, pasti orang yang dipegang kepalanya merasa dihina, dan marah.

Keesokan harinya ada sesuatu yang baru, yaitu kedatangan seorang guru baru bernama Dasuki, kabarnya datang dari sebuah kota besar, entah mana. Sekolah Gito mempunyai enam klas, mulai dari klas satu sampai dengan klas enam. Jumlah guru ada delapan, terdiri atas enam guru klas, satu wakil kepala sekolah, dan satu kepala sekolah.  Kalau ada guru berhalangan, mereka menggantikan guru yang berhalangan datang. Karena semua guru datang, Dasuki masuk ke semua klas, dan guru klas yang dimasuki klasnya harus ikut pelajaran Dasuki.

Dasuki terus menekankan, negara yang paling hebat di dunia adalah Rusia. Semua kota dan desa di Rusia serba bersih, semua penduduknya bahagia, makan enak-enak sampai kenyang.

“Lihat dokar itu,” kata Dasuki sambil mengacungkan tangannya ke arah jalan Daendels. “Lha, itu dia, kudanya kencing dan  berak sambil lari. Kotor. Di Rusia, semuanya sudah diatur dengan cermat. Tidak mungkin ada kuda kencing dan berak seperti di sini.”

Lalu, Dasuki menyambung ceritanya dengan kehebatan-kehebatan lain Rusia.

Banyak murid yang terkagum-kagum, mulutnya agak menganga. Ada juga guru yang kagum, ada juga guru yang tersenyum-senyum tidak enak.

Hanya beberapa minggu saja Dasuki mengajar, sesudah itu dia pergi dan tidak pernah kembali.

Pada suatu hari, dalam perjalanan pulang, Gito sengaja melewati jalan yang banyak pohon cemaranya. Dari kejauhan tampak tukang cukur itu sedang berbicara sendiri, nadanya memaki-maki. Begitu melihat Gito, tukang cukur memanggil Gito.

“Sini kamu,” kata tukang cukur. “Saya cukur.”

Tukang cukur berjalan mendekati, Gito berhenti seperti patung, tapi begitu tukang cukur sudah dekat, Gito lari kencang dengan kekuatan penuh.

Tukang cukur mula-mula ingin mengejar, tapi kemudian berhenti, sambil memaki-maki.

Akhir bulan September 1948 datang, dan di mana-mana terasa suasana panas dan serba mengancam. Banyak tentara memakai duk merah berdatangan, entah dari mana. Kata orang, itulah tentara PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia). Mereka berkeliaran, masuk keluar kampung, dan kebanyakan bergerombol di daerah sandulok (=pelacur), di pinggir kota sebelah timur. Kemudian, beberapa kali, selama dua puluh empat jam, terdengar tembakan-tembakan.

Makin hari makin banyak cerita mengenai orang hilang, orang dibunuh, dan macam-macam lagi yang kurang jelas.

Mata uang Republik Indonesia dinyatakan tidak berlaku, diganti dengan mata uang Pemerintah Komunis, mirip kupon. Harga semua barang makin melompat-lompat.

Pada suatu siang, ada pemandangan yang menakjubkan: tukang cukur berpakaian tentara, memakai duk merah, menenteng senjata, beserta dengan beberapa tentara lain masuk ke daerah di belakang rumah sakit, didahului oleh beberapa orang yang tangannya diikat.

Diam-diam Gito mengikuti mereka. Ketika sampai lapangan terbuka, mereka berhenti, dan Gito bersembunyi di balik semak-semak. Gito menyaksikan, orang-orang yang diikat tangannya digertak-gertak oleh tukang cukur dan teman-temannya, disuruh berdiri rapi, kemudian diberondong dengan serangkaian tembakan.

Keadaan makin gawat. Listrik tidak pernah menyala lagi. Tembakan-tembakan kadang-kadang terdengar, selama dua puluh empat jam sehari.

Keadaan menjadi lebih gawat, ketika pasukan Siliwangi yang khusus didatangkan dari Jawa Barat, masuk ke kota Kudus, untuk membersihkan pasukan PKI. Dalam berbagai pertempuran kecil-kecilan, beberapa tentara PKI berhasil melarikan diri. Sebagian lain ditangkap, dan beberapa tokohnya diarak ke alun-alun, dibawa ke bawah pohon beringin, kemudian ditembak. Gito datang dan melihat pemandangan yang sukar dipercaya: tukang cukur, berpakain preman, tidak lagi memakai pakaian tentara PKI, memberi perintah kepada orang-orang yang akan dihukum mati untuk berdiri dengan tegap dan rapi, kemudian melilitkan kain ke wajah-wajah mereka supaya mereka tidak bisa melihat regu penembak.

Beberapa kali hukuman tembak mati oleh pasukan Siliwangi dilakukan di alun-alun, dan semua orang boleh menyaksikan. Gito tahu, tentara PKI membunuh dengan diam-diam dan serba rahasia, tidak seperti pasukan Siliwangi. Dalam beberapa peristiwa hukuman mati itu tukang cukur tampak mondar-mandir dengan sikap gagah.

Kabar tidak jelas beredar, pada suatu hari tukang cukur itu dihajar oleh tentara Siliwangi, dengan tuduhan, dia membuat daftar orang-orang yang dibencinya untuk dihukum mati, tanpa bukti.

Hari demi hari berjalan terus, makin lama suasana makin mencekam, dan akhirnya, bulan Desember 1948 tiba. Pasukan Siliwangi telah meninggalkan Kudus, mengejar tentara-tentara PKI yang terus terdesak ke timur sampai Pati, Juana, Rembang, melebar ke Cepu, dan Blora.

Setelah Kudus ditinggal oleh pasukan Siliwangi, pada suatu hari, ketika fajar hampir tiba, seluruh kota Kudus terasa bergetar-getar, langit dilalui pesawat cocor merah yang terbang sangat rendah, datang dan pergi, datang dan pergi lagi. Pesawat cocor merah, itulah pesaswat kebanggaan Belanda. Begitu matahari terbit, pesawat-pesawat cocor merah mulai menyapu kota Kudus dengan tembakan-tembakan dahsyat. Peluru-peluru berat mendesing di sana sini. Jenasah bergelimpangan di sana sini pula. Beberapa bagian Getas Pejaten juga dihujani peluru, tapi hanya tempat-tempat tertentu. Kemudian, rumah Gito juga terhantam beberapa peluru.

Ayah Gito segera mengajak Gito dan ibunya lari dari pintu belakang, menyeberang jalan, masuk ke sebuah gang yang berliku-liku, mengungsi ke rumah pak Ruslan, sahabat ayah Gito.

Keluarga Ruslan menyambut mereka dengan baik, memberi mereka karet tebal untuk digigit kalau ada bom meledak, dan juga penutup kuping.

Mereka bertahan di tempat perlindungan bawah tanah hampir dua hari, tanpa makan. Ruslan membagikan pil untuk membuat perut kenyang.

Akhirnya, sekitar jam tiga siang, tank-tank Belanda, diikuti banyak panser, dan tentara-berlari-lari kecil, memasuki kota Kudus dari arah kota Demak. Kota Kudus dan seluruh daerah di pinggirannya resmi diduduki pasukan Belanda.

Selama hampir satu minggu Kudus bagaikan kota mati. Keluarga Ruslan meninggalkan rumahnya, entah pergi ke mana. Tentara-tentara Belanda masuk ke kampung-kampung, menangkap semua pemuda yang dicurigai, lalu dibawa entah ke mana.

Setelah keadaan tenang, Gito mulai sekolah, dan seperti biasa, dia berjalan kaki, makan hanya sekali sehari, dan kadang-kadang, waktu pulang, memilih jalan dan gang-gang yang berbeda-beda.

Pada suatu hari, ketika Gito pulang, ada sebuah jeep berjalan perlahan-lahan di jalan Bitingan, lalu dengan sigap Gito meloncat ke selokan, bersembunyi. Di dalam jeep ada dua orang berpakaian tentara Belanda, yaitu tukang cukur bertindak sebagai sopir, dan Ruslan duduk di sebelahnya.

Hampir setiap malam ada tembak-menembak: gerilyawan pejuang Indonesia masuk kota.

Hari demi hari berjalan terus, sampai akhirnya, Gito masuk ke SMP tidak jauh dari alun-alun.

Pada bulan Desember 1949, semua tentara Belanda ditarik, dan masuklah tentara Indonesia dari sekian banyak markas daruratnya, kebanyakan di daerah Gunung Muria. Gito mendengar, penarikan tentara Belanda adalah hasil Konferensi Meja Bundar di Belanda, antara wakil Indonesia dan wakil Belanda. Pasukan Belanda harus meninggalkan Indonesia, kecuali Irian Barat (sekarang Papua).

Tukang cukur dan Ruslan hilang tanpa jejak.

Ketika Gito sudah naik ke klas dua, suasana Kudus tegang lagi. Sekian banyak tentara yang tidak dikenal, semua mengenakan duk hijau  dan membawa senapan, berkeliaran di seluruh bagian kota. Seperti dulu, banyak di antara mereka menggerombol di kawasan sandulok.

Suasana makin hari makin muram, sampai akhirnya, sekitar jam satu malam, Gito terbangun mendengar tembakan tanpa henti tidak jauh dari rumah. Sekitar jam enam pagi suasana menjadi betul-betul senyap.

Tersebarlah berita, pertempuran hebat di bekas pabrik rokok Nitisemito, tidak jauh dari rumah Gito, telah berakhir. Sebagian tentara liar terjebak di bekas pabrik, dan sebagian melarikan diri, kemungkinan menuju ke arah gunung Merapi dan Merbabu. Gito baru tahu, tentara liar itu dikenal sebagai tentara NII (Negara Islam Indonesia), dan akan menjatuhkan pemerintah Indonesia, menjadikan Indonesia sebagai Negara Islam.

Ketika Gito tiba di bekas pabrik rokok, sudah banyak orang berkerumun di sana. Semua mayat tentara yang terjebak di pabrik sudah diangkut keluar, dibaringkan di pinggir jalan. Salah satu mayat itu tidak lain dan tidak bukan adalah tukang cukur.


The Barber

Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.

She currently teaches English literature courses at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Novita can be reached at or



The Barber


Every day, except Sundays and holidays, Gito, a child from Getas Pejaten, a suburb of Kudus, walked almost nine miles to an elementary school on Daendels Street. There were many footpaths leading to the school, so Gito could choose the route he liked most. If he felt like it, he could even choose alleys that were farther away.

Like every other child, Gito only ate one meal a day, after school. Also, like other children, Gito did not have any sandals, let alone shoes. Even the teachers were barefooted. If any of them wore shoes or sandals, their footwear was worn.

Gito’s clothes, as well as those of his friends, were shabby and covered with patches. The same was true for the teachers’ clothes. The colors were faded. Even the dyed colors — though slightly bright at first — faded away in a short time.

Gito knew how to ward off hunger. He could go fishing in the river near his house. And sometimes, when walking home from school, Gito passed the Johar market, which was not far from the train stations going to Pati, Juana, Rembang, Pecangakan, and Jepara. In that market, he could scavenge bits of brown sugar, the kind of sugar useful to fight his hunger.

Not far from his house was a peanut meal factory that produced animal feed. Sometimes Gito picked up the peanut meal crumbs, even though he’d been told that peanut meal could cause stomachaches and the mumps, which caused big swellings in the neck.

At home, after they finished the rice, Father, Mother, and Gito, who was an only child,  ate corn rice, and when they ran out of the corn rice, they ate cassava.

One day, on his way home, Gito passed Grandpa Leman’s goat curry stall. The old man, who always wore a Javanese udeng, headdress, called out to him. He gave Gito some food, then, as usual, told him to cut the grass in the plot behind the stall.

Grandpa Leman asked, “Gito, did you see a barber under a pine tree?”

Turning around, Grandpa Leman took off his udeng and, parting his hair, said, “Look at this!”

There were deep scars on his scalp.

According to Grandpa Leman’s story, one day, out of the blue, a barber appeared under one of the pine trees near the three-way intersection that connected Station Road with Bitingan Road. No one knew where he came from. Some of his customers, Grandpa Leman said, also wondered why there was suddenly a barber there.

Five of Grandpa Leman’s customers had their hair cut there; three of them came away with head injuries. The barber always apologized, saying it was an accident, but all the harmed patrons were convinced that the barber had deliberately injured them.

According to Grandpa Leman, the barber claimed that his profession was the noblest job. Only a barber had the right to touch the head of another person. Anyone whose head was touched by someone other than a barber would surely feel insulted and angry.

The next day at Gito’s school, something new happened: A new teacher named Dasuki arrived. He reportedly came from a big city. Gito’s school was comprised of six grades. There were eight teachers total: six classroom teachers, one vice principal, and one principal.  The principal substituted when a teacher was unable to come to work. But on that day, because all the teachers were present, Dasuki visited each classroom, and the teacher had to allow Dasuki to teach his lesson.

Dasuki emphasized that Russia was the most powerful country in the world. All cities and villages in Russia were clean, and all the inhabitants were happy and ate until they had their fill.

“Look at that buggy,” said Dasuki, pointing toward the Daendels Road. “Look! The horse is urinating and defecating while moving along. How dirty. In Russia, everything is carefully managed. There won’t be any horses urinating and defecating like you see here.”

Then, Dasuki continued talking about the other greatnesses of Russia.

Many students dropped their jaws in amazement. Some teachers were perplexed, others smiled uneasily.

Dasuki only taught for a week. He left thereafter and never returned.

One day, on his way home, Gito purposefully passed the road lined with pine trees. From a distance, he heard the barber loudly talking to himself. As soon as the barber saw Gito, he called to him.

“Come here,” said the barber. “I’ll give you a shave.”

As the barber approached him, Gito froze, but as soon as the barber got near, Gito sprinted away in full force.

The barber chased Gito, but then halted, cursing.

By the end of September 1948, it was hot everywhere and the atmosphere felt threatening. Many soldiers, wearing red headbands, appeared out of nowhere. People said they were the PKI — Indonesian Communist Party — army. They wandered around the village and mostly clustered in the sandulok, prostitutes’ red-light district, at the edge of the eastern part of the city.

Then, shots were heard. The shooting lasted twenty-four hours.

The number of stories about people gone missing, being killed, and other obscure incidents, escalated daily.

The currency of the Republic of Indonesia was declared worthless. It was replaced with a currency, issued by the Communist Government, that looked like a coupon. The prices of all goods were fluctuating.

One afternoon, there was a mystifying sight. Dressed in an army uniform and wearing his red headband, the barber, along with several other armed soldiers, entered the area behind the hospital. They were herding several people whose hands were tied like prisoners.

Gito secretly followed them. When they arrived at the open field, they stopped, and Gito hid behind the bushes. He watched, as the people whose hands were tied were tormented by the barber and his friends. The people were told to line up, then were gunned down.

The situation worsened. Electricity had gone out. Sometimes, shots were heard for twenty-four hours a day.

Tensions became even more serious when the Siliwangi troops, who were specially brought in from West Java, entered Kudus to clear PKI forces.

Several PKI soldiers managed to flee during the skirmishes.

Others were arrested. Some PKI leaders were paraded to the town square and shot under the banyan tree.

When Gito arrived at the town square, he could not believe his eyes. The barber no longer wore a PKI army uniform. Dressed in plain clothes, the barber ordered the PKI leaders to straighten up. Then the barber blindfolded them.

Again and again, the Siliwangi forces carried out the death penalty in the square. Everyone was allowed to watch.

Gito knew that, unlike the Siliwangi forces, the PKI army had done its killing in secret. During several executions, the barber was seen walking arrogantly back and forth.

According to rumors, the barber was beaten by the Siliwangi army, one day. He was accused of having made a list of people he disliked and having those people sentenced to death without proof.

Day after day, the killings continued, the atmosphere becoming more and more tense. Finally, in December 1948, the Siliwangi troops left Kudus to chase after the PKI soldiers, who were continuing to advance eastward to Pati, Juana, and Rembang, before moving on to Cepu, and Blora.

One day, after the Siliwangi forces had left Kudus, the entire city trembled. Just before the dawn, red-nosed P-51D Mustang fighter planes filled the sky. They flew very low, repeatedly flying back and forth. The red-nosed planes were the pride of the Netherlands. As soon as the sun rose, the planes bombed Kudus heavily. The whistle of hand grenades and artillery fire could be heard far and wide. Dead bodies lay scattered here and there. Parts of Getas Pejaten were also bombed. Gito’s house was hit by several bullets.

Gito’s father immediately told him and his mother to run out the back door. They crossed the road and, running through a winding alley, fled to Ruslan’s house. Ruslan was Gito’s father’s best friend.

Ruslan’s family welcomed them. They gave them earplugs and a thick piece of rubber to bite on should a bomb explode nearby.

They stayed in the underground shelter for almost two days without food. Ruslan handed out pills that stilled their hunger.

Finally, around three o’clock in the afternoon on the second day, Dutch tanks, followed by many armored vehicles and foot soldiers, entered Kudus from the direction of Demak. Kudus and the entire surrounding area was now officially occupied by Dutch forces.

For almost a week, Kudus was like a dead city. Ruslan’s family left their house; no one knew where they went.

The Dutch soldiers entered the villages and arrested all the young men who they suspected of being members of the Siliwangi army. The soldiers took their prisoners somewhere unknown.

After the situation had calmed down, Gito went back to school. As usual, he walked to school, ate only once a day, and sometimes chose different paths and alleys for his walk home.

One day, when Gito was on his way home, a jeep turned slowly onto Bitingan Road. Gito swiftly jumped into the ditch to hide. The two men in the jeep, dressed in Dutch army uniforms, were the barber, who drove, and Ruslan.

Skirmishes began occurring almost every night when the Indonesian guerrilla fighters entered the city. These conflicts continued day after day until Gito entered middle school, not far from the town square.

In December 1949, all Dutch troops withdrew, and Indonesian soldiers emerged from their many emergency headquarters, which were mostly in the Muria Mountain area.

Gito heard that the withdrawal of the Dutch army was the result of the Round Table Conference, held between Indonesian and Dutch representatives, in the Netherlands. Except for West Irian — now Papua — Dutch troops had to leave Indonesia.

The barber and Ruslan disappeared without a trace.

When Gito graduated to the second year of middle school, the atmosphere in Kudus tensed again. Many unidentifiable soldiers, all wearing a green headband and carrying guns, roamed through the city. Like before, many of them congregated in the red-light district.

The atmosphere grew increasingly gloomy. Then, very early one morning, around one o’clock, continuous artillery fire awakened Gito. Around six o’clock that morning, a deep silence fell over the city.

News spread that the heavy fighting in the former Nitisemito cigarette factory, not far from Gito’s house, was over. Some of the militia were trapped in the former factory, and some fled, possibly heading towards Mount Merapi and Merbabu. Gito found out that the militia was known as the NII (Indonesian Islamic State) army.  They intended to overthrow the Indonesian government and turn Indonesia into an Islamic State.

When Gito arrived at the former cigarette factory, many people were already gathered there. The bodies of the soldiers trapped in the factory had been carried out of the building and laid on the side of the road. One of the bodies was none other than that of the barber.






Bupati di Tengah Kemelut

Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.


Read some of his essays and book reviews at: and

He can be reached at

Published in August 2020. Copyright ©2020 by Oni Suryaman. Published with permission from the author.




Bupati di Tengah Kemelut


Purwodadi, Oktober 1901

Waktu mendekati tengah malam, langit tidak berbulan. Soeroto berjongkok di antara batang-batang tebu mengawasi rumah penjaga perkebunan tebu di pinggir ladang. Tiba-tiba tak jauh dari tempatnya terlihat sosok belasan orang mengendap-ngendap mendekat dari arah utara, yang bersebelahan dengan hutan. Gerombolan ini membawa parang dan kapak.

Soeroto sudah mengikuti gerak-gerak kawanan ini sejak beberapa hari yang lalu. Dia mendapatkan kabar burung bahwa akan ada perampokan uang gaji perkebunan tebu. Dia mendekat dengan hati-hati.

Kawanan perampok ini mendekati rumah tersebut, lalu menyebar mengitari rumah, menjagai jalan keluar lewat pintu maupun jendela. Tidak lama kemudian, seorang bertubuh gempal yang sepertinya adalah pemimpin gerombolan ini, mengetuk pintu depan rumah.

Soeroto menggeser tempat sembunyinya supaya bisa melihat lebih jelas.

Ketukan yang makin lama terdengar semakin keras bahkan kasar dan sepertinya membangunkan penghuni rumah.

Kabar burung tentang perampokan rumah orang-orang kaya dan pabrik gula ternyata benar. Masalah seperti ini bisa memperburuk kemelut antara Raden Mas Adipati Brotodiningrat, tuannya, dengan Residen Donner. Residen Donner pasti menuduh tuannya ada dibalik semua kejadian ini.

“Siapa di luar? Ada apa mengetuk pintu malam-malam?” terdengar suara Sarmin, penjaga kebun.

“Ada uang 400 gulden di dalam rumah ini. Menyerahlah, sebelum pintu rumah saya dobrak!” teriak kepala para perampok itu.

“Kau sendirian, berani-beraninya merampok rumahku. Aku Sarmin, penjaga kebun tebu, jago daerah ini!”

Sementara itu Soeroto menimbang semua kejadian dalam jarak aman. Sarmin mungkin bisa mengalahkan kepala rampok ini bila bertarung satu lawan satu, tetapi tidak mungkin menang melawan belasan orang sekaligus. Soeroto menghitung jumlah kawanan perampok ini, lalu memutuskan lebih baik untuk tidak campur tangan.

Sarmin mendorong pintunya terbuka dengan kuat dan hampir saja menjungkirkan sang perampok itu.

Namun dengan cepat dia berdiri tegap dan tertawa dan melangkah masuk, tetapi dengan satu gerakan cepat Sarmin langsung menempelkan parang pada lehernya sambil tersenyum penuh kemenangan.

