Negotiating The Spoken Word: Storytelling in The Indonesian Archipelago

clara brakel 3


10.00 COFFEE / TEA


10.45 Aone van Engelenhoven, Interpreting the Spoor of the Sailfish: Narrative knowledge management in Southwest Maluku (Indonesia) and Tutuala (East-Timor)

11.15 Els Bogaerts, Staging Javanese history: from folk tales and court poetry to dance and drama

11.45 Tom Hoogervorst, Storytelling through ‘dime novels’: re-examining Sino-Malay literature

12.15 Juara Ginting, Beidar Nandena: a traditional Karo lament

12.30 LUNCH

13.30 Marije Plomp, Why people tell stories: The case of the North Sumatran Malay Story of Prince Bahram Syah

14.00 Sirtjo Koolhof, Tradition and change: Evolution of storytelling in South Sulawesi

14.30 Javanese dance by dance-group Kuwung-kuwung

14.45 COFFEE / TEA

15.00 Clara Brakel, The art of the Pakpak-Dairi storyteller: connecting visible and invisible worlds

15.30 Marjolijn Groustra, The origin of this middle: a Dairi creation story

16.00 Book presentation Dairi Stories and Pakpak Storytelling (Clara Brakel, 2014)
 Ir. Joost Brakel
 Prof. dr. Jan van der Putten, Hamburg University
 Dr. Pudentia, head of Assosiasi Tradisi Lisan, Jakarta

16.15 Talempong music and dance from West Sumatra by Archipelago Group



Aone van Engelenhoven:
Interpreting The Spoor of the Sailfish: Narrative knowledge management in Southwest Maluku (Indonesia) and Tutuala (East-Timor)

Although the regency of Southwest Maluku and the sub-district of Tutuala belong to  different nations – respectively the republics of Indonesia and East-Timor – they were once part of a single economic network called Nuspaikra-Rapïatatra ‘the Conducted Islands – the Arranged Lands’. Whereas this name was is still used in Southwest Maluku, in Tutuala it fell in disuse, probably already before the inclusion of East-Timor into Indonesia in 1975. The indigenous language, Lóvaia, or alternatively Makuva, was only replaced by the non-Austronesian Fataluku language in the 1960s, although this language shift was already reported in the 1950s. Makuva was not really removed from the linguistic landscape, but rather became a ritual register within Fataluku in Tutuala and as such became a lulik ‘taboo’ in the sub-district’s society.

The mythical stories relating to the origins of the different clans in Tutuala were hidden from the outside world and told only under special circumstances. While on the Southwest Maluku Islands the story of the Sailfish is still known in its different variants, this knowledge is confined in Tutuala to the ritual masters-of-speech of only a few clans. Comparative research on oral traditions in both regions revealed that – notwithstanding their long mutual separation in history and different language landscapes – their storytelling traditions are in principle the same, albeit having entered the realm of secrecy in Tutuala. This paper intends to elaborate on narrative knowledge management
in Southwest Maluku and Tutuala using the myth of the Sailfish.

Els Bogaerts:
Staging Javanese history: from folk tales and court poetry to dance and drama When in March 2012 Joko Widodo alias Jokowi was running for Governor of Jakarta, his move reminded a journalist of the newspaper Kompas of Sultan Agung’s advance on Batavia in order to chase away the Dutch. The journalist became acquainted with storytelling on Sultan Agung as he used to listen to radio broadcasts of popular Javanese drama, in which the Sultan was a protagonist. Wikipedia is another source he used for his account of the Sultan’s adventures.

Sultan Agung, who ruled over the Central Javanese kingdom Mataram from 1613 to 1646, is one of the Javanese historical figures who, in the course of time, became heroes of a glorious, mythologized past. Prince Mangkubumi, who was to become the first sultan of Yogyakarta in 1755, is another such hero. They both belong to the collective memory of the Javanese of Yogyakarta, living on in orally transmitted folk tales and written court traditions.

Stories about the heroic lives and deeds of both sultans were and are told in various performance settings and genres and for various purposes. The poetic versions of these stories were recited for aristocratic audiences, providing the 19th century Javanese manuscripts with a vocal quality. In the 20th century, the sultans frequently featured as characters in popular drama, dance and film, and in radio and television series. The tales were visualized or, in the case of radio, evoked visual effects. And so Javanese (court) history lives on to the present.

Tom Hoogervorst:
Storytelling through “dime novels”: re-examining Sino-Malay literature

A story can be contained in a broad variety of ways. This presentation focuses on the Sino-Malay literature; one of Indonesia’s literary traditions that quite accurately reflects the archipelago’s multiethnic realities. Predominantly conveyed by authors of localized Chinese ancestry (peranakan) in a distinct variety of Malay, this genre connects the
worlds of three populations conventionally separated by the hierarchical boundaries of  colonialism: the Europeans, the Chinese and the Indonesians. While Sino-Malay literature has been of key importance to the development of standardized Malay as a means of literary expression, it has not traditionally received the esteem attributed to
other types of Indonesian literature.

At a symposium that highlights novel ways of approaching Indonesian storytelling traditions, we may well put into question whether this is a fair assessment, and what parameters have been and can be used in analysing the “dime novels” (roman pitjisan) within the realm of popular culture. Focusing on a corpus of around 1500 novels from the 1880s to the 1960s, I look at the literary and linguistic styles employed. While the Sino-Malay literary corpus partly consists of translations of Chinese and European works, it also contains real-life stories of the peranakan communities in the late-modern Dutch East Indies. It thus provides a unique glimpse into the lives of one of Asia’s largest and most influential migrant groups at a time in which the world was becoming increasingly interconnected. How did the authors navigate through the colonial strictures and different ethnicities surrounding them? How did they perceive and negotiate the cultural frontiers of modernity?

