NYAI ONTOSOROH (2006-2007)
A play Nyai Ontosoroh
Synopsis and the context of the story
The story of the struggles of Sanikem alias Nyai Ontosoroh
It was a time when the Dutchmen ruled, with their companies, with their government and with their White Laws.
Whites and natives did not mix, did not integrate. It was just here and there you a found a few Natives allowed into Dutch schools.
There was one group of people in 1898, however, ever, that was close to the Dutch and to Europe, Ironically they were a group most oppressed and humiliated in society. These were the women called the “Nyai”, the concubines of Dutch men. They knew the Dutch household intimately; they spoke and discussed all kinds of things with their “men”: their business, their friends, sometimes aspects of modern science and knowledge and the modern world itself. .
The struggles of Sanikem alias Nyai Ontosoroh
Sanikem. A young girl of 14 was sold by her own father as a concubine to a Dutch man. The story of Nyai Ontosoroh is the story of the struggles of Sanikem, How did a young girl from village Java confront so intimately European civilization in the time of the Dutch East Indies? And how did she overcome her humiliation at the hands of her own father and of her society?
Sanikem alias Nyai Ontosoroh is the story of how a woman, a victim, metamorphoses into a survivor, indeed more than as survivor the mentor for an educated, young man, a native who people called Minke.
The story of Nyai Ontosoroh was first told by Pramoedya Ananta Toer in the prison camp on Buru Island. He told the story to try to raise the spirits of the prisoners who were becoming demoralized after a wave of killings and torture. What is it in this story that could raise the spirits of these prisoners, away in exile on Buru Island?
A young woman from Java, uneducated and ignorant, faces the great ogre of European civilization. The bitter experiences of the girl Sanikem drives her stand straight and tall and come to possess strength of character using the knowledge she takes from her enemy to grow and develop. From this we learn what drives character building, a lesson that gave spirit to the prisoners on Buru, and a lesson of great value to us here today as well.
This is also the story of the family politics in the household of Nyai Ontosoroh and her struggle inside that family. She faces her man, Herman Mellema, her daughter the rose of Surabaya Annelies, and the son full of bitter resentment at all Natives, Robert. Into this family arrives a new, “adopted son”, the young Javanese native that people called “Minke”. A rare Native student at an elite Dutch high school, he is conquered by the mother and captivated by the daughter. This struggle within this family teaches us much about the hypocrisy of Western civilization, as well as about the strength that flows from holding firm to principles.
Sanikem faced a struggle against colonial power not only inside the family. She had to face the system itself and the real power of the Dutch colonial rulers. A Nyai depended on the protection from “her man”. What was to happen if that man left her? Or died? Or was killed? What would be the fate of a Nyai and her family? Would her familiarity and close ties with European civilization help her? Would all that she had learned about explaining the values she had absorbed from European civilization, and learned better than those wielding colonial power, be enough to enable her to defend herself?
In the end, this woman Sanikem, who had been turned into a concubine, a Nyai, had to stand before her Dutch masters, judges of the European Court, to defend her rights as a mother, It was from the mouth of this nyai that words of great truth were to come forth.
The story of Sanikem alias Nyai Ontosoroh, the concubine running a big dairy business in Surabaya, who lived in a dark and imposing house as if it were the house of a powerful witch, is a story of resistance.
She resists her fate as a young girl sold as a concubine; she resists the hypocricy and injustice inside her own family; she resists the injustices of the colonial system itself. For Nyai to resist injustice is itself a principle, separate from whether one will triumph or be defeated. To resist injustice is itself an honorable thing, if carried out honorably.
It was this that she taught also to her “adopted son”, Minke, the young man in love with Annelies. Minke, like Nyai, had become intimate with European civilization. He was a Native at a school for the children of the Dutch elite. But he was not a purchased slave like Nayi Ontosoroh. He was from a family with an elite Javanese background. Even so he had started to question the traditions of Java. He too was now challenged to resist colonial power and, indeed, his ties to traditional culture, his own background.