Kepala rampok tidak terlihat gelisah. Dia menoleh ke arah pintu belakang dan dengan santai berkata, “Coba kau lihat istrimu di sana.”

Ternyata para perampok telah berhasil menyelinap masuk dari belakang pada saat Sarmin berada di depan bersiap menghadapi kepala rampok. Istrinya telah disandera. Sarmin tidak punya pilihan kecuali menyerah.

Soeroto pun tidak bisa berbuat apa-apa lagi selain meninggalkan tempat ini diam-diam, dan tidak menunda waktu lagi untuk melaporkan peristiwa ini kepada junjungannya, Raden Brotodiningrat.


Madiun, Desember 1901

Suasana di Karesidenan Madiun terlihat tidak biasa, wajah-wajah tegang tampak pada orang yang sedang berada di sana. Penjagaan di pintu masuk kantor karesidenan terlihat lebih ketat dari biasanya. Di ruangan kerja, Residen Madiun, J. J. Donner sedang rapat dengan Patih Madiun, Mangoen Atmodjo, dan Kepala Jaksa Madiun, Adipoetro.

“Residen Donner, kita harus menangkap para kepala jago di daerah Madiun dan sekitarnya. Tanpa mereka, para penjahat lain tidak akan berani melakukan perampokan lagi,” ujar Jaksa Adipoetro.

“Benar Residen, begitu pula dengan kepala pengairan Kartoredjo. Dia punya hubungan dekat dengan para kepala rampok dan jago. Kartoredjo juga menjadi tangan kanan dari bupati lama Brotodiningrat. Brotodiningrat pasti diam-diam masih memegang kendali dunia hitam melalui Kartoredjo,” imbuh Patih Atmodjo.”

Donner mondar-mandir di ruang rapat. Dengan dahi berkerut, dia berkata, “Soeradi, pencuri tirai dan taplak milik karesidenan, memang sudah tertangkap di Ponorogo. Namun, pencurian dan perampokan terus terjadi. Saya yakin, bahwa Brotodiningrat berada di balik semua perampokan ini.”

Jaksa Adipoetro berusaha memberikan jalan keluar, “Kita bisa meningkatkan jaga malam.”

Namun Donner mengabaikannya. Dia berkata dengan pelan, “Menurut saya, kejadian ini lebih dari sekadar tindak kejahatan. Brotodiningrat pasti sedang mengincar melakukan sesuatu yang lebih besar. Dia memang ingin membuat Jawa bergolak kembali, seperti yang dilakukan oleh Diponegoro.”

Donner berjalan menuju tempat duduk Patih Atmodjo dan meneruskan, “Dengan menimbulkan kekacauan seperti ini, dia mau melemahkan kedudukan pemerintah Hindia Belanda. Saya juga menduga dia memanfaatkan para kiai-kiai Islam untuk memperkuat kedudukannya. Patih Atmodjo, bagaimana pengamatanmu dengan Kiai Kasan Ngalwi?”

Patih Atmodjo membuka kertas laporan yang ada di hadapannya. “Kiai Kasan Ngalwi sering memimpin arak-arakan sambil berdoa di sepanjang jalan-jalan kampung. Dia pasti sedang menarik dukungan dari rakyat untuk mendukung pemberontakan Brotodiningrat.”

Wajah Donner tampak cemas dan gelisah. Dia duduk, lalu berdiri lagi. “Pemberontakan sudah berada di depan mata. Saya tidak ingin kita kecolongan. Saya akan memerintahkan supaya senjata api dibagikan kepada orang Eropa untuk membela diri. Saya juga akan memerintahkan penjagaan bersenjata di sekitar stasiun Paron untuk mengamankan kereta tebu. Kalian berdua tetap amati gerak-gerik para pengikut Brotodiningrat. Keadaan sudah gawat. Kita harus waspada.”

“Siap Residen,” jawab patih dan kepala jaksa bersamaan.


Yogyakarta, Januari 1902

Soeroto, telik sandi Brotodiningrat, berkuda memasuki kawasan Pakualaman Yogyakarta. Dia baru saja tiba dari Madiun untuk menghadap.

Penjaga kawasan Pakualaman sudah mengenal Soeroto dan langsung mengizinkannya masuk.

Brotodiningrat sedang di kamar peristirahatannya saat mendengar derap kuda mendekat. Melewati sela-sela jendela dia cari tahu siapa pendatang itu. Brotodiningrat sudah lama menunggu kabar dari Madiun, kedatangan Soeroto sudah dia nanti-nantikan. Dia melangkah cepat menuju pendopo penerima tamu.

“Salam hormat, Raden,” Soeroto langsung memberi hormat saat Brotodiningrat masuk pendopo.

“Soeroto! Sudah lama saya menunggu kedatanganmu. Duduklah, dulu. Kabar apa yang kau bawa dari Madiun?”

Soeroto menunggu Brotodiningrat duduk terlebih dahulu, lalu menyusul duduk. “Keadaan di Madiun semakin gawat, Raden,” kata Soeroto.

Brotodiningrat berusaha menangkap arah berita ini. “Coba ceritakan dengan jelas apa yang sedang terjadi di Madiun.”

“Baiklah. Raden. Masih ingat pencurian tirai dan taplak meja di rumah Residen Donner pada bulan Oktober tiga tahun yang lalu? Kabar ini masih berkaitan dengan peristiwa itu.”

“Bagaimana mungkin saya lupa dengan kasus itu. Kasus itulah yang membuat saya diasingkan dari Madiun dan tinggal di kota ini,” jawab Brotodiningrat dengan nada kesal.

“Sekarang pencurian seperti itu semakin meluas. Bukan hanya pencurian, tapi yang ada juga dilakukan adalah pembakaran kebun tebu di sekitar Madiun. Baru-baru saja terjadi perampokan di rumah penjaga kebun tebu dekat pabrik gula di Purwodadi. Mereka berhasil merampok uang gaji perkebunan tebu sebesar 400 gulden. Perampok juga menyasar orang-orang kaya di Ngawi dan Magetan.” Nada suara Soeroto terdengar semakin gawat.

Brotodiningrat masih terlihat tenang menerima kabar berita ini. “Sudah kukatakan dulu kepada residen bagaimana cara menanganinya. Tapi residen baru ini memang keras kepala dan tidak mau mendengarkan orang yang sudah berpengalaman menangani kasus seperti ini. Residen Donner ini tidak seperti Residen Mullemeister pendahulunya. Mullemeister mengerti cara orang Jawa menangani masalah seperti ini. Dia akan menyerahkannya sepenuhnya kepada bupati setempat lalu memberikan dukungan dana untuk itu. Bupati sekarang terlalu lemah, dia hanya piaraan Belanda. Mana kenal dia dengan dunia hitam. Dan kalau dia tidak kenal dunia hitam, bagaimana dia bisa mengendalikan mereka.”

Mata Soeroto menyorotkan kegelisahan, sepertinya ada yang ingin dia sampaikan.

“Kau terlihat gelisah, Soeroto. Apakah ada kejadian lain yang ingin kau sampaikan? Kalau hanya masalah meluasnya pencurian, saya pun sudah bisa menebaknya sejak diangkatnya bupati baru.”

Soeroto seperti masih ragu untuk untuk berbicara. Setelah menguatkan dirinya, dia berkata, “Raden dituduh sebagai kepala kraman.”

“Apa?” nada suara Brotodiningrat langsung meninggi.

“Berani sekali Donner menuduhku memberontak!”

Soeroto meneruskan, “Bukan hanya itu, dia juga banyak menangkap orang-orang dekat Raden. Asisten wedana, para polisi desa, bahkan Kiai Kasan Ngalwi, guru Raden, dan juga Kartoredjo, kepala pengairan dan pimpinan telik sandi Raden.”

Muka Brotodiningrat benar-benar memerah. “Kupikir dia sudah puas bisa menyingkirkan saya dari jabatan bupati. Sepertinya dia belum akan puas jika saya belum diasingkan keluar dari Jawa sebagai seorang penjahat.”

Soeroto melanjutkan, “Donner panik membabi buta, Raden. Dia membagikan senjata api kepada warga Eropa dan melapor ke Batavia bahwa akan ada peperangan baru di Jawa.”

“Donner sudah benar-benar gila. Perang baru di Jawa? Saya hanya ingin menjadi seorang bupati baik-baik yang bisa menjaga ketertiban dan ketenteraman di Madiun,” nada Brotodiningrat semakin meninggi.

“Hati-hati, Raden. Mereka bisa menangkap dan mengadili Raden. Guru Raden, Kiai Kasan Ngalwi sudah ditangkap,” kata Soeroto penuh kekhawatiran.

“Kau memang abdi yang setia, Soeroto. Beristirahatlah dulu. Kau pasti sudah lelah menempuh perjalanan panjang dari Madiun. Tinggal di sini satu dua hari sebelum kembali ke Madiun.”

“Baik, Raden,” jawab Soeroto seraya memberi hormat dan mengundurkan diri.


Malam itu Brotodiningrat sulit untuk tidur. Dia berpikir kemelut ini sudah selesai saat dia diasingkan ke Yogyakarta. Ternyata Donner masih mendendam. Sepertinya dia ingin membuktikan bahwa seorang residen Belanda memang lebih berkuasa daripada bupati pribumi. Putusan hakim atas penurunan dirinya dari jabatan bupati Madiun gara-gara kasus pencurian itu belum memuaskan Donner.

Pikiran Brotodiningrat melayang ke masa dia masih remaja. Dia masih ingat saat dia bersekolah di Surakarta dan tinggal di lingkup Kasunanan. Dia bisa melihat betapa agungnya Susuhunan Pakubuwono yang mampu berdiri tegak dan dihormati oleh para pejabat Belanda. Kejadian itu membekas dalam ingatannya sehingga dia bercita-cita menjadi seorang bupati yang bisa sejajar dengan seorang residen Belanda.

Dia belajar bahasa Belanda dengan rajin supaya bisa berbicara dengan orang Belanda sebagai rekan yang sejajar. Dia juga menyerap semua ilmu pemerintahan yang dia pelajari selama di sekolah calon pejabat.

Dia lalu dengan tekun menjalani masa magang sebagai seorang pejabat rendah, seorang juri tulis di Madiun. Dia sadar bahwa semuanya ini harus dijalani untuk mencapai cita-citanya, setara dengan orang Belanda.

Cita-citanya terlihat seperti menjadi kenyataan saat dia diangkat menjadi Bupati Sumoroto.  Semua orang, baik pribumi maupun Belanda menaruh hormat padanya.

Namun dia baru merasa benar-benar mampu mengejar impiannya saat bertemu Residen Madiun, Mullemeister, orang yang dianggapnya sebagai pembimbingnya. Mullemeisterlah yang mengusulkannya supaya diangkat menjadi Bupati Madiun. Mereka berdua bisa bekerja sama dengan baik. Sang Residen memberikan kebebasan baginya untuk mengurusi masalah pengairan, keamanan, dan sebagainya. Semua teladan sempurna yang dia pelajari selama duduk di sekolah pejabat bisa dia jalankan di sini, bersama dengan Residen Mullemeister.

Sayang, dia harus berpisah dengan guru dan sahabatnya, yang naik pangkat diangkat menjadi Residen Yogyakarta, berdampingan dengan Sultan Hamengkubuwono, Raja Yogyakarta. Jabatan itu sungguh pantas bagi seorang residen selihai Mullemeister. Namun kepindahan Mullemeister sungguh membawa malapetaka karena penggantinya Residen Donner adalah seorang gila kuasa yang tidak percaya pada pribumi.

Urusannya pun menjadi panjang. Dia harus diadili di Batavia. Untung Mullemeister mati-matian membelanya. Sayang, para pejabat di Batavia lebih ingin menyelamatkan muka mereka, atau lebih tepatnya muka Residen Donner. Bila tuduhan Donner ternyata tidak terbukti, pemerintah kolonial Hindia Belanda akan kehilangan muka.

Selama dia diadili dia diasingkan di Padang selama satu tahun. Dia beruntung sebab surat pembelaan diri yang dia kirimkan ke Ratu Belanda Wilhelmina dan Gubernur Jenderal Rooseboom diterima. Walaupun dia harus dicopot dari jabatan Bupati Madiun, dia diperbolehkan kembali ke Jawa dan hanya diberhentikan secara hormat serta diberi uang pensiun yang cukup tinggi. Dia pun dapat menempati rumah di Pakualaman, Yogyakarta, sampai saat ini.

Namun sekarang dia dituduh memberontak. Para pejabat Hindia Belanda tentu masih dihantui ketakutan Perang Jawa yang dikobarkan oleh Diponegoro. Tuduhan dirinya sebagai Diponegoro kedua adalah sebuah tuduhan yang tidak main-main. Bahkan mereka sudah berani menangkap gurunya, Kiai Kasan Ngalwi. Dia sadar dia perlu berhati-hati dalam melangkah dan memutuskan untuk bertukar pikiran dengan Mullemeister, sahabatnya.


Sejak diasingkan di Pakualaman, Yogyakarta, hubungan Brotodiningrat dengan dunia luar memang sebatas surat-menyurat dan surat kabar. Dia memang telah kehilangan kuasa. Namun bagaimanapun, kedatangan sepucuk surat dari Mullemeister bisa menghibur hatinya.

Di amplop surat tertulis,  penting dan rahasia. Brotodiningrat membawa surat itu ke ruang pribadinya. Dengan hati berdebar dia mengambil pembuka surat dan cepat-cepat membuka surat ini.

Beste Brotodiningrat,

Kiranya engkau telah mengetahui bahwa pemerintah kolonial telah mengutus Snouck Hurgronje untuk menyelidiki perkara yang terkait dengan tuduhan Donner terhadap dirimu. Hasil penyelidikannya sudah selesai, dan aku akan membocorkannya terlebih dahulu kepada dirimu.

Snouck memang seorang penyelidik yang handal. Dia fasih berbahasa Arab dan Jawa, sehingga bisa melakukan penyelidikan dengan mendalam. Dia juga mampu bertanya kepada banyak orang di Madiun untuk mendalami kasus ini. Dari penyelidikannya, bisa disimpulkan bahwa yang membuat kejahatan meningkat di Madiun justru adalah perbuatan Donner sendiri. Dia dengan gegabah menangkapi orang-orang kepercayaanmu yang selama ini memegang kendali dunia hitam. Setelah mereka semua ditangkapi, tidak ada yang mengendalikan para penjahat, dan mereka merajalela.

Tapi jangan takut, Snouck tidak menemukan bukti apapun yang memberatkan dirimu. Dia bahkan mengatakan bahwa Donner “sudah terlalu lelah” dan mengusulkan supaya Donner dipensiunkan dan beristirahat saja.

Namun mengenai kasus gurumu, Kiai Kasan Ngalwi, dia harus dikorbankan. Pemerintah kolonial tetap harus menjaga muka. Dia harus diasingkan, kalau tidak masyarakat bisa mengira bahwa pemerintah Hindia Belanda kalah kuat dengan Kiai Kasan Ngalwi. Tapi jangan khawatir, hak-haknya termasuk hak tanah, akan tetap dipertahankan, walaupun dia harus tetap diasingkan.

Semoga kemelut ini cepat berlalu. Snouck sepertinya sudah punya calon residen baru untuk menggantikan Donner. Pemerintah kolonial pun tidak ingin mengulangi kesalahan yang sama dengan mengangkat orang keras kepala seperti Donner  untuk menggantikannya. Kita semua sudah cukup pusing dengan semua urusan ini.

Salam hangat untuk keluargamu.

Met hartelijke groeten, Salam hangat,



Surat ini membawa sedikit kelegaan baginya. Mullemeister memang seorang sahabat yang bisa diandalkan.


Pakualaman, Yogyakarta, Pertengahan 1903

Soeroto kembali menghadap Raden Mas Adipati Brotodiningrat, junjungannya. Kali ini dia membawa kudanya dengan lebih santai sambil perlahan memasuki kawasan rumah Brotodiningrat. Raut mukanya juga terlihat lebih tenang dibandingkan dengan saat pertemuan dengan Brotodiningrat sebelumnya.

Penjaga pintu langsung menyilakan dirinya menunggu di pendopo. Tak lama kemudian, Raden Mas Adipati Brotodiningrat keluar menemuinya.

“Raden,” Soeroto memberi salam hormat.

“Silakan duduk, Soeroto. Kabar apa yang kau bawa kali ini?”

“Raden tentu sudah mendengar desas-desus terakhir mengenai Donner.”

“Apa yang kau ketahui tentang Donner?”

“Donner sudah putus urat di otaknya. Dia makin gila. Dia bahkan berani menuduh Susuhanan mau memberontak hanya karena Kanjeng Sunan mendapat sambutan meriah sewaktu berkunjung ke Semarang,” kata Soeroto separuh mencibir.

Brotodiningrat tidak bisa menyembunyikan kemenangan di wajahnya. “Dia memang benar-benar sudah gila. Untung pemerintah di Batavia cukup tanggap dan langsung memberhentikan orang tidak waras ini. Dia telah dihantui pikirannya sendiri, bahwa akan ada Diponegoro kedua. Dia benar-benar terlalu banyak berkhayal, sampai mengatakan bahwa aku adalah Diponegoro kedua ini.”

“Sepertinya begitu Raden,” tanggap Soeroto.

“Bagaimana kabar penggantinya di Madiun?” tanya Brotodiningrat penasaran.

Soeroto dengan semangat mencerita, “Residen Boissevain ternyata cukup cakap. Dia telah memecat jaksa kepala yang dulu bertanggung jawab menangkapi bawahan Raden. Semua pengikut Raden sepertinya cukup puas dengan tindakan residen baru ini. Mereka yang dulu dipecat karena tersangkut kasus ini pun sudah diberi jabatan baru, walaupun hanya jabatan kecil di Pacitan dan Ponorogo. Keamanan dan ketertiban tampaknya sudah pulih.”

Brotodiningrat terlihat sedikit termenung, melihat ke arah timur seolah mencoba menerawang ke arah Madiun.

“Sepertinya begitu. Tapi masih ada satu hal yang mengganjal pikiranku, Soeroto.”

“Apa itu, Raden? Apakah Raden masih berniat untuk kembali ke Madiun?” Soeroto seolah bisa membaca keinginan tuannya.

“Itu juga. Namun sepertinya sekarang masih terlalu dini. Kita masih harus melihat dulu perkembangan keadaan.”

“Apa gerangan yang menjadi ganjalan dalam pikiran Raden?” tanya Soeroto kembali.

“Kau sudah cukup lama menjadi abdi saya, Soeroto. Kau sudah mendampingi saya sejak dituduh mendalangi pencurian tirai di rumah residen.

Inggih, Raden.” Soeroto mengiakan.

“Aku ingin bertanya kepadamu sekarang. Menurutmu, bagaimana kedudukan kita sebagai orang Jawa di hadapan orang Belanda?” Brotodiningrat menatap Soeroto dengan tajam.

“Saya tidak berani menjawab, Raden. Biarlah orang-orang pintar seperti Raden yang memikirkan pertanyaan seperti itu.” Soeroto seperti kebingungan untuk bersikap, takut mengatakan hal yang salah sebagai seorang rakyat kecil.

“Kau harus mulai memikirkannya, Soeroto. Saya mencium akan ada angin perubahan. Mungkin bukan seperti munculnya seorang Diponegoro. Tapi dunia akan berubah.”

“Maksud Raden?”

“Merdeka, Soeroto. Merdeka. Merdeka untuk menentukan nasib sendiri, bebas dari pemerintahan kolonial Hindia Belanda.” Ada senyum tersungging di wajah Brotodiningrat, pada saat dia menerawang seperti menatap masa depan.

“Terlalu sulit bagi saya untuk membayangkan itu, Raden. Bagi saya, bila saya bisa mendapatkan sandang dan pangan, lalu atap untuk tidur, itu sudah cukup, Raden.”

“Tidak salah kau masih berpikir seperti itu, Soeroto. Saya pun baru belakangan ini terpikir hal demikian, setelah melalui prahara tak kunjung usai dengan Donner. Sejak itu, saya baru mulai merenungkan bagaimana kedudukan saya sebenarnya di hadapan pemerintah Hindia Belanda. Apakah saya benar-benar setara dengan residen? Atau saya sebenarnya sampai kapan pun akan tetap menjadi seorang kacung Belanda?” Brotodiningrat berdiri dari tempat duduknya lalu menyambung, “Residen Donner itu pikir saya adalah bawahannya, bukan pejabat yang setara. Padahal sudah ada pembagian tugas yang jelas. Dia mengurus perkara dengan Batavia dan urusan luar negeri Madiun, saya yang mengurusi perkara di dalam Madiun.” Nada suara Brotodiningrat kembali mendidih setiap kali memperbincangkan Donner.

“Apakah dia mendendam pada Raden sejak peristiwa itu?” Soeroto bertanya lembut.

“Mungkin juga. Tapi aku memang sering menjelek-jelekkannya dan membandingkannya dengan Mullemeister yang menurutku memang jauh lebih lihai. Mullemeister bisa berbaur dengan para pejabat setempat dan mengerti sopan santun Jawa.” Brotodiningrat berhenti sejenak lalu meneruskan dengan nada mengejek, “Donner tampaknya tersinggung.”

“Raden beruntung bisa kenal dengan Mullemeister.”

“Ya, saya memang beruntung. Mullemeister telah banyak membantu kasus saya sehingga bisa lolos dari dakwaan, walaupun aku tetap kehilangan jabatan. Ini justru makin menguatkan keyakinanku bahwa kedudukan kita, orang Jawa, tidak sejajar dengan Belanda.”

“Raden masih ingat dengan tulisan sepupu Raden, Raden Mas Tirto Adhi Soerjo, di Pembrita Betawi yang membela Raden dan mengatakan itu sebagai sebuah ketidakadilan? Banyak sekali orang memperbincangkan tentang tulisannya.”

