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2.2 Language: The Question of Belonging
My experiences of speaking Indonesian and Javanese are very different. The following anecdotes illustrate my personal quest to learn these languages. However, my conclusions are generalizable since they confirm statements often found in the literature and in many ways help explain the dynamics of language at work in kontemporer shows.
I started learning Indonesian in December 2007 from an audio coursebook I ordered from the internet. I had just been awarded a Darmasiswa scholarship to study Indonesian which would begin the following February and I was getting myself ready for this experience. I was teaching at a university in Mexico City. Since I had recently been hired, I was not entitled to holidays. So I clocked in and out of daily eight hour shifts, even though the university grounds were completely empty and I had no assignments of any kind to be completed during the December semester break. I used the serenity of the ghost university to immerse myself in the study of this new, mysterious language. I tried to listen to as much of it as possible, trying to become familiar with the patterns and the sounds, the new textures of this language. I also started memorizing basic words and conversations. Of course, when I first arrived in Yogyakarta on the 14th of February 2008, this knowledge did not get me very far. People did not really understand my basic Indonesian and I could not understand them either. But things quickly changed and by the end of my first stay in Indonesia I managed to become reasonably fluent.
I was enrolled in the introductory course at Gadjah Mada University. My main motivation to learn the language was to be able to communicate with my wayang kulit teachers, but the situation I found at the university inspired me to excel at learning the language. I quickly realized that most of my classmates had not even the must rudimentary knowledge of nor interest in the Indonesian language. Most had signed up for the scholarship as a way to justify a year of holidays in an exotic location. The Darmasiswa program is a controversial initiative in Indonesia. One thousand foreign students receive a generous monthly stipend from the Indonesian government to study Indonesian languages and culture. Some take the opportunity for study and cultural exchange seriously but must don't attend classes regularly and spend their time traveling (and complaining). They often leave with only the most basic understanding of the Indonesian language and of whatever cultural form they had been funded to study. Indonesian critics of this program rightly point out the fact that there is no equivalent program to support local, talented arts students who can't afford to go to university.
Aware of this situation, I tried to be as serious as possible about my studies. I was quickly transferred to an advanced class and spent most of my time during my first year in Indonesia learning the intricacies of formal, written Indonesian. Many foreign students of the language point out the big gap between formal and informal Indonesian. Many foreigners disdain the approach of formal language schools and choose to focus on learning the 'real' Indonesian. This 'real' Indonesian does not allow them to read novels or newspapers, or watch serious films and theatre performances. One of the ironies of Indonesian is that despite being hailed as "easy to learn" by countless foreigners and guidebooks, I've only met a handful of foreigners who could read novels or even newspapers. And I've only ever met two foreigners who could write idiomatic, grammatically correct phrases in Indonesian. I decided to devote as much of my attention as possible over the coming years to learning the dynamics of everyday conversation and the intricacies of the more formal Indonesian.
During my first year, I used every possible opportunity to speak in Indonesian. This was facilitated by the fact that I was living in the outskirts of the city, in an area where no one could speak English. My first wayang teacher, Pak Parjaya did not speak a word of English and this also forced me to communicate in rudimentary Indonesian and to acquire a richer vocabulary and fluency over my first six months as his student. Even back then, people sometimes thought I was Indonesian. Unlike most foreigners they met, I have dark skin and they believed I was possibly the child of a mixed marriage (unlike Western foreigners, I would never be described as bule). Or they thought I was from some faraway island, which explained differences in physiognomy and accent. My accent is also less pronounced than that of most foreigners because my native language (Spanish) shares many sounds with Indonesian. A mirror phenomenon confirms this observation: many Indonesian speakers have a very natural accent in Spanish.
After my first six months in Yogyakarta, I was given a scholarship for graduate studies in the Netherlands and I moved to Maastricht. In the next few years, I continued to improve my Indonesian. I returned a few times to Indonesia and when I was in the Netherlands I shared a house with Indonesian students. In 2010 I relocated to Singapore, and the proximity with Indonesia allowed me to spend several months each year in Yogyakarta. In these more recent visits I have concentrated on the study of Javanese, which has proved to be a very different problem.
