Indonesia as a Setting for Literature
Indonesia is made up of over seventeen thousand islands that span the Pacific and Indian Ocean and bridge the continents of Asia and Australia. As such, it is the largest archipelago, or island chain, in the world. Sumatra, where ‘‘The Fence’’ is set, is one of the five main islands of Indonesia, and its most densely populated one. Indonesia experiences two climates: the dry season, between June and September, and the rainy season, between December and March. The remaining months are considered transitional seasons. During the rainy season, heavy torrential rains like the ones in ‘‘The Fence’’ occur daily.
Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy and has the largest Muslim population in the world. Its state philosophy consists of five principles, the first of which is the belief in one God. Its natural resources include crude oil, natural gas, tin, copper and gold, and its agricultural products include rice, tea, coffee, spices and rubber.
Despite Indonesia’s rich natural resources, poverty is a major issue in the country. In ‘‘The Poor Fear Public Orders,’’ a 2002 Jakarta Post article, members of the public were asked to speak about poverty in their capital city. Citizens were quoted expressing their concerns that the government did not compassionately deal with the poor and the homeless. Moreover, some stated that because the homeless in Jakarta are not considered residents, they are prohibited from running informal businesses such as street vending, and they have no right to live in the capital.
Other issues facing Indonesia include improving education, stopping corruption, addressing past human rights violations, and addressing climate change.
Literature in Indonesia
Rangkuti and other Indonesian writers have complained over the years about their country’s lack of emphasis on literature, which makes it difficult for writers, even well-respected ones, to make a living. To illustrate this dilemma, a 1999 Jakarta Post article cited the Indonesian poet Viddy A.D:
My poor, poor author Your new masterpieces still await you So how come you are dead? While that other man who is no literary figure Who we all hope will die for the misery he caused so many people Continues living.
The author of the article comments, ‘‘Viddy could have been mourning for the entire Indonesian literi. Respected and widely celebrated Indonesian poets still cannot make a living from their literary pieces alone.’’
The article discusses the plight of a respected literary figure, H. B. Jassin, who was seriously ill at the time and struggling to pay his medical bills. Of this author, Rangkuti said, ‘‘I think Jassin’s entire medical treatment should have been paid for by the government. After all, he doesn’t only belong to his family, he is a national asset.’’ Rangkuti and others blame the Indonesian government, which has historically discouraged literature, for their plight.
Through Horison , the magazine where Rangkuti worked, he and other authors are involved in programs that develop an interest in literature in young readers. Rangkuti also teaches and offers support to young Indonesian authors. Such work is important to Rangkuti because as a child, he had to struggle to read. There was no library where he grew up and he couldn’t afford to buy newspapers.
Religion and Literature
Stories with Islamic themes thrive among teens in Indonesia. These stories, popularized by the publisher Asy-Syaamil Cipta Media, tend to center around struggling teens who are rescued by their religion. One example, given in a 2002 Straits Times article, ‘‘Fiction with Islamic Theme Selling Well in Indonesia,’’ tells of a young girl who is struggling because she is very poor and her father gambles. But when she begins wearing a Muslim headscarf, or hijab, her life turns around.
Eka Wardhna, Asy-Syaamil Cipta Media’s publishing manager, thinks the renewed interest in Islamic literature is connected to the religious revival Indonesia experienced in the 1980s. Because of their emphasis on God and righteousness, these stories may be considered by some religious Muslim parents as less objectionable than those presented in secular literature.
Although ‘‘The Fence’’ does not fall squarely into the genre of religious fiction, it does have religious themes. Father believes that acting according to the principles of faith will keep the family safe. But the characters fail to do so, and as a result are not safe. Rangkuti’s theme differs from other popular religious fiction in that it is less heavy handed—it merely implies the moral of the story rather than stating it outright. However, the underlying message that faith in God earns one His protection is clear.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Hamsad Rangkuti, Published by Gale Group, 2010