3 Nafas Likas on Cultural Studies Point of View

January 09, 2018

A patriotic film with a love story inside is common. Since Ainun Habibie was filming and gained a lot of public attention. Then, a number of historic-based films are produced more. Ainun Habibie and other patriotic films were told from the patriot side which mostly from the men’s view or directly from the national heroes themselves such as Soekarno, Guru Bangsa: Tjokroaminoto, Jenderal Soedirman Sang Kyai, Sang Pencerah,. Perhaps this is a proof that men are the superior sex and constantly dominate in politics and social sectors. 

However, 3 Nafas Likas tried to give different angle but in the same theme “patriotism and nationalism.” The film was captured from woman side, Likas Tarigan, the wife of the Indonesian national hero who became the focus of the story. The interesting point of the film, it was completely full of social and cultural issues specifically in Indonesian context. Some concerns were presenting in the film such as ethnicity, rigid traditions, men dominance, feminism, patriotism and also nationalism.

Generally, the film was a biography film of Likas Tarigan. She was a tough woman who also known as Djamin Gintings’ wife. Likas Tarigan here was told as a determined and persistent girl. Although, she lived in a village and period where women and men were socially unequal, she fought for her right. Little Likas had ambition to be a teacher who would make her studied outside of her hometown. Her father and brother supported also agreed with her choice while her mother disagreed with Likas’ decision. Nevertheless, Likas still went to Padang Panjang to get teaching education. While she was studying, her mother passed away. It made her totally in great sadness. As time goes by, she succeeded in being a teacher. When she worked as a teacher, a soldier, Djamin Ginting, who lived next to her house, fell in love to her. But Likas did not like and just ignore him. Unfortunately, because of the war condition, learning activity was stopped so Likas went to her hometown in Sibolangit. At that time, someone gave a letter that inform if her brother who a police was passed away in the battle. Again she felt great loss because her brother was one of the precious persons in her life.

No longer Likas was married by Djamin and had four children. Every time she got pregnant and gave birth, her husband was absence due to the war. Nonetheless, she was still a loyal wife even becoming more independent person. After Indonesia has gained independence, he was unemployed. But in ‘Orde Baru’ era Djamin was placed in Ottawa as the Indonesia Ambassador for Canada. Likas indeed companied her husband. Sadly, when Likas was in Indonesia and Djamin still stayed in Canada, her lovely husband was sleep peacefully. Djamin Ginting came to Indonesia in still condition lying in a coffin. Once more, death took away the person she loved. 

If we look from the angle of the story which was taken from the wife of the national hero, it is a kind of social construction which gives a new idea about heroes and women through film. Tom (2014) states “society has many other social constructs, one of many that are emphasized by films and narratives…” More importantly, it helped to build national identity. National identity is a form of identification with representation of shared experiences and history. These are told through stories, literature, popular culture and the media (Barker: 253). In the film, the patriot who did not become the central of the story and make the wife of the patriot is in the spotlight. It might be a feminist film that stresses the role of women also important in the era of colonization. The film tried to share idea about women that should not be forgotten and men must not always be pried in the public which media mostly did. Women as ‘local’ hero in the house also fight alone to take care of children while the men as the national hero fight for independence. In addition, the impression of “there is always a great woman behind a great man” also seen in the film which the “love story” more strong. The concept of men for women, men need women and vice versa make the plot more interesting, it seems very natural and brings the idea of “heterosexual relationship” among the campaign of LGBT issue.

