The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Saturday, October 29, 2005


THE DEAD ARE MANY © Duncan Graham 2005

We can only hope that a later race of people who have no need for battle remember how it used to be – and tell their children.
(Netherlands War Graves Foundation)

The scene is so peaceful it’s difficult to know how it used to be. The gardens are lovingly manicured. The frangipanis are in bloom and sprinkle their blossom in the little breeze that helps soften Surabaya’s sultry heat. Large lilies stir easily in the ponds. Only the headstones are stationary.

Thousands of white crosses sprout from the level lawns. Many with round carved ends indicate that beneath lie a woman’s bones. Some crucifixes are tiny. Here lies a child, there lie many. Not all have names, just the single word ‘Onbekend’. Tombs of unknown victims. Some contain many remains – ‘Verzamelgraf Ngawi’.

Plain Buddhist headstones are scattered amongst the crosses. The Muslim dead, former infantrymen, lie in an adjacent plot under plain headboards.

Although all the years of the Japanese occupation and the war of Independence are represented in this cemetery, the last three months of 1945 are the most common dates recorded.

For this was the chaotic period 60 years ago when the Allies sought to liberate prisoners of the defeated Japanese, and the Revolutionaries fought to prevent the Dutch returning.

The British backed the Dutch and bombarded the city from the air and sea. Indian troops battled freedom fighters. The Battle of Surabaya was underway and all sides suffered terribly.

There are no flags flying from the poles above the 5,000 dead in Surabaya’s Kembang Kuning cemetery, though the majority who rest here were once Dutch. The old political and nationalistic hatreds whose harvest lies under the green sward have long turned to dust along with their victims.

Surabaya has many Heroes’ Cemeteries where more than 6,000 young Nationalists lie. Few know the Dutch also share the sadness of those terrible times and that there are people who still remember and wish to pay their respects.

When the Japanese invaded in 1941 the Royal Dutch East-Indian Army (KNIL) had a fighting force of 120,000. Most of the officers were European. The rank and file were from Java, Ambon and Manado.

In the brief fighting which followed about 3,000 soldiers on the Dutch side were killed. About 900 sailors perished in the Battle of the Java Sea. The Japanese took 37,000 KNIL soldiers prisoner but released most of the local troops.

The Dutch men were put to work on military projects and around 3,000 died, many on the notorious railway between Burma and Thailand. Women and children were housed in camps where many died from malnutrition, disease and brutality.

In the fighting for Independence which followed the Japanese defeat at least 1,000 Dutch soldiers were killed.

Fast forward to the present. On most days an individual, a family, a group of friends arrive from Europe to fulfil their commitment to the past at one of the seven Dutch war cemeteries on Java.

Ancol (near Jakarta) has the graves of hundreds of men and women executed by the Japanese; in Menteng Pulo (Jakarta) are buried the remains of those who didn’t survive the camps, and the ashes of 700 Dutch prisoners who died in Japan.

The Pandu cemetery in Bandung is near the Leuwigajah graveyard at Cimahi. Dutch soldiers who died in Sumatra were reburied here. At Semarang in Central Java are the Kalibanteng and Candi war cemeteries – the latter for the military, the former for prisoners of war.

All are maintained by the Netherlands War Graves Foundation “to ensure that the victims and this piece of history will always be remembered.” The work is carried out by Indonesians – the victors tending the graves of the vanquished.

Surabaya historian Eddy Samson often helps Dutch people who make the pilgrimage to East Java to pay homage to an ancestor. Samson and ten friends have formed ‘Team 11’ to preserve the cultural history of the East Java capital. They also repair smashed stonework and shattered headstones.

“Although the graves in the war cemetery are well marked and good records kept, that’s not the case with the resting places of those who died during peacetime,” he said

“In the old cemetery at Peneleh (in central Surabaya) which was closed in 1900 many graves have been desecrated. The marble has been chipped off for sale and the tombs have been robbed for any valuables that may have been buried with the corpse.

“Although the land is still owned by the Dutch it’s not maintained. It’s not so bad in the new cemetery although vandalism has occurred. But finding your way around is difficult.”

Outside the fence that protects the war graves, foreign visitors are intimidated by gangs of men who demand money for whisking a few imagined leaves away from the burial plot. It’s not a smart idea to go there unaccompanied. The general cemetery is also a popular place to find prostitutes.

Inside the war graves area and among the neat white markers, order prevails. Access is controlled and ‘tips’ are banned.

“Only in the war cemetery are the graves safe, and those who died can rest in peace,” said Samson.

(For more information contact the Dutch organisation YPKIB in Surabaya at )

(First published in The Jakarta Post 29 October 2005)


Friday, October 28, 2005



To set the scene let’s turn to a better wordsmith and the opening of Macbeth, minus the toothless crones and blasted heath.

In their place Javanese maidens and a leafy street in suburban Surabaya. Across the road, a small orphanage. Next to that an Islamic kindergarten. Adjacent are ordinary middle class houses.

An in one a meat processing factory.

Home industries are the heart of entrepreneurial Indonesia; if any zoning regulations exist to prohibit business in urban areas they are certainly not being applied.

But Roso Bektiono’s enterprise isn’t just wrinkled tradesfolk in a backroom quietly carving handicrafts. This business (which in other lands would be labelled a noxious trade) roars. Literally.

At around 3.30 am, six days a week, motorbike couriers arrive with 200 kilos of quivering fresh-killed beef, straight from the slaughterhouse.

This is bundled into a big pot sitting on the banks of an open drain. For the next seven hours a lion-hearted kerosene-powered fire will cook the meat on the first stage of its transformation into abon.

You don’t know abon? That’s not surprising. It’s an expensive speciality, little advertised and unknown to the average cook. Connoisseurs of Javanese cuisine will have encountered abon and probably use it to embellish their main dishes.

Sometimes it’s promoted in supermarkets as ‘floss’. This is a misnomer. In most English-speaking countries floss is associated with a sugary confection often found at fairgrounds – while a flossy woman is not a tag any respectable female would accept. Dental floss is the hypochondriac’s toothpick.

Others label abon as ‘shredded beef jerky.’ Wrong again. Beef jerky is made from meat cut into strips and dried slowly in an oven or microwave. This food is an American favorite and carries imagery of wagon trails and tough cowboys chewing away their even tougher evening meal.

So best stick to abon – and return to the process.

After boiling off the fat the meat is put through a rotating drum armed with spikes. This teases out the fibres into long strings. The process is like the TV shampoo ads where robotic combs cascade through the gleaming black hair of white-skinned beauties.

Surprisingly this is not so difficult with brown boiled meat because the beef cuts are taken only from the sinewy legs of the beasts. Any fatty bits which have withstood the boiling are picked out by hand.

At this stage Roso’s secret ingredients of herbs and spices, along with sugar and salt are added. The recipe was passed down by his late mother, Murtini. She brought the family formula from Yogya when she moved to Surabaya 25 years ago to start making abon.

