September 18, 2019


The Tale of the Sailing Books


By: Oming Putri

Books do not usually get along magnificently with water. A little wetness would cause the paper to crumple up, the ink  to run, and further contact with water would damage a book’s cover.

This fact of life, however, fails to faze Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka, Ridwan Alimuddin, and Kamaruddin Aziz from sending hundreds, even thousands, of books accross the water. They are armed with a single motivation: provide children in coastal areas access to books they previously  haD difficulty getting their hands on. “We want to bring a new reading experience for the kids,” Ridwan said.

The Pustaka Pattingaloang boat carries these books to their varied destinations. The name “Pattingaloang” was originally the surname of Karaeng Pattingaloang, a 17th Century intellectual and diplomat from Makassar, South Sulawesi.

History recounts Karaeng as a formidable scientist. In fact, some people dubbed him the Galileo of Makassar. He had a seemingly insatiable curiosity towards the world’s knowledge. In his effort to ease his way into absorbing knowledge from other lands, he taught himself several languages, including Latin, Greek, Italian, French, Dutch, Portugese, Danish, and Arabic. His nicknames included “The Title-less Supreme Scholar”.

These efforts are meant to spread the learning spirit of Karaeng.

The maiden voyage was in June this year, involving 200 books mostly donated by Maman Suherman, a Makassar literary figure.

According to Ridwan, the journey from Polewali to Mandar, and on to Makassar, was not quite as smooth sailing as they first imagined it would be. The sailors and the boat’s resilience were tested from the start of the journey. “We were hit by heavy rain during the last sailing. Some of the books got wet, but thankfully we were able to save them,” Ridwan, who was also the boat’s captain. The books were safe.

If the books had feelings, they would not have been worried. The boat carrying them is tough, spacious one – a ‘Bago’ boat from Mandor, chosen by Ridwan.  It can carry up to 5,000 books and seven passengers.

“I chose this boat because it is a traditional one, and has a large hull. Its safer for sailing on rivers too, and you don’t have to worry about it running aground,” Ridwan, who has been researching traditional maritime methods for about 17 years.

There is now a plan to take the books on a journey along the Makassar strait to East Kalimantan. This time, they will be stored in water ressistant containers and accompanied by volunteer writers, who are willing to board the Perahu Pustaka (Literary Boat) to spread knowledge, including knowledge about traditional maritime navigation. The books will stay awhile on a certain island and will be borrowed by kids wanting to take them home. They will then be picked up in one or two weeks from that time by the Perahu Pustaka Pattingaloang.


“The kids are very supportive. The books brought by Perahu Pustaka Pattingaloang have proven to stimulate them. They can read them to the end,” Nirwan said of the from the children at Mandar, where Perahu Pustaka first came to be.

The books being transported are quite lighthearted ones, such as children’s books, magazines, and easy reading novels. They were selected to increase the reading enthusiasm of children living in coastal areas.

“When we asked them which ones they prefered: books brought by Perahu Pustaka or textbooks, they immediately said books from Perahu Pustaka,” Erni Aladjai, one of the volunteer writers going on the journey, said. This means the children were happy about the books’ arrival. So much so, in fact, that they were willing to help the Perahu Pustaka volunteers get ready for the journey.

“There were around 20 kids helping out. The boys helped push the boat to sea, while the girls helped carry the books on board. Those who didn’t get to do anything cried, so we made a strategy to divide the tasks. Each child only had to carry five booksso that everyone got to do something,” Erni said.

The most touching moment, however, was when Perahu Pustaka bade them goodbye. “The kids were yelling out ‘please don’t forget me,’” Erin recalled with an emotional chuckle.


In February 2014, the Indonesian Publishing Association reported data from the Gramedia bookstore. The largest bookstore chain in Indonesia shows that in 2012 and 2013, children’s books ranked first in sales compared to other book genres, despite  almost never being displayed in the best sellers shelves in the stores’ front sections.

In 2012, as many as 10.97 million copies, composed of almost 7,000 titles, were sold. The number decreased slightly in 2013 to 10.95 million, composed of 4,700 titles. These numbers soared above the recorded sales for other genres. In second place was, for example, religious books, which sold 3.7 million copies. Fiction or literature sold 3.6 million, school textbooks 3.5 million, and other books below 2 million copies. During the 1990s and early 2000s, religious books came first place.

According to IKAPI, the boom in children’s books sales might have occured due to the rising new middle class, who are attentive to their children’s education and reading habits. Unfortunately, this development is not equal in its distribution.

In the coastal areas of Makassar archipelago, for example, the highest selling books are textbooks, and stores selling good varieties of books can only be found in urban centers.

This is a shame, considering that the right to read and the right to have access to books are  rights of  people of all ages. Children are actually very enthusiastic about reading, but they are unable to access books that match their interests. They only come accross textbooks, because those are the ones deemed appropriate for them, but they aren’t given good access to other books, such as comic books for example, because comic books are considered as “poison” that can ruin the children’s future. However, even famous writers love comic books. Eka Kurniawan is said to be a big fan of ‘Pendekar Mabuk’ (The Drunken Warrior) comic series. Seno Gumira Ajidarma is a fan of Tintin comics. The Japanese people’s reading experience begins with comic books.

This is why the Perahu Pustaka’s volunteers’ decision to deliver alternative books for the children is comme il fault. Through boosting the children’s enthusiasm to read, the Perahu Pustaka Program may potentially increase their enthusiasm to write.

Who knows, two or three years from now, these children might be the ones writing stories from Eastern Indonesia as the fruit of them reading books from Perahu Pustaka.

Who knows, two or three years from now, their books will have their turn sailing through the Indoensian archipelago. And, who knows, two or three years from now, young writers will reign in the bookstores sales, as they did in 2014. *

Who knows?


*In 2014, Kecil-Kecil Punya Karya (KKPK) (Young and Publishing) published by DAR! Mizan, One of Mizan Group’s publishing line, reocorded their sales in Gramedia bookstores. The record re vealed that 15 percent of that book sales were from the selling of KKPK books. This means that ten to 15 children each day can come looking for KKPK books, penned by junior writers.

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