No other episode in the history of modern Indonesia evokes so much sentiment as the annual commemoration of Independence Day on August 17. That was the day in 1945 when the nation’s founders declared our freedom from 300 years of Dutch colonial rule. However, it took four more years before the new republic of Indonesia achieved de jure recognition by the world at large.
The intervening period was one of intense struggle, at the front lines as freedom fighters battled the colonial troops and at the negotiating table as diplomats struggled to win a peace settlement. All this took place against a backdrop of the waning World War II and the retreating Japanese troops who had occupied the country for the past three years. Meanwhile, in the midst of all this turbulence, Indonesians from diverse backgrounds sought to find their identities amid the tide towards nationhood.
One concern was the question of “being Indonesian” and what that meant to different people. For writers and artists, it was an exhilarating time as they jostled to express their thoughts and ideas on nation-building and related themes. A great many works of art and literature came out of this period.
Among Lontar’s collection of books are a number containing anecdotes of events during and after the struggle for independence. Two are And the War is Over by Ismail Marahimin and The Weaverbirds by Y.B. Mangunwijaya.
Marahimin’s book, his first and only novel, tells about Taratakbuluh, a small village in Sumatra during the final days of World War II. Although the village was not touched by the fighting, it was the site of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp for Dutch internees. The story revolves around the tense relationships between the Japanese soldiers, the Dutch prisoners and the Javanese workers who worked there. In 1984, the book received the Pegasus Prize, a literary award sponsored by Mobil Oil Indonesia.
The Weaverbirds, which literary critics hailed as a landmark novel, is a tale of both physical and spiritual struggle spanning the formative days of Indonesian independence and the Indonesian oil crisis of the mid-1970s. Through his novel, the late author Y.B. Mangunwijawa provides a framework for an in-depth examination of human motives in time of conflict.
In the spirit of Merdeka!, as Indonesians like to greet each other on Independence Day, we invite you to read these books, which Lontar has re-published in recent years, along with other fine examples of Indonesian literature.