“Bagaimana mungkin saya lupa? Sungguh hebat sepupu saya itu. Dia berani menulis di surat kabar kolom Dreyfusiana bulan lalu dengan huruf-huruf besar: SKANDAL DONNER. Dia mewawancarai banyak pejabat Belanda mengenai kasus ini. Harus saya akui pemberitaannya memberi pengaruh pada pendapat umum mengenai kasus ini, bahkan pendapat orang Eropa. Orang jadi tahu bahwa Donner itu memang gila!”

Brotodiningrat mengambil napas sebentar lalu melanjutkan dengan penuh semangat, “Dia juga dengan berani mengatakan bahwa saya harus diadili seperti halnya seorang Belanda, sama di hadapan hukum, berdasarkan bukti, bukan kabar burung.”

“Benar, Raden. Begitu pula yang dikatakan banyak orang,” Soeroto ikut bersemangat.

“Soeroto, tidak hanya dalam hal hukum kita harus setara dengan orang Belanda, tapi juga dalam pendidikan. Aku beruntung bisa sekolah di sekolah Belanda karena aku adalah seorang keturunan bupati. Tapi kamu, seorang biasa, tidak akan pernah punya kesempatan untuk bersekolah. Kamu hanya bisa menjadi kacung, atau telik sandi, seperti pekerjaanmu saat ini.”

Inggih, Raden.” Soeroto memberi hormat dan menunduk.

“Kulihat kau cukup cerdas. Andaikan kau bisa sekolah, kau mungkin bisa belajar bahasa Belanda, lalu menjadi seorang juru tulis atau bahkan seorang pengawas perkebunan tebu. Namun kau tidak bisa punya kesempatan seperti itu.”

“Saya tidak berani mimpi setinggi itu, Raden.” Soeroto masih menunduk.

“Harus, kau harus berani bermimpi. Soeroto, zaman akan berubah. Tirto sudah menerawangnya lebih jauh, dan saya membenarkan pikirannya. Kita harus memperjuangkan kesetaraan kita dengan Belanda,” lanjut Brotodiningrat dengan berapi-api.

“Apakah artinya kita harus bebas dari pemerintah kolonial Belanda, Raden?” tanya Soeroto.

“Kita harus memperjuangkan kesetaraan kita dengan Belanda!” tegas Brotodiningrat.

“Apa artinya itu, Raden?”

“Artinya harus ada Dewan Rakyat, yang berisikan orang-orang pribumi. Kita harus diberi kesempatan untuk menentukan nasib sendiri. Dewan Rakyat yang bisa memberi usul kepada Gubernur Jenderal.” Brotodiningrat semakin bersemangat.

“Pemikiran Raden terlalu maju, saya sulit untuk mengikutinya.”

“Tidak apa-apa, Soeroto. Saya malah mungkin menderita karena pemikiran yang terlalu maju ini. Mungkin pemerintah di Batavia diam-diam telah membaca pemikiran saya untuk memperjuangkan hak yang lebih setara bagi kita, orang pribumi.”

“Maksud Raden, bahwa Raden sebenarnya diberhentikan dari jabatan bupati karena terlalu berani menantang Belanda?” Ada nada tidak percaya dalam suara Soeroto.

“Pintar kau, Soeroto. Saya terlalu berani menantang Belanda. Mungkin memang belum saatnya buah kemerdekaan ini matang dan jatuh dari pohonnya. Sekarang bunga-bunga kecil baru bersemi malu-malu. Beberapa nantinya akan menjadi buah, dan beberapa di antaranya akan menjadi matang. Aku melihat itu di diri sepupuku, Tirto.”

Inggih, Raden.”

“Perjuangan masih panjang, Soeroto. Ingat kata-kataku ini, kemelut rakyat kita dengan Belanda seperti kasus Donner bukanlah yang terakhir. Kali ini kita menang, sebagian, tapi akan ada kemelut yang lebih besar nanti. Kau adalah abdi saya, bawalah semangat saya di masa depan, supaya bangsa kita tetap bisa menang bila berhadapan dengan Belanda.” Mata Brotodiningrat terlihat berapi-api penuh semangat, walaupun dia kehilangan jabatannya sebagai bupati dalam kemelut.


The Regent’s Turmoil

Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.

She currently teaches English literature courses at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Novita can be reached at or






The Regent’s Turmoil


Purwodadi, Central Java, Indonesia, October 1901

The moonless night crept toward midnight. Soeroto crouched among the sugarcane stalks and watched the house of the sugarcane plantation guard at the edge of the field. Suddenly, not far from him, he saw dozens of people approaching from the north side, next to the forest. The mob carried machetes and axes.

Soeroto had spied on this mob’s actions over the previous days. He had heard a rumor that they planned to burglarize the plantation and steal the workers’ wages. He moved stealthily closer to the house.

The band of bandits spread around the house, positioning themselves by the doors and windows. After a while, a stocky man, who appeared to be the leader, knocked on the front door.

Soeroto shifted in his hiding place to see better.

The knocks became louder and louder, trying to awaken the occupants of the house.

Apparently, the rumors Soeroto had heard about planned burglaries of the houses of the rich and the sugar factory were true. Conflicts like this could exacerbate the tension between Mas Adipati Brotodiningrat, Soeroto’s master, and Resident Donner. Resident Donner for sure was going to accuse his master of being behind this trouble.

“Who’s there?” a voice shouted from within. “Why are you knocking on the door at night?”

“You’ve 400 guilders in this house,” shouted the ring leader. “Surrender, before I break the door down!”

“You are alone! How dare you rob my house? I’m Sarmin, the plantation guard and the master of this area!”

Among the sugarcane stalks, Soeroto weighed the situation from a safe distance. Sarmin might be able to defeat this burglar if he fought one on one, but it would be impossible to win a fight against dozens of these thugs. Soeroto decided not to intervene.

Sarmin shoved the door open and almost made the burglar fall.

The man quickly straightened and laughed.

But with one swift movement, Sarmin put a machete to the robber’s neck and smiled triumphantly.

The burglar didn’t seem agitated. He looked toward the back door of the house and nonchalantly said, “Take a look at your wife over there.”

Sarmin turned and saw a group of burglars surrounding his wife. The burglars had entered the back door while Sarmin was dealing with their leader at the front door. Now, they had taken his wife hostage. Sarmin had no choice but to give up.

Soeroto could do nothing except leave quietly. He would report this incident to his master, Mas Adipati Brotodiningrat, immediately.



Madiun, East Java, Indonesia, December 1901

The atmosphere at the Dutch-ruled Madiun Residency felt unusual. People looked tense, and security at the resident’s office entrance was tighter than usual. In the office, the Resident of Madiun, J. J. Donner, was in a meeting with Judge Adipoetro, the chief prosecutor of Madiun, and Patih Mangoen Atmodjo, the vice regent of Madiun.

“Resident Donner, we have to arrest the indigenous gang leaders in Madiun and its surroundings,” said Judge Adipoetro. “Without these leaders, other criminals will not dare carry out another burglary.”

“It’s true, Resident,” added Patih Atmodjo. “Kartoredjo, the head of the irrigation department, also needs to be arrested. He not only has close ties to the gang leaders, but he was also the right-hand man of Brotodiningrat, the former Javanese regent of Madiun. Brotodiningrat must still be secretly in control of the criminals through Kartoredjo.”

Resident Donner paced the meeting room. Frowning, he said, “Soeradi, who stole curtains and tablecloths belonging to the residency, was caught in Ponorogo, but the stealing and burglaries continued. I believe Brotodiningrat is behind all of this unrest.”

“We could increase the night watch,” Adipoetro suggested.

Donner ignored him. “I think this theft of curtains and tablecloths was more than just a random crime,” he said quietly. “Brotodiningrat must be aiming for something bigger. He may want to create the same unrest on Java as the Javanese Prince Diponegoro did in 1825 with the Java War.”

Donner walked over to Patih Atmodjo’s seat and continued, “By prompting chaos like this, Brotodiningrat wants to weaken the position of our Dutch East Indies government. I also suspect that he used Islamic clerics to strengthen his position. Patih Atmodjo, what do you think of the teacher, Kiai Kasan Ngalwi?”

Patih Atmodjo opened the report in front of him. “Kiai Kasan Ngalwi often leads processions while praying along the village streets. He must be gathering support from the people to back the Brotodiningrat rebellion.”

Donner looked worried. He sat down, then stood up again. “Rebellion is in sight. I don’t want us to be caught by surprise. I will order firearms to be distributed to the Dutch Europeans for self-defense. I will also order the presence of armed guards around Paron station to protect the sugarcane train. The two of you continue to observe the movements of Brotodiningrat’s followers. This is a dire situation. We must be vigilant.”

“At your service, Resident,” replied the vice regent and the chief prosecutor in unison.



Pakualaman, Yogyakarta, January 1902

Soeroto, Brotodiningrat’s spy, rode on horseback into the Pakualaman area of Yogyakarta, a neighborhood where only aristocrats lived. He had just arrived from Madiun.

Recognizing Soeroto, the guard hurriedly allowed him to enter.

Brotodiningrat was resting in his private quarters when he heard galloping hoofbeats. He peered through the slats of his window to see who the visitor was. Seeing Soeroto, he walked quickly towards the pendopo, a large, covered terrace for receiving guests. Brotodiningrat had been waiting for news from Madiun and was expecting Soeroto’s arrival.

“Greetings, Raden,” Soeroto called out, using the Javanese term to address a nobleman. Soeroto saluted Brotodiningrat when he entered the pendopo.

“Soeroto! I have been waiting for you for a long time. Please, sit down. What news do you bring from Madiun?”

Soeroto waited for Brotodiningrat to be seated first. Then, after seating himself, Soeroto said, “The situation in Madiun is getting worse, Raden.”

Brotodiningrat considered Soeroto’s words and said, “Tell me specifically what is going on in Madiun.”

“Of course, Raden. Remember the theft of curtains and tablecloths from Resident Donner’s house in October three years ago? My news is still connected to that incident.”

“How could I forget it! It is what forced me to leave Madiun to live in this city,” Brotodiningrat grumbled, annoyed.

“Such incidents have increased,” Soeroto continued. “Not only burglaries, but burning sugarcane plantations around Madiun is also rampant. This past October, a burglary took place at the house of a plantation guard near the sugar factory in Purwodadi. The thieves stole the plantation workers’ wages of 400 guilders. The thugs are also targeting the homes of wealthy people in Ngawi and Magetan.” Soeroto’s voice had risen.

Brotodiningrat listened calmly, then said, “I told the former Resident of Madiun how to handle it. But this new resident, Donner, is stubborn and doesn’t want to listen to people who are experienced in handling such incidents.” Brotodiningrat paused before he continued. “Resident Donner is not like his predecessor, Resident Mullemeister. Mullemeister understands the Javanese way of dealing with problems like this. He would have left it entirely to the local regent and provided financial support for it.” Brotodiningrat sighed. “The current regent, Mangoen Atmodjo, is too weak. He is just a Dutch puppet. What does he know about the criminal world? How can he curb crime if he does not know anything about the underworld?”

Soeroto’s eyes darted anxiously. He seemed to have something more to say.

“You look restless, Soeroto. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about? If it’s about widespread burglaries, I have already expected those to happen with the appointment of the new regent.”

Soeroto hesitated. Drawing himself upright, he said, “Resident Donner is accusing you of being the instigator of the kraman, rebellion.”

“What?” Brotodiningrat roared. “How dare Donner accuse me of causing these uprisings!”

“Not only that,” Soeroto continued, “he has also detained a number of people who are close to you, such as the assistant resident, village policemen, even your teacher, Kiai Kasan Ngalwi, and Kartoredjo, head of the irrigation sector and your secret agent.”

Brotodiningrat’s face flushed with anger. “I thought Donner would be content after having me removed from my position as a regent. I guess he will not be satisfied until I am exiled from Java as a criminal.”

“Donner is utterly blind and unscrupulous, Raden,” Soeroto said. “He distributed firearms to the Dutch Europeans and reported to Batavia that there would be a new war on Java.”

“Donner has gone completely insane! New war on Java?” Brotodiningrat scoffed. “I just wanted to be a good regent who could maintain order and peace in Madiun.”

“Be careful, Raden,” Soeroto’s voice was filled with concern. “They are capable of arresting and prosecuting you. As I said earlier, your teacher, Kiai Kasan Ngalwi, has been arrested.”

“You are a loyal servant, Soeroto. You must be tired after the long journey from Madiun. Stay here for a day or two before returning.”

“Thank you, I will, Raden,” Soeroto replied and excused himself.



That night, Brotodiningrat couldn’t sleep. He thought this crisis had ended when he was exiled to Yogyakarta. But apparently, Donner still held a grudge against him. He seemed to want to prove that a Dutch resident was indeed more powerful than a native Javanese regent. The judge’s decision to remove him from the position of regent of Madiun on account of the robbery case obviously had not satisfied Donner.

Brotodiningrat thought back to when he was a teenager. He had gone to school in Surakarta and lived in the Kasunanan area. He could see how great Susuhunan Pakubuwono, the ruler of Solo, was. Brotodiningrat had stood tall as a Javanese native and had gained respect from the Dutch officials. The experience made an imprint on Brotodiningrat’s memory, inspiring him to become a Javanese regent who could be equal to a Dutch resident.

He studied the Dutch language diligently so that he could speak to the Dutch as an equal. He also absorbed all his lessons concerning government affairs while studying to become a public administrator. He then assiduously underwent an apprenticeship as a scribe in Madiun. He understood that all of this had to be done to achieve his goal of being considered on par with the Dutch.

His dream came true when he was appointed Regent of Sumoroto, a province in East Java. Everyone, both native and Dutch, looked up to him.

But he felt that he was truly capable of achieving his dream when he met Mullemeister, then the Resident of Madiun, the person he had ever since considered his mentor. It was Mullemeister who proposed that Brotodiningrat be appointed Regent of Madiun. They worked well together. Resident Mullemeister gave him the freedom to take care of irrigation, security, and many other responsibilities. Working alongside Mullemeister, Brotodiningrat applied everything he had learned while studying for this governmental position.

Sadly, Brotodiningrat had to part with his teacher and best friend when Mullemeister was promoted to Resident of Yogyakarta, to work side by side with Sultan Hamengkubuwono, King of Yogyakarta. Such was truly a proper position for a resident as smart as Mullemeister. But unfortunately, Mullemeister’s promotion caused a disaster, because his Dutch successor, Resident Donner, was power hungry and didn’t trust the Javanese.

The trial accusing Brotodiningrat of orchestrating the theft of curtains and tablecloths from Resident Donner’s house was a long affair. Brotodiningrat had to be tried in Batavia. The good thing for Brotodiningrat was that Mullemeister worked desperately to defend him. The bad thing for Brotodiningrat was that the officials in Batavia wanted to save face and back Resident Donner, because if Donner’s accusations were found to be ungrounded, the Dutch East Indies colonial government would lose face.

During his one-year trial, Brotodiningrat was exiled to Padang. He was fortunate that his letters of self-defense, sent to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Governor-General Rooseboom of the Dutch East Indies, were well received. Although he was removed from his position as Regent of Madiun, he was allowed to return to Java. Having been honorably discharged, he received a fairly high pension and could live in a house in Pakualaman, Yogyakarta.

But now he was being accused of rebellion. The Dutch East Indies officials must still be haunted by the Java War waged against the Dutch colonial rule by Javanese Prince Diponegoro. But accusing him of being the second Diponegoro was unsubstantiated. And to think that the Dutch authorities had even dared to arrest his teacher, Kiai Kasan Ngalwi! Brotodiningrat realized the precarious, dangerous situation he was in and decided to consult with Mullemeister, his best friend.



Since his exile in Pakualaman, Yogyakarta, Brotodiningrat’s connection to the outside world had been limited to correspondence and newspapers. He had indeed lost power. But the arrival of a letter from Mullemeister cheered him up.

The envelope was marked: Important and Confidential.

Brotodiningrat took the letter to his private room. Using a letter opener, he quickly slit the envelope and, his heart pounding, began reading.

Dear Brotodiningrat,

I hope you have heard that the colonial government sent Snouck Hurgronje to investigate the case related to Donners accusations against you. The results of the investigation have been completed, and I want to be the first to reveal them to you.

Snouck is indeed a reliable investigator. He is fluent in Arabic and Javanese, so he could carry out in-depth investigations. He was also able to ask many people in Madiun to explore this case. From Snouck’s investigation, it can be concluded that it was Donner himself who caused crime to increase in Madiun. He impulsively arrested your trusted people who had important connections in the underworld. After they were all arrested, there was no one to control the criminals, and they ran rampant.

But fear not, Snouck found no evidence against you. He even said that Donner was too tired and suggested that Donner retire and rest.

However, regarding the case of your teacher, Kiai Kasan Ngalwi, he must be sacrificed. The colonial government still has to keep up a good front. Your teacher was exiled because, otherwise, the public would think that the Dutch East Indies government has less power than Kiai Kasan Ngalwi. But dont worry, his rights, including land rights, will be maintained, even though he must remain in exile.

I hope this crisis will pass quickly. Snouck seems to already have a new candidate to replace Donner. The colonial government does not want to repeat the same mistake by appointing another stubborn person like Donner to replace him. We all have had enough of this debacle.

Warm regards to your family.



This letter brought Brotodiningrat some relief. Mullemeister was indeed a reliable friend.



Pakualaman, Yogyakarta, mid-1903

Soeroto returned to meet Raden Mas Adipati Brotodiningrat, his master. This time, he rode his horse more casually as he slowly entered Brotodiningrat’s neighborhood. He was also much calmer than during his previous meeting with Brotodiningrat.

The guard immediately asked him to wait in the pendopo. Not long after, Raden Mas Adipati Brotodiningrat came out to meet him.

“Raden.” Soeroto saluted respectfully.

“Please have a seat, Soeroto. What news do you have this time?”

“You must have heard the latest rumors regarding Donner.”

“What do you know about Donner?”

“Donner must have lost his mind. He is going totally crazy!” Soeroto sneered. “Donner even dared to accuse the Susuhanan of wanting to rebel because he had received a warm welcome when he visited Semarang.”

Brotodiningrat couldn’t hide his smile of victory. “Donner really has gone mad. Fortunately, the government in Batavia was quite responsive and immediately dismissed the accusations of this insane person. Donner’s own thoughts were his undoing. He was convinced that there would be a second Diponegoro. He fantasized to the point of believing that I was the second Diponegoro!”

“It seems so, Raden,” replied Soeroto.

“What do you think of his successor in Madiun?” Brotodiningrat probed.

Soeroto, excited, said, “Resident Boissevain is quite capable. He fired the chief prosecutor, who was responsible for arresting your subordinates. All of your followers appear to be quite happy with the new resident’s actions. Those who were fired for their involvement in this incident have also been given new, albeit small, positions in Pacitan and Ponorogo. Security and order seem to have been restored.”

Brotodiningrat looked pensively eastward, as if trying to gaze at Madiun. “It seems so. But there is still one thing that bothers me, Soeroto.”

“What is it, Raden?” asked Soeroto, trying to read his master’s wishes. “Do you still intend to return to Madiun?”

“There’s that, too, but it seems too early to say. We still have to see how things develop.”

“Then what is troubling you, Raden?”

“You have served me for a long time, Soeroto. You’ve been with me since I was accused of masterminding the curtain and tablecloth burglary at Resident Donner’s house.”

Inggih, yes, I have, Raden.”

Brotodiningrat gave Soeroto a sharp look. “What do you think of our position as Javanese natives versus the Dutch colonial rule?”

“I dare not answer, Raden. I let smart people like you think about such questions.” Soeroto acted awkwardly, as if afraid to say the wrong thing as an ordinary citizen.

“You have to start thinking about it, Soeroto. I sense a wind of change — maybe not like the emergence of a Diponegoro. But the world will change.”

“What do you mean Raden?”

“Freedom, Soeroto. Independence. Freedom to determine our own destiny, freedom from the colonial rule of the Dutch East Indies.” Brotodiningrat smiled as he imagined that future.

“It’s too hard for me to imagine that, Raden. For me, it is enough if I have clothing, food, and a roof to sleep under.”

“It’s not wrong to continue thinking that way, Soeroto. I, too, only recently thought about this. After going through the never-ending tempest with Donner, I started to contemplate what my real position had been in the Dutch East Indies government. Was I really equal to the resident? Or would I forever remain a Dutch lackey?” Brotodiningrat stood. “Resident Donner thought I was his subordinate, not an equal official. However, there was a clear division of labor. He supposedly took care of matters with Batavia’s and Madiun’s external affairs, while I took care of Madiun’s internal affairs.” Brotodiningrat’s tone rose every time he talked about Donner.

“Has he held a grudge against you since that incident?” Soeroto asked softly.

“Yes, I believe so. But I also often badmouthed him and compared him unfavorably to Mullemeister, who is much more shrewd than Donner. Mullemeister can mingle with the local officials and understands Javanese manners.” Brotodiningrat paused for a moment then grumbled, “Donner must have been offended.”

“You are lucky to have met Mullemeister.”

“Yes, indeed. Mullemeister has helped me so much. I was able to escape prosecution, although I still lost my job. This has strengthened my belief that we, the Javanese, are not on the same level as the Dutch.”

“Do you remember the writings of your cousin, Raden Mas Tirto Adhi Soerjo, in Pembrita Betawi?” Soeroto asked suddenly. “He defended you and said that it was an injustice! Lots of people talk about his writings.”

“How could I forget? That cousin of mine is great! Last month, he dared to write a newspaper article in the column Dreyfusiana. The article’s title is written in capital letters: THE DONNER SCANDAL. He interviewed many Dutch officials about this case. I have to admit that the news influenced public opinion including that of the Dutch Europeans regarding this case. People now know that Donner is a lunatic!”

Brotodiningrat took a deep breath and then continued, enthusiastically, “Tirto was also so bold as to said that I should be tried like a Dutchman, based on evidence, not hearsay.”

