HIGHLIGHTS

  • As the struggle for daily existence and for viable nationhood imposed other urgent priorities upon Indonesians and their government, it was his inspiration to collect and save the early flowerings of Indonesia’s literary life.
  • Joining in 1940 Balai Pustaka, a government publishing house fostering indigenous writing, he was at the center of the emerging and vibrant national literary life.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his preserving for Indonesians their literary heritage.”

 CITATION

In the formative years of a nation the life span of a story or poem can be fleeting. Literary works may blossom one season in cheaply made books or little magazines that pass from hand to hand, and vanish the next. Books go astray and are abandoned to insects and weather. Whole libraries are lost to upheaval. Authors often fail to save their own manuscripts and early publications.

HANS BAGUE JASSIN recognized that these early works of imagination and intellect are precious. As the struggle for daily existence and for viable nationhood imposed other urgent priorities upon Indonesians and their government, it was his inspiration to collect and save the early flowerings of Indonesia’s literary life.

JASSIN, who was born July 1917 in Gorontalo, North Sulawesi, has devoted his lifetime to Indonesian literature. While in high school he immersed himself in the new Indonesian-language novels, stories and poems beginning to proliferate in the waning days of Dutch control of the East Indies. He was himself a student writer and editor.

Joining in 1940 Balai Pustaka, a government publishing house fostering indigenous writing, he was at the center of the emerging and vibrant national literary life. Writers of the new generation became his friends, and he made it his life’s work to promote, write about and collect their output.

During the Japanese occupation, and through the struggle for independence, JASSIN edited a succession of literary magazines. From 1953 he taught Indonesian literature at the University of Indonesia, simultaneously completing his own degree there in the Faculty of Arts, and in 1958 studied comparative literature at Yale University. He gave his countrymen the first full translation of the 19th century Dutch classic about Java, Eduard Douwes Dekker’s Max Havelaar, and translated the Koran into poetic Indonesian.

In time JASSIN became Indonesia’s most prolific literary critic, an influential voice in determining literary standards and in advancing the cause of free expression. During the ideological debates of the early 1960s he promulgated the famous “Cultural Manifesto,” denouncing art which served only one political voice. Later he risked incarceration by refusing to divulge the identity of a controversial author.

From his earliest days as an editor and critic JASSIN collected and scrupulously saved every book and magazine he could beg or buy, plus correspondence, manuscripts, bookreviews, clippings and photographs which might help him understand a short story, novel, poem or play and its author. These he filed and drew upon for his articles, books and lectures.

His growing collection, assembled entirely with his own funds, became Indonesia’s most exhaustive library and archive for literary research. From the beginning he shared it openheartedly with students and scholars from around the world.

In 1976, after JASSIN’s hoard of folders and books had overflowed his own house into his brother’s, the then governor of Jakarta, Ali Sadikin, stepped in to provide proper facilities for his collection and a modest subsidy for its operation. Since then the city of Jakarta has housed the H.B.Jassin Center for Literary Documentation, now on one floor of a new building, and provided it with the accoutrements of a modern archive. The annual government subsidy covers the cost of utilities and staff salaries. As custodian and administrator JASSIN takes no pay and in part still finances new acquisitions from his university pension and royalties from his books. The collection, which now exceeds 50,000 volumes, continues to grow.

In electing HANS BAGUE JASSIN to receive the 1987 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his preserving for Indonesians their literary heritage.

 RESPONSE

The world has taught us to be useful, even in the most simple way. What I have done in the last fifty years is very simple, very easy. It very easy. It could have been done and can be done by anyone else, man or woman, r woman, adult or child. I have only been collecting other people’s works, keeping, keeping them and, as far as I am able, sharing my perceptions of them.

Literary documentation, according to me, is a kind of album, a collection of thoughts, aspirations of human conscience. I have spent almost all of my life happily collecting such, rather like a small child gathering different kinds of leaves in a beautiful forest, before they are blown away by the wind.

A journalist asked me one day “Can a pretty petal make the whole flower beautiful?” My answer was that everything under the sun has its place in the degrees of beauty. As for me, even though not all seems to me beautiful, I have no heart to discard anything I always see a pearl somewhere. Literary pearls touch human souls and help us to understand one another. As long as I can collect them, keep them and write about them, I will continue to do so.

Today the work that has made me happy for years has been acclaimed a valuable asset and it has enabled me to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award. This award is an honor, recognized by those who love simplicity, freedom and peace, especially in Asia.

I have said that literary documentation is collecting human aspirations. By bestowing this prize for such work, the Foundation, in the name of the noble Ramon Magsaysay, has honored human aspirations.

The Center for Literary Documentation which I established is not my personal possession. It is for everyone, especially for lovers of literature.

Like leaves which can not be differentiated politically, literature as human conscience is the universal language of mankind. It should not be labelled by nationality or political view.

So, on behalf of all lovers of literature, on behalf of all writers and poets whose works now fill the H.B. Jassin Center for Literary Documentation and who have thus enabled me to be honored as a public servant, I herewith accept the Ramon Magsaysay Award, humbly and gratefully.

I believe that the Award will help people realize that the world of literature is very rich and includes the literature of Indonesia.

 BIOGRAPHY

HANS BAGUE JASSIN was born in 1917 in the small port city of Gorontalo on the northeastern coast of Sulawesi (Celebes), in what was then the Netherlands East Indies. Sulawesi’s population consisted primarily of farmers and fishermen. JASSIN’s family was an exception.

Bague Mantu Jassin, JASSIN’s father, was a Gorontalese of modern leanings. Having taught himself Dutch, he had obtained a position as customs clerk with the local Dutch colonial administration. However, at the time his son HAMZAH (later changed to HANS) was born, he was unemployed. For this reason he left his wife, Habibah, the following year and went to Borneo to work for Bataviaasch Petroleum Maatschappij (BPM), the large Dutch oil conglomerate. Young JASSIN was thus entrusted to the care of his gentle mother.

Mother and son lived with her parents and extended family in her parents’ home. Her father was a teacher in Malay schools and Habibah was educated, probably through secondary school. She spoke Malay, which is the basis of, and almost interchangeable with, Indonesian, and Gorontalese, the local language spoken in her home. JASSIN’s fondest memories of his childhood are of his mother’s bedtime folktales and lullabies. She also spoke to him often of his father who would one day come for them.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)