Remembering Ibu Sud: The Musical Legacy of Indonesia’s Beloved Children’s Song Composer

On the bright afternoon of March 26, 2017, the online world was captivated by an image displayed on the Google search engine. The picture featured a spirited woman standing in front of a radio speaker, while three young children sat beside her, their faces filled with admiration, listening attentively to the music emanating from the radio. Their eyes sparkled with wonder, and smiles of pure happiness adorned their faces. This image was not just an ordinary picture; it was a tribute to a remarkable figure from Indonesia: Sarijah Niung Soedibjo, better known as Ibu Sud.

Ibu Sud was born 109 years ago, yet her legacy as a composer of children’s songs remained alive in the hearts and minds of generations that followed. The name “Ibu Sud” was derived from her husband’s name, Raden Bintang Soedibjo. They got married in 1925, when Sarijah was still working as a teacher. However, her role extended beyond the classroom; Sarijah possessed an extraordinary talent in music, nurtured with love and care by her adoptive parent, Prof. Dr. Mr. J.F. Kramer.

Kramer, a man of German-Javanese descent, served as the Vice Chairman of the Hoogerechtshof (High Court) in Batavia. During his tenure, he appointed Muhammad Niung, Sarijah’s father, as his security guard. The strong bond between the Niung family and Kramer persisted even after Kramer retired and moved to Sukabumi. It was there that Sarijah grew up as the youngest of 12 siblings, with Kramer as her adoptive parent.

Under Kramer’s loving guidance, Sarijah began honing her musical talent at a very young age. By the age of five, she was already proficient in playing the violin. Her fluency in the Dutch language led her to Hollands Inlandse School (HIS) Sukabumi, a government school for native children fluent in Dutch. After graduating from HIS Sukabumi, Sarijah continued her education at Kweekschool voor Inlandse Onderwijzers in Bandung. Upon graduation, she taught at several schools in Batavia and Surabaya due to her husband’s job transfers.

However, Sarijah’s role in education was not limited to the classroom. She had a profound awareness of the importance of children’s songs that reflected everyday life in Indonesia. Realizing that the Dutch songs sung by her students felt foreign and lacked depth, Sarijah decided to create Indonesian children’s songs. These songs told stories about transportation, nature, culture, and educational values, infused with joy and imagination, viewing the world from a positive and beautiful perspective.

Sarijah’s works were not only well received by children and parents in Indonesia but also by the government. In 1927, the Dutch East Indies government asked her to host the Children’s Garden segment on Vereniging voor Oosterse Radio Omroep under Nederlandsch Indische Radio Omroep Maatschappij. Although the honorarium she received did not match the value of her work, Sarijah remained grateful for the opportunity to share her songs nationwide.

One of Ibu Sud’s patriotic songs was “Berkibarlah Benderaku” (Let My Flag Flutter). This song was inspired by the bravery of the freedom fighters who staunchly defended the Indonesian red and white flag at the Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) Jakarta building. Her dedication to music and patriotism led to Sarijah being awarded the Satyalencana Kebudayaan by the government in early 1983.

However, Sarijah’s love for music was eventually silenced by death. On May 26, 1993, the world lost a great figure in the Indonesian music scene. Yet, her legacy lived on through the beautiful songs that reflected the joy, imagination, and innocence of Indonesian children. As her life came to an end, Ibu Sud left behind a trail of happiness and wisdom through her music, which continues to be sung by children across Indonesia.