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3.4 FAMILIAL TIES: Destiny or Strategy?
Several of the kontemporer performances address issues related to the appropriate behavior of individuals within a family. We can distinguish between performances that adhere to conventional ethical expectations and those which challenge them. The first set of performances maintains traditional conceptions of the ideal family by exploring issues of responsibility, fate and allegiance. In these cases, the ethics of behavior are explained in relation to the social effects of particular choices, rather than in terms of universal maxims. Other performances within that same group explore the social consequences of unethical behavior, often in the case of infidelity. The offenders find themselves turned into stone, surrounded by arrows or shot to death in violent crimes. The performances that challenge conventional ethics offer alternative views on conventional wisdom and question the validity of continuing the feud of an ancestor as an ethical responsibility.
Observers have long claimed that the power structures within the family represent a miniature version of power relations in Javanese society at large; the family is often described as the centerpiece of Javanese society. It is here, so says the literature, that children are taught to respect the elders and to apprehend social harmony and other virtues valued among the Javanese: "The family has become a metaphor for the polity: the president became the benevolent bapak (father) who ruled over his Children" (Shiraishi 1997: 33).
It is perhaps no coincidence that the family was considered a fitting metaphor for the New Order by both the state and researchers. The trope of the nation as family was promoted by the Suharto regime in a variety of different ways (Antlov 2005: 12). As Saya Shiraishi notes, this view of the family dates back to the 1920s, long before the establishment of the Indonesian Republic:
Historically, the concept of keleuargaan, or family-ism, was born and developed in Taman Siswa [literally "Student Garden", an educational movement started by Ki Hajar Dewantoro in 1922]. It then migrated to government offices as Taman Siswa teachers and graduates joined the government. Family-ism therefore manifests itself most clearly in modern, national, bureaucratic organizations (Shiraishi 1997: 93).
The long history and many uses of the family as trope make it an interesting site for exploring what kontemporer performances say about interpersonal relations. The following performance excerpts provide an interpretation of how the idea of the family and its inherent power structures are understood in contemporary Java.
The later section on Youth (3.8) addresses performances that sometimes challenge such structures. For the most part, though, the performances referenced here reproduce traditionally established ideas about the family. Several performances that deal with familial ties concentrate on the figures of Karna and Gatotkaca, so it is worth outlining their main characteristics in detail before describing the ways they are re-elaborated in the performances. Karna is Kunti's first son and the older brother of the Pandawa. However, he was born out of wedlock before Kunti married Pandu and was thus thrown away into a river. He was raised in Astina by Radha and Adirata and then accepted by the Korawa as one of their own.
Tetuka is the name Gatotkaca received upon birth. He was the son of Bima (the second Pandawa brother) and the giant princess Arimbi. As a baby, his umbilical cord was so strong that no weapon could cut through it. The Gods offered Arimbi and Bima a special sword for cutting the cord, on the condition that the young child would single-handedly fight a giant which was attacking heaven.
In order to strengthen his body, Tetuka was thrown into the Candradimuka crater together with several special weapons from the Gods, and became practically invincible. Upon reemerging from the crater he was renamed Gatotkaca and he dutifully defeated Nalapracona, the giant attacking heaven, and became an important warrior for the Pandawa faction. During the war, however, Karna killed Gatotkaca and then died by the arrows of Arjuna, the third Pandawa brother.
The kontemporer performances use the stories of both Karna and Gatotkaca to raise issues about responsibility, fate and allegiance. An important notion explored by the performances is the acceptance of the roles within a family and, by extension, in society. A typical example of this can be found in Mirwan Suwarso's Jabang Tetuka where Semar urges Bima and Arimbi to accept both the fate that has been decided for their child and the promise they have made.
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ARIMBI. This baby has not been with me for long. And now the Gods wish to take him away?
SEMAR. Yes. That is what you promised them.
BIMA. Kakang Semar.
SEMAR. What is it, Bima?
BIMA. What if I fight the giants myself?
