‘Peacock’ flies away to see his Creator

Darul Aqsha


WS RENDRA, a renowned Indonesian poet, actor, playwright and stage director passed away on Thursday.

Nicknamed “The Peacock” for his flamboyant but stinging style when reading his poems on stage, Rendra, died of cardiac arrest. He was 74.

His death shocked the Indonesian public, who two days before mourned the death of Mbah Surip, a popular Indonesian bohemian singer.

rendra pentasRendra was buried in his Bengkel Teater compound in Depok, some 25km west of Jakarta. His tomb was just seven metres away from Surip’s tomb.

In September, Rendra came to Brunei to receive the 2008 Mastera Literary Award, together with Professor Madya Dr Hj Hashim Hj Abdul Hamid of Brunei Darussalam and Hjh Siti Hawa Hj Salleh of Malaysia. The Mastera or Majlis Sastera Asia Tenggara (Southeast Asia Literary Council) was established in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on August 25, 1995, by Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia to strengthen cooperation in developing regional literature.

W.S. Rendra, sastrawan, doktor Honoris Causa, UGMThe previous year, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta.

rendra-dan-istri2nyaWillibrordus Surendra Broto Rendra was born in Kg Jayengan, Surakarta, Central Java on November 7, 1935 in a Catholic household. His father, R Cyprianus Sugeng Brotoatmodjo, taught the Indonesian and Javanese languages at a Catholic school in the city, while his mother, Raden Ayu Catharina Ismadillah, was a Serimpi dancer at the Surakarta Court. He once attended the Faculty of Letters at the UGM. But he didn’t finish it, instead he received a scholarship for further education at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York.

His return to Indonesia and set-up of the Bengkel Teater in 1967 in Yogyakarta ushered in a new era in the development of stage theatre and poetry reading in Indonesia.

RENDRA latihanRendra gave a new nuance to the Indonesian theatre by adapting Greek dramas, like Sophocles’ Antigone, Oedipoes Sang Raja, Lysistrata, and British plays like William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth, as well as original works such as Bip Bop Rambaterata, Selamatkan Anak Cucu Sulaiman, Mastodon dan Burung Kondor, Sekda, Perjuangan Suku Naga, and Panembahan Reso.

When he was 19, his drama, Orang-orang Di Tikungan Jalan, won the Yogyakarta’s best drama and his book, Bermain Drama, won the Ministry of Education’s best book in 1976.

rendra2Although Rendra was credited as “the Father of the Indonesian Theatre”, many of his dramas drew fierce criticisms that at one point the government had banned them from being staged.

RENDRa1In 1979, when he was reading anti-establishment poems at the Taman Ismail Marzuki arts compound’s stage in Jakarta, military intelligence agents threw ammonia bombs at him. He was arrested and imprisoned at the notorious Guntur military prison for nine months, which inspired him to write the poem, Paman Doblang.

As a movie actor, Rendra played several roles such as in Motinggo Busye’s Cintaku Jauh Di Pulau (1972), Chairul Umam’s Al-Kautsar (1977), Sjumanjaya’s Yang Muda Yang Bercinta (1977), Eros Djarot’s Kantata Takwa (1992) and Lari Dari Blora (2007).

Rendra was prolific as a poet and writer. His early poems were mostly about love.

rendra3Literary critic Subagio Sastrowardoyo showed that Rendra’s poems were strongly influenced by Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca which had a unique, energetic, brilliant, and frequently sweet narrative style.

Unlike poems from authors such as Chairil Anwar and Rivai Apin, Rendra’s poems were “closer to landscape than ocean”, Goenawan Mohamad, a poet and journalist, wrote in Tempo.

rendra_lisongIn the mid-1970s, Rendra’s poems and drama became critical of the repressive government of Soeharto. His works gave voice to the people’s misery and aspiration.

In August 1970, Rendra embraced Islam. Long before he converted though he was already curious about Islam. Not long after his return from the United States, Rendra with his Bengkel Teater staged Kasidah Barzanji, a musical which presented Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) biography and eulogy.

The work is one of his masterpieces which even surprised the Indonesian public at that time, especially Muslims, because Rendra at the time was yet to embrace Islam.

rendra barzanjiKasidah Barzanji was restaged 23 years later when he had already embraced Islam. “I easily cry when reading the Prophet’s biography. It’s very beautiful to imagine the struggle of one who was unselfish,” he said.

Together with Muslim preacher, KH Zainuddin MZ, dangdut musician Rhoma Irama and tycoon-cum-artist Setiawan Djody, Rendra set up Yayasan Hira, an Islamic foundation. He then helped form the Kantata Takwa music group.

Six days before he died, Rendra wrote a poem from his hospital bed. In the untitled poem, he expressed his wishes and love for Allah (SWT): “I want to return to nature’s way. I want to improve my dedication to Allah … God, I love you.”

Rendra was survived by his wife and 11 children. His first wife was Sunarti Suwandi, but they divorced in 1979. In 1970, while still married to Sunarti, he married Sitoresmi Prabuningrat. They divorced in 1981. His third wife was Ken Zuraida.

Rendra had denied he had converted to Islam for the sake of polygamy.

He said his interest in Islam grew when he was preparing for the musical Kasidah Barzanji, several months before his marriage to Sitoresmi on August 12, 1970.

It was also around this time he became a Muslim. He chose the name: Wahyu Sulaiman Rendra.

Rendra said he decided to convert because “Islam can respond to my basic question which was during this time always haunting: total individual freedom. I can directly worship Allah (SWT) without need of other people’s assistance so that I feel my individual right is respected.”

He was also interested in Al-Quran. “Is there any holy book, which explains its concept of deity in a short sentence like Al-Quran?”

Now, the “Peacock” whose spirit had desperately sought a true faith for years, had flown away to meet his love his Creator.

In the last four years, Delta FM, a Jakarta-based radio with 20 radio channels across the country, has been airing these words from Rendra: “Ya Allah, Pemilik seruan yang sempurna ini.” (O, Lord, The Owner of this complete call).

The post adzan or call for prayer should be a reminder that Indonesia has not only lost a poet and a playwright, but one of its Muslim brothers.
Seniman WS Rendra (kiri) memberi sambutan saat pemberian penghargaan kepada Putu Wijaya (kanan) dalam malam Anugerah Federasi Teater Indonesia (FTI) Award 2007 di Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta, Rabu (9/1).

The Brunei Times
Tuesday, August 11, 2009


One thought on “‘Peacock’ flies away to see his Creator

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s