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Stories and Storytelling in the Indonesian Archipelago | Leiden Asia Year

13/05/2017 @ 10:00 - 17:00

KITLV in collaboration with Wacana, Journal of the Humanities of Universitas Indonesia, will organize a symposium on the importance of storytelling in Indonesia on 13 May 2017 in Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden, 10.30 – 17.00 hrs.

Indonesia’s oft-overlooked repertoire of storytelling traditions continues to inspire the nation’s arts, cultures and social practices. Inspired by a special edition of the journal Wacana, we investigate some of the archipelago’s diverse story-texts and performance practices.

This broad-scope symposium centers on the characteristics of Indonesian stories, their embedding in storytelling traditions, and the (ritual) contexts in which these are performed. Several presentations explore how stories were – and are – composed and disseminated. Other participants bring to the fore Indonesian perspectives on storytelling beyond the boundaries of the written word, including solo- and group-performances accompanied by music, singing and dance.

We hope that this event will contribute to a renewed attention to the storytelling practices of Indonesia, fostering a more nuanced understanding of “text” in all its forms, the relevance of traditional stories in a rapidly changing society, and ongoing developments in Indonesian literature and popular culture.

Among the presenters are Aone van Engelenhove and Nazarudin (Leiden Institute of Area Studies) who will analyze [hi]stories and storytelling on the island of Kisar, Southwest Maluku, Els Bogaerts (Leiden Institute of Area Studies) with a fresh view on the well-known historical figure of Arya Penangsang in a recent theatre-play from Yogyakarta, Joachim Niess (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Südostasienwissenschaften) with a discussion of fiction in early Indonesian newspapers, and Clara Brakel-Papenhuyzen presenting recordings of Malay storytellers in North Sumatra that reflect the relationship between the interior and the coastal areas on that island. The programme also features performances of music and dance by Sundanese ensemble Dangiang Parahiangan and West Sumatran ensemble Archipelago.

Please register if you wish to attend: [email protected]

Partners: KITLV, Brill, Wacana.


Friday 12 May 2017 (closed meeting)

Leiden University Library (Vossiuszaal)


Coffee + snacks [1]


Words of welcome (Tom Hoogervorst)


Manuscript tour (Willem van der Molen)


Library tour (Marije Plomp)


Lunch [2]

Saturday 13 May 2017 (public meeting)

Museum Volkenkunde


Arrival, coffee/tea


Welcome by Tom Hoogervorst


A Tale of Narrative Annexation: Stories from Kisar Island, South West Maluku (Aone van Engelenhoven & Nazar Udin)


Reflections on the relationship between nature and political order in Indonesian storytelling (Johann Angerler)


Who’s pulling the strings? Narrativity and the figure of the Instigator in Indonesian politics (Bernard Arps)


Musical aspects of Baduy storytelling (Wim van Zanten)


West Javanese ensemble (Dangiang Parahiangan)


Lunch [3]


A never ending story: Fragments of fiction in early Indonesian newspapers (Joachim Nieß)


Penangsang memanah rembulan: Penangsang shoots an arrow at the moon (Els Bogaerts)


West Sumatran ensemble Archipelago




Between hulu and hilir:Storytelling in North Sumatra (Clara Brakel)


Two Dairi stories from the Batak Reader (Marjolijn Groustra, Naomi Ploos van Amstel)


West Sumatran ensemble Archipelago



[1] Indonesian snacks courtesy of Embassy of Indonesia.

[2] Lunch for 15, sponsored by Brill, prepared by Universitair Facilitair Bedrijf, served at Lipsius Cafetaria.

[3] Lunch for 15, sponsored by Brill, served at Sumatra House.


Johann Angerler – Reflections on the relationship between nature and political order in Indonesian storytelling
Traditional Indonesian storytelling is more than entertainment, as stories often convey information about the spiritual and political order of the world. My presentation will demonstrate how the way in which some stories describe the relationship with wild nature (such as jungles, mountains, rivers and seas) contributes to the narrative necessity for legitimation of political structures in the society in which they are told.

Bernard Arps – Who’s pulling the strings? – Narrativity and the figure of the Instigator in Indonesian politics
The idea that “someone is pulling the strings” (ada yang mendalangi) and the question “who has plotted this behind the scenes?” (siapa dalangnya?) have been part and parcel of Indonesian politics since the Republic’s first president and continue to be invoked time and again. Apart from the fact that it is formulated using the metaphor of the puppeteer (dalang), this feature of Indonesian political thinking has an interesting analogy in the narrative structure of Javanese shadowplays. Typically the protagonists of wayang are motivated by personages who are not themselves involved in the play’s action but remain behind the scenes. In this presentation I examine the history and nature of this analogy between the narrativity of wayang and Indonesian political ideology.