SEMAR. No, the Gods have not requested you, Kresna or Arjuna. They have requested Jabang Tetuka.
BIMA. Alright kakang Semar. Yes. I will give my baby to you.
Nanang Hape's Sanditama Lagu Laga reproduces the same moment. But here, when Gatotkaca is selected to fight the giant, Bima protests and it is Kresna who admonishes him to remember his place and obligations.
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KRESNA. Often, we must focus on our respective roles. And we shouldn't ask too many questions.
What is demanded of him is not only acceptance, but unquestioning silence. This also conforms to normative expectations of what maturity means. As Saya Shiraishi notes, sometimes in Java “one proves his maturity when he learns not to make his own decisions and insightfully accepts the right answer without being told it” (Shiraishi 1997: 163). This certainly does not apply to everyone, but this idea of maturity is still a dominant one. The rest of this performance explores the acceptance of responsibility from the points of view of Gatotkaca and Karna. The former dutifully accepts his responsibilities all the way to his death. The latter has to choose between his responsibilities to his real mother and to his adoptive family and the Korawa fraction.
Nanang Hape told me that the childhoods of these two characters epitomize the lack of childhood that many young Jakartans experience. The rich, according to Nanang, are like Gatotkaca. They are treated like little adults that receive additional tuition after school every day and they have no time to enjoy being kids. The poor, on the other hand, often have lives that are not entirely different from that of Karna: orphans who must find a way to earn their own money abound in the streets of Jakarta. As the dalang mentions in the performance:
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DALANG. Every time you come to a 'Stop' light in the middle of the city and you see a young boy, ask for his name! Perhaps that beggar or that boy polishing your shoes is called Karna. Every street kid in Astina changed his name to Karna.
This is contrasted to the fate of Gatotkaca, who is depicted as a cold young man who embraces his responsibilities with perfect stoicism:
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GATOTKACA. I am fortunate to have it all, mom. Wealth, your love…what else could I long for?
ARIMBI. You should try something else, Gatotkaca, something else besides blood, weapons and competitions.
GATOTKACA. That has already become my responsibility, mother! And I enjoy doing that.
Gatotkaca embraces his responsibility, and so does Karna. However, Karna's responsibilities are not as clear-cut as those of Gatotkaca. In Karna's mind, Kunti failed to fulfill her role as his mother when she banished him to a foreign land as a baby. Before the war, Kunti apologizes for her mistakes and tries to convince him to fight for the Pandawa faction.
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KUNTI. I will ask for forgiveness during the rest of my life, Karna. Your mother was wrong.
KARNA. Really wrong! There is nothing tying you to me.
Yet, she does not succeed. Accepted by the Korawa, Karna's loyalties in the war will lie with the enemies of the Pandawa. But Kunti is able to convince him to only fight Arjuna and not any of her other sons – since Arjuna is the only possible match for Karna's strength. Karna agrees and eventually dies in a fight with Arjuna, but he kills several of the supporters of the Pandawa, including Gatotkaca. Karna's story is an interesting source of ethical debate, since he decides to choose other allegiances over blood ties. However, as this performance argues, he was freed from complying with his familial obligations the moment his mother denied him care as a baby. A previous performance by Nanang Hape, Lara Tanpa Liru, depicts this conflict vividly, when Duryudana, the leader of the Korawa, proclaims that Karna (Basukarna) is to be taken in as a member of the family.
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DURYUDANA. Today we have a new brother. Our brother the king of Awangga, Basukarna. Do you agree?
Another performance that also retells this story – Slamet Gundono's Jendral Karna – takes the point of view of Kunti. After she has given birth out of wedlock, her brother Basudewa arranges for the child to be removed from her and thrown into the river. In Slamet's version, Basudewa orders a policeman called Bakir to carry out this action. An inconsolable Kunti is reminded of her obligations by her brother through a phone conversation.
