Reader's CornerNOTE: THE COMMENTS HERE REFER MAINLY TO WRITING ABOUT ENVIRONMENT AND NATURE
Indonesia has thousands of writers, but we are still waiting for the one with the ability sum up the spirit of this enormous and multi-faceted country. If it can at all be done! The internationally most reputed Indonesian writer is Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He is concerned with political issues, the independence struggle and the national development after independence, which he often criticised, eventually leading him to prison under President Suharto. Not many Indonesian writers are translated into English, and I have not come across anyone who writes about nature or environmental issues. Grateful for suggestions!
Julia Suryakusuma writes in English, a “translator” between Indonesia and “the West”, outspoken and amusing comparisons and reflections, as well as comments on Indonesia’s political growth pains. Not so much about environment, about social phenomena in general, in a sincere, informative and very funny way. Columnist in The Jakarta Post and Tempo magazine, author of the book Julia’s Jihad.
Senior Swedish citizens may remember Eric Lundqvist. Eric was a colleague of mine with a MSc in forestry from the Royal College of Forestry in Stockholm in the 1920’s. In 1932 he joined the Dutch Forest Service of Indonesia. His main assignments to start with was forest surveys, first in Batam Island (yes! at that time the jungle there was of a different kind), later to Kalimantan and Papua. He has plenty of stories to tell about the Dayak in Kalimantan, and the Papuans and the seemingly endless forests that they know inside out, and about the Balinese. He has written at least 18 books in Swedish – books that at the time were very popular in Sweden. (Some libraries must still have them.) The readers of those days probably appreciated the contrast to Sweden, the pleasant climate, the verdure, and the relaxed attitudes among the persons depicted. Eric was a natural story-teller, and a good photographer, and talks about places and local personalities in a simple, no-frills way, quite free of exotism – the persons we are introduced to may seem “strange” or “amusing”, but when placed in their natural surrounding we see that their thoughts and behaviour are nothing but rational.
Eric advanced to Professor of Forestry at the University of Indonesia in Bogor, and retired in Sweden, in 1962 if I recall, with his Indonesian wife Sari (one of his books is named after her). Below is a sample of his writing: how he came to discover Java and Bali on bicycle in 1932 (Skogens Andar, copyright Sv Skogsvårdsförbundet, Stockholm).
Sten Bergman, a Swedish “naturalist” and explorer, travelled to Papua New Guinea before WW II and gave lectures (with his very characteristic high-pitch voice and impeccable diction) on Radio Sweden about his discoveries, in particular about Birds of Paradise. He wrote books too. It has to be said that his style is entirely passé! For sure he can be found among Radio Sweden’s “Radiominnen”.
Somerset Maugham was an aristocrat traveller before the Second World War, who stayed in luxury hotels far from the crowd, and he doesn’t have much to tell us contemporary travellers I consider. But he deserves to be remembered for his attempt at describing the sensation – it is a sensation, you have to try it – of eating the fruit durian: like having strawberries with whipped cream in a badly kept public lavatory . . . (Many will disagree with this assessment; personally I would say there is something to it. A glass of beer on the side helps.).
Joseph Conrad spent 15 years or more, as a sailor to begin with, eventually as captain, with the French and English merchant navies. Although originally from Poland he developed a remarkable mastery of the English language (and is nowadays remembered for his Heart of Darkness). He came to visit the archipelago known as the Spice Islands (now Maluku Province) and described it as he saw it from the water, either from the sea or from the calm dark rivers leading through lowland swamp forests deep into the interior. “The Lagoon” gives glimpses of a pristine natural setting although Conrad’s main theme is man’s vain responses when facing an indifferent nature. http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Lago.shtml
A lot has been written about the culture,art, traditions,and history of Bali. I can only take note of the fact that the standard work still seems to be a book published in 1937! it is written by the Mexican Miguel Covarrubias. His wife Rose must be mentioned for the photos in the book that show how much of the traditions that has been maintained
Pope Francis Since I was young I have been looking for guidance from religious leaders in our management of our environment. (I have had frustrating discussions with parish priests at home and with Jesuit missionaries in the jungle.) The Bible is really quiet in this regard. I am told that Al Quran gives more of guidance to us as stewards of nature and the resources we are offered. So much more welcome – to me at least – is the Papal Encyclical Laudato Si, published on 18 June 2015, with the sub heading On Care for our Common Home. My hope is that it will be received not as a “Catholic” document but as a call to one and all, irrespective of faith, for attention and consideration. The Pope hopes to “promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature.” We in Indietours agree and hope for the same . . .