Learning about Indonesian language, history, society and culture

Month: February, 2012

Translation: Fundamental principles of the Taman Siswa

The following principles, laid down in 1922, demonstrate many of the tensions outlined in previous posts about Ki Hadjar Dewantara and the Taman Siswa movement. There is the tension between the independence (kemerdekaan) of the individual and the needs of a constructive, orderly social life. The call to turn to ‘our own culture’ even whilst smattering the text with Dutch words. And the wary relationship between the Taman Siswa movement and the state.

As far as I am aware this is the first time they have been translated into English.

Fundamental principles of the Taman Siswa, 1922*

1. The right of a person to self determination (zelf-beschikkingsrecht) in a manner mindful of social solidarity (maatschappelijke saamhoorigheid) is our first fundamental principle.

Order and peace (order and tranquility, Orde en Vrede) are our highest possible principles. There is no ‘order’ if it is not based on peace. Converseley noone will live peacefully if he is blocked in all the conditions of his life. Growth in accordance with character (natuurlijke groei) is very much required for all progress (evolutie) and must be given as broad an independence as possible. Therefore, education that is based on the conditions of compulsion-punishment-order (‘regeering – tucht en orde’ are the terms in education science) we regard as violating the spiritual life (hidup kebatinan) of children. What we use as a tool of education is nurturing with great attention to get the development of the child’s life, physical and non-material (lahir dan batin) in accordance with their own character. This we call the ‘Among method’.

2. In this system teaching means educating children to become people who are liberated in their spiritual life (merdeka batinnya) liberated in thought (merdeka pikirannya) and liberated in their energies (merdeka tenaganya). Teachers should not just give knowledge that is necessary and fine in itself, but also must educate the student to be able to search themselves for knowledge and make use of it in works (amal) of public interest. Knowledge that is good and necessary is that which is beneficial for the material and non-material needs in social life.

3. With regard to the future, our people are in a state of confusion. Often we are tricked by conditions that we view as necessary and in harmony with our lives, whereas those needs are actually those of other peoples, which are difficult to be attained with our own means of living. Thus we often damage the peace of our own lives.

Furthermore, we often prioritise teaching that only aims for the freeing of thoughts (intellectualisme), whereas that teaching only brings us to a phase of life that is unfree and separates the educated from their people (rakyatnya).

In this age of confusion it should be our own civilisation, our own culture we use as signposts, to search for a new life, that is in accordance with our characters and that gives us peace in our lives. With the civilisation of our own nation we will then be fit to have relations on equal terms with foreign peoples.

4. Because teaching that is only received by a small part of our people is not beneficial for the nation, the biggest group of the people must get sufficient education. The strength of the nation and the country (negeri) is the sum of the strength of the its people. Therefore it is better to push forward education for the common people (rakyat umum) rather than enhance instruction, if this effort at enhancement were to reduce the distribution of teaching.

5. To work according to the fundamental principles with freedom and without impediment we must work according to our own strengths. Although we don’t reject help from others, it must be rejected if that help will reduce our independence in material or non-material terms. That is  the path of those who do not want to be bound or subjected by power, because they have the will to work for their own strength.

6. Because we rely on our own strength, all the expense of our efforts must be borne ourselves with money from regular income. This is what we call ‘zelfbedruipingssysteem’ which is the instrument of all businesses that want to live in continued independence.

7. By not being bound in material or non-material things, with holiness of heart, we aim to get close to the child. We do not request certain rights, but surrender ourselves to serve the child.

*Source: Asas-asas dan dasar-dasar Taman Siswa (Ki Hadjar Dewantara) (Madjelis Luhur Taman Siswa, Yogyakarta, 1964); appendix pp. 26-8.


Sources of information on Ki Hajar Dewantara and the Taman Siswa

Last week I discussed some aspects of Ki Hadjar Dewantara’s life and works. This week I have collated some of the most important English language materials relating to him and the Taman Siswa movement.

The good news is that three of the most important articles can be accessed free from the Indonesia journal site:

Ruth T. McVey, Taman Siswa and the Indonesian National Awakening, Indonesia. Volume 4 (1967), 128-149. (Locates the Taman Siswa in the broader political and cultural dynamics of a developing Indonesian national consciousness.)

Ki Hadjar Dewantara, Some Aspects of National Education and the Taman Siswa Institute at Jogjakarta [a translation], Indonesia. Volume 4 (1967), 150-168. (Translation of a key work by Ki Hadjar Dewantara).

Lee Kam Hing, The Taman Siswa in Postwar Indonesia, Indonesia. Volume 25 (1978), 41-60. (Provides analysis of the Taman Siswa’s development after Independence, including the relationship between the Taman Siswa movement and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI))

The next two articles above are not specifically about Ki Hadjar Dewantara and the Taman Siswa but give some important context, emphasising the plurality of political traditions in the archipelago and the reshaping of political traditions in different contexts.

