To my teachers: A Reflection on 55 Years of Learning the Historian’s Craft (1964/65 – 2020) Part IV

My other two inspirational figures, also both Javanese, were my Javanese-language teacher, Drs Mudjanattistomo (Pak Tistomo, died 1979), a member of the Yogyakarta royal family and head of the Lembaga Bahasa Nasional Cabang II (National Language Institute, Branch II)  of the local DIY (Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta) Government (in office, 1969-75; 1977-78); and Professor Sartono Kartodirjo (1921-2007), the very archetype of the Javanese pryayi (gentleman bureaucrat) scholar, who held the chair of modern Indonesian history at Gajah Mada University (UGM) for 20 years from 1968 to 1986.

Pak Tistomo I knew for most of my time at the Tejokusuman, and he became my private Javanese language tutor and native informant on the Yogyakarta court manuscripts. Once or twice a week, usually in the early evening, I would make the journey on my motorbike from the Tejokusuman through the long demolished Jogoboyo gateway (Plengkung)  in the western wall of the keraton along Jalan Kadipaten, Jalan Polowijan and Jalan Ngasem—where all the tamarind trees had been shredded by British gunners during Raffles’ 19/20 June assault on the Yogyakarta court—to arrive at Pak Tistomo’s residence in the Rotowijayan. I had one fellow pupil, a German lexicographer and long-time resident of Yogyakarta, Nikolaus Girardet,[17] who like myself found our still youthful-looking teacher (he would die young in his mid-40s) quite the Prussian schoolmaster. We were drilled like schoolboys in Javanese grammar and aksara Jawa (Javanese script). But all these trials stood us in good stead. This was especially so when we entered the Widyo Budoyo keraton library armed with our teachers’ 1971 catalogue[18]  to read manuscripts sitting cross-legged on the tiled floor with our Javanese texts opened on low tables in front us. From time to time, when I turned up to interview Yogyakartan littérateurs (budayawan) of an older generation, I would be tested before the interview by having a page of an aksara Jawa manuscript put under my nose and told to read it to my interviewee before he would agree to let me speak with him—presumably to ensure I was not a time-wasting dilletante, who had turned up out of curiosity to sit at the feet of a Yogyakarta guru! It was here that Pak Tistomo’s sedulous drilling in Javanese grammar and Javanese characters came into its own.

We were drilled like schoolboys in Javanese grammar and aksara Jawa (Javanese script). But all these trials stood us in good stead.

Professor Dr Sartono Kartodirjo (1921-2007; in post as Professor of Modern Indonesian History, 1968-86), Indonesia’s greatest post-War historian and an intellectual giant who knew how to use modern sociological concepts to inform the history of peasant movements. Photograph courtesy of UGM, 1986.

My Javanese-language teacher’s weekly drills also had an unexpected consequence when I first went up to the UGM Bulak Sumur campus early in my stay in the Tejokusuman to pay my respects to Professor Sartono. The first time I called on the eminent professor he paid me a remarkable compliment. It went like this: I had arrived early and was ushered into the front room of his university bungalow (rumah dinas) by his maid. Two students were already seated in this reception area, and I engaged them in conversation using my recently acquired—and still far from perfect—krama or High Javanese. As I warmed to the light-hearted banter of our exchange, I could hear Professor Sartono in the inner room of his house talking away to his family. For what seemed like a good twenty minutes, he did not emerge and I was beginning to think that his maid, who had ushered me into his house, had forgot to tell him that he had another visitor besides the two previously arrived students. Eventually, he came out, full of apologies, explaining that my krama had been so good that he thought he merely had Javanese student callers on his front porch. That was why he had kept me waiting! What was Sartono thinking? Let’s face it my krama was not that brilliant—I had by then only had a few drilling sessions with my Prussian schoolteacher Javanese tutor, Pak Tistomo, in the Rotowijayan. Was he really under the impression that he had another Javanese visitor? Or was he—in typical Sartono fashion—setting me completely at my ease by pretending that I was already binnen (an insider) in his beloved Javanese world? Whatever his inner thoughts, our relationship had begun auspiciously.[19]

From that moment, we had many wonderful meetings and it was through Sartono that I received my first paid commission as a young historian. This involved preparing the English synopses of the two Indonesian-language translations of the Dutch colonial government’s Staatkundig Overzicht van Nederlandsch Indië (Political Overview of the Netherlands Indies) for 1837 and 1839-48, which were published under the auspices of the National Archives in Jakarta in 1971 and 1973 respectively.[19] When I first arrived in Yogyakarta in December 1971, Sartono had not been many years in post as Professor of Modern Indonesian History (1968-86). But I knew him to be an historian of high integrity whose recently published PhD thesis, The peasants’ revolt of Banten in 1888, its conditions, course and sequel; A case study of social movements in Indonesia (Den Haag: Nijhoff, 1966) [KITLV, Verhandelingen 50] had earned him a cum laude accolade at his graduation at the University of Amsterdam in 1966. His subsequent publications on agrarian radicalism in Java, in which he advanced a sociological typology of such movements, were publications which I remember eagerly devouring as a graduate student when I returned to Oxford in June 1973.[20] One cannot imagine going today to Blackwells Bookshop in Oxford to order any new English-language publication by a leading Indonesian historian—the benchmark set by Sartono has proven almost too impossibly high.