Juara Ginting
Beidar Nandena, a traditional Karo lament

Juara Ginting will perform a traditional lament, or bilang-bilang, from the Karo area of  North Sumatra (vocal, flute, and kulcapi). In the past, such traditional laments were sung by young men and carved into bamboo using the Karo script. In general, texts described a young men’s personal miseries, displacement and sorrows in life (ate mesui). Such texts aimed to attract female attention. The lament that will be performed here conceptualizes a Sumatran serow, or beidar (Capriconis Sumatraensis), to articulate his sad feelings about the present condition of nature. Until recently, it was assumed that these shy animals that inhabit mountainous forested areas were extinct.

Mt. Sinabung is located in the southernmost part of the Gunung Leusser ecosystem, an area that is internationally renowned for its orang utan population. From November 2013 onwards, the Sinabung started erupting large clouds of volcanic ash, urging villagers of the nearby Karo settlements to leave and to evacuate to saver places. After several months of severe eruptions, a Sumatran serow was tempted towards the abandoned ash-covered fields of the village of Berastepu, looking for water. The dogs the villagers had to leave behind started barking and the unlucky beidar was caught. The animal was first brought to the capital town of Kabanjahe and later transferred to the
zoo in Medan. It wanted no food, and it could not drink. It passed away soon afterwards. Autopsy on the body indicated that its lungs were full of volcanic ash.

The text is based on a story by Ita Apulina Tarigan published at the Indonesian website For information on this tragic event, see and

Marije Plomp
Why People Tell stories: The case of the North Sumatran Malay Story of Prince Bahram Syah

The Story of Prince Bahram Syah is a Malay adventure story and an adaptation of the renowned Acehnese Story of Banta Beuransah. The Malay narrative was, in all probability, written in the first half of the nineteenth century on the northwest coast of Sumatra. It relates the adventures of a young prince on a quest for a magical bird. A closer look at how the Malay text came into being sheds light on the following issues.

First, a close comparison of the story with its Acehnese source reveals the techniques the author employed to adapt it for a Malay audience. Next, the nature of these adaptations give insight into the author’s motives for composing the Story of Prince Bahram Syah.

As it turns out, socio-economic changes that took place on Sumatra’s west coast in the first half of the nineteenth century resulted in an expanding market for Malay adventure stories with an Islamic twist. An aspiring Islamic writer with a fair command of both Acehnese and Malay seized the opportunity and created a new Malay story. Lastly, the fact that the story’s content and social function proves to be closely tied to its northwest  Sumatran provenance opposes the oft-propagated idea of Malay writing as a remarkably homogeneous practice over a long period of time and geographical space.

This case study supports my argument that fairytale-like stories, such as the Story of Prince Bahram Syah, merit our attention both as narratives and objects for cultural analysis. Notwithstanding their fictitious and supernatural character, they offer us a glimpse into the hearts and minds of real people. People, moreover, who lived in an era
and area far removed from us.

Sirtjo Koolhof
Tradition and change: Evolution of storytelling in South Sulawesi

If traditions, or cultures for that matter, have a purpose in life, it is to facilitate adaptation and change. They permanently modify to adapt to changing environments – natural, social or cultural. In this paper I will focus on evolution and change in the La Galigo tradition of South Sulawesi, thereby explaining how the tradition itself facilitates and even forces change.

Clara Brakel-Papenhuyzen:
The art of the Pakpak-Dairi storyteller: connecting visible and invisible worlds

The book that I am presenting at this symposium deals with stories and storytelling of the Pakpak-Dairi people living in the forested western part of North Sumatra. Although their lives in small villages may for a long time have been relatively isolated, the PakpakDairi were in contact with other peoples in the area through trade and the exchange of (luxury) goods, as is reflected in their stories. They also knew to make use of writing long before the introduction of Western civilization. Their lifestyle, based on agriculture and the use of forest products, requires the regular performance of community rituals with dance, music and storytelling that help to maintain mutual cooperation.

The stories, songs and prayers of the Pakpak-Dairi literary tradition have characteristic features that are intimately connected with the context in which they are created and performed. Therefore, the stories told by traditional storytellers not only reflect their visible environment, they also give information about local customs and instruction on ethical and religious concepts belonging to the immaterial world of the Pakpak-Dairi people.

Traditional Pakpak-Dairi stories are loosely-structured, so that they can be easily adapted to the changing contexts in which the storyteller finds himself. Accordingly, through the story of ‘The wild Mango Child’ the storyteller Sonang Sitakar explicitly expresses his perceptions of Pakpak identity, of his people’s relationships with neighbouring groups living in Sumatra’s coastal areas and with the value systems of other peoples in the world.

Marjolijn Groustra
Short abstract of my presentation

In her book entitled Dairi Stories and Pakpak Storytelling, Clara Brakel examines a myth about the origin of the Dairi people, which was translated by Herman van der Tuuk in the 19th century. Upon receiving an English translation of this very interesting myth, I immediately felt inspired and – being an artist – images started to bubble up in my mind.
On the occasion of the presentation of Clara’s book, I would like to re-tell this Dairi myth to you while presenting the illustrations I have made of the myth on a screen. I hope this will generate interest in the Dairi culture and provide inspiration to read the other Dairi stories in the book.

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