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Denias - Senandung di Atas Awan



Denias - Senandung di Atas Awan

Film Review – Denias Senandung di Atas Awan (Denias a Song from the sky)

Written by T Pratama

A film by John-De Rantau and based on a true story, “Denias Senandung di Atas Awan” tells the tale of Denias.  Denias is a young boy living in a remote village in West Papua, this half of the island under Indonesian administration. Intellectually gifted, he is encouraged to keep studying by the Indonesians in his village (his teacher and the soldier, Maleo) as well as his mother. After the death of his mother in a fire, and resolved to work hard at school in line with his mother’s wishes, Denias finds that his teacher has returned to Java and the benevolent Indonesian soldier Maleo who takes over teaching duties is later posted elsewhere. Denias walks for four days to a town over the mountains where the nearest school is located. There he struggles to be accepted to study at this school because of his poverty, but his cause is championed by the teacher Ms. Gembala, an Indonesian. Denias also has moral support from his friend, the cheeky street urchin Enos. In the town he is also faced with trouble from his former village life in the form of Noel, the bully. Noel, the son of the chief of the village is already studying at the school and constantly tries to provoke Denias into fighting. Denias is powerless to face Noel given cultural tradition and the superstition that Noel’s father, the chief, has the power to place a curse of death on the whole village.


Aside from the idyllic views of the wild green landscapes of West Papua, its people are depicted as backward. Superstition held by the village gives the chief and his son great power, which they both abuse. The chief himself is opposed to the building of a new school closer to the village yet he sends his son to the town to get an education, thus demonstrates that he is not interested in the well-being or progression of his people. Denias’ father does not support his ambitions for an education and wants him to stay home to help him with chores. After the death of Denias’ mother, in a traditional mourning ceremony, Denias’ father has a finger amputated without anesthetic, then mud rubbed on the stump, further showing traditional West Papuan life to be backward, even barbaric. In contrast this depiction of traditional West Papuan life, the Indonesians are shown as noble, benevolent bringers of progress who are patiently diplomatic with “the natives”. The two Indonesian men in Denias’ village, his teacher and the soldier Maleo are father-like figures who are more supportive both emotionally and educationally than Denias’ own father. Denias’ father is emotionally distanced from his son by his staunch belief in keeping to “the old ways”. Indeed, after the death of his mother, it is in Maleo, not his father, that Denias confides his grief. There are

exchanges between Maleo  and the village chief as well as Denias’ father where Maleo respectfully but unsuccessfully tries to convince these traditional men that education is important. There is another scene in the town where another Indonesian, Ms. Gembala helps Denias to modernize, showing him how to clean his teeth and teaching him about bathing.

Indeed this film could be viewed in two different ways: firstly, as a charming children's film, in which a determined boy with great strength of character overcomes obstacles with the help of his strong supportive friends and secondly, as a pro-colonial political statements. This film is recommended for year seven to year twelve students.






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