“That’s right, Raden,” Soeroto agreed, excited. “That’s what many people say.”

“Soeroto, we must be equal to the Dutch, not only in terms of the law, but we must also receive the same education. I was lucky to study in a Dutch school because I am a descendant of the regent. But you, a commoner, will never have the chance to go to school. You can only be a servant or a spy, like you are now.”

“Inggih, Raden.” Soeroto bowed his head.

“I see you’re quite smart. If you could go to school, you might learn Dutch and then become a clerk or even a sugarcane plantation supervisor. But you won’t have such an opportunity unless things change.”

“I dare not to have such lofty dreams, Raden.” Soeroto’s head was still bowed.

“You must! You must dare to dream!” Brotodiningrat nodded vehemently. “Soeroto, times will change. Tirto already had that vision, and I confirmed his thoughts. We have to fight for our equality with the Dutch.”

“Does that mean we have to be free from the Dutch colonial government, Raden?” Soeroto asked.

“We must fight for our equality with the Dutch!” Brotodiningrat repeated.

“What does that mean exactly, Raden?”

“That means that there must be a People’s Council, consisting of indigenous people, who can make recommendations to the Governor-General.” Brotodiningrat grew even more excited. “We must be given the opportunity to determine our own destiny.”

“You have such complicated thoughts. I find it difficult to follow you.”

“That’s fine, Soeroto. I may even suffer from this overly advanced thinking. Maybe the government in Batavia has secretly read my desire to fight for more equal rights for us, the indigenous Javanese people.”

“Do you mean to say that you were dismissed from the position of regent because you have been too brave and challenged the Dutch?” Soeroto asked in disbelief.

“You’re smart, Soeroto. I was too daring and challenged the Dutch. Maybe it’s not the time yet for this fruit of independence to ripen and fall from the tree. Now, new little flowers are blooming timidly. Some will later become fruit, and some of that fruit will ripen. I saw that in my cousin, Tirto.”

“Of course, Raden.”

“The end of our struggle is still a long way off, Soeroto. But mark my words, this nation’s conflict with the Netherlands, like the Donner case, will not be the last. This time we won, partly, but there will be bigger conflicts later. You are my servant; take my spirit into the future, so our nation can still win when dealing with the Netherlands.” Brotodiningrat’s eyes were fiery with enthusiasm, even though his position of power had been extinguished.














Mata di Bibir Subuh

Artie Ahmad was born in Salatiga, Central Java, on November 21, 1994. She lives in Yogyakarta and writes novels and short stories. In 2018, her novel Sunyi di Dada Sumirah was published by Penerbit Buku Mojok, followed with a second printing in 2020. Her story collection Cinta yang Bodoh Harus Diakhiri was also published by Penerbit Buku Mojok in 2019, and saw a second printing in 2020. Penerbit Buku Mojok recently published Artie’s latest novella, Manusia-Manusia Teluk. Artie’s short stories have been published in many major newspapers including Tempo, Jawa Pos, Republika, Solopos, and Kedaulatan Rakyat.

She can be reached at

Published in June 2020. Copyright ©2020 by Artie Ahmad. Published with permission from the author. Translation copyright ©2020 by Oni Suryaman.



Mata di Bibir Subuh


Suara azan Subuh terdengar, merambat dari corong pelantang suara di masjid. Bergetar masuk ke dalam gendang telinga orang-orang yang masih terlelap. Suara Pak Modin yang terdengar lantang itu juga ditangkap telinga Muzaini. Azan masih terdengar, menggelitik telinga Muzaini. Tapi, meski azan itu masuk ke telinga dan mengetuk-ketuk gendang telinganya, Muzaini seakan tak berdaya. Matanya seolah terkena getah nangka. Lengket, sulit untuk dibuka. Muzaini berusaha membuka mata, namun rasa kantuk yang dirasakannya sangat keterlaluan. Muzaini tak kuasa melawan, dia kembali bergelung di tilam.

Suara azan Pak Modin telah lesap, Subuh telah lama lewat. Dalam mimpi di kepalanya, Muzaini menangkap bayang Wak Rohim. Dulu saat dia masih anak-anak, Wak Rohim gurunya mengaji di surau desa. Dalam gambar di mimpinya itu, Wak Rohim berdiri membawa rotan yang dipergunakan untuk memukul pantat para muridnya yang hanya main-main saat mengaji. Muzaini tergagap, ketika melihat Wak Rohim berjalan ke arahnya. Rotan di tangannya diayun-ayunkan. Bibirnya tersenyum simpul. Tapi begitulah wajah Wak Rohim ketika hendak menghukum muridnya.

“Muz! Kau tak menjalankan perintah Allah dengan baik ya? Kau meleng ya?” Suara Wak Rohim terdengar lantang.

Muzaini tak kuasa menjawab. Dia hanya menggeleng-geleng. Wajahnya pucat pasi, keringat dinginnya mengalir.

“Kau, Muzaini Samsyudin! Berani tak menjalankan perintah Gusti Allah? Muridku yang dulu berjanji akan menjadi manusia baik. Kau bohong denganku?” Wak Rohim semakin dekat. Kumisnya yang melintang dengan jambang lebat itu semakin menambah kesan angker di wajahnya.

“Bukan begitu, Wak Guru. Saya sudah berusaha bangun. Tapi tak kuasa. Mata saya lengket seperti kena getah nangka,” Muzaini menggigil.

“Alasan saja kau, Muz. Menyesal aku dulu tak memukulmu lebih keras dengan rotan ini. Kini kau jadi seorang pembangkang.” Wak Rohim mengangkat rotannya tinggi-tinggi.

Muzaini ingin berlari menghindar, tapi tak bisa. Tangan kiri Wak Rohim menggamit lengannya. Tangan itu mencengkeram Muzaini erat-erat. Napas Muzaini tersengal, tapi dia seolah tak memiliki tenaga untuk lari dari Wak Rohim.

“Oh, Muz. Betapa berubahnya engkau sekarang ini? Aku tak menduga kau akan berubah seperti sekarang,” Wak Rohim menurunkan tangannya yang memegang rotan, cengkeraman di lengan Muzaini mengendur, lalu dihempaskan begitu saja.

“Tak ada yang berubah di diri saya, Wak Guru. Tak ada yang lain saya rasa. Saya hanya sering kelelahan setelah bekerja di kota,” Muzaini menatap Wak Rohim dengan getar suara yang tak bisa ditahan.

Wak Rohim mengangkat wajahnya, ditatapnya Muzaini lekat-lekat. Seringai di bibirnya terlihat.

“Tak ada yang berubah dengan dirimu? Kau bercanda! Kini kau lalai akan semuanya. Sembahyangmu tak lagi sebaik dulu. Dan, kau lupa akan janjimu,” Wak Rohim berdiri di depan Muzaini dengan gagah. Sarungnya yang putih bersih dengan corak bunga-bunga kecil berwarna hitam berkibar-kibar ditiup angin. “Dulu, kau bilang jika sudah banyak uang dan dapat pekerjaan bagus, kau akan membantu merawat gubuk kecil tempat anak-anak desa mengaji. Tapi seolah kau lupa dengan janjimu itu. Jangankan membantu merawatnya, bahkan kau pun tak lagi mau menengoknya.”


Muzaini terbangun dari tidurnya. Matanya sudah leluasa dibuka meski agak berat. Muzaini tak mengerti, mengapa Wak Rohim datang di mimpinya hari ini, dengan keadaan yang membuatnya bergidik pula. Sudah lama sejak dia bekerja di luar kota, orang-orang di desanya teramat jarang berkunjung ke mimpinya. Muzaini saban malam memang bermimpi di saat tidur, tapi itu bukan memimpikan orangorang di desanya yang telah lama dia kenal. Di mimpi Muzaini selepas kerja di kota besar ini, yang sering bertandang adalah kawan-kawan kenalannya, atasan di kantor yang sering mengejar-ngejar tenggat waktu pekerjaan, pemilik kamar sewa yang suka menagih padahal belum waktunya, atau yang kerap datang di mimpinya seorang Manisa. Manisa, kawan sekantornya yang berwajah manis dengan perangai lembut itu. Wajah yang menjadi kembang tidur Muzaini bahkan selepas pertama kali mereka berjumpa.

Tertegun Muzaini mendengar ucapan Wak Rohim. Dia tepekur beberapa saat. Matanya nyalang menatap lantai. Bibirnya bergetar. Dia ingat sekarang, memanglah dulu dia sempat bernazar apabila telah mendapat pekerjaan dengan gaji yang baik, dia akan membantu merawat surau kecil untuk mengaji yang sering disebut gubuk oleh Wak Rohim. Tapi, sudah lebih lima tahun bekerja dengan gaji yang baik, belum pernah dia membagi rezekinya untuk surau kecil tua tempatnya mengaji dulu. Entah hari baik apa yang didapatkannya, hari ini Wak Rohim datang ke mimpinya, dan seolah menagih janji yang telah sekian lama tak juga dia tepati.


Sepanjang hari, mimpi itu lekat di ingatannya. Di kantor, di warteg tempat dia makan siang, ingatan tentang mimpi bertemu Wak Rohim selalu bertandang. Bahkan ketika dia bertemu dengan Manisa pun, untuk kali pertama Muzaini tak tertarik untuk menanggapi perempuan muda itu. Muzaini merasa lesu. Bahkan ketika pulang bekerja, dia langsung mengurung diri di kamar sewa. Muzaini berdiam diri di tilam kamarnya. Sampai akhirnya dia lelap. Tertidur sampai azan Subuh berkumandang.

Kali ini Muzaini begitu leluasa membuka mata. Tak lama setelah terjaga dia menyeret kakinya masuk ke dalam kamar mandi, dia menunaikan wudu lalu bersembahyang Subuh. Selepas sembahyang itulah, pikiran jernih itu muncul. Tiga pekan lagi dia akan libur panjang selama satu pekan, saat itu kesempatan baik untuknya pulang guna menemui Wak Rohim untuk membayar tunai janjinya dulu.


Mata Muzaini terbuka. Subuh menjalar masuk ke bus yang dia tumpangi. Suara azan dari masjid-masjid di pinggir jalan terdengar. Muzaini mengejap-ejapkan kedua matanya. Sebentar lagi bus antar kota yang dia naiki akan sampai ke pemberhentian terakhir, terminal yang paling dekat dengan desanya.

Sesampai di terminal, dengan semangat Muzaini memanggil ojek yang mangkal di sekitar terminal. Meski masih sedikit merasa kantuk lantaran kelelahan setelah menempuh perjalanan selama 12 jam perjalanan, Muzaini sangat bersemangat untuk pulang ke desanya kali ini.

Di dalam ranselnya, Muzaini telah menyiapkan sebuah amplop berisi uang yang akan disampaikannya untuk Wak Rohim guna memperbaiki suraunya. Surau yang mungkin kini sudah bertambah reyot lantaran aus dimakan usia. Muzaini pun tahu, bagaimana keuangan guru mengajinya itu. Anak-anak yang diajar mengaji tak ditarik bayaran, apabila ada yang memberikan uang, banyak kesempatan Wak Rohim menolaknya. Baginya, menerima uang dari orangtua muridnya yang memiliki nasib keuangan seperti dirinya hanya akan menambah sengsara kedua belah pihak. Orangtua murid akan sengsara lantaran anggaran untuk hidup berkurang, dan Wak Rohim akan sengsara lantaran batinnya tak tenang menerima uang dari orangtua muridnya yang juga kesusahan.

Muzaini berjalan ke rumahnya. Dia mengurungkan diri untuk terus ke rumah Wak Rohim yang rumahnya di batas desa tetangga. Turun dari ojek, dia merasakan sangat letih meski semangatnya untuk bersua dengan Wak Rohim masih berkobarkobar. Pintu belakang tak terkunci. Muzaini mencari-cari ibunya, tapi yang dicari tak ada. Mungkin ibunya sedang ke pasar. Pesan kepulangannya telah disampaikan ke ibunya sejak beberapa hari yang lalu, namun Muzaini tak mengatakan bahwa dia perlu juga bertemu Wak Rohim.

Lepas siang Muzaini baru berkesempatan untuk pergi keluar rumah. Ibu sedang ada tamu untuk membicarakan pekerjaan. Mungkin itu pembeli yang akan membeli beras hasil panen milik ibu. Diam-diam Muzaini pergi ke rumah Wak Rohim. Tapi di tengah jalan dia bertemu beberapa orang. Mereka berduyun-duyun berjalan ke arah rumah Wak Rohim. Muzaini melihat mereka dengan tatapan bingung. Seorang anak muda berusia belasan tahun juga turut berjalan ke arah rumah Wak Rohim, dengan cepat Muzaini bertanya.

“Adik, mau ke mana kalian ini? Kenapa beramai-ramai?” Muzaini bertanya sembari tersenyum ramah.

“Oh, Bang Muz. iya, kami akan melaksanakan kenduri,” sahut pemuda itu sembari menyalami Muzaini.

“Kenduri? Kenduri di mana?” Muzaini bertanya lagi.

“Kenduri ke rumah Wak Guru Rohim.”

“Kenduri untuk apa?” Muzaini semakin kebingungan. Ada acara apakah sampai dilaksanakan kenduri di rumah Wak Rohim.

“Kenduri untuk memeringati empat puluh hari kepergian Wak Guru Rohim menghadap Gusti Allah.” Sahut pemuda itu sembari menatap Muzaini dengan tatapan terheran-heran. Dia menatap Muzaini dengan keheranan, sepertinya dia tak menyangka, kalau Muzaini belum tahu bahwa Wak Guru Rohim sudah meninggal.

Muzaini tak bisa berkata-kata. Kepalanya mendadak terasa pening. Kabar yang dia terima seolah menggetarkan hatinya. Dengan langkah yang seakan limbung, Muzaini berjalan ke arah rumah Wak Rohim. Di sana orang-orang sudah banyak yang datang. Doa dihantarkan untuk Wak Rohim. Tangis Muzaini tak bisa ditahan. Penyesalannya semakin menjadi, ketika melihat surau kecil tempat Wak Rohim mengajar mengaji telah rubuh.

“Muzaini, kau juga ke sini ternyata?”

Muzaini menoleh, ibunya sudah berdiri di belakang tubuhnya.

“Ibu kenapa tak berbagi kabar jika Wak Rohim meninggal?” tanya Muzaini masih terisak.

“Ibu lupa mau berkabar denganmu. Tiap kali ibu telepon, kau selalu cepatcepat menutup lantaran sibuk. Setelahnya ibu selalu lupa mengabarimu.” Ibunya mengamati Muzaini dengan iba.

Mata Muzaini menyapu rumah Wak Rohim dan surau tempatnya mengaji dulu. Surau itu kini hanya tinggal puing-puing yang menyisakan kayu-kayu tua yang sudah lapuk. Tangis Muzaini tak bisa berhenti, dengan erat tangan kanannya mencengkeram amplop berisi uang untuk membantu mengurus surau kecil tempat Wak Rohim mengajar.

“Maafkan saya, Wak Guru. Maafkan saya karena sangat terlambat menemuimu.” Isak Muzaini sembari memandang surau kecil tempatnya belajar mengaji dulu yang kini hanya menyisakan puing-puing.


A Revelation at Dawn

Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.


Read some of his essays and book reviews at: and

He can be reached at





A Revelation at Dawn


Pak Modin’s call to the dawn prayer blared from the mosque’s loudspeaker. The sound vibrated in the eardrums of people still asleep. The muezzin’s call to prayer also reached Muzaini. But although the call entered Muzaini’s ears and knocked at his eardrums, Muzaini couldn’t move. His eyelids felt as if they had jackfruit sap on them. They were sticky, difficult to open. Muzaini tried very hard to open his eyes, but he was overcome by extreme drowsiness. Unable to fight the feeling, Muzaini curled up again. Pak Modin’s call to prayer faded away and the dawn prayer time passed.

In his dream, Muzaini caught a glimpse of Wak Rohim’s shadow. Wak Rohim had been his religious teacher at the village mosque when he was a child. Wak Rohim carried the rattan swish he used to spank students who didn’t pay attention during the Quran recital lesson.

Muzaini cringed when Wak Rohim walked toward him, waving the swish in his hand.

Wak Rohim smiled. He always smiled when he was about to punish his students. “Muz!” Wak Rohim called loudly. “You’re not obeying God’s commands, are you? Are you not paying attention?”

Muzaini turned pale and could not answer. Sweating, he just shook his head.

“You, Muzaini Samsyudin! My student, the one who promised to become a good person. How dare you disobey God’s commands! Did you lie to me?” Wak Rohim came closer. His curly moustache and bushy beard made him even scarier.

“It’s not like that, Wak Guru, teacher,” said Muzaini, trembling. “I tried to wake up. But I could not open my eyes. It was as if they were glued shut by the sap of a jackfruit.”

“That’s just an excuse, Muz. I’m sorry that I didn’t hit you harder with my rattan swish in the past. Now you have abandoned your faith.” Wak Rohim raised his swish high in the air.

Muzaini wanted to flee but couldn’t.

Wak Rohim grabbed Muzaini’s arm and held him tightly.

Muzaini gasped, but he lacked the energy to run away.

“Oh, Muz. How you have changed! I didn’t expect you to become like this.” Wak Rohim lowered the swish and relaxed his grip on Muzaini’s arm. Then, he simply let Muzaini go.

“I have not changed, Wak Guru. I am still the same.” Muzaini could not stop his voice from shaking as he looked at Wak Rohim. “It is just that I always feel tired after working in the city.”

Wak Rohim smirked and looked closely at Muzaini. “You have not changed? You must be kidding! You neglect everything. You miss your daily prayer. And you forgot your promise.” Wak Rohim stood tall in front of Muzaini. His plain white sarong, with a small black flower motif, fluttered in the wind. “You promised that when you had a decent job and a lot of money, you would help take care of the small hut I use for the children’s religious study. But you seem to have forgotten about it. You don’t even visit it, let alone help take care of it.”


Muzaini woke up. He opened his heavy eyelids. Why had Wak Rohim appeared in his dream in such a way? He shuddered.

Muzaini had been working in the city for a long time and people from his village rarely visited his dreams. Although Muzaini dreamed almost every night, it wasn’t about the people from his village — the folks he had known all of his life. No, the people who visited his dreams most often were his city colleagues, his boss—who chased after him to meet a deadline for work—his landlord, trying to collect the rent before it was due; or Manisa. Ah, Manisa, his gentle and sweet-faced coworker. Her face started entering his dreams from the moment they met.

Muzaini was stunned by the words Wak Rohim spoke in his dream. He stared at the floor and thought deeply for a while with wide-open eyes. His lips trembled. Yes, he remembered now; he had promised that when he had a job with a good salary, he would help take care of the small mosque that Wak Rohim often referred to as a “hut,” where he taught religion.  Although Muzaini had earned a good salary for more than five years now, he had never shared his good fortune or sent money to the small old mosque where, as a child, he studied religion. He wondered how he deserved the blessing of Wak Rohim appearing in his dream and reminding him of his unfulfilled promise.

All day long, the dream lingered in his mind. In his office and in the food stall where he ate his lunch, Muzaini kept thinking about his dream and meeting with Wak Rohim. And for the first time, he wasn’t interested in speaking with Manisa,

Muzaini felt weary. When he came home to his rented room from work, he immediately shut himself in and stayed in his room until he fell asleep and, at dawn, heard the call for the morning prayers.

This time, his eyes opened easily. He left his room, entered the bathroom, performed wudu, ritual ablution, and prayed. Only after praying was he able to see things clearly. In three weeks, he would take a full week of vacation, meet with Wak Rohim, and fulfill his promise.


Muzaini’s eyes were wide open. The light of dawn entered the intercity bus he rode. He heard the azan, the call to prayer, from the mosque on the roadside. He blinked. The bus would soon arrive at the last terminal, the one closest to his village.

At the terminal, Muzaini excitedly hailed an ojek, motor bike taxi, circling the terminal. Even though he was still a bit sleepy and tired after the twelve-hour busride, Muzaini looked forward very much to returning to his village.

In his backpack, he carried an envelope of money for Wak Rohim to repair the mosque.  Surely by now the small mosque was worn out by age. Muzaini knew his teacher’s financial situation. Wak Rohim didn’t charge any tuition, and when a student’s parent offered him money, he usually rejected it. To Wak Rohim, receiving money from someone in the same financial situation as himself would only make them both suffer: The parent would suffer from lack of money to support the family, and Wak Rohim’s conscience would suffer after taking money from a needy parent.

Muzaini walked to his childhood home. He had changed his plans and decided to go home first instead of going directly to Wak Rohim’s house at the border of the neighboring village. Even though Muzaini was still very eager to meet Wak Rohim, he felt really tired from his long trip. .

The backdoor of his house was open. Muzaini looked for his mother, but he could not find her. Maybe she had gone to the market. He had told his mother, several days ago, that he was coming home , but he hadn’t told  her that he also wanted to see Wak Rohim.

In the early afternoon, Muzaini finally had a chance to leave his house. His mother had a visitor, and they were talking about business.  Perhaps the visitor wanted to buy rice from his mother’s harvest.

Muzaini quietly left for Wak Rohim’s house. He met several people on his way. They were all walking in the direction of Wak Rohim’s house. Muzaini looked at them, confused. He saw a teenage boy also heading for Wak Rohim’s house, and Muzaini quickly approached him. “Why are there so many people?” Muzaini asked with a friendly smile. “Where is everyone going?”

“Oh, hi.” The young boy took Muzaini’s hand and, in accordance with Indonesian custom, slightly bowed to him while saying, “We’re going to have a celebration.”

“A celebration? Where?”

“At Wak Guru Rohim’s house.”

“What is the occasion?” Muzaini was even more confused. What was going on at Wak Rohim’s house?

“We are commemorating Wak Guru Rohim’s forty-day departure to Almighty God.” The teenage boy looked at Muzaini with surprise. He obviously didn’t expect that Muzaini didn’t know that Wak Guru Rohim had died.

