Fri, 03 Mar 2000

Mt. Carmel resounds with 'Indonesia Raya'

Text and photos by Oei Eng Goan

HAIFA, Israel (JP): Despite the absence of diplomatic ties between the two countries, some Indonesian culture, including the national anthem and a number of folk songs, seem to be quite popular in Israel.

For example, Indonesians who visit Mount Carmel may hear their national anthem, Indonesia Raya (Great Indonesia), resound from the hill overlooking Israel's chief port of Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea.

This was affirmed by a group of Indonesian journalists who recently visited Haifa. No sooner had they begun to enjoy the scenery of the Mediterranean Sea far below them than a busker approached them and asked what country they were from.

One of the journalists reluctantly replied, thinking the busker only was asking as a formality. The busker nodded and then took out a trumpet from its case, stood at attention and began to play Indonesia Raya in the correct, march tempo.

Understandably, all eight of the Indonesian journalists were stunned. They exchanged glances and then looked at the musician with admiration and questioned him after he had finished playing the anthem.

"I come from Byelorussia after ... Chernobyl. I play 52 countries ... and many songs," explained Yevgeni in broken English, referring to the number of national anthems he could play on his trumpet.

Through an interpreter, Yevgeni, of Jewish descent from the former Soviet Union, said he, his wife and one daughter emigrated to Israel in late 1986 following the world's worst civil nuclear accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine, which lies adjacent to Byelorussia (White Russia). But he declined to answer when asked if he was formerly a member of the Soviet military band.

As a reward for playing the Indonesian national anthem, the journalists dropped a few shekels into his trumpet case. Yevgeni then played an American hymn and anthem: Battle Hymn of the Republic and The Star Spangled Banner.

Another Indonesian song was sung by Israel's most famous folksinger, Shuli Nathan, at Givatayim Theater in Tel Aviv on Feb. 19, after the theater's director announced, during a break in the ethnic music concert, there was a group of newsmen from Indonesia in the audience.

Accompanied only by the guitar she played, Nathan sang Butet, a heart-rending Batak folk song from North Sumatra. The song tells of a daughter's yearning for her father, who is off fighting in the revolutionary war.

Nathan, in her late 40s, said she could sing seven Indonesian folk songs, which she learned some years ago while attending a course offered by the Subud faith healing and spiritual organization in Cilandak, South Jakarta. She entered Indonesia with a British passport.

Another Israeli artist, poet Ronny Sommeck, a Baghdad-born Jew, said he knew and admired the work of Rendra, Indonesia's renowned dramatist and poet, with whom he has met and exchanged literary views at several international gatherings.

Art and culture, unlike politics and ideology, have the power to bring human beings closer together regardless of their racial and religious backgrounds, Sommeck said.