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October 27, 2017: Genjer-Genjer

With Max Lane and Faiza Mardzoeki’s visit next week, we are all looking forward to the screening of the videorecording of Ms. Mardzoeki’s critically-acclaimed play, Nyanyi Sunyi Kembang Genjer(Silent Song of the Genjer Flower). But before that, we wanted to learn more about the Genjer flower, its song, and why it was so important to Gerwani (Gerakan Wanita Indonesia or Indonesian Women’s Movement). Fortunately, one of our first year MA students, Choirun Nisa Ristanty, is from the Using people of Banyuwangi, East Java, and knows a thing or two about the song’s history:

Genjer-Genjer was a song written by Muhammad Arief, a well-known composer in Banyuwangi. He composed that song in 1942 to describe, as well as criticize, the condition of the Banyuwangi people when Japan colonized us. Before that, the Genjer was only used by the Using people to feed their cattle. Genjer is a kind of aquatic plant that grows in swampy areas, and at that time it was regarded as a weed. However, when Japan colonized us, the Using people suffered from hunger and finally resorted to eating genjer flowers because they had no more food stock. Therefore, this song describes the suffering of the Using people who were forced to eat genjer.

This song became more popular nationwide when pop stars Bing Slamet and Lilis Suryani rearranged and recycled the song in 1962. This time, the song was used to criticize the suffering of the people under Sukarno’s Guided Democracy. However, due to its popularity, the PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia, or Communist Party of Indonesia) also used this song to campaign for themselves. Thus, this song became strongly associated with the communism movement in Indonesia at that time. If you see the propaganda film Pengkhianatan G 30 S-PKI, there is a scene where members of Gerwani (Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, or Indonesian Women’s Movement) sang this song while torturing the victims. If I am not mistaken, after the 30 September tragedy, there was a rumor that the Indonesian intelligence found a sheet with musical notation for the song “Genjer-Genjer,” but with different lyrics from the original. Thus, after the establishment of the Orde Baru (New Order), even talking about this song was quite risky because anyone discussing it could be suspected of supporting the PKI who were blamed for killing the generals in that tragedy.

It’s quite amazing how a single song can grow, evolve, and be used in different contexts. Knowing the history of this song, then, it can be easier to understand the play’s title. After Reformasi and the dissolution of the New Order, the Genjer flower’s song can now be unsilenced. In 2014, Faiza Mardzoeki wrote and directed Nyanyi Sunyi Kembang Genjer. It was since published into a book, and its video recording has been screened in Singapore, Melbourne, and soon at the Borak Art Series in Kuala Lumpur. It has also been selected for a dramatic reading at the 2018 International Women Playwrights Conference in Santiago, Chile.

Please don’t miss the Screening of filmed stage play, Silent Song of The Genjer Flowers, followed by a discussion with Faiza Mardzoeki, Saturday, November 4th 1:00 – 4:45pm in the Allen Auditorium.

If you are interested, you can also watch “Subversif,” her other play in full, here.