The Pribumi Writes Back: A Postcolonial Discourse in Pramoedya’s Bumi Manusia Novel

In Artikel on 25 November 2013 at 00:43

Do we want to be colonized by other people in our life? The answer must be not. No one wants to be dominated and controlled by other people or nation. Once it happens, the struggle to fight for it will alive. The form of its struggle can be various. It can be oral struggle or even in action. Beside it, it can be direct or indirect struggle. One kind of indirect struggle is through literary works.

Literary work is a product of human being activity that contains not only a story with its purity, but also it contains idea and hope of its author. A literary work as a reflection of author to human life reality can represent problem and author personal motives, and general condition of society. Therefore, to understand a literary work with its idea inside is not enough to analyze the intrinsic elements only, such as plot, character, theme or setting, but also the extrinsic elements such as the background of social reality. this is in line with what Pradopo stated that literary works are born in the middle of a society as a result of authors imagination and their reflection toward social indications around them (2002: 61).

Novel, as a kind of literary works, is also a kind of indirect struggle toward the problem in a social reality. So does Pramoediya Ananta Toer’s Bumi Manusia novel. Through this novel, Pram, the short calling of him, depicts the situation of Pribumi (Indonesian people) after Nederland occupation as a discourse of post-colonial.

According to Loomba (1998: 16), post-colonialism is not only about something that comes after the death of colonialism it self. However, the most important one is the fighting toward it and its legacy. Therefore, the postcolonial studies are based on a big desire to demolish the colonialists’ ideology and to refuse the injustice and also to open the savagery of them.

In this novel, the desire to demolish and against the colonialist ideology is represented by the characters such Minke, Nyai Ontosoroh and Annelis. Minke, a boy that is educated in the way and culture of Netherland that is Eurocentric, fights with his own teacher (Netherland and Europe).

At first, Minke admitted that Europe is superior and the place where he was born, Java, is left behind or inferior, especially in the case of science and knowledge. This is can be seen from this citation below:

Sekali direktur sekolahku bilang di depan kelas: yang disampaikan oleh tuan-tuan guru di bidang pengetahuan umum sudah cukup luas: jauh lebih luas daripada yang dapat diketahui oleh para pelajar setingkat di banyak negeri Eropa sendiri.

Ilmu pengetahuan, yang kudapatkan dari sekolah dan kusaksikan sendiri pernyataannya dalam hidup, telah membikin pribadiku menjadi agak berbeda dari sebangsaku pada umumnya. Menyalahi wujudku sebagai orang Jawa atau tidak aku tidak tahu. Dan justru pengalaman hidup sebagai orang Jawa berlimu pengetahuan Eropa yang mendorong aku suka mencatat-catat. (Toer, 2005: 11-12)

The acknowledgement of Europe superiority by Minke above is the result of long colonialism by Netherland in his land. It shows that Minke, as the native and as the colonized people, is aware that the native people such as him are lucky to have knowledge such as what western people have. Therefore, Minke and Nyai Ontosoroh learn and read everything about their colonizer, and they also imitate them as much as possible, in dress, speech, behavior and lifestyle. Here is the proof of it in the novel.

Dan aku ragu. Haruskah aku ulurkan tangan seperti pada wanita Eropa, atau hadapi dia seperti wanita Pribumi-jadi aku harus tidak peduli? Tapi dialah justru yang mengulurkan tangan. Aku terheran-heran dan kikuk menerima jabatannya. Ini bukan adat Pribumi; Eropa! Kalau begini caranya tentu aku akan mengulurkan tangan lebih dahulu (Toer, 2005: 33).

What Minke does, and Nyai Ontosoroh too, to learn and imitate about everything connected with the colonialists’ culture is what postcolonial critics refer to this phenomenon as mimicry. It reflects both the desire of colonized individuals to be accepted by the colonizing culture and the shame experienced by colonized individuals concerning their own culture, which they were programmed to see as inferior. Postcolonial theorists often describe the colonial subject as having a double consciousness or double vision, in other words, a consciousness or a way of perceiving the world that is divided between two antagonistic cultures: that of the colonizer and that of the indigenous community. (Tyson, 2006: 421). In this novel, the colonizer is Netherland and the indigenous community is Pribumi (Indonesian people).

