Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 16 May 2018 • Destination
This 2018 was my first year at Makassar International Writers Festival. Many of my (more) ‘literate’ friends assured me that the experience was worlds apart to the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival (UWRF), knowing I had experienced the latter. After finally being able to attend MIWF for IWasHere Networks, seeing its locality and love for reading, I promised myself, it wouldn’t be my last.
The Makassar International Writers Festival is a festival that gathers the literacy world which mainly focuses on the writers, readers, publishers, and has a special place for reviewers, especially in east Indonesia.
“The festival aims to spread the joy of literature, to increase reading habits among Indonesian people (particularly youngsters and university students), and to encourage writing and publication activities,” as stated in the Makassar International Writers Festival website.
The genre isn’t specific but this annual event has its yearly theme. Running its 8th year, the festival, organized by Rumata Artspace, still existed, despite refusing some political and local government support. It still managed to bring in some international speakers and participants.
By this, I meant that it felt like an Indonesian festival from end to end. I saw Indonesians filling Fort Rotterdam, lining up in front of the main venue, reading books spread around bean bags, and crowding events in open areas. In addition, MIWF was also filled with food and beverage stands (my favorite was Kopi Ujung for the obvious caffeine-addict reasons) and book stands. It was an event that could be enjoyed by anyone, whether you were a book fan or a passerby’s.
And because admission was free of charge, anyone could join.
MIWF 2018 made a good effort in bringing in some interesting writers, both domestic and international, many of which seemed to matter a lot to the Indonesians (I’m a slow reader, I’m in the dark), such as poetry. Fortunately, I had the pleasure to moderate a travel-themed panel, with foreign writers writing about Indonesia. One was Eje Kim from South Korea with a book called ‘Happy Yummy Travel’. She is a professor in Geography and has written about (her version of) yummy food, which surrounds durian, and how it made her happy. Another writer was Mark Heyward with his book ‘Crazy Little Heaven’, which was a collection of his travel stories around Indonesia for the past 25 years or so. It is now officially translated into Indonesian. And the other was Shivaji Das, who made a few books about the non-tourism side of his travels. From the discussion, I was very intrigued in reading his book as he touched a little about Jeneponto—a very dry patch in South Sulawesi, mentioning about salt production and its connection to Madura. These books are available in English. I was very happy that more people are publishing about Indonesia. And even happier that the audience was enthusiastic.
Did I mention that many sessions had a sign language interpreter? Very cool.
In the bigger picture, it’s not really an apple to apple comparison. However, comparing the two might give a picture to what you can expect from MIWF.
I understand that UWRF has an interesting list of guests, requiring much resources to bring them to Indonesia and accommodate them. But as I can recall from my attendance in 2015, most books were mostly foreign. Not that it’s a bad thing considering there are a lot of awesome books out there, but the lack of local writers at the UWRF doesn’t say much about the literacy of Indonesia. Or does it? Then it makes me wonder, was it about Indonesia at all when it comes to literacy? Not saying that’s a bad thing, it might just be about readers and writers coming together despite located in Indonesia. You can expect a lot more Indonesian writers, hence the event gave much insight to who’s book is trending or making a statement in the past year amongst Indonesian readers. For international readers, you might be a little lost in translation but maybe this is a good time to practice your Indonesian language.
The UWRF attendees were mostly foreigners who could afford the admission fee. It was a natural selection of book geeks but it was also filtered tightly considering the ticket wasn’t cheap. As for MIWF, the participants came from a various background, mainly young Indonesians from various cities. Some even accidently participated, already present in the Rotterdam Fort for something else.
On a special note, I met up with Tari, my old college mate. Now a Makassar local, she attended every day with her children. The event proved to be children friendly with kids books also scattered around the venue, especially on the last day where Papermoon Puppet along with Polyglot Theater performed a playful interactive performance that suited every age.
Attending MIWF, I felt that there was hope for Indonesian literacy, although I had been very skeptical about it and it had been very hot (heat can change a woman). It was fun and insightful, and from the looks of it, a lot of people were enjoying themselves. My favorit and most insightful session would have to be attending a class with Ivan Lanin, an Indonesian language enthusiast and a good one (do follow him on Twitter if you’re learning Indonesian language). As for the sessions from IWasHere Networks, well we still in the run on asking people to share their stories. By the end of it, I’m curious to see Makassar International Writes Festival’s next year’s theme.