Suryadi was born in Padang Pariaman, West Sumatra, into a family of farmers in 1965 and studied Minangkabau literature at Andalas University in Padang.
While finishing a doctorate at Leiden University, he has been writing a series of articles on old-time photos of West Sumatra that he has found there in the archives in the Netherlands.
More than 150 of the stories, which Suryadi writes in his spare time for fun, have been published by the daily Singgalang in Padang.
The columns explore old pictures from the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) or Dutch government found in the archives of the Royal Linguistics and Anthropology Institute (KITLV) Leiden, the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam or personal sources.
Suryadi offers comment on the history of the period of the photos, which cover everything from buildings to cultural events, and invites people to reflect on the past.
For example, one recent column explores the Tari Balanse Madam, a traditional ethnic dance of the Nias people in Padang city.
While researchers have said that the dance was influenced by the Portuguese, Suryadi believes a photo of a performance from 1948 is proof that it originated with the Blanche touche madame (”important white woman”), a dance likely introduced locally when the French buccaneer Francois-Thomas Le Meme occupied Padang in 1793.
“If I’d written it as a scientific analysis it would have just been put into storage”, said Suryadi. ”Through such stories, I feel as if I have been drawn back to the place where I belong, giving rise to more ideas to search for information for the people in my village”.
Suryadi’s works also cover other popular subjects, such as his translation of Muhammad Saleh’s Poem of drowning Lampung: A personal document on the terrible eruption of Krakatau in 1883, which he arranged to have published locally in 2009.
While the monstrous eruption of Mount Krakatau is a well-known topic, Saleh’s poem might be the only account penned by an indigenous author about the calamity and its aftermath.
Suryadi discovered the manuscript of the poem, written in Malay using the Javanese-styled Arabic characters used locally in the 16th century, in Leiden’s archive.
He adds that Salehs poem — comprising 374 compelling stanzas — has since been translated into English by John McGlynn and published by the Lontar Foundation and that Rhoda Grauer and famous US theater director Robert Wilson are planning to adapt the work for the stage.
The pair previously staged an adaptation of I La Galigo, a historical epic of the Bugis people of South Sulawesi — and also known as one of the worlds longest manuscripts. I La Galigo received a warm reception at major theaters in Europe.
Suryadi, who after 15 years in the Netherlands has been dubbed the lurah (subdistrict head) of Leiden, is a resource for Indonesian researchers visiting the university.
He works for the Department of Languages and Cultures of Southeast Asia and Oceania at Leiden University. He is an Indonesian language lecturer who speaks Dutch and English as a medium of instruction and a lecturer on the media of South and Southeast Asia.
Suryadi was an assistant lecturer at his alma mater and Bung Hatta University, before moving in 1994 to the University of Indonesia.
Then, in 1998, he was offered a guest lecturer position at Leiden. I was originally working on an annual contract basis, but after five years my contract status was not limited, which was an achievement for me because none of my predecessors had worked for more than five years.
At Leiden, where he currently lives with his wife and two children, Suryadi earned a masters degree in literature in 2002, for his work on the Poem of Sunur, analysis of the text and context of a 19th-century Minangkabau ulemas autobiography, which he later published as a book.
He expects to finish his doctoral dissertation at the same university on the cultural significance of the regional recording industry in West Sumatra this year.
To read Suryadis articles, visit niadilova.blogdetik.com.
Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post, Padang, West Sumatra | People | Mon, February 17 2014