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‘Di Kota Tuhan’ Seeing Probolinggo Through Biblical Lens

Published in The Jakarta Post, Sunday, May 5, 2019. And writen by Nedi Putra AW, as Contributor


Faith: Poet Stebby Julionatan combines biblical narrative and memories of his hometown, Probolinggo, in his latest poetry collection.

Stebby Julionatan shares melancholic tales about his hometown of Probolinggo, East Jawa in his latest poetry collection, titled Di Kota Tuhan, Aku Adalah Daging yang Kau Pecah-Pecah (In the City of God, I am the Body that You Break Into Pieces).

“It is my mission to introduce Probolinggo to the public,” the 35-years-old poet said.

Stebby intriguingly writes his poem in biblical frameworks. The 33 poems in the book are divided into two ‘exegeses”. The first, set from September 2015 to May 2016, take the narrative from of Genesis. In the second exegesis, Psalms narrative is used to convey the events between May and September 2017.

“I’ve been active in the chruch since I was child, so what I portray is inseparable from my experience,” said Stebby, who has a day job at Probolinggo’s communications and information agency.

The book is his way buildings up pride for the people of Probolinggo. Stebby said Di Kota Tuhan was partly inspired by Andrea Hirata acclaimed novel Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops), which brought Bangka Belitung to the limelight

Di Kota Tuhan presents two charachters, Rabu and Biru, whose conversations take the readers to some of the well-known spots in Probolinggo such as Sumber Hidup restaurant with its famous lumpia (spring rolls) and ice cream.

There is also Gunawan restaurant (formerly known as Kho Gwan Ling), which gained popularity for its rawon (black nut beef soup).

“In the old days, Chinese and Dutch people said visiting Probolinggo would be incomplete without savoring rawon here,” the book reads.

According to Stebby, Gunawan’s signature soup could possibly be a thing of the past as the restaurant had no successor yet.

He also wrote about the town’s bus terminal, market and kampungs -coupled with the site’s black-and-white photos.

Di Kota Tuhan, however, carries a deeper meaning than just a guidebook to the town, located 100 kilometers east of Surabaya. It also contains Stebby’s childhood memories -from watcing a wayang (shadow puppet) show in the front yard to witnessing the dawn of the Reform Era in 1998. More importantly, it also conveys his views on diversity.

Born in 1983 to a Javanese father and Ambonese mother of different faiths, Stebby muses on the meaning of different cultures and religions throughtout his life. He shares his contemplations in the book by asking existential questions about God and the meaning of differences.

Stebby says Di Kota Tuhan is his exploration on agape (unconditional love), one of four Greek words for love that is also mentioned in the Bible.

He discussed eros (erotic love) in his 2015 poetry book, Buru Magenta (Blue Magenta) and will explore another Greek word for love in his next literary quest.

“My next book will use pantun [four-line rhyming poetry] and will carry the theme of philia [brotherly love],” he said.

Yusri Fajar, the author of short story collection Surat dari Praha (Letters from Prague), said not many authors had chosen Stebby’s method, with history and local wisdoms being bound in religious narrative.

“This certainly required fairly long research and data collection,” he suggested.

According to Yusri, despite the use of some less common language, Di Kota Tuhan’s prosaic narration enables readers to digest the messages.

Djoko Saryono, a literature professor at Malang State University, appreciated the poetry for showing how humans should accept the presence of differences in their lives.

“In my opinion, this book can even serve as material for the further study of parallelism beetwen poetry and scripture,” he added.

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