Pramoedya ananta toer, his life and his literary achievements

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Chapter 2: Pramoedya Ananta Toer, his life and his literary accomplishments

The history of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s life and literary accomplishments, as well as the summary of his novel Bumi Manusia, are largely based on A. Teeuw’s book Citra Manusia Indonesia dalam Karya Sastra: Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1997: 1-55), Schultz and Felter’s article “History, Education, and Nationalism in Pramoedya Toer’s Buru Quartet” (2002), Dwi Elyono’s unpublished thesis of the Australian National University, Harry Aveling and Willem Samuels’ translations of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s novel Gadis Pantai: A Study of the factors, intents, methods, and effects of literary translation (2006: 34-40), and two journal articles by GoGwilt entitled “Pramoedya’s Fiction and History: An Interview with Indonesian Novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer” (1996) and “The Vanishing Genre of the Nyai Narrative: Reading Genealogies of English and Indonesian Modernism” (2007).

2.1 The Literary Achievements of Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pramoedya Ananta Toer (6 February 1925-30 April 2006) was a leading Indonesian author who was internationally renowned for his literary works that dealt with themes of social justice and humanity. He had written more than 50 novels, short stories, essays, social critiques, and histories, the majority of which have been translated into over 36 languages.

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He had received more than a dozen international awards and had been frequently nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1981. He was also an important figure in Indonesian literature, “an advocate of ‘universal humanitarianism,’ the liberal and individualistic cultural ideology of the loose association of writers, artists, and intellectuals often referred to as the ‘Gelanggang group’ or the ‘Angkatan 45,’ the generation of the revolution” (as cited in Foulcher, 2008: 1).

The exceptional quality of Pramoedya’s novels lies in his ability as a narrator to recreate the historical setting for the present audience. In a statement by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, Pramoedya’s novels “[illuminate] with superb narratives the historical awakening and modern experience of the Indonesian people” (as quoted in a book entitled Polemik Hadiah Magsaysay, 1997: 212-13).

In Pramoedya’s interview with GoGwilt about the English translation of the Buru tetralogy, he emphasized the importance of historical settings in his novels, as well as the complex relationship between history and personal life (GoGwilt, 1996). Considering the historical scope of his work, his novels are also regarded as a typical example of post-colonial literature in Southeast Asia.

One particular feature of this literature is the actual historical setting, which describes the diverse culture and language environment and its role in creating social difference within zones of colonial contact (cf. Niekerk, 2003 and Errington, 2008). Pramoedya was often compared to many great writers of Western literature – Camus, Tolstoy, and Gorky, to name a few.

The historical scope of his novels suggests an affinity with the great historical novels of nineteenth-century Europe, particularly in the context of socialist-realism in literature, in terms of narrative style and content. The narrative deals with themes of universal humanitarianism such as freedom of expression, power struggle, racism, and social injustice (see Kurniawan, 1999 ; GoGwilt, 1996 ) .

In general, Pramoedya’s novels and short narratives cover four different periods, crossing the period of Singasari and Majapahit lands (1300-1600) (e.g. Arok Dedes and Arus Balik), the pre-independence period under the Dutch colonial regulation at the terminal of the nineteenth century (e.g. Buru Quartet, The Fugitive), the Japanese occupation period under the Japanese in Indonesia during WWII (e.g. Perawan Remaja dalam Cengkeraman Militer), and the post-independence period of Soekarno’s (e.g. Corruption, The History of the Overseas Chinese in Indonesia) and Soeharto’s (e.g. The Girl from the Coast and A Mute’s Soliloquy) regimes.

The blunt criticism of the government contained in some of Pramoedya’s works had caused him several periods of imprisonment under different government administrations.

Some of the international awards conferred upon Pramoedya include the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 1988, the Wertheim Award in 1992, the controversial Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Humanities in 1995, the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize in 1996, and the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres Republic of France in 2000.

The Life of Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pramoedya Ananta Toer was born in the small town of Blora in the Province of Central Java, Indonesia, as the eldest of eight siblings. His father, Mastoer, was a strong patriot who took part in the Indonesian battle for independence from the Dutch colonial regulation and worked as a schoolmaster in a school under Boedi Oetomo Institute of Education, the first political native political organization in the Dutch East Indies (today’s Republic of Indonesia).

His mother, Oemi Saidah, was born into a blue Javanese family. She was a full-time homemaker who later took on the role of the main breadwinner for her family when her husband’s school was closed due to the subjugation of the Dutch colonial government. His parents, particularly his mother, had a great influence in shaping his idealized image of the Indonesian people, which was reflected in most of his works.

