Apr 03, 2020 Last Updated 5:13 AM, Mar 31, 2020

In this issue

Globalisation roadkill

After months of blaming Indonesia's economic crisis on Indonesians, the world's big players are finally coming round to the view that it was their own push for free markets that caused it. Indonesia, as one journalist put it, is globalisation roadkill. This puts more onus on the world to give help that helps. But how do you do that? In this issue of Inside Indonesia we go to the grassroots of the economic crisis.

The statistic 'half the population below the poverty line' is shocking. Yet it hides as much as it reveals. Not until we step with Lea Jellinek into the homes of the once upwardly mobile on Jakarta's outskirts and hear hungry kids crying in empty lounge rooms - the furniture sold for food - do we feel that this is a human crisis.

Statistics without a human face is one form of Western ignorance. The idea that Indonesians merely need a handout is another. Not until Jane Eaton shares with us the dreams of street kids in Semarang, not until Vanessa Johanson introduces us to some village parents in Java, unemployed yet determined to keep their kids at school, do we see that Indonesians are not beggars. They are innovative battlers.

A big part of that battle is to regain control over their own country. For too long it has been run as the playground of a tiny elite. Infid, the coalition of Indonesian and foreign non- government organisations, has no illusions that a transition to democracy under crisis conditions will be easy. They are simply convinced the present troubles prove the need for more change, not less.

The political aspects of that struggle, somewhat muted this time because we want to highlight the social impact of the economic downturn, will get the spotlight in the next edition.

Gerry van Klinken, Editor.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

A river runs through it

After four years covering the big stories in Jakarta, an Australian journalist revisits the Sumatran village where his journey began.

Jim Della-Giacoma

From Sungai Penuh all the way up the Kerinci valley floor the concrete power poles lead the way to the village of Pungut Hilir. When I first called Pungut Hilir home in December 1991 there were no such punctuations in the luminous green rice paddies. Once there was not even a sealed road or trustworthy bridge to cross. This time I found development, including roads and bridges, had come to this remote and beautiful spot.

In the training in Canberra in the weeks before our trip in 1991, which did not to prepare us at all for village life, we had earnestly debated the meaning of cultural exchange. It was a two-way street, we said. Giving and taking experiences. But I think the four weeks in Kerinci taught me most about the vast gulf between myself and the average Indonesian farmer.

Somehow I still got hooked and kept coming back to Indonesia, but never quite made it 'home' to Jambi. However, Pungut Hilir was never to leave my thoughts. It was always a precious yard stick, held by few foreign correspondents, as I traversed the many faces of Indonesia.

That last month in 1991 when 16 young Australians and 16 Indonesians crawled out of our chartered bus after a 14-hour bus trip from the sweltering plains of the provincial capital Jambi, we found a quaint tin roofed village amid the wet season mud. Our Country Road shirts and dress moccasins called Donalds were soon collecting dirt.

Coca Cola We found a new world in the cool mountains of the Sumatran range, home to about 300 people. Simple and, for the most part, honest village dwelling folk. We soon discovered life in Pungut Hilir would be no holiday. It had no electricity, taps, toilets, telephones, television or alcohol. We even had to order up Coca Cola from the district town. It did, however, have the Pungut river running through it. A bathroom, toilet, laundry and swimming pool all in one.

My homecoming took place after a four year stint in the seething metropolis we called the Big Durian, where I had a front row seat in the events of May 1998 as Indonesians exposed their violent alter ego. I had returned, in part, on a quest for the idyllic Indonesia of my past.

This time I took a half-hour motorbike ride. It looked like little had changed. Being the first from our group to return I was slightly nervous about what I might find. But I need not have worried. The events in Jakarta seemed to have passed Pungut Hilir by. I found everybody as laid back as ever watching television.

Electricity had arrived in 1994 and in its wake dozens of television satellite dishes had sprouted from the roof tops. Even the primary school had one.

My unannounced arrival caught the village head Ramli sitting on a mat in front of his own colour screen with family and friends. There are still no telephones and the timing of my trip had been uncertain until the last minute. I was momentarily embarrassed when I reported my presence as I didn't know Ramli, but he seemed to remember me. 'You've changed Jim. You didn't have a beard when you were here.'