Muzaini was speechless. Shaken by the news and suddenly dizzy, he staggered the rest of the way to Wak Rohim’s house. Many people had already arrived. They prayed for Wak Rohim’s soul. Muzaini could not hold back his tears. His regret deepened when he saw that Wak Rohim’s teaching mosque had already fallen into ruin.

“Muzaini, you are here, too.”

Muzaini turned; his mother stood behind him.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Wak Rohim had passed away?” Muzaini asked, sobbing.

“Every time I called to tell you the news, you always hung up quickly because you said you were busy. After a while, I just forgot to tell you.” His mother looked at him with concern.

Muzaini looked at Wak Rohim’s house and the small, collapsed mosque where he used to study religion. There was only debris and rotten wood at the building site. Muzaini burst into tears again, his right hand clasping the envelope filled with money to help Wak Rohim repair the small mosque.

“Forgive me, Wak Guru. Forgive me because I am way too late to see you.” Muzaini wept, looking at what was left of the small mosque where he used to study religion.


Hikayat Emak

Guntur Alam was born in Tanah Abang Selatan, a village in South Sumatera on November 20, 1986. He graduated from the Civil Enginering Department, Universitas Islam 45 Bekasi. In 2010, he started writing short stories and his stories have since been published in various newspapers such as, Kompas, Jawa Pos, Tempo, Media Indonesia, and Majas. Kompas has selected and awarded several of the stories as best stories of the year.

Guntur Alam mostly writes in the theme of noir, horror, and mystery. His gothic story collection Magi Perempuan dan Malam Kunang-kunang was published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in 2015. He was invited to the Ubud Writers and Reader Festival in 2012 and was a resident of the ASEAN Literary Festival in 2016. He can be reached at; Twitter @AlamGuntur and Instagram @gunturalam_

Published in April 2020. Copyright ©2020 by Guntur Alam. Published with permission from the author. Translation copyright ©2020 by Oni Suryaman.



Perihal Sebatang Kayu di Belakang Limas Kami yang Ada dalam Hikayat Emak


Jangan sesekali kau dekati batang kayu itu. Selalu itu yang Emak katakan bila mata bocahku mulai berbinar-binar menatap batang kayu yang tumbuh rindang di belakang limas kami itu. Lalu, aku akan melempar tanya yang sama lewat retina mata yang seketika meredup mendengar larangan Emak itu. “Mengapa?”

“Di dahan yang paling dekat dengan pokok batangnya, ada seekor ular coklat besar bersarang. Ular itu akan menggigit siapa saja yang mengusiknya.”

Mendengar jawaban Emak itu, aku pasti akan berjinjit ngeri. Terburu membunuh keinginan yang meluap-luap untuk bergumul di dahan-dahannya. Dan sejak saat itu, aku selalu menikam luapan rasa yang sama.

Namun, semakin gigih aku meredam keinginan mendekati batang kayu itu, semakin gencar pula Emak mengulang-ulang hikayatnya. Cerita yang aku pun mulai hafal tiap bagiannya. Entah, Emak seolah-olah tengah menggodaku, serupa seseorang yang hendak menguji; seberapa patuh aku akan larangannya itu? Sementara itu, sifat kanak-kanakku yang penasaran akan kebenaran hikayat Emak, menggebu-gebu: Apa benar? Atau ini hanyalah dongeng Emak semata agar aku tak jadi anak gadis bengal yang bergumul dengan dahan-dahan kayu, macam bujang-bujang ingusan itu.

Di batang kayu itu ada seekor ular coklat besar yang siap mematuk siapapun yang mendekatinya. Dulu, ada seorang gadis muda dengan wajah bulat telur, leher jenjang, kulit sawo matang dengan ikal mayang yang bergelombang sebatas pinggulnya, mata belok, hidung bangir, dan bibirnya sangat tipis. Dia gadis yang cantik.

Selalu itu yang jadi pembuka hikayat Emak. Lambat laut, aku seperti merasa: Tidakkah tokoh gadis yang ada dalam hikayat Emak itu diriku? Sejak menduga-duga serupa itu, aku kerap mematut wajahku di cermin dalam bilik. Rambut hitam yang legam serupa ombak bergelombang sampai pinggang, mata belok, hidung bangir, kulit sawo matang. Persis. Emak seolah-olah tengah menghikayat cerita tentang diriku.

Gadis muda itu tinggal bersama emaknya di limas mereka. Seorang perempuan tua yang mulai terdengar begitu cerewet baginya. Selalu saja melarangnya mendekati batang kayu yang tumbuh rindang di belakang limas mereka. Padahal, di bawah batang kayu itu, saban hari menjelang siang sampai malam merayap datang, ada seorang bujang yang duduk dengan kambing-kambingnya.

Bujang berahang keras dengan sorotan mata elang, tangannya besar dengan bidang dada yang begitu luas untuk bersandar. Sebelum emaknya memergoki dia kerap datang dan bercerita bersama bujang itu tentang kambing, batang kayu tempat mereka berteduh, sampai kain tenun (setelah itu emaknya selalu melarangnya mendekati batang kayu itu), gadis itu merasa telah menemukan hidupnya. Diam-diam, ada yang tumbuh di dadanya, sekuntum mawar liar yang menggeliat-geliat.

Di bagian hikayat itu, aku selalu menemukan raut muka Emak berubah. Ada binar-binar yang tak dapat Emak sembunyikan, serupa sipu gadis pemalu yang jatuh cinta. Jarang sekali, aku menemukan riak-riak bahagia di gurat muka Emak yang keras.

Gadis itu tak dapat meredam geliat mawarnya. Lebih-lebih bila mata beloknya tengah menerawang di langit-langit kamar. Bayangan dia yang menyandarkan kepala di dada bujang itu selalu saja mengantar-kantar matanya. Genggaman jemari besar dengan telapak kapalan terasa begitu lembut saat memegang tangannya. Dia tak tahan. Dia tak dapat menahan rindu yang menyekap.

Lalu, raut muka Emak akan kembali berubah. Setelah binar-binar yang demikian jarang aku temui itu, aku akan menemukan wajah Emak yang nelangsa. Penuh beban, penuh derita, seperti seseorang yang menahan rindu begitu besar, hingga rindu itu terasa tengah meremas-remas hatinya tanpa belas.

Setelah tak sanggup menahan rindu yang mengantar-kantarnya, gadis itu melarang pantang emaknya. Pada pagi menjelang siang yang kelak gadis itu catat sebagai hari paling pekat dalam hidupnya, dia menemui bujang itu.

Mereka melepas rindu yang sudah tak tertakar, hingga meluapkan segala rasa sampai tak sadar kain tenun telah tersingkap dan seekor ular coklat besar yang mengintai mematuk si gadis yang lengah. Bisa telah tersembur, taring telah tertanam. Si gadis membiru dalam ketakutan, si bujang cemas hingga lari ditelan rimba, meninggalkan gadis bermata belok menampung bisa yang merenggut nyawanya.


Sesungguhnya, aku tak suka bila Emak telah berhikayat. Selain cerita Emak yang selalu sama: Tentang seorang gadis cantik dan batang kayu yang tumbuh rindang di belakang limas kami itu, cerita Emak diam-diam telah menakutiku. Aku kerap bermimpi buruk. Telah berkali-kali aku ceritakan itu kepada Emak. Tentang aku yang ketakutan dalam tidurku. Seolah aku tengah melanggar pantang Emak, diam-diam menyelinap, dan pergi ke bawah batang kayu itu. Di sana, aku menemukan seekor ular coklat yang demikian besar, bermulut lebar dengan kedua taring yang mengerikan.

Itu artinya, jangan sesekali kau pantang Emak. Bila kau lakukan, ular coklat besar itu akan mematukmu, menyemburkan bisanya yang beracun, hingga kau meregang nyawa sendiri dan terlempar ke alam orang-orang mati. Terkuncil. Sendiri. Dan sunyi.

Pasti. Pasti kata-kata itu yang Emak lontarkan bila aku bercerita tentang mimpi-mimpi burukku. Bila telah demikian, Emak akan kembali mengulang hikayatnya, perihal sebatang kayu di belakang limas kami itu dan seorang gadis cantik yang dipatuk ular coklat karena melanggar pantang emaknya.

Setelah aku merasa Emak tak akan pernah berhenti menceritakan hikayatnya yang menakutkan itu, aku memilih untuk tak menceritakan lagi mimpi-mimpi burukku. Sebab, ceritaku tentang mimpi-mimpi yang mengerikan itu tak akan membuat Emak iba dan menyudahi kisah membosankannya.

Sama hal dengan keinginanku untuk pergi bersama bujang-gadis sebayaku yang saban pagi kutatap dari jauh. Mereka tertawa-tawa, berloncat-loncatan, kejar-kejaran dengan baju yang seragam. Putih-merah. Warna yang menggoda mataku. Selalu saja, saban malam sebelum pejam menjemputku pelan berlahan, doaku sama: Hendak rasanya aku bermimpi di antara mereka, dengan seragam yang sama, menderaikan tawa bersama.

Namun, mimpi itu tak kunjung datang, saban malam hanyalah mimpi tentang ular yang bersarang di batang kayu itu yang menemani tidurku. Mimpi mengerikan.

Sejatinya, aku hendak bercerita kepada Emak, mengapa aku ingin sekali mendekati batang kayu itu. Batang kayu yang tumbuh di belakang limas kami, batang kayu yang berdiri kokoh di tengah padang rumput. Di sana, aku kerap menemukan bujang-gadis seumurku berkejaran, berlari menangkapi capung, bersorak-sorak, lalu mereka berguling-guling di atas rumput. Menderai tawa yang rincak di cupingku.

Tapi, aku tak kunjung mampu untuk mengutarakannya. Tersebab, Emak seolah telah mampu membaca pikiran yang ada di batok kepala kanak-kanakku.

Percayalah, mereka tak akan suka padamu. Ebak-emak mereka akan gegas menyeru mereka pulang, bila kau ada di antara mereka. Setelah itu, kau pasti menangis. Dan Emak tak hendak melihat airmata ada di wajahmu, sebab airmata itu tak akan membuat mereka iba. Menyakitkan, bukan?

Entah, apa yang Emak katakan? Hanya saja, air muka Emak terasa sangat mengerikan. Serupa seringai hantu perempuan yang mati penasaran, nelangsa, penuh beban, penuh dendam. Dan, aku memilih mengubur keinginanku bersama hantu perempuan yang menakutkan itu.


Ada hikayat yang sesungguhnya sangat ingin kudengar dari Emak. Tentunya, bukan hikayat tentang sebatang kayu yang tumbuh di belakang limas kami dan seorang gadis cantik yang dipatuk ular coklat besar lantaran melanggar pantang emaknya. Hikayat ini tentang Ebak yang tak sekalipun dapat kubayangkan rupanya. Tak ada selembar foto atau apapun yang berhubungan dengan lelaki itu di limas kami. Hingga, aku pun tak tahu, harus membayangkan rupanya seperti apa.

Ebak-mu telah mati dan kau yatim bersamaku di limas ini.

Selalu. Selalu itu yang Emak katakan bila aku mulai memancing Emak untuk bercerita tentang Ebak. Dan aku pun akan menemukan air muka Emak berubah keruh. Seperti seseorang yang menahan marah, nelangsa, cinta, kesumat, dan semua rasa yang berbalur dalam hatinya. Rasa yang bergumul-gumul hingga melahirkan raut muka Emak yang terlihat begitu mengerikan juga menumbuhkan iba bila kau pandang lamat-lamat.

Bisakah kita ziarah ke kuburnya?

Dan aku pun mengikuti kebiasaan Emak. Mengulang permintaan yang sama. Berulang-ulang. Walau aku pun tahu, jawaban Emak pasti akan sama pula.

Anak gadis tak elok berziarah ke kubur. Kau mulai lupa apa yang Emak ajarkan? Nabi melarang anak gadis ziarah, tersebab pasti akan menangis meraung-raung di sana.

Lalu, aku mulai memutar otak kanak-kanakku agar dapat meminta Emak menceritakan hikayat tentang Ebak. Selain, aku ingin membuat Emak lupa mengulang-ulang hikayat sebatang kayunya itu, aku kian penasaran dengan sosok laki-laki yang telah membuatku ada di limas ini.

Tak ada yang luar biasa untuk Emak ceritakan tentang Ebak-mu. Dia lelaki berahang keras dengan sorot mata elang, bertelapak tangan besar yang kapalan. Rambut legam dan dadanya serupa padang rumput yang bidang.

Hanya itu. Dan cuma itu. Tak ada yang lainnya, hingga aku hanya dapat mereka-reka wajah Ebak dalam benakku. Dalam benak kanak-kanak. Aku pun tak punya pembanding, seperti apa rupa lelaki itu. Di limas ini, cuma ada aku dan Emak. Dua perempuan yang terasa begitu kaku dalam bercerita.

Apa musabab kematian Ebak?

Aku masih setia mengejar Emak dengan hikayat yang sepertinya tak hendak dia terakan. Bila telah demikian, Emak akan memasang wajah merengut. Mendelikkan mata tak suka padaku. Dan aku pun akan menutup mulut.

Ebak-mu mati di tengah rimba, usai berlari lantaran melihat seekor ular mematuk seseorang. Kematian yang mengerikan, kematian yang membuatnya terlempar ke alam yang tak bisa kau raba. Sudah, tak usah kau tanya tentang itu lagi.


Begitulah, Emak selalu saja menghikayatkan tentang sebatang kayu di belakang limas kami itu. Tentang seorang gadis cantik yang dipatuk ular coklat besar lantaran melanggar pantang dari emaknya. Kebiasaan Emak menceritakan hikayatnya itu kian menjadi-jadi saja seiring usiaku yang menampak. Dan aku mulai terbiasa dengan ceritanya, kuanggap dongeng semata, tak perlu dicemaskan. Aku pun tak hendak lagi memaksa Emak menceritakan hikayat tentang Ebak, karena aku tahu Emak pasti tak akan menceritakannya. Dan, aku pun tak perlu bercerita kepada Emak, kalau aku diam-diam telah dua kali ke bawah batang kayu itu. Mengintip seorang bujang yang mulai berjakun, bersorot mata elang dengan rahang keras yang tersenyum padaku.





Seductive Tree

Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.


Read some of his essays and book reviews at: and

He can be reached at







The Seductive Tree

Don’t you ever go near that tree. That was what Mom said every time when, as a child, my eyes lit up when I looked at the shady tree growing behind our house. Listening to her command, my eyes would dim as I asked, “Why?”

“At the lowest branch of the tree, there is a big brown snake’s nest. The snake will strike at anyone who disturbs it.”

Mom’s answer always made me flinch, killing my burning desire to linger near the tree, and suppressing my longing for a while.

But the more I subdued the desire to play near that tree, the more frequently Mom repeated the entire story about the tree and the big brown snake. I began to memorize each part of it. Who knew, perhaps Mom was tempting me. Perhaps she wanted to test how obedient I was.

Meanwhile, the child inside me was curious about the truth of her story, and I asked myself fervently, “Is it true? Or did Mom just make it up so that I wouldn’t become a naughty girl who fooled around near that tree, like the teenaged boys?”

“There was a big brown snake on the branch, ready to bite anyone who went near it.” Mom always used that line to start her tale. “Once there was a young girl with an oval face, long neck, brown skin, and long curly hair to her hips. She had big eyes, a fine nose, and thin lips. She was a beautiful girl.”

In time, I began to wonder if the girl in the story was me. Once I started to think that way, I often looked at my face in the mirror in my room. Dark curly hair to my waist, big eyes, a fine nose, and brown skin. I looked exactly like the girl in the story. It was as if Mom was telling a tale about me.

“The young girl lived with her mother in their wooden house,” my mother’s tale continued. “The old woman started sounding too preachy to the young girl. The mother always forbade the girl to go near the shady tree behind their wooden house, where every day, from midmorning until nightfall, a young man sat with his goats.

“He had a square jaw with sharp eyes like an eagle, big arms, and a broad chest to lean against.

“Before her mother caught her, the girl often went there and talked to the young man about his goats, the tree that shaded them, and her cloth of innocence. The girl felt that she had found her life. But then her mother forbade her to go to the tree. Secretly, something grew in the girl’s chest — a wild rose that twisted and turned.”

At this part of the story, I always saw Mom’s expression change. There was a sparkle that she could not hide, she looked like a girl falling in love. I rarely found any shred of happiness in my mother’s hard face.

“The girl could not control the growth of the rose,” Mom continued. “Especially when her big eyes looked at the ceiling of her room, daydreaming. The image of her head leaning against the young man’s chest filled her mind. The grasp of his big hands and calloused palms felt very soft as he held her hands. She could not bear it. She could no longer hold her yearning captive.”

At this part in the story, Mom’s face changed again. The joy she rarely showed turned to sorrow on her face, a face filled with sad burdens, like that of someone whose yearnings tortured her heart without mercy.

“Unable to hold back her longing, the girl disobeyed her mother’s orders,” Mom continued. “Around noon, on a day that she would remember as the darkest day of her life, she went to see the young man.

“They satisfied their deep longing until it overwhelmed their senses, and suddenly her cloth of innocence was unveiled; and a big brown snake bit the unaware girl. The snake’s fangs sank into her skin, and the venom was injected. The girl’s face turned blue in terror. It scared the young man so much that he ran away and vanished into the jungle, leaving the girl with the big eyes full of the venom that might take her life.”


To be honest, I didn’t like it when Mom told the story. Not only was it always the same story — about a beautiful girl and the shady tree growing behind a wooden house — but her story frightened me. I often had nightmares, and I told Mom about the horrors in my sleep. In my dream, I violated my mother’s forbiddance, and I would sneak to the tree and find the big brown snake, its wide-open mouth showing two scary fangs.

“The dream means, don’t you ever dare to violate my prohibition,” explained my mom. “If you do, the big brown snake will bite you, injecting deadly venom, and you will die alone and be cast into hell. Banished. Deserted. Alone.”

Mom always spoke the same words every time I told her about my nightmares. She would repeat her tale, about the tree behind the wooden house and the beautiful girl who was bitten by a big brown snake because she violated her mother’s prohibition.

Realizing that Mom would never stop telling me her frightening tale, I quit telling her about my nightmares hoping to stop her from telling her same old tale.

I wanted to join the teenagers I watched every day from afar. They were at the tree, laughing, jumping up and down, playing catch in their uniforms. White and red uniforms. The colors enticed me. Every night before I closed my eyes, I prayed for the same wish: That my dream would take me to them, wearing the same uniform, laughing together.

But that never happened. Instead, I always dreamed about the snake nesting in the tree. A horrible dream.

In truth, I longed to tell Mom why I wanted to go to that tree — the tree behind our wooden house, whose trunk and boughs stood proudly in the middle of the meadow. I wanted to tell her that there, I often found teenagers playing catch, running to catch dragonflies, and rolling on the grass. Their laughter buzzed in my ears. But I could never explain that to her.

It was as if Mom could read my young mind. “Believe me, they will never like you,” she told me. “Their parents will quickly call them home, if they see you are with them. After that, you will cry. Mom doesn’t want to see tears on your face, because your tears will not make them pity you. Now, that hurts, right?”

I didn’t understand what she said. I only noticed that her face looked dreadful, like a grimacing ghost who died in rage, sorrowful under burdens and filled with vengeance. I decided to bury my wish together with the frightening ghost.


There was, however, a story that I would have liked to hear from Mom. It was not, of course, the story about the tree behind the wooden house and the beautiful girl who was bitten by a big brown snake because she violated her mother’s prohibition. No, it was the story about my father, whose face I could not even imagine. There was no picture or anything related to him in our house. I therefore never knew what kind of a person he was.  

“Your father died, and now you live with just me in this house,” Mom always said when I pleaded with her to tell me about my father. Her expression would become gloomy. She’d look like someone suppressing anger, loneliness, love, vengeance, and other feelings in her heart. The mixed emotions made her face look scary, but also evoked pity when I looked at her closely.

“Can we visit his grave?” I would do what she did and kept repeating the same request even though I knew her answer would always be the same.

“It is not good for a young girl to visit a graveyard,” she’d say. “Did you forget what I taught you? The prophet forbids young girls to visit the grave because they will wail out there.”

So I used my young wit to make Mom tell the story about my father. Besides, I wanted her to stop repeating the same tale about the tree over and over again, as I became more and more curious about the man who caused me to live this house.

“There is nothing special that I can tell you about your father,” said Mom. “He had a square jaw and eyes like an eagle; his hands were big, and his palms were calloused. He had dark hair, and his chest was as broad as the meadow.”

And that was it. Nothing that could help me form a complete picture of him in my mind.

I also had no one to compare him to. I lived alone with my mom in this wooden house — two women who were not good at telling stories.

“How did he die?” I persisted in asking Mom about the story she didn’t want to tell. At such times, Mom frowned and glared at me with dislike. And I would shut my mouth.

“Your father died in the jungle, where he ran because he saw a snake strike at someone,” she finally told me.  “A horrible death, the kind of death that would cast one into an untouchable world. That’s it. Don’t you ask about that again.”


So, that’s the story that Mom kept telling me about the tree behind a wooden house. About a beautiful girl bitten by a big brown snake because she violated her mother’s rules.

She told the story even more frequently after I came of age, and I started getting used to her story, which I considered to be a fairy tale, nothing to be worried about. I didn’t even ask her to tell the story about my father anymore, knowing she would never tell me anything more. And I didn’t tell her that, secretly, I had been to the tree twice, peeking at a young man whose Adam’s apple started to show, whose eyes stared like an eagle, who had a square jaw and smiled at me.


