Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mahabharata's heroes return

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 07/01/2009 12:37 PM | Features
Blast to the past: Comic lovers enjoy nostalgic moments of their childhood readings through republished old comics.Blast to the past: Comic lovers enjoy nostalgic moments of their childhood readings through republished old comics.
Forget Batman, Spiderman or Superman. There is another breed of action heroes out there in the brightly hued land of comic books. Their names have a more local take, like Gatotkaca, Arjuna, Abimanyu and the twins Nakula and Sadewa.
Don't expect Captain America-versus-Superman high jinks or super-criminals threatening the world. This comic offers the real actions of heroes from the epic Mahabharata or Ramayana, which are sometimes portrayed symbolically by puppet masters.
Within the last few years, Indonesian comics have awakened from a long sleep since the invasion of Western comics in the late 1970s and 1980s. Comic-lover communities have been sprouting up here and there, sharing interest in old Indonesian comics, while also promoting the re-publishing of both old and new ones.
Earlier this month, the publishing of the comic Riwayat Pandawa (The Tale of Pandawa) has brought together the monumental works of late comic writer Teguh Santosa on Mahabharata, Bharatayudha and Pandawa Seda in one bundle.
Publisher Pluz+, a special publisher set up by comic lovers, spent two years collecting pieces from the series from collectors and bookstores around the country before reprinting them using a special technique.
These comic strips have never been published before. They were first published as a supplement in children's magazine, Ananda, in the 1980s.
"The old publishers never kept hard copies. So we had to restore old copies of published material, and then reprint them," says comic lover Andy Wijaya, who was involved in the process.
It all started when several comic buffs got together through a mailing list and Website,, back on June 20, 2004.
The online platform was able to draw together comic lovers nationwide, which later on went to mediate comic copyright holders and publishers to re-publish quality comics. As of today, the number of active members in community has reached more than 2,000 people.
"As comic lovers, we know which ones are still wanted in the market and we also help the copyright holders with legal matters so they don't feel reluctant to re-publish their comics," says Andy, who owns the comic-book shop Anjaya Books.
To date, the group has helped negotiate the publishing of no less than 15 old Indonesian comics, including selected titles of superheroes series such as Gundala Putra Petir, Si Buta dari Gua Hantu, Godam and Dina.
However, sales are not that rosy.
"We sell at most 300 copies of each title, from a target of 1,000 copies," says Andy.
Driven by the determination to rejuvenate Indonesian comics, but at the same time facing the reality of the business world, Andy joined hands with fellow comic lovers Gienardy S., Asrin Nirwan and Erwin Prima Arya, in founding Pluz+, dedicated to publishing selected Indonesian comics.
Having their own company, they re-publish only limited edition of comics upon order from other comic lovers. This helps shorten the distribution chain, as they can sell directly to readers or specialty bookshops.
The digital printing technology has also helped them realize their business ideals. In the past, more than 3,000 copies of any one title had to be printed to make it financially feasible, but now a 500-copy print is sufficient.
"The printing cost could have been much higher, but with limited editions, we spend less money and we don't have to spend money on storage," says Andy.
"We don't have to chase after sales targets, and can comfortably rely on our own links, because sales from these cover the production costs."