I came on a sunny Friday afternoon. The village had stayed in from the now deserted fields after weekly prayers at the mosque. They were all doing well, Ramli said, still dressed in his 'Friday best' sarung. 'The price of rice has doubled, but that's okay. We're the ones selling it,' he said with a casual air oblivious to those in Java suffering from the nation's economic collapse. Crisis? What crisis?


Back in 1991, with the sincerity of all do-gooders, we had set about building a system to pipe water from a nearby hillside to a concrete and brick tank near the primary school. Elsewhere we dug three wells and leveled a volleyball court with villagers pitching in to help in a classic case, or so we thought, of gotong royong.

In between we entertained them with songs from Australia, including the famous rendition of Waltzing Matilda in Indonesian - Ayo Berjalan. We tried to teach the children Australian Rules Football. Nobody seemed to know what happened to the balls we left behind, donated to the vain cause by the Victorian Football League. They played the real football in Kerinci and the kids would kick the oval shaped balls along the ground when they thought we weren't watching.

By the time I returned the three wells had been built over by a department of public works project the year before. They clearly had not been in use. Of the four government provided water tanks I saw only one still worked. I guess the government didn't have much success either.

'Why should people bother,' the village chief's son remarked as we stood beside the white washed toilet block with its two bathrooms complete with porcelain squat toilets. 'The river's right there.' He pointed to the women washing in it nearby to make his point. They were doing things as they'd always been done in the Pungut River. Washing, bathing and defecating in the river in full view of anybody who cared to watch. Any many did watch the strangers back in 1991.

A troupe of children stopped watching television to follow me like the Pied Piper across the bubbling river to the house of Pak Mat Idris, my host for four weeks back in 1991.

He too had his eyes glued to the box in silence with a group of old men and young boys. Time had made me forget many things, including the stiff formality with which Mat Idris ran his household and how uncomfortable I felt with it. Each meal ran like clockwork as the men and boys ate sitting on a mat on the floor in the main room of the wooden Malay-style house. The women and girls stayed bare foot and in the kitchen. When called, they crept carefully out along the floor to the edges of the room with fresh food or to clear plates.

This time I had to ask politely three times to my host to call the women, including his daughter and new grandson, to include them in a photograph. The camera caught us sitting stiffly on an old couch. A well off rice farmer with more than one hectare of paddy and hillside gardens, Mat Idris was never one for idle chatter. There were long pauses between our questions and answers during which we both were grateful that the television hadn't been turned off.

No reply

'When you left we never thought we'd see you again,' he said. 'I got all your letters,' he added. But he never replied, I recalled. I'd stopped writing after I received no reply. The link with the village was broken a year after we left. Illiteracy was perhaps as much a barrier as anything.

'It's much the same around here, not much has changed since you left. But we do have electricity now' he said, pausing, 'and television'. He pointed to the new 14-inch set that dominated the room with the gathered crowd arching around it.

As we sat I recalled pacing his balcony every night while the children watched from below as I manipulated the aerial on my tiny short wave. It was there I heard that Paul Keating had toppled Bob Hawke.

Mat Idris and I had never really connected during my time there. But my days in the village were the first time I found myself comfortable with Indonesia and Indonesians. I'd never got a good night's sleep on his floor with only one blanket between up to four people a night.

This time I kept my ojek driver with his motorbike on stand-by to return to Sungai Penuh and a real bed. He never asked me to stay, I never suggested it.

Our worlds were too far apart. Mat Idris had only once in his 40-odd years been to the provincial capital, let alone Jakarta or overseas. I was a child of migrants who had crossed the world to a new life in a multi-cultural land. Mat Idris was happy going nowhere but his fields or the 10km to Sungai Penuh to sell his rice. I returned on the verge of migrating again across the globe.

But things had progressed in seven years and television was the medium responsible. 'We sometimes watch Australian television,' Mat Idris volunteered at one point. 'But nobody in the village speaks English so we don't understand much. We just watch the news. I see you had a flood, too.' It was the first time I felt we had made a connection. Mat Idris and I finally had something in common.

