A Local Counter-Discourse against National Education Problems: Postcolonial Reading of Andrea Hirata’s Laskar Pelangi_Part 2
This is a library research and the data are mainly taken from LP novel. Postcolonial approach, specifically counter-discourse concept, is applied in the textual study of the novel. Just as the strategy from counter discourse, deconstructive and subversive reading will be done in this study by decentralizing the center (dominant discourse power) and empowering (centralizing) the peripheral marginal group.
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
There are two main discussions essential to this study: the elaboration of cross cultural interaction found in the novel and the revelation of the counter discursive strategies employed in the work through the author’s deconstructive way of perceiving the reality.
Cross Cultural Interaction
The hybrid identity and cross-cultural interaction can noticeably be seen in the ten rainbow warriors with all their happy struggling childhood actions, dreams and imaginations. First of all, there is a strong description on the relationship between Ikal (a local boy with his Malay background, pp. 162-163) and A Ling ( a little girl with her Chinese background, pp. 35-36). This solid, but almost impossible relationship may be exposed through the poems they write. Who is Ikal? A Ling has her uneasy perspective:
Cinta benar-benar telah menyusahkanku
Ketika kita saling memandang saat sembahyang rebut
Malamnya aku tak bisa tidur karena wajahmu tak mau pergi dari
Kepalaku pusing sejak itu …
Yang berani merusak tidur dan selera makanku?
Yang membuatku melamun sepanjang waktu?
Kamu tak lebih dari seorang anak muda pengganggu!
Namun ingin kukatakan padamu
Setiap malam aku bersyukur kita telah bertemu
Karena hanya padamu, aku akan merasa rindu …
A Ling (pp. 280-1).
Love has truly bothered me
When we stared at each other during the sembahyang rebut
That night I couldn’t sleep because your face wouldn’t leave from my
I had a headache ever since…
Who were you?
That dared to spoil my sleep and appetite?
That made me have daydreams all day long?
You were not more than a disturbing young boy!
But I wished to tell you
Every night I was thankful that we’d met
Cause only for you, I felt the longings…
Beyond her attraction, love and longings to Ikal, A Ling somehow feels problematic due to her background (p. 253); however, this interaction dominantly shows the possibility of a mixed, doubled relationship rather than its hindrance. What about Ikal? Who is A Ling in his experience? Let’s have a look at his poem:
A Ling, hari ini aku mendaki Gunung Selumar
Tinggi, tinggi sekali, sampai ke puncaknya
Hanya untuk melihat atap rumahmu
Hatiku damai rasanya (p. 292).
A Ling, today I climbed mount Selumar
So, so high, up to the top
Only to see the roof of your house
I felt so peaceful
Similarly, Ikal’s strong attraction to A Ling is problematic due to the distance (difference in their ethnic background) that blocks their relationship. He climbs the mountain just to see the roof of A Ling’s house because he cannot visit her house directly. But it does not stop them to interact and to feel the peace and longing. The meaningful relationship is stressed more than the difficulties.
Secondly, the relationship between Mahar with his Belitong, Malay, artistic background and A Kiong with his real Chinese, Kong Hu Cu background (p. 68) shows another blended relationship. A Kiong is a loyal follower of Mahar (p. 161). This possibility is strengthened by the fact that A Kiong goes to a Moslem school and finally turns into a Moslem, a very rare chance in Belitung circumstance.
Thirdly, how Sawang people (nomadic people who live in boats, pp. 163-165) give meaning to a local Chinese tradition called sembahyang rebut or Chiong Si Ku (Chinese tradition of seizing donated stuff as a part of yearly ritual of burning/driving away the evil side of human beings and their bad luck, pp. 257-264) also describes an element of cross-cultural interaction. Sawang people are the superstar (p. 262) of this religious, meaningful, artful and charming tradition. They don’t care much about Thai Tse Ya, the symbolic figure of devil/ghost king, or other valuable stuff, but the red cloth called fung pu which constitutes the symbolic supremacy of the tradition and may be traded with a lot of money. Moreover, this tradition is accompanied with the local entertainment such as panjat pinang (climbing palm trees to seize everyday stuff), circus or Malay orchestra, showing the interaction and becoming the gathering medium of four local sub ethnics: the Chinese (Tionghoa), the Malay, the Sawang and the island people with sarong (p. 259).
