Our land, our people

Powerful voices: Without the help of microphones, the actors rely on the strength of their voices during the performance. Antara/Agus Bebeng
Powerful voices: Without the help of microphones, the actors rely on the strength of their voices during the performance. Antara/Agus Bebeng

The ground beneath our feet is the foundation of our lives. Last Friday night’s performance of community-based theater Celah-celah Langit (CCL) was a poignant representation of how people are losing their life foundations — their home and livelihood — by selling land to greedy property developers.

At Sanggar Baru in Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural space, 15 Central Jakarta actors enacted Tanah: ode kampung kami (Land: ode to our kampung) in a powerful one hour 10 minutes performance.

Accompanied by music from traditional Sundanese musical instruments, the actors told a story through 13 scenes of roaring dialogue and energetic dance moves.

The actors, dressed in black, showed physical and audio strength in their performance. They moved in movements that were slightly acrobatic, showing their bamboo pole skills.

They began the play with a jovial funny scene in which they were enjoying themselves in the fields.

What belongs to the people: Tanah: ode kampung kami (Land: ode to our kampung), a powerful 1 hour 10 minutes play that was presented last weekend at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) cultural space, delves into the issue of land. Courtesy of Celah-celah Langit

Without the help of microphones, the actors relied on the strength of their voices. Holding dry rice leaves, they talked about the importance of land. The only female actor, Anita Bintang, who played the mother, a metaphor of the land, recited the poem Tanah ode kampung kami: Land is the beginning/in land we exist/we are the land/hurting the land hurts ourselves/pleasing the land pleases ourselves/don’t sell your land/selling the land sells ourselves/selling land sells your mother.

In the next scene, the actors held a big bamboo pole together close to their chests. The mother hung on to the bamboo pole using her arms and legs, outstretched.

The story portrayed two men luring people to sell their land. They told the landowner he could spend the money to go on the haj pilgrimage. “Tell all your neighbors. The whole village can go on the haj and to heaven together,” a land broker said.

One person did not want to sell his land and tried to persuade the others not to sell theirs. But his efforts were to no avail. The mother was surrounded by tall bamboo, representing the buildings and skyscrapers. “My children!,” she cried out.

Each actor then dropped the bamboo poles until they surrounded Anita. She was then lifted up and left to die.
Angry faces: Actors from the Tanah play perform at TIM cultural space in Jakarta last Friday. Antara/Agus Bebeng

The play is an adaptation of the voices of the people of Lembang, Bandung. The hilly area in Bandung has undergone many transformations over the years with many  businesspeople buying up the land there.

Iman Soleh, director of the play and founder of Celah-celah Langit or also known as Ledeng Cultural Center, prepared this production as a theater for development and educational project supported by Kelola Foundation, an NGO for the arts and culture and the Theater Embassy from the Netherlands.

In November 2010, he held a writing workshop with the people of Lembang to determine their opinions on the land issue. These 25 compiled texts were then discussed and adapted into a play.

“Art should always start from facts. If it do not come from facts we are detached from the problems of the people. What good is art when it is detached from the people’s concerns,” he said.

This makes the process of playwriting a long one, but Iman said they just had to be patient. “We talk to them about what they want to convey. ‘I will make art so that your message can be delivered’,” Iman said.

Egbert Wits, the coordinator for theater for development and education from the Theater Embassy, said the production aimed to “give a voice to the people through art”. The workshops of theater for development can give the people new skills such as writing, poetry reading, singing and dancing.

Wits added that theater for development aimed to stimulate dialogue between people about the issues communicated in the play.

Iman added that the story of Lembang was only an aperçu, which fit into the bigger problem of land in general. “Is there land for the people?” he asked. “People come to Jakarta and big cities because they don’t have anything in their villages,” he said.

He pointed out that land rights were given to only a few big companies who claimed they created jobs, while the government did not empower the people with land.

“I ask, do [the companies] guarantee their laborers good welfare? Young people no longer want to be farmers,” Iman said, adding that this was because they could not survive in this trade.

The play is presented in Jakarta, Iman said, because the capital also had its own unique land problems. “There are 1,007 land cases in Jakarta and 125 are unresolved,” he said.

Iman, a theater performer, who has joined various theater groups in Japan, the Philippines, France, Reunion Island and many other countries, founded the CCL community. The CCL creative process takes place in his front yard in Ledeng, Bandung. He witnessed his father’s village in Cigondewah convert from paddy fields into an industrial area. He also saw how the Ledeng public transportation terminal transformed the area into an arts hub.

The area is home to hundreds of university students renting boarding rooms, Ledeng residents, vendors, buskers and children. Iman said they usually performed in villages to bring the art closer to the people. Iman said that most actors in the play were university students.

Tanah will be presented in Jatiwangi as well as Lembang, Bandung.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Entertainment | Wed, May 04 201

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