One is available online at

Adrian Vickers “Asian Values in Indonesia? National and Regional Identities“. Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia. 26 Jan, 2012.

And an article covering some similar ground will be available through many libraries with extensive academic journal subscriptions

Anthony Reid, ‘Political “Tradition” in Indonesia: The one and the Many’, Asian Studies Review, Volume 22 (March 1998)

For those wanting to go into more depth, the following specialist texts will probably only be found in academic libraries with large Asian collections

Kenji Tsuchiya (Trans. Peter Hawkes), Democracy and Leadership: The Rise of the Taman Siswa Movement in Indonesia (Honolulu, 1987). (In depth analysis of the cultural and political context for the development of the Taman Siswa movement up to the 1930s).

Savitri Prastiti Scherer, Harmony and Dissonance: Early Nationalist thought in Java (M.A. Thesis, Cornell University) (A comparative treatment of Ki Hadjar Dewantara, Cipto Mangunkusumo, and Sutomo).

Ki Hadjar Dewantara and the Taman Siswa: Introduction

Suwardi Suryaningrat (1889-1959) took the name Ki Hajar Dewantara in 1928. An aristocrat from the Yogyakarta royal house of Paku Alam, he studied at the STOVIA (medical school). He was involved in the early activities of Budi Utomo and the Indies Party, which were both important in the early development of the pergerakan, the ‘movement’ that grew up with a nascent Indonesian national political consciousness. He was exiled between 1913 and 1919 following the publication of two of his articles: Als ik eens Nederlander was (If I was a Dutchman) and Eén voor allen en allen voor één (One for all and all for one). Following his return to the Indies he focused more on cultural and educational efforts. He played a leading role in the founding of the Taman Siswa educational movement in 1922. In 1945 he served as the first minister of National Education.

There are many fascinating tensions running through the life of Ki Hadjar Dewantara and the Taman Siswa. One of these relates to different strands in Indonesian political thought. On the one hand the influence of his thinking has been seen in Sukarno’s authoritarian ‘Guided Democracy’ and even Suharto’s military-ruled New Order. On the other, elements of the Taman Siswa had, at a various times and with varying intensity, connections to the Indonesian Communist Party.

How to reconcile these tendancies? Part of this relates to the peculiar nature of Indonesian politics under Sukarno, and part to the varied social makeup of the Taman Siswa movement. However, it also has to do with the ambivalent elements in Ki Hadjar Dewantara’s thought. This is drawn out in Kenji Tsuchiya’s account of the Taman Siswa movement, which highlights alternating tendancies towards ‘democracy and leadership’.

Other tensions might be found between the national and the local, the western and the eastern, and the traditional and the modern; yet a close examination of the life and works of Ki Hajar Dewantara can also be used to undermine such dichotomies.

Yet a further level of ambivalence is at the individual level. How does a person reconcile the their life force (jiwa), character (watak), with the social world around them. How is a person to become both free or independent (merdeka) and ‘disciplined’?

A significant amount has now been written about Ki Hadjar Dewantara and the Taman Siswa, and in the next post I will highlight some of the most interesting pieces. However, very little of Ki Hadjar Dewantara’s works have been translated into English: in following weeks I aim to provide some translations that will hopefully shed some light on the issues raised in this post.

It’s Not an All Night Fair (Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Trans. William Watson)

In a previous post I mentioned the Indonesia journal and said I would pick out some of my favourite pieces. One of these is a translation of a short work by Indonesia’s internationally best known author, Pramoedya Ananta Toer:

“It’s Not an All Night Fair”, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Trans. William Watson, Indonesia, Volume 15 (April 1973), 21–79.

It is the account of a man returning from the Indonesian capital Jakarta to visit his family and his dying father in the post-independence period. The writing is evocative, delicately interweaving a psychological and family drama, a depiction of Javanese village life, and the tensions between the aspirations and realities of Indonesian Independence. It is one of those pieces of writing that comes back to haunt you (in a good way).

On the one hand, this is a work profoundly involved with the society it emerged from. Frustrations bubble underneath, as when the protagonist muses: ‘In a democratic country you’re allowed to buy whatever you like. But if you don’t have money, you’re only allowed to look at those goods you’d like to have. This too is a kind of victory for democracy.’

But there is also a concern for human dilemmas, of alienation and the struggle to face life and death, as one character wonders: ‘why then do we have to be parted in death? Alone. Alone. Alone. And born alone too. Alone again. Alone again. Why wasn’t this man born in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life and why didn’t he die in the midst of that hustle and bustle? I’d like the world to be an all night fair.’

Of course it is much richer than a couple of paragraphs can reflect, and has been beautifully translated by C. W. Watson.

One other thing to note is that there is also a Penguin paper copy of the translation, for those who prefer the tangible reading experience.