The next stop is most certainly from Shakespeare, though the three young women who round about the cauldrons go cannot be compared to the bard’s opening characters.

Nonetheless there’s plenty of double, double toil and trouble. The fire burns and the cauldrons bubble before the hurlyburly’s done. And heat so intense that any flies attracted by the smell, smoke and steam die at the doorway. The staff here get a real workout – no need for slimming salons after a day making abon.

When the shreds are well cooked in copra oil they are skimmed out of the vats and put in a crude press powered by a car jack to squeeze out the cooking oil. The packed meat is then teased apart in another machine.

Finally a couple of girls armed with ordinary dining forks sit alongside a wicker tray full of abon. Their job is to give the product a bit more of an airing by tossing it around a bit.

After drying the abon is packed in lots of 100 grams in a plastic bag. These retail at the gate for Rp 7,600. The price in nearby supermarkets is almost double.

“For every 100 kilograms of fresh meat we can make about 70 kilograms of abon,” said Roso. “It’s a popular product among Javanese and Chinese, and it can be used in so many ways.

“Some people like it on bread; others have it as a side dish, or add it to soups and omelettes. It’s very low in cholesterol – in the quarter century we’ve been selling abon I’ve never heard of anyone suffering a heart attack.

“When properly made, abon has a shelf life of a year and doesn’t have to be kept in a fridge.”

There are five small businesses producing abon in Surabaya. Roso also makes abon from chicken, while others convert horsemeat and fish.

The West Java agricultural research institute Institut Pertanian Bogor has conducted trials on making abon from marlin. The University of Riau has been experimenting on the suitability of other fish species to be abonised.

Although the history of abon is vague it was probably, like beef jerky and salted beef, developed while cooks waited for someone to invent refrigeration. In those days a steer had to be consumed in one sitting, so it helped if you had a big family.

Meat putrefies fast, particularly in the tropics. In most Western countries it’s chilled immediately after slaughter. It is also frozen – a process used as much to kill parasites as to preserve.

And the final question: What does it taste like? Give it a try. It’s more sweet than spicy, and you’ll never guess that it’s really meat.

(First published in The Jakarta Post, Friday 28 October 2005)


Monday, October 24, 2005


Posted by Picasa


On 1 October 2005 the Indonesian government removed some of the subsidies applying to fuel and allocated the money to the poor. A grant of Rp 100,000 (US$ 10) a month for three months is being paid to low-income families to compensate for the increased costs of living following the fuel price rises.

The government estimated that 15.6 million households - or more than 60 million people - are eligible for the grants. Above are the advertised criteria. Successful applicants must:

1) Live in a house of less than 8 square metres per person
2) Have a floor of earth, bamboo or cheap wood
3) Have walls made from bamboo, palm fronds or unplastered poor quality wood
4) Not own personal toilet facilities and have to share with other families
5) Not have access to electricity
6) Use water from a well, the environment, a river or rain
7) Cook using wood, charcoal or kerosene
8) Consume meat, milk and chicken only once a week
9) Buy good clothes only once a year
10) Eat only once or twice a day
11) Not be able to pay for medicines from government clinics
12) Have resources of no more than half a hectare if a farmer, or earn less than Rp 600,000 (US$ 60) a month if a worker
13) Have a household head who hasn’t been to school or beyond primary school
14) Not own goods, vehicles, jewellery or other assets worth more than Rp 500,000 (US$ 50)

Friday, October 21, 2005



© Duncan Graham 2005

The Australian government has failed to provide serious leadership in improving relations with Indonesia, according to Dr David Hill, professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Western Australia’s Murdoch University.

“It is disappointing that many key recommendations made by a Federal Parliamentary committee - and central to Australia’s future capacity to engage with Indonesia in a mutually beneficial and productive way - have not been taken up with sufficient vigour or commitment,” he said.

Professor Hill was commenting to The Jakarta Post on the Australian government’s response to a major report on Australian-Indonesian relationships.

The report was written by the Foreign Affairs sub-committee of the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

The 275-page report with 28 recommendations was published in May last year, but the government’s response has only just been released.

The report, titled Near Neighbours – Good Neighbours, took 21 months to produce. Work started following the first Bali bomb.

The 25-member sub-committee met in Australia and Jakarta. It included members of parliament from all major Australian political parties. The current Opposition Leader Kim Beazley was a member.

Evidence was given by 60 organisations and 124 submissions were made. Almost 40 per cent concerned education.

In the report sub-committee chairman David Jull described the Indonesian-Australian relationship as “complex”.

“Being good neighbours is an art requiring a delicate balancing of distance and closeness,” he said. “A distance that is respectful of difference and sovereignty – a closeness that guarantees a helping hand in time of need.’

Although the report drew a lukewarm response in Australia, most academics involved in Asian Studies welcomed recommendations that urged the government to spend more on education to boost understanding of Indonesia and Indonesian.

In its reply to the report, the government said funding for education and training assistance to Indonesia had increased. Scholarships were available and a new program had been introduced to lift English language training in Islamic boarding schools, mainly in East Java.

However Professor Hill slammed the government’s negative response to a recommendation to restore the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools program.

This started in 1995 and was designed to make Australians more Asia-literate. Teachers claimed the program helped revive interest in Indonesian, but the Federal government withdrew support in 2002. Enrolments in higher level learning of Indonesian then slumped.

“While the uptake of Indonesian language languishes around Australia the government’s response is simply to declare that it is doing what it can – which is clearly not enough,” Professor Hill said.

“Indonesian needs to be regarded as a strategic priority and to be supported financially at all levels of education from primary to tertiary.

“Yet the level of funding is less than AUD 1.50 (Rp 11,000) a year per head of population which is a paltry investment in a country’s linguistic competence. It’s less than the cost of one cup of coffee.

“Instead of providing serious leadership, the government has chosen to deflect responsibility back to the various states.”

Responding to another recommendation that the government lift its aid to Indonesia, the government said that before last December’s tsunami Australia had already increased its annual aid budget to AUD 160.8 million (Rp 120,750 million).

After the Indian Ocean disaster and a commitment of AUD 1 billion (Rp 7,500 billion) over five years, Australia was now the third ranked bilateral donor to Indonesia behind Japan and Germany.