Andy, a fan of Kus Bramiyana's Laba-Laba Merah (Red Spider), believes that old reprinted comics still have their own market, and with better printing techniques, people will still long to browse through comics in remembrance of their long-lost childhood memories.
"We've been targeting a segmented market, where people actually buy nostalgia, and for whom money doesn't matter," says the man who gave up a career in Singapore for one in rejuvenating the local comic scene.
Comic researcher Seno Gumira Adjidarma says comics based on the Indian epics have a unique position in Indonesian history, born as they were from political repression.
Images of yesteryears: Comic community in Indonesia reprints several widely known old comics   of Indian epics.Images of yesteryears: Comic community in Indonesia reprints several widely known old comics of Indian epics.
The first such comics, popularly known as "komik wayang" (shadow-puppet comics), were published in 1954-1955, when writers struggled to find a safer form of comics, as they were deemed a representation of imperialism.
During this time, the publisher Keng Po printed Johnlo's works: Lahirnya Gatot Kaca (The Birth of Gatot Kaca) and Raden Palasara. Meanwhile, Bandung-based publisher Melody issued R.A. Kosasih's series of Mahabharata. For his efforts to preserve traditional values through comics, Kosasih was later named the father of Indonesian comics.
"As a schoolboy in the 1960s, I remember the time comics were seized from students and burned, as they were seen as a representation of imperialism; so comic writers came out with something safer to produce. This is why we have comics based on wayang," Seno says.
Pluz+ co-founder Gienardy S. says the reprinting of the Indian epics was just the beginning of the effort to rejuvenate the Indonesian comic scene. The publisher will also support the production of new comics and comic merchandise.
"A new generation of Indonesian comic writers has been hired by foreign comic publishers. We just need to support them to be better in developing characters and solid plots," says Gienardy.
The decision by comic lovers to reprint the Mahabharata, Bharatayudha and Pandawa Seda, says Seno, is not just to scratch around for documentation, but a resistance to the business hegemony of the big comic industry, which offers cheap and low-quality comics in bulk.
"It doesn't matter if our kids don't understand Naruto *a popular Japanese anime*. But if they don't understand the Mahabharata, it's like losing their identity," Seno said last month during the launch of Riwayat Pandawa.
Teguh Santosa is not the first writer to draw comics absed on this Indian epic, and he has drawn parallels with his noted predecessor, R.A. Kosasih.
Although both writers rely on original Indian repertoire, which has been locally developed in certain versions, in certain parts Kosasih only wrote them in his narration, while Santosa draws them in his pictures.
"This is really an enrichment. We have different versions of visualization," says Seno.
Whereas Kosasih's works are filled with Indian-styles temples, Teguh's works are filled with Javanese character, particularly in architecture.The fact that these stories were treated only as an insertion in a children's magazine clearly shows its inferior position, despite the fact that Teguh Santosa was an important figure in the history of Indonesian comics.
If Wid N.S. was known as the creator of superheroes Godam and Aquanus, Teguh was known as the creator of many martial arts figures. He was the first Indonesian comic writer hired by the world comic publisher Marvel Comics in New York as an inkman for the serials Conan, Ali Baba and Piranha.
His style of presentation is also unique compared to the latest comic styles.
"If the strength of Japanese manga is in their movement, Teguh's works are like paintings. His surrealism gives his scenes the effect of a painting. We love staring at them. Although the costumes are weird, the imagination is strong," says Seno.

