Life

Acehnese let out anger
with poetry at Literature
Night

Blontank Poer, Contributor, Jakarta

Teater Utan Kayu, a small building in East Jakarta which has made a name for itself by staging contemporary and experimental arts events, recently had a special treat for lovers of literature. The theater hosted Acehnese Literature Night on April 12 and April 13.

The word ""Aceh"" brings to mind separatism, military operations, spiraling violence, and it was the seemingly endless sufferings in Aceh that those writers taking part in the event wanted to convey to the audience.

They wanted their troubled minds to be known and their cries for sympathy to be heard. An example of this was the poem read by Fikar W Eda: like the dutch/they resort to dirty tricks/to conquer us/ like the dutch/they win our heart/with promises/quoting scriptures to convince us/like the dutch/they serve us wine/until we snore/then they freely/exploit our motherland/natural gas, oil, gold, forest/and the grass/like the dutch/they unsheathe bayonets/they load guns combat ready/tear houses down/destroy mosques/worse than the dutch/they rape our women/they behead our children/they kill our hopes and ideals/worse than the dutch/jakarta it is.

These lines from the poem Like Dutch may sound like they come from a propaganda pamphlet, but don't be too quick to judge. The writer, who is a journalist and a poet living in Jakarta, was not acting as a non-governmental organization activist protesting unjust development policies.

As a journalist, Fikar is all too aware of the injustices he shouts about in the poem. He has ample evidence about what has been happening in his homeland.

The Aceh literary night featured such well-known literary figures as poet Wiratmadinata, playwright Maskirbi and poet/novelist Hasyim KS.

Their spellbinding theatrical finesse ensured their messages were heard loud and clear. Poems were read solemnly to accentuate their hatred of injustice and the oppression in Aceh.

Wiratmadinata presented the poems Surat Hitam Untuk Ibu (Black letter for mother) and Nyanyian Hipokrasi (The hypocrite's song), which stress non-violence and wisdom in the struggle for social justice.

Particularly touching was the performance by Ramlah and her husband, Mahlel. The couple recited the poem Dedingin Sejuk Dalam Sebuku (Cool as Sebuku), which had the literary style native to Gayo in Central Aceh.

Sebuku means ""the art of wailing"", and usually conveys reminisces about partings because of death (Sebuku Mate) or because a woman has to leave her family after marriage (Sebuku Mungerje).

Sweetly recited, the Acehnese-language poems truly touched on the emotions. The accompanying music played on a tambourine and a very small gong added emotion to the recital of the traditional poems by the tearful Ramlah and three other women.

Along with the traditional singing known as Didong, Sebuku is almost extinct in its native Gayo.

Didong, which usually takes place over the course of an entire night as a competition between two groups, has been absent from Aceh for more than 10 years. And like Didong, Sebuku has gone from a traditional art to a luxury that is very rarely recited at weddings and funerals anymore.

The night also featured the authors Maskirbi (Marto) and Hasyim KS reading their short stories.

Marto's story told of a soldier being treated in a mental hospital after refusing to burn down a village and kill the residents, who had been branded ""rebels"".

While Hasyim's story told of an encounter between an Aceh native and Paul Jones, an American Vietnam War veteran.

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