Another recommendation for action to promote understanding of Islam in Australia drew this response: “The government is currently looking at ways to address the perceptions in some areas of the community that Australia is not racially or religiously tolerant”.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 October 2005)


Apart from all the usual courses, handbooks, dictionaries and other aids to language learning, check this free and most appropriate guide: Posted by Picasa

Why learn another language? Check the following:
FACTS 1 Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than theAussies, British or Americans. 2 Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than theAussies, British or Americans. 3 Africans drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacksthan the Aussies, British or Americans. 4 Italians drink large amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heartattacks than the Aussies, British or Americans. 5 Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausages and fats andsuffer fewer heart attacks than the Aussies, British or Americans. CONCLUSION Eat and drink what you like, but learn a second language. SpeakingEnglish is apparently what kills you.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

17th century EAST JAVA MAP

Posted by Picasa The long island off the North East coast of Java is Madura. Surabaya is south of the west end of Madura. The island to the east of Java is Bali

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


You can find this consultant in Trowulan, a small village in East Java. This was once the capital of the mighty Majapahit kingdom which had its apogee about 700 years ago, before the arrival of Islam. More information on the Majapahit in DO IT YOURSELF TOURISM posted on this site in August. Check the archives. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 16, 2005


For more information on East Java's masked dance theatre contact Karen Elizabeth Sekararum (pictured here with her husband M Soleh Adi Pramono) at their theatre outside Malang. Check Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 14, 2005


DON’T GET MAD – GET BLOGGED © Duncan Graham 2005

“I don’t mind you thinking slowly. I do mind you publishing faster than you think.” Message on a blog.

Blog isn’t the most delectable word in the language. Nor are some of the contents of this rapidly growing Internet fad. But that’s no argument against exploration.

According to one directory almost 60,000 people around the world have their own blogsites, with the number increasing at around 2,000 a week. Another claims more than 16 million and growing at 2,000 an hour.

So in the time it takes you to read this article another couple of blogs have entered cyberspace. Or 100. Hype and fact are strange partners in blogworld

The US, the UK, Canada, France and Spain dominate. So far Indonesia is lagging behind most nations with almost 600 sites according to the sober directory – although ahead of Big China with less than 400, thanks to that nation’s Internet police.

Little Malaysia next door has more than 800. Singapore exceeds 1000 and courageous free-speakers they are too in that fine city. Australia has almost 2,000.

Indonesia’s position probably reflects the slow take-up of computer technology in a country where text messaging on handphones beats surfing the Net.

Many Indonesian sites are in English, perhaps indicating the bloggers are up-market trendoids who think their thoughts worthy of a global audience. So far they don’t seem to have been hit by the censorship cops active across the Malacca Strait.

If you’re not an Internet fanatic you’re probably about to look for something more comprehensible on the sports pages. So let’s de-code the jargon:

Blog is short for web log, a do-it-yourself website construction. It’s the ordinary person’s entry into the Internet. Several sites offer free templates, so instead of having to pay some longhaired nerd to build you a custom-made site you can keyboard a title, add your profile and you’re in business.

Enthusiasts push the slogan “publish – and be read” – which makes a blog the ideal soap box for those who can’t get their letters to the editor printed, their poems accepted or their partners to hear their complaints. You can even get feedback. But because there are now so many blogs the problem is getting noticed.

Surprisingly the ranters and the ravers don’t dominate. There are veranda warriors pontificating on Iraq, terrorism and the government – but they’re a minority.

More interesting are those by soldiers and victims in conflict zones where they express themselves free of military censorship. But who knows if they are what they say? Verification difficulties are a downside of blogs.

Personal sites rule the blogsphere and most are just good old fashioned romantic diaries – the meanderings of lovesick youth. This is “uptown gurls” territory and pink is the preferred background. The perpendicular pronoun gets a good workout.

As every serious journalist knows to her or his dismay, an alleged celebrity’s bed hopping is downright sexier than the DPR’s deliberations on fiscal restraint, and it’s the same in blogsphere.

I’ve found only a couple of blogs on the Indonesian economy, but plenty on Indonesian girls, Blok M bars (and girls), shopping, hotels and expats rabbiting on about archipelago life. Balancing this are blogs by Indonesians living abroad reporting on the foibles of foreigners.

Some use blogs to push religion. Protestants dominate; this parallels developments in Indonesian churches where modern communication technology is widely used. Although the only Islamic blogs encountered come from the UK that doesn’t mean Indonesian Muslim bloggers aren’t active – just not well advertised.

Diaries of a couple’s first baby are also popular as the miracle of birth impacts. Few record subsequent arrivals. By then parents are too jaded to sit at a computer screen.

The sentiments may be trite, but the graphics are often novel, demonstrating originality and computer skills above the ordinary. If only their words were as good as the pictures.

During election campaigns in the West candidates use blogs to push their profiles and invite comment. That doesn’t seem to have happened in Indonesia. No SBY blog discovered.

Inevitably business has tried to turn the blogsphere into a marketplace, though with little success. A few estate agents advertise their properties, and home-based trinket makers and gizmo inventors promote their wares. Looking for a pair of magnetic reading glasses or a Celtic crochet pattern? Check a blog site near you.

To find these sites use web directories like or There are many others. Or just keep clicking NEXT BLOG on the menu bar.

This provides a random choice so you never know what will jump onto your screen. It’s like browsing in a bookshop after a sweeping for subversive literature.

Occasionally you hit porn and bad language, so this exercise is for adults. If you find objectionable content you can flag the site for review and maybe removal. You have to mouse through a lot of dross to find some gems – all you need is time and a fast server.

Blogging isn’t great fun if you’re using a dial-up system where it takes longer to load a page than read it. But if you have a high-speed broadband connection then the exercise can expand your horizons. It can also be time consuming and addictive.

I haven’t found a site yet for blogaholics anonymous, but maybe it was designed while I was writing this story. Next month’s Telkom bill should help effect a cure.

(The French group Journalists Without Borders has just published a useful guide to blogging, ethics and censorship. Download free from

(First published in The Jakarta Post Thursday 13 October 05)


Thursday, October 13, 2005


CLEAN LIVING IN WEST JAVA © Duncan Graham 2005

Keen to know what you’re really eating and want to check personally? Duncan Graham reports from a West Java farm that welcomes visitors and urges inspection:

If you’re a hard-wired health-conscious foodie, then paying an extra 30 per cent for organic food can be a small price. But only if the product has been grown without pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

Who knows if the vegetables are really as described? They look the same as any other produce in the market, as red or green or yellow as the cheaper foods. Often they taste the same – though growers disagree.

Maybe corrupt or careless farmers have doused the leaves with toxic bug-killers. Perhaps they’ve saturated the soil with noxious products from heavy metal industrial plants. And, horror, horror, they’ve might even have used human waste, the so-called night soil. (“Nice looking fruit – funny smell, though.”)

Then the harvest has been stuffed in a pretty bag with a fancy label saying “organic”.

Any ill effects aren’t likely to be felt till long after the evening meal has been digested. Cancers grow slowly as the body accumulates poisons and take years to appear. By then you’ve long forgotten what you ate and where you shopped.

Just washing before cooking is no guarantee of safety. Plants ingest chemicals and build these into their leaf and root structure.

Certifying quality isn’t just an Indonesian problem. Australian farmers have been jailed for selling wrongly labelled grains in a bid to get the higher prices that organic produce attracts. Their crimes have been discovered only after laboratory tests.

