Sun, 07 Mar 1999

Dananjaya a 'kasno' who devotes his to Indonesian folklore

JAKARTA (JP): Do you know why former president Soeharto is very fond of playing golf?

The hobby has to do with his childhood farming background. He probably likens green and luxurious golf courses to the yellowish paddy fields where he spent his childhood.

The answer may be right or wrong. But it is a common joke people share during this present crisis when it is hard for them to find reasons to laugh.

Other people's parody is linked to President B.J. Habibie who is said to be KKN, not standing for collusion, corruption and nepotism but, kecil...kecil nekat (a reckless little man).

James Dananjaya, a professor of anthropology and a folklore expert at the University of Indonesia, said that neither Soeharto nor Habibie could be angry with the people because the sources of the jokes are anonymous.

"It is part of folk tradition or more precisely oral literature that is spread through word of mouth," Dananjaya said at the opening of traditional games competition and exhibition at the National Museum in Jakarta.

Jokes, proverbs, folk stories, songs, folk arts and traditional games are included in folklore study, a facet of the discipline of anthropology.

"It was children who created the lyrics of the songs, determined the rules of the game. And all unwritten regulations were remembered for years by the community," he said.

Citing an example, Hompipa was known as the opening of each game to determine the first player.

Hompipa alaium gambreng, nenek..nenek pakai baju rombeng are the lyrics of the game. In every province, the lyrics may be different but every child knows the rules thoroughly.

Traditional games were rich in philosophical and educative values. Each game requires children to be fair, honest and brave.

In a kite competition, the loser must accept that the smartest kid will win the game.

"I remembered when I went home crying because I lost my kite. My mother told me to stop crying and said that losing a game was part of life," he recalled.

In simple games a child sharpened his social skills as well as his competitiveness, such important aspects of their adulthood.

Play and games are miniatures of real situations, he said. In the past, Indonesian children played a large variety of games which polished their capabilities in handling problems later in their lives.

"I assume that many government officials and members of the armed forces did not play much during their childhood because they are easily angered and panic when things get worse," he laughed.

Education is not only taken from school books, he said. Games and plays are important lessons for kids to grow up properly. Learning and practicing art activities also are also necessary to soften people's hearts, said Dananjaya, who was an accomplished ballet and traditional dancer.

"I loved dancing and dreamed of becoming a famous dancer," he said. He learned traditional Javanese dance from famous dance master Ki Tjondrolukito.

When he was younger James Dananjaya was called Jimmy Tan -- he is the eldest of the Tan family. "I am a kasno, bekas Cino, a former Chinese," he joked.

Dananjaya, 65, recalled that he had never felt that he was of Chinese origin. "I feel completely Indonesian and love the country and its rich culture."

It was in the early l970s when the Malari, Lima Belas Januari (January the 15th student riot) took place that he realized that his Chinese blood could give him trouble.

"During the anti-Japanese riot, I accompanied my students from the University of Indonesia marching along Jl. Rawamangun, East Jakarta near the campus," he recalled.

Suddenly his close friend Pia Alisyahbana (now general manager of the Femina publishing group) got out of her car and shouted loudly at him; "Jim, jump into my car immediately. Look at your face, you are a Chinese. It's very dangerous out there."

Even though the Japanese and Chinese are different, they might look similar to some people.

Dananjaya remembered that he was quite shocked to face the fact that his physical appearance could not hide his bloodline despite his profound love of Indonesia and its people.

"I was not disappointed at my being mixed Chinese-Indonesian. Nobody wants to be born Chinese, Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese or whatever ethnic group. It's our fate," he said.

He had a way of showing his affection for the country where he was born. "I wanted to give proof that not all people of Chinese origin are greedy and a kind of economic animal. That's a misleading perception of Chinese-Indonesians," he said.

He said a lot of Chinese-Indonesians have become respected scholars like economists Marie Pangestu and Kwik Kian Gie, and film director Teguh Karya. While some can be easily identified by their name or looks, others do not look or sound Chinese at all.

"People like Bokir (famous Betawi artist), Basuki (Srimulat's comedian) and playwright Nano Riantiarno probably have a Chinese bloodline, yet they are admired by society," he said.

Dananjaya studied anthropology at the University of Indonesia then continued his schooling at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco in the United States.

He is the first professor of psychological anthropology at the University of Indonesia, a discipline which explores the psychological condition of each community or ethnic group.

"If I had wanted to be a rich man, I would have studied economics or engineering," he said.

He is, however, very happy as an anthropologist. He learns the way people live, their behavior, their history, art works, traditional stories and their unique customs.

Since he was a student, Dananjaya has spent half of his entire life with indigenous tribes throughout Indonesia, including the Dayaks in Kalimantan and the Bali Aga people in Trunyan, Bali, and in some other Asian countries.

His arduous work has been documented in various books, essays and other publications. Among his important pieces are An Annotated Bibliography of Javanese Culture, a doctorate dissertation, The Culture of Trunyan Farmers in Bali (published by Pustaka Jaya), Humor Mahasiswa (A trilogy of Students' Jokes), and Folklor Indonesia (Indonesian Folklore), and the most recent book, Folklor Jepang (Japanese Folklore).

"At least, I am quite happy that Indonesian folklore is now widely read by students and scholars around the world," said Dananjaya, who is now preparing his autobiography.

Some of his work is now used as textbooks of schools of anthropology at world-famous universities such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Stanford University and Harvard University.

What is more a number of his students have followed in his footsteps as experts on folklore.

Through studying local folklore one can obtain important and precise information on each society, a significant factor in formulating any government plan and policy.

Dananjaya suggested that people working in government institutions and politicians learn more about the psychological and cultural condition of each ethnic group.

"It seems to me that those who are now in power have little understanding of the culture of their own people. No wonder, feelings of discontent are now arising in some parts of the country," he said. (raw)