November 27, 2010

W. S. Rendra

W[illibrordus] S[urendra] Broto/Wahyu Sulaiman Rendra [Indonesia]

Born into a Roman Catholic family in Solo, West Java, in 1935, Rendra was baptized as Willibrordus Surendra Broto, but changed his name to Wahyu Sulaiman Rendra when he embraced Islam upon his marriage in 1970 to Sitoresmi Prabunigrat, his second wife. Throughout much of his life we he was known simply as Rendra.

He studied English literature and culture at Gajah Mada University in Yogykarta in central Java, but did not graduate, being involved in his first theatrical production for which he was employed. He staged his first important play, Dead Voices, in 1963. Rendra was fascinated by theater since it could embrace both his interest in religious ritual and Western-influenced avant-garde experiments. His sometimes audacious readings and his own poems and the outrageousness of his theater performances brought him wide attention throughout the sixties and into the 1970s. The press gave him the name "Burung Merak," the "Peacock."

Increasingly in the 1970s and 1980s, Rendra moved away from his controversial innovative experiments to an embracement of multi-ethnic cultural expressions throughout Indonesia. In a 1969 drama, he required his actors to give up dialogues, using only their bodies and simple sounds such as "Bib bop," "zzzzz," and "rambate rate rata," performances which journalist poet Goenawan Mohamad described as "mini-word theater."

Among Rendra's 1970s plays were Mastodon, The Condors, The Struggle of the Naga Tribe, and The Regional Secretary, some of which were banned because of their criticism of the second President of Indonesia, Suharto.

He also performed Western theater such as works by Shakespeare, Brecht, and the Greeks. Looking younger than his years, Rendra played Hamlet into his late 60s.

During the Suharto reign, Rendra lived in a poor district of Jakarta, visited by artists from around the world. He was increasingly involved in poetry during this period, using both his performances and readings as a way to gather the masses. In 1979, during a reading at the Ismail Marzuki art center in Jakarta, agents of Suharto threw ammonia bombs onto the stage and arrested the poet. He was imprisoned in the Guntur military prison for none months, kept in solitary confinement.

After his release from prison, Rendra continued performing and reading, starring in his own eight-hour long play, Panembaha Reso, a work centered on the succession of power in Indonesia. In his later years, Rendra received numerous literary awards, including the Art of the Indonesia Government award in 1970, the Prize of the Academy Jakarta, and the Main Book Prize of the Ministry of Education and Culture in 1976. He was often mentioned as a possible choice of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Rendra's poetry is narrative and colloquial, sometimes employing sounds and rhythms such as those he used in his theatrical productions.
Rendra died of coronary heart disease in 2009.

Ballada Orang-Orang Tercinta (Kumpulan sajak); Blues untuk Bonnie; Empat Kumpulan Sajak; Sajak-sajak Sepatu Tua; Mencari Bapak; Perjalanan Bu Arminah; Nyanyian Orang Urakan; Potret Pembangunan Dalam Puisi; Disebabkan Oleh Angin; Orang Orang Rangkasbitung

[help is sought in obtaining the city and publisher and the dates of these books)


Ballads and Blues, trans. by Burton Raffel, Harry Aveling, and Derwent May (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1974); featured in Contemporary Indonesian Poetry, ed. and trans. Harry Aveling (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1975)


One hot Sunday
in a church full of people
a young priest stood at the pulpit.
His face was beautiful and holy
his eyes sweet like a rabbit's
and he lifted up both his hands
which were lovely like a lily
and said:
"Now let us disperse.
There is no sermon today."

No one budged.
They sat tight in their rows.
There were many standing.
They were stiff. Refused to move.
Their eyes stared.
Their mouths hung open
they stopped praying
but they all wanted to hear.
Then all at once they complained
and together with the strange voice from their mouths
which had to be quickly stifled.

"You can see I am still young.
Allow me to care for my own soul.
Please go away.
Allow me to praise holiness
I want to go back to the monastery
to meditate on the glory of God."

Again they complained.
No one moved.
Their faces looked sad.
Their eyes questioned.
Their mouths gaped
wanting very much to hear.

"This people ask for guidance, Lord
God, why have you left me at this moment?
Like a flock of hungry lazy jackals
they hang their mouths.
It is hot. I piss in my pants.
Father. Father. Why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Still no one moved.
Their faces were wet.
Their hair was wet.
Their whole bodies were wet.
Sweat poured onto the floor
because it was so hot
and of the misery they bore.
The stench was extraordinarily foul
And their questions took stank foully.

"My brothers, children of the heavenly father.
This is my sermon.
My very first sermon.
Life is very difficult
Dark and difficult
There are many torments.
So in this regard
the wise way to live is ra-ra-ra
Ra-ra-ra, hump-pa-pa, ra-ra-ra.
Look at the wisdom of the lizard
the created God loves most
Go close to the ground
Your souls are squeezed between rocks
Like a lizard ra-ra-ra
like a centipede hum-pa-pa."