KBR 68H centers on radio journalism

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 06/30/2009 8:45 AM | Features
Pilars of democracy: A broadcaster from Radio News Agency 68H (right) speaks to the Indonesian Institute of Science’s political observer Syamsudin Haris (left) and the Regional Representatives Council’s researcher head Haryono during a radio talk on Aug. 6, 2007. Courtesy of Radio News Agency KBR 68HPilars of democracy: A broadcaster from Radio News Agency 68H (right) speaks to the Indonesian Institute of Science’s political observer Syamsudin Haris (left) and the Regional Representatives Council’s researcher head Haryono during a radio talk on Aug. 6, 2007. Courtesy of Radio News Agency KBR 68H
Ask any radio journalist in Indonesia when they first produced their own news and they will all have the same answer: only after the post-1998 opening up of the press.

“Radio journalism was left behind all other kinds of journalism because radio suffered the most from the repression during the New Order era,” says managing director of news agency KBR 68H Santoso, a former print journalist.
“During the New Order era radios were banned from producing their own news and were obliged to relay the government version of news.
As a consequence they leaned toward entertainment only with music as their mainstay. Even after the press had relative freedom, radio stations had the least capability to produce news.”
This is why after the post-1998 opening up of the press, Santoso and his fellow journalists and activists at the Institute for the Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI) decided to created a radio news agency instead of print news agency even though none of them had any experience in radio journalism.
“I myself had never been a broadcaster until then,” he says, laughing.
Founded as a news agency on April 29, 1999, KBR 68H was created to realize radio’s potential as a force of democracy. It was the first agency outside of state radio to produce a news bulletin, and the first to offer an editorial on air.
“As a public medium, radio is the least expensive investment,” says Heru Hendratmoko, the KBR 68H production director. “We just needed to set up the broadcasting tools in the beginning and people just needed to buy a radio.”
From its humble beginnings, the radio news agency has expanded rapidly in the past 10 years, becoming a network that reaches more than 650 radio stations across the country and is available in 10 countries in Asia and Australia.
From a team of just seven reporters, the station now has more than 120 employees, with around 50 journalists based in Jakarta alone. It also has 100 correspondents across the country and 30 contributors in Asia.
The content has grown also. In its early days, the news agency could produce only 15-minute news
programs each day, each of which consisted of seven to 10 audio files sent to seven radio stations across the country.
However, when the agency started to produce a 30-minute news program in August 1999, they struggled to find an effective way to distribute the program. Internet connections were still too slow and some radio partners needed more than six hours to download the evening program. Some could only broadcast the news the next day.
In Jakarta, the news agency even used ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers as couriers to send the longer program to its radio partners.
“The Internet was slower even than bikes, unless they have an accident,” said Santoso, who became the agency’s director in 2000.
But if the new technologies of the time weren’t helping, they looked elsewhere: KBR 68H found the answer to the problem in what many radio stations had abandoned during the New Order era: Palapa satellite.
For decades the technology, which the government had launched in the 1970s, had been ignored because radio stations were obliged to broadcast only government programs 18 hours a day.
“The satellite technology suited the country’s archipelagic character but radio stations were under pressure and they never even thought about how to reach a larger audience,” says Heru Hendratmoko. “The technology is there but they never see the opportunity.”
It is ironic, he says, because radio stations in the Philippines have been subscribers to the Palapa channels since the 1970s.
In 2000, KBR 68H started to use the service of Palapa C2 Satellite to distribute its radio programs. With just a parabolic antenna and a digital receiver, the radio station partners could relay the agency’s programs.
Today, the agency has developed a range of news and non-news programs with a total of eight hours of programming a day.
Using the Internet and satellite, the radio news agency can gather and disseminate news, information and educational programming across the country, reaching an estimated 18 million listeners.