Rigid tradition that leaded to idea of patriarchy was one of the concerns showed in the story. As Barker (2000) has explained about patriarchy “a concept that has connotation of male-headed family, mastery and superiority”. Since Likas was born in Sibolangit in the east of Sumatra which the ethnic adopted patriarchy system, she likely did not agree and uncomfortable with the tradition for women are the subordinate sex in society. In fact, it is the social, cultural and political discourses and practices of gender that are said to lie at the root of women's subordination (Barker: 289). Due to the patriarchy system was adopted in Karo, men dominate in social life. Men are commonly to be more naturally domineering, hierarchically oriented and power-hungry, while women are seen as nurturing, child rearing and domestically inclined (Barker:283-284). Men dominance indeed intensively felt in the film. There were many scenes that portray man dominance. Even the film was started with a scene when Likas played marble with the other boys. Likas won the game but the boy who was defeated by Likas could not accept if he was defeated by a girl. Men were the superior sex and should not beat by women in anything.

Another scene, when Likas was adult, she tried to give a speech about Karo women who had no voice and right in social life. Barker (2000) even had stated that the subordination of women occurs across a whole range of social institution and practices. Yet, the audience who dominated with the men was angry because they think it was the reality and it must not be changed. The topic about women right seemed “taboo” and women should not talk and ask about it. However, Barker (2000) says that gender was held to be a matter of culture rather than ‘nature’, so it was always a matter of how men and women are represented (Barker, 2004).Still, he also explained that femininity and masculinity as forms of gender were the outcome of the cultural regulation of behaviors that were regarded as socially appropriate to a given sex. Thus, there is no distinction between men and women since the idea of gender and sex are just the matter of production. It was made up by people that make men more dominant than women in social life especially.

Because of the men dominance, Likas tried to gain what women should get since long time ago. Indeed she was across the line of tradition to get her rights. The film also showed if a tradition often differentiate rights between man and woman. In fact, men and women are socially, politically, culturally equal. In Barker (2000) ethnicity is best understood as a process of boundary formation that has been constructed and maintained under specific socio-historical conditions (Barth, 1969). In this case, the tradition itself categorically related to the ethic that Likas had. Ethnic should not become a rope that would limit any gender or any individual because the concept of ethnicity itself the sameness of norms, values and belief. Certainly, the conception about ethnic does not even mention about the gender or sex. I mean, ethnicity does not separate between men and women right. Ethnicity is a cultural concept centered on the sharing of norms, value, belief, cultural symbols and practices (Barker: 251).

More significantly, the issue of feminism is quite strong in the plot of the story. Gender inequality is a common issue when tradition plays big role in one area. Women always the inferior gender and treat unfairly. In Barker (2000) Mackinnon (1987, 1991) argues that women's subordination is a matter of social power founded on men's dominance of institutionalized heterosexuality. This is what Likas felt so she tried to get again what she actually had. She only wanted the same opportunities as men. Mackinnon stated that “we, feminist, may struggle for equal opportunities but we should not expect or hope for sameness of outcome” (Barker: 289). In this case, she fights for her education. The restriction of the tradition was seen in the film. It was depicted in her mother’ identity that had single-minded about women who should not go far from hometown and get education so, she did not agree when Likas decided to be a teacher. She was really furious and deeply sad even she said she would be died if Likas still went to Padang Panjang whereas Likas’s brother was also left the family due to education too. Feminism as asserting that sex is a fundamental and irreducible axis of social organization which, to date, has subordinated women to men (Barker: 22). We can see that definitely patriarchy system works here. Likas’ mother seemed tolerable to her son but give different respond to her daughter. The rigid tradition made women had no right. If women ask their right, it mean that they against the tradition. The subordination of women is argued to be evident across a range of social institutions and practices, that is, male power and female subordination are structural (Barker: 22).

Moreover, Likas was grown up in Karo tradition which makes her as Karo woman. Since she was young, her mother had thought her how to be woman. Sex is taken to be biologically of the body while gender refers to the cultural assumption and practices that govern the social construction of men and women (Barker: 289). She fed her brother, cooked for all family, and helped her mother and father in the field. Likas identity was build up by her mother because women who competent in doing housewife duty are ideal Karo woman. This phenomenon convinced that identity can be created. As Giddens stated that self-identity is what we as person think as it is. However, identity is a mode of thinking about ourselves. This is why Giddens describes identity as a project. It means that identity is our creation. It is something always in process, a moving towards rather that an arrival (Barker: 2000, p.222). Besides, Likas also had woman character such as smart, detail, and good in memorizing which is also the same as Barker had discussed that women are more verbal, co-operative and organized (Barker:2000, p.285).  In fact, she still had feeling of denial for custom from her tradition that she thought it was wrong. Mostly, she complained about equality between man and woman. Karo women were responsible for housewife‘s duty included helping men in the field. But after worked all day in the field, women still did women job while men were free to get drunk and party all night with other men. 