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BASUDEWA. It must be that way, Kunti. Pakdhe Bakir and his friends were forced to do this. They had to come and take your baby away. Yes. It has happened already. Your baby has been taken away already. Don't cry. If you cry, then I will also be sad, man. Don't be sad! Enough! For the sake of Mandura! You must sacrifice yourself. What was the name of that baby, Karna? If word about him gets out, our country will collapse. Don't cry. If you cry, you'll make me cry as well. Enough! Don't cry!
The connection between the roles in the family and their political consequences are made explicit in this fragment. Kunti is of course part of the royal family, and a scandal would devastate the country more than if a similar event were to happen within a common family. Nevertheless, keeping up appearances and striving for kerukunan or balance is important in every family in Java: “Javanese society is not so much interested in absolute moral principles, as in preserving peace and harmony” (Magnis-Suseno 1997: 177).
The social consequences of an action, such as a child born out of wedlock, are more important than the action itself. Magnis-Suseno's comments on the Javanese attitude to sexuality are pertinent here:
Javanese do not seem to harbor any complexes about sexual relations, or any other aspect of sexuality. [...] The sexual drive is considered as something completely natural. It is not expected of individuals that they practice self-discipline, nor that they renounce extra-marital sexual relations on the basis of fundamental moral considerations. Such a point of view would strike Javanese as surprising. [...] It is self-evident to them that once an individual has escaped social surveillance he will follow where his instincts lead and do what they command. It is precisely for this reason, that strict supervision of young people is practiced, as it is seen as the only effective way to forestall extra-marital sexual activity (Magnis-Suseno's 1997: 175).
The preeminence of the social effects over the actual actions is highlighted by a scene in Teater Koma's Sie Jin Kwie. Liukong believes his daughter Liukimhwa has had an affair with Sie Jin Kwie. Although eventually she will become his wife, at that point in the story, she had only helped Sie Jin Kwie by providing him with a coat to keep him warm in the middle of the night. Everyone in the city recognizes the coat and reaches the same conclusion. The father, angered by this fact, wishes to kill his daughter to protect the family honor, instead of investigating the veracity of the claims. In order to protect Liukimhwa, her mother Wankun and her older sister Liutayhong decide the only option left is to fake the young woman's death.
WANKUN. Kim must leave this house and hide in a neighboring village. When our father has calmed down, we can bring her back.
LIUKIMHWA. Oh, mother and sister. I have never been out of the house. It will be impossible for me to be far from the family. For me, this will be worse than dying!
LIUTAYHONG. Calm down, my sister. Your friends will go with you and protect you.
LIUKIMHWA . Yes, kakak. I will always be with you. Wherever you go, I will follow.
LIUTAYHONG . When he [Liukong] realizes she's gone, he will certainly look for her till he finds her.
WANKUN . Here's another thought. We will cry as if she has killed herself by throwing herself into the well. That way, father will not look for her.
Following the moral logic outlined by Magnis-Suseno, Kunti's and Liukimwha's actions are based not on absolute moral principles, but on a careful weighing of the perceptions of society. This is also the case for the decisions taken by other characters explored above, such as Gatotkaca and Bima. The previous examples show how mature men and women are supposed to accept their destinies, and comply with what society expects of them. However, this also applies to children and the roles a character is to follow are often imposed even before birth. In Aneng Kiswantoro's Sumpah Pralaya, when Abimanyu hears that he will have a child, he wishes that his son follow in his own footsteps:
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ABIMANYU. The Baratayuda war has already started. All the Pandawa sons are rushing to the battle field. They are ready to sacrifice their souls. They are not afraid to meet their armed enemies. I also wish to let my warrior's soul be seen, in order to defend my country and people. Because of that, I have volunteered. I ask for your permission to leave for the field.
UTARI. Kangmas Abimanyu, you should know, as of today, your soul has been entrusted to me. The seed I carry is already four months old.
ABIMANYU. What, yayi? Will I be a father?
UTARI. Yes, my prince.
ABIMANYU. Oh! My child! Yayi Utari. I believe...
