The phrase Indonesian literature is used in this article to refer to Indonesian as written in the nation of Indonesia, but also covers literature written in an earlier form of the language, i.e. the Malay language written in the Dutch East Indies. Oral literature, though a central part of the Indonesian literary tradition, is not described here.
The languages spoken (and part of them written) in the Indonesian Archipelago number over a thousand, and for that reason alone it is impracticable to survey their entire literary production in one article. Since the thought of a national Indonesian language only struck root as recently as the 1920s, this means that emphasis in the present article is put on the twentieth century.
At the same time, such a choice leaves a number of distinctions open. Major factors which make for a blurring of distinctions are:
the difficulty of distinguishing between Malay and Indonesian
Even in the 1930s, Malay was the lingua franca of the Archipelago, but was also used widely outside it, while a national Indonesian language was still in a state of development. Thus, it is often difficult to ascertain where Malay leaves off and Indonesian begins. Nor is it possible to understand the development of Indonesian literature without study of the older Malay which it reacted against, and whose tradition it continued.
mutual influence between regional languages and their literatures.
A work which appears in one Indonesian language may be found in a variant form in one or more others, especially when such literature has been part of the tradition for a long time.
the problem of distinguishing between oral and written literature
Oral literature is, of course, assessed by other means than written manifestations, and field-work is one of these means. However, in the written literature, too, poetry may have been recorded which had originated as oral literature.
During its early history, Indonesia was the centre of trade among sailors and traders from China, India, Europe and the Middle East. Indonesia was then a colony of the Netherlands (ca. 1600—1942) and Japan (1942–45). Its literary tradition was influenced by these cultures, mainly those of India, Persia, China and, more recently, Western Europe. However, unique Indonesian characteristics cause it to be considered as a separate path and tradition.
Chronologically Indonesian literature may be divided into several periods:
Pujangga Lama: the "Literates of Olden Times" (traditional literature)
Sastra Melayu Lama: "Older Malay Literature"
Angkatan Balai Pustaka: the "Generation of the [Colonial] Office for Popular Literature" (from 1908)
Angkatan Pujangga Baru: the "New Literates" (from 1933)
Angkatan 1945: the "Generation of 1945"
Angkatan 1950 - 1960-an: the "Generation of the 1950s"
Angkatan 1966 - 1970-an: the "Generation of 1966 into the 1970s"
Angkatan 1980-an: the "Decade of the 1980s"
Angkatan Reformasi: the post-Suharto "Reformation Period"
Angkatan 2000-an: the "Generation of 2000s"
There is considerable overlapping between these periods, and the usual designation according to "generations" (angkatan) should not allow us to lose sight of the fact that these are movements rather than chronological periods. For instance, older Malay literature was being written until well into the twentieth century. Likewise, the Pujangga Baru Generation was active even after the Generation of 1950 had entered the literary scene.
Traditional literature: Pujangga Lama
Early Indonesian literature originates in Malay literature, and the influence of these roots was felt until well into the twentieth century. The literature produced by the Pujangga lama (literally "the old poets") was mainly written before the 20th century, but after the coming of Islam. Before that time, however, there must have existed a lively oral tradition. Within traditional Malay-language literature, sometimes it is differentiated into 3 periods: before ~1550 AD; between ~1550-1750 AD; ~1750-1900 AD.
In written poetry and prose, a number of traditional forms dominate, mainly:—
The literature of this period was produced from the year 1870 until 1942. The works from this period were predominantly popular among the people in Sumatra (i.e. the regions of Langkat, Tapanuli, Padang, etc.), the Chinese and the Indo-Europeans. The first works were dominated by syair, hikayat and translations of western novels. These are:
Until the twentieth century, ethnic and linguistic diversity was dominant in the vast archipelago, and as a result, no national literature existed. Literature in Malay rubbed shoulders with works in other languages of the region, from Batak in the West through Sundanese, Javanese, Balinese, to Moluccan in the East. It is true that Malay was used as the lingua franca of the colony, and indeed, far beyond its borders, but it could not be regarded as a national language.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, changes became visible. National consciousness emerged among educated Indonesians especially. At the same time, the Dutch colonisers temporarily veered to a point of view which allowed for the education and unification of the Indonesian peoples to self-reliance and maturity, as it was perceived. Indonesian independence, however, was not contemplated by the Dutch. A third factor was the emergence of newspapers, which at the beginning of the century began to appear in Chinese and subsequently in Malay.
