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

Sunday, May 31, 2015


See the person, not the problem      
The test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members. Nobel Prize winner and author Pearl S. Buck.
The World Health Organization estimates about 15 per cent of the global population are disabled.  In Indonesia that translates as 36 million.  Duncan Graham reports on the handicapped helping themselves.

This story could have been about a cripple squatting at an intersection, his self-esteem in the gutter, hoping pitying motorists might cast a coin to ease their conscience.  That’s how many of the disabled survive in Indonesia.
Instead it’s about a dignified artist who has done better than most despite a handicap that would drive lesser people to mope, rage or suicide.
Sadikin Pard was born in Malang, East Java, in October 1966.  He entered the world without arms.  Despite great advances in medical science, the cause of half of all birth defects is unknown.   He was the eighth of nine children.  All the others are normal.
 “Birth control wasn’t popular in those days,” he said. “My parents were traditional people, but exceptional.  Their priority was education. They never treated me with pity.”
Also exemplary is the way they reacted to their son’s disabilities.  Instead of hiding him to deflect neighbor nastiness, for such births were considered a curse for imagined sins, Sadikin went to school.
Aided by his siblings he rapidly learned how to use his feet and mouth to compensate for a lack of arms.  Handless, sure – helpless, not.
Was there discrimination?  There must have been, but Sadikin moves on: “Being handicapped doesn’t mean we’re unintelligent or can’t contribute to society,” he said.  “As they say in the West – see the person, not the problem.”
For many children from poor families an elementary education is enough. The kids have got to get out and work.  Sadikin kept learning. 
Not only could he write and draw, he also mastered chess.  At Muhammadiyah University he studied psychology.  

By now he might have been practising professionally, assuming he could have found an equal opportunity employer. Instead he read a newspaper story that changed his life. 
It was about an European organization offering scholarships to help disabled artists get the security of a regular income.  He applied and was accepted in 1989.

The scholarship provided him with equipment, materials, tuition and a stipend for three years.  His work improved. Eventually he became a member of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World, internationally better known as VDMFK after the German title.  
Although it has more than 800 artists on its books from 85 countries, only nine are Indonesians. Tiny Singapore has 14.
“I don’t know why this is so,” Sadikin said. “Of course many can’t be artists.  I was lucky.  I always liked to draw and paint. VDMFK isn’t a social organization – it’s commercial.  I send them ten paintings a year. Our work is evaluated and then distributed to publishers for sale, mainly to illustrate calendars and cards.”
At a two-storey house in the Malang suburb of Sawojajar where Sadikin lives with his wife Sutini, 45, and their two teenage sons, workmen are building a studio to ease crowding.  There’s a new car in the yard – all from the proceeds of his work.
The couple have been to European and Asian countries, meeting disabled artists, exchanging ideas and anecdotes, transforming perceived tragedies into positive outcomes. 

Sadikin prefers to use oils and specializes in landscapes, though he’s now branched into social commentary.  Some of his bigger canvasses feature characters from the wayang kulit [shadow puppet] theater in modern urban settings, their batik more money than cloth.
“I’m concerned at the commercialization of society,” he explained. “I want to change Indonesia so people are better educated and smarter. These paintings don’t go abroad.”
VDMFK maintains quality control.  The works it sells are technically competent, the subjects familiar, not confrontational.  Pets, landscapes and seascapes, still life and nature.  One of Sadikin’s most popular international prints featured a Balinese dancer on a calendar cover.
 “If you dream low, you go low,” said Sadikin. “I have many teachers, my wife, nature, and our friends.
“I teach art at an orphanage.  Like it or not we are role models and ambassadors representing the millions who are disabled.
“We have to accept what we have – behind a handicap is a reason. My challenge is to show I’m equal to anyone.”

Being disabled is not a choice
Although the final principle of the nation’s Pancasila philosophy is  Keadilan Sosial bagi seluruh Rakyat Indonesia [social justice for all citizens] this doesn’t always get translated as State care for the disadvantaged and disabled.

“It’s a fine ideal, but there’s a disconnect between the words and what happens in the field,” said rehabilitation specialist Dr Djoko Witjaksono (left)
“Many handicapped children don’t get an education. In Indonesia the disabled are still considered different.  We are behind world standards in providing opportunities for acceptance, training and employment.”
Dr Djoko, who is also on the board of Malang’s Yayasan Pembinaan Anak Cacat [YPAC – Foundation for Educating Disabled Children] said there were only 17 YPACs in the nation.  They were originally established to cater for polio victims, but now handle other impairments.