UTARI. Yes, kangmas?
ABIMANYU. If this child is a boy, one day he will continue the sacrifice of his elders.
UTARI. Yes, kangmas.
ABIMANYU. I pray that this child become a respectable warrior! So that he can defend truth and justice and make himself useful for his country and people.
Abimanyu's son, Parikesit, will indeed grow up to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers, eventually becoming the king of Astina after the Baratayuda war is over. However, Abimanyu himself will die in the war, as punishment for the breach of his promises. Early in the performance, he pledges an oath to Utari, promising he will never love another woman or he will die.
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UTARI. Is it true that you think only about Utari?
ABIMANYU. You are the only one I love, nimas. I swear by the earth and the sky there is no one else I love except for you.
UUTARI. But can I really trust your words, prince? Many say that men like telling lies.
ABIMANYU. Yayi! Listen to my pledge of faithfulness. If I ever share my love with another woman may death befall me in the Baratayuda war.
Despite the promise, Abimanyu marries another woman as well and, at the end of the performance, he dies on the Kurusetra field during the Baratayuda war. Those who do not follow their accepted roles are punished for it, and this idea is explored by other performances as well. In Enthus Susmono's Sugriwa dan Subali, Windradi has committed adultery with a God. Resi Gotama, her husband, turns her into a statue upon learning of the affair.
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GOTAMA. My children, a worm that has already become a butterfly cannot be returned to the cocoon. The actions of your mother have been punished according to her karma. Set your hearts at ease, my children. Strengthen your souls. Your mother has brought this upon herself with her actions.
It is interesting to note that this supernatural punishment is the result of the husband finding out, and not of the action itself. This seems to corroborate Magnis-Suseno's observation that social consequences are the motivation for ethical choices rather than universal values. The punishment for infidelity is also explored in two performances by Eko Nugroho, Bungkusan Hati Di Dalam Kulkas and Perseteruan Getah Bening. In both performances, men kill their wives because of the infidelities they committed. However, here the emphasis is different since these performances portray both the men and the women as being at fault: the women for the extra-marital affairs and the men for their violent acts.
Nonetheless, very few other performances question any of the accepted ethical values of how to raise a family. The exception might be Sungsang Bawono Balik. In Java, having children is seen as a duty and one of the most important things to accomplish in life, but Sukasman (who was himself childless out of personal choice) challenges this point in the performance. Kresna is trying to educate Saroja Kusuma, the son of Duryudana, and takes him on a tour to the future, where he explains how behavior should change to suit the times.
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KRESNA. When the world was empty, having many children was a good suggestion. But now there are too many people. The world is too full. Earlier, many parties controlled the process before having sex, and there was freedom in giving birth. But now it's the other way around. The people are more inclined to give freedom to the relationships between men and women. However, when a pregnancy happens, then it can become a problem. There are many other things to consider about the uniqueness of this world. From the point of view of good and bad, right and wrong, profit and loss. The direction of the world is uncertain. This is the name of this story, everything is upside down! [Sungsang Bawono Balik means that everything is inverted]. There is freedom for intimate contact but after the rise of the AIDS catastrophe this freedom should be curtailed.
This comment, through tangentially developed, is more explicit about the relation between accepted ethical values and contemporary life. The performance advocates limiting the number of children, which can be seen as going against conventional wisdom. But the extent to which this is an oppositional view is debatable since successive Indonesian governments have tried to impose family planning messages on wayang for several decades. The last line of the dialogue quoted above also suggests curtailing freedom, which can hardly be reconciled with a progressive ethical attitude.
The only performance that can clearly be said to question accepted ethical views is Nanang Hape's Kalimataya. Parikesit (who has been discussed above) has inherited the crown of Astina but does not feel up to the job. He questions Kresna, who finally agrees to criticize the actions of his elders.
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PARIKESIT. Please, tell me about the war, eyang. Is it true that our men killed each other for the crown that I have received?
