Feb 20, 2018 Last Updated 12:49 AM, Feb 16, 2018

Writing on the wall

In the Rubikayat of Omar Kayam the poet notes: 'the moving finger writes and having writ moves on...', which is definitely the case in Yogyakarta. Street graffiti has always assumed a prominent role in the subterranean counter-culture of this Indonesia's cultural capital.

In the weeks leading up to the general election, it appeared everywhere - 'like mushrooms in the wet season', as Indonesians say. From the moulding white -washed walls of the royal palace of Yogyakarta, to the chaotic entrance to the Gadjah Mada University, everything has been gloriously defaced. Everyone with a cause seems to have a paint brush or spray can in their hand.

Naturally political graffiti dominates the public canvas, but there is also a great deal of competition from street gangs eager to immortalise their exploits. For both, the preferred language of prophetic instruction is English. There is the odd exception, such as the rather personalBambang Gendel mumet sumat: Bambang Gendel (an alias) has a headache because his circumcision didn't work out.


Megawati, the ex-leader of the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia (PDI), assumes a prominent profile. Expressions such as: 'Megawati forever' (Pro-Mega, Hidup Mega), or 'Megawati or nothing at all'(Megawati atau tidak sama sekali'), and Mega never die make unambiguous statements about contemporary politics. So does the rather strong 'Golkar are idiots' (Golkar goblok).

One creative graffiti is Single minority: Banteng kasaput Mega (see photo). The 'minority' alludes to Golkar chairman Harmoko's comments about the ruling party achieving 'a single majority'. The buffalo (banteng), symbol of the PDI and its current leader Soerjadi, has been 'eclipsed' (kasaput) by Megawati's higher standing with the electorate. The empty chair represents both the disastrous showing of the PDI in the polls and the symbol of victory for Megawati and her supporters.

Another pro-Megawati group, Psim, have been busy as well. Their name is everywhere. It is an adaptation from Persatuan Sepak Bola Indonesia Mataram, a foot ball supporters' club, to mean Pendukung Setia Ibu Megawati: Faithful Supporters of Mrs Megawati. Thousands of members apparently blazed a trail of red paint from Yogyakarta to the beaches of Parangtritis, where over 10,000 young people wore Megawati T-shirts and held an illegal all-night 'rave' party.

Islam my religion

The other political party which enjoys a high profile on Yogyakarta's streets is the PPP (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan, United Development Party), ostensibly representing many of Indonesia's Muslims. Everywhere the letters PPP are blazed with a single star, often in green paint.

In the kauman Islamic village near the palace, the graffiti 'Islam is my religion and PPP is my choice' (Islam agamaku, PPP pilihanku) are overwritten with the words 'Not my religion' (Tak agamaku)! Welcome to PPP village is embellished, in different paint, with 'horrifying' (miris). Golput or 'White group', urging an informal vote, is written everywhere.

Joxzyn, Joxcin or Jxz is a very active graffiti gang mostly comprising Muhammadiyah high school students. Their name combines the boy's name Joko with the Javanese for crazy (sinting). Members ride around on motorcycles sans mufflers at election time and terrorise other gangs, such as their sworn enemies QZR, which stands forkisruh, meaning confused, crazy or spaced out. The QZR gang are believed to originate in the married quarters of the military barracks in Jalan Kaliurang, north Yogyakarta.

There is also the PPP Darwis graffiti group. Their name stands for Modar ya wis, meaning the 'I don't care if I'm killed' group, presumably now low in numbers.


Other gangs who splash a bit of paint around are The Boys, often spelt Boyz. This seems to be a broad grouping of disaffected youth comprising Gay boys, Stinky boys, Bad boys, Lazy boys, Reflex boys and Nasty boys. Not to forget the Hebat boys ('Terrific boys'), obviously with a high regard for themselves. Black Ninja are a martial arts gang. Lapendoz are pill-addicted young people who also like to fight. Migraine boys are hooked on the pain killing drug ponstan. According to one source these Boyz are 'a real pain'.

The words Death and Kill are prominent in the Gamping area, as are F... this village, F... 'in ibu, and the rather hopeful F... me. Near the Mount Merapi National Park gates there is the ominous 'Ready for revolution' (Siap revolusi). On the wall of a city graveyard, in beautifully scripted calligraphy, is the ironic incantation: Welcome to Hollywood.

The rather depressing scrawl on the wall of the Gampingan campus of the Indonesian School of Fine Arts reads: The future is bullshit for me, probably a general comment on life, rather than on the future of Indonesian democracy.


Some years ago local authorities spent much time and money developing the civic slogan Yogyakarta berhati nyaman, a made-up word derived from 'clean, healthy and nice' (bersih, sehat, nyaman). In defiance, someone over-painted this slogan with large, bright red words:Indonesia democrazy. According to Yogyakarta's street philosophers, this is an appropriate description of the Indonesian political process.

Mas Sujoko is a pseudonym for a student in Yogyakarta.

Inside Indonesia 52: Oct-Dec 1997

Latest Articles

Diplomasi pendopo dan gamelan sekar laras

Feb 16, 2018 - DUNCAN GRAHAM

Crossing the finish line

Feb 13, 2018 - JOSH STENBERG 2

Wilson Tjandinegara (photo courtesy of Guoji Ribao)

Bilingual Chinese-Indonesian writer Wilson Tjandinegara built bridges within Indonesia’s literary culture

A showcase of harmony

Feb 13, 2018 - JOSH STENBERG

The Leyun Choir (樂韻合唱團) performs

Celebrating Indonesia’s birthday with the Mandarin choirs of Jakarta

Review: Ending the silence

Feb 07, 2018 - JOOST COTE

Social exclusion in a state urban mega-development


Multi-generational villagers’ land and homes are being expropriated for the new capital  Credit: Alyssa Shamsa Wilbur

Indonesia’s first new city, like many others, may not be addressing the urban problems it was supposed to 

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.


Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar

Readers said:

  • Marriage denied
    Sayed - 30 Nov
    I am from Pakistan and living in Indonesia and I am refugee here. I have been here a long time for 5 years but still I did not get any answer from ...
  • When a history seminar becomes toxic
    Duncan Graham - 12 Nov
    Thanks for this detailed account - most reports have been superficial. The politics have been done well, but what about the people? I would have ...
  • When a history seminar becomes toxic
    Jose - 11 Nov
    Inciting violence is a purpose in itself - violence begets more violence. Turning a peaceful event into a violent confrontation serves its own purpose ...
  • Mining – who benefits?
    uhaibm@yahoo.com - 04 Nov
    This paper has been inspired in relation to the exploitation of natural resources, specifically the coal mining industry. I am doing some research ...

30th Anniversary Book

Inside Indonesia - 30th Anniversary Photo Book


Have you bought your copy of Inside Indonesia's 30th Anniversary book yet?

The book features 30 of the judges' favourite images from the 2013 Inside Indonesia Photography Competition.

Preview the book  and order your copy online (Soft cover approx AUD$23.00 / Hard cover approx AUD$35.00).