Feb 20, 2018 Last Updated 12:49 AM, Feb 16, 2018

Reviews

Published: Jul 15, 2007


Kristin Ganske

Conversations with Difference: Essays from Tempo Magazine is a collection of essays written between 1968 and 2002 by the influential Indonesian journalist, intellectual and poet Goenawan Mohamad. The essays were originally in the form of a weekly column he wrote for the Indonesian news magazine Tempo. The magazine, co-founded by the author in 1971, was closed down twice by the Suharto regime and eventually reopened in 1998.

Thematically the essays are wide-ranging, but collectively they investigate the meaning of difference in many forms: identity, nationhood, religion, geography and philosophy. As Goenawan himself notes, in an essay entitled ‘Differing’, ‘If there is anything that constantly teases us, it is the matter of ‘differing’ and its meaning in life.’ The essays capture the author’s probing insights and creative use of grammar and rhythm. There are no easy answers here. As Goenawan himself claims, his essays are not written to provide ‘an unbreakable crystal of answers’. Instead, readers are prodded, through the striking use of language, century-hopping global literary references and topical news events, to probe ever deeper into the meaning of difference.

Throughout his forty year career, Goenawan has maintained an independent voice. In this collection, Goenawan presents musings, or as he labels them, ‘thought pieces’, which are instructive in exploring the differences evident within Indonesia, in Asia, around the world and most of all, within ourselves.

Goenawan Mohamad, Conversations with a Difference, translated by Jennifer Lindsay, Jakarta and Singapore, PT Tempo Media and Singapore University Press, 2002 ISBN 9799065224, A$36.00.

Reviewed by Kristin Gapske (kgapske@yahoo.com).

Review: Gibson's book contains fascinating information about Ara, a Makassarese speaking area in southeast South Sulawesi.


Anthony Jukes

Several important contributions to Makassarese studies have emerged in the past few years. Two examples are the historian Willam Cummings’ Making Blood White (2002), and the ethnomusicologist R Anderson Sutton’s Calling Back the Spirit (2002). Anthropologist Thomas Gibson’s And the Sun Pursued the Moon: Symbolic Knowledge and Traditional Authority among the Makassar also uses the South Sulawesi context as an example for making broader theoretical observations – in this case an examination of what Gibson terms ‘symbolic knowledge’.

The book is impressive on many fronts. Based on participant observation and a close examination of texts (Gibson argues that both approaches are essential), it contains fascinating information about the ceremonial practices and history/mythology of Ara, a Makassarese (or more specifically Konjo) speaking area in southeast South Sulawesi. Ara has a distinct identity as a centre of boatbuilding, with its own set of origin myths and detailed genealogical and historical chronicles. Gibson uses this ethnographic and historical information to argue that ‘symbolic knowledge’ is an intermediate level between practical and ideological forms of knowledge. He examines Ara’s ‘symbolic infrastructure’ and its origins, including pan-Austronesian myth, Majapahit influence and Bugis cosmology. He argues that with these competing models, Makassarese history ‘cannot be reduced to a single grand narrative’.

The book is clearly written, with depth of analysis and quality of scholarship. That said, the book is not without flaws. As Gibson acknowledges at the beginning, ‘there is little discussion of Islam’ (p 1). In a study of the ‘symbolic knowledge’ of a South Sulawesi community this is a significant omission. Another obvious criticism is that Gibson does not seem to have learnt Makassarese or Konjo himself, relying on informants for translation of manuscripts or ritual speech into Indonesian, which was then translated into English. Apparent lexical correspondences between Makassarese and Indonesian can be misleading, and learning the language will give better insights into a culture. But these relatively minor criticisms aside, this is an extremely valuable addition to studies of South Sulawesi.

Thomas Gibson, And the Sun Pursued the Moon, Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press, 2005 ISBN 0824828658, A$75.00

Anthony Jukes (aj4@soas.ac.uk)

Review:This book contains fifteen essays covering a wide-range of topics from from close studies of royal elephant processions to overviews of changing population patterns.