Minke must learn how to use two new sources of power: his pen, and the power of his own people. He writes in Dutch but also in the language of his own people in order ot defend his family. His own people are the “Melayu” – the Malay people – and it is they who lend their solidarity, led by a fighter from Madura, called Darsam,
Is such a story relevant to us here today? Is the issue of character building still an issue for us living through the period of reformasi? Do we still face a foreign power, bringing both hypocrisy as well as world of new ideas? Is there still such a thing as colonial power? For women today, are there still things to be learned from the example of the struggle of Sanikem, alias Nyai Ontosoroh?
It was out of this arena of struggle against oppression, - oppression at the personal and family level as well as in the form of unjust laws and wielding of state power – that developed a character building process that in turn produced the soul for the country born and given the name: Indonesia.
(Faiza Mardzoeki,Malabar, 14 Mei 06)
A Performance of Theater
Nyai Ontosoroh (2007)
An adaptation from the great novel “This Earth of Mankind’ by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
By Faiza Mardzoeki
Director by Wawan Sofwan
Leading actor: Happy Salma-Nyai Ontosoroh
Producers: Faiza Mardzoeki and Andi K Yuwono
The idea of adapting Pramoedya’s novel for the stage, focusing on the story and character of Nyai Ontosoroh, was first proposed by Faiza Marzoeki. She has written this adaptation of Pramoedya’s novel, which he wrote in Buru Island prison camp, This Earth of Mankind. She had previously initiated and, with other activists and artists, produced the play, Women at Point Zero, based on the novel by the Egyptian feminist, Nawal El Saadawi.
This Earth of Mankind records part of the Indonesian people’s journey as a nation. And it contains important lessons about being a woman, and being a human being, When we read This Earth of Mankind we are provoked to think about who we are, why we are like we are, and what we intend to do about it? This is most clearly displayed in the character of Sanikem, alias Nyai Ontosoroh. Her story is narrated by Minke, a character inspired by Tirto Adhisuryo, the pioneer of the national awakening among the Indonesian people.
Nyai Ontosoroh tells the story of Sanikem’s struggle. She was a woman whose freedom was stolen by her own father and whose dignity was denied to her by her society. Her reality, chapter after chapter, meant she re-created herself as a new character. She chose the path of resistance, to fight. The struggle of Nayi Ontosoroh, though set in the days of the Netherlands Indies, remains relevant today.
It is on the stage that this character of Sanikem can be brought to life Theatre has its special strengths to present ideas, to challenge with demands, to provoke reflection. The study of the text, of characterization and the long rehearsals are activities with many enriching lessons. The whole process has taken two years: research, writing the play, discussions, formation of the team, the search for funding, and for the actors; then the rehearsals.
ACTIVISTS AND ARTISTS COLLABORATION
Nyai Ontosoroh is a joint, not-for-profit production by Institut Ungu (Women’s Art and Culture Space), Jaringan Nasional Perempuan Mahardhika (Women National Network) and Perguruan Rakyat Merdeka (Community of liberated people). It has been supported by Elsam, Jari, Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia , Kalyanamitra, LBH APIK, Perkumpulan Praxis, Kontras, Komunitas Ciliwung, Perkumpulan Seni Indonesia, Pramoedya Institut Solidaritas Perempuan, Voice of Human Rights dan Yappika
Faiza Mardzoeki and Andi K. Yuwono are the producers, supported by a strong team comprising Irina Dayasih, Dewi Djaja, Yulia Evina Bhara, Vivi Widyawati, Tedjo Priyono, Katarina Puji Astuti, Efriza, Siti Ma'rifah, Ratnaningsih, Eko Bambang Subiantoro, Lilik Munafidah, Warsito, Sigit Pranowo, Agung Yudhawiranatha, Listya Sidharta, Ripana Puntarasa, Putri Miranda and Myra Diarsi joint overall coordinator with Faiza Mardzoeki..
Most of the performances in the regions were organised by Perguruan Rakyat Merdeka (PRM) bringingartists and activists together for the production.
Workshop on the Platform of Cooperation and on Play Manuscript, June 2006
In June 2006, facilitated by PRM, the artists and activists together from around the country held a workshop together. We have held two public discussions: “Nyai Ontosoroh and its relevance to the women’s movement today” as well as “Women characters in Pramoedya’s novel”. The participants came from Padang, Lampung, Jakarta, Bandung, Jogjakarta, Semarang, Surabaya, Pontianak, and Bali.