Kopi dan Cinta yang Tak Pernah Mati

Agus Noor is a prose and short story writer as well as a playwright. He was born in Tegal, Central Java and graduated from ISI, the Indonesian Insitute of Art, in Yogyakarta. His short stories are published in several anthologies such as Kitab Cerpen Horison Sastra Indonesia (Majalah Horison dan The Ford Foundation, 2002), Jl. Asmaradana (Cerpen Pilihan Kompas, 2005), Ripin (Cerpen Kompas Pilihan, 2007), Kitab Cerpen Horison Sastra Indonesia, Pembisik (Cerpen-cerpen terbaik Republika), and 20 Cerpen Indonesia Terbaik 2008 (Pena Kencana). His short story Kunang-Kunang di Langit Jakarta was awarded the 2011 best short story by Kompas.

Agus Noor can be reached at

Published in February 2020. Copyright ©2020 by Agus Noor. Published with permission from the author. Translation copyright ©2020 by Oni Suryaman.


Kopi dan Cinta yang Tak Pernah Mati


Kebebasan selalu layak dirayakan. Maka selepas keluar penjara, yang diinginkan ialah mengunjungi kedai kopi ini. Kebahagiaan akan semakin lengkap bila dinikmati dengan secangkir kopi. Hanya di kedai kopi ini dia bisa menikmati kopi terbaik yang disajikan dengan cara paling baik.

Ada orang-orang yang bersikeras mempertahankan kenangan, dan kedai kopi ini seolah diperuntukkan bagi orang-orang seperti itu. Nyaris tak ada yang berubah. Meja kursi kayu hanya terlihat makin gelap dan tua.

Yang dulu tak ada hanya pengumuman bergambar bayangan wajah lelaki berkumis tebal, yang terpasang dekat jendela.

Ada tulisan di bawah pengumuman itu, seperti larik puisi. Pada kopi ada revolusi, juga cinta yang tak pernah mati. Dia tersenyum. Sejarah memang aneh: dulu lelaki itu pembangkang, kini dianggap pejuang.

Beberapa orang di kedai kopi langsung menatap tajam saat dia masuk. Dia mengenali beberapa dari mereka, para pembangkang yang sejak dulu memang selalu berkumpul di kedai kopi ini. Dia tetap tenang. Apa pun bisa terjadi. Mungkin seseorang akan menyerangnya. Sepuluh tahun dalam penjara membuat kewaspadaannya makin terasah.

Dia meraba pistol di balik jaket. Sekadar berjaga. Kita harus selalu berhati-hati menghadapi kebencian, batinnya, saat menatap anak muda penyaji kopi yang terus memandanginya.

Mata itu mengingatkan pada mata laki-laki yang dulu dibunuhnya. Umur anak muda itu baru sebelas tahun saat bapaknya mati. Kini terlihat seperti banteng muda yang siap meluapkan dendamnya. Pemuda itu mengangguk pelan saat dia memesan.

Panas udara siang membuat wangi kopi terasa semakin kental. Tak akan pernah dilupakannya harum kopi yang menenteramkan ini, seolah wangi itu dicuri dari surga.

Ketika ditugaskan ke kota ini, komandannya memberi tahu, agar tak melewatkan kedai kopi ini dari daftar yang harus dikunjungi. Kedai kopi yang menyediakan kopi terbaik. Kedai kopi yang bukan saja istimewa, tetapi juga berbahaya.

Bertahun lalu, dia dikirim ke kota ini untuk menghabisi seorang pembangkang yang dianggap berbahaya bagi negara. Saat itu unjuk rasa nyaris meledak setiap hari. Kota ini menjadi kota yang selalu rusuh oleh gagasan gila perihal kemerdekaan.

Para perusuh itu, begitu tentara menyebut, tak hanya bergerak di hutan-hutan, tetapi juga menyusup ke kota, menyerang pos keamanan atau menyergap pasukan patroli keamanan.

Tentara melakukan pembersihan. Puluhan orang ditangkap, diculik dan tak pernah kembali. Ada peristiwa yang tak akan pernah dilupakan oleh penduduk kota ini, ketika suatu hari tentara menghajar delapan anak muda di perempatan pusat kota. Mereka diseret, dibariskan satu per satu, kemudian ditembak tepat di kepala. Kekejian seperti itu terkadang diperlukan untuk menciptakan ketakutan. Tapi siapa yang bisa membunuh gagasan? Kepala bisa ditembak sampai pecah, tetapi gagasan akan terus hidup dalam kepala banyak orang. Peristiwa itu mendapat protes keras, dan makin memicu perlawanan.

Amnesty International menekan pemerintah pusat untuk menghentikan kekerasan. Saat operasi militer dianggap tak lagi berdaya guna, dia pun dikirim.

Sebagai seorang mata-mata yang terlatih dia pun dengan cepat mengetahui, bagi orang-orang di kota ini kedai kopi bukan sekadar tempat untuk menikmati kopi. Hampir di setiap jalan di kota ini selalu ada kedai kopi. Rasanya tak ada penduduk kota ini yang tak menyukai kopi. Di kedai kopi waktu seperti berhenti. Orang bisa sepanjang hari duduk di kedai kopi untuk berkumpul, berbual atau menyendiri, mempercakapkan hal-hal rahasia, kasak-kusuk perlawanan, juga tempat paling tepat untuk menyelesaikan masalah. Pertengkaran bisa diselesaikan dengan secangkir kopi. Semua keterangan di kota ini akan dengan mudah didapatkan di kedai kopi.

Dari keterangan yang dimiliki dia mengenali lelaki yang mesti dihabisi. Yang dianggap musuh negara paling berbahaya ternyata bukan seorang berperawakan kekar, yang hidup berpindah-pindah dalam hutan memimpin gerilyawan, dan karena itu tentara tak pernah berhasil menangkapnya. Orang yang dicarinya itu hanya bertubuh kecil, nyaris kurus, berkulit gelap, rambut agak ikal. Dia terlihat keras, tetapi selalu berbicara dengan nada santun. Jadi inilah orang yang selalu menghasut anak-anak muda untuk melakukan perlawanan dan menuntut kemerdekaan. Dia hanya penyaji kopi.


Anak muda penyaji kopi itu telah berdiri di dekatnya, menyodorkan secangkir kopi yang sedikit bergetar ketika diletakkan di meja. Dia tahu anak muda itu gugup, tetapi berusaha mengendalikan perasaannya.

“Ini kopi terbaik yang kusajikan untukmu yang di dalamnya tersimpan rahasia, yang hanya bisa kau ketahui setelah kau meminumnya.” Anak muda itu menatapnya. “Tapi aku tak yakin, apakah kamu berani meminumnya habis.”

Di luar, jalanan ramai lalu lalang kendaraan. Klakson angkot, knalpot sepeda motor meraung kencang. Lagu dangdut terdengar dari kedai kopi seberang jalan. Tapi dia merasakan suasana begitu sunyi di kedai ini. Semua orang dalam kedai terdiam dan memandang ke arahnya, seolah berharap terjadi perkelahian seru.

“Duduklah,” akhirnya dia berkata. “Seperti yang selalu dikatakan orang-orang di kota ini, mari kita selesaikan semuanya dengan secangkir kopi.

Terdengar kursi kayu digeser, dan anak muda itu duduk. “Seperti ketika kamu menghabisi ayah aku!”

Lagu dangdut masih terdengar dari kedai seberang: Tuduhlah aku, sepuas hatiiimuuuu, atau bila kau perlu bunuhlah akuuuu…

“Kau pasti membenciku.” Dia mengisap rokok dalam-dalam.

“Untuk apa membenci seorang pengecut. Pengecut lebih pantas dikasihani.”

“Kalau kukatakan aku bukan pembunuh ayahmu, pasti kau tak percaya. Tapi baiklah, bila aku memang kau anggap pembunuh ayahmu, kau pasti tahu kenapa ayahmu harus dibunuh.”

“Selalu tersedia cukup banyak alasan untuk menjadi pembunuh. Hanya pengecut yang membunuh dengan cara-cara licik.”

“Jangan terlalu percaya pada apa yang diberitakan koran-koran. Asal kau tahu, aku mengagumi ayahmu. Kematian ayahmu bukan tanggung jawabku. Itu tanggung jawab negara.”

“Yang pertama-tama dilakukan para pengecut memang selalu mencari pembenaran. Itu sebabnya para pengecut selalu selamat.”

Dia kembali menyalakan sebatang rokok. Padahal rokok di asbak masih panjang. Dia ingin meminum kopi di cangkir itu pelan, tapi seperti ada yang menahannya, naluri yang mengharuskannya bersikap hati-hati dalam keadaan seperti ini. Jari-jarinya berkedut, hal yang selalu terjadi bila dia merasa cemas, hingga rokok di jarinya nyaris lepas. “Aku telah menghabiskan sepuluh tahun dalam penjara untuk sesuatu yang dituduhkan padaku yang sebenarnya tak pernah kulakukan.”

“Pengecut tak akan pernah berani mengakui kejahatan yang dilakukan!”

“Aku sendiri hanya orang yang dikorbankan untuk menutupi kesalahan orang lain. Salah alamat bila kau mendendam kepadaku.”

“Ini bukan soal dendam. Ini soal keadilan,” tatapan anak muda itu makin tajam. “Kamu memang sudah dihukum. Dan aku yakin, sepanjang hidupmu, kamu akan terus dihukum oleh kepengecutan dan ketakutanmu. Tapi itu bukan alasan bagiku untuk berhenti menuntut keadilan.”

“Apa yang kamu tuntut dari keadilan? Keadilan tak pernah membuat yang mati hidup kembali.”

“Yang mati memang tak akan pernah hidup kembali…”

“Kecuali Tuhan,” dia menimpali ucapan anak muda itu, mencoba berkelakar mencairkan suasana tegang.

“Keadilan bukan perkara orang per orang. Ini bukan persoalan antara aku dan kamu. Juga bukan persoalan kamu dan ayahku. Jika kamu menganggap ini hanya persoalan pribadi, semestinya kamu menantang ayahku untuk berkelahi satu lawan satu, sampai salah satu di antara kalian mati. Itu jauh lebih jantan dan terhormat. Tapi aku tahu, pengecut semacammu tak akan pernah berani bersikap jantan seperti itu. Menyedihkan memang, pengecut selalu selamat oleh kepengecutannya.”

“Aku bukan pengecut!” Suaranya terdengar mengambang di udara.

“Kalau begitu, minum kopi itu, dan kita tunggu apa yang terjadi.”

Ketika dia hanya terdiam gamang memandangi cangkir kopi, anak muda itu tertawa masam. “Apa kamu pikir dengan berani datang ke kedai ayahku ini kamu sudah membuktikan keberanianmu? Tidak! Aku yakin kamu datang kemari bukan untuk meminta maaf. Kamu datang kemari justru karena ingin membuktikan bahwa kamu tidak bersalah telah membunuh ayahku. Kamu merasa, dengan dipenjara sepuluh tahun, sudah cukup untuk menganggap selesai persoalan.

Bagiku, tak ada kata lupa untuk kejahatan. Pembunuh selalu bersikeras melupakan korbannya. Bahkan, aku yakin, kamu sudah lupa seperti apa ayahku.”

Dia diam-diam melirik pada pengumuman di tembok kayu itu; wajah lelaki berkumis tebal itu tak akan pernah mungkin dilupakannya. Wajah itu selalu muncul dalam mimpi buruknya. Dia tak akan pernah lupa pada saat-saat dia mulai mendekati lelaki itu.

Masuklah ke dalam hati musuhmu melalui apa yang disukainya. Ketika dia selalu mengajaknya bicara tentang kopi, lelaki itu dengan cepat menyukainya. Saat menikmati kopi di sore bergerimis, dari lelaki itu dia tahu rahasia menyajikan kopi. Sentuhan tangan penyaji kopilah yang membedakan rasa kopi. Biji kopi terbaik tetap saja tak akan enak bila tangan penyaji kopi itu tak mengenali jiwa kopi. Dia pun mengerti kenapa di kedai ini tak ada mesin penggiling kopi. Lelaki itu mengolah sendiri biji-biji kopi dengan tangannya.

Sentuhlah biji-biji kopi itu dengan seluruh perasaanmu, kamu akan merasakan sesuatu yang lembut. Dan kamu akan tahu mana biji kopi terbaik yang pantas disajikan untuk pelanggan.

Sebenarnya dia tak hendak percaya. Namun pada kenyataannya kopi di kedai kopi ini memang terasa paling nikmat di lidahnya. Dia sudah sering menikmati kopi di banyak kedai kopi, tetapi tak ada yang bisa membuatnya merasa begitu nikmat senikmat setiap kali dia menikmati kopi di kedai ini. Seakan dalam secangkir kopi itu ada kebahagiaan yang dikekalkan. Bahkan ketika dalam penjara, diam-diam dia sering minta tolong pada sipir untuk membelikan kopi dari kedai ini. Dengan sogokan tentu saja.

“Tak pernah ada sebelumnya yang membiarkan kopi di kedai ini menjadi dingin tanpa menyentuhnya,” suara anak muda itu membuyarkan ingatannya. “Itu sudah cukup membuktikan bahwa kamu bukan saja pengecut karena tidak berani meminum kopi yang aku sajikan, tetapi juga meyakinkanku kalau kamu memang pengecut yang dihantui ketakutanmu sendiri.”

Anak muda itu bangkit meninggalkannya sendirian.


Langit gelap dan kosong ketika dia keluar dari kedai itu. Tapi perasaan kosong dalam hatinya menghamparkan kehampaan melebihi luas langit yang dipandanginya. Rasanya dia merasa lebih terhormat bila anak muda itu menghajarnya hingga babak belur ketimbang membuatnya merasa terhina seperti ini.

Tak akan pernah berani lagi dia kembali ke kedai kopi itu. Kopi yang disajikan anak muda itu benar-benar telah membuatnya diluapi perasaan takut; mengingatkannya pada peristiwa saat dia menuangkan arsenik ke dalam cangkir kopi lelaki berkumis itu.

Dia melihat seorang gadis berjalan bergegas menyeberang jalan. Gadis itu memakai kaos bergambar sablon wajah lelaki berkumis itu. Kematian seorang pengecut seperti dirinya tak akan pernah mendapat kehormatan seperti kematian lelaki yang dibunuhnya.

Saat melintas di depan toko kelontong berkaca lebar dia berhenti, memandangi bayangan muram tubuhnya; kulit coklat gelapnya tersamar warna jaket yang telah pudar, mata cekung dan alis matanya yang semurung sayap burung sedikit tertutup rambut yang mulai gondrong. Bayangan di kaca itu seperti hantu masa lalu yang tak ingin dilihatnya.

Kemudian dia berjalan menuju kelokan, dan untuk terakhir kali memandang kedai kopi itu dari kejauhan, sebelum akhirnya menghilang ke dalam cahaya kota yang remang. Bila pada akhirnya dia benar-benar menghilang dari dunia ini, adakah seseorang yang masih mengingat dan mengenangnya?


Coffee Noir

Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.

Read some of his essays and book reviews at: and

He can be reached at



Coffee Noir


Freedom is always worth celebrating. That’s why, after he was released from prison, he wanted to visit this coffee shop. His joy would be completed with a cup of coffee. Only in this coffee shop could he enjoy the best coffee served in the best way.

Some people insisted on preserving memories, and it was as if this coffee shop especially existed for such people. Almost nothing had changed. Only the color of the wooden chairs had grown darker and older. The only thing that wasn’t there before was a sketch of a man’s face with a thick mustache on a poster next to the window.

A line was written at the bottom of the poster, like a verse of poetry: In coffee, there is revolution; there is also everlasting love. He smiled. History has its own humor: the man who used to be considered a rebel was now hailed as a hero.

Several people had glared at him when he entered. He recognized some of them; this coffee shop had always been a hotspot for rebels. He stayed calm. Anything could happen. Someone might challenge him. The ten years he served in prison had honed his sense of awareness to perfection.

He touched the gun under his jacket, just in case. Be careful when facing hatred, he thought, as he looked at a young server who would kept staring at him.

The young server’s eyes reminded him of the man he had killed. The young server was only eleven years old when his father died. Now he looked like a young bull ready to exact revenge. The server nodded slowly when he ordered his coffee.

The hot air at noon made the coffee aroma in the shop stronger. He would never forget the soothing smell of coffee; it was as if the scent was stolen from heaven.

When he had been assigned to this town, many years ago, his commanding officer had told him not to miss this coffee shop on the list of places you must visit. It serves the best coffee, his commanding officer told him. This coffee shop is not only special, but also dangerous.

He had been sent to this town to kill a rebel deemed dangerous to the national security. At that time, demonstrations took place almost every day. This town had always been riotous with crazy ideas about independence.

The rebels, as they were labelled by the national army, didn’t just roam the jungle, but also infiltrated towns, attacked military posts, and ambushed military patrols.

The national army conducted a sweep. Dozens of people were captured, abducted, and never returned. The people of the town would never forget the day the army beat up eight young men in an intersection downtown. The youths were dragged, lined up, and then shot in the head. Such atrocity was sometimes used to create fear. But who can kill ideas? One can shoot a head and explode the brain, but ideas stay alive inside the heads of many people. This atrocious was vehemently protested and triggered more retaliations.

Amnesty International pressured the central government to cease the brutality. When military operations were considered powerless, he was assigned to the town.

As a trained spy, he knew right away that this coffee shop was not just a place for the town’s people to gather and drink coffee. There were coffee shops on almost every street in this town. It seemed no one in this town didn’t enjoy coffee. At the coffee shop, time almost stood still. People could sit there all day long to gossip, tell secrets, plot for resistance, or just be alone. It was also a good place to settle disputes. Any dispute could be settled over a cup of coffee. Any information about this town could be easily obtained in the coffee shop.

And from the information he had collected, he identified the man he had been sent to kill. This man, considered the most dangerous rebel, turned out to be neither a big man nor someone who roved in the jungle leading guerillas; that’s why the national army never succeeded in capturing him. The man he was looking for was a man of small stature, almost skinny, with dark skin and slightly wavy hair. The man looked tough, but always spoke in a polite tone. This rebel, who continuously incited young men to join the resistance and demand independence, was just a server in a coffee shop.


The young man serving his coffee now stood next to him; the cup shook a little when he put it on the table.

He could tell that the young man was nervous but was trying to control his emotions.

“In this cup of the best coffee I can serve you lies a secret, which you can only find after you drink it.” The young server said, staring at him. “But I am not sure if you dare to empty your cup.”

Outside, the road was crowded with traffic. The air was filled with horns honking from mini-buses and exhaust pipes rumbling from motorcycles. A dangdut song blared from the coffee shop across the street. But he felt the silence that reigned in this coffee shop. Everyone was quiet and had their eyes fixed on him, as if expecting a fight would break out.

“Sit down,” he finally said to the young server. “As the people in this town would say, let’s settle everything with a cup of coffee.”

The wooden chair scraped as the young man dragged it from the table and sat down. The young man said, “Just like when you murdered my father!”

The dangdut song still blared from across the street. “Accuse me to your heart’s content, and if you feel it necessary, just kill me …” “You must hate me.” He sucked hard on his cigarette.

“Why should I hate a coward? You should be pitied.”

“If I told you that I didn’t kill your father, you would not believe me. But that’s fine. Let’s say you believe that I am indeed your father’s killer; if so, then you must know why he had to die.”

“There are always excuses to be a murderer. Only a coward kills using devious ways.”

“You cannot trust what is written in the newspapers. You have to know that I admired your father. I am not responsible for his death; this country is.”

“The first thing a coward always does is to find justification. That’s why a coward always survives.”

He lit another cigarette, even though the cigarette he left in the ashtray was still long. He wanted to sip his coffee, but something was keeping him from doing it; his instinct forced him to be careful in this kind of situation. His fingers twitched, something that always happened when he was nervous, and he almost dropped his cigarette. “I have served ten years in prison for something that I didn’t do.”

“A coward would never dare admit the crime he committed!”

“I’m just the fall guy for someone else’s crime. You picked the wrong guy if you hold a grudge against me.”

“This is not about a grudge. This is about justice.” The young man’s stare became more intense. “You served your time, indeed. I’m sure that for your entire life, you are going to be punished for your cowardice and fear. But that is not a reason for me to stop pursuing justice.”

“What do you want to pursue justice for? Justice could never raise someone from the dead. The dead can never be raised again …”

“Except by God,” the young man interrupted, trying to lighten the conversation with a joke. “Justice is not catered to one’s individual business. This is not about you and me. This is not even about you and my father. If you think this is personal, you should have challenged my father to a one-on-one duel to the death. That would be braver and more honorable. But I know, a coward like you would never act bravely like that. Sadly, indeed, a coward is always saved by his cowardice.”

“I am not a coward!” His voice hung in the air.

“Drink the coffee then,” said the server, “and let’s see what happens.”

When he looked at the cup of coffee in silence, the young server laughed wryly. “You think that you come here to my father’s coffee shop to prove your courage? No! I’m sure that you did not come here to apologize. You came here precisely because you want to prove that you’re innocent of killing my father. You think that your ten-year prison sentence is enough to close the matter. For me, a crime should never be forgotten. A murderer will always insist that he has forgotten his victim. I’m sure that you have forgotten what my father looks like.”

He stole a covert glance at the poster on the wooden wall; he would never be able to forget the face of the man with a thick mustache. That face always showed up in his nightmares. He would never forget the moment he approached that man.

Gain your enemy’s trust by knowing what he likes. When he started his conversations with the mustached man about coffee, the man liked him immediately. While enjoying the coffee during that rainy afternoon, he learned the secret of coffee-making from that man. “It is the hand that makes the coffee that makes the difference,” he was told. “Even the best coffee beans would taste bad if the coffeemaker is not in touch with the soul of the coffee.”

He suddenly understood why there was no coffee grinder in this shop. The man always crushed the coffee beans with his hands.

“Touch the beans with all of your soul, and you will feel something tender inside. You will know which beans are the best, worthy of being served to the customers.”

He wasn’t sure he believed that, but it was a fact that the coffee from this coffee shop was indeed the best according to his palate. He had enjoyed coffee in many coffee shops, but none tasted as good as the coffee in this shop. It was as if eternal bliss was captured in every cup of coffee. Even when he was in prison, he secretly asked the warden to get him coffee from this shop. For a price, of course.