After spending his childhood at home, Pramoedya went to the Radio Vocational School in Surabaya, but he had nearly graduated when the Japanese invaded the city on the last day of the school’s final examination period. During the Japanese occupation period, he worked as a typist for the Japanese intelligence bureau Domei in Jakarta, where he met and developed relations with many outstanding figures in Indonesian history.

Having felt that he was treated unfairly, Pramoedya decided to escape from his work with the Japanese. In October 1945, he joined a paramilitary force known as Badan Keamanan Rakyat (BKR) in Cikampek (West Java) after the announcement of Indonesian independence. During this time, he began to write short narratives and novels and also translated several books from J. Veth, Frits van Raalte, and Lode Zielens. His first major novel, Perburuan (The Fugitive), was completed during two years of imprisonment by the Dutch government in the Bukit Duri prison in Jakarta.

During the first two decades of Indonesian independence, from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, Pramoedya became a celebrated figure in Indonesian literature. This broadened his social contacts, particularly in the world of literature and the arts. With time, these contacts contributed to his new position in politics and ideology. Several cultural exchanges, including trips to the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China, had opened his mind to the world’s political situation at that time.

However, the most important event for Pramoedya at that time would be his short trip to China in 1956. This visit seemed to have sparked his interest in Marxist ideology, an evident reason for his decision later on to join Lekra (People’s Cultural Institute), a left-of-center organization, in 1958.

From then on, Pramoedya became more active in politics. His writing style became more politically driven, as evidenced in the publication of a book that contains the correspondence he had with an imaginary Chinese discussing the history of the Indonesian Chinese, Hoa Kiau di Indonesia (History of the Overseas Chinese in Indonesia). It specifically criticized the government’s management at that time, which banned the Chinese minority in Indonesia from doing business in rural areas, forcing them to shut down their businesses or hand them over to the local natives and relocate to urban areas.

This created a clash between him and Soekarno’s government and caused his detention at the Cipinang prison for nine months. Nonetheless, Pramoedya continued to build up his reputation as a literary and social critic, writing in various newspapers and literary journals, translating several literary works that were mostly from Russian writers including Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Sholokhov, Maxim Gorky, Aleksandr Kuprin, and publishing a book about the history of the nationalist movements in Indonesia.

In 1962-1965, he worked as an editor of Lentera, the weekly cultural edition of the leftist newspaper Bintang Timur, where he published many articles on Indonesian history and literature around 1900-1920. He was also a lecturer of Indonesian language and literature at the University of Res Publica and was a founder of the “Multatuli” Language and Literature Academy in 1963.

In October 1965, he was once again put behind bars due to his association with Lekra, the cultural and literary institute affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party, as the organization which was alleged to be responsible for an attempted putsch with the assassination of several senior generals of the Indonesian military. This bloody event ended Soekarno’s political career and marked the transition of power to Suharto’s “New Order” government.

After this incident, Pramoedya’s books were banned in Indonesia, and he was arrested as a political prisoner without trial in the penal settlement of Buru Island from 1965-1979. During this period, he composed the first two parts of the celebrated Buru Quartet (Bumi Manusia/This Earth of Mankind and Anak Semua Bangsa/Child of All Nations) but did not have the opportunity to write them down. They were originally meant as a semi-biographical work of Tirto Adhie Soerjo, a nationalist figure, and the founder of Sarekat Islam, the first native organization in Indonesia.

After Pramoedya was released from prison, he was placed under house arrest in Jakarta until 1992. During this period, he completed the last two parts of the Buru Quartet: Jejak Langkah (1985; Footsteps) and Rumah Kaca (1990; House of Glass), which immediately became bestsellers in Indonesia and gained him international recognition. Unfortunately, 10 months later, these books were banned by the government as insurgent materials containing Marxist-Leninist ideology.

In spite of these adversities, he continued to write other great novels such as Gadis Pantai (The Girl from the Coast) in 1982, a semi-fictional novel which portrayed his grandmother’s life; Nyanyi Sunyi Seorang Bisu (A Mute’s Soliloquy) in 1995, a personal account based on a collection of letters that he wrote to his daughter during his imprisonment in Buru, which he was not allowed to send; and Arus Balik in 1995, a long historical novel considered by some literary critics to be his greatest literary work, which revolved around the Tuban Kingdom at the beginning of the Portuguese invasion of the Indonesian archipelago in the sixteenth century.