One cannot imagine going today to Blackwells Bookshop in Oxford to order any new English-language publication by a leading Indonesian historian—the benchmark set by Sartono has proven almost too impossibly high.

So what has happened? It can be summed up in one word—integrity. Adherence to the highest standards of professional integrity is a sine qua non for any professional historian. This was Sartono’s ‘gold standard’, and it was strikingly evidenced in his principled stance on the last volume of the Indonesian National History commissioned in the early years of Suharto’s New Order (1966-98). When asked at the National History Conference at Udayana University in Bali in 1994 why this last volume had never appeared, “Sartono was very firm [in] saying that he refused to allow this final volume to be published because the military were trying to force their interpretations on him […] and he refused to produce a pro-New Order account of the 1965 coup.”[21]  Adrian Vickers, a leading Australian Indonesianist, witnessed Sartono making this statement as his co-panellists from the University of Indonesia sat on their hands, unwilling to venture any critical comments lest the New Order thought police report them to military intelligence. “It is thanks to [Sartono] that Gajah Mada University became the pre-eminent university for history writing”, Vickers continued, “while its main competitor, the University of Indonesia, remained under a cloud for being too pro-Suharto. […] [Indeed,] it is in writings such as Sartono’s that we find the continuation of democracy despite the decades of authoritarianism [under Suharto’s New Order].”[22]

I did not always see eye to eye with Sartono. I can remember a conversation with him on the historian’s craft in which he told me straight that, immediately after his inauguration as professor in 1968, he had stopped his students writing their theses on “babad, hikayat and historical poems (syair)”. “I stopped all that old-fashioned stuff because that’s not history but story telling” he told me with a smile. Instead, he urged his students to make use of the insights of sociology and anthropology, as well as cognate disciplines like demography and economics to make their history writing scientifically relevant. He also warned them not to be beguiled by the various histories of rulers and great men “because the common people (wong cilik)—farmers and labourers also have a crucial role on shaping history.”[23]  I could not fault him, but I felt uneasy because, even as I was listening to him speak, I had already begun to make a significant investment  in time and linguistic capital to try to access the rich corpus of babad literature on the mystic prince, Diponegoro (1785-1855). How could such a complex figure possibly be understood, I asked myself, without this vital Javanese dimension?[25]

~~~To Be Continued~~~

* Artikel To my teachers: A Reflection on 55 Years of Learning the Historian’s Craft (1964/65 – 2020) ini, bagian keempat dari 5 seri yang akan dipublikasikan di setiap hari Senin.  Artikel ini juga diterbitkan di dalam versi bahasa Indonesia.

[17] Author (with Susan Piper) of Descriptive Catalogue of Javanese Manuscripts and Printed Books in the Main Libraries of Surakarta and Yogyakarta (Wiesbaden: Frans Steiner Verlag, 1983).

[18] Drs. Mudjanattistomo, Katalogus Manuskrip Kraton Jogjakarta (Yogyakarta: Departemen P & K, 1971).

[19] See Peter Carey, ‘Sartono Kartodirjo Remembered’, in M. Nursam, Baskara T. Wardaya SJ and Asvi Warman Adam (eds.), Sejarah yang Memihak; Mengenang Sartno Kartodirjo (Yogyakarta: Penerbit Ombak, 2008), pp.195-97.

[20] Sartono Kartodirjo (ed.) Laporan politik tahun 1837 (Staatkundig overzicht van Nederlandsch Indië, 1837). (Djakarta: Arsip Nasional, 1971); Id. , Ikhtisar keadaan politik Hindia-Blanda tahun 1839–1848 (Jakarta: Arsip Nasional, 1973).

[21] Sartono Kartodirjo, “Agrarian radicalism in Java”, in Claire Holt (ed.), Culture and politics in Indonesia, pp. 71–125 (Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press, 1972); Id., Protest Movements in Rural Java: A Study of Agrarian Unrest in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1973).

[22] Adrian Vickers, “Sartono Kartodirjo, 1921-2007”, Inside Indonesia, 15 December 2007.

[23] Vickers, “Sartono”.

[24] See Atiqoh Hasan, “Profil: Sartono Kartodirjo”, tttps://, diunduh 20 Februari 2017.

[25] Carey, Sisi Lain Diponegoro, pp.x-xi.

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Peter Carey
Peter Carey, yang lahir di Myanmar 30 April 1948, adalah Fellow Emeritus Trinity College, Oxford, dan Adjunct Profesor FIB-UI (Fakultas Ilmu Pengetahuan Budaya, Universitas Indonesia). Karya yang lahir dari sentuhan tangannya antara lain : Burma: The Challenge of Change in a Divided Society (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997); The Power of Prophecy; Prince Dipanagara and the End of an Old Order in Java, 1785-1855. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2007 (terjemahan dalam Bahasa Indonesia, Kuasa Ramalan; Pangeran Diponegoro dan Akhir Tatanan Lama di Jawa, 1785-1855. Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, 2012); The British in Java, 1811-1816. A Javanese Account. Oxford: OUP Press, 1992. Terjemahan Inggris di Jawa. Jakarta: PBK, 2017). Kemudian beberapa ulasan mengenai dirinya antara lain : buku Urip iku Urub; 40 Tahun Sarjana Lelono di Negara Leluhur. Tulisan yang dipersembahkan kepada Peter Carey untuk HUT ke-70. FX Domini BB Hera (peny.). Jakarta: PBK, Oktober 2018.