The Indonesian pioneer of organic farming has solved the problem with a three-pronged approach: His product is certified organic by an international agency (the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia), his farm is open to the public and his name and face are on the packaging.

So if organic is your bag, look out for plastic wraps of veggies on your supermarket shelf with the trade mark Agatho. If these show a balding and bespectacled white-bearded bule looking organically robust then you should rest easy that what you read is what you get.

What the packaging doesn’t say is that Agatho Elsener is a Catholic priest and that profit from his enterprise goes back into the community.

More than 20 years ago Pastor Agatho left Kalimantan where he’d been a missionary for two decades and moved to West Java. Although he knew little about horticulture he’d read books on organic farming and believed this could be one cure for a polluted planet and poor health.

Using money raised in his native Switzerland Pastor Agatho bought six hectares of sloping land at Cisarua outside Bogor. Here he set up a foundation – Bina Sarana Bakti. A three storey concrete building was erected with demonstration plots and lecture rooms. These are used to spread the word about the benefits of organic farming to growers and consumers.

Pastor Agatho, who has become an Indonesian citizen, is currently in Switzerland for eye treatment. Field manager Sudaryanto said farmers from many parts of Indonesia had attended courses at the farm and taken the concept of organics and sustainable farming back to their home villages.

Overseas visitors have also stayed to learn about the system when used in the tropics.

“Because our produce is specialised and grown for a specific market we’re able to set prices,” Sudaryanto said.

“You can find our organic vegetables in many Bogor and Jakarta supermarkets and we sell to passing traffic direct from the farm. We also supply some restaurants and we’ve exported to Singapore but it’s difficult to maintain the quantities required.”

Two decades on and the venture continues to employ about 100 local people. It produces and sells a tonne or more of fresh food every week under the slogan The Organic Way – All In Harmony. But it hasn’t all been trouble free.

Although up to 50 types of vegetables are grown, carrots have been a major success, according to Sudaryanto. Fruits have grown well but keeping sticky fingers off the property has been difficult, so the enterprise has concentrated on vegetables.

The farm is 900 metres above sea level in a high rainfall area. Life here is like living under a waterfall: in one year 322 thunderstorms were recorded!

The corrugated translucent roofing isn’t just for shelter and catchment – some crops suffer when machine-gunned by heavy-calibre raindrops. The water is trapped in concrete gutters around the main building, then channelled through the crops.

A silt trap in a creek that runs through the property collects topsoil during heavy downpours and which would otherwise run to waste. This is then dug out and mixed with compost.

The creek cascades down the valley and into two pipes which drive a turbine. This produces electricity for the farm.

Harmful insects are repelled by planting bushes that generate natural pesticides around susceptible crops. When these aren’t successful sprays are made from the seeds of plants with insect-killing properties.

Rotational farming is practised. When a crop is harvested a different vegetable is grown in the same area or the soil is left fallow. This helps balance the nutritional needs of plants and prevent leaching of trace elements by hungry monoculture crops.

Unlike conventional one-field, one plant variety farms, Pastor Agatho’s enterprise mixes different crops in one area. This makes for a cheerful color scheme but complicates harvesting.

Nitrogen-fixing plants and animal manures are used instead of artificial fertilisers. The idea is to build a soil that’s fertile, balanced with a wide range of nutrients, and healthy.

The downside is that the process is labor intensive and takes much longer than conventional farming. Special training is required of workers who are used to traditional farming methods and behavior. For example, staff are not allowed to smoke on the property.

Much easier to buy a drum of chemical from your local friendly pesticides salesman and spray every winged creature in sight. Like carpet bombing, this system of farm management kills foe and friend; not all insects are harmful. Bees, for example, help pollinate crops and other insects enjoy devouring aphids.

Factory fertilisers supply the necessary nutrients but they are expensive. They can also produce strange side effects like giant cabbages with all leaf and no heart – or by upsetting the ratio of other chemicals in the soil.

If you remain unconvinced, go and look for yourself. The farm is off the main road between Bogor and Puncak. You’re less likely to get wet in the morning. It’s about a two hour drive from Jakarta. Best to phone first for instructions: (0251) 254 531.

(First published in Jakarta Kini, October 2005)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005



Jemaah Islamiyah, the shadowy terrorist group alleged to be behind the Bali bombing and other atrocities, should be banned by the Indonesian government, according to Hasyim Muzadi, leader of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

With a claimed 40 million members NU is the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia and possibly the world.

Since losing his bid to become vice president in last year’s general election as Megawati Sukarnoputri’s running mate, Muzadi has been concentrating on his NU duties.

In a wide-ranging discussion at his home in Malang, East Java, Muzadi told The Jakarta Post that Indonesian Christians had nothing to fear from perceived intolerance. However some Protestant denominations were causing strife by seeking to Christianise Muslims.

He urged mainstream Protestants to rein in sects and follow the lead of Catholics whose welfare activities in education and medicine were more likely to attract adherents.

Below is an edited version of the interview:

Three years ago you told this newspaper that terror should be stopped. But since then there have been more bombings and more people have been killed. What’s going wrong?

I push the police to be brave enough to take action against terrorism and to join with NU. NU can give information to society that religion is not violent, but if there’s violence the police must act quickly.

Now there’s cooperation between NU and the police.

I have also told the Americans and the Australian ambassador that violence in the Middle East must decrease. Otherwise more violence there will increase violence here.

The superpowers, like the US, along with other countries should handle Middle East problems with wisdom, so terrorists do not bring their anger to Indonesia.

Indonesia is not a terrorist country but the victim of terrorism.

But countries like America and Australia think Indonesia is a terrorist country because you haven’t banned Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and some claim Indonesia isn’t taking terrorism seriously.

That is not true. JI in Indonesia is an underground movement and does not exist. So society doesn’t know who is JI. That’s known only by intelligence.

JI must be arrested through intelligence because it’s impossible to be arrested by NU. NU doesn’t know who is JI.

The leader of JI has been arrested but according to Indonesian law terrorism charges must be faced in court, and not through terror.

Terror creates terror. For example, in Thailand there’s terrorism which the government is fighting using terror.

Prosecuting terror through the courts takes a long time but it’s a safer process. All convicted terrorists should be executed.

Terror, like the Marriott Hotel bombing, killed Indonesians, not Westerners. The same thing happened with the Australian Embassy bombing where Indonesians were the targets.

There must be international cooperation to catch terrorists before they take action, but Indonesian law must be changed first.

The UN also said JI should be made illegal. Do you think it should be prohibited by the Indonesian Government?


But why doesn’t the government do it?

I don’t know. But we don’t know who is JI and what is JI. Society doesn’t know JI and no one confesses to being JI.

Many Westerners think that the reason the Indonesian government will not ban JI is because they are frightened of Muslim reaction.

