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Arts and Culture, Literature

Rumah Kaca, Lekra, Sapardi Djoko Damono, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Angkatan

Written literature exists for very few of Indonesia’s languages, although oral traditions, including prose and poetry, are very strong. Indian literature is influential, particularly in Old Javanese writings, which date from about ad 1000. Modern Javanese literature dates from the early 1700s and combines native, Indian, and Muslim traditions. Writing in Malay flourished after becoming the official language of the Indonesian people in 1928. Malay writings were closely associated with growing nationalism, and Sumatran writers of the time, such as Muhammad Yamin, were particularly influential. After independence, a group of writers known as the Generation of 1945 (Angkatan 45) emerged. They were direct and fierce and were epitomized by the poet Chairil Anwar. In the 1950s and 1960s ideological politics polarized the writing community and Lekra succeeded in pushing writers to adopt the style of socialist realism.

Perhaps the most famous writer of modern Indonesian literature is Pramoedya Ananta Toer. After the failed 1965 coup the government imprisoned Pramoedya because of his Communist links; he was released from jail in 1979 but placed under city arrest in Jakarta. His Buru Quartet, composed of Bumi Manusia (1980; This Earth of Mankind, 1991), Anak Semua Bangsa (1980; Child of All Nations, 1993), Jejak Langkah (1985; Footsteps, 1994), and Rumah Kaca (1988; House of Glass, 1992), tells the story of Indonesian nationalism through the character Minke, a Dutch-educated Javanese. The quartet, which was banned in Indonesia, became well known internationally.

Another internationally acclaimed writer is Romo Mangun. His Burung-Burung Manyar (The Weaverbirds, 1991) won the Southeast Asia Writers’ Award but was frowned on by the government for its critical view of Indonesian history. Mochtar Lubis’s Sendja di Djakarta (1970; Twilight in Djakarta, 1983) tells a story of corruption and decline in Jakarta in the 1960s. Other well-known writers include Achdiat Karta Mihardja, Umar Kayam, and Budi Darma. Indonesia’s best-known poets include Rendra, Subagio Sastrowardojo, Goenawan Mohamad, Sapardi Djoko Damono, and Sutardji Calzoum Bachri.

Article key phrases:

Rumah Kaca, Lekra, Sapardi Djoko Damono, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Angkatan, Indonesian people, Djakarta, Muslim traditions, Rendra, Written literature, city arrest, oral traditions, Indian literature, House of Glass, coup, Javanese, Twilight, official language, Jakarta, prose, poetry, jail, independence, Footsteps, Dutch, Nations, Generation, government, Child, time


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