Those division above are not only about the interest of creating the descriptions about the other (indigenous community), but also to construct the inferiority of them and to grow up the superiority of Europe (the west or the occident).

The long colonialism of Netherland has caused many basic cultural changes of colonialized people, Pribumi. The culture domination that happens intensively in a quite long period resulted not only the lost of local characteristic, but also the growth of Europe culture that can be a pattern of truth and justification of tradition excellence. In this novel, this can be seen from the attitude of Minke toward his own family. Minke refuse to practice the local culture of respecting the old people that available in Java tradition, such as walking by kneeling in front of his own father.

Apa guna belajar ilmu dan pengetahuan Eropa, bergaul dengan orang-orang Eropa, kalau akhirnya toh harus merangkak, beringsut seperti keong dan menyembah seorang raja kecil yang barangkali buta huruf pula? (Toer, 2005: 179)

Although Minke and Nyai Ontosoroh admitted the superiority of the West (Netherland) and also the inferiority of Pribumi (the other) by learning everything about them, they are finally aware that the western people (Netherland) with their culture and superiority want to control and dominate the Pribumi with every possible way. They will defend their superiority by legalizing every thing that they can do as a superior.

“Kau yang selama ini sudah bergaul dengan mereka, bagaimana kau bisa bicara seperti itu? Kau, Nak, Nyo, sebagai pribumi, mestinya dan harusnya malu punya pikiran seperti itu. Jangan sekali-kali bicara malu tentang Eropa. Mereka hanya tahu mencapai maksud-maksudnya. Jangan kau lupa, Nak, Nyo” (Toer, 2005: 500)


The citation of Nyai Ontosoroh’ statement about European people (Colonialist) show us that in gaining what they want, the colonialist will do everything that possible to be done by them, although it will contradict with the other.

Their awareness, especially Minke, appears when he feels the injustice of the West in case of Annelis who have to move to Netherland because of the Netherland law that is applied in their case. Therefore, they decided to attack and struggle for the justice that must be gotten by them in their own land. Let us see the citation below:

Sore itu juga kukirimkan kawat pada Herbert de la Croix, berseru-seru pada hati nuraninya untuk perkara kami. Juga pada miriam. Apabila tidak ada yang mau mendengarkan, tahulah aku: omongkosong saja segala ilmu pengetahuan eropa yang diagung-agungkan itu. Omongkosong! Pada akhirnya semua akan berarti alat hanya untuk merampasi segala apa yang kami sayangi dan kami punyai: kehormatan, keringat, hak, bahkan juga anak dan istri (Toer, 2005: 497).

In this novel too, Pram applied what Said stated that “I am an Oriental writing back at the Orientalists, who for so long have thrived upon our silence. I am also writing to them, as it were, by dismantling the structure of their discipline, showing its metahistorical, institutional, anti-empirical, and ideological biases.” (Kennedy, 2000: 10).

Through the characters of this novel, Minke, Nyai Ontosoroh and Annelis, Pram wrote and described about the reality of Pribumi as colonialized people and the colonialist who colonialized them. What the colonialist done toward Minke and Nyai Ontosoroh rebellion is to make their domination of Pribumi keeps alive.

The form of Minke and Nyai Ontosoroh’s struggle or rebellion against the wrong domination of colonialists can be seen from their act and attitude toward them, whether it from their oral or written. Nyai Ontosoroh described and told about her knowledge and experience as the inferior woman in the hand of superior man, in this case his husband and the white people (Netherland). She learns everything about European culture just to defend herself from the violence of the colonialist that she predicted will come someday in the future of her life. And this come true when her husband, Herman Mallema, died.

What was Nyai Ontosoroh aware concerning the politic of colonialist to make them admitted by Pribumi, she influenced his son in law, Minke, to be aware, such as her, about everything that is taught by colonialist is just to make Pribumi amazed and finally aware that they are superior, great and sophisticated. And this is the ideology of colonialist to dominate the people in the land they invaded.

