Theodora Melsasail / Tanimbar Islands – Maluku
“Seng Larang Lai”
“Seng Larang Lai”
by Theodora Melsasail
Tanimbar Islands – Maluku
“Beta paleng kecewa deng Bapa dan Mama selama ini. Beta paleng marah karna Bapa deng Mama seng pernah dukung beta manari, seng mau beta kuliah di kampus seni, seng percaya kalo manari itu bisa jadi pekerjaan yang baik par beta. Beta paleng sedih saat Mama bilang beta akan jadi parampuang seng bae kalo manari. Sedangkan beta ni paleng cinta manari. Cuma deng manari sa beta bisa biking banya hal bae par beta pung diri sandiri deng banya orang. Beta minta maaf karna selama ini simpang samua saki hati ini sandiri. Beta minta maaf karena beta kuliah seng babae selama ini, beta rasa percuma beta kuliah di keguruan sedangkan yang beta mau itu cuma manari,”
I’ve been very disappointed with Mom and Dad for so long. I was very upset because Mom and Dad never supported me in dance, didn’t let me go to art college, didn’t believe that dancing could be a good job for me. I was most sad when Mama said that I would be a hussy by being a dancer. But I really love dancing. Only by dancing I can do many good things for myself and many people. I’m sorry that I was keeping all this heartache to myself. I’m sorry that I didn’t study well all this time. I thought it’s useless to go to teacher training school college while all I wanted is to dance) — I said while crying and sitting face-to-face with Mom and Dad in the living room. That day I decided to go home before the undergraduate exam to honestly tell my parents about the wound in my heart I kept to myself for seven years.
My parents are like most parents in Maluku who believe that dancing is only part of a hobby and entertainment, it can’t make money that can guarantee me a secured life when I’m married. For them, being a dancer is totally different from being a civil servant. Choosing to be a dancer gives no guarantee. Moreover, there are not many girls in my neighbourhood who seriously choose to become a dancer. For those reasons, they felt more convinced in rejecting my dream. I’ve been growing up with their dreams. Becoming a doctor when I’ve grown up is a dream they used to instil in me. In the career costumes parade, Mama used to dress me in the doctor’s outfit she sewed at her tailor. Also, she never forgot to put on me white glasses with black frame arms to complete my makeup. “Mama pung ana ibu dokter su cantik e,” (Look at Mom’s daughter, what a pretty doctor!) That’s what Mama always said every time she finished dressing me. I liked it because I thought being a doctor would suit me real good in the future. I didn’t realize that basically, I never had a dream of my own.
But everything changed when I joined a traditional dance studio for the first time. Every time I danced I found myself happier than when Mama complimented me on being beautiful for wearing a doctor’s outfit for the carnival. This made me never even once absent from practising in the studio. This happiness went on and flourished in me until I was in the 2nd grade of high school. For the first time, I had my own dream. A dream to become a dancer in the future. It prompted me to have the courage to tell Mama the truth about my dream. “Apa? se mo jadi penari? Biking apa deng manari-manari tu? Mo makang apa deng akang? Se mo jadi parampuang tar bae deng manari tu?”(What? Do you want to become a dancer? What are going to do with that? How will you support your life? Do you want to be hussy by being a dancer?) — in the kitchen Mama replied when I told her my dream. Hearing her response, I chose to say nothing and kept the wound of rejection deep inside. I decided to follow what Mama said. After graduating from high school, I took a test at the medical school, as my parents wanted. But I didn’t pass the test. Then I took a test at FKIP (Faculty of Teacher Training and Education) and passed. For seven years, I let myself do what Mom and Dad wanted. I majored in teacher training but I didn’t stop dancing. I’ve been pursuing that dream even without their support.
In the living room that night, I was still crying while looking at their teary eyes. All the memories of the rejection came back and triggered me, and the pain in my heart was again about to burst out. Mama sitting on my left started to hold my shaking hand while lowering her head and crying. Bapa sitting in front of me looked back at me with reddened eyes. “Bapa, Mama… Beta ni cuma mo manari sa. Beso-beso ni beta su ujian lalu wisuda, beta su biking apa yang Bapa deng Mama mau ni. Bisa kasi beta Manari? Tolong jua percaya beta deng beta pung mimpi ni, “(Dad, Mom… I just want to dance. In a few days I will have exams and then I will graduate, I’ve done what Mom and Dad want. Can you let me dance? Please believe in me and my dream) I continued in tears.
