And words fell from stars
at the Makassar International Writers Festival
2 July 2015
The fifth edition of the Makassar International Writers Festival 2015, a four day affair of panels, workshops and performances, was held in the port city of Makassar, in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The theme for this year‘s festival was ‘Knowledge and the Universe.’
While most of the workshops were held in Bahasa Indonesia, there were also a healthy spread of English-based workshops led by writers from Australia, Germany, Malta and other places. I was privileged to be part of two panels; one to discuss the value of translation and the second to talk about literary endeavours in our own countries of origin.
While it seems that reading is dying out all over the world, nevertheless all the visiting writers were impressed by the droves of young people who attended the workshops and thronged the inside of Fort Rotterdam during the marathon evening performances, which featured everything from a Jack Johnson singalong style with Yana and Nina, to poetry from Adrian Grima and Bryan Whalen, loads of bands and traditional dances by international students from the 2015 Indonesian Art And Culture Scholarship Programme.
Writers were also brought to Lae Lae Island, to perform stories and poems for local schoolchildren. It was refreshing to be amidst a real community on the island, and not be subjected to a typical tourist experience. Another welcome sight on the island were the numerous recycling bins for organic and non-organic waste. There was even a house given over to a ‘Recycling Bank,’ where islanders were paid for the recyclable items they brought there.
Being a port city, Makassar naturally has a rich seafaring history and two boat-related projects caught our eyes; one was a floating library, recently built and launched, which would spend the next few months going to the islands with 3,000 books. The other was a crowdfunded Javanese schooner, or phinisi, which is being built as a kind of homage to an old, dying craft. The boat also formed the backdrop for the closing ceremony, where we were held captive by a web of stars, cocooned by massive speakers, as a poets and musicians harmonised with the universe.
The final act was an experimental semi-improvised adaptation of ‘The Birth of I La Galigo,‘ an epic Bugis creation myth, featuring post-rock Melismatis Band, dancers choreographed by Abdi Karya and two spoken word performers; Khrisna Pabichara in Bahasa and myself in English.
Without a rehearsal, without an indication of space or time, with just the bones of a story, the myth enfolded all into its sway, leaving us entranced in its quests of kings, love and giant trees that hold up the world.