Nov 27, 2022 Last Updated 3:31 AM, Nov 16, 2022


Published: Jul 15, 2007

Father Y B Mangunwijaya, who died in 2001, was a noted Javanese novelist, essayist and critic. In his novel, Durga Umayi, first published in 1991, he depicts a different view of history to the standard nationalist one.

Mangunwijaya portrays the colonial regime as just one more set of authorities, with which people made self-interested arrangements. He suggests that the political commitments people made in the early 1960s were not so much deeply thought through, as heedlessly embraced, and that the violence that followed was as scattershot and arbitrary as it was devastating. Finally, he indicates that the spectacular economic growth of the later New Order years was so corrupt and unequal that it should be lamented, not praised.

This history forms the background for the novel. In the foreground is its highly ambiguous protagonist – a woman who rises from lowly origins in Central Java’s Magelang to become an immensely wealthy and corrupt entrepreneur in Jakarta. She confronts all the moral difficulties Indonesians have faced over the course of their tumultuous history and makes similar compromises. Mangunwijaya urges readers not to condemn her, but rather to appreciate her resourcefulness in a world where women, the poor and the powerless all suffer injustice, no matter how grand the rhetoric of Glorious Indonesia.

Y B Mangunwijaya translated by Ward Keeler, Durga Umayi, Singapore University Press, 2004
ISBN 997169297X p/b A$45.70

Extracted from a description of the novel by Ward Keeler ( H-SEASIA, 1 August 2005

Review: This book provides an analysis of which contemporary traditions prevalent in post-Suharto Indonesia are new or revived practices

Indonesia: an Introduction to Contemporary Traditions provides a timely, up-to-date introduction to the culture and politics of Indonesia. The book is inter-disciplinary in approach, covering history, ethnic diversity, religion, language and politics and economics.

Ian Chalmers provides an analysis of which contemporary traditions prevalent in post-Suharto Indonesia are new or revived practices. Beginning with the national motto of unity in diversity, Chalmers argues that it is only in recent years, that political life has begun to reflect this diversity. He also points to the entrenchment of centralised power during the New Order years and earlier precedents for hierarchical power. He examines the extent to which societal or top-down forces contributed to the preservation of old traditions or the creation of new traditions, such as increasing Islamic observance and radicalism, support for New Order stability, developmentalism and the rise of populist nationalism, and student protest movements.

The strongest chapters are those on civil–military relations and religious life. The strengths of the work are its clear, though by no means simplistic, explanations. The book contains helpful tables, figures and maps, such as a timeline for Indonesian history, summaries of past election results and diagrams of the structures of the military and government. Teachers will find the issues for consideration provided at the end of each chapter useful.

Ian Chalmers, Indonesia: an Introduction to Contemporary Traditions, Oxford University Press, 2006 ISBN 0195515471 A$60.00

Kate McGregor (

Review: Susan Blackburn succeeds admirably in her analysis of how women and the state in Indonesia have engaged

Wendy Miller

In Women and the State in Modern Indonesia, Susan Blackburn succeeds admirably in her analysis of how women and the state in Indonesia have engaged with each other over the past century.

Chapter one provides an historical overview of the Indonesian women’s movement and its interaction with state gender ideologies and policies. Subsequent chapters focus on education, early marriage, citizenship, polygamy, motherhood, economic exploitation and violence. Advances made by women over the past century include improved marital position and control over conception as well as significant gains in citizenship.

Progress in addressing women’s health, violence and inequality in the workforce has, however, been disappointing. Women still suffer from high levels of anaemia, maternal mortality, abortions and reproductive tract infections.

Blackburn concludes that the women’s movement in Indonesia is weak in relation to the state and that its advances have come about in part from the traditional respect accorded to women in Indonesia as well as the support of international and donor agencies. The 1998 mass rape of Chinese women opened public discussion on violence against women.

Other agents touched on include Islam, which has, at times been supportive – such as with family planning policies – and other times undermined progress – such as with its opposition to sex education for the unmarried.

Susan Blackburn, Women and the State in Modern Indonesia, Cambridge University Press, 2005; ISBN 0521842255 h/b A$150.00

Wendy Miller (

Inside Indonesia 87: Jul-Sep 2006

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