Mon, 13 Mar 2000

Death of a giant

After the loss Indonesia suffered not so long ago with the demise of Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, one of the most outstanding pioneers of modern Indonesian literature, the death on Saturday of another national literary giant delivered yet another blow to the country's cultural community.

Hans Bague Jassin, who in life was known best as an author and outstanding literary critic and whose devotion to this country's literary world was beyond compare, died of a stroke in Jakarta at the age of 83, leaving the Indonesian literary circle practically orphaned.

One important question he has left behind is: Who will take over his decades-long work of literary documentation and his critical writing on works of literature? Literature is still considered a luxury in this developing country and the importance given to documentation is still shamefully low.

Another question is: Who will continue Jassin's other valuable work such as translating world literary works, holding lectures and editing literary magazines? The fact is that since the early 1950s, any Indonesian writer who wanted to write for quality literary magazines had to pass his judgment. So high were his standards and so strict his judgment that it earned him the popular title of "Pope of Indonesian literature".

Sadly, the authorities have never paid much attention to the lasting value of his works, even though the state bestowed upon him the Mahaputera award of merit. One notable exception was Ali Sadikin, governor of Jakarta at the time, who fostered the birth of Jakarta's Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center in the early 1970s and allocated one of the buildings inside the complex to house the H.B. Jassin Literary Documentation Center.

With his burial at Jakarta's Kalibata Heroes Cemetery over the weekend, the country has accorded a great literary figure the due final honor he deserves.