Els Bogaerts – Penangsang memanah rembulan / Penangsang shoots an arrow at the moon
A throne, a heir, a rebel. A wise king, a fiery opponent and a religious teacher. Treason and magic weapons. Enough elements to fill a story with suspense and surprise. The audiences, enthralled, impatiently await the gruesome end of the tale, an end they know, as Penangsang’s adventures have been told and performed endlessly. In October 2016 in Yogyakarta, against all expectations, Penangsang shot an arrow at the moon. The theatre performance, this time not in Javanese but in Indonesian, offered a new perspective. It showed how a fresh view on the protagonist determined the storytelling and altered the plot.

Clara Brakel – Between hulu and hilir: Investigating the art of storytelling in North Sumatra
In this presentation I shall complement the Dairi stories discussed in earlier publications with Malay stories recorded between 1977 and 1979, when Lode Brakel and I documented traditional storytelling in the forested highlands (hulu) and coastal areas (hilir) of North Sumatra. While the stories of the people living in the interior of North Sumatra show their dependence on the surrounding forests with its streams and rivers, the stories we recorded in coastal districts around the city of Medan reflect a different lifestyle and value-systems, as well as a connection with overseas regions.

Aone van Engelenhoven & Nazar Udin – A Tale of Narrative Annexation: Stories from Kisar Island
This paper discusses strategies of appropriation of narrative heritage in literate and narrative histories on the island of Kisar. It shows that notwithstanding their sometimes literate characteristics, storytelling in competitive contexts still follows strategies that are typical for oral performances. This paper questions in how far literate and narrative historiographies can and ought to be separated from each other in Southwest Maluku.

Marjolijn Groustra and Naomi Ploos van Amstel –Two Dairi stories from the Batak Reader
In her latest Wacana article on Dairi storytelling, Clara Brakel discusses Dairi stories in van der Tuuk’s Batak Reader, which he collected in the middle of the nineteenth century. When Clara sent us her English translation of these stories, we immediately felt inspired and, being artists, images came up in our mind. For this symposium on Indonesian Storytelling, we shall tell you two of these Dairi stories, with illustrations projected on a screen. We hope that this will inspire you to read the other Dairi stories in Clara’s publications.

Joachim Nieß – A never ending story: Fragments of fiction in early Indonesian newspapers
Literary fiction, especially in serialized form, played an important role in early Malay language newspapers in Colonial Indonesia in the late 19th and early 20th century. In my presentation, I will discuss some examples of serialized fiction, thereby focusing on tales and stories that end rather abruptly without offering a real ending. Besides talking about the various reasons behind this fragmentariness, I will also address the consequences in terms of reception – both for contemporary readers and today’s researchers.

Wim van Zanten – Musical aspects of Baduy Pantun storytelling
In this presentation I shall briefly introduce pantun storytelling in West Java. Although the Baduy still recite pantun stories during their rituals, in the larger cities to the east of the Baduy village of Kanékés pantun recitation almost disappeared. I shall discuss a few audio recordings of pantun stories, including the one made by Snouck Hurgronje around 1905 on wax cylinder, as well as some of my own recordings of pantun in Ujungberung (Bandung) and of two Baduy bards, made during the last 35 years.

Dangiang Parahiangan – Performance of Tembang Sunda Cianjuran music
The group Dangiang Parahiangan will play Cianjuran music from West Java, with sung poetry accompanied by two zithers and a bamboo flute. Most song texts are about love, but some of the texts refer to myths and stories, including pantun stories, of the past. For this occasion we will choose a few songs that expose some major cultural themes. One such song is about the Sangkuriang myth, a kind of Oedipus story. Another song is Ceurik Rahwana, Rahwana weeps. Rahwana is the king of Langka from the Ramayana story. In this song the dying Rahwana asks forgiveness from his wife Banondari, for falling in love with Rama’s wife Sintawati and abducting her.

Performance of West Sumatran talempong music and dance
The cultural ensemble Archipelago led by musician Renadi Santoso plays traditional music and dance from West Sumatra on sets of small gongs (talempong), a large drum (gendang) and a large gong as well as tambourines (rapai). While at times the music is purely instrumental, it can also be accompanied by singing. For this occasion the Tari Rantak will be performed that incorporates some energetic, graceful movements from the martial arts (pencak silat) repertoire by two dancers in original costumes from Bukittinggi. The performance will be introduced by processional music with fast, interlocking patterns played on sets of two small gongs.


10:00 - 17:00
Event Category:


KITLV, Leiden Asia Year
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Museum Volkenkunde
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