Pandemic Diary: Lebak in 1860 and 2021

Arjan and Bonnie, a historian (left)
Ubaidilah Muchtar (right)

Today I watched “After Multatuli Left” (2019), a movie made by Arjan Onderdenwijngaard, a Dutch guy who is also a human right activist living in Depok, West Java. His Indonesian is very fluent and thus he could communicate smoothly with all Indonesians featured in his movie.

The movie is made available online by Erasmus Huis, the public library and cultural center located in the Embassy of the Netherlands to Indonesia. And it goes live only today by online invite.

The movie itself revolves around the social, economic, and political issue of Lebak people, the past colonialism and the currently flourishing new feudalism that firmly holds the area.

Arjan came to Lebak and shot his own movie in 1987 around the village of Badur, a real place where the legendary novel “Max Havelaar” written by Multatuli (a pen name of Dutch author Eduard Douwes Dekker) was set. This place was also where the story of Saidjah and Adinda took place, symbolizing the horrendous oppression of Dutch colonialism in Lebak. The novel was published in 1860.

And what a coincidence that I’ve recently also moved to Lebak. So this made the movie more relatable to me even more. I did see a small brick bridge that was built in 1933 just around my house, which made me question: “Was this the Dutch or Lebaknese person/ people who built this?”

Arjan interviewed some sources: laymen (Wiwi, Rasti Guna and Jumar), merchants (H. Sapari), artists, bureaucrats, and scholars (Bonnie Triyana of Historia). The laymen are represented by some people he shot in his 1987 movie. He deliberately searched them and interviewed them only to ask how their lives went after since.

He found the fact that Lebaknese people haven’t changed that much. They’re still oppressed. Not by the Dutch but by the feudalistic family dinasties now after the Dutch was long gone. And though roads have been built and most people can afford to buy better quality rice and own cell phones, some core characters remain the same. The hardest one to change is they resist changes. Despite their low existence and substandard welfare, they have no willingness and determination to get more education, no plans to change their offsprings’ future, and fail to come out of the vicious circle of poverty and oppression. Kind of eternalized, structural poverty.

Hj. Iti Octavia Jayabaya, SE, MM the first female regent of Lebak, who is also the daughter of the previous Lebak regent, Mulyadi Jayabaya

In 2021, Lebak as I observe with my own eyes has not changed much. There’s still much poverty and thus a lot of people who need help. It’s not the financial help they need most but instead empowerment and mindset change. And that will take perhaps another century. (*/)

Author: akhlis

Writer & yogi

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