Empowering locals: Striving to keep local radio on air, 68H and the Netherlands Embassy build a micro hydro power plant for Radio Pikonane in Anyelma village in Yahukimo, Papua, while also supplying electricity to elementary school, church, goverment building and locals. Courtesy of Radio News Agency KBR 68HEmpowering locals: Striving to keep local radio on air, 68H and the Netherlands Embassy build a micro hydro power plant for Radio Pikonane in Anyelma village in Yahukimo, Papua, while also supplying electricity to elementary school, church, goverment building and locals. Courtesy of Radio News Agency KBR 68H
Apart from journalism, the agency also helps to find donors and has set up 40 radio stations in the remote areas, such as a micro-hydro radio in Yahukimo in Papua and Radio Gogali in Central Sumba. The agency also produces and translates books on radio journalism and provides training for local journalists.
“We have a relatively independent press now but at the same time we also face huge inequality in terms of knowledge and facilities,” says Santoso, adding that activities outside journalism were included in the agency’s mission to open access to information to the whole country.
The agency’s work was critical in helping with the post-tsunami relief effort, for which it was presented with a Tsunami Award by the Aceh Art Council. It rebuilt radio stations in Banda Aceh, provided updates about relief operations, ran a missing persons bulletin and conducted a fundraising campaign.
The choice of technology has been proven to be a good decision, as the satellite could reach more than 20 Asia-Pacific countries. To expand their network to neighboring countries, KBR 68H on July 13, 2007, launched a new website for its weekly radio program called Asia Calling. The new Website provides the latest news about countries in the region.
Channeling the voice: Local people gather at Anyelma village during the launching of Radio Pikonane in September 2007. Courtesy of Radio News Agency KBR 68HChanneling the voice: Local people gather at Anyelma village during the launching of Radio Pikonane in September 2007. Courtesy of Radio News Agency KBR 68H
This weekly radio program is relayed by more than 140 radio stations in Indonesia and 19 foreign radio stations, including those in Cambodia, East Timor, Thailand, Nepal and Australia. In some radio stations, the program is broadcast in two languages, English and the local language. The agency has also helped start similar networks in East Timor and Nepal.
The KBR 68H also invites many foreign journalists to provide employees with journalism skills and also sends its journalists to participate in training abroad, such as to the Radio Nederland’s Training Centre, Fojo Program in Swedia, the BBC Radio Four or the Center for Investigative Journalism in the Philippines.
The agency’s services have been used by some international radio stations such as Radio Nederland, Deutsche Welle, SBS Australia and the Voice of America.
“The international expansion happened not because of the footprint of the satellite but because of the quality of our news met international requirements,” says Heru Hendratmoko.
The decade of hard work has earned the news agency a range of national and international awards and honors. Journalists and non-journalists at the agency alike can now be proud that they have received no fewer than 21 awards and prizes, including the latest King Baudouin International Development Prize.
The radio news agency received the biannual award on May 19 for its contribution to sustainable development based on the strengthening of democracy, tolerance and citizen participation.
“KBR 68H does this by producing and disseminating qualitative information through a network of local radio stations and by promoting professional ethics in the media world,” said the board of governors of Belgium’s King Baudouin Foundation in their statement.
The prize has been awarded since 1978 with a diverse list of prize winners including Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire and the Bangladesh Grameen Bank. KBR 68H is the first institution in Southeast Asia and the first media outlet in the world to receive this award, worth 150,000 euro.
“KBR 68H offers radio journalism that turns upside down all the government-owned models of journalism,” says Tasrif Siara, managing director of Palu’s Nebula FM Radio, which has partnered with KBR 68H since the agency was established. “Its reports are very investigative and its features are full of the human touch.”
Within 10 years of its establishment, KBR 68H has changed the character of radio from a very local format to a national and even regional format. It has also systematically introduced a form of radio journalism that was totally banned during the New Order era. Even some local government radios now broadcast its news programs.
“We started from something so simple, so simple that we didn’t even think about the name,” says Santoso. “A journalist later suggested we used the street address of our office and so here we are, using Kantor Berita Radio [radio news agency] 68H because our office is at Jalan Utan Kayu 68H Jakarta.”