Jim Della-Giacoma was a correspondent with AFP and Reuters in Jakarta. He now lives in the Washington DC area. His first visit to Pungut Hilir was as member of the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

Saman, a sensation!

Ayu Utami, Saman, Jakarta, KPG (Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia), 1998, ISBN 979-9023-17-3, 208pp.


Saman is said to be merely the first part of Ayu Utami's forthcoming novel, tentatively titled Laila tak mampir di New York ('Laila didn't call in New York'). Nevertheless, it is thoroughly worth considering in its own right.

Saman stands out amongst recent Indonesian fiction. Ayu's confident storytelling technique adequately carries the weight of a broad thematic scope, highlighting the full complexity of previously shunned issues such as female sexuality and the struggle between personal faith and political action.

Although Saman attempts to present an intimate psychological portrait of a group of young Indonesian women, plot-wise it is dominated by the mental and physical challenges faced by a politically-engaged Catholic priest, Wisanggeni, or Wis, who is assigned to a parish in South Sumatra. After becoming involved in an armed struggle between villagers and government-backed developers, Wis is smuggled out of Indonesia and changes his name to Saman.

At times, Saman is simply impossible to put down, an unusual experience when reading an Indonesian novel. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why between April and August this year Saman went through six editions. By Indonesian standards, this is a spectacular turnover.

Elsewhere, for this reviewer at least, Saman is somewhat confusing, with numerous flashbacks and changes in narrative voice occurring seemingly at random. Certainly Ayu seems hesitant at times, most noticably with the deeper psychological motivations of several of her main characters, particularly male characters such as Wis and Sihar.

Yet minor quibbles such as these may be easily resolved when Saman appears in its entire form. That is, if it appears in its entire form. Despite the huge praise for Saman, there has also been some public doubt about the novel's authorship. Many believe that Saman is simply too good a novel to be written by a female journalist not yet thirty years of age with virtually no previous literary output.

Part of the reason for such criticism, which appears to be largely unfounded conjecture, is that if Ayu really did write Saman then she must be greeted as one of the most promising young writers to emerge in Indonesia over the last decade. Furthermore, with the literary careers of New Order cultural icons such as Pramudya Ananta Toer, Rendra, Umar Kayam, YB Mangunwijaya and even Emha Ainun Nadjib appearing to be winding down, Ayu Utami's emergence is a strong reminder that reformasi should stretch much deeper than politics.

Marshall Clark is a PhD student at the Australian National University, Canberra.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

Beyond the horizon

David T Hill (ed), Beyond the horizon: Short stories from contemporary Indonesia, Melbourne, Monash Asia Institute, 1998, ISBN 0-7326-1164-4, 201pp.

Reviewed by RON WITTON

Soon after the New Order was established in 1966, an innovative monthly cultural and literary journal named Horison ('Horizon' in English) appeared. The writers who established it were brought together by their opposition to the socialist-realist demands of the left-wing Institute for People's Culture (Lekra), so influential in Sukarno's Indonesia.

These 22 short stories were selected from the thousands published in Horison over the last thirty years. They provide a veritable rijstafel of personal experiences of what the New Order meant to ordinary people. In the introduction David Hill explains the origins of Horison, and the context of the stories selected. He ensured a selection of women writers, even though they are relatively poorly represented throughout Horison's history.

The translations are excellent. They meet the ultimate test of a good translation, that is, that one is rarely, if ever, aware one is reading a translation. For those teaching Indonesian language, providing students with copies of the stories in the original Indonesian would constitute a wonderful teaching tool to complement this book.

With the end of the New Order and the dawning of reformasi, many observers will begin to consider the human cost of the so-called Era of Development. Readers are here invited to savour the great diversity of ways the human condition was affected by this era.

They range from the feelings of a person from the jungles of Irian Jaya transported to Jakarta, to the manner in which an honest civil servant dealt with pressure to become corrupt.

We taste a little of what life was like in a political concentration camp. We learn of the difficulties of those many millions forced to relocate from rural areas to work in low-paid urban jobs, in the construction industry, in factories or in prostitution. We see how urban and foreign money impinged on rural areas.

