We are on our way to Cikalong Kulon, a subdistrict in the hilly southern part of Cianjur regency in West Java. I want to talk with farmers about their struggle in the 1980s with the State Forestry Corporation (Perum Perhutani) in a dispute over boundaries, and what has happened there since era reformasi. I also want to find out the fate of the national land reform program here. As the car ducks and swerves in the traffic, a sad song is playing about the fields of a place called Pareang. Straining to catch the lyrics, I reach for the cassette entitled A concert of love music by Mukti-Mukti 1999 and find the words to a song called Pareang ladang Parangan:
'In the forest kampung of Pareang in the field of Parangan
I watch my child with her gloomy face
Holding the post of the hut, daydreaming in the dusk
The wind is blowing the gathering clouds, wiping out the daydreams of
- an unlucky child.
Run my child, run my child,
Find a goat for a friend,
Run my child, run my child,
Find a rabbit for a friend,
Run my child and find a faithful friend.'
I notice that the song is dedicated to farmers in the Cikalong Kulon land dispute in South Cianjur, where we are heading that day. The music and lyrics of the entire cassette are by a singer called Mukti-Mukti. In the back seat of the car I am sitting next to a guy with a guitar on his knees. He turns out to be Mukti! His voice sounds completely different. He is coming with us because he knows Pak Budjil, the farmer who beat the State Forestry Corporation in a court case in1989, and we want to interview him.
I chat with Mukti for the rest of the journey. Eventually we arrive at a small village in an isolated valley with steeply sloping wet rice lands carved out of the forest. We leave the car and walk zigzagging up along rice terrace embankments, trying not to slip into the paddy fields, till we get to Pak Budjil's house. Perched on a slope with wide verandas recently added (so people could come and sit, talk and sleep there) it reminds me of a Queenslander.
Mukti has made many trips to the area and also to other land disputes. He was there when ten thousand students marched from Bandung to Garut in support of the Badega farmers in 1989. 'At first I didn't know what I should do for all these farmers who were being dispossessed of their land. So I just did what I knew best, I began to sing. I sang about former times when farmers had to ask their raja for land, about their ancestors who left their land to their children, and about farmers who were fighting the authorities'. Mukti says his songs try to help the people fight for their rights, but they also need more formal education.
Mukti says farmers have tried to ask for land using the proper procedures, but their formal requests for title to the lands that they cultivate never get anywhere because of the 'mafia' inside the local Land Office (BPN). Farmers have to put up with a lot of intimidation. Mukti tells me he was visiting one village in the early 1990s, where farmers had lived in fear of the authorities for a long time. Someone came up to him out of breath and said 'Mukti, we have to hide you in a kampung over that hill, because the Koramil (local military authorities) know about you being here'. 'It was like one of those Indonesian war movies you used to see on TV' Mukti says. 'Deep down I thought, why the hell do I have to leave. We are supposed to be a free country!' The next day Mukti was invited to give the address at the Friday prayers in a new village mosque. He told the farmers that no one had control over their lives, and they should not be afraid of village officials, the local military commander or anyone else. They should be in awe only of God, who created everything on earth.
According to Dianto Bachriadi, Mukti began his career as a singer during the student protests over land in West Java, which began in earnest in 1989. 'Almost all the farmers who were victims of compulsory land acquisitions in West Java between 1989-94 knew who Mukti was because of his songs'. But Mukti was never just a guitar playing student protestor. He is a fine musician who has organised his own solo concerts every year since the mid 1990s. 'I don't want to make a concert just for the sake of it. Music I play in concerts has to enlighten people, at least it has to make them more aware'.
Anton Lucas (email@example.com) teaches in the Asian Studies and Languages Department at Flinders University. The cassette 'Konser musik cinta Mukti-Mukti' is available through the Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria at firstname.lastname@example.org.