This is typically not a common situation within my family. As a child, I rarely took the initiative to start a serious conversation with my parents. Especially about something they don’t like. I’ve always been afraid of being scolded or hit for having this kind of conversation. Perhaps, because I’ve been growing up with my parents’ strict upbringing since childhood, both at home and at school. Well… Mama and Bapa are at the same time my parents and teachers at school. Bapa was my math teacher in middle school and Mama was my Indonesian teacher in elementary school. Even though they were my teachers, Mama and Bapa never treated me special at school just because I am their daughter. I still remember when I was in 1st grade, I was lazy to practise writing in the classroom. I used to be the last student to submit the cursive writing assignment book. It’s not because I didn’t know how to write. I was just too lazy to do it. Mama found out about this. She reprimanded my teacher and scolded me. I was also beaten in front of my friends in the classroom. Since that incident, Mama has added more writing activities at home and school so that I was no longer lazy to write. The experience I remember most is writing about how I feel every day, like writing a diary in cursive. No wonder I still like to do it until now. A different story came from my Dad. He once beat me until my body was bruised just because my class was very noisy and I happened to be in front of the class with some of my friends. Dad by suddenly appearing in front of the door of the classroom immediately approached me without asking much and hit me with pieces of jatropha wood until they got shattered on my body. This made me forget that it was my teacher at school who hit me. I remember it as the harsh treatment of a father for his daughter. It turned out that what my mom and dad did has subconsciously left trauma towards my learning journey. I didn’t have any good friends in high school. I also never went out or hung out. I was afraid that my dad would hit me if he caught me with friends. I always got perfect marks in class. I even became the general secretary of the student council for two terms just because I didn’t want to be known as a lazy kid at writing. I was deeply affected by how my parents treated me.
I’m not the only one with harsh treatment experiences. Over the past 27 years, I have closely watched over and over again how the adults around me so freely and casually called their kids stupid and cursed at them at school, college, home, and in public places. As a child, I have been called stupid several times at home and school. I wanted to argue, but I didn’t have much courage. This situation has developed into a subconscious culture in nurturing children among most Maluku parents. I was born and grew up in Maluku, to be precise in a most lovely small town, named Ambon City. It is surrounded by beautiful Ambon Bay with its lush green mountains. We usually call it Ambon Manise which means sweet or pretty Ambon. This name represents the natural beauty of Ambon and the hospitality of its people. But it’s a shame there is no hospitality we show in educating children. From here I promised myself to find a way to fix all this. So that what I experienced is not passed on to the next generation.
“Ade, terima kasih su jujur par Bapa deng Mama malam ini. Bapa minta maaf karna selama ini seng bisa mangarti ade pung mimpi dan paksa ade par iko apa yang Bapa dong mau,”
“Ade, thank you for being honest with Mom and Dad this evening. I’m sorry for not being able to understand your dream and forcing you to follow what we want.” said Bapa in his deeper voice. I know, Bapa is holding back tears.
Then he said again, “Ade, Bapa paleng sayang Ade. Bapa paleng bangga deng Ade. Setelah wisuda ini, silahkan Ade manari. Bapa su lia deng mata kapala sandiri bagimana Ade bisa konsisten dan bertanggung jawab deng Ade pung pilihan. Bapa dukung Ade manari.”
“Ade, Bapa loves you so much. Bapa is very proud of you. After graduation, you can dance. I have seen for myself how you can be consistent and responsible with your choices. Bapa supports you in dance.”
This time he bursted into tears right in front of me. I saw a tall, big, dark-skinned man with a thick mustache and a firm face, crying before me. Bapa cried while pouring me with words of affection. I saw the tears pouring out of his eyes and it was the most beautiful thing in my life. The first time, I heard him say that he loves me and cry for me. If now there is a man who says his love to me, sorry…It’s not as beautiful and sincere as the words of love from my Bapa. Since childhood, I was not very close to him. I don’t have many beautiful experiences with him. However, what we had this evening made up for all the wonderful experiences we had previously lost. I hugged him while crying on his shoulder. “Danke Bapa… Danke,” (Thank you, Bapa…Thank you) I said quietly.
“Ade, Mama juga minta maaf par semua tindakan dan perkataan Mama yang biking Ade saki hati. Mama paleng bangga deng Ade par kejujuran yang ade biking malam ini. Sekarang Ade su bisa manari deng bebas, Mama seng larang lai tapi Mama akan dukung Ade,”
“Ade, Mama also apologizes for all Mama’s attitude and words that hurt you. Mama is very proud of your honesty this evening. Now you are free to dance, Mama will not forbid but will support you.”