Oh, no. All Muslims will support the government if they catch terrorists – but this must be according to law. If not the law must be changed. NU and Muhammadiyah all support the government if the government takes serious action against terrorism.

Following the train bombing in Spain the population crowded the streets. There were protests everywhere. That hasn’t happened in Indonesia. Why not?

Because in Indonesia it’s a terrorist movement. It’s the government’s responsibility to arrest and prosecute them. That is the problem. Countries that become the targets of terrorism have joined with America in the war in the Middle East. Otherwise I don’t think they’d become a target. That is why the bomb in Spain was more terrifying than bombs in Indonesia.

But I guarantee that NU and all Muslim congregations in Indonesia will support the government to arrest terrorists whatever their organisation.

Some Westerners get the impression that it’s only leaders like yourself, and the media and those directly concerned who are worried about terrorism, but the majority isn’t. Is that correct?

I think, yes. Because terrorism, if it’s handled properly by the government, will be finished soon. Terrorism isn’t a big issue in Indonesia because the mainstream in Indonesia is not violent. It’s different with Muslims in the Middle East.

Conflict in the Middle East is coarse while in Indonesia we have a united culture and conflict is limited.

You’ve been very strong in speaking out against terrorism but is that message getting through to the pesantren, the villages, the kampung, the mosques and prayer rooms?

I think that’s in process. Coordination with all religious leaders from headquarters down must be continuous and down to the grassroots. That’s necessary.

But it’s taking a long time.

No, no. In East Java it took two years for Muslims to be united with Christians after the church bombings in Situbondo (in 1996). I think in other places the process will take one or two years because we’re dealing with the problems of a society whose understanding of the issues is still low.

Even though the grassroots society can be rough, they are not terrorists.

That’s why we have an agreement with other religious leaders so they inform their congregations so they don’t become violent. It’s not exclusive to Muslims, it also involves Christians.

There are local beliefs and the respective leaders must be responsible for passing information to the grassroots people.

There is still violence in Muslim society and there’s violence amongst Christians too. For example, from the Pentecostals, the Charismatics, the Methodists and others.

Do you think those groups are trying to Christianise Indonesia?

Yes, they are. That is why Christian leaders must control attempts to Christianise.

Later on Muslims, Christians and other religions can be united at the grassroots level. However this process is always disturbed by politics inside and outside Indonesia.

So what’s your message to Christians in Indonesia?

I think Indonesian Christians have no problem.

Should Christians be frightened?


How about the churches that have been closed in West Java?

Houses were closed that had been used as churches, not pre-existing churches. It’s illegal for houses to be used as churches.

The tough Muslim people take action because the Christians are violent too. Finally radical Muslims close the houses. NU members who force closures are wrong. Only the State has the right to do this.

What is your advice to Indonesian Christians living where the majority are Muslim?

Every month I meet with the Cardinal and leaders of Christian churches. I advise Christians to follow the Catholic way. Catholics are quieter, more systematic, better educated. If Pentecostals can follow their methods there’s no reason for ordinary people to fight.

But because the followers of Bethel and Jehovah go to Muslim houses giving Bibles to Muslims, finally anger erupts, and the churches are also angry.

The Catholics don’t just build churches; they also provide hospitals and schools. That’s good. People who follow them do so because they see the examples of the work of that faith.

So you think some Protestant churches have been immoderate?

Yes a few of them - Pentecostal, Methodist, Charismatic and Jehovah and some other sects in Indonesia. There are more than 200 denominations but the PGI (Persatuan Gereja Indonesia – Union of Indonesian Churches) can only control about 70. This means that 130 are out of control. When something happens they report direct to the West, to America, Geneva and Germany. This can make a small event become a world problem.

Though only three churches had been closed at the time, when I visited the Vatican people were saying that thousands of churches had been closed.

How about the Islamic sector in West Java. The Islamic sect Ahmadiyah has been attacked by ordinary Muslims.

Ahmadiyah has been prohibited by the state since 1978. Because it was banned it didn’t develop until after Reformasi and with it the freedom that allowed Ahmadiyah to return.

Village people feel that the regulation is still as before so there were attacks. But NU did not agree with the attacks because they were violent. So I went to the police and asked them to stop the attacks. If they couldn’t handle they should ask NU to stop the attacks.

Many people see the hostility in West Java and the threats against the churches as examples of growing intolerance. Do you think Indonesia is becoming more intolerant?

No, no. I said before if the police take speedy action and are helped by mass organisations, violence can be stopped.

The factor here is not religious intolerance but politics. For example, the Bali bomb which exploded last week was more about politics and religion while the first bomb in 2002 was about religious issues.

With the fuel price increases there were many riots. I’m concerned that the police concluded too quickly that the issue was about religion. Research first, then arrests and interrogate them. Later on form conclusions. Then we can decide whether the issue is religion or politics.

The impact of a wrong statement can be significant.

This is terror, not religion. What are the terrorists’ motives? Do they want to disturb the issues of fuel or religion? Nowadays some are too quick to say it’s religion, and then the issue gets enlarged.

In 2002 after the Bali bomb I went directly to Bali with the Cardinal and Christian leaders and then to Australia to explain the situation. But this time I haven’t been asked. I’m still waiting to learn of the terrorists’ motives for the second bombs.

When a country like Australia continues to call for the banning of JI and the jailing of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, what’s your reaction? Do you think Australia is interfering in Indonesian affairs?

Oh, no. As long as a country is disadvantaged by terror it has a right to speak and to be concerned about its citizens. So I don’t have any objection when Australian citizens are victims and there are joint ventures with Indonesian intelligence. That’s right.

Finally, Do you regret not being vice president?

No. I thank God I didn’t become vice president. I became a candidate with Megawati to keep the relationship between Islam and Indonesian nationalism, so Indonesia would remain a pluralistic society, united but diverse.

I was aware that there were weaknesses in Megawati’s government. Megawati is an honest person. Better to have an honest friend than a clever person who is dishonest.

Finally I became only the runner-up. But even though I didn’t become VP the principals I fought for remain.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 12 October 05)


Thursday, October 06, 2005


© Duncan Graham 2005

Last year Herman Ibrahim from the Islamic pressure group Indonesian Council of Defenders of the Faith, commented on police calls for public help to catch Azahari Husin, the alleged JW Marriott Hotel bomb maker.

The former army colonel was reported as saying: ‘This is creating paranoia; after all Azahari’s actions are the concerns of only the West. The people are not the targets. Let the police do their own work.’

The lack of support for police investigations isn’t confined to Indonesia where there’s reluctance to report wrongdoers.

In Australia the ancient code of ‘Not Dobbing In A Mate’ has also hindered official inquiries. Your neighbor may be acting unlawfully, but he’s not a bad sort of bloke and who wants to cause strife?