Two formal aspects make Javanese more challenging to learn. The pronunciation is harder and, of all the languages in the world, it is the language with the highest degree of differentiation among formal and informal registers. But the biggest challenge is finding an opportunity to practice it. Indonesian people are used to the sight of foreigners who are learning Indonesian and they go out of their way to teach new words and speak slowly to foreigners. They welcome the slightest sign of fluency and forgive the worst errors. But none of this patience and understanding is extended to the learner of Javanese. A Javanese-speaking foreigner is still a rather unusual occurrence. The tiniest mistake will trigger mockery in one's listeners and make them switch, irreversibly, to Indonesian. If you don't pronounce a word well in Indonesian people will try their best to guess what you mean, but no such licence is extended to Javanese. Javanese listeners are not willing to exercise any degree of hermeneutic flexibility when it comes to the interpretation of the unorthodox pronunciations of words. And this applies to non-Javanese "foreigners" as well. The case in point is my friend Arie. He was born in North Sumatra but all his ancestors are Javanese. He has spoken perfect Javanese since childhood, but he does so with a thick Sumatran accent. Even his friends in Java consider this accent too funny to go unpunished and they reply mockingly to him. In Indonesian! People are unforgiving of his accent, even though he has been living now in Java for over ten years and is married to a Javanese woman and is the father of a Javanese baby. For fear of mockery, he refuses to speak Javanese even to his in-laws.
My progress in Javanese has been slower than in Indonesian. I have studied mostly with private tutors and I have a growing number of friends who are willing to converse with me in Javanese. At the moment, I have become almost fluent in the lowest register of the language (ngoko). Yet, although I can have a conversation on any topic with my friends, strangers would never speak to me in Javanese. I only speak with two dalang in Javanese, Catur and my teacher Sri Mulyono. Both of them often invite me to participate in their shows, since a Javanese speaking foreigner is a perfect attraction to include in the comic scene (Richard Curtis 1997 reports a similar situation). But for the most part, my research was conducted in Indonesian.
These anecdotes illustrate the difference in the perception of these two languages. Indonesian is friendly and shared across the board. Javanese, by contrast, is selective. It is the language of intimacy, and in-jokes. These different ideas of language are articulated, more clearly than anywhere else, in the selection of language used for kontemporer shows.
Conventional Language Use
The conventional language for wayang is Javanese. Eleven of the performances I analyze are delivered exclusively in Javanese, but we could distinguish a nuanced use of the language among them. Some of them privilege ngoko, the lowest register of the language: Wayang Hip Hop, Wayang Kampung Sebelah, Wayang Onthel, Lara Tanpa Liru, Perseteruan Getah Bening and Wayang Kancil. Slamet Gundono's performances, Jendral Karna, Pertaruhan Drupadi, and Wayang Tanah, use Tegal turns of phrase extensively. A third group, consisting of Sugriwa dan Subali and Sumpah Pralaya, maintains the full spectrum of the Javanese speech levels. Consider for example the following excerpt from the latter, which uses high Javanese.
ABIMANYU. Nimas, jejantungipun kakang, cah ayu. Soroting netramu lir pandam kamarutan. Satemah gawe pepadang telenging kalbu, yayi.
UTARI. Pangeran. Pangandikanmu dadi wiwara kabahagyan. Lir tibane riris ing mangsa ketiga. Kang mahanani puspa layu ana pangarep-arep bakal semi.
The English translation is as follows:
ABIMANYU. Nimas. Oh beautiful, my heart is pounding. Your eyes shine like oil lamps. And they light up my heart, yayi.
UTARI. Prince, your words bring happiness to me. Like rain falling in the dry season and letting the dying flowers know that their buds will grow again.
In Sumpah Pralaya, the poetic usage of the Javanese language stresses the atmosphere of courtly reverence and solemn acceptance of roles that is central to the themes of this performance. Despite their differences, all the performances which use Javanese share a commonality. Even though they engage in radical adaptations of other aspects of the wayang conventions, they choose to remain faithful to the traditional language used. These are the most hermetic of all the kontemporer adaptations, since they have a smaller target audience than the rest of them. Many of the kontemporer performances are popular with audiences not fluent in Javanese: young people who do not master the intricacies of the language, Indonesians from other islands who reside in Java, as well as those living in other provinces who watch touring performances or televised recordings of them. I will hypothesize that using Javanese, a hermetic language, in a kontemporer performance suggests a particular idea of Javanese culture.
One way to explain this is by referring to the attitudes of the Javanese towards people learning this language. As the anecdote above illustrates, being addressed in Javanese is an act of inclusion. When someone replies to you in Javanese, it provides you with evidence of tacit acceptance. It grants you access into a community and allows you to say certain things in certain ways. This is no easy feat. Even when non-Javanese Indonesians speak this language, their interlocutors tend to mock them and reply in Indonesian. I will suggest that the reason behind this is a historically inherited tendency to hermetically seal off the idea of what it means to be Javanese.