We have here a series of snapshots of the rakyat, the ordinary people of Indonesia, as they tried to live with forces far too great for them. Yet threads of humour and satire are woven throughout many of the stories.

Ron Witton <rwitton@uow.edu.au> teaches Indonesian at the University of Western Sydney and the University of Wollongong.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999



'Kecoa', by Yudi, Yaddie, Eri, & Arief (Balai Pustaka, 1998).

Like Ayam Majapahit (featured in Inside Indonesia, July-September 1998), Kecoa was also a first place winner in the 1997 Comic Competition held by the Director General of the Ministry for Education and Culture. Like the other winners, these comics are very difficult to find.

Kecoa is a story of heroism in the face of extreme personal fear, which takes place toward the end of the Japanese occupation (1942-45). Kecoa is the nickname given to a young farmer because of his intense fear of cockroaches (kecoa) in a place overrun by them. Kecoa, however, rises to the occasion and bravely faces Japanese cruelty and internal treachery from within the ranks of the local militia. This frame shows the excitement among the militia when they hear on 17 August 1945 that independence has been proclaimed. The cry is 'Merdeka!', 'Freedom!'.

Laine Berman.

Dr Laine Berman teaches at Deakin University, Melbourne. A photocopy is available from her for AU$12 (including postage): Aust & Internat Studs, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood Vic 3125, Australia, fax +61-3-9244 6755.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

Flower in the grass

Amid the beauty, and the sensuality, that is Javanese music, this famous female singer wants to recreate her role.

Read more

Aceh exposed

Aceh is a neglected human rights horror story.

IRIP News Service

Marwan Yatim (see article 'In the Tigers Den' this issue) was lucky. He escaped with his life. A local government enquiry recently concluded 430 had died in 1989- 92, while 320 remain missing. Hundreds of houses were burned, cattle, cars and jewelry stolen. And that was only in the North Aceh regency of Aceh province. Data on the possibly hundreds of women raped remains sparse.

Just over a month after Suharto's resignation, local newspapers in Aceh, north Sumatra, began a determined campaign to expose abuses during a military anti-secessionist operation between 1989 and 1992. The metropolitan press soon picked it up.

Early in August the National Human Rights Commission said the situation in Aceh had been worse than that in East Timor and Irian Jaya. A few days later the Commission was digging up mass graves under the media spotlight. Many more graves remain unopened.

In response, armed forces commander General Wiranto on 7 August went to Aceh to apologise for human rights abuses, and to announce that the province's dubious 'special operations' status had been revoked. Much aid has flowed into Aceh since then.

Acehnese proudly remember Sultan Iskandar Muda (ruled 1607-36), who made Aceh the most powerful state in the region. Europeans began seriously to press in during the imperialistic nineteenth century. In 1873 the Dutch launched a costly and bloody war against Aceh. Despite superior arms, it took them four decades to win effective control against Acehnese guerrilla tactics.

When Indonesia proclaimed its independence in 1945, Acehnese leaders lent crucial support. But they were disappointed that Jakarta gave Islam, and themselves, far less importance than they had hoped. Aceh joined a major regional rebellion in 1953. Fighting wound down after the Acehnese won an agreement with Jakarta in 1959 that extended autonomy to Aceh.

In 1971 Mobil Oil discovered massive natural gas reserves in North Aceh. The Lhokseumawe liquid natural gas plant became the biggest in the world, supplying 30% of Indonesia's oil and gas exports. Industries mushroomed around it, and with it pollution and social disruption.

However, the Acehnese were well aware there was little in it for them. This was perhaps the main reason for the resurgence in 1989 of an Acehnese secessionist movement that had been led for years by Hasan di Tiro from his exile in Stockholm. The military crackdown that followed left deep wounds in Acehnese society that are only now being exposed.

Wiranto's apology is not enough. The Acehnese want justice for the terrible abuses of 1989-92, and they want a better deal on the natural wealth of the region. They also want independence, or at least they want the 1959 autonomy agreement revived.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

Who plotted the 1965 coup?