This barrier to a safer society is the major hurdle the Indonesian police face in implementing their imported Community Policing policy introduced last week. (28 Sept)

In Indonesia any bule planning a low profile is on a fool’s mission. In the Surabaya community where I live every movement is monitored. A cough outside the gate at nightfall will ensure people streets away at daybreak will ask if I’m sick.

There’s nothing sinister about this surveillance. It’s not exclusive to foreigners, just part of traditional Indonesian culture of togetherness.

Which raises the clear point: the activities of the Bali bombers must have been noted by neighbors for absolutely nothing goes unnoticed in this country.

Apart from the unofficial stickybeaks all villages have their leaders. The city street equivalent is the Rukun Tetangga (RT) who is supposed to know everyone and what they’re doing. These are the neighbourhood heads visitors must report to; if you want any sort of official document chances are you’ll need the RT’s autograph.

Wherever the bombers planned their evils deeds, in kampung, hotel, apartment or village, it’s impossible to believe the locals weren’t aware of abnormal comings and goings.

US author Suzanne Charle has identified ‘a sort of Muslim political correctness’. She defines this as the reluctance of even moderate Muslims to speak out against their ‘brother Muslims’ involved in terror lest the critics be seen as lackeys of the West.

The police in Australia may be trusted more than those in Indonesia but there’s still a great gap between law enforcers and a public that also doesn’t want to be seen as a tool of the authorities.

Community policing is the track now being followed. In Western Australia it includes name changing (Police Force to Police Service), open prosecution of officers who break the law, ‘Crimestopper’ toll-free phone numbers to report suspicions, and intensive public relations campaigns to boost the image.

Improved training, preferably by independent educators, higher wages and promotion by merit are also key factors. So is better recruitment, with selection for brains, not brawn. Psychological testing can sort the thugs who want to swagger around with pistols on their belts from those who see their life’s mission as helping people.

The media can assist with projects like Cop of the Month, where readers nominate helpful police officers, to supporting police-run Blue Light Discos where teenagers can have a good time without drugs or booze.

To be effective the campaigns must be consistent and permanent. Just hanging out a few banners proclaiming wars on thieves, drugs or beggars doesn’t work if the policy fades along with the bunting and the rank and file officers think it’s all a hoot.

This is social engineering big time and results are slow in coming. In Australia it took time for the old generation of beat-hardened sergeants who’d trained in the university of hard knocks to yield to the new system.

Crime prevention doesn’t carry the adrenalin kick of a shoot-out at a bank heist so inevitably it was seen as ‘soft policing’ – but change has occurred.

A knock on the door by the boys in blue doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been caught lifting paper clips from the office. It could be a friendly chat and advice on home security.

The people at the top don’t have to be Neanderthals in uniform to maintain public order; the commissioner of the police service in Victoria is a woman; the boss in Western Australia has a PhD.

Slowly the public is started to report corruptors. Last year almost 3,000 welfare cheats were prosecuted for abusing Australia’s welfare system. Many were caught after tip-offs from the public who recognised that it was their taxes being stolen.

Thinking police officers everywhere understand their job would be impossible without public cooperation – not through fear but because the community sees policing as a partnership.

Polls indicate less than one per cent of Indonesians support terrorism – but 99 per cent aren’t eagerly helping police stop terrorism.

Unlike Herman Ibrahim they need to recognise that most victims of terrorism are not foreigners, but ordinary Indonesians – and many of them Muslims.

Australians are learning that dobbing-in a criminal mate benefits the public; can Indonesians do the same?

(Duncan Graham has lectured on community policing to the police in Western Australia and East Java.)

(First published in The Jakarta Post Wed 5 Oct 05)



STUPID WHITE MEN © Duncan Graham 2005

Does Indonesia really hold a mortgage on the wacky, weird and wondrous? This may not be the littoral of literati, but does it have to be archipelago of oddball behavior?

You might think so if you read some Internet newsletters and blogs published in Jakarta to titillate expats.

Popular are stories about embezzlers who manage to flee the country after their passport has been seized. Bizarre sightings on the highway are also good for a giggle, along with the cab driver from hell.

Although offered in jest there’s also a touch of the sneer. The subtext to these stories is Only In Indonesia. The hardly hidden message is: “Look at the dysfunctional society we expats have to tolerate. Such things can’t possibly happen in our disciplined and developed homelands.”

Oh, yeah?

I’m not in the business of running down my country, but in the interests of balance let’s set the record straight with some under-reported facts from Down Under:


Can you imagine a school bus driver forgetting to drop three little kids off at their kindergarten and then going home and locking the tots in for six hours?

It happened in the Western Australian wheatbelt recently – and of course there’s an inquiry underway. Fortunately the littlies weren’t hurt.

Now piloting a school bus might not be on a par with steering an Airbus, but the checks, licences and tests to get the job are just as onerous in rule-mad Australia. Now there’s one more requirement for drivers. Look, left, right, straight ahead, behind – and inside.


As every Muslim visitor to Australia knows to their great distaste, there’s no escape from having baggage and person assaulted by the wet nose of a customs dog.

Of course they’re on the scent of drugs. Right? Wrong.

Seven dogs had been trained to sniff talc, not coke. So no surprise that tiny tots were getting fido’s nostrils up their bottoms at the airport while cocaine kings with body belts laden with the white stuff just got a tail wag.

Further inquiries revealed that the drugs normally used to train the canine cops hadn’t been switched for any illegal purpose. An administrative issue, said the police. Translation: – a stuff-up.

The dogs are being returned to sniffing school. Let’s hope they’re not left on the bus.


The world knows that too many Australians have an alcohol problem, and the courts throw the book at drunks who drive.

To prove their case the police get hospitals to take blood samples of suspect drunks. If the blood alcohol content is too high, the fine will be also reach the stratosphere.

So when New South Welshman Jeff Shaw crashed his car blood was drawn.

But guess what? The sample prepared for the police vanished.

Ho hum, you think. But Mr Shaw was a Supreme Court judge. Was. Not now.

Apparently he took the samples home but testified at a police inquiry he was unaware one of the vials was destined for the police lab.


Former television comedian and businessman Steve Vizard was so popular and seen to have such integrity that the Australian government put him on the board of the Australian telco Telstra.

Here he had access to highly confidential information about Telstra’s deals with other companies.

So off he went to buy shares in these companies - ahead of less humorous and virtuous folk. Later the value of the shares shot up.

The courts didn’t think insider trading was such a giggle and hit the wrongdoer with a fine of AUD 390,000.


Mr Kim Faithfull (yes, that is his name) had an important job as a Commonwealth Bank manager in a small country town – the sort of place where little goes undetected.

Except massive fraud. He managed to steal almost AUD 19 million over four and a half years before his crimes were revealed. Most of the money was used for gambling.

The bank said the betting agency should have been suspicious that a man in Mr Faithfull’s job was gambling such huge sums. The agency says the bank should be looking at its own internal control systems.