Following Heather Sutherland (1979), John Pemberton rehearsed the idea that the notion of cara jawi or “Javaneseness,” as a hermetic construct, first emerged in the early nineteenth century. It was a reaction to the increasingly tight political control imposed by the Dutch. Thus, cara jawi was set in opposition to the Dutch way, the cara walandi:
As the movement of late eighteenth-century Javanese rulers became increasingly limited because of Dutch intervention in palace affairs, the Kraton Surakarta thus transposed its focus, as if inward, toward the self-contained details of state ceremony and etiquette. Behind palace walls, ritual process unfolded as a program of events before a seated, privileged, audience (Pemberton 1994: 64).
At first, cara jawi referred to the way of dressing but then it came to encompass other things as well, until it became “a self-contained, ideally invulnerable, thoroughly 'Javanese' world" that would include "'Javanese' language, cuisine, literature, customs, and so on, down the line demarcating classic cultural difference" (Pemberton 1994: 66, single quotes in the original). This is the origin of its complex relationship to the non-Javanese world, which it excluded yet upon it which depended.
The long-term effect of this appropriation was a sense of self-assurance strong enough to seal foreignness out [...] and, at the same time, refined enough to attract and draw the foreigner into a “Javanese” world that was, by definition, impenetrable (Pemberton 1994: 67).
When Pemberton describes this long term effect he had the New Order in mind, but I would suggest that this idea persists even after the demise of Suharto's regime, and characterizes ideas about Java still embodied by even the most radical Javanese artists.
In a strategic conservatism that embraces aesthetic innovation but refuses the temptation of the language shift, the kontemporer performances that use Javanese incline the balance of the linguistic intermedial tradeoff towards a hermetic solution, in full support of long established, deeply embedded ideas about what it means to be Javanese.
Intermedial Language Use
In Shifting Languages (1998), Joseph Errington suggests two key aspects of how Javanese is being used in Indonesia. Speakers often take part in code switching, an "interactional process when bi- or multi-lingual speakers juxtapose elements (minimally phrase-long) of two languages” (Errington 1998: 5), as they switch between Javanese and Indonesian. Secondly, he describes a general, historical shift towards an increased usage of Indonesian in situations where Javanese was previously more common (for example, familial intimacy and cultural ceremonies). The patterns of code selection Errington identifies in everyday interactional processes also provide a fitting template to describe code selection in the kontemporer performances. The dalang have three possibilities: speaking the conventional language (Javanese), shifting to a non-conventional one (Indonesian) or mixing them (code-switching). In other words, these correspond to the intermedial tradeoffs in the linguistic realm.
The performances that combine different languages participate deliberately in the logic of the language shift. There are two performances in this category. The first one is Cebolang Minggat, which is spoken in French, Indonesian and Javanese. In the opening sequence, this multilingual character is explicitly addressed when Elizabeth Inandiak ponders the influence of this linguistic mixture:
Yang akan kami beberkan malam ini, bukan serat Centhini yang asli yang disusun di Kraton Surakarta pada abad ke 19 tetapi Centhini abad ke 21 Centhini yang berkelana dari tembang Jawa berjumpa dengan syair Perancis [...] lalu pulang kampung sampai ke logat Tegal.
The English translation is as follows:
That which we will present tonight is not the original Serat Centhini which was written down in the Surakarta Kraton in the 19th century, but a Centhini for the 21st century. A Centhini that has traveled away from the Javanese songs in which it was composed. It has met French poetry [...] and now it has come back to the Tegal dialect.
Let's look at the actual way in which code switching takes place. Elizabeth speaks in French in two moments of the performance. Both of these interventions constitute narrative fragments. Slamet Gundono only says one word in French (and it is unfortunately incorrect but promptly corrected by Elizabeth). Slamet speaks only a few times in Javanese and all of these utterances seem to be the product of improvisation rather than of a pre-defined plan. Therefore, whereas the multiplicity of languages present is important, the actual criss-crossing of languages is limited and straightforward. In some other performances (as I will analyze later) a close analysis of the moments languages change leads to meaningful results: we can readily imagine reasons for the language change.
In those cases, switching languages is an act of meaning-making; but not here, where there is no reason behind specific instances of language switching, other than the lack of shared languages among the performers. Nevertheless, I think that the multiplicity of languages is in itself meaningful. It indicates that the story can be universally understood. When I spoke to Elizabeth about her prolonged work with Serat Centhini she said she became enamored by the literary because of its universality. The warm reception in France of her novelized translation attests to this. Therefore, the notion of using other languages is more important here than the actual pattern of such usage. But we will see that this is not necessarily the case in another multilingual performance.