Dedicated to puppets

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Fri, 06/26/2009 1:26 PM | Lifestyle
Given that he owes his life to a puppeteer, businessman Rohmad Hadiwijoyo felt it was all he could do to help support the survival of the traditional art of puppetry.
The dalang, or puppeteer, in question is Ki Joko Edan, from whom Rohmad learned the art of puppetry. He followed the dalang wherever he went for six years from the time he finished elementary school until he finished high school. It was the dalang who gave him the last name Hadiwijoyo.
Only after he enrolled at a college in Jakarta in 1985 did Rohmad part from his mentor, but still he stayed in contact from time to time.
Thanks to the value of puppet stories, which Rohmad claim are the key to his success, he has been able to build a traditional Javanese house joglo on a block of land in the sleepy area of Cirendeu in South Jakarta dedicated to those who want to become masters in the art of puppetry.
The 3,400 square meters of land in the valley of the Pesangrahan river, which he bought from another puppetry-loving businessman, cost him Rp 2 billion; he spent another Rp 600 million building the 200-meter-square house and a two-story cottage used mainly as accommodation for people who perform at the joglo.
"When it's about my hobby, everything else comes second," says Rohmad, also a professional puppeteer. "Besides, I was raised by a dalang and I want to do something for all the dalang."
He opened the complex, named Paguyuban Putro Wijoyo Parwo, in March 2006. It is equipped with a modern sound system, two sets of puppetry gamelan worth Rp 400 million and two boxes of classical Javanese puppets. The parking lot and the front yard of the joglo can hold more than 50 cars.
Now, the complex is home to 30 traditional Javanese gamelan players (wiyogo), three Javanese singers (sinden) and two puppeteers (dalang). Most of these people are simple workers: builders, carpenters, small traders. One of the puppeteers is a handyman.
Every Thursday night the 30 members of the paguyuban - a term that loosely translates as "association" or "community" - hold a regular performance, with a rehearsal every Monday night led by senior members for its can-didate puppeteers and gamelan players.
Five young puppeteers and five gamelan players are currently taking lessons at the paguyuban. Some of these young puppeteers have taken part in broader events such as at the national festival of child puppeteers held at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII) in July last year.
The paguyuban also provides a rehearsal space for 15 puppetry groups of various sizes in South Jakarta, which take turns to perform at the center each month.
Among the 15 puppetry groups in South Jakarta are troupes such as Inarcahya in Ciledug, Nirmala Sari in Cinere and Sanggar Sidodadi in Sawangan.
The monthly performances are part of a puppeteer exchange among the members of the South Jakarta branch of the Indonesian Puppeteers Association (Pepadi).
"Perhaps the puppeteer communities in South Jakarta are the most active puppeteer communities," said Ki Gede Kwatno, a puppeteer at the paguyuban and secretary of the South Jakarta branch of Pepadi.
"We hold a regular exchange of puppeteers and gamelan players to give both small and big groups more opportunities to perform. We offer more options for some of the communities which have a limited gamelan set and even *a limited* stock of puppets."
Kwatno, a handyman, had been part of another group since 1998 but he joined Paguyuban Putro Wijoyo Parwo in 2007 because he feels comfortable with the center's distance from residential areas.
"I used to be part of a group that practiced near a mosque but people used to complain a lot," he said.
As well as providing rehearsal space for puppeteers, the paguyuban is also involved in an array of educational enterprises aimed at fostering and promoting the art of puppetry, such as training workshops for puppeteers, exhibitions of the various kinds of wayang found in Indonesia and wayang performances.
In the past two years, the paguyuban has held five exhibitions, with its most recent a workshop and exhibition of Betawi shadow puppets at TMII in April.
The community also takes part in an annual puppetry festival held in July by the Indonesia Puppeteers Association. Last year, it hosted the festival.
Although some of the young puppeteers who study at the pagu-yuban are students from schools in Jakarta, Reinel Litana, the Pepadi treasurer in Jakarta, said the pagu-yuban would approach international schools in Jakarta to introduce puppetry either as an extracurricular course or even part of the curriculum.
"Six months is all a student needs to be able to become a puppeteer," said Litana, who has been working with Rohmad for six years.
And with the center currently in use only a few days a week, Litana encourages other groups to use the place for rehearsals.
"They just need to tell us to put their name on the list and we will arrange the schedule," he said.

Rohmad Hadiwijoyo: Life is like a puppet play

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Fri, 06/26/2009 1:06 PM | People

Rohmad Hadiwijoyo's success as a businessman is thanks in part to a devotion to puppetry that has helped him control his life - like a master.

Rohmad's father passed away when he was just six years old, one of six children. He still remembers how his father, a civil servant at health agency, told him that to succeed, he needed expertise or an advantage over other people.

"As a six-year-old boy, I didn't understand what it all was about. What advantage did I have when I didn't even have any money?" Rohmad recalls.

"The only thing I knew I had was my interest in wayang *shadow puppetry*. I loved wayang. Even before I finished elementary school, I knew the Mahabharata stories like the back of my hand."

So Rohmad was thrilled when his grandfather hired professional puppeteer Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo to perform in his house in Salatiga. Little Rohmad told the puppeteer that he wanted to follow him, that he wanted to become a puppeteer too.

He received no response. "Perhaps he thought I was just a schoolboy who was not serious in my request."

Rohmad did not give up. He kept going to the puppeteer's house in Semarang and kept getting ignored. "He didn't even talk to me. I was just left in his terrace."

