May 23, 2024 Last Updated 6:09 AM, May 21, 2024

Book reviews

Published: Apr 13, 2008

Suharto's Indonesia, W Papua's Dani people, and Art as politics

Indonesia in the Soeharto years

Issues Incidents and Images

Lontar Foundation

Singapore University Press Co-edition with KITLV Press and Lontar Foundation
ISBN 9789971693589  A$85

Indonesia in the Soeharto Years: Issues Incidents and Images, is a 500 page account of the New Order regime, which spanned the years 1966-1998. The book includes written commentary from over 50 different contributors including historical actors from a range of backgrounds and Indonesia analysts from within and outside Indonesia.

In the preface to the work Goenawan Mohamad writes that the book is intended as an album of the years 1965-1998 and that it is written against the tradition of an epic history. This album is a dramatic contrast to the military-sponsored official history albums produced during the Suharto regime in which only the ‘achievements’ of the regime were celebrated. There is at least, for example, some reflection on the anti-communist campaigns of 1965-68, although there could be greater attention to the lasting impact of this violence. Under the theme of development the album also explores active resistance to land evictions and forced displacement of people to make way for ‘development’ projects. In a contribution by Saskia Wieringa, Indonesian women’s experiences of the New Order are given some coverage, together with women’s organisations.

Douglas Kamen’s commentary on the degree of reform in the courts and the military since the fall of Suharto seems optimistic given the Constitutional Court’s recent rejection of the Truth and Reconciliation Bill and the continuing impunity of senior military men to human rights abuses, such as the 2004 murder of journalist Munir.

One of the most moving contributions to this volume is the profile of the student Wiji Thukul, who disappeared along with many others in the student movement prior to the fall of Suharto.

The final essay by Ignas Kleden suggests that for the duration of the regime Indonesians were a population paralysed by fear. This representation conceals widespread complicity with the New Order regime by the comfortable middle classes. It also contradicts the many cases of resistance to the regime documented in the rest of the album not only by students, but also by the poor and those in the disputed provinces of Aceh, East Timor and West Papua.

A strength of the work is the rich collection of photographs which document key protests, acts of violence, street life and Indonesian protest art. The short essays within the volume mean that this is an easily accessible introduction to some key themes and events in the history of New Order Indonesia.

Reviewed by Katharine McGregor ( )

Christianity, Islam and nationalism in Indonesia

A study of the Dani people in West Papua

Charles E Farhadian

Basingstoke, Routledge, 2005
ISBN 0415359619  A$170.00

Charles E Farhadian’s Christianity, Islam and Nationalism in Indonesia is a fascinating study of the Dani people in West Papua. It examines how Christianity fused with traditional belief systems when first encountered by Dani highlanders in the 1950s. The notion of a new and better world fitted well with the Dani belief in nabelan kabelan, the idea of salvation and eternal life.

The coming of the Indonesian state, particularly in the form of the military apparatus, began a long history of repression and resistance, in which the Dani, like other Papuans, were faced with enormous social and economic challenges.

Farhardian cites stories of Dani people who move to the capital to improve their educational prospects. In Jayapura and Sentani, they face a new social and political landscape in which they are marginalised, looked down upon, and face identity crises. In this context, the Pentecostal churches hold great attraction. Here, Dani (and other Papuan) young people gain confidence in a community that is inclusive, where all members are regarded as equal, regardless of gender, ethnicity or class.

In the mid 1990s, Dani people came to identify with pan-Papuan political aspirations. This followed the circulation of a 1995 Catholic report on human rights violations by the military in the Timika area (where the Freeport mine is situated). Many Papuans came to realise that the torture and oppression that they had witnessed and experienced represented a ‘unity in suffering’, a common experience that theologians call a collective memory of suffering. In the late 1990s Dani people ‘reconceptualised’ themselves as Papuans.

Farhadian argues that Christianity has been a pivotal force in Papuan nationalism. Papuans identify strongly with the biblical message of liberation. In the context of the Indonesian state in which repression persists to this day, the church is the only place where Papuans receive ‘encouragement, strength and comfort’.

Reviewed by Annie Feith( )

Art as politics

Re-crafting Identities, Tourism, and Power in Tana Toraja, Indonesia

Kathleen M Adams

University of Hawaii Press, 2006
ISBN 100824830725   A$31

Ethnic identity can be a powerful negotiating tool, and in Art as Politics: Re-crafting Identities, Tourism, and Power in Tana Toraja, Indonesia, Kathleen Adams describes how artistic imagery is used as part of that process.

Adams’ study is located in the central highlands of South Sulawesi province, where the distinctive culture of the Sa’dan Toraja people, and stunningly beautiful scenery, attracted a vibrant tourist industry from the mid 1970s.

Civil conflict in the adjacent Central Sulawesi province, and terrorist attacks elsewhere in Indonesia, have reduced tourist numbers by almost eighty per cent since the peak years of the 1980s and 1990s, when most of Adams’ research was conducted.

Yet the artisans of Toraja continue to produce their artworks for sale. The identity expressed through these objects integrates indigenous custom, Christianity - which has since been adopted as the majority religion in the mountains -, and increasing interaction with the outside world. The external engagement discussed by Adams has been with the domestic and global tourism industry, and with Indonesia’s nation building. She also touches on the relationship between the Toraja as a minority Christian ethnic group and their majority Muslim neighbours.

Adams’ main focus is the link between tourism and cultural identity. In particular, she points out that the Toraja do not fit the popular perception of ethnic minorities as passive and unwilling participants in tourism. Tourism has been a positive means of social and political engagement for this group, who were active players and planners in the rise of their tourism industry. In recent years, this extended to seeking international acclaim through designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, demonstrating the on-going transaction of cultural identity.     ii

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morrell ( )

Inside Indonesia 91: Jan-Mar 2008

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