Indonesians in Focus: Iin Mutmainah

To ensure the survival of their art, theatrical actors and actresses in Indonesia need to explore their creativity. As did Iin Mutmainah, 31, a theatrical actress from Lampung, who since 2002 has performed as story-teller. Initially, Iin took up story-telling to earn some extra cash so she could continue her theater activities. But eventually Iin decided to set up a story-telling group called “Sanggar Dakocan” (Dakocan Studio). Through this group, Iin found a channel for her acting talent and has been able to carry out a story-telling campaign for kindergarten pupils and teachers.

“It turns out that the story-telling business has no market. A survey we conducted indicated that many parents were not in the habit of telling stories to their children. Worse still, many kindergarten teachers cannot tell stories. That’s why I decided to devote myself to story-telling,” said Iin, who is a mother of four.

She said it was not easy for her and her group to convince teachers and parents that story-telling is important for children according to Oyos Saroso H.N..

“Once, we offered to do story-telling in schools, one of the teachers thought we were sales promotion girls. Some headmasters even refused our offer on the grounds their teachers were all busy,” she said.

The questionnaires that Sanggar Dakocan distributed to the parents of kindergarten and elementary school students in the 23 schools the group have performed at, greatly surprised Iin.

“It turns out that parents very rarely tell stories at home. Generally, their reason is that they have no time to tell stories to their children or that they are too tired or even that they do not know what stories to tell the children and so forth,” she said.

Aside from story-telling at schools, Iin and her group also tell stories in outdoor areas, such as on sports fields.

“Listening to stories is very important for kindergarten pupils as story-telling teaches them values and helps build their character. Not surprisingly, children prefer to watch TV than listen to stories. One of the reasons is, perhaps, the way a story is told,” said Iin, who is a graduate of the School of Agriculture of Lampung University.

Iin and the Sanggar Dakocan story-tellers ensure their stories are attractive and interactive.

“The story-tellers at Sanggar Dakocan also learn child psychology. We also broaden the minds of our story-tellers by offering various themes.”

Iin said story-telling was also very useful in regard to emotional contact between parents and children.

“Regular story-telling will lead to an emotional proximity between children and parents. This emotional proximity will improve the mutual confidence between parents and children. In addition, children will also learn to listen to their parents,” she added.

Aside from being useful to a child’s emotional development, Iin said, story-telling was also useful in the development of children’s imaginations.

“Therefore, I often feel sad when I see kindergarten teachers shout at their pupils when they want them to sit properly while listening to a story. I tell stories to make the kids happy and help develop their imaginations, not to make them afraid.

“One of the books that has influenced me, and members of the group, is a Japanese book called Small Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, or better known as Toto Can.”

To be able to tell stories attractively, Iin has developed her own gestures and voice, with only a few props and costumes used.

“The purpose is to attract children so they can respond to the emotions evoked by our gestures and voices. The use of props and costumes is limited to accustom the children to giving more of their attention to the story rather than to the costumes and the props,” Iin said.

In their story-telling activities, Iin and her group use live music; mostly traditional Lampung music. “We make a theme song for each story that we tell,” she said.

Iin said it was very difficult to make children remain seated while they listened to stories. “That’s why, as a story-teller, my colleagues and I must be creative. We tell stories interactively. The children are not mere objects that should listen to our stories … they are also involved in the stories.

“Let’s say there is a scene about a fish being chased by a shark — we will ask the children to pretend to be a coral reef to protect the fish,” said Iin.

Iin also provides story-telling training to teachers. In 2007, for example, she gave story-telling training sessions to some 200 kindergarten teachers from Bandarlampung city.

“Nowadays, my colleagues and I at Sanggar Dakocan are conducting story-telling training for kindergarten teachers from all over Lampung. This training will be held over ten sessions and each session will be attended by 50 teachers. The first batch of teachers started their training in January 2008,” said Iin, who, as a story-teller, has won several prizes in national-level poetry-reading contests.

“It is necessary to remind teachers of their choice to become educators, which involves a great deal of professional responsibility,” said Iin, who is also a member of the executive board of the Lampung Arts Council.

The most difficult thing about her job, Iin said, was telling stories in front of thousands of children or in front of government officials.

“If the audience is made up of thousands of people, my fellow story-tellers and I cannot just remain on the stage. We must move around the arena. We often find ourselves crowded by children, until we can hardly move,” she said.