He even followed the puppeteer to the mosque during prayers, but there too he was ignored.

When Rohmad learned of Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo's fondness for horses, he started bringing horse feed to the puppeteer's house, where he fed the horses and even washed the horses. Finally, the puppeteer noticed him.

"He said I was allowed to learn how to become a puppeteer but I had to wait until I finished elementary school."

Even then, he did not learn puppetry immediately, only being allowed to follow Hadiwijoyo's group wherever they went. His place was among the gamelan players, which he assumed was so he would understand when an instrument should be hit.

Only after entering his first year of high school was he awoken every morning at 2 o'clock to learn puppetry. By this time, he was also allowed to sit behind Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo during performances.

Sometimes he was also allowed to perform. Although he was still a beginner and disgruntled audience members occasionally called for him to be replaced with another puppeteer, he gained a lot from those years.

But sometimes the most is gained by losing: He failed at school when all his friends moved onto a higher grade, although Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo found him a place in another school.

"The headmaster was his friend who also a puppeteer," Rohmad says, laughing. "My choice could have cost me my education and it shows how important wayang is for me."

Because of his devotion to puppetry, he failed to make it into any universities in Semarang, and left for Jakarta in 1985 to attend the state electro-medical academy.

When he left for Jakarta, Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo gave him a parting gift: His last name.

"My given name was only Rohmad. Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo said that he had nothing to give me except the name Hadiwijoyo and a kris. So now he is known as Ki Joko Edan instead of Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo and I am Rohmad Hadiwijoyo."

In Javanese, hadi means "more" and wijoyo means "successful" or "prosperous". "He gave me the name hoping that my father's dream would come true. The more I think *about the name* the more I realize that it makes sense," says the man who is now also the chairman of Lontar Foundation.

As a student in Jakarta, Rohmad's puppetry skills soon became known.

"Lecturers and students and even people outside the academy got to know me as a puppeteer and this is when I understood my father's words that I needed to have something special to be recognized. My father was right and I realized I did have something special - as a puppeteer."

His first performance in Jakarta was a play titled Wahyu Purbojati, performed with a gamelan set borrowed from the Health Ministry and puppets from the Taman Ismail Marzuki. Since then, he was hired to perform at several venues across Jakarta.

While studying in Jakarta, he made a living distributing meat around the capital. After graduation, he worked until a scholarship in 1992 allowed him to study project management at George Washington University.

In Washington D.C., again wayang came his way. The Indonesian Embassy recognized his talent and asked him to perform once a week, and he was also hired by Indonesian consulates around the country. He also took wayang to universities, as the president of the Indonesian student association, quickly building name among colleagues and professors as "Rohmad the puppeteer".

Back in Indonesia, he succeeded in business. Today, Rohmad is the president director of a handful of oil and gas companies including the owner of PT Resources Jaya Teknik Management Indonesia (RMI), where he used to work as an account executive, PT Adinata Pandita, PT Daya Alam Teknik Inti and PT RMI Krakatau Karbonindo. He also runs PT Bali Hai Cruises Nusantara, which provides cruises around Bali.

Currently the chairman of the Indonesian Puppeteers Association (Pepadi), Rohmad believes that wayang is a reflection of human life. It has many characters - good and evil - from whom we can learn. The philosophy of wayang has helped him a lot in business management and diplomacy.

"Because I have expertise as a dalang, I can easily make business deals. For me, wayang diplomacy starts when business diplomacy fails," he says, laughing.

"Wayang provides guidance for my life. It tells me to live my life with ease. I don't have to work so hard if I know who I am, if I know myself. Many legislative candidates fail because they can't measure themselves; many businesses fail because they have no clear vision. Wayang philosophy is like a SWOT analysis: You have to know your strengths before starting something."

Out of gratitude to wayang, Rohmad built a traditional Javanese house in Cirendeu, South Jakarta, as a rehearsal space for puppeteers around Jakarta and to support the art of puppetry through various training workshops and education.

"I was raised by a puppeteer," he says, "and I wanted to do something for puppeteers."