Wole Soyinka on Suka Duka

The theme for the 2009 festival is Suka Duka. It translates as compassion and solidarity.

Wole Soyinka, Nigerian Nobel laureate, reflected on the meaning of compassion. The event was packed (see photo) and his fellow panelist was Indonesian writer Seno Gumira Ajidarma. (See post above for Seno’s response.)

Suka Duka audience

Suka Duka audience

Wole Soyinka at the 2009 Ubud Writers

Wole Soyinka at the 2009 Ubud Writers

These are my notes on his presentation. He said he experienced a thrill about being asked to Ubud for this festival. He’s the second Nobel laureate to have ever visited Indonesia. His visit was an act of solidarity because the festival was born after the 2002 Bali Bombings which were engineered by ‘agents of death’. Indonesia is one place which has an historic duty to be engaged in examining the attributes of compassion given its checkered history. He referred to the 1965 communist purges in Indonesia which come close to the brutality of the Khmer Rouge in the 70s.

Compassion. A confusingly diffuse word but we know what it means when we see it. Terms like tolerance, understanding and reconciliation are connected to compassion. It refers to the ability to transpose oneself into the condition of another without losing the ethical core. It is different from pity and philanthropy. It is not a virtue that condescends and is egalitarian.

Truth and reconciliation. A capacity to transcend the past is a quality of compassion and a quality of truth and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela is the best recent example of a person exhibiting true compassion, in fact, embodying compassion. Ghandi didn’t achieve this he says.

But. There are times when the circumstances for compassion simply don’t exist. For Soyinka a victim of torture can not exercise compassion towards their torturers. He wanted to avoid the word ‘justice’ so says compassion without restitution (instead of justice) is a violation.


October 12, 2009. Uncategorized.

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