The Bureau for Popular Literature
Education, means of communication, national awareness: all these factors favoured the emergence of a comprehensive Indonesian literature. The Dutch, however, wished to channel all these forces, nipping any political subversiveness in the bud while at the same time instructing and educating Indonesians, in a way the government saw fit. For those reasons, an official Bureau (or: Commission) for Popular Literature was instituted under the name Balai Pustaka, which became some sort of government-supervised publisher. Besides preventing criticism of the colonial government, Balai Pustaka blocked all work that might be conducive to any sort of religious controversy, and anything "pornographic" was avoided: even a novel featuring divorce had to be published elsewhere.
At the same time, school libraries were founded and were supplied by the new publisher. Works in Dutch as well as translations of world literature were brought out, but a burgeoning indigenous literature was also stimulated. From 1920 to 1950 Balai Pustaka published many works in high Malay (as opposed to everyday "street Malay"), but also in Javanese and Sundanese, and occasionally also in Balinese, Batak or Madurese.
The first Indonesian novel
During this period, whose heyday was in the 1920s, Indonesian literature came to be dominated by fiction (both short stories and novels), and Western-style drama and poetry, which gradually replaced the earlier syair, gurindam, pantun and hikayat. Merari Siregar's Azab dan Sengsara was the very first modern novel appearing in Indonesian, constituting a break with the Malay romance tradition. While not completely successful, in that it rather schematically deals in black-and-white oppositions, and directly addresses the reader, subverting its realism, this may still be regarded as the first treatment of contemporaneous problems (i.e., the issue of forced marriage) in the realist tradition.
Meanwhile, not all publications in the languages of Indonesia appeared under the Balai Pustaka imprint. As mentioned, this publisher was a government-supervised concern, and it operated in the context of political and linguistic developments. Notable among these developments were an increasing consciousness of nationality, and the emergence of Indonesian as the embodiment of a national language.
Nur Sutan Iskandar was the most active authors and he could be called as "the King of Balai Pustaka Generation". When viewed the original author, could said that the novels of a raised in the generation are "novel Sumatera", with the Minangkabau as the centre point.
In 1908, Budi Utomo, the first indigenous movement, was founded. Conceived as a political organisation, it soon adapted its objectives under pressure from the Dutch government, and mainly restricted itself to cultural activities. Political concerns were more prominent in Sarekat Islam, founded in 1912 as a society of tradesmen, but which soon evolved into a nationalist movement, counting among its members the future President of the Republic, Soekarno, and the communist Semaun. Meanwhile, other societies were founded, and a political party mainly aimed at halfcaste Dutch and Indonesian members appeared.
In due course, the Dutch colonizers followed suit, and a Volksraad (Dutch East Indies) ("People's Council") was founded in 1918. This Council was an assembly of Dutch and Indonesian members, whose powers, however, were severely restricted. It was a consultative committee advising the Governor General, the Dutch viceroy of the East-Indies, who could react to the Council's advice as he pleased.
One of the first actions the Volksraad took was to request the sanction of the use of two official languages in its meetings: Dutch and Malay. Although until well into the 1930s only one Council member consistently used Malay, it was significant that the language had now acquired official status.
In 1928, an association of young Javanese intellectuals referred to the language as "Bahasa Indonesia" ("Indonesian language"), for the first time, thus emphasising the notion of a national rather than an ethnic language. A few months later, on 28 October 1928, a congress of associations of young Indonesians, known as the Youth Congress (Sumpah Pemuda) adopted the principles of "one people, one nation, one language"., and this step may be regarded as the birth of the Indonesian language.
It was, however, still a language in development. Indonesian had never been a national language, and to most Indonesians it, or its ancestral Malay, had never been their mother tongue. For all this, in addition to the publications of Balai Pustaka and its magazine Panji Pustaka, other magazines featured work by Indonesian writers as well, although there was not as yet one particular indigenous magazine devoted exclusively to the emerging literature. However, a notable source was Jong Sumatra, a magazine founded in 1918 as the platform of Jong Sumatranen Bond, the Association of Young Sumatran intellectuals.