Fourthly, the title Laskar Pelangi itself indicates a mixed identity from different backgrounds. Pelangi (rainbow) is beautiful only if there are more than one color, signifying the multicultural 10 students with their different ethnic backgrounds. Laskar (warrior) signifies a fight against their marginality, some kind of counter-discursive strategy against the mainstream that will be discussed in the next section.
Lastly, Flo is a character used by Hirata to represent the interaction between the two different groups: the poor local and the elite comer. Flo (pp. 43-45) is not happy with all her luxurious life, family, and school. She escapes all of those lavish background, finding a true meaning of life and friendship with the poor natural rainbow warrior, especially Mahar. The interaction is somehow important because she is the only bridge that connects the two dissimilar groups. Flo also has an ambiguous identity, she is the symbol of fluid interaction of gender: a little girl with boyish attitudes (p. 47). More than that, Flo’s family is another symbol of confusing position because her father is the only Belitong original Malay who has the elite position (pp. 46-47), giving him a blurred position as a local or invader.
In connection with domination, specially connected with education, the main issue explored in LP is the contact between the local marginalized group (though bigger in number, represented by the rainbow warriors) and the mainstream, invading and dominating group (represented by PN Timah). The domination is so intense that the local people feel alienated from their own homeland. For example, the people who live in the gedong (mansion) have strange names such as Susilo, Cokro, Ivonne, Setiawan or Kuntoro without the local names such as Muas, Jamali, Sa’indum, Ramli or Mahader (p. 42). However, Hirata describes the marginalized local group as having more power to fight back the giant domination of the invader. The following part shows how the local is placed as being able to destabilize or subvert the domination, a counter-discursive strategy developed by the novelist.
The first counter discourse is seen in the way Hirata presents the marginal poor, traditional and almost closed Muhammadiyah elementary school as overpowering the elite, rich, and modern PN Timah school and the people. The giant power of PN Timah is symbolized by The Tower of Babel (pp. 35-40), Gedong (luxurious house, mansion, pp. 41-48) with elite schools called Center of Excellence (pp. 57-61). PN Timah’s being elite is a heritage from the Dutch colonialism (pp. 40, 43), passed down to them with the support of the local government through good upeti (p. 39). Now the colonial domination is not from the European countries (i.e. The Dutch) but from their own fellows. The extreme gap between the local and PN Timah people is obvious in the printed and repeated notice by PN Timah: “DILARANG MASUK BAGI YANG TIDAK MEMILIKI HAK” (No Trespassing for those having no right, pp. 36, 43, 58, 426).
However, all dominating excellence is destroyed by the tiny local group in some chances. Hirata inverts the situation when they are faced in an academic competition, for example the Cerdas Cermat (academic competition for elementary school students) when the local students, represented by the genius Lintang (p. 363), embarrass the elite students, even their arrogant teacher, Mr. Zulfikar (pp. 376-7). Before that, the local students have proved their existence by winning the annually held carnival for celebrating the country’s independence. This time, represented by Mahar, the genius artistically talented student, they defeat the glamorous elite students by their, once again, simple, natural but culturally rich parade.
The second counter is presented when Hirata describes the figure of a teacher, an important character that constitutes the spirit root of the story. The author provides a total contrast between the local teachers (Bu Mus and Pak Harfan) and the elite school teachers (Bu Frischa and Pak Zulfikar). The local teachers are depicted as having strong qualities such as their loyalty, acceptance, devoutness, and heavenly spirit, while the elite teachers are pictured as arrogant (Drs. Congkak, p. 377), humiliating, unnatural intimidating and antagonistic (pp. 60-61).