At the start of the process, we held a three day workshop, 14-16 July, 2006 in the Cooperatives Building, Jakarta:
Platform workshop: This workshop discussed in detail the aims of the project and it’s a collaborative character in seeking to advance peoples’ sovereignty. Why “Nyai Ontosoroh”? Why theatre and why through the different theatre forms from different parts of Indonesia? Why a collective approach involving different kinds of cultural workers? The hope was for the emergence of a common, shared perspective, with a synergy developing between different strategic orientations and different participants.
Script Workshop: This discussion examined and investigated the comprehensive concepts that constituted the main contents of the manuscript as well as how to develop a performance atmosphere. The discussion also focused on understanding the characters in the play. The aim was to reach agreement on the form of the theatre performance that would be presented. The form would be determined at the local level by the project implementing groups.
Approximately 70 people attended the workshop, with about 25 representatives from the regions. The regions represented were: Bali, Pontianak, Semarang, Jogjakarta, Solo, Surabaya, Padang, Lampung, and Bandung..
On Friday 16 February THE NYAI ONTOSOROH PROJECT held a public forum with the topic: “Women in the literature of Pramoedya Ananta Toer”.Around 200 people crammed into the auditorium at the Taman Ismail Marzuki to participate in a lively discussion.
The speakers were: Rieke Diah Pitaloka, Dita Sari, and Eko Kurniawan.The forum was reported in the following media: National daily Newspaper, Kompas, Sinar Harapan and Jurnal Nasional.
Another public discussion was held in December 2006, with the topic: “Nyai Ontosoroh and the relevance with the women situation today”, at Goethe House, Jakarta.
The speakers were: Agung Putri (Director of ELSAM), Aritides Katopo (Intellectual, senior journalist), Gadis Arivia ( feminist, Jurnal Perempuan) and Imas Sobariah (woman director from Teater Satu Lampung).
The forum was reported in the following media: Kompas and Sinar Harapan and attended by arround 300 people.
A 15 minutes reading of a fragment from the play was also performed at this forum.
Drama Session at the Women Playwright International Confrence
Faiza Mardzoeki, as author of the play and producer invited to make a presentation at the 7th Women Playwrights International Conference held from 19-26 November, 2006 in the National Gallery, Jakarta.
Faiza Mardzoeki made presentation explaining the process of adaptation from the novel, “Bumi Manusia” (This Earth of Mankind) and discussing the themese and content of the play.
There was also a 15 minit performance of a fragment of the play.
More than 100 people attended the session, the most well attended session in the course of the conference.
Jakarta 12, 13, 14 August 2007
The director is Wawan Sofwan. He is an experienced director, starting his activities in the Bandung StudiKlub. He has directed many classic western texts, including Bertold Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui., He has also directed musical theatre.
Happy Salma, a TV actor and presenter, model and writer, who is also known for her love of Pramoedya’s works, plays Nyai Ontosoroh. The cast includes:. Nuansa Ayu (Sanikem) Williem Bivers (Tuan Mellema), Temmy Mellianto (Minke), Madina Wowor (Annelies), Hendra Yan (Ir. Mauritsz), Restu Sinaga (Robert Mellema), Teuku R. Wikana (Robert Suuhrof), Fellencia (Maiko), Harrist (Babah Ah Tjong), Joind Bayuwinanda (Bupati Brojonegoro), Bowo GP (Sastro Tomo), Pipien Putri (istri Sastro Tomo), Budi Ketjil (Darsam), Ayu Diah Pasha (Minke’s mother), Ayes Kassar (Jean Marrais), Sita RSD (Magda Peters), Rebecca Hensckhe, Rusman and Rudi Wowor.
The set designs are by the well-known Indonesian female sculptor, Dolorosa Sinaga, with a team headed by Gallis AS, a mask artist who has participated in many theatre projects. The colonial world will be brought to us through at least 50 different costumes, designed by Merdi Sihombing. The prolific film and theatre musician Fahmi Alatas has written the music and the sound engineer is Mogan Pasaribu. Lighting is by Aziz Dying assisted by Sari Suci. Pipien Putri has done the choreography for the performance. Jerri Pattimana is the stage manager.