Forces towards renewal
As a result of all this, dominant factors in the literary landscape of the 1930s were the following:
National consciousness among young Indonesian intellectuals was well-developed.
These intellectuals had formed various groups: there existed, then, a certain degree of organisation.
The need for a national language was felt, as was the need for literary expression in that language.
While a platform for such expression existed in Balai Pustaka, this platform was considered unsatisfactory in that it was government-controlled, and therefore at odds with the urge for nationalist development. The intervention of Dutch language officials was felt to be censorship, and the editorial policy was regarded as an unwarranted harnessing of the emerging language. (Thus, certain words were invariably replaced by more "respectable" synonyms, which seemed to curtail language development as well as freedom of expression.)
At the same time, young intellectuals felt that their classic Malay literature had congealed into set turns of phrase, clichéd descriptions and conventional plots. While literature cannot but operate between the polarities of convention and renewal, classic conventions were now felt to be over-constrictive, and their Western-style schooling had made them conscious of the possibilities for renewal.
A new magazine
Angkatan Pujangga Baru was created as a reaction to all this. This "Generation of the New Literates (or New Poets)" adopted its very name, Poedjangga Baroe, to emphasise its striving for renewal, attempting to break away both from the set forms of traditional Malay literature and from the yoke of colonial constraints: the objective was a new poetics and a new national consciousness.
To this end, in 1933 they founded the first national literary magazine, Poedjangga Baroe, created by Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, Amir Hamzah (regarded as the greatest of the poets of the late colonial period), and Armijn Pane. Its main protagonists were the three founders, together with Sanusi Pane (brother of Armijn).
The magazine was published between 1933 and 1942. When the Japanese occupied the country, a request on the part of the editors for permission to continue publication went unanswered, and this was tantamount to a refusal. Publication was resumed in 1948, until the magazine finally folded in 1953. Although influential as the pioneering platform of an emerging Indonesian literature, sales had never been comfortable: Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana has revealed that the periodical's subscription was never much more than 150.
Poedjangga Baroe occasionally, and for reasons that have not been explained, included prose in English, and more regularly and perhaps understandably, prose and poetry in Dutch. However, the magazine was characterised by its position as the first literary periodical in the national language. In contrast with Panji Pustaka (the Balai Pustaka magazine), its editors were all Indonesians, who had as often as not received their editorial training by working for the government publishers in the 1920s. There was one exception: Beb Vuyk, an Indo-European (Eurasian) author of Dutch nationality but with strong nationalist sympathies, was briefly on the editorial board before the war broke out.
The contents of the magazine were dominated by essays, often touching on the requirements and exigencies of the new literature; and by poetry in the modern vein. This modernism was a conscious breakaway from tradition, although two quite distinct tendencies were discernible.
This "Movement of the 1880s" had put emphasis on the individual expression of emotions, and it is this emphasis which was reflected in the new Indonesian poetry. The central role of individual emotions is borne out by the titles of some poems; representative instances are: Mengeluh ("Complaint"), Kematian Anak ("The Death of a Child"), or Di Kakimu ("At Your Feet").
Nature poetry, in addition, bore witness to the romantic nature of this movement, with titles such as Sawah ("Rice Fields") or Bintang ("Stars").
A third aspect involved mysticism, Sanusi Pane's poem Do'a ("Prayer") perhaps the best-known instance, with its opening stanza:
Bikin gua, Masinis mulia,
Jadi sekerup dalam masinmu,
Yang menjalankan kapal dunia,
Ke pelabuhan sama ratamu.
Make me, Great Engineer,
A cog in Your machine
Which takes the ship of the world
To the harbour of Your rest.
The influence of Romanticism was discernible, too, in the use of westernising verse forms, notably the sonnet. This constituted a break with traditional syair and pantun. At the same time, practitioners of the new sonnet form maintained that it had its similarities with the pantun. A traditional sonnet had its volta, a thematic turn between the eighth and ninth verses, and likewise, a strong contrast is seen between the first and second couplets of a pantun.
The Dutch example was not followed slavishly. In particular, its emphasis on the strictly individual in human experience was rejected. It was the poets' task, Poedjangga Baroe maintained, to be a social agent, a force for national development. To some of its members, too, the role of the poet was a religious one.