The third counter-discursive strategy is developed through the deconstruction of the local mainstream belief in a legendary myth named Tuk Bayan Tula. This third strategy is applied to further criticize not only the elite group, but also the education problems in this country as a whole through the fun use of mysticism. The author juxtaposes the famous local respected legend of Tuk Bayan Tula, an extraordinarily powerful mythical and mystical figure (also represented by a group called Societiet de Limpai, with Mahar as the leader) with school scientific matters. The description of Tuk Bayan Tula’s response to the school children is beyond expectation, owing to the fact that in a Belitung’s mainstream mystical figure it is just impossible that this legendary and imaginary figure is literate and formally educated. So when Tula writes “INILAH PESAN TUK-BAYAN-TULA UNTUK KALIAN BERDUA, KALAU INGIN LULUS UJIAN: BUKA BUKU, BELAJAR!!” (Here is Tuk-Bayan-Tula’s memo for both of you: if you wish to pass the exam, open your book, study!!” p. 424), it is merely a discourse developed by the author to deal with the education problems. This memo is clearly criticizing the national education with its national examination, reminding teachers and students, that the only right way to succeed is to go the right hard way i.e. study. Other uses of myth versus science discourse are seen in the Jemang Hantu (Ghost Jemang) case (p. 390) and the myth of Gua Gambar (Picture Cave, pp. 393-399) and Bodenga, the crocodile man (pp. 87-102). All possibilities are represented by Mahar, an eccentric character, a great story teller who stands in the grey area, between imagination and reality (p. 393), between the myth and the modern science. His stories about Jemang Hantu or Gua Gambar and his responses are similar to Tuk Bayan Tula, giving the readers unexpected shock by the presentation of close interaction between the traditional myth and modern science, then becoming a strategy to counter the mainstream belief. Bodenga himself is presented as mysterious, mystical, having no identity at all (p. 91) but also kindhearted.
The fourth counter discourse is revealed through viewing certain ethnic groups with a different, deconstructive perspective. The Tionghoa (Chinese) people for example are differently described in this story in opposition to the common view. They are depicted with more positive images (remember how are they, as victims, dominantly viewed through 1998 chaos?) as older inhabitant of the island, kindhearted, down to earth, hardworking and poor (pp. 35-37). The Chinese are also described as having similar marginalized position as the other local people; all of them live outside the Tembok (great wall) or Gedong, that they have their own Belitong Great Wall (in analogy with the Jinchanying/ China Great Wall, pp. 36, 432).
The fifth counter, I believe, is clear in the maintaining use of minor local words. Hirata keeps the local words intentionally, providing strength to his overall work, proving that the minor/marginal is somehow symbolically strong enough to destabilize the mainstream. Why, for example, does Hirata use Belitong (p. 4) instead of its official Belitung? The sense of locality is paramount in this case for it gives the soul to his discourse to deconstruct the domination of the (Indonesian) mainstream, as described previously. Therefore Hirata uses local words such as Gantong, Tanjong Pandan (p. 47), Tanjong Kelumpang, burut (p. 99), lelak, cunghai (p. 11), etc. to give the sense of superior locality.
Laskar Pelangi, through postcolonial perspective, is clearly not merely a story of how struggle or spirit is important to survive the life as a marginal group, but more than that it is about how the minority actually have the potential to fight back ideologically the domination of the mainstream. This is done of course through a different deconstructive view of the postcolonial problems.
Through the above discussion, it is obvious that postcolonial characteristics are found in this work. Elements of hibridity and inter-cultural interaction are found for instance in Ikal-Aling, Akiong-Mahar-Flo, Sawang-Malay-Chinese relationships. The relationships are viewed as positive, celebrating, and strengthening. While counter-discursive strategies developed by the author can be traced in the inverted positioning of marginal against the dominating group. The marginal has shockingly been represented as overpowering the dominating group. This is also done through the representation of deconstructive teacher images. Furthermore, the myth and science are teasingly used to criticize the education problems by having, again, shocking responses from mystical and mythical figures such as Tuk Bayan Tula, Bodenga, and Mahar. The other counters are seen in the different perspective on certain ethnic groups such as the Chinese, with their positive images. And finally, the use of language also takes a significant role by the use of minor local words to maintain the ideologically believed hope that the marginal the tiny island with all the marginalized positions may have an opportunity to fight against the superior mainstream and win.
As a whole, I believe that this piece of work is a tool for Hirata to make use of the locality and marginality to subvert the domination of the mainstream power as to invert the position in the hope for better understanding of each other.
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English Department, Faculty of Language and Culture, Binus University, Kemanggisan Ilir III No. 45, Palmerah, Jakarta 11480, West Java, Indonesia
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