This is deal with another theory of postcolonial criticism that is orientalism which stated by Edward Said. Orientalism it self defined by Said as the corporate institution for dealing with the orient- dealing with it by making statement about it, settling it, ruling over it, or in brief, orientalism is a western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the orient. Another definition of it that is given by Said is that orientalism as academic institution is anyone who teaches, writes about or researches the orient- and this applies whether the person is an anthropologist, sociologist, historian, or philologist. (Said, 2003: 2-3)

In this novel, what Said means with term “the orient” is Pribumi, Indonesian people, and Netherland as the colonialist mentioned as the occident. Netherland as the occident tried to rule over Pribumi by making statement about them, about their weakness to make them feel inferior and finally aware that Netherland in particular, and European or western people are superior or powerful. This is just to dominate those invaded people. Therefore, in this novel, Pram tried to show about the way how Netherland, with their cruel and superior trick, tried to make Pribumi admit their power with every possible way, and one of it through education and knowledge. Let us have a look at the citation below:

“Aku tak pernah bersekolah, Nak, Nyo, tak pernah diajar mengagumi orang Eropa. Biar kau belajar sampai puluhan tahun, apapun yang kau pelajari, jiwanya sama: mengagumi mereka tanpa habis-habisnya, tanpa batas, sampai-sampai orang tak tahu lagi dirinya sendiri siapa dan dimana. Biar begitu memang masih lebih beruntung yang bersekolah. Setidak-tidaknya orang dapat mengenal bangsa lain yang punya cara-cara tersendiri dalam merampas milik bangsa lain.” (Toer, 2005: 500)

What is said by Nyai Ontosoroh to Minke above that is about everything that European people tought to him is just to make him amazed and also to make their authority or domination defended.  This is connected with what Ratna quoted from Foucault’s explanation in his well-known manuscript The Archaeology of Knowledge  that knowledge is not merely about science or knowledge, but it is colonialism itself; knowledge to defend the authority, and it is full of vision and mission of political ideology (Syuropati & Agustina, 2012: 129). It can be concluded that European people with their knowledge and science that are taught, wrote and stated or expressed to the East or the orient, or in this case Pribumi, has the ideology or purpose inside it that is to dominate and rule over them, Pribumi.

Finally, based on the explanation above, what was written and described by Pramoedya in his novel Bumi Manusia is just a kind of what Bill Ashcroft and his friends stated (in Barry, 1995: 229) that it is the phase of the empire writes back. Pram as the empire, at least in a must or obligation as the landlord, he writes back to the comer or strange people, Netherland as colonialist, that Pribumi is not as weak as they stated, and also the West (Europe) is not always true, fair and superior as they expressed. They are educated and advanced people in everything than Pribumi, but unfortunately, they use their education, knowledge and science, and advances just to make the other, in this case Pribumi, inferior, so they can dominate and colonialize them. And what Ashcroft means by empire writes back can be interpreted as the way how colonialized people attack their colonialists and deny what they stated about Pribumi as colonialized people. And in this novel too, Pram described his struggle to attack the colonialists with their colonialism with every possible way that he can do.

“Minke, kita akan lawan. Berani kau, Nak, Nyo?”

“Kita akan berlawan, Ma, bersama-sama.”

“Biarpun tanpa ahli hukum. Kita akan jadi Pribumi pertama yang melawan Pengadilan Putih, Nak, Nyo. Bukankah itu suatu kehormatan juga?” (Toer, 2005: 494)


“Tulisanmu ini begitu lunak, seperti tulisan gadis pingitan. Belumkah kau menjadi keras dengan pengalaman-pengalaman keras belakangan ini? Dan sekarang keras tak dapat ditawar? Minke, Nak, Nyo,” ia lanjutkan dengan bisikan, seakan ada orang lain lagi yang sedang mengintip kami. “sekarang kalu tulis dengan melayu, Nak. Koran Melayu tentu lebih banyak dibaca orang.” (Toer, 2005: 500)


“Kita kalah, Ma,” bisikku.

“Kita telah melawan, Nak, Nyo, sebaik-baiknya, sehormat-hormatnya.” (Toer, 2005: 534-535)


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