The Zombie of “Silva Sastrawan”

SEVERAL weeks ago I attended a literary discussion in front of my faculty at 08.00 pm. The discussion is one of BEM Fakultas Adab (The Faculty of Letters Student Executive Board) programs to revive the literary world in campus. The discussion contained some poetry-readings by attendants who wanted to perform and discussed about the plan of the future of the program which is led by a senior. At 10 pm, the security of campus came and warned us that the time of campus closing was counting down.

Until the last minutes the senior continued leading to discuss about the using of language in present day Indonesia instead of discussing about the irony. He mocked the habit of most of Indonesians which use the funky language such as gue and lo, and the loan-words such as arsitek and zodiak. Why did we use a loan word like arsitek? Did you know that act mean as if our ancestor did not have a capability to build the house? Our native language have its own term for arsitek, Man!

He said furiously, and finally he added that what he meant “its own term for arsitek” is “silva sastrawan”. This word sounded weird for me, and I think there is a sense of Sanskrit or Kawi (combination of Sanskrit and Old Javanese) on it, it is similar with the military terms like Cakrabirawa (President Soekarno’s palace guard) or Komando Pasukan Sandi Yudha (Kopassandha, Combat Intelligence Forces Command) and the title of each chapter in my first novel, Serat Marionet, like Mahayuddhaga and Janmantara.

The discussion ended, and that was the only one I have ever attended. I have never heard of its future and the word “silva sastrawan” was lost from my mind until one day when I heard again that word was spoken by my acquaintance. He was such a little arrogant to say about the time to use “our native language” instead of the loan-words because the latter is the symbol of colonization. This is like nostalgia for me to hear all of them. On the other hand, I was afraid of one thing: how if the poison of “silva sastrawan” damages Indonesian Language.

What I mean with “the poison of silva sastrawan” is the xenophobia: the feeling of fear or dislike to something or someone that comes from outside. I think it is not a matter of nationalism any more; it will be the jingoism, the hiperbolic nationalism. I have never doubted the sense of nationalism in my own mind because I admire Sukarno, the greatest Indonesian Nationalist, who have said, “aku akan melakukan kerja sama sekalipun dengan setan yang terkutuk, jika hal itu membantu kemerdekaan negeriku.” (227) (I will collaborate even with the devil if I can take my country to its independence by doing that.) in his book, Bung Karno Penyambung Lidah Rakyat Indonesia, since I was a pupil at Elementary School. Nevertheless, in the case of “silva sastrawan”, I do not have the same opinion with anyone who said that the use of the native language is better than the use of the loan-words since even the word “native” itself is a problematic one. I disagree with the idea that the use of loan-words is a symbol of colonization because the influence of one language to another is a normal process.

I dare to say that even this normal process is agreed by God. The Holy Quran, which uses Arabic as its medium since the time it was revealed, use the loan word from the language used in the place so far away from its place where it was revealed: Sumatra. The Arabic word kafur (champor) which can be found in the fifth verse of Al-Insaan (The Man), is originally Old Malay. This word came to Arabic through the Arabic Merchant who reached Sumatra from about 4th AD (Rahman 3). If I agree that the use of loan-words is a symbol of colonization, it will be said that I also agree that The Holy Quran (and mainly God) support the colonization. It is so funny for me, as funny as the reality that what “the senior” and “my acquaintance” assume as the native language actually is not really native.

It is clear that what they mean “native language” is Sanskrit, but the truth is this: silva sastrawan is not originally Sanskrit. It is a kind of word-borrowing too like loan-words named loan-blends which are formed by combining a word of foreign language and a word of the base language (Jendra 91). This is right that the word sastrawan is originally Sanskrit: ҫastra (similar to sabda from ҫabda) in Old Sanskrit to mean precept, instruction, the suffix –wan from the same language –van (Moeliono 398), but silva is not.

According to Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages, the word silva is taken from Latin language means wood, forest (564). Its origin is uncertain, but it was supposed that this word was derived from Greek.

On the other hand, according to Kamus Lengkap Indonesia Inggris, the word arsitek is taken from English via Dutch language (55). Nevertheless, this word is not originally English. As it is explained in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, it is taken from Latin architecton which is derived from Greek architekton, its meaning is chief artificer, master builder. The word tekton itself in Greek means builder, carpenter (113), the latter has the identical meaning with silva sastrawan.

It is the fact that Sanskrit is Older than Latin and Greek, but it does not mean the influencing process happens in one-way from the older language to the younger one. Actually the process is two-way: the younger also influences the older. English and Malay, for another example, the latter is younger, but the English word amok is derived from Malay (Mohamad 10).