The other multilingual performance is Wayang Mitologi, where the main narrative is in Indonesian but the gara-gara scene is in Javanese. This performance presents a situation that is the opposite of Cebolang Minggat. In Wayang Mitologi, the multilingual character is not explicitly addressed. However, the linguistic selection for different parts of the performance is more meaningful. The only scene delivered in Javanese is the comic interlude, a playful and intimate moment of any performance. Indeed, theorists of code-switching in Java argue that Javanese is more closely associated with situations of greater familiarity and this performance adheres to such a principle. It is also worth noting that in traditional performances, the gara-gara is always presented in ngoko (the lowest register of Javanese), as is the case here. Of course, all of the dalang discussed in this dissertation are bilingual, but this performance brings out this bilingual character more than others. As John Edwards notes:
The importance of being bilingual is, above all, social and psychological rather than linguistic. Beyond types, categories, methods and processes is the essential animating tension of identity. Beyond utilitarian and unemotional instrumentality, the heart of bilingualism is belonging (Edwards 2009: 255).
Exposed bilingualism made explicit through code-switching in this performance addresses the possibility of double belonging. Paraphrasing Edwards, I would say that the importance of bilingualism in this performance is social and psychological rather than thematic. I don't think it bears a direct relationship to the theme of the performance. But the usage of both languages has a social and psychological significance and creates a wayang hybrid that is both Indonesian and Javanese. The recurrence of instances such as this, where there is no explicit connection between the aesthetic choices and the themes is what justifies analyzing both aspects separately, as I do in this dissertation.
Wayang Mitologi and Cebolang Minggat illustrate different avenues for multilingualism in kontemporer performances. In one we witness multilingualism as a statement of universality; in the other, bilingualism is the echo of daily practices of code-switching. In Cebolang Minggat, any segment could have been presented in French or Javanese without altering the meaning and mechanics of its multilingual character. However, if another segment were to have been presented in Javanese in Wayang Mitologi, this would not set in motion the same set of associations (of the gara-gara scene as an expression of an intimate Javanese world). Despite their differences, both of these performances express double belonging more clearly than other performances, through a carefully weighted consideration of the intermedial tradeoff posed by the choice of language, opting for a dual strategy of bilingualism. But navigating multi- and bilingualism is still an unusual approach and perhaps a difficult issue to tackle. We can see this in the fact that only two performances were discussed here; Mixed Language Usage is the smallest category in all of the performances classified in this dissertation. This is particularly remarkable since, in most variables, the mixed category is the most commonly occurring one.
The trend in the usage of language within kontemporer performances is far from clear, and the rest of the performances analyzed here are equally divided on each end of the spectrum, as eleven performances use Javanese and eleven use Indonesian. The previous two sections addressed associations triggered by adhering to Javanese or by mixing languages in a performance. The next section considers the implications of using Indonesian as the language of wayang kontemporer.
Non-conventional Language Use
The Javanese language is so closely linked to the idea of wayang in a traditional context that its substitution for another language can be considered an important departure from conventional aesthetics, even if that language is the official language of Indonesia. The usage of Indonesian, furthermore, has important connotations within the history of the country, since it is a language of relatively recent adoption.
There have been several attempts to make wayang more "Indonesian". The most notable proponent of using Indonesian was Bambang Murtiyoso who created an Indonesian language wayang in Surakarta in 1981 (Cohen 2007: 357) called Wayang Sandosa (from the abbreviation of berbahasa Indonesia, "in Indonesian"). Nanang Hape's Kalimataya is an example of a performance presented in a sandosa style, which was performed in Surakarta. Sukasman's Wayang Ukur also had ideological motivations to choose Indonesian as its language of transmission, since he aimed to make it more modern and communicative.
These are examples of performances that have ideological motivations for the language choice. But there are other performances where the language choice was determined by the place where they were performed. The Ukur performances often took place in Yogyakarta, as is the case for Sungsang Bawono Balik. Wayang Republik was also presented in Yogyakarta but, due to its topic, its addressees were non-Javanese as well. The objective of the performance was to demonstrate the importance of the city of Yogyakarta to all Indonesians (for a fuller description see the sections on Music and Politics). Consider, for example, the opening sequence of Wayang Republik:
SUKARNO. Kawan-kawan! Kawan-kawan, saya mohon untuk tenang! Tidak ada yang lebih baik daripada kita berfikir jernih dalam mengambil keputusan. Saya juga akan tegaskan kepada saudara-saudara dan kawan-kawan semua, tidak ada bangsa ataupun orang yang mau dijajah ataupun dihisap oleh bangsa lain. Saya tegaskan, tidak ada!