Cynthia, 9, helps her friend
YPAC student Eka Aprilia, 9,
disabled as a premature baby.

“Most disabled children suffer double handicaps – physical and mental,” he said. “We need at least one YPAC in every regency.  That’s 405.  The leaders of the country should look at what’s happening and respond.  We have the resources. But it’s not just a government issue – families and society also needs to take ownership.”

Indonesian sidewalks show how the disabled are ignored – many are full of holes and hazards. Then there are steep steps into shops and public buildings – public toilets with narrow doors and no rails. How does anyone in a wheel chair or who uses crutches, cope?
Ma Chung University, which does have disabled access to its buildings, joined with other donors to sponsor a seminar to mark YPAC Malang’s 60th anniversary.  

Economic and business lecturer Hallie Sahertian (right) brought four of his students to the event “so they understand the issues in society.”
“Being disabled is not a choice,” he said. “Part of citizenship is having social empathy.  Education doesn’t stop in class – people need to know what’s going on beyond their school and get involved.”

Self help – not charity
If an art work is outstanding should buyers be concerned whether the creator  is a man or women, young or old, able or disabled?
Had Shakespeare written his plays with a quill between his toes would we admire his works  more, or subject them to softer criticism?
VDMFK tackles these ethical issues by reminding members that high artistic standards must be maintained because: ‘In general [critics] do not take into consideration the fact that most works by mouth and foot painters have been created under severe physical restraints and difficulties.’
The VDMFK, which started in 1957, describes itself as a ‘democratic collective’ and a ‘for-profit’ business.  Its motto is Self Help – Not Charity.
Its marketing strategy is to mail unsolicited cards and calendars just before Christmas hoping recipients will buy.  Although some complain this is junk mail and bin the cards, the major threat is the Internet.
Surface mail is rapidly declining; the era of a card in an envelope delivered by a post person will soon be history.  Earlier this year VDMFK urged its members to ‘assert themselves’ in the market to help ‘enlarge our client base’ through exhibitions and workshops.
 (First published in The Jakarta Post 31 May 2015)


Making it in Madura

The Madurese are famously holy.  The roads on their small island off the north coast of East Java are notoriously holey.  Neither fact should be a reason to avoid a visit.  Duncan Graham reports:
When the grand Suramadu bridge crossing the Straits of Madura opened in 2009, politicians  queued up to predict the start of a boom for the 160-kilometer long island which till then had been best known for exporting its inhabitants.
Less than four million survive on Madura, the majority around the capital Sumenep in the east – a pleasant, slow city of wide streets, closed shops and little traffic, dominated by a sulfur-colored mosque.

However more than ten million Madurese live elsewhere in Indonesia, driven from their ancestral homes by poverty and a lack of fertile land.
With the men chasing rupiah across the archipelago, the necessary manual labor has become women’s breakback, as Duriah, 30, rationalized while pulling weeds:  “If I don’t work, where will I get money?”  She farmed alone, no companions to chat and break the monotony.
The 5.4 kilometer cable-stayed bridge, the longest in the Republic, is symmetrical and spectacular.  The Rp 4.5 trillion [US$ 445 million at the time] price tag was justified by reasoning that industry in Surabaya was running out of space so manufacturers would relocate if access wasn’t hampered by a cumbersome ferry.
Some over-the-top commentators forecast Madura could be the next Bali. Maybe for the pious abstainers, but for those whose idea of a holiday is doing things in Kuta you wouldn’t do at home, then strike Madura off your bucket list right now.
Madura is for the hardy and adventurous happy with Indonesian food and facilities, inquisitive about its culture, wondering over its convoluted history.

The Madurese are supposedly forever ready to unsheaf a kris in a quarrel – but most want to pull out a camera. Foreign visitors are so rare even shop staff seek selfies of a white-skinned customer. If stares disturb deflect with information about yourself.  There’s no hostility, just curiosity as to why anyone would come when so many want to go.
It’s not just the terrain that’s dry; if there are restaurants selling alcohol they keep a subterranean profile. Bathing in the many delightful beaches wearing anything less than a shapeless full body covering is not recommended – unless you are a man. 
The island has knock-out