Peasant Autonomy
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Story 6

Tuban, Java, Indonesia – early sixteenth century (2)

Challenging the sovereign

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Adam Howarth)


Idayu sits on her knees in the dust. Humbly she bows her head deeply, touching the ground. She sits in front of the Adipati (sovereign) of Tuban on his golden throne. Yesterday she became dance champion, and today she is laurelled at a great public festival. Friendly says the sovereign “Tell me your wish, my Idayu, darling of Tuban, and I will fulfil it.” The heralds loudly repeat his words to the people. Because she is the champion, Idayu has the right to express a wish.
She has waited for this moment. She knows, as everyone knows in Tuban, that the Adipati will include her in his harem as a concubine. Idayu scrapes all her courage together, and says with utmost effort, “Forgive me, my lord, I don't want to offend you, but ...” Her voice breaks. She trembles all over her body. Then she recovers. “It is my wish to marry with Galeng.” Certainly the Adipati will kill her now. That is his right, he holds the life of all his subjects in his hand. He will not swallow this offence.

In a flash Idayu remembers how she has travelled together with many people from her village Awiskrambil to the capital Tuban for the yearly dance and fight games. How their group has been welcomed enthusiastically at the boundary of the city by an excited crowd. How she has been declared the dance champion after an exhausting series of dances. How the rumours became ever stronger that the Adipati had an eye on her. How she has come to the conclusion that she would rather die than become a concubine of the Adipati.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Nick)


The people cheer. Everyone understands what the wish of Idayu means: unconditional love to the death. How beautiful, what could be more romantic! People start waving and dancing, singing and shouting.

The Adipati rises, while the colour drains from his face. He puts his hand on the hilt of his kris. There is utter silence. Everyone gazes at Idayu and at the Adipati. Then the sovereign sits down again. He realises that he is lost, when he loses the respect of the people. “Today I will give the marriage my blessing,” he says with a twisted smile. The heralds repeat the words loudly to the people. A deafening cheering breaks out. Idayu dared to challenge the Adipati and Great Love has won! Who could have imagined a more beautiful conclusion to the festival?


The book Arus balik (The current from the north, 1979) written by the Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer is a great history novel about the early sixteenth century. A few passages depict the village life.

Go to:
= part 1: Decline of the empire - a village on Java, Indonesia – early sixteenth century (1), story 5.
= the next page: Blinded - a small village in Japan – sixteenth century, story 7.
= the Table of contents, story 6.