Mama’s voice came from behind me while her right arm wrapped my shoulder. This is how it feels to have the parents’ approval. The approval I’ve been fighting for. Not only I had the approval to dance from them, but also had them again completely. Since that day, my relationship with Bapa has gotten better. Bapa can cry and say he misses and loves me freely, and vice versa. Whereas Mama becomes calmer when I talk about something she doesn’t like. I’m extremely happy.
But, did the approval keep my dancing journey out of problem? Of course not. After graduation, I wanted to continue my study by taking the Master’s Degree in Art Creation at ISI Yogyakarta, but my parents couldn’t afford and I couldn’t find any information about scholarships. I was sad at that time. But not long ago in early 2019, a friend advised me to enrol in an art program in Yogyakarta called the Post-skilled Artist Program. This is a scholarship program for young artists throughout Indonesia organized by Padepokan Seni Bagong Kussudiardja (PSBK). I ventured to enrol in the program. Although I couldn’t continue my studies at the ISI, I thought that through this program I would be able to meet ISI students and learn from them in Jogja. And sure enough, on January 23, 2019, I passed after going through various selection processes and meeting nine young artists from various regions and art disciplines. I didn’t only meet the ISI students as I expected, but what happened was also beyond that. The learning process at PSBK greatly influenced my artistic work today in Ambon.
Besides the learning process that really helped me, I met a lot of good people who not only shared their knowledge and experiences but also motivated me. One of them is the late Djaduk Ferianto. I remember the day, October 12, 2019, when I met him in class. I told him about the challenges of being a dancer and choreographer that I faced in Ambon. I still remember what he said “You don’t have to be a choreographer all the time, but you can try to generate initiatives and ideas. You become a provocateur who provokes those initiatives and ideas. You motivate children, groups or communities with your creativity.” His words became a fire that burned my spirit to continue to strive and do many good things by dancing to this day. A ten month-studying at PSBK may be short, but it was a very valuable time for me. I returned home to Ambon after the program ended with a lot of experience, knowledge and enthusiasm.
Today I feel the words of the late Pak Djaduk carries on in my dance journey. I don’t just dance, but I keep trying to come up with ideas to do something good in the neighbourhood I’m in. Like what I just started at the beginning of 2021. I initiated an alternative education by using dance as a learning method for children in Piru Village which I named Ruma Balajar. A home-based project for children in my neighbourhood. Every Monday to Saturday, they come to my house and we play, study, tell stories and dance together. It is in my blood as my parents are also educators. I like children like Mama, I am a creative teacher like Bapa. However, using dance for educating children is not an easy process for me to go through. I should be able to have my own money to fund the education process with the children like what I am doing in the village where I live now, Piru Village-one of the small villages in Maluku. From January to March 2021 I opened English lessons for several children at home. I use my earnings to fund my project with children from my neighbourhood at Ruma Balajar. Sometimes I am short of funds and in this case, I open a donation for anyone who wants to give any useful contribution to make the learning process survive. But, Mama often also gave me money.
“Barang Ade mo biking apa deng manari?,”
“What do you want to do by dancing?”
“Beta mo pake manari par didik anak-anak di Maluku Bapa supaya dong pung pengalaman balajar yang menyenangkan deng supaya dong pung tamang par bacarita, barmaeng dan yang sayang dong.“
“I want to use dancing to educate children in Maluku, Bapa, so that they have a fun learning experience and they have friends to talk to, play with and who love them.”
That day Bapa asked me when I was accompanying him fishing in the sea. I gave him a resounding answer. He nodded with a little smile by hearing my answer.
This project has brought me together with 25 great kids. I again understand the continuous trauma that they also experienced. In fact, they grew up in an environment with a habit of cursing and calling them stupid. Like the story of Gisrael, a boy who is in the 4th grade of elementary school. He recounted his experience when I asked the kids to talk about things that made them sad. “Kalo beta tu pernah dapa pukul deng dapa maki dari Mama Onco,” (I was beaten and scolded by Mama) said Gis while weeping timidly behind her tiny hands that covered his face. When I saw this, I couldn’t hold back my tears and went over to him and hugged him. I was well aware that it is not easy to heal the wounds in children’s hearts, but I try to heal them slowly by learning, playing, telling stories and dancing with them. Apart from doing all that, I also pray for them all the time. A piece of advice from Mama is what I always keep in mind during my process.
“Ade, perempuan hebat itu paleng banya, perempuan cantik jua banya, tapi perempuan yang suka berdoa par apa yang dia biking itu seng banya.“
“Ade, there are many great women, many beautiful women, but a woman who likes to pray for what she do is only a few.”