Suharto always said it was the communists. Yet from the start, says Colonel Latief, Suharto himself was involved.

Greg Poulgrain

Indonesian President BJ Habibie has refused to release Colonel Latief, whose arrest in 1965 for involvement in a military coup was followed by Major-General Suharto's rise to the presidency.

Habibie has granted amnesty to 73 other political prisoners, even to members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) accused of involvement in the 1965 coup attempt. Refusing amnesty to Latief now shows how Suharto overshadows Habibie.

Interviewed in Cipinang Prison, Jakarta, three days after Suharto resigned, Latief told me that he expected never to be released. Despite various kidney operations and the stroke he suffered last year, Latief is still very alert. His explanation for his involvement in 1965 directly implicates Suharto.

By late 1965, President Sukarno was ailing and without a successor. Tension between the PKI and the armed forces was growing. Conspiracies rumours were rife. Who would make the first move?

On the night of 30 September 1965, six hours before the military coup, Latief confirmed with Suharto that the plan to kidnap seven army generals would soon start. Latief was an officer attached to the Jakarta military command. As head of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), Suharto held the optimum position to crush the operation, so his name should have been at the top of the list. When troops who conducted the kidnappings asked why Suharto was not on the list, they were told: 'Because he is one of us'.

There was a rumour the seven generals were intending to seize power from Sukarno. Latief and two other army officers in the operation, Lieutenant-Colonel Untung (in charge of some of the troops guarding Sukarno's palace) and General Supardjo (a commander from Kalimantan), planned to kidnap the generals and bring them before President Sukarno to explain themselves.

The 30th September Movement was thus a limited pre-emptive strike by pro-Sukarno officers against anti-Sukarno officers. They kidnapped the generals and occupied strategic centres in Jakarta's main square, without touching Suharto's headquarters. The plan involved no killing, but it went terribly wrong and six of the seven died.

Although Untung was assigned responsibility for collecting the generals, this crucial task was then taken over by a certain Kamaruzzaman alias Sjam, evidently a 'double agent' with contacts in the Jakarta military command as well as the PKI. At his trial, Sjam admitted responsibility for killing the generals but blamed the PKI under Aidit. In 1965 when Suharto accused the PKI of responsibility for killing the generals, the Sjam-Aidit link gave Suharto enough leverage to convince his contemporaries.

Between Sjam and Suharto there was a twenty-year friendship going back to the fight against the Dutch in Central Java in 1948-49. This strengthened in the late 1950s when both attended the Bandung Staff College.

Suharto was also on close terms with Untung, who served under him during the campaign to reclaim Netherlands New Guinea in 1962 and who became a family friend.

During his trial in 1978, not only did Latief explain that he met Suharto on the night of the coup, but also that several days before he met both Suharto and his wife in the privacy of Suharto's home to discuss the overall plan. The court declared that this information was 'not relevant'.

Suharto, more than anybody, described the events that night as 'communist inspired'. Suharto's claim that he saw the slain generals' bodies had been sexually mutilated was shown to be deliberately false by post-mortem documents, not revealed till decades later. This false claim provoked months of killings against communists, particularly in Bali and Central and East Java.

The PKI, numbering 20 million, were mostly rice farmers. Accused en masse they became victims in one of the worst massacres this century. In the opinion of the author, many writers underestimated the death toll, which may be around one million persons. Another 700,000 were imprisoned without trial. The most notorious general involved, Sarwo Edhie, claimed not one but two million were killed. 'And we did a good job', he added. Traumatised by violence, the nation became politically malleable.

Using Suharto's own categorisation of crimes related to 1965, his prior knowledge of the alleged coup places him in 'Category A' involvement - the same as those who faced execution or life imprisonment.

The release of Colonel Latief is a litmus test of Habibie's willingness to promote genuine reform. Fewer than ten long term prisoners remain. Latief has pleaded: 'Most of them are already 70 years old and fragile. For the sake of humanity, please take notice of us.'

Dr Greg Poulgrain <g.poulgrain@qut.edu.au> is a research fellow at the School of Humanities, QUT Carseldine.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999
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