The English translation is as follows:
SUKARNO. Dear friends, I ask you to be patient. We should make decisions with a clear head. I will explain to all our comrades that no person or country wants to be oppressed or colonized by others. No one wants this I say!
In this sequence, an emotional Sukarno addresses a group of eager Javanese nationalists in Indonesian, the language of the independence struggle. Even though the performance was presented in a Javanese-speaking city, the usage of language is closely linked to the themes of Wayang Republik. However, several of the performances that use Indonesian were presented in non-Javanese speaking areas. Many of them were performed in Jakarta: Bungkusan Hati Di Dalam Kulkas, Jabang Tetuka, Raden Saleh, Sanditama Lagu Laga, Sie Jin Kwie, and Sie Jin Kwie Kena Fitnah. Kasmaran Tak Bertanda was performed in Bandung and Dewa Ruci was performed in Bali.
This geographic diversity is linked to the history of Indonesian, which is an "artificial" language. It was officially adopted as the language of the pro-independence struggle in the Second Youth Congress in 1928, and then ratified in 1945 upon the proclamation of Independence. As Soenjono Djardjowidjojo notes, "It didn't have the problem of any foreign language overshadowing it" (Djardjowidjojo 1998: 36). After Independence many efforts were taken to ensure the spread and acceptance of the newly established official language. The Pusat Bahasa (Language Center) was one of the newly set institutions in the Indonesian Republic, and its role was to promote and research the usage of Indonesian and other languages. This institution had an active role in promoting the literary usage of the Indonesian language (Djardjowidjojo 1998: 40), and these efforts are perhaps the precursors to the wide-spread usage of Indonesian in wayang performances. In Indonesia, linguistic/cultural identity has been the focus of debates and has been targeted by language policies. Indeed, if Indonesia is a modern artificial creation, an ‘imagined community', as suggested by Benedict Anderson (1991), language policy has been a major aspect of the cultural engineering of the nation. Language policies have created both a shared national fantasy and a tapestry of fractured identities, which are represented by the usage of Indonesian in the kontemporer performances.
The choice of language is not always a purely practical consideration, since most wayang spectators speak both Indonesian and Javanese. Rather, we can assume it has other implications and it sets in motion a complex set of expectations and cultural codes, which can be explained using Zane Goebel's analysis of the different semiotic registers that characterize language use in Indonesia. Following Asif Agha (2007), Goebel defines a linguistic interaction as a semiotic encounter within a system of constantly emerging semiotic registers (SRs). Enregistrement is the process by which certain ideas and categories get embedded in the SRs, which is linked to the historical conditions of language use in Indonesia: “Colonial and post-colonial policy and practices relate to institutional representations of language use and how this has figured in the formulation of SRs linking language use to performable social categories of personhood and relationships” (Goebel 2010: 3). He identifies a first SR “made of signs such as Indonesian, objectivity, development, education, and the ethnic other” and a second one, occupied by languages other than Indonesian, enregistered with ideas of “religion, ethnicity, intimacy” (Goebel 2010: 12). The first becomes a space to “talk about the world” and the former is one to talk about “personal life worlds” (Goebel 2010: 23).
An Indonesian language wayang transgresses these categories: it compels the audiences to interpret personal life-worlds in the language of objectivity and development. Thus, it is one of the most radical aesthetic adaptations of wayang. I don't offer a detailed account of the usage of Indonesian in this non-conventional performances because none of them are explicit about their usage of Indonesian. As I mention above, the usage of Indonesian is certainly ideologically motivated in some cases. But even in those performances a close analysis of line by line utterances does not add on to this initial impression. The non-conventional linguistic character of these performances does not reveal itself more clearly through an analysis than through a statement. In all of these instances, the language choice is a blanket that covers the totality of the wayang performances, not a newly woven fabric that denotes specific angles and curvatures of the shape it covers.
This reveals there are important differences between mixed and non-conventional performances in terms of language. Mixed performances in this section retain certain aspects of Javanese and its implications, which are mostly psychological and social. These performances are modern but thoroughly Javanese. Non-conventional language use suggests, by contrast, an alternative, an idea of the contemporary which is not linked to a Javanese linguistic identity. In Indonesian-language performances, being modern means stepping outside of conventional Javanese identity markers.