Edward Aspinall

Anthony Reid begins the anthology An Indonesian Frontier: Acehnese and Other Histories of Sumatra by noting that there is a dearth of books providing general histories of Sumatra, despite its importance in the history of the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. The book contains fifteen separate essays, all of which have appeared over the course of the last forty years, although many have been substantially revised. They cover topics ranging from close studies of royal elephant processions and opulent court celebrations in seventeenth century Aceh, to overviews of changing population patterns, whereby Sumatrans were mostly clustered in upland valleys before the twentieth century, but moved in greater numbers to coastal strips thereafter.

Readers will be particularly interested in the essays about Aceh. Perhaps most striking is the newest essay in the collection (chapter 15), in which Reid examines the roots of the contemporary separatist conflict. In all of Indonesia, he writes, ‘Aceh is alone (in common with Batavia/Jakarta) as an identity fashioned by a coastal state over four centuries, the memory of which was still vigorous in the 20th century’ (p 339). This difference, he implies, accounts for why separatist ideas have found a ready audience in the population. Here Reid refines his earlier interpretation of Aceh’s history. In his classic books, The Contest for North Sumatra (1969) and The Blood of the People (1979), Aceh’s resistance to Dutch colonisers is firmly placed within a wider story leading to Indonesian nationhood. The subsequent emergence of Acehnese separatism has made Reid look back at Aceh’s history in a new light.

The point Reid makes about Aceh’s ‘exceptionalism’, as well as the extraordinary range of topics he covers in the book, is surely also one explanation for why there is yet no accessible general history of Sumatra: its very diversity means the island does not form an easy unit for historical study.

Anthony Reid, An Indonesian Frontier, Singapore Singapore University Press, 2005 ISBN 99716929988, A$ 58.50

Reviewed by Edward Aspinall (edward.aspinall@anu.edu.au).

Inside Indonesia 85: Jan-Mar 2006

Latest Articles

Diplomasi pendopo dan gamelan sekar laras

Feb 16, 2018 - DUNCAN GRAHAM

Crossing the finish line

Feb 13, 2018 - JOSH STENBERG 2

Wilson Tjandinegara (photo courtesy of Guoji Ribao)

Bilingual Chinese-Indonesian writer Wilson Tjandinegara built bridges within Indonesia’s literary culture

A showcase of harmony

Feb 13, 2018 - JOSH STENBERG

The Leyun Choir (樂韻合唱團) performs

Celebrating Indonesia’s birthday with the Mandarin choirs of Jakarta

Review: Ending the silence

Feb 07, 2018 - JOOST COTE

Social exclusion in a state urban mega-development

Feb 01, 2018 - SARAH MOSER & ALYSSA WILBUR

Multi-generational villagers’ land and homes are being expropriated for the new capital  Credit: Alyssa Shamsa Wilbur

Indonesia’s first new city, like many others, may not be addressing the urban problems it was supposed to 

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.

 


Lontar Modern Indonesia

Lontar-Logo-Ok

 

A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar

Readers said:

  • Marriage denied
    Sayed - 30 Nov
    I am from Pakistan and living in Indonesia and I am refugee here. I have been here a long time for 5 years but still I did not get any answer from ...
     
  • When a history seminar becomes toxic
    Duncan Graham - 12 Nov
    Thanks for this detailed account - most reports have been superficial. The politics have been done well, but what about the people? I would have ...
     
  • When a history seminar becomes toxic
    Jose - 11 Nov
    Inciting violence is a purpose in itself - violence begets more violence. Turning a peaceful event into a violent confrontation serves its own purpose ...
     
  • Mining – who benefits?
    uhaibm@yahoo.com - 04 Nov
    This paper has been inspired in relation to the exploitation of natural resources, specifically the coal mining industry. I am doing some research ...

30th Anniversary Book

Inside Indonesia - 30th Anniversary Photo Book

 

Have you bought your copy of Inside Indonesia's 30th Anniversary book yet?

The book features 30 of the judges' favourite images from the 2013 Inside Indonesia Photography Competition.

Preview the book  and order your copy online (Soft cover approx AUD$23.00 / Hard cover approx AUD$35.00).