For the next four months, research student Henry Ward will be presenting a series of blog posts delving into Westerly‘s archive to seek out material related to our focus on the Indian Ocean region. Henry’s posts will offer insight into the history of Westerly‘s publication and open up some beautiful pieces of work. The first of his posts reflects upon the Pramoedya Ananta Toer story, ‘Caged’. Enjoy!
From the Archive: Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s ‘Caged’, Westerly 11.2 (Oct. 1966): 69-75
What does it mean to read an Indonesian story written in the 1960s, today? When an Australian literary magazine engages with the literatures of our Indian Ocean neighbours, what are the implications? More specifically, what is the significance of Westerly’s engagement following the historic Afro-Asian Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, a year before the publication of Westerly’s first issue? These, and many others, are the kinds of questions I find myself asking as I embark on a project focusing on the long history of Westerly’s Indian Ocean focus. They are never merely literary questions, but political questions, social questions, and historical questions.
Westerly 11.2, the special issue on Indonesia from which Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s story ‘Caged’ has been drawn, provides an interesting example of these kinds of questions. In the introduction, guest editor M.A. Jaspan notes that at the time of publication (October 1966), he is aware of Toer’s detention and ‘uncertain fate’ (5) in the wake of the incident of September 30th, 1965 and the mass killings that followed it. That period, which continues to cast a shadow over Indonesian politics and history, began with a failed coup d’etat by a group within the Indonesian military. While the coup attempt was immediately blamed on officers loyal to the Indonesian Communist Party, Benedict Anderson’s ‘Cornell Paper’ later argued that neither the Indonesian Communist Party nor Sukarno were responsible for the coup as later claimed by Suharto, though they became the scapegoats and victims. In the following years at least 500,000 Indonesians were murdered by the state and associated paramilitaries for their membership or alleged links to the Communist Party.
‘Caged’, a story about a young Indonesian’s imprisonment in an infamous Dutch colonial prison (based on Toer’s own imprisonment by the Dutch from 1947-49), thus finds grim echo in Toer’s subsequent fourteen-year imprisonment under the Suharto regime as the issue went to print. Indeed, with fifty years of research revealing the involvement of Western governments, including Australia, in the repression and killings of 1965-66, those echoes only grow more insistent. Reading a story like this sixty years after Bandung the question poses itself: to what extent do the dynamics explored at that conference persist today? As the narrator of ‘Caged’ asks, ‘Why do things take the course they do, and not otherwise?’ (73)
In a world shaped decisively by globalisation and inequality, Westerly’s contemporary engagement with the literatures of our Asian and African neighbours is all the more urgent. By bringing some of Westerly’s archival material on the Indian Ocean region to the attention of its readers, it is my hope that these questions may be asked again, and continue to be explored in the future.
Westerly 11.2 is available for free download from our digital archive, here.
Henry Ward is a writer and researcher from Perth. In 2016, he will be undertaking a study of Westerly’s archive, focusing on its engagement with the literatures of the Indian Ocean region.