In 1998, with the toppling of Soeharto’s government and the beginning of the reformation era, the prohibition on his books was finally lifted. Pramoedya remained active as a writer until the last days of his life when his health deteriorated due to old age and his habit of smoking. In 2006, Pramoedya was hospitalized because of complications with diabetes, heart, and lung diseases. He died on April 30, 2006, at the age of 81.

2.3 Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Bumi Manusia

Bumi Manusia was first published in 1980, a year after Pramoedya’s release from Buru Island. It is the first part of a semi-biographical tetralogy of Minke, the protagonist who is modeled after RM. Tirto Adhi Soerjo, a real historical figure of the anti-colonial movements in Indonesia. The narrative revolves around the historical emergence of Indonesian nationalism at the turn of the century when the Dutch colonial empire ruled in the East Indies.

It explores various universal themes such as the emergence of nationalism, the corruption of the legal system, gender issues, the contradiction between traditional and modern values, and the importance of language as an instrument for articulating national identity. However, there are two important aspects to be highlighted in the novel: the realistic portrayal of colonial life in Indonesia, which provides present-day readers with a historical overview of that time, and the way the writer manages to convey to modern readers the complex socio-cultural interactions among various ethnicities in the colonial period and the inherent social attitude underlying these interactions.

The narrative was reconstructed from the historical work that had been carried out before he was imprisoned for years without trial in Buru. In the first six or seven years of imprisonment in Buru, political prisoners were not given access to any writings or articles, let alone allowed to write on a piece of paper, so Pramoedya had to declaim the narrative to his fellow prisoners. The narrative is what shaped the Buru Quartet: Bumi Manusia, Anak Semua Bangsa, Jejak Langkah, and Rumah Kaca.

The narrative isdeveloped through interior struggles of the chief character, which is are caused by the contradiction between the modern values he acquired from his western instruction, the traditional values which came from his Javanese roots, and the rough societal world of populating under the a colonial regulation which denies all of the values he was taught to believe.

The novel is told in the first-person and tells the life of Minke, a immature Javanese blue blood and the lone indigen who receives a western instruction in an elect school which merely Europeans are allowed to go to. It is set at the terminal of the nineteenth century, during the concluding old ages of the Dutch colonial regulation in Indonesia, and provides elaborate illustration on the situationpicture of colonial life in Surabaya at that clip.

At the beginning of the novel, the chief character is introduced to an exceeding native adult female known as Nyai Oentosoroh, the courtesan of a Dutch belongings proprietor called Herman Mellema, and to her beautiful girl, Annelies. Over clip, Nyai Oentosoroh becomes an of import figure in Minke ‘s life, his personal life wise man and religious female parent. The narrative of her beginning, how she was sold into concubinage by her male parent, her rise in place as the superintendent of her maestro ‘s full estates and concerns, every bit good as the destiny of her girl, Annelies, forms major parts of the plot line in Bumi Manusia.

Minke falls in love with Annelies, whom he finally marries harmonizing to his native imposts. However, because of the household difference over Mellema ‘s heritage, Annelies had to invalidate her matrimony to Minke by the order of the Dutch colonial tribunal. At the terminal of the novel, Annelies is forced to go forth her female parent and her hubby Minke, and travel to the Netherlands to populate with her legal defender, despite all the attempts made by Nyai Oentosoeroh and Minke to defy the determination of the Dutch tribunals.

Socio-cultural interaction among different ethnicities ( Dutch, Europeans, Indos, Chinese, and indigens ) in the East Indies plays an of import function in the development of the narrative and is skillfully portrayed by Pramoedya through his imaginative usage of Indonesian linguistic communication fluctuations, combination of different registries and the complexness of interplay between Javanese, Old Malay, Dutch, English and Jakartan idioms. One illustration is given below, where Minke tries to foretell state the individuality of a adult male who follows him covertly, based on a certain cultural stereotype which is widespread in Indonesia:

Melihat dari pemunculannya, ia bukan Pongo pygmaeus Tionghoa, juga bukan Peranakan Tionghoa, juga bukan pedagang. Kalau toh Tionghoa Peranakan boleh jadi Dari kalangan terpelajar, mungkin pegawai pada kantor Majoor der Chineezen.Atau peranakan Eropa-Tionghoa yang habis berlibur dan kini kembali ke tempat pekerjaan di Surabaya [ … ]

Ia jelas bukan pedagang. Bukan begitu pakaian pedagang. Atau Iowa seorang jurubayar pada Borsumrij atau Geowehrij? Atau mungkin sendiri Mayor der Chineezen? Tetapi seorang city manager biasanya angkuh dan merasa setara dengan orang Eropa, tak mungkin memperhatikan diriku, bahkan takkan peduli pada Pribumi siapapun. ( Bumi Manusia, 1991:146 )

He didn’t look Chinese, or like a mixed-blood Chinese, nor like a merchandiser. Anyway, if he was a mixed-blood Chinese, he was likely an educated one, possibly an employee at the office of the Majoor der Chineezen – the Dutch-installed leader of the local Chinese community? Or possibly a mixed-blood European-Chinese returning from vacations to his workplace in Surabaya? He was clearly not a merchandiser.

