Wed, 05 Apr 2000

Multatuli's message

Any exchange of views that occurs between an expatriate and an Indonesian reader in the readers forum of The Jakarta Post on a topic that bears an instructive message must certainly be welcome. Such writings contribute to enrich knowledge and information, particularly to Indonesian readers. So the advantage in terms of widening visions of the intellectualism is surely heartening.

But on the contrary, when the furious exchange of views reaches such an extent as to assume the tune of unbridled polemics, incited by scornful and indecent utterances from both sides, the debate will become boring. Any entanglement that brings forth sensitive aspects and inevitable implications of past colonialism is bound to drag up sentiments of national pride and grandeur among the contending parties.

As self-restraint is lacking in the use of expressions, the polemics become futile and willy-nilly turns the "beloved column" of the readers into a polluted hodgepodge. We must guard against such a degradation.

As the readers forum of the Post provides interesting reading material, I have called upon my grandson, who is learning English, to read the letters, if they are not too difficult. Therefore, it is natural that letters presenting polemics between readers, that degenerate into personal quibbling, should only be frowned upon.

Meanwhile, taking advantage of the happy coincidence of encountering a reference to Multatuli's book Max Havelaar, in one argument from the pen of an expatriate reader (the Post, April 1), I hailed the reference to the legendary book, of which I happen to have a copy.

In beautiful (Dutch) language, which also uses French and German in presenting some poems, Multatuli (pen name for Douwes Dekker, Dutch administrator in South Banten (Lebak) from about 1839 to 1856) wrote the classic message: "to you I dedicate my book, William the Third, more than prince, grand duke and king, ... Emperor of the magnificent realm of Insulinde, that girdles around the equator as a sash of emeralds. (And there) are more than thirty million subjects mistreated and suck out (Dutch: mishandeld en uitgezogen) on your behalf" (translated version).

An abundance of sumptuous prose fills the book which demonstrates Multatuli's unique style, which is exemplified by the following passages.

(Translated version) "For I know that the Lord loves the poor, and that he gives riches to those who he wants to put to the test, but to the poor he sends his messages in order that they will rise from their misery. Does not the Lord give rain where the haulm withers and a dewdrop to the flower calyx that feels thirst?

And it is not the rain that is lacking, for the tops of the mountains suck the clouds of heavens to reach the earth. And not everywhere are rocks that denies place to the root, for in many places the land is soft and fertile and calls for the grain seed, which she will reciprocate in bending haul."

Looking forward to the challenge for us to subdue the economic crisis, I sense that such a message is far more pleasing and encouraging to hear than any dredging up of past tales of colonialism, except for the tribute indebted to the Dutch "Ethical Movement" (Dutch: Ethische Richting, 1899) calling for Irrigation, Emigration and Education, sponsored by Dutch educators Van Deventer, Brooshooft, Abendanon, Nabbema, Fock and supported by Prof. Snouck Hurgronje and Prof. Van Vollenhoven (former Indonesian law students hailing from Leiden University, like Soenario, Soesanto Tirtoprodjo, Wirjono Prodjodikoro and others paid respect to Prof. Van Vollenhoven).