“In this shop, no one ever dares to let the coffee get cold without touching it.” The young server’s voice interrupted his reminiscence. “This is enough to prove that you’re not just a coward who doesn’t dare to drink my coffee, but that you’re indeed a coward who is haunted by his own fear.”

The young server rose and left him by himself.


The sky was dark and empty when he came out of the coffee shop. But the emptiness in his heart was hollower than that of the sky above him. It would have been more respectful if the young man had beaten him to a pulp than made him feel insulted like this.

He would never dare to return to that coffee shop. The coffee served by the young man overwhelmed him with fear, reminding him when he had put arsenic in the cup of the man with the thick mustache.

He saw a girl hurriedly cross the street. She wore a T-shirt with the face of the man with a thick mustache. The death of a coward like him would never earn an honor like the death of the man he killed.

When he passed a general store with a wide glass window, he stopped. He looked at the somber shadow of his body, his dark-brown skin concealed by his faded jacket. His sunken eyes below arched eyebrows, partly covered by hair that had started to grow long. The reflection in the glass window was like a ghost from the past he didn’t want to see.

He walked toward the intersection and turned, looking back at the coffee shop for the last time, before disappearing in the dim light of the town. When, in the end, he really disappeared from this world, would anyone out there still remember him?


We are happy and proud to celebrate the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 with showcasing a handful of Indonesia’s aspiring writers and translators. We hope that by doing this we will inspire more young people to seriously consider how to get the most out of their gift of language.

The following is our "catch of the day." A sixth grader's short story that won first place in a regional writing competition, that was translated by a sophomore in middle school is followed with two stories from Indonesian Creative Writing students from the University of Sanata Darma and generously translated by Novita Dewi, a lecturer at the English Department of the same university. We conclude this special feature with a story written by an alumni of Petra University, Irene Wibowo, that was used as translation material at their latest translation workshop with us in October, earlier this year.

I like to quote one of the workshop participants, "I learned that, even though the work is not easy, it is rewarding." which echoes in his teacher’s statement, "...with hard work and combined effort, we, Indonesian authors and translators, can indeed stand on our own. Onward!" and ONWARD we will move through 2020 with the support of our teaching, writing, translating and publishing community. May 2020 be a fruitful year for all of us.

Kehampaan di Pantai Tanjung Lesung

Maryam Mufidah was born on December 22, 2007, in Purworejo, Central Java, Indonesia. She currently is a sixth grader at the elementary school of the Muhammadiyah Kutoarjo.

As her writing achievements she notes two placings in 2019. A second place at the “Festival dan Literasi Nasional”— a short story competition for the Kutoarjo area, and a first place at the “Tsamuha Smart Competition” — a short story competition for the Jawa Tengah province.

Maryam and her family currently reside in Pangenjurutengah, Purworejo, Jawa Tengah. She can be reached via her mother, Sari Wahyuni, at: 085743637002.


Kehampaan di Pantai Tanjung Lesung

Sore itu, pada 22 Desember 2018, kabut tebal dan suara gemuruh yang tak kunjung reda menghantam seluruh pantai Tanjung Lesung, Pandeglang.

“Gempa! Gempa! Gunung Krakatau meletus!” Teriakan penduduk di sekitar pantai Tanjung Lesung terdengar di seantero desa.

Isak tangis terdengar di mana-mana. Korban pun banyak terlihat di reruntuhan rumah. Banyak jasad tak terurus. Desa sunyi menahan sedu dan pilu.

Seorang anak berparas cantik duduk bersandar di bebatuan purba yang berada di tepi pantai. Mata anak itu disembunyikan di antara kedua lututnya. Wajahnya tertunduk.

“Nak, mengapa kamu di sini?” tanya seorang polisi yang sedang berkeliling di tepi pantai yang masuk dalam provinsi Banten itu. Dia ditugaskan untuk mencari korban-korban gempa bumi yang kemudian disusul tsunami.

Anak itu memandang polisi itu sebelum berkata lirih, “Saya sudah tidak memiliki apa pun.”

Polisi itu lalu mencari keterangan mengenai anak perempuan itu pada penduduk setempat.

Anak itu bernama Fenita. Kecuali kakaknya yang sedang meneruskan pendidikan di luar Pulau Jawa, semua keluarganya memang sudah habis ditelan gempa dan digulung tsunami.

“Fenita, kakakmu akan kuberitahu mengenai keadaanmu dan orangtuamu yang telah meninggal. Kamu dapat tinggal di rumahku sampai kakakmu datang menjumpaimu. Kamu dapat memanggilku Om Rian,” polisi itu tersenyum sambil menatap Fenita.

“Pak Polisi eh Om Rian tidak keberatan?” tanya Fenita ragu.

“Om di rumah sendirian. Jadi…,”

Om Rian belum menyelesaikan kata-katanya, Fenita langsung memeluknya dengan erat. Dia memang masih membutuhkan kasih sayang orangtua.


Fenita didaftarkan oleh Om Rian ke sebuah sekolah dasar di Kota Tegal. Pada hari pertama memasuki sekolah, Fenita masih gugup. Namun, atas dukungan Om Rian dia akhirnya dengan percaya diri belajar di sekolah itu. Fenita tidak malu-malu berkenalan dengan teman-teman barunya.

Di sekolah itu ada seorang anak bernama Winda yang sama-sama tak memiliki orangtua.

“Kita harus tetap tegar menghadapi berbagai ujian. Hidup bukanlah untuk berpangku tangan,” kata Winda pada saat jam istirahat.

“Kau benar,” Fenita tersenyum dan berharap dapat berkawan akrab dengan Winda.

“Kamu perlu tahu aturan kelas kita. Siapa yang paling sedikit kekurangannyalah yang menjadi pemimpin. Semua murid akan menjulukinya si orang pertama,” jelas Winda.

“Ada anak yang seperti itu?”

“Ada. Anak itu bernama Malik. Itu dia,” Winda mengarahkan pandangannya pada Malik yang sedang bersandar di pintu kelas tak terlalu jauh dari tempat Fenita dan Winda bercakap-cakap.

“Menurutku, anak yang memiliki apa yang kau sebutkan tadi tidaklah berarti apabila dia hanya peduli pada dirinya sendiri,” kata Fenita.

“Ssst! Malik datang,” bisik Winda.

Malik mendatangi mereka dan menghardik Fenita, “Anak baru sudah berani menantang aku!” kata Malik gusar. Dia berpaling dari pandangan Fenita, dan langsung pergi.

Kembali Fenita dan Winda berdua bercakap-cakap.

Menurut Winda, sebenarnya teman sekelas tidak setuju aturan yang dibuat Malik, tetapi mereka tidak berani menentangnya,
“Semoga aku bisa membantunya untuk berubah melalui doaku,” kata Fenita sambil tersenyum.

Sepulang sekolah Fenita langsung mencuci kaki, berganti baju, berwudhu, dan melaksanakan salat. Seusai salat, Fenita berdoa supaya Malik mendapat hidayah. Fenita membaca Alquran dan berharap doanya dikabulkan.


Pada saat liburan sekolah, Om Rian mengajak Fenita berlibur ke pantai Tegal.

Fenita tidak menjawab. Dia berlari ke kamar, dan menangis. Dia beranggapan bahwa pantailah yang membuatnya menjadi yatim piatu.

Tak lama kemudian, Om Rian masuk ke kamar Fenita. Dia duduk di pinggiran tempat tidur Fenita sambil mengelus-elus kepalanya dengan lembut.

Ajakan Om Rian berlibur ke pantai menjadikannya gundah. Untuk menenangkan diri, Fenita bermain ke rumah Winda yang jaraknya tak begitu jauh dari rumah Om Rian.

Fenita bercerita pada Winda tentang gempa dan tsunami yang melanda desanya.

“Saat itu aku dan ayahku berencana menangkap ikan di laut dengan menggunakan perahu.

Ibu yang tahu mengenai rencana itu langsung menyiapkan makanan ringan. Ibu telah membeli buah melon yang akan dibawa ke pantai. Lalu gempa datang mengguncang desa.

Ayah langsung membawaku ke tepi pantai dengan menggunakan perahu miliknya agar aku dapat selamat. Namun, di pantai tsunami datang.

Aku diminta lari ke arah daratan.

Ayah bukannya menyelamatkan diri, dia malah menolong seseorang yang tenggelam digulung ombang. Ayah pun terombang-ambing di antara gelombang yang menggunung,” cerita Fenita. Matanya berkaca-kaca.
“Bagaimana dengan ibumu? Apa yang terjadi dengannya?”

“Sewaktu gempa, kaki ibu tersandung melon yang menghambatnya lari keluar. Ibu tertimpa kayu penyangga rumah,” lanjut Fenita. “Itulah yang membuatku benci pantai dan buah melon. Keganasan alam itulah yang membuatku hidup seperti sekarang ini,” lanjut Fenita. Air matanya menetes.

“Jangan khawatir, semua yang kita punya di dunia ini hanyalah sementara. Semua yang kita miliki pasti kembali pada Yang Kuasa. Hidup di dunia bukanlah satu-satunya cara kita bahagia. Dengan membahagiakan orang lain pun kita dapat berbahagia. Bukan hanya berbahagia di dunia, namun juga di akhirat,” ucap Winda menyemangati.

“Terimakasih, Winda. Kata-katamu menyemangatiku,” kata Fenita

“Jangan pernah membenci sesuatu yang Allah ciptakan untuk kita,” jawab Winda.


Keesokan harinya, Fenita didekati Winda yang mengabarkan tentang lomba membuat rangkaian bunga dan menghias bingkai foto dari bahan-bahan yang mudah dijumpai di lingkungan pantai.

“Dengan mengikuti lomba ini kamu dapat membahagiakan orangtuamu,” ucap Winda. “Hayo, lebih besar yang mana? Keinginan untuk membahagiakan orangtuamu atau keinginan untuk menghindari pantai? Sampai kapan kamu akan seperti ini?” tantang Winda yang akhirnya membuat Fenita bersedia ikut.

Sesampainya di gelanggang lomba, Fenita terkesima dengan keindahan pantai Kota Tegal. Sudah lama dia tak melihat pantai.

Winda menunggu di teras bangunan yang didirikan di tepi pantai, sedangkan Fenita bersiap mengikuti lomba.

“Hei, kamu lagi, kamu lagi. Bosan aku!”

“Malik?” Fenita terkejut, tapi cuma sebentar.

Fenita tak menghiraukan Malik. Dia berharap Malik tak mengganggunya. Setelah acara dimulai, Fenita mendengarkan pewara yang sedang menjelaskan tata cara lomba. Pewara tersebut memberitahukan bagaimana membuat bunga dengan menggunakan sabun. Hanya dengan mengukir memakai pisau kecil, peserta diharapkan dapat menghasilkan bunga istimewa.

Saat lomba dimulai, Fenita bingung. Kain flannel dan manik-maniknya hilang. Dia mencoba mencarinya, namun tanpa hasil. Ternyata kain flannel dan manik-maniknya berada dalam genggaman Malik. Fenita menghela napas. Dia tidak mau berurusan dengan Malik.

Fenita memutar otaknya untuk mencari bahan lain. Fenita berjalan mendekati pedagang di seputar pantai. Semula Fenita enggan untuk membeli buah melon karena buah melon selalu mengingatkannya pada cerita tentang kematian ibunya. Fenita pun membeli buah melon yang nantinya akan diukir membentuk bunga mawar dengan pisau kecil yang diberikan pada setiap peserta lomba. Namun, Fenita masih bingung bagaimana cara menghias bingkai foto. Tiba-tiba terlintas di benaknya untuk memanfaatkan kerang di tepi pantai sebagai bahan utamanya. Fenita lekas-lekas mengambil kerang-kerang bercorak indah.

Fenita beranjak ke gelanggang lomba dan langsung membuat bunga dengan mengukir bagian dalam melon dan menyusun kerang-kerang menjadi sebuah hiasan bingkai foto. Beruntung Fenita telah diberitahu cara mengukir bunga dengan menggunakan pisau sehingga ia dapat membuat bunga yang indah. Seusai Fenita berkarya, dia menyerahkan karyanya dan menemui Winda. Fenita memberitahukan apa yang baru saja dilakukannya. Dia berjanji tidak akan membenci melon dan pantai jika dia menang.

Waktu pengumuman tiba. Fenita meraih juara satu dan Malik juara dua.

Fenita sangat bahagia. Dia naik ke atas panggung. Namun, anehnya, Malik tak berada di sampingnya ketika penilai menyerahkan penghargaan dan piagam untuk Fenita.

Setelah ditunggu beberapa saat, pewara memberitahukan bahwa Malik tak ada di panggung karena dia sedang mendaftar di sebuah asrama pondok. Penghargaan dan piagam milik Malik akan diantar panitia ke pondok pesantren barunya.

Fenita bergembira karena doanya telah dikabulkan.

Setelah turun dari panggung Fenita segera menemui Winda. Fenita melihat Om Rian dan seorang gadis berada di samping Winda. Gadis itu adalah kakak Fenita yang dia nantikan kedatangannya. Fenita memeluk kakaknya erat-erat.

Winda memberi tahu kalau doa Fenita juga dikabulkan oleh Allah: Malik masuk pondok pesantren. “Allah Maha Penyayang pada semua makhluk-Nya. Bagian-bagian alam yang ada di dunia ini pastilah dapat membahagiakan manusia dengan membuahkan manfaat. Namun, kita saja yang sering melihat kemurahan Allah itu secara sempit,” jelas Winda.


Tanjung Lesung Beach Wrapped In Desolation

Thirteen year old Nurina Sanputeri Halim and her family currently reside in Semarang, Indonesia where Nurina is a sophomore at the Middle School of Sekolah Nasional Karangturi, Semarang, Indonesia.

Nurina is an avid reader. Being the youngest of three siblings gives her the benefit of exposure to readings at a higher level than her age. She has read Hamilton’s America so often that she memorizes the entire screenplay—the script as well as the songs. One of her dreams is to one day see Hamilton on a Broadway stage in New York.

Nurina’s father is a columnist for a local newspaper. Watching her father write inspires her to write for leisure. Nurina is reachable via email at:


Tanjung Lesung Beach Wrapped In Desolation

On the afternoon of December 22, 2018, thick fog and continuous thunder hit the entire Tanjung Lesung Beach, near Pandeglang, West Java, Indonesia.

“Earthquake! Earthquake! Mount Krakatau is erupting!” The villagers’ shouts and cries were heard throughout the area. Some injured villagers were tended to insithe ruins of what used to be houses. After the earthquake subsided, the village quietly restrained its sadness.

A beautiful young girl sat on a boulder on the edge of the beach with her head between her knees.

“Why are you here, child?” asked a police officer, who was making rounds at the Banten Province beach. He was assigned to find victims from the tsunami that followed the earthquake.

The girl glanced at the police officer before saying softly, “I don’t have anything anymore.”

The police officer asked the villagers for information about the girl.

The girl’s name was Fenita, he was told. Other than Fenita’s sister, who was continuing her education on another island, all of Fenita’s family members had been killed during the earthquake and tsunami.

“Fenita,” the police officer said, I’ll tell your sister what has happened. Until your sister can return, you can stay in my house. You can call me Uncle Rian,” The policeman smiled at Fenita.
“Officer — I mean, Uncle Rian, you don’t mind?” asked Fenita doubtfully.

“I live alone. So…”

Before Uncle Rian could finish his sentence, Fenita hugged him tightly. She still needed a parent’s love.


Uncle Rian enrolled Fenita into an elementary school in Tegal.

On her first day of school, Fenita felt nervous. But thanks to Uncle Rian’s support, she felt confident enough to study at the school. Fenita wasn’t shy when she met her new friends.

At school, Fenita met another girl named Winda, who had lost her parents too.

“We have to stay tough, to face all kinds of challenges,” Winda told Fenita during a school break. “Life isn’t to be wasted doing nothing.”

“You’re right.” Fenita smiled, hoping to become close friends with Winda.

“You must know our class rules,” Winda continued. “Whoever is the strongest becomes a leader. All the students will refer to that person as The Leader.”

“Is there anyone like that?”

“There is.” Winda glanced at a boy leaning against a classroom door not far from where Fenita and Winda were talking. “His name is Malik.”

“I think,” said Fenita, “that being The Leader means nothing if that person only cares about himself.”

“Sssh!” whispered Winda. “Malik is coming.”

Malik came up to them and rebuked Fenita, “This kid is a newcomer, but already brave enough to challenge me!” Malik said, upset. He looked away from Fenita and left immediately.
Fenita and Winda continued talking.

According to Winda, her classmates didn’t agree with the rules Malik made, but they didn’t dare challenge him.

“I hope I can help him change through my prayers,” said Fenita with a smile.

After school, Fenita went to wash her feet, change clothes, perform ablution, and her prayer rituals. As soon as she finished, Fenita prayed for Malik to receive guidance. Fenita read the Koran and hoped her prayer would be answered.


During the school holiday, Uncle Rian invited Fenita to join him for an outing at the beach in Tegal.

Fenita didn’t answer. She ran to her room and cried. She believed that the beach had made her an orphan.

Soon after, Uncle Rian entered Fenita’s room and sat on the edge of her bed while softly stroking her head.

Uncle Rian’s invitation had made Fenita sad. To calm herself, Fenita visited Winda, who lived nearby.

Fenita told Winda about the earthquake and the tsunami that had struck her village.

“At the time it happened, my father and I had planned to go fishing in the sea in our boat,” Fenita told Winda. “My mother quickly prepared some light snacks and bought a melon for us to take.
Then the earthquake came and shook the village. My dad immediately turned the boat back to the beach to make sure I was safe. But, the tsunami pounded the beach.

“I was told to run inland,” Fenita continued tearfully. “Instead of saving himself, my dad helped someone who was drowning in the waves. For a while, my dad was adrift between mounting waves.”

“What about your mom?” asked Winda. “What happened to her?”

“During the earthquake, my mother tripped over a melon that blocked her way as she tried to run outside. She was struck by a wooden beam.” Fenita answered. “That’s what made me hate beaches and melons. The power of nature is what made my life like this.” Fenita’s tears started dropping.

“Don’t worry,” Winda said encouragingly. “Everything we have in this world is temporary. Everything we have will go back to the Almighty. Life in this world isn’t the only way we can be happy. By making other people happy, we can be happy too. Not only will we be happy in this world, but also in the hereafter.”

“Thank you, Winda,” said Fenita, “Your words reassure me.”

“Don’t ever hate something God has created for us,” answered Winda.


The next day, Winda told Fenita about a flower-arranging competition and a photo-frame decorating competition that used materials found on the beach.

“By entering this competition, you can make your parents happy,” Winda challenged Fenita. “Hey, which is stronger? Your desire to make your parents happy or your desire to avoid the beach? For how long will you be like this?” Winda’s challenge made Fenita agree to join.

When Fenita reached the competition arena, she was amazed at how beautiful Tegal’s beach was. It had been so long since she had seen a beach.

While Fenita prepared herself for the competition, Winda waited on a patio that had been constructed at the edge of the beach.

“Hey, you again, you again. I’m tired of seeing you!”

“Malik?” Fenita was surprised, but only for a moment.

Fenita ignored Malik. She hoped Malik wouldn’t bother her. After the competition started, Fenita focused on the host who explained the rules of the competition.

The host told them how to make a flower using soap. By only using a small knife to carve, contestants were expected to create a special flower.

After the competition began, Fenita was confused. Her flannel and beads had disappeared. She tried to look for them, but didn’t find anything. It turned out her flannel and beads were with Malik. Fenita sighed. She didn’t want to deal with Malik.

Fenita racked her brain for other materials. She walked near the merchants around the beach. At first Fenita was reluctant to buy a melon because melons always reminded her of her mother’s death. Fenita finally bought a melon so later, she could carve it into a rose using the small knife given to all contestants. However, Fenita was still confused on how to decorate her photo frame. Suddenly, it crossed her mind to use the shells on the beach as the main element. She quickly grabbed a few shells with beautiful patterns.

Fenita entered the competition arena and soon started to carve the inside of the melon into a flower and arranged the seashells to decorate her photo frame.

Luckily Fenita had been told how to carve a flower using a knife so she could create a beautiful flower. Once she finished, she compiled her work and went to meet up with Winda. Fenita told Winda what she had just done. She promised she would not hate melons and beaches anymore if she won.

It was time for the announcement. Fenita won first place and Malik second place.

Fenita felt elated. She went onto the stage. However, oddly enough, Malik wasn’t next to her when the judge presented Fenita with the award and certificate.

After waiting a while, the host announced that Malik wasn’t on stage because he was in the middle of registering himself at a boarding house. The committee would take Malik’s award and certificate directly to his new boarding school.

Fenita felt happy because her prayer had come true.

After coming down from the stage Fenita immediately went to meet Winda.

Fenita saw Uncle Rian and a girl standing next to Winda. The girl was Fenita’s sister whom she had been waiting for. Fenita hugged her tightly.

Winda told her how Fenita’s prayer was also granted by God: Malik was accepted at a boarding school. “God Almighty loves all his creations. Humans can certainly happily benefit of some parts of nature. However, we are often only aware of a small part of God’s generosity,” explained Winda.


Aku Akan Pulang Ke Wamena

Friska Sibarani was born on July 13, 1998 in Wamena, Jayawijaya, on the island of Papua. Her parents were Bataks who migrated to Papua. She grew up in Wamena until she was eighteen and then decided to continue her education on the island of Java.

Currently, Friska is a student of Indonesian Literature at the University of Sanata Dharma, Yogyakarta. Her interest in reading and writing supports her aspiration to become a professional writer. Friska started writing in 2016. Aku Akan Pulang ke Wamena is her first short story.

