Of Childhood Memories and Life Lessons


Pak Raden, played by Suyadi, at a live performance of his Unyil show at the National Monument in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The old man grabs his visitors’ attention with his iconic broad mustache, outsized cane and Javanese outfit — all attributes that befit his name, Pak Raden.

His bearing as an authority figure still gets through to his viewers, particularly those who grew up watching him put up with Unyil and his friends Usro and Ucrit, as well as the slothful Pak Ogah on “Si Unyil,” a children’s puppet show on state broadcaster TVRI from the 1980s through to the early 2000’s. Like the rest of the Unyil cast, Pak Raden is a relatively rare sight nowadays. But the character — as played in live-action form by Suyadi — and the rest of Unyil’s cast can still draw crowds, as seen during a recent storytelling session at Jakarta’s National Monument, or Monas, called “Cerita Lagi Bareng Pak Raden” or “More Stories With Pak Raden.”

Held by Coca-Cola and Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising company, as part of their “Semangat Berbagi” (“Spirit of Giving”) campaign, the session was also a tribute to Pak Raden for his role in bringing up millions of Indonesian children.

“Growing up as an Unyil fan, Pak Raden was like a surrogate father figure who alternately delighted and motivated you with his stories,” said Wondo, an advertising manager at Ogilvy and Mather.

“Despite his gruff exterior, he set the standard that we should go by in treating children, namely treating them well and with respect. But most of all, he symbolizes an era when life was simpler.”

In a statement, Coca-Cola and Ogilvy & Mather say their campaign “alludes to the sense of togetherness in which families would get together over a good story. However, this tradition is fast eroding as children are diverted by television programs and computer games, while their parents are often preoccupied with their jobs, gadgets, and applications.

“By bringing Pak Raden to recount his tales, we hope to revive this storytelling tradition, as its a good way to open up and be honest to one another.”

Pak Raden lived up to his billing, delighting his audiences with his gruff manner and bluff bonhomie, as epitomized by his cry “Encokku kumat!” (“My gout is acting up!”). The 80-year-old Suyadi brought to life a number of Unyil characters, among them Ucrit and Melani, in a puppet show that saw the characters solve their problems with childlike innocence and a healthy dose of positivity, including respecting their elders and one another.

The story, like much of Unyil as a series, paid tribute to the guileless ingenuity of kids and their spirit of making do. A second story, told in a sketching format, recounted the fulfilling aspects of giving to others.

“The second story is one that I cherish, as it’s a creed that I live by,” said Suyadi, whose work on Unyil has won him accolades from Unicef.

“The use of sketches to tell stories is also widespread, as it practiced as far afield as Japan. I disagree with the notion that the stories I tell are outdated, since good stories, like the universal values they highlight, are timeless.”

Like the first story, the sketch showed Suyadi’s proficiency in puppetry, ventriloquism and musical skits. His techniques resonated with many in the crowd. “I happened to be passing by and saw this session, and it instantly brought back memories of getting up on weekends to watch Unyil,” said Dedy, a bus driver. “It took a while to get my child to see the wonders of Unyil, as he didn’t grow up with the show like I did.”

To what extent Pak Raden can continue to hold audiences in thrall is uncertain, but as the session shows, his appeal won’t go out of taste anytime soon.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 14, 2014

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