To be masculine and to be feminine are just a construction. Gender is a cultural construct, it is open to change (Barker: 240). Additionally, Barker (2000) assumed that sex and gender are matters of culture rather than of nature. This matter also described in the film. Women should wake up first, care every people in the house, go to the field, and one who sleep the last. On the other hand, men only go to the field, afterwards they have drink with the other men. Her mother thought her how to be Karo woman. It just repeated actions. The discourse of sex is one that through repetition of the acts guides, bring sex into view as a necessary norm (Barker: 240). Since she was young, she has taken housewife-duty such as feeding her brother, cleaning the house, cooking in the kitchen, also helping the house stuff. It gives the impression of masculinity and femininity can be created. Similarly, Foucault argued that to be a man or a woman is not the out-come of biological determinism or universal cognitive, it structures and cultural patterns (Barker: 290).

Issue of nationalism also appeared since Likas is Djamin Ginting’s wife. The effort against colonists in this case Japan sensed even when the battle occurred. It was quite real and representing the war condition. Additionally, kidnapping and beating the local citizens or soldiers during were normal. This contribute the impression of the heroes were more than strong. The setting was taken in the era of colonization and after Indonesian independence. After independence Djamin was jobless but no longer had he become a lieutenant general. Their life also improved. They were not the lower class group who sat in the back table in a party.  Transition Likas and Djamin’s life saw from lower class to upper class. Due to the fact that identity is a subject to be change, it means that identities are wholly social constructions and cannot “exist” outside of cultural representation (Barker: 2000, p.220). The issue of identity captured more in Likas side. When Djamin was promoted to be lieutenant general, their life changed. Likas must adjust with different social class. She learnt how to be a high class woman. She was taught how to act, to walk, to eat, and to dress in elegant way. This make the theory of identity is true because identity indeed is unfixed. Identities are changeable and related to definite social and cultural conjunctures (Barker: 285). As we know Likas who was from a village in the east of Sumatra, she did not know what was to be well-dressed and graceful wife but she could make the new identity. Furthermore, Djamin was a lieutenant general who was usual in the field. He did not habituate with table and folder that need to sign. Due to the professionalism and feeling of nationalism, he accepted the duty as ambassador in Canada.

In a nutshell, 3 Nafas Likas has covered many issues like feminism, nationalism, identity, ethnicity, sex and gender. The central character, Likas Tarigan, was a village girl who tried to break the rigidness of the patriarchy tradition in Karo. She was very different from other women, the personality give impression of independent, resilient and loyal wife. 3 Nafas Likas was represented from women’ view by giving another kind of patriotic film. Thus, the contain make people realized the important of gender equality and feeling of struggle. More meaningfully, the main point of the film was Likas’s struggle and effort to get what she wanted and to have what her right. It is worth to be followed. What is more, death is a part of life which also happened in Likas’ life. Three times she lost people she love; her mother, brother and husband. Although, Likas fight for her right and seemed so tough and independent, she still a human who feel lost and sadness. In this part, it showed that no matter how strong or tough the person is, he or she still needed others. 3 Nafas Likas itself means the 3 persons that truly significant in Likas’ life. 

Barker, Chris. 2000. Cultural Studies Theory and Practice. London: Sage Publication.

Tom, Eileen W. 2014. Social Constructs in Film Culture: The Effect of it on the Performing Arts, and the Destroyed Association of Signs to Enhance Meaning. University Honors College

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