Friska can be reached at


Aku Akan Pulang Ke Wamena

Kuletakan surat penempatanku menjadi guru di Wamena di atas meja coklat tua di kamarku dan meneguk air minum untuk mencoba menenangkan pikiran. Kupandangi sebuah bingkai foto di atas meja. Fotonya sudah memudar Aku tak ingat kapan terakhir aku memandangi foto itu.

“Ibu, Ayah, aku rindu! Masih bisakah kita bertemu?” bisikku dengan suara yang bergetar sambil mengambil foto tersebut.

Untuk beberapa waktu ingatan masa kecilku pun kembali. Aku lahir pada tahun 1996 di sebuah kota kecil di Kabupaten Jayawijaya. Kota tersebut bernama Wamena, yang berarti anak babi. Di Wamena aku menjalani masa-masa kecilku bersama kedua orang tuaku. Meski kami bukanlah penduduk asli di kota Wamena, kedua orang tuaku selalu mengajarkan aku untuk mencintai tanah kelahiranku tersebut. Masa kanak-kanakku tak berbeda dengan orang lain.

Kota kecil tersebut memiliki penduduk yang beragam dari berbagai daerah. Aku sendiri memiliki teman bermain yang berasal dari Padang, Madura, Sunda, Toraja dan Wamena. Orang tuaku selalu berpesan padaku untuk tidak membeda-bedakan teman-temanku dari manapun mereka berasal.

Ayahku adalah seorang perantau yang berasal dari Jawa dan ibuku berasal dari Sumatera. Ayah merantau ke Wamena setelah dia baru lulus Sekolah Menengah Atas. Awalnya ayahku bekerja sebagai karyawan toko perabotan. Lalu akhirnya memutuskan untuk membuka usahanya sendiri dan kemudian menjadi seorang pedagang kelontongan di Wamena.

Ibuku adalah seorang pegawai pegawai negeri sipil yang ditugaskan di Wamena. Ibuku bekerja di Dinas Sosial. Keduanya bertemu di tempat ini kemudian memutuskan menikah dan melanjutkan hidup di tanah yang indah ini. Dahulu masa kecilku terbilang sangat menyenangkan, hingga hari itu tiba.

Tanggal 6 Oktober 2000 terpaku dalam ingatan penduduk kota Wamena sebagai peristiwa Wamena Berdarah. Peristiwa itu terjadi akibat peristiwa penurunan paksa Bendera Bintang Kejora oleh TNI dan Polri sebagai tindakkan pemerintah Indonesia terhadap gerakan kemerdekan yang disuarakan oleh penduduk asli Papua. Saat itu aku baru berusia empat tahun.

Sore itu senja baru saja menghilang di balik gunung-gunung yang mengelilingi kota. Aku berlari ke sana ke mari bermain bola biru kesayanganku. Aku terkejut melihat sebuah gumpalan asap hitam tebal di atas gunung-gunung yang tadinya indah. Bunyi tembakan mulai terdegar dari sudut-sudut kota yang jauh. Beberapa orang mulai berlarian di depan rumah kami.

Seorang tetanggaku yang juga adalah penduduk asli menyuruh kami segera masuk dan berlindung di bawah tempat tidur.
Dengan cepat kami mengikuti perintahnya. Bunyi tembakan terus terjadi berjam-jam.

Ayah mendekapku dalam rangkulan. Dia berusaha menutup telingaku agar aku tak mendegar apapun. Namun, jeritan yang sangat menakutkan di luar sana tetap terdengar olehku dan hingga kini masih terekam dalam pikirku.

Beberapa kali rumahku diobrak-abrik oleh beberapa orang Dani yakni penduduk asli Wamena yang mencari para pendatang. Terdengar beberapa orang dari mereka berteriak “Ou… ou… ou…

“Kenapa mereka?” Ibu rupanya gugup dan prihatin. “Kenapa mereka kesakitan?”

“Memang tidak kesakitan.” Ayah merangkul aku lebih erat sambil berbisik, “Teriakan ou, ou, adalah ciri khas orang Dani untuk berperang.”

Dekap Ayah menempelkan kupingku pada dadanya. Terdengar detak jantungnya yang cepat.

“Rupanya, mereka ingin kita segera meninggalkan kota Wamena.” Ayah menghela nafas.

Dengan mencuri pandangan dari lengan ayah yang merangkulku, kulihat sebuah parang tajam berlumuran darah segar yang dipegang oleh salah satu orang Dani yang telah berhasil masuk ke dalam rumah kami.

Semalaman penuh Ibu terus-menerus menghitung rosario sambil berdoa agar ada orang yang menolong kami keluar dari keadaan ini. Kami masih berlindung di kolong tempat tidur.

Aku merasa malam itu adalah malam yang paling mengerikan dalam hidupku. Dadaku merasa sesak untuk bernafas di kolong tempat tidur yang sempit. Tempat itu yang juga gelap dan berdebu. Beberapa kali aku merengek untuk segera keluar. Tetapi Ayah hanya memelukku agar aku mau bersabar menunggu pertolongan.

Pagi harinya doa ibuku terkabul. Beberapa anggota TNI dengan persenjataan lengkap datang ke rumah kami.

Ayah segera keluar dan meminta bantuan.

Kami sekeluarga segera dibawa menggunakan truk milik TNI.

Sementara, kerusuhan terus terjadi. Pembantaian terjadi di mana-mana. Anggota Polri dan masyarakat asli Wamena saling membunuh. Seolah-olah tak akan ada lagi damai di antara mereka.

Sepanjang jalan Ibu menghalangi pandanganku dengan tangannya.

Dari celah-celah jari-jarinya kulihat mayat-mayat bergelimpangan di sepanjang jalan. Beberapa di antaranya tak memiliki badan yang utuh lagi.

Semua orang menjerit ketakutan dan berlari-lari menyelamatkan diri. Banyak yang terpisah dari keluarganya. Bahkan banyak juga yang melihat anggota keluarganya terpenggal dan terpanah di depan mata sebelum akhirnya juga ikut terbunuh. Anak-anak kecil menjerit ketakutan. Sambil menangis mereka mencari ibunya. Suara tangisan terdengar memilukan di mana-mana
Kami diungsikan ke Polsek. Di sana, kami segera bergabung dengan pengungsi lain yang juga bernasib sama dengan kami. Saat itu, kami bersyukur masih dapat lolos dari peristiwa 6 oktober 2000 kemarin. Semuanya saling bantu-membantu mengobati luka-luka. Para wanita membantu ibu-ibu menjaga anak-anaknya yang terus menangis ketakutan. Sementara para pria membantu TNI untuk menyediakan makanan. Para pria memasak menggunakan sekop dan drum sebagai alat masak. Tak ada pilihan lain. Saat itu bertahan hidup adalah hal terpenting.

Kami diberi tempat untuk beristirahat di dalam ruang berjeruji bersama pengungsi lain.

Ibuku memelukku agar mau memejamkan mata setelah berhari-hari tak bisa tidur.

Di sudut ruang berjeruji itu aku melihat ayah mencoret-coret kertas kusam. Wajahnya, seperti sedang gelisah.

Aku segera duduk di pangkuannya sambil memeluknya dengan erat.

Ayah memasukan kertas yang dia tuliskan sebelumnya ke dalam saku jaketku. Dia mengelus-ngelus rambutku dan berkata, “Beristirahatlah, Sayang! Sebentar lagi kita harus pergi dari sini, kita sudah terlalu lama menunggu.”

Untuk pertama kalinya kulihat mata Ayah berkaca-kaca. Belum sempat air matanya membasahi pipi, aku memeluknya erat.

Esok paginya kami diangkut bersama rombongan besar ke bandara karena keadaan kota yang masih sangat rawan.

Para petugas TNI mengawal kami untuk keluar dari kota Wamena. Langit masih saja menampakkan kabut yang gelap. Beberapa kali pesawat jet milik angkataan udara RI melintas dengan cepat.

Saat itu kulihat kanan dan kiriku hampir semua orang menahan takut.

Ayah berbisik padaku, “Tenanglah Lin, setelah ini kita akan pergi jauh,” dan seperti biasa, aku selalu percaya pada kata-kata Ayah.

Sesampainya di bandara, keadaan tak seperti yang diharapkan. Bandara telah ditutup oleh beberapa orang Dani bersenjatahan panah. Pesawat terus berputar di atas kota dan tak dapat mendarat. Kelompok orang Dani semakin banyak.

Terjadi perlawanan dari anggota TNI menyerang balik orang Dani. Beberapa anggota TNI dan orang Dani tewas di tempat karena terpanah atau tertembak senjata api. Muncratan darah membanjiri tiap sudut lapangan udara. Akhirnya TNI berhasil mengatasi serangan orang Dani.

Dengan cepat pesawat mendarat begitu keadaan aman.

Ayah segera menggendongku. Sambil ditariknya tangan Ibu, Ayah terus berlari ke arah pesawat yang jaraknya cukup jauh.

Orang-orang semakin berdesakan. Dorong-mendorong terjadi untuk saling mendahului sampai di pesawat secepatnya.

Dengan lengan dan tangannya, ayah berusaha melindungi kepalaku agar tak terbentur oleh desakan orang yang semakin ganas. Badanku bergetar ketakutan. Jemari-jemariku mencengkram Ayah.

Sambil berdesak-desak ke pintu pesawat, dia mengangkatku pada pundaknya. Terdengar Ayah terus meminta tolong pada beberapa orang yang berada di pintu pesawat agar mau menerimaku.

Begitu kami berada persis di bawah pintu pesawat, seorang pria paruh baya di sebelah kami menarik badanku dengan kencang.

Lenganku seperti hampir lepas rasanya. Aku menangis kesakitan.

Pria paruh baya tersebut memelukku dengan kuat. Kami berhasil menaiki beberapa anak tangga pesawat, sedangkan kedua orang tuaku semakin terhimpit oleh orang-orang yang berusaha saling mendahului.

Aku tidak ingin terpisah dari Ayah dan Ibu dan merontak dalam pelukannya. Pria tesebut berusaha menahan rontakkanku dan terus mencoba menaiki anak tangga yang dipenuhi oleh orang-orang yang saling mendorong. Langkahnya mulai terpincang-pincang terinjak beberapa orang.

Aku sama sekali tak memperdulikannya. Aku hanya terus beteriak melihat ayahku yang semakin terpojok oleh segerombolan orang. Beberapa saat kemudian pria paru baya tersebut berhasil membawaku masuk ke dalam pesawat.

Aku terus menangis terisak-isak memangil Ayah dan Ibu namun mereka tak juga terlihat di manapun. Pintu pesawat telah tertutup dan aku masih belum menemukan mereka. Aku tidak mengenal seorangpun yang berada di dalam pesawat.

Tubuhku masih bergetar ketakutan. Aku menjerit sambil berlari-lari di antara orang-orang mencari Ayah dan Ibu.

Pria paruh baya tersebut kembali menarikku ke dalam pelukannya dan berusaha membuatku berhenti menagis. Namun aku masih tidak memperdulikannya. Aku sangat ketakutan melihat orang tuaku tidak berada di sisiku. Dalam pelukan pria tersebut aku terus terisak-isak hingga mulai merasa sangat lelah. Aku tertidur dalam pelukannya selama penerbangan berlangsung dari Wamena ke Jayapura.

Sesampainya di Jayapura, pria paruh baya yang menolongku dengan gelisah terus menerus melihat ke segala arah seperti mecari orang di antara para pengungsi. Dia kemudian menitipkan aku pada para perawat di bandara.

Para perawat berusaha menghiburku sambil mengobati luka-luka di tubuhku. Mereka akhirnya menemukan kertas yang ditaruh ayah di saku jaketku. Ternyata kertas itu berisi nama dan alamat budheku yang berada di Jakarta. Merekapun akhirnya mengirimkanku kepadanya. Sejak saat itu Budhe menjadi wali yang membesarkanku.


Air mataku telah mengalir membasahi foto kedua orang tuaku. Setelah semua yang telah terjadi pada masa lampau, aku tak pernah berharap untuk kembali lagi ke Wamena. Bagiku kenangan masa kecilku adalah hal yang kubenci karena membangkitkan kesedihan dan rasa takut dalam lubuk hatiku. Namun, tugas pekerjaan yang baru kuterima menghadapkanku dengan pilihan yang sulit.

Dengan perlahan kubaca lagi daerah penugasanku: Wamena, Kabupaten Jayawijaya. Hatiku mulai merasakan perih. Kupejamkam mataku kuat-kuat. Ingin rasanya aku berteriak hingga langit pecah, “Mengapa semesta membalikkan keadaan semaunya?”

Kurenungkan dalam-dalam wajah Ayah, Ibu dan masa kecilku. Aku dibesarkan dengan rasa cinta yang besar pada tanah kelahiranku. Ibuku juga selalu mengajariku untuk tidak membedakan orang lain hanya berdasar atas tampilan ragawinya.

Kini berkali-kali ku tepuk permukaan meja tulisku dengan penuh rasa penyesalan bercampur amarah. Bagaimana bisa selama ini aku tumbuh sambil menyimpan dendam. Aku tahu bukan ini yang diinginkan ayah ibuku. Bukan sikap ini yang mereka inginkan dari putrinya. Tapi bagaimanapun kehilangan kedua orang terkasih adalah kepedihan yang masih membekas pada hatiku.

Satu kesalahanku yang aku sadari saat ini adalah seharusnya aku tidak boleh menilai buruk sebuah kelompok masyarakat hanya berdasarkan sudut pandangku saja. Apa yang kualami pada masa kecilku seharusnya tidak membuatku membangun benteng perbedaan. Segala hal yang terjadi pada kedua orang tuaku tidak sepenuhnya kesalahan sebuah kelompok masyarakat. Aku, orang tuaku, dan semua orang lain adalah korban dari murka dan perbedaan yang mencerminkan saat itu. Aku coba menenangkan diriku kembali dalam diam.

Sekarang aku mengerti apa yang diharapkan kedua orang tuaku. Kuambil sebuah kertas dan aku luapkan segala isi hati terdalamku dengan coretan yang dengan cepat memenuhi kertas tersebut.

Peristiwa tanggal 6 Oktober sebetulnya tidak perlu terjadi jika musyawarah damai digunakan sebagai jembatan yang tepat untuk menyelesaikan masalah. Malah kedua pihak, yaitu aparat gabungan TNI, Polri dan Masyarakat Papua di Wamena saling mempertahankan pendapat masing-masing.

Pemerintah bersikeras, meminta masyarakat menurunkan bendera Bintang Kejora yang berkibar di beberapa titik di Kota Wamena.

-Sementara masyarakat menolak dan melawan.

Hal inilah yang mengakibatkan sedikitnya 30 orang tewas dan 40 lainnya luka berat. Luka dari peristiwa ini membuat aku mengerti persoalan itu bukan soal perbedaan, bukan soal pandangan. Bukan persoalan kebudayaan tapi ini adalah subuah kepercayaan. Kepercayaan antara dua pihak yang sama-sama merasa sebagai korban. Korban kekerasan, korban ketidakadilan terkait perbedaan terhadap kelompok masyarakat. Keduanya merasa terancam dengan kehadiran satu sama lain.

Kita bukan dibentengi sebuah perbedaan karena pada hakikatnya kita tak pernah berbeda. Tetapi sebuah pembatas terbesar di antara kita adalah kecurigaan pada satu sama lain. Inilah yang menjadi penghalang agar kita dapat hidup berdampingan dalam damai.

Saat peristiwa itu terjadi tak ada satu mayatpun yang kulihat mengeluarkan warna darah yang berbeda dari satu sama lain. Hanya saja saat tertutup oleh warna kulit berbeda ketidakpercayaan antara masyarakat asli Papua dan pendatang muncul dan membuat satu sama lain semakin menjauh. Seharusnya aparat militer, petugas pemerintah dan masyarakat sipil yang tinggal di wilayah Papua maupun penduduk asli, mampu memahami luka sejarah ini. Dengan memahami luka sejarah dan tabiat orang Papua, kita dapat hidup berdampingan dengan damai di tanah Papua.

Usai menulis catatan singkat tersebut, hatiku terasa ringan. Pikiranku memusat pada surat penempatanku menjadi guru di Wamena. Aku teringat perkataan Budhe yang pernah berkata padaku, “Menjadi guru adalah pekerjaan yang mulia!”

Menurutku pekerjaan yang mulia seharusnya dilakukan secara tulus. Dan kini aku bertekat untuk siap berdamai dengan kenangan pahitku di masa kecil. Aku semakin mantap pada keputusanku. Aku akan segera meminta doa restu Budhe agar mengijinkanku menjadi seorang guru di Wamena. Semoga Budhe juga mau mengerti dan menerima keputusan yang telah kubuat. Kuambil surat perjanjian kerjaku dengan perlahan. Sejenak aku membacanya kembali. Jemari-jemariku mulai menggenggam pena menandatanganinya. Aku siap. Kuhelahkan nafas panjang sambil berkata, “Aku akan pulang ke Wamena!”


Going Home to Wamena

Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.

She currently teaches English literature courses at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Novita can be reached at or


Going Home to Wamena

I placed my teaching job assignment to Wamena on the dark brown table in my room and sipped some water, trying to calm myself. A framed, faded picture of my parents caught my eye. I could not remember the last time I had last looked closely at the photo.

I picked up the picture and sighed. “Ibu, Mother, Ayah, Father, I miss you! Will we ever meet again?”

My childhood memories swiftly returned. I was born in 1996, in Wamena, a small town in the Jayawijaya Regency of Indonesia’s Papua’s highlands. “Wamena” meant piglet in the vernacular language. I spent my childhood there. Although my parents were not natives of Wamena, they always taught me to love my place of birth. My childhood was no different from that of other Wamena children.

The small town had a diverse population that came from various regions. I had playmates from Padang, Madura, Sunda, Toraja, and Wamena. My parents taught me to not discriminate against my friends regardless of where they came from.

My father was a migrant from Java, and my mother came from Sumatra. My father drifted to Wamena right after graduating from high school. At first, he worked as a shopkeeper in a furniture store. Later, he decided to start his own business and opened a convenience store in Wamena.

My mother was a civil servant in the Social Services Department who had been assigned to a clerical position in Wamena.

The two met, married, and decided to continue living in beautiful Wamena. My childhood had been fairly pleasant until that dreadful day came.

The incident began when the TNI (the Indonesian military) and Polri (the Indonesian National Police) forcibly removed the Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) flag of the native Papuans, as a government measure to repress the Papuans’ independence movement.

I was only four years old.

That afternoon of October 6, the sun had just disappeared behind the mountains that surrounded the town. I was running around, playing with my favorite blue ball, and became scared when suddenly a column of thick black smoke appeared over the mountains that had been so beautiful just a moment ago. The rattling of gunshots filled the far corners of town. In front of our house, some people started running.

A neighbor, who was a local Dani tribe member, told us to go immediately inside and take shelter under the bed.

We quickly followed his orders. The gunfire continued for hours.

Ayah held me in his arms. He covered my ears to keep me from hearing anything. But I could still hear the frightened screams outside, and to this day, those sounds are recorded in my mind.
The Danis, the indigenous Papua tribe who lived in the Wamena area, raided our house several times looking for Javanese migrants. Some of them shouted, “Ou! Ou! Ou!”

“What happened to them?” My mother asked nervously. “Why are they in pain?”

“They’re not in pain.” Ayah tightened his arms around me and whispered, “Ou, ou, is the Dani tribe’s war cry.”

My father’s embrace pressed my ears against his chest, and I could hear his heart racing. “Apparently, they believe that all Javanese are the oppressors, and they want us to leave Wamena immediately.” Ayah sighed heavily.

From under the bed, I peeked between my father’s arms and saw one of the Dani men holding a sharp machete covered with fresh blood.

All through the night, we hid under the bed. Ibu counted rosary beads, praying that someone would rescue us.

That night was the most terrible night of my life. I felt suffocated in the narrow, dark, dusty space under the bed. From time to time, I whined, pleading to get out of the place soon. But Ayah could only give me a hug to make me wait patiently for help.

In the morning, my mother’s prayers were answered. Several armed members of the TNI came to our house. Ayah immediately went outside and asked for help. They loaded our family into a military truck.

Around us, the riots continued. Massacres were rampant. Members of the Indonesian National Police and the indigenous Dani Papuans of Wamena killed each other. So much blood was shed, it seemed that peace could no longer be possible between them.

As we rode along, Ibu covered my eyes with her hands. Peeping through her fingers, I saw corpses lying along the road. Some of the bodies were mutilated.

People screamed in fear and ran to save themselves. Many became separated from their families; many witnessed family members being decapitated before getting killed themselves. Children cried, desperately looking for their mothers. The sound of crying everywhere was heartbreaking.

We were taken to the police station in Wamena and put into a room with barred windows. There, we joined other refugees who shared our fate. At that point, we were thankful we had managed to escape the October 6 incident.

The refugees all helped each other out, treating wounds, and helping mothers look after their children, who cried incessantly in fear. The men helped the Indonesian army prepare food. They used shovels and drums as cooking equipment because there was no other choice. At that moment, survival was the most important thing.

After several sleepless days and nights, my mother held me and encouraged me to close my eyes. But in the corner of the room, I saw my father scribbling on a crumpled piece of paper.
He looked nervous.

I immediately went over to him, crawled onto his lap, and hugged him tightly.

Ayah put the crumpled piece of paper into my jacket pocket. He stroked my hair and said, “Get some sleep, sweetheart. We will be leaving here soon; we’ve already waited a long time.”

That was the first time I saw tears well up in Ayah’s eyes. Before the tears rolled down his cheeks, I held him tight.

The next morning, because the town was still unsafe, the military transported a large group of us to the airport. As the military escorted us by truck out of Wamena, dark smoke still covered the sky. An Indonesian Air Force plane made several quick passes over us.

I saw almost everyone try to control their fear.

Ayah whispered, “Don’t be afraid, Lin; after this, we’ll go far away.” And, as usual, I believed him.

But when we arrived at th