KRESNA. The Gods were wrong, Parikesit. We were destined to be born earlier. Of course, your problems might not be all that different from ours. But nothing tells you that you should use our ways to handle them.
At the end of the performance, a new war takes place, this time between the sons of the Korawa and the heirs of the Pandawa. When the war is over, the dalang questions the point of the destruction and the ethics of war.
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DALANG. There is only red now. A million weapons took a million souls away. Revenge and anger are as dust specks that pollute the air. Many bodies were buried in shallow graves. Many were scattered around. Are moans enough to regret this? Are tears enough to lament this? The rest of the questions cannot be answered.
It is worth noting that, conventionally, there are no lakon carangan that take place after the Baratayuda (Magnis-Suseno 1997: 162). By placing the action beyond the realm of the Baratayuda, Nanang Hape also places the question it addresses beyond the realm of traditional ethics. With its hint at unanswerable questions, this performance moves away from the ethical dictum about war as an ethical endeavor, metaphorical or not (see Spirituality).
Most performances that investigate ethical behavior within a family adhere to conventional expectations. Traditional conceptions of the ideal family, and values such as responsibility, fate and allegiance continue to inform the ethical perspectives of most performances analyzed here. Following Magnis-Suseno, I suggested that ethical choice is motivated by social consequences, not by universal values. In the performances, punishment always arises in such consequences. Likewise, there is reward in conforming to the right ethical choices. The few performances that challenge conventional ethics do little more than hint at the possible existence of alternative ethical frameworks.
Eleven performances have been considered in this section, more than in any other of the thematic categories I have proposed in this dissertation. Unsurprisingly, they represent a range of positions which highlight continuities and departures from the way this theme is elaborated by traditional wayang. It should be noted that the family is not the exclusive obsession of kontemporer performances, but that the same theme would be extensively addressed in a sample of traditional performances. If anything, the continued relevance of this theme demonstrates a close link between traditional and kontemporer performances in terms of thematic preoccupations. But is this theme interpreted in a radically different way?
Bungkusan Hati Di Dalam Kulkas and Perseteruan Getah Bening depict decidedly urban family settings of recent manifestation in Indonesia. But for all the trendiness of their appearance and their markedly middle-class Jakartan inflections, the characters in these performances are concerned with age-old problems: conceiving children and punishing unfaithful spouses. Conservative ideas of the family had never found such a modern guise as the one they find in Eko Nugroho's two works discussed here. I don't say this dismissively, but I can't help but notice that the disruptive aesthetic energies of the performance are not channeled towards interrogating the validity of the most conservative familial values. This could also be said for other performances described above and it is one of the reasons why considering aesthetic and thematic variations separately, as I have done in this dissertation, is a productive strategy. By doing this, I aim to highlight the fact that aesthetic innovation does not necessarily correlate with thematic innovation. In fact this dissociated character is a key feature of wayang kontemporer performances.
The Bocor performances are as conservative as Sugriwa dan Subali, Sumpah Pralaya, Jabang Tetuka and Sie Jin Kwie. Sungsang Bawono Balik advocates slightly different views when it advances an argument in favor of family planning. But this is hardly new or oppositional. As Clara van Groenendael indicates, during the 1960s numerous government programs tried to use wayang performances in order to encourage family planning (van Groenendael 973: 56).
Perhaps the most unusual stances in relation to family values to be found in this group of performances are the ones elaborated by Nanag Hape in Lara Tanpa Liru, Sanditama Lagu Laga and Kalimataya. All these performances bring into question the wisdom of the elders in the way they raise their children. In the first two, we witness two extremes. On the one hand, the excessive endowment of responsibility towards Gatotkaca, and on the other, the denial of motherly love to Karna. In Kalimataya, what is interrogated is the relevance of keeping inherited grudges alive, masked as axioms of ancient wisdom. The performances described here reflect the multiple, nuanced ways in which the age-old trope of the family is challenged, articulated and re-elaborated in the world of kontemporer performances.