Between Imam Syafii and Short Story Collection “Merantau”

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‘Merantau’ Illustration by Alifian Sukma

One of my idols, whose name is almost cited every day at Pondok Pesantren Gontor is Imam Syafii. He wrote a famous poem. In Indonesia, after being translated, it is called Merantau.

Imam Syafii, whose thoughts are followed by the majority of Indonesian moslems, and is famous by the name of Mahzab (ideology) Syafii, has always become inspiration for the students. All his saying is measured, carefully thought of, just like everything he said in the poem. The essence of the poem, which is included in Diwan Asy Syafii book, is always remembered by the students who admires Imam Syafii down to their veins.

Below is the free translation of the poem by a Gontor graduate, Ahmad Fuadi in his monumental novel, Negeri Lima Menara:


A scholar and civilized person will not stay in his hometown

Go away and wander through new lands


You’re gonna find new families and friends

Exhaust yourself, the fruit of life comes after being beaten down.

I saw water rot from not flowing

When it flows it becomes clear, if not, it blackens

A lion won’t find a prey if it stays in its den

An arrow won’t hit its target if it doesn’t leave its bow

If the sun in its orbit motionless and stays still,

Human will get bored and uninterested to look

Gold ore is just a usual rock before it is dug from the mine

Agarwood is just another wood if it’s left in the jungle


The same poem came into my mind when I saw Rio F. Rachman’s short story collection entitled Merantau. Rio, his nickname, is a Mahzab Syafii follower. In his poem collection published last year, Balada Pencatat Kitab, he even cited one of many famous stories about Imam Syafii. He squeezed the story into a poem called “Guru”.

In Balada Pencatat Kitab, only “Guru” took two pages to finish – the others only took one. Meaning there was something special about the poem. It’s about Imam Syafii who was told by his teacher to go to other places to learn. Why? Because the teacher had no more to teach his student whose child’s name was Idris.

Yet, short story collection Merantau is of course different. In it, there are more stories, not only about travelling. In fact, in a short story entitled “Merantau”, the reason behind the main character’s action is not to learn like Imam Syafii’s. He does it more because of food, job. Complicated family problems force the main character to leave his country. He goes to Arab to collect riyal.


There are many stories with intricate problems in the collection. As far as I can remember, there is no happy endings. In fact “Membunuh Anjing” which ends in a win-win solution between the main character and his mother was preceded with sad stories. The ending is not completely joyful. The main character “has” his mother back, but his dog was dead.

Even in romantic stories, the plot is sad. The themes range from polygamy, hopeless love, to unrequited love. One story entitled “Kunang di Atas Lautan” is quite cheerful. Yet, there is not joy either.

Overall, the stories in the book remind me of a novel entitles by Eka Kurniawan. It is full of tragic and irony. Well, there is one story where two lovers met again after a long time. But the meeting happens when the man has become blind and the woman has lost her sanity. The writer doesn’t tell whether the woman reinvents her sanity when meeting her lover. The point is, they reunite after being separated for a long time.

Merantau consists of 19 short stories. On LPDP EduFair event at Airlangga Convention Center last Tuesday (2/2), one of the book copy was given to the audience as an “introduction” to the work published by Penerbit Suroboyo and contains 130 pages. Rio became the speaker on Awardee Story session because he once won the scholarship.

Author: Dilan Salsabila

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Media komunikasi dan informasi seputar kampus Universitas Airlangga (Unair).

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