Monday, February 11, 2008

Udo Z. Karzi: Rebellious Writer

From “THE JAKARTA POST”, Monday, February 11, 2008


Oyos Saroso H.N., The Jakarta Post, Bandarlampung

When Lampung literary figure Udo Z. Karzi was named as one of seven winners of the 2008 Rancage Literary Award, it surprised many customary leaders in his hometown of Lampung. They found it hard to believe that a foundation from another province would recognize the work of a writer from Lampung, where the literary world and local language are hardly developed and even are under threat of extinction.

The awards were presented by the West Java-based Rancage Cultural Foundation in Bandung on Jan. 31 to seven people, including Udo, for their creative excellence as well as dedication to preserving local literary traditions. On its 20th anniversary this year, Rancage gave the awards to Indonesian men and women who write in languages increasingly sidelined by modernization.

Udo Z. Karzi is the pen name of 37-year-old Zulkarnain Zubairi, a journalist who is also a literary figure. Since 1999, the man, who was born in the West Lampung town of Liwa, has consistently gone against the grain by producing poetry in Lampung language. One of his books, Mak Dawah Mak Dibingi (No Day and Night), saw him win the award, the brainchild of the chairman of the foundation's board, Ajip Rosidi.

When compiling his works into a book titled Momentum (Moment) back in 2002, Udo became a target of the customary leaders' anger. They believed his work depreciated the Lampung language since he was using the language used by common people, not the formal variety. They insisted Lampung poetry have its own structure, which should not be violated. They also believed he failed to include Lampung's philosophical values, considered sacred by the customary leaders, in his works.

Through his works, Udo criticizes Lampung's tradition and custom, which he claims is responsible for the slow development of Lampung's literary world. "Even I was criticized and became a target of people's anger ... I don't care," said the writer, who finished reading Sebatang Kara (On His Own), a novel by Hector Melot, when he was still a third-grader.

Receiving the award, he said, made him excited and nervous at the same time. "I feel tense considering that the book, Mak Dawah Mak Dibingi, serves as an opening door to fight for Lampung's literary existence. After this, Lampung literary figures, who produce works in Indonesian, should try to produce their works in the Lampung language," he said.

He said the Rancage Literary Award he received should also encourage other Lampung literary figures, who are currently spellbound by oral traditions, to write. "At least, there should be a kind of resurrection of the Lampung literary world along with a growing confidence among Lampung language speakers that their language can also be stylish, modern and be used as media for creative-imaginative work just like other languages, such as the Sundanese, Javanese and Balinese languages."

Udo said he became tired of trying to publish a compilation of his poetry, as he was continuously rejected by publishers who claimed that Lampung people were not aware of his poetry style. "I was surprised by these rejections. If poetry written in Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese languages could get published, why can't those in the Lampung language? Fortunately for me, I met 'crazy people' who were willing to publish my work," he said.

He added, however, it would be difficult to develop Lampung's literary world since most young people in Lampung could not speak the language. "If young Lampung people can not even speak the language, it will be hard for them to write it," he said. The present reality is, he said, many people turn to Lampung oral traditions, with training even provided on the trend.

"I have no objection to the trend but I regret that many Lampung artists are deeply involved in oral traditions. There are those who have documented the oral traditions into recordings or books but the Lampung literary tradition still gets nowhere. With these concerns in mind, I write in the Lampung language in a hope the language will not become completely lost," said the father of one.

Another factor he believed was responsible for diminishing Lampung literary works was the absence of media, such as newspapers or magazines, which carry such works. "Lampung language is different to Javanese, Sundanese or Balinese languages, which flourished due to the media that publish literary works in those languages. In Lampung alone, only 15 percent of some seven million people still speak the language. This is the main problem in developing the Lampung language and literary world," he said.

Aside from getting his work published, Udo has also turned to the Internet, creating his own blog (, which showcases his works and thoughts, all in the Lampung language. "If Lampung language becomes extinct, at least my writing on the blog can serve as a work of Lampung language that remains."

As of this year, the Rancage Foundation will regularly award literary works in four local languages - Sundanese, Javanese, Balinese and Lampung. "In another words, there is no excuse. Lampung should publish its own literary books, or at least one book a year. This is good news for Lampung writers and is a big challenge."


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