Mr Faithfull was caught only because he eventually turned himself in.


Still on visiting Down Under, monolingual travellers from afar would be embarrassed to find they must fill in visa and immigration forms in English to enter the multicultural continent.

And if you have funny accent and look bemused, beware.

Australian citizen Vivian Alvaraz was deported to the Philippines and former airhostess Cornelius Rau, also an Australian citizen, was thrown into detention.

Both were wrongly suspected of being illegal immigrants.

Should any of the above happen here the chorus of contempt would be heard in every expat’s bar from Blok M to Kuta’s Jalan Legian.

So here’s my message: Before you jeer at the happenings in this extraordinary country take a hard look at the foibles of your own. No nation is immune from the daffy actions of its citizens, whatever their rank.

(First published in the Sunday Jakarta Post 2 October 05)



On 28 December 2002 former Suriname citizen Denise Jannah was waiting at a bus stop in Utrecht, Holland. Alongside her were two plastic bags of groceries. There was little more on her mind than getting home and cooking a meal.

A stranger approached. As Jannah told The Jakarta Post, this chance encounter “took on its own life” – and changed hers.

By now you probably fear this is going to be one of those awful ‘I met a suicide bomber’ stories. It’s not, so read on. This has a happy ending.

The stranger asked if she could sing Jannah a poem, not knowing the bag lady was a jazz singer. In the chill of a Dutch winter notes were exchanged – of the musical variety.

The last things Jannah had bought with her groceries were a notepad and pen that she used to write down the verse. “It was meant to happen,” she said.

Now Jannah has added a range of poems to her performances, and set these to her own music. They include the offering from the bus stop chat. This translates as: “If I should die tomorrow, tell the trees that I loved them.”

In the first half of Jannah’s concerts in four Indonesian cities were nine sung poems. Her style is reminiscent of British jazz artist Cleo Laine who uses Shakespeare’s sonnets, but Jannah’s work is more accessible.

The results are charming even though the words aren’t always understood. That sounds contradictory because the multi-lingual artist slips to and fro between Dutch, Suriname, Afrikaans, English, Indonesian or whatever. However before each poem she explained its provenance and meaning in English.

So even if you’re not fluent in the tongue of Curacao you’ll not be left wondering. Or wandering.

Making the experience more palatable is Jannah’s ability to segue from chat to chanson with butter-smoothness. Her unfaltering control over syllables and consonants is the result of decades of discipline. Even her self-taught English would challenge the clarity of vowel-queen Julie Andrews.

In Holland Jannah is also a vocal educator. She studied law at the University of Utrecht but switched to a degree in music at the Conservatory in Hilversum.

“I have been gifted by God with the ability to use languages and to sing,” she said. “I’m very much a lyrics person. As a voice teacher I tell my students that song is speaking as a melody. The audience should be able to lean back and let the words come to them.

“The poetry and the poet have to be treated with respect. It must at all times remain the poem and not get lost in the music.”

Jannah, the daughter of a Moravian Church pastor, finds the spirituality of Indonesia stimulating. “I pray and meditate,” she said. “I ask for guidance and inspiration. I sought it in Borobudur ”

Jannah sings of love and betrayal (Muddy Water Blues), and includes popular standards like My Funny Valentine, Misty and Killing Me Softly in her repertoire.

The result mixes golden oldies with original works that showcase her wide vocal range and deft handling of emotion. Apart from love, her themes tend to be drawn from nature.

Her on-stage presence is relaxed. Nothing distracts from the words and music. This is a singer who has no need for glitzy costumes, smoke effects and a leggy chorus to compensate for an absence of talent.

Props include tissues, a plastic bottle of mineral water and a small shaker that she uses while exercising her forearm to the rhythm. Her five-man backing group (contrabass, percussions, guitar, drums and piano) kept well in step with her mood and never let enthusiasm overtake or eclipse Jannah’s presence.

That would be difficult even if the riffs ran away. She’s not a Big Mamma in the Southern States sense, but a large no-nonsense woman with a relaxed stage presence that belies her authority over the music.

Getting the balance right between maudlin sentimentality and raunchiness is tricky for any jazz singer. This is particularly so when performing in a concert hall where the audience hasn’t been anaesthetised by alcohol and lulled by intimacy.

She doesn’t have the smoky edge of Eartha Kitt, and consequently is less sexually threatening - or enticing. The exoticism comes from mystery of the mature woman rather than ethnicity. Here’s a professional who makes singing look so simple that the audience has no reason to do more than relax and enjoy.

This wrongly implies ‘easy listening’, a term corrupted by FM radio stations: Fast-food music – simple to digest, no exercise required and guaranteed free of nutrition.

Jannah’s music is certainly smooth on the palate but it stimulates the intellectual appetite without the audience realising that they’ve tasted soul food.

Jannah is best known in Holland where she moved from tiny Suriname (in north South America - formerly Netherlands Guiana) as a child. She has performed throughout Europe, South Africa and the US and published six albums.

Her concerts in Indonesia were sponsored by the Dutch community – which has also asked her to return next year for a longer tour. So if you missed out keep your eyes on the What’s On pages around February 2006.

You don’t have to be Dutch or European to savour this most talented woman’s eclectic multi-language offerings.

One of the most popular items on this last tour was her use of Jakarta poet Sitok Srengenge’s Osmosa Asal Mula, which translates (with difficulty) as the Origin of Osmosis.


(First published in The Jakarta Post 1 October 05)


© Duncan Graham 2005

About 15 years ago Western Australian textile artist Megan Kirwan-Ward thought it was time she refined, updated and formalised her skills. She already had a degree in English literature, but wanted qualifications in art.

By chance Elsa King, her lecturer at Perth’s Edith Cowan University was developing professional relationships with batik artists in Yogya. She invited Kirwan-Ward to visit Indonesia and explore the creativity of local women.

It didn’t take her long to appreciate the great depth and range of batik designs that vary from district to district. She was particularly surprised to find traditional Indonesian handicrafts had resisted the invasion of artificial fibres and mass production techniques despite enormous pressures to cut costs and speed manufacture.

“One day we set off in a jeep to visit a remote village in East Java,” said Kirwan-Ward in her Fremantle gallery. “We were supposed to get there in a couple of hours but we didn’t arrive till after nightfall.

“The village head greeted us with great hospitality. Then we walked down through the forest to a river and another house where a most beautiful woman was working on batik. There was no electricity. She was using candles that illuminated her every movement.

“These were movements of grace and beauty, handed down through generations of artists performing these traditional actions. Although I’ve forgotten the village name I have an enduring memory of the event. It was a stunning and extraordinary scene I will never forget.”

The Australian was stitched into Indonesia, but it took another ten years before she could return and expand her experiences.

For the next decade she researched Indonesian textile art and become fascinated by the Dutch influence on traditional embroidery techniques in West Sumatra.