They weren’t the clothes of a bargainer. Or possibly he was a teller at one of the ‘Big Five’ Dutch trading companies – Borsumij or Geowehrij? Or possibly he was the Majoor der Chineezen himself? But the Majoor was always proud, considering himself equal to Europeans and therefore would not take notice of me, or any other native for that matter. (Bumi Manusia, Lane’s translation 1991:111)

Words incorporating socio-cultural references abound in the dialogue. However, it is very difficult to translate these socio-cultural nuances into English, so it is understandable if sometimes the English translation cannot fully convey the richness of the dialogue in the novel. One great difficulty in the translation of Bumi Manusia is how to convey to foreign readers the inherent social attitudes embedded in these culture-specific words which operate under different socio-cultural norms and history.

One example of a culturally-marked word incorporating an important socio-cultural reference in Bumi Manusia is the word nyai. Nyai originally refers to a respectful form of address to a Javanese woman. However, the form undergoes a considerable change of meaning when it is adapted into Indonesian. It becomes a “euphemistic, dyslogistic, and disrespectful term” referring to a historical stereotype of a native courtesan or mistress in a colonial Dutch East Indies family and connoting the inherent social attitude behind the word nyai (GoGwilt, 2007:412):

“Not only Mevrouw Telinga or Yoruba, it felt like anyone who knew, that such was the moral level of the nyai families: low, dirty, without culture, concerned only with sexual matters. They were only families of prostitutes, people without personality, fated to sink into nothingness without a trace […] All layers of society condemned the nyai families; all races: Native, European, Chinese, Arab. (Bumi Manusia, 1980:44)”

Not merely Mrs. Telinga and I knew, but it felt as if the whole universe knew, that such so was the moral degree of the households of nyais: low, dirty, without civilization, moved merely by lecherousness. They were the households of cocottes ; they were people without character, destined to drop into nothingness, go forthing no hint [ … ] All societal categories had passed judgement on the nyai ; besides all races: Native, European, Chinese, Arab. ( This Earth, 54 )

Interactions between Minke, Nyai Oentosoroh, and other characters in the book who come from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds are parallel to the diverse civilization and linguistic communication state of affairs in modern Indonesia. The critical function of Nyai Oentosoroh in Minke’s life, as the individual who is largely responsible for Minke’s turning consciousness of the oppressive subjugation of the Dutch colonial rule over him and his fellow countrymen, in some manner represents the indispensable function of language in turning patriotism in Indonesia.

The history of Nyai Oentosoroh’s life, her extraordinary features, and excellent ability to absorb the knowledge given by her Dutch master and use it to climb up from the bottom to the top rank of the colonial society may have an indirect association with the historical development of the Indonesian language and its elevated position as a national language today. In the past, Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Language), a discrepancy of Bazaar Malay, was a minority language in the East Indies.

It was a language of trading and commerce used throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Bazaar Malay was once considered a language with no aesthetic values and lacking in expressiveness compared to other languages. However, its usage as a trading instrument throughout the Indonesian archipelago has enhanced its flexibility in absorbing modern concepts and luxurious cultural elements from other languages and modern concepts brought by western civilization. This is likely one of the reasons why it was selected as the national language of Indonesia.

Bumi Manusia, as the first part of the Buru four, provides an important historical account and a unique perspective on colonial life at the end of the nineteenth century, a significant period in Indonesian history that determined the future of the Indonesian people as a free state. As Razif Bahari argues in his book entitled Pramoedya Postcolonially, the tetralogy and its literary and societal context may provide valuable insights concerning the force that drives the main character to obtain power and freedom and could answer some of the questions concerning the construction of history, language, and gender within postcolonial literature and literary studies (Bahari, 2007).

It is the significance of cultural, historical, and literary aspects of Bumi Manusia that makes the study of its translation worthwhile. It gives new insights into strategies and methods employed in the translation of cross-cultural texts as well as their cultural implications and ways to convey the message of the original text effectively to foreign readers without disrupting the narrative flow and maintaining the target readers’ interest and expectations.

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