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“We Build Our Own Stories”… at a Conference in Yogyakarta

August 16, 2013

I will be in Yogyakarta next week to present at the 6th Annual International Indonesia Forum Conference, held this year at Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga. Here is the title and abstract of my presentation:

Title: “We Build Our Own Stories”: The 19th Century Figure and 21st Century Myth of Dôkarim, an Acehnese Poet

Abstract: Few primary sources other than Snouck Hurgronje’s tell us about the traveling bard Abdul Karim, popularly known as Dôkarim, who composed the Hikayat Prang Gompeuni, Song of the Dutch War. Composed orally in Acehnese verse, the Hikayat borrows generously from the themes and narratives of the famous epic poems that preceded it while also recounting specific details of warrior bravery, political negotiations, and community devastation brought by the war. The Hikayat Prang Gompeuni was not only a work in progress with Dôkarim adding new verses as the war unfolded, it was also a performance piece tailored to meet the expectations of every patron that commissioned Dôkarim’s recitals. Among Dôkarim’s patrons were Hurgronje himself who commissioned the only complete transcription of the Hikayat and the Acehnese war hero Teuku Umar, who later went on to execute Dôkarim before the war’s end for his supposed defection to the Dutch. But we must interpret both Hurgronje’s transcription and Umar’s accusations as only partial narratives. In this presentation, I show how the ambiguous figure of Dôkarim in Aceh’s 19th century serves as a productive metaphor and cautionary tale for Aceh’s culture producers in the 21st. The Tikar Pandan Community in particular has leveraged the figure of Dôkarim and elevated his partial legacy to the status of a myth, assuming his poetic license to claim a space for building new tales that espouse a critical wariness toward all figures of authority. I use Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of rhizomatic social structures to illustrate Tikar Pandan’s critical and evasive stance.

To be fair, I presented a version of this paper in Bahasa Indonesia at the 4th Biannual International Center for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies (ICAIOS) conference in Lhokseumawe two months ago.

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