Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Buru Quartet

Last night I finished reading the fourth and final volume of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's amazing Buru Quartet. It has been a multi-year process. I have long been aware of this masterful telling of the waning years of Dutch colonial control in its East Indies. Its importance is noted in that Pramoedya was often viewed as Indonesia's best candidate for a Nobel Prize in Literature. When I was asked to teach an advanced Indonesian literature course (so students who wanted to study Indonesian at BYU could qualify for a FLAS fellowship), which certainly was a far stretch for me, I immediately considered the Buru Quartet. That fall semester we as a class plowed through the first two books in Indonesian. I must confess that the highfalutin, very traditional language used by Pramoedya was tough to understand (especially given my limited training in Indonesian and my inability in any language--English, Arabic or Indonesia--to amass a very broad vocabulary) so I also read the two works in English before the semester started so I would have a good grasp of the plot and characters. I read the third book two summers ago while traveling in Indonesia doing tsunami research. The fourth volume I read mostly this past summer again while in Indonesia. I read both of these in English.

source (left):

source (right):

The books get their name from the Island of Buru in the Maluku islands of eastern Indonesia. Following the aborted Communist coup in 1965, many suspected communists and communist sympathizers (often labeled so because they opposed the ruling regime) were imprisoned and then banished to the island of Buru. Pramoedya was one of the detainees on Buru from 1973-79  While he and many others endured their isolated captivity, Pramoedya, who was banned from writing and couldn't even possess a pencil, started to tall a tale of Minke--the son of Javanese elite who was privileged to attend a Dutch high school in Surabaya. With his education and with his first hand observations of and experiences with the oppression and injustices of colonialism, Minke turns to journalism and writing to expose these injustices and to call for Indonesians to unite in throwing off Dutch rule. The stories were a big hit on on Buru, in part because those prisoners (many unjustly detained by an autocratic regime) could relate to the similar cause of early nationalists (represented by the fictional Minke), who were likewise banished for wanting and advocating for a better life. Pramoedya was eventually able to write and publish his story, but it was soon banned in Indonesia under the false claim that it promoted communist ideals. When President Suharto fell, the ban on the books in Indonesia was lifted.

The thing that is most amazing to me about these books is how relevant they are in today's' world. The Buru Quartet deals with issues related to the rights of women (to education, to owning property, to having a choice in marriage), the insertion of religion into nationalist agendas, the use of corruption, and the scourge of racial and economic stratification in society. Most importantly it focuses on the misuse and abuse of power. Colonialism is no longer the evil oppressor it once was, but many of the issues and troubles that plagued the Dutch East Indies a century ago seem to be on the rise, particularly here in the United States. When Minke and others started to resist ruling policies and procedures by exposing the truth of how locals were treated--horrible working conditions, land expropriations to benefit the Dutch, lack of educational opportunities etc.--they were labeled as agitators, and through various means they were silenced. Some were exiled, others imprisoned and still others coerced into submission. Minke's choice of protest was the press. In today's discourse he would have been labeled as "fake news." When black American's chose to protest continued discrimination by kneeling during the national anthem or marching with Black Lives Matter, they are vilified by our current president and many other Americans as being unpatriotic and resorting to violence. Systemic opposition towards those who are not of the ruling majority (whites in both cases) and who long for freedom and equality is the same in both places and both centuries, although tactics may vary. There were no early morning tweets emanating from the Governor General's palatial residence in Buitenzorg (modern day Bogor) that sought to shame those who spoke up, but then and now, those who did speak up were viewed as an opposition to be feared, shamed, silenced or fired, not as fellow citizens seeking to make the colony or the country a better place for all.

Minke is Pramoedya's representation of the tiny vanguard of educated residents of the Indies who rose up against Dutch rule. Their quest was soon taken up by more and more Indonesian nationalists who had been educated under improved Dutch educational policies, and were united by a growing use of the Malay language and an identity forged in their opposition to colonial rule. Then and now a vibrant press and an educated populous who stands (or kneels) for what is right will in the end prevail.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Angel's Landing and Kolob Canyon

The four of us (missing Sarah as we went) took a road trip to two spectacular places with names that originate in Mormon theology. First stop was Kolob Canyon--the northwestern most part of Zion National Park.

Kolob is the uniquely Mormon name for the place where God dwells.

From the Pearl of Great Price (One of four Mormon books of scripture)
Abraham 3:9
" And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest."

From a very unique Mormon hymn:

Hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob, 284
If you could hie to Kolob
In the twinkling of an eye,
And then continue onward
With that same speed to fly,
Do you think that you could ever,
Through all eternity,
Find out the generation
Where Gods began to be?

Or see the grand beginning,
Where space did not extend?
Or view the last creation,
Where Gods and matter end?
Methinks the Spirit whispers,
“No man has found ‘pure space,’
Nor seen the outside curtains,
Where nothing has a place.”

The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.
There is no end to matter;
There is no end to space;
There is no end to spirit;
There is no end to race.