So, as I have explained before, the origin of silva sastrawan and arsitek give the evidence that both of them (especially silva and arsitek) are taken from Greek language, and so, both of them are loan-words, not originally “our native language”, whatever this vague term means.

Besides, the use of loan-word does not always mean that before its use there is no “what the word refer to” in the native circle. The use of “architect”, for example, does not mean that before that time of use there is no “a master builder” in Great Britain. In the same meaning, the use of “arsitek” do not mean that at the time of Indonesian ancestors there was no living “arsitek”. We can assume that before the known-first-use of “architect” in 1563 England had had the architects, yet we don’t know what they were called; it might be carpenter which entered the language one century before. We can assume too that before the using of “Arsitek”, Indonesia had had “Arsitek” and they might be called “Silva Sastrawan”. The kind of loan-word like this is named Unnecessary Loan-Word or Substitutions (Jendra 89).

As it had been noted on the preface of Webster’s New Basic Thesaurus (iii), it is important to remember that there is no true synonym. Although many words may mean the same thing, each of them may have slightly different meaning, because when there are two words which have quite the same meaning in one language, one word will be death; meanwhile the other will stay alive.

The simple sample of the note above is the case of sangkil and mangkus in our country several decades ago. Remy Silado, an Indonesian man of literature who is well-known of his unconventional poetry (puisi mbeling) and his habit for using local language in his work, has ever raised an idea to use both of words instead of efektif and efisien, because sangkil (synonym to efektif) and mangkus (synonym to efisien) are taken from Minangkabau language (Stevens 614 and 873) while efektif and efisien are taken from a foreign language. As time goes by, people still like to use efektif and efisien. Hence, now we rarely find the using of sangkil and mangkus besides Sylado’s using in his work.

The case of sangkil and mangkus is similar to arsitek. While arsitek stays alive, yet silva sastrawan died. Actually this phenomenon is a normal process. Sometimes the dead words still have their own place in literary works and—especially in Indonesia, in—military terms. They are called “archaic words”.

So, in my opinion, the act of reliving the dead language out of literary work is useless and it will be a weird action which is similar to the act of bringing the dead back to life. I imagine if one time I find myself will sit in a food-stall while waiting for my order, and I will read a newspaper in which I will find a sentence like this: “Pada awal Januari silam, silva sastrawan pembangunan gedung Bappennas ini resmi dilantik menjadi…” (“At the beginning of January, the silva sastrawan of Bappennas building project was officially inaugurated as…”).

Maybe I will fix my glasses, knit my forehead, then when I will be sure that it is quite real, I will be confused, which one does this newspaper try to offer, short story or daily news?



Webster’s New Basic Thesaurus. LLC: Promotional Sales Books, 1997.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield: Merriam, 1981.

Adam, Cindy. Bung Karno Penyambung Lidah Rakyat Indonesia. Jakarta: Yayasan Bung Karno, 2011.

de Vaan, Michiel. Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Jendra, Made Iwan Indrawan. Sociolinguistics: The Study of Societies’ Languages. Yogyakarta: Graha Ilmu, 2010.

Moeliono, Anton M., and Soenjono Dardjowidjojo. Tata Bahasa Baku Bahasa Indonesia. Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, 1988.

Mohamad, Goenawan. Conversations with Difference: Essays from Tempo Magazine. Jakarta: Tempo Inti Media, 2002.

Rahman, Jamal D. “Al-Qur’an, Kapur Barus, Hamzah Fansuri.” Horison Nov. 2011: 2-4.

Stevens, Alan M., and A. Ed. Schmidgall-Tellings. Kamus Lengkap Indonesia-Inggris. Bandung: Mizan, 2009.

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Tentang Penulis

Tentang Penulis

Cep Subhan KM. Lahir di Ciamis tanggal 6 Juni. Cerpen-cerpennya dimuat dalam antologi bersama Ludah Surga (2006) dan Kata Orang Aku Mirip Nabi Yusuf (2007), sementara beberapa puisinya diikutkan dalam antologi penyair muda Ciamis Kota Menjadi Kata (2017). Sudah menerbitkan novel Serat Marionet (2011) dan dwilogi Yang Tersisa Usai Bercinta (2020) dan Yang Maya Yang Bercinta (2021), dan satu buku puisi, Hari Tanpa Nama (2018). Satu novelnya yang lain, Kosokbali (2021), bisa dibaca di portal Kwikku. Esai-esainya tersebar dalam Jurnal Sajak,, dan beberapa media daring lain. Esai kritik sastranya menjadi Pemenang II Sayembara Kritik Sastra DKJ 2022 dan Juara 2 Lomba Kritik Sastra Dunia Puisi Taufiq Ismail 2023.