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'The Little Prince' becomes Sundanese in 'Prabu Anom'

Wening Gitomartoyo
Wening Gitomartoyo

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, March 13, 2019  /  11:35 am
'The Little Prince' becomes Sundanese in 'Prabu Anom'

'Prabu Anom', the Sundanese version of 'The Little Prince'. (Courtesy of/Syauqi Stya Lacksana)

A passion for words and a beloved tale have taken Syauqi Stya Lacksana on a journey of self-discovery. The Little Prince, penned by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, offers observations about life and human nature and is one of the most-translated works globally.

“I first read it in 2012 in English and loved it immediately,” Syauqi said. “I became more interested as I found new meanings when I read the translated version in Indonesian."

He went on to say that he thought the book offered profound messages. "It would never be boring even if you read it over and over. There’s always something new to learn."

He was feeling agitated, though, after finding the translated version in an ancient Egyptian language.

“I was quite upset at the time, knowing that Indonesia has so many regional languages and yet there was not any translated version of the book in those languages,” he said during a recent phone interview with The Jakarta Post.

Graduating as an English major from the Indonesian University of Education (UPI) in Bandung, West Java, the 22-year-old works as a freelance translator. He lives in Bandung and speaks Sundanese, the language widely spoken in many parts of West Java. 

Syauqi Stya Lacksana works as a freelance translator and intends to translate more books into Sundanese.Syauqi Stya Lacksana works as a freelance translator and intends to translate more books into Sundanese. (Courtesy of/Syauqi Stya Lacksana )

Syauqi decided to translate the book from French into Sundanese, titled Prabu Anom.

He began by contacting book collectors for references and eventually got in touch with Fondation Jean-Marc Probst pour Le Petit Prince, which acquired the rights for the book’s illustration. The foundation assists the acquisition and expansion of different editions of The Little Prince.

It also funded the cost of the translation, proofreading, layout and publishing for Prabu Anom. For the latter, Syauqi collaborated with Bandung-based Kiblat, which publishes Sundanese books. Out of 4,000 copies printed, 3,000 were then freely distributed to schools and libraries in West Java.

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Syauqi said the foundation initially insisted that the books should not be sold commercially. “However, after my TEDx Talk I received requests from people who wished to buy them,” he said. “So I asked the foundation’s permission to sell the remaining 1,000 books.” Marked with a different cover, they are now available on online marketplaces such as Tokopedia and Shopee for Rp 65,000 (US$4.50).

Admitting this was his first time translating a book, Syauqi was assisted in the process by a friend who is a Sundanese language major graduate from the UPI.

“There were some things I found difficult to translate to Sundanese. I was afraid of losing the symbolism or the meaning in the origin language. For instance, the Sundanese language doesn’t recognize foxes. My uncle then suggested using sero (otter) that could also work for foxes,” he recalled.

Another thing he found challenging was to make the book’s language familiar to Sundanese speakers. “Sundanese literature involves numerous proverbs and phrases. Putting them word by word [in Prabu Anom] wouldn’t translate well. All the while, I wouldn’t want to change the initial message of the book.”

The inside pages of 'Prabu Anom'.The inside pages of 'Prabu Anom'. (Courtesy of/Syauqi Stya Lacksana )

There are about 40 million Sundanese speakers in Indonesia, but according to Syauqi, literacy was considered terribly low. “People tend to use the language merely to converse,” he said.

Syauqi said the Sundanese have responded well to the book, including academics from the UPI and Padjajaran University (Unpad) in Bandung who praised his work. This encouraged him to consider translating more books into Sundanese. “I’m interested in Animal Farm, a book that’s stayed with me since university days,” he said of the George Orwell book.

Another book he mentioned was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. “The story revolves around self-discovery and taking an adventure. What I gathered from literature journals is that classic Sundanese literature also examined those themes. It’s a perfect match,” he said.