Her studies led to an Asialink fellowship organised out of Melbourne University and supported by the philanthropic Myer Foundation. She then headed for Padang with a sewing machine and some vague plans about designing clothes and furnishings.

Friends with a surf shop offered Kirwan-Ward a room where she set up her machine and started wandering the markets for materials and dyes.

Now Padang, Sumatra’s major west coast seaport, is not Kuta – so a middle-aged bule asking about traditional arts attracted interest. Soon local women were swapping their knowledge and skills. A collective was formed.

The planned three-month stay wasn’t enough for Kirwan-Ward to absorb everything and develop her ideas. She renewed her visa and with her new friends and their families built a workshop on the outskirts of Padang.

The collective now produces a wide range of textiles which are taken to Australia, exhibited and sold under the name Passion Prints. They include quilts, cushions, dolls, scarves, bed linen and clothing. The materials used are silk, silk organza, cotton, brocade and velvet. All have been hand-dyed and stitched.

Many look more like three-dimensional sculptures than works of fabric. These are not batik. Most are practical and decorative. Apart from blue, most colors are earthy and reminiscent of the Australian landscape.

“Islamic art prohibits the depiction of living things so many themes are abstract,” she said. “I’ve been attracted to many of these designs but I’m also influenced by natural forms from the land and sea, particularly the reef ecologies of Western Australia and West Sumatra, for both front the Indian Ocean.

“My work always has an organic feel. The first works I brought back to Australia were so well received that the collective is now working full time.

“It’s difficult to source good dyes in Indonesia so I have to take materials to Padang.

“Not all the women were skilled at sewing so there’s been a lot of learning. It’s also been empowering because some women have now become breadwinners and their work is recognised as having value.

“Quality control is critical. I’ve explained that any work that isn’t perfect won’t sell in Australia. I got a reputation for being a very fussy woman.

“This message is now so well understood that I’ve been criticised by collective members for not presenting stich work up to their standards. These are Minangkabau women in a matriarchal and matrilineal society. They are very smart.”

Kirwan-Ward has learned Indonesian to communicate with members of the collective. She stressed that although the project – which has been backed by the Western Australian government - is successful it has been a critical learning experience for herself and her Indonesian colleagues.

“I’ve been a blundering stranger in a strange land,” she said on the eve of returning to Padang to help organise more textiles for exhibitions in Indonesia and India. She had just come from a showing in Melbourne supported by the Australia-Indonesia Institute.

“I recognise my influence can be positive and negative. I’m mindful that because the cultures are so different I’m often unaware of the impact of many things I do. I’m in someone else’s landscape so I must abide by their rules.

“This is still a niche product. But what’s happening here is real connection between ordinary people who are neighbours. These relationships are productive and meaningful and so important.

“If it develops we can create exchange programs so more Australian textile artists can travel to Indonesia and experience the richness or archipelago art.”

(For more details check

(First published in The Jakarta Post 3 October 05)

Saturday, October 01, 2005


LECTURE ME NOT © Duncan Graham 2005

Helping to boost English teaching seemed a splendid idea at the time. Warm feelings assured. But Indonesian realities intervened. Duncan Graham explains:

Three years ago English language colleges in East Java were booming, particularly in the franchised high-cost English First, IDP and KELT schools.

Why not help some young and talented Indonesians open their own low-cost school – and use the profits to subsidise learning for kampung kids?

I’d met two young and dedicated private school teachers. They became friends. Business plans were written, the market surveyed.

AUD 10,000 was committed, enough to rent a house for two years and buy desks, signage and a computer. Once capital had been repaid interest-free, ownership would pass to my friends

After positive media publicity, and an offer of free conversation classes every Saturday morning, we were swamped with inquiries.

Few turned into enrolments. The free classes died when a fleet of plump matrons arrived in chauffeured Panthers, even though advertising stressed lessons were for the poor only.

I’d misread the situation. Students were not desperate to learn English; they were desperate for certificates that said they’d learned English.

Such documents are required in the portfolios of most applicants for office jobs, though their authenticity is seldom tested.

I thought our location near Surabaya’s giant Joyoboyo kampung and the hub of all city transport was ideal. Wrong. As others pointed out we’d never make money unless sited in an up-market Chinese suburb.

The sad truth dawned. As my colleagues explained, most students at the commercial colleges were “Chinese, not Indonesians.” Naively I’d never consciously noticed their ethnicity.

The few Chinese who did seek enrolment pushed for discounts unmercifully and the staff – all Javanese Muslims – buckled under the unending pressure.

When staff followed up inquiries in government offices they were overawed by authority. This seriously hampered marketing. “How can anyone take us seriously when we arrive on a motorbike?” my friends lamented hoping I’d buy a BMW to boost their self-confidence.

In status-conscious Java an English college without a big parking area, whistling satpam and leggy receptionists in short-skirt uniforms was clearly untrustworthy.

We had a genuine native speaker with years of experience and a masters degree. Our rates were lower. But inquiries centred on my gender, age and in one case complexion. My qualifications were never questioned.

Some colleges promoted European backpackers as native speakers, often blue-eyed, big-bosomed blondes. Who cares about clotted Friesland accents and degree deficiency when you can learn and leer?

The name we chose – Biak di Siak was another error. I thought it smart; the street name was Siak and Biak means fruitful. But few Javanese know the word and assumed it referred to the island off Irian Jaya. We should have had ‘London’ or ‘International’ in the title.

Indonesian friends urged me to ride the staff ruthlessly, always assume corruption and check accounts daily. I refused. This was to be a local initiative with the bule in the backroom promoting Western values of trust and transferring modern management skills.

Wrong again.

I was alerted to the capital drought only when staff complained there was nothing left to pay them. Eight million rupiah (at the time around AUD 1,600) was missing.

Some had vanished through appalling bookkeeping and cash management. Other money had been spat out of ATMs and into personal pockets despite accounting workshops stressing the separation of school and private funds.

The temptation to take proved too much; if the bule wasn’t watching every rupiah it clearly meant he didn’t care.

This is not an entirely sad tale; much of the money has been repaid after pressure on families. The threat of shaming was more effective than the police. The manager quit in anger blaming me for giving him too much authority and the much smarter secretary took over as owner.

Under his rule she stayed subservient and never questioned flawed judgements. Nor did she speak out; ties of friendship and nationality trumped business duty.

Now she is blossoming as the new boss who can front anyone. Business is slowly improving. Most students are Javanese.

And the poor? Well they’re still waiting for the free English classes. Promotion continues but suspicion rules. The bule must have other motives – maybe spying, probably ‘Christianisation’. Denials are ineffective.

More worrying is that few believe education can lift them out of the poverty that’s been assigned as their lot in life – so why bother learning English?

This is going to be a long, long journey.

(First published in Inside Indonesia, October 2005)