Berkenalan dengan Aryati (English)

by Umi Maisaroh.
translated by Azhari.

She introduces herself as Aryati. From a vague turmoil, waiting to meet, waiting to talk.

This article is a translated version of an article with the same title. If you wish to read this article in its original Bahasa Indonesia (recommended), click here.


I barely remember how we met. It all seemed so coincidental, yet planned. Relaxed, but also serious. At that time I felt uneasy with myself. on one hand, getting to know Aryati is a breath of fresh air. But on the other hand, it’s quite a challange. I’m not sure. Ultimately, Aryati choose me to be the tailor of her words.

Aryati had already been picked up by Ariel from Jendela Sonorama. There, Aryati was already talking a little bit about herself. If the universe allows, Aryati will speak in a different language, and perhaps speak a little more, at a banquet in March. But until then, allow myself to give a little introduction through these words. 

There are many things intertwined in Aryati’s body and she has been waiting to decipher it all. Aryati swept the periods of Indonesian history, from the colonialism to the New Order era. Aryati tells about the Keroncong music. She is surrounded by colonialism. And she also wants to speak as a woman. And most importantly, Aryati also has a love story. It’s a bit difficult for me to sew all of those things together proportionally. But it’s not impossible. With a little patience, I try to string it up into two texts, one called the synopsis and the other called the scene sketch.

You can see the synopsis as the short biography of Aryati, with the setting of time, place, and other general information. The synopsis helps me to follow the background of her life. From this synopsis, I extracted the most significant parts of Aryati’s life, and write them in scene sketches. If the synopsis focuses on the storyline, the scene sketch focuses more on the elements or symbols that will appear on the stage. All i want to say is that the synopsis and scene sketches are how I got acquainted with Aryati and getting to know who she really is. Later at the banquet she will tell you all about it.

Aryati and I

Long before I met Aryati, I had struggled with history, colonialism, injustice, and love. Anywhere in the world, is not always easy to be a woman. Women are often second class citizens and vulnerable to be victims of violence. I was born as a woman in Indonesia, to illiterate simple parents from ethnic minorities, I have suffered from a layered inferiority complex syndrome. Consciously or not, the remnants of inferiority are still very real to me. Perhaps the story of Frantz Fanon can best describe my situation back then. My family is minority among the majority. I don’t need to explain forther, how my experience is similar to the entanglement in Aryati’s body.

It took me a long while to mend/treat myself. Maybe it’s the same process that Aryati is currently experiencing. She is still struggling with the past, but at the same time she has to move on and find love. Often times, this therapeutic process stops at a stage as told by Frantz Fanon in his book “Black Skin White Mask”. Citizens of former colonies often laud the past glory of their nation, pride themselves on their culture and often despise others. I’m not saying that being proud of one’s culture is bad, but maybe if you want to be a little more patient in describing history, it is very difficult to find culture that’s truly, especially in ex-colonial countries.

Keroncong is the very example of this. It was brought by Portuguese slaves, who turned out to be prisoners of war of Arab origin. Some said that Keroncong was introduced by Komedie Stamboel, a theater group that apparently came from the Farsi community in India, whose theater community was also influenced by theater from Italy such as the Comedi de la Arte. I’m not a historian, but I don’t deny that there are many versions on how keroncong music can emerged in Indonesia. All I’m trying to say is that searching for pure culture is like searching for cause without effect. As Schechner said, “No culture is ‘pure’ – that is, no culture is ‘itself'”.1

I read the history of Aryati’s body not to justify one side of the other. History convinces me instead, that we are all related somehow. Aryati talks about not only Indonesia, but she also alludes the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, and even China. Colonialism in Indonesia, and in other countries, apparently could not be separated from the arrival of the Enlightenment era that was present in Europe. Indonesia’s independence moved with the heat of the Second World War, and catalysed by the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. So on and so forth. There is no stand-alone phenomenon, everything runs according to cause and effect, a causality. The moment the big bang expanded the universe, since then cause cannot be separated from effect.

History is about a series of causes and effects. And time is the dimension that connects them together. It only moves in one direction, forward. I can only know what happened in the past (history) but I can’t go back in time. If I want to do so, that means I have to condition everything as it was right then. Whatever happened in that moment I want to go back to, has to be brought back. Completely and accurately, as to what happened in that moment. I have to change everything in this universe, and this is what I or anyone else can’t do. So, history teaches me that there is not a slightest chance for me, any of us, to change anything in this universe. History and time show me how each moment is unique and non-repeatable. Some things can be improved but many things can’t.

Despite all the restlessness in Aryati’s body, she still has one thing to treasure: love. When it comes to love, it’s like being transported back to Khalil Gibran’s lines, or Shakespeare’s classics, or the poetry of my favorite poet, WS. Rendra. But that’s how I read love. But Aryati? Hopefully you look forward to her trace of love on stage, as I do.

I shall not say too much about Aryati. Although I know Aryati a bit earlier than you, it is certainly more appropriate if Aryati talks about herself to you. And that time will come, one day in March. May the universe lead us all to meet there.

1  Schechner, R. (1989). Intercultural Themes. Performing Arts Journal, 11/12, 151–162. P. 151

About the author:

Umi Maisaroh has completed her master’s degree in theater science at the Freie Universität Berlin. Once a dancer, once puppeteer. But now she prefers to collect stories and use various mediums to tell them. Her works are the result of her amazement at the honesty of science, spiritual reflection and artistic aesthetics.

Follow Umi: @umilaut.
Read more of her works (in bahasa Indonesia) here.

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Not an artist, nor a musician, Azhari orbits around the amazing people in Berlin. Translating his admiration towards them into words.