All spoke together:
Ra-ra-ra. Hum-pa-pa.
With a roar everyone in the church:
Ra-ra-ra. Hum-pa-pa.

"To the men who like guns
who fix the flags of truth to their bayonet-points
I want you to listen carefully
to lu-lu-lu, la-li-lo-lu.
Lift your noses high
so you don't see those you walk on.
For in this way li-li-li, la-li-lo-lu.
Cleanse the blood from your hands
so as not to frighten me
then we can sit and drink tea
and talk of the sufferings of society
and the nature of love and death.
Life is full of misery and sin.
Life is a big cheat.
La-la-la, li-li-li, la-li-lo-lu.

They stood. They stamped their feet on the floor
Stamping in one rhythm and together
Uniting their voices in:
La-la-la, li-li-li, la-li-lo-lu.
Carried along in the strength of their unity
they shouted together
precisely and rhythmically:
La-la-la, li-li-li, la-li-lo-lu.

"Now we live again.
Feel the force of the flow of the blood.
In your heads. In your necks. In your breasts.
In your stomachs. Throughout the rest of your bodies.
[See my fingers shaking with life
The blood is bong-bon-bong.
The blood of life is bang-bing-bong.
The blood of the common life is bang-bing-bong-bong.
Life must be lived in a noisy group.
Blood must mix with blood.
Bong-bong-bong. Bang-bing-bong."

The people exploded with the passion of the lives.
They stood on the pews.
Banged with their feet.
Bells, gongs, door-pailings, window panes
If it made a noise they pounded on it.
With the one rhythm
In accompaniment to their joyous shouts of:
Bong-bong-bong. Bang-bing-bong.

"We must exalt love.
Love in the long grass.
Love in the shops of jews.
Love in the backyard of the church.
Love is unity and tra-la-la.
Tra-la-la. La-la-la. Tra-la-la.
Like the grass
we must flourish
in unity and love.
Let us pulverize ourselves.
Let us shelter beneath the grass.
Let us love beneath the grass.
Taking as our guide:
Tra-la-la. La-la-la. Tra-la-la."

The whole congregation roared.
They began to dance. Following the one rhythm
They rubbed their bodies against each other
Men against women. Men against men.
Women with women. Everyone rubbed.
And some rubbed their bodies against the walls of the church.
And shouted in a queer mad voice
shrilly and together:
Tra-la-la. La-la-la. Tra-la-la.

"Through the holy prophet Moses
God has said:
Thou must not steal.
Junior civil servants stop stealing carbon.
Serving-girls stop stealing fried chicken bones.
Leaders stop stealing petro.
And girls, stop stealing your own virtue.
Of course, there is stealing and stealing.
The difference is: cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha.
All things come from God
which means
everything belongs to everyone.
Everything is for everyone.
We must be one. Us for us.
Cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha.
This is the guiding principle."

They roared like animals:
Grrr-grrr-grrr. Hura.
Cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha.
They stole window panes.
They took everything in the church.
The candelabra. The curtains. The carpets.
The silverware. And the statues covered with jewels.
Cha-cha-cha, they sang:
Cha-cha-cha over and over again
They smashed the whole church
Like wet panting animals
running to-and-fro.
Cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha.
Then suddenly the shrill voice of an old woman was heard:
"I am hungry. Hungrry. Hu-u-unggrryyy."
And suddenly everyone felt hungry.
Their eyes burned.
And they kept shouting cha-cha-cha.

"Because we are hungry
let us disperse.
Go home. Everyone stop."

Cha-cha-cha, they said
and their eyes burned.

"Go home.
The mass and the sermon are over."

Cha-cha-cha, they said.
They didn't stop.
They pressed forward.
The church was smashed. And their eyes flashed.

"Lord, Remember the sufferings of Christ.
We are all his honored sons.
Hunger must be overcome by wisdom."

They advance and beat against the pulpit.
They dragged the priest from the pulpit.
They tore his robes.
A Fat woman kissed his fine mouth.
And old woman licked his pure breast.
And girls pulled at both his legs.
And thus they raped him in a noisy throng.

Then they chopped his body to bits.
Everyone at his flesh. Cha-cha-cha.
They feasted in the strength of their unity.
They drank his blood.
They sucked the marrow from his bones.
Until they had eaten everything
and there was nothing left.

Translated from the Bahasa Indonesia by Harry Aveling

Copyright ©by W. S. Rendra; English language copyright ©1975 by Harry Aveling
Reprinted from Harry Aveling, ed. and trans. Contemporary Indonesia Poetry (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1975.
W. R. Rendra's last public performance


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