The easterns tradition
On the other hand, some members of the movement were not unequivocally in favour of western influence. A countervailing tendency was found in traditional eastern literature. The influence of Rabindranath Tagore was felt. Amir Hamzah was greatly attracted to the Thousand and One Nights, although his intention to translate this work into Indonesian never materialised. The Bhagavad Gitawas translated into Indonesian by him. Sanusi Pane's play Manusia Baru ("New Humanity") was set in India. Plays were based on Java's past. Amir Hamzah anthologised eastern poetry.
Some works of the Pujangga Baru generation are worthy of especial mention. Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana's short novel Layar Terkembang ("The Sail Unfolds") is a sensitive portrayal of young women in contemporary Indonesia. Rustam Effendi with his Bebasari wrote the first modern play (on a historical theme). Armijn Pane's Belenggu ("Shackles") dealt with extramarital relations, thus initially giving rise to controversy, but eventually the novel became a classic and has been described as the first psychological novel in Indonesian.
The works of authors during this period are dominated by the thoughts of independence and political manner. The works created by angkatan '45 are mostly more realistic, compared to the works of pujangga baru, which are more romantic - idealistic.
Angkatan '66 was marked by rising the Horison magazine, led by Mochtar Lubis Dozens of writers previously associated with Lekra or leftist groups went into exile overseas, creating their own literature.
This generation of Indonesian literature was dominated by romance novel. Additionally, poets explored ideas such as femininity, and the women's unique gendered identity that exists in Indonesia, as has been exemplified in the writing of Toeti Haraty, and Sitor Situmorang. This identity is related to the concept of third gender, which is highly prevalent in the region of Southeast Asia. (See kathoey for the case of Thailand). Beside that, the 1980s generation marked by raised of popular stories, such as Lupus who wrote by Hilman Hariwijaya
Dewi Lestari, popularly known by her pen name, Dee Lestari, is one of the front runners in the modern Indonesian book scene. Dee initiated her career in the music industry as a singer and a songwriter. As an author, she has published nine books, including the highly anticipated Supernova series.
Supernova 1: Ksatria, Puteri dan Bintang Jatuh (2001)
Indonesian personal names differ from western-style names in that no clear distinction exists between given names and family names, if any. This gives rise to various systems of alphabetisation. In alphabetising according to the initial of the first name, the present bibliography follows the convention adopted in many Indonesian works (but also in, for instance, Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature). Thus, Ajip Rosidi is found under A. Western names, of course, are alphabetised according to the surname.
Ajip Rosidi 1988
Ajip Rosidi, Sejarah Sastra Indonesia, Jakarta: PT. Bina Aksara, 2nd impr. (In Indonesian; "History of Indonesian Literature".)
T. J. Bezemer, Beknopte Encyclopædie van Nederlands-Indië, Leiden/'s-Gravenhage/Batavia: Brill/Martinus Nijhoff/Kolff. (In Dutch; "A Concise Encyclopaedia of the Netherlands East Indies".)
T. J. Bezemer, Vier eeuwen Maleische literatuur in vogelvlucht, Deventer: W. van Hoeve. (In Dutch; "Four Centuries of Malay Literature: A Bird's Eye View".)
W. A. Braasem, "Uit dromenland naar stof en zweet. Moderne Indonesische poëzie", in: Indonesië. Tweemaandelijks tijdschrift gewijd aan het Indonesisch cultuurgebied 1949(3)-2(September) pp. 151-77. (In Dutch; "From the Realm of Dreams to Dust and Sweat. Modern Indonesian Poetry".)
W. A. Braasem, Moderne Indonesische literatuur, Amsterdam: C. P. J. van der Peet. (In Dutch; "Modern Indonesian Literature".)
W.A. Braasem (transl. and introd.), Pantuns, Djakarta etc.: De Moderne Boekhandel Indonesië. (In Dutch, with poetry in the original languages; "Pantuns".)
Vladimir Braginsky, The Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature: A Historical Survey of Genres, Writings, And Literary Views, KTLIV
B. J. Brouwer, De houding van Idenburg en Colijn tegenover de Indonesische beweging, Kampen: J. H. Kok. (In Dutch; "The Attitude of Idenburg and Colijn towards the Indonesian Movement".)