Faiza Mardzoeki and Andi K. Yuwono are the producers, supported by a strong team comprising Irina Dayasih, Dewi Djaja, Yulia Evina Bhara, Vivi Widyawati, Tedjo Priyono, Katarina Puji Astuti, Efriza, Siti Ma'rifah, Ratnaningsih, Eko Bambang Subiantoro, Lilik Munafidah, Warsito, Sigit Pranowo, Agung Yudhawiranatha, Listya Sidharta, Ripana Puntarasa, Putri Miranda and Myra Diarsi joint coordinator with Faiza Mardzoeki..
A total of 127 people participated in the Jakarta performance, comprising actors, the artistic team, the production management team, the stage crew and volunteers.
Nyai Ontosoroh has been the collective effort of a spectrum of people. These include activists, feminists, theatre artists, film actors, sculptors, costume designers, musicians and those new to the world of the stage.
The performance reached its target audience successfully. More than 3,000 people watched the performance over three nights. Tickets were mostly sold out three weeks before the performance. The audience was very mixed, comprising university and high school students, professionals, activists and housewives.
• Media Coverage
The Nyai Ontosoroh Project has been reported widely in the media since it started, covering rehearsals, public forums as well as the performances. It has been covered by both print and electronic media. Media partners included Femina magazine, Kompas, Utan Kayu radio, Delta FM and Female FM.
• Print media
Reports and reviews of the Jakarta performance appeared in Tempo, Kompas, Sindo, Media Indonesia, Suara Pembaruan, Sinar Harapan, Tempo magazine, Femina magazine, Editor Choices, and Jakarta Post as well as detik Com. The press also carried interviews with Faiza Mardzoeki, Happy Salma, and Wawan Sofwan
News items also appeared in many newspapers, including in the regions, such as in Jawa Pos.
• Electronic Media
Radio and TV
Utan Kayu Radio broadcast a talk show about the Nyai Ontosoroh project with over the air dialogue with listeners. Televisions Stations such as ANTV, SCTV, METRO TV and RCTI all covered aspects of the project, from rehearsals to performance. Voice of Human Rights Radio Programme also covered the performance and broadcast the coverage to ist network all over Indonesia and throught its website.
Performances outside Jakarta
As previously reported, local theatre groups have already performedtheir productions of NYAI ONTOSOROH:
A. In Pontianak, the Teater Topeng perfortmed the day in conjunction with commemorations of Human Rights Day on 8, 9 and 10 December 2006. About 1,000 people attended over three nights. The majority were senior high school students.
B. In Bandung, the performance was by the Teater Bersama, comprising mainly students, teachers and alumni of the Indonesian Arts Tertiarty Institute (STSI) in Bandung. They performed over two nights, 21 - 22 December 2006 in conjunction with commemorations of Indonesian Women’s Day. Approximately 300 people attended the performance at the STSI thetare auditorium.
C. In Solo, the Teater Gidag Gidig performed the play on 23 December 2006 and has also taken it to several other towns in java, including Klaten. The play was performed in Javanese language and adopted the Ketoprak (Javanese tradition darama) style. It was attended by a spectrum representative of the general piublic. About 300 people attended the Solo performance, not counting those who attended performances in other Javanese towns.
D. In Jogjakarta, the play was performed by a theatre group of students from Gajah Mada University on 28 December 2006. The play was performed on one evening in the students centre at UGM. A second performace was in a village in an area affected by the recent earthquakes, on 10 January 2007. The performances drew in, as actors, village members, as well as the student members of the theatre group. The performances took place in December and attended by approximately 500 people
E. In Lampung, a performance is scheduled by the Lampung (Sumatra) theatre group, Teater Satu, on 12 - 13 April 2007. Approximately 1000 people attended the performance
F. In Surabaya (East Java) the performance will take place on 30 April 2007 in the Balai Pemuda, Surabaya. Approximately 300 people attended the performance
G. Some of activist and artists have also shared the information that they will soon perform Nyai Ontosoroh and agreed with the platform, like in Palu and Semarang.
These performances already make NYAI ONTOSOROH one of the most performed plays in recent years taking the character “Nyai Ontosoroh”, the works of Pramoedya Ananta Toer and the idea of a strong, non-victim women roles and characters to a wider and wider audience.