“In Literature, She Conquered the World”

The Greatest Author in Indonesian History (1)

the situation on the stage when I La Galigo was performed in Lincoln Center Festival,
New York State Theater, New York, July 15, 2005

On the stage, Saidi Puang Matowa read the mantra in the ancient Buginese language. Not many people understand what he was saying on the stage that is located at Fort Rotterdam, Makassar on April 23, 2011. The mantra, spoken by the transvestite person who became the high priest in Buginese society, was the beginning of the world-class theater performance called I La Galigo. 

Wahai Dewa, Guru Mahatahu 
yang tinggal di langit  
Semoga bukan petaka, 
semoga tak hina doa dan sembahku 
pada langit, pada bumi; 
semoga tak keliru ucapanku. 
Di siang terang, Engkaupun turun ke dunia kami, 
menjelma pengetahuan di bawah langit, 
di atas bumi 
Topang-menopang di bumi lalu menyebar, 
menjelma guntur 
Menyusur Negeri Dewa 
Menyebar ke segenap penjuru dunia 

Give praise to God, to the One Most Knowing 
who resides in Heaven 
I pray that my prayers and offerings, 
To the earth and to the sky, 
Are well received, 
just as they are intended 
And that my words are not misspoken. 
On a day so bright 
You descended To this world of ours, 
Transforming knowledge On this earth, beneath the sky. 
 Across the heavens, above the earth 
Thunder rolled, dispersing itself 
Throughout the land of the Gods, 
And into every corner of the world 

(translated by Sapardi Djoko Damono) 

During that day, most of prominent figures in South Sulawesi came to be eyewitnesses of the colossal theater performance directed by the famous director Roger Wilson, the highest paid person in his profession. One of the prominent figures is former Vice President of Indonesia, Muhammad Jusuf Kalla who came from the Bone regency that was known as one of the centers of the Buginese kingdom in South Sulawesi. For several years, La Galigo travelled to visit many big cities. It was performed in Singapore, Amsterdam, Bercelona, Madrid, Lyon, Ravenna, New York, Melbourne, Milan, and also Taipei. 

In 2011, La Galigo eventually returned to its native country and also its hometown. It was performed in front of the audience of South Sulawesi. Interestingly, it was not long after that, I La Galigo got recognition from United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world heritage. Now the I La Galigo manuscript is no longer owned by the people of South Sulawesi or Indonesia, but become the heritage of the world. 

Arung Pancana Toa or Colliq Pujie

At that time, the discussion about this manuscript rose again. Some media mentioned the statement of scholars from Hasanuddin University or other public figures who wanted to open discussion about the importance of the author. They reminded everyone about the contribution of Arung Pancana Toa (1812 - 1870), refered to as APT in this article, in terms of creation and preservation of the manuscript. For this reason, Hasanuddin University held a seminar to propose Arung Pancana Toa (APT) as a national heroine in 2009. 

This seminar was organized by a cooperation between Hasanuddin University and three local governments, including the Barru regency, the Pangkep regency, and also the Bone regency. Unfortunately, the government delayed the proposal to promote APT as a national heroine. 

I assume that there were some controversies about why the proposal was delayed. First, there is a strong presumption that a hero is someone who fought against the Dutch. Although in some periods of her life, APT has against the Dutch, she also worked with the Dutch missionary, B. F. Matthes. APT gave 12 volumes of I La Galigo and hundreds of books to Matthes in order to save and to store them in the Netherlands. Maybe this is the reason why she was neglected in the history of Indonesia. 

I La Galigo was performed in Amsterdam

Secondly, the criteria of heroes does not cover an intellectual or an author. Besides APT, there was also an intellectual who lived in the Kingdom of Gowa named Karaeng Pattingalloang. His name was mentioned in some Portuguese manuscripts as a prime minister who mastered eight languages and had a passion for the field of science. It is known that he ordered the telescope of Galileo and after that, he built a star observatory (maccini sombala) in the kingdom Gowa. He also pioneered the translation of some books from the Latin language into the Makassar language. 

For the people in South Sulawesi, APT is very important. But people outside South Sulawesi sometimes ask a question; who is APT? What is her contribution to the preservation of knowledge and oral tradition? The purpose of this article is to give a brief introduction about APT. 

I believe that learning a little about APT’s life can be a window to understand the social context and also the history of South Sulawesi in the 19th century. There are several reasons why APT is very important:

First, APT is one of a small number of women who became leaders. This fact is very interesting because there are many societies where women are subordinated to men. Frederick and Soeroto (1982) noted some women who became leaders were Sultanah Seri Ratu Tajul Alam Safiatuddin Johan Berdaulat (Aceh), and Siti Aisyah We Tenriolle (South Sulawesi). The latter was daughter of APT. 

Saidi Puang Matowa, the transvestite person
who become high priest in Buginese society
(foto: Meike Sahetapy)

Secondly, APT had the biggest contribution in the writing and preservation of the manuscript. As an oral tradition, La Galigo were endangered because of lack of people who kept the tradition. Due to the difficulties to find a complete text, APT rewrote the texts in lontaraq alphabet for more than 20 years. Koolhof (1985) noted that it was amazing because the manuscripts reached 12 volumes with more than 300,000 lines. It is longer than Mahabharata, one of the longest manuscripts from India, which has 160,000 – 200,000 lines (Kern 1954). 

Based on this, Koolhof (1995) mentioned I La Galigo as one of the greatest literatures in the world. I La Galigo has attracted various scholar around the world to study and to unveil the mystery behind the text. For this reason, I ever said that the author of I La Galigo conquered the world through her ideas. In literature, she just conquered the world. Uniquely, after published in 1872, the first volume of this manuscript was republished in 1994. 

Thirdly, as mentioned by Prof Dr Nurhayati Rahman, the figure of APT is a forgotten figure in discussions about La Galigo. The discussion of I La Galigo only focuses on literary works, message, or the history of South Sulawesi. We almost never find information about the role of APT as a woman behind this great literature. In fact, APT also played a significant role as a politician and intellectual who lived in the 19th century. 

One day seminar to propose Arung Pancana Toa as national hero

Third, APT was a brilliant intellectual of her period. In addition to rewriting the manuscript La Galigo, she also created the characters that tell the script, and wrote "Lontara Bilang, Mosaik Pergulatan Seorang Bangsawan." This manuscript has been translated and published in the Netherlands. APT also wrote literary works such as elong, Sure 'Baweng, Tanete ancient history, a collection of Bugis’s customs, about a variety of manners and ethics of the kingdom. 

Historically, the most beautiful work is Sure' Baweng which contains a very high aesthetic value. Her work on the history of the ancient Kingdom of Tanete has been published by Niemann in the Netherlands. She also wrote a book of La Toa. This book was published by Matthes in his book Boegineesche Christomatie II. Besides writing the books, she helped the historian A. Lightvoet who was working on a historical dictionary of South Sulawesi. Because of her knowledge, skill, and intellectual capacity in the eyes of the Europeans in the 19th century, Matthes mentioned the name APT as a Bugis noble and a true queen of literary experts.

To Be Continued

1 comment:

  1. wow.....yang foto puang matoa saidi bukan foto yang saya taken ya kak? :p


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