De Vries 1980
J. W. de Vries, "Het Indonesisch als nationale taal", in: Forum der Letteren 21(1980)-2:102-113. (In Dutch; "Indonesian as a National Language".)
Du Perron 1959
E. du Perron, Indisch Memorandum, in: Verzameld Werk VII, Amsterdam: G. A. van Oorschot. (In Dutch; "Indonesian Notebook".)
J. H. François, 37 jaar Indonesische vrijheidsbeweging, n.p.: De Driehoek [1946 or 1947]. (In Dutch; "37 Years of Indonesian Struggle for Liberation".)
H. B. Jassin, Pujangga Baru: Prosa dan Puisi, Jakarta: CV Haji Masagung. (In Indonesian; "Pujangga Baru: Prose and Poetry".)
H. B. Jassin, Sastra Indonesia dan Perjuangan Bangsa. Kumpulan Esei 1983—1990, Jakarta: Puspa Swara. (In Indonesian; "Indonesian Literature and Popular Struggle. A Collection of Essays, 1983—1990".)
Pamusuk Eneste 1981
Pamusuk Eneste (ed.), Leksikon Kesustraan Indonesia Modern, Jakarta: Penerbit PT Gramedia. (In Indonesian; "A Lexicon of Modern Indonesian Literature".)
Th. Pigeaud, "Bibliografie in Indonesië", in: Indonesië. Tweemaandelijks tijdschrift gewijd aan het Indonesisch cultuurgebied 1949(3)-2(September) pp. 124-29. (In Dutch; "Bibliography in Indonesia".)
Scova Righini 2005
Bert Scova Righini, Een leven in twee vaderlanden. Een biografie van Beb Vuyk, Leiden: KITLV. (In Dutch; "A Life in Two Native Countries. A biography of Beb Vuyk".)
Seribu Tahun Nusantara 2000
Seribu Tahun Nusantara [cover: 1000 Tahun Nusantara], ed. J. B. Kristanto, Jakarta: Kompas.
A. Teeuw, "The Impact of Balai Pustaka on Modern Indonesian Literature", in: BSOAS 35(1972)-1, pp. 111-27.
A. Teeuw, "Taalambtenaren, taalafgevaardigden en Indonesische taalwetenschap", in: Forum der Letteren" 14(1973)-3, pp. 163-180. (In Dutch; "Language Officials, Language Deputies, and Indonesian Linguistics".)
A. Teeuw, "Indonesische literatuur", in: Moderne Encyclopedie van de Wereldliteratuur vol. 4 (ed. A.G.H. Bachrach et al.) pp. 329-34, Haarlem/Antwerpen: De Haan/De Standaard. (In Dutch; "Modern Indonesian Literature".)
A. Teeuw, Sastra Baru Indonesia I, Ende: Penerbit Nusa Indah. (In Indonesian; transl. of Modern Indonesian Literature I.)
A. Teeuw, Sastra Baru Indonesia II, Jakarta: Dunia Pustaka Jaya. (In Indonesian; transl. of Modern Indonesian Literature II.)
E. M. Uhlenbeck, "De Jong over Balai Pustaka: een kritisch commentaar", in: BKI 142(1986)-2/3:337-341. (In Dutch; "De Jong on Balai Pustaka; a critical comment".)
^Even now, Javanese is the language with most native speakers in the country (see Languages of Indonesia). One century ago, this was no different: the 1905 census showed that of 37m "natives", nearly 30m hailed from the isles of Java and Madura alone: neither they nor many other natives from the "outer islands" were Malay (cf. Bezemer 1921, p. 64).
^Spellings here, as elsewhere, may vary due to the spelling reform of 1972. Thus, the title page of the magazine displays the title Poedjangga Baroe, whereas modern spelling dictates Pujangga Baru. An intermediate version, Pudjangga Baru, is also occasionally found.
The present article as a rule uses the modern spelling, except where previous forms have been expressly retained, as in the name Soekarno.
^Distribution of information had long been a problem in the Netherlands East Indies (Pigeaud 1949, p. 128), and this problem was compounded by the fact that pre-war indigenous literacy was as low as 6 % of the population (François n.d., p. 25).