The nine victims of the killings in Banyuwangi on 27 June 1967
Kumala Dewi Setyawati
On 27 June 1967, a demonstration was held in Banyuwangi to protest against a decree issued the previous December by East Java regional military commander, Major General Sumitro, banning them from operating as wholesale traders and imposing new taxes and other restrictions on their businesses. The use of Chinese language in commerce was also banned. This demonstration came at the end of a wave of protests in response to these regulations by Chinese Indonesian communities across the province.
As a result of this edict, Chinese who had grown up or were born in Indonesia or had long emigrated from China were being forced to close their businesses and relocate to towns and cities. Many of those who fought to keep their businesses were fined, brutalised or even killed. Elsewhere across Indonesia, particularly in West Kalimantan in the latter half of 1967, anti-Chinese tensions were set against an increasingly hostile relationship between Jakarta and Peking.
The commemorative shrine, built to pay respect to the victims
The peaceful demonstration in Banyuwangi was held in front of the market on Susuit Tubun Street, where the Chinese Indonesian-owned shops were mostly located. About one hundred people demonstrated in the market that day. Young and old joined the protest against the injustice being perpetrated against the Chinese community. Police had attempted to drive them away, but the protesters persisted. Finally the district head summoned two trucks full of rifle-toting soldiers. Some people locked themselves in their shops. But others crowded the street in front of the markets, standing face-to-face with the soldiers.
The soldiers responded by shooting into the crowd, killing nine young protestors and badly wounding nine more.
The protestors chanted continuously, demanding freedom, justice and humanity. They also invoked the state ideology, Pancasila, in their demands that the Indonesian government treat Chinese Indonesians equally. The soldiers responded by shooting into the crowd, killing nine young protestors and badly wounding nine more. The youngest victim, Fu Min, was only 12 years old. The rest were in their teens and early twenties. Immediately after the incident, the local government closed the town. But Chinese people from surrounding areas sneaked in through the paddy fields to attend the victims’ funeral on 10 July.
Ways of remembering
Some of the mass graves where the victims were buried
The ethnic Chinese community in Banyuwangi has made sure that their loved ones’ sacrifices are not forgotten. Some survivors share stories of the incident with younger generations during family gatherings or other every-day occasions. Others have unique but powerful ways of remembering. The niece of a 20-year old man shot dead in the demonstration is called Jiu Hong (Nine Red), a name that commemorates the killings. Her name connects to her uncle Kun Shan, who was killed just ten days shy of her birth. ‘Nine’ represents the number of the victims and ‘Red’ the blood that was shed on that day. Jiu Hong’s name perpetuates the memory of her uncle for her family and close friends.
The Banyuwangi shootings have also been the subject of a process of collective memory-making. Soon after the incident the Chinese Indonesian community printed multiple copies of a postcard-sized picture to commemorate the victims, which many families in Banyuwangi still own. Those who are Confucians keep pictures not only of their own martyred relative but of all of the victims on their ancestors’ altars, and every 27 June the victims’ families gather at the mass grave to pay their respects.
Some survivors share stories of the incident with younger generations during family gatherings or other every-day occasions.
Other members of the Banyuwangi Chinese community visit the grave whenever they go to the cemetery. The graveside memorial was renovated by the Chinese community in 2001. The graduates from the local Chinese schools, forced to close in 1966, collected the money for the renovation. They also posted the pictures of the victims in their reunion book, published in 2001. One of them even wrote a remarkable poem published in the book that pays tribute to victims’ courage. The lines in the poem voice the author’s respect for the victims’ bravery and sacrifice: ‘There are still fiery feelings in our hearts. You will forever remain heroes.’ In this way, members of the Chinese community in Banyuwangi preserve the memory of the martyrs and pass their legacy of resistance and resilience on to the next generation through their vigils, memorials and narratives. ii
Juliana Wijaya (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a lecturer in the Indonesia program at UCLA Asian Languages and Cultures Department.