There is no end to virtue;
There is no end to might;
There is no end to wisdom;
There is no end to light.
There is no end to union;
There is no end to youth;
There is no end to priesthood;
There is no end to truth.

There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.
There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.
Text: William W. Phelps, 1792–1872
Music: English melody, arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872–1958, from the English Hymnal.

If none of these references ring a bell then perhaps you have heard of Kolob in the Book of Mormon Musical 

From the spirited song "I Believe"

"I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob!
I believe that Jesus has his own planet as well
And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri"

Watch it here:

The earthly Kolob is easily accessible from I-15 just a few miles south of Cedar City. We have driven by the entrance many times, but have never made the visit. Maire and I both made visits years ago, but we have never made the short drive as a family.  It was delightfully uncrowded.

 We hiked the 1 mile out and back Timber Creek Overlook Trail. Very few ups and downs. Highly recommended.

 Looking South.. A sign said you could see to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

 Looks to me like a front facing portrait of an elephant.

 "If we could hie to Kolob"

 photo by Joel

 Late afternoon hiking provided great and ever changing lighting.

The next day we hiked to Angel's Landing in the main portion of Zion National Park.

Zion for Mormons is a place and condition where love and peace prevail. Two favorite scriptures explain more about it. 

 Doctrine and Covenants 97:
 21 Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—the pure in heart; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.

Pearl of Great Price
Moses 7: 18
"And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them."

 Breakfasting deer.

We left our hotel in Hurricane by 7:00 am so we could beat the crowds and heat in Zion.

We rode the shuttle up to the Grotto stop and started our hike at about 8:30. The warning sign notes that since 2004 (the year Will was born), seven people have died in falls from Angel's Landing.

 The Virgin River, which carved Zion Canyon.

 First light on Angel's Landing.

 Marie came with us as far as the beginning of the dreaded switchbacks.

 The Great White Throne

 The trail zig zags up the face of the cliff.

 Looking down Zion Canyon

 9:00 am and these happy folks were heading down from the summit.

 As planned, Marie, in white, waited below to take our photo.

 Here is her photo back at us three. I am in white with arms raised.

 The beginning of Walter's wiggles.

 Thanks Walter, your wiggles made the hike much easier.

 Built in 1926 under the direction of fist Zion Superintendent Walter Ruesch
Photo Source:

 photos by Joel

Scout Lookout. Those with the fear of heights or without the legs or lungs to press onward usually stop here. We went on. I have a fear of unrestrained heights, but for some reason this hike (which I have done twice before) does not bother me.

Not many young children make this hike. This is the first year I dared take the kids. In years past Marie has nixed any thought of climbing Angel's Landing with our kids (a wise policy given Will's younger propensity to run off and to explore). Driving to the park, Marie turned to Will and said that before starting the climb she had a few things to say. I then interrupted and asked Will: "What do you think your mom wants to say?" Without hesitation he began: "Don't go off the trail. Don't jump. Don't push dad off the edge. Don't get near the edge. Don't pretend to jump or push. Don't take photos near the edge." Smart boy.

 The hike up the narrow fin begins. Well anchored, thick chains aid the ascent.

This is the part I didn't think Marie would like. I am posting these photos so she knows that she made a good choice given her motherly fears.

If you stick to the trail and within grasp of the chains there is no point in the hike where any of us felt impending danger or possibility of plunging to our death.

 The fin that leads to the Landing.

 Probably the narrowest part of the trail. Long drops on both sides.

 Will's legs were not always long enough for some of the upward spans.

 The beginning of the top. It took us a little over two hours to make the hike.

 Lot's of fat squirrels on top.

 Looking south down Zion Canyon.

 Brunch time.

Photo taken by a nice couple from Hungary who are on a one year journey through the Americas. We also ran into nice people from Australia, Holland, Israel, Boston, and New York and heard languages from many other countries. Love the camaraderie of hikers.

 No children were injured (or fell to their deaths) in the taking of these crazy photos.

All at once there he was sitting on the ledge (above a lower ledge). He failed to heed his mother this one time.

 When I turned to see this pose by Joel I got nervous. Unrestrained heights.

 Looking up canyon to the beginning of the Virgin River Narrows--our hike for next year.

 Down we go.

More late coming people on the trail meant we climbers had to take turns going up or down the single way trail.

Minor traffic jam of upward and downwards climbers. Patience and good will prevailed. Not so on other days, we heard.

That's where we were. It was a great hike. The boys loved it. Reluctant hiker Will: "10 out of 10. Would hike again." Success.

Chip and Dale

 Ah, still some shade at noon in this narrow canyon.

We kept hearing what we thought was a bird calling. Come to find out it was a squirrel persistently chirping away from the top of a tree. We joked that she was calling her fat kids to come down from the top of Angel's landing.

 She then moved to a new calling place.

 It was about a four hour round trip hike and lunch break for us.

Cooling wind towers like these originate in the hot cities of the Persian/Arabian gulf. There they have mostly been replaced by AC. I was excited to see that they have been resurrected in Zion.

On the drive home we stopped in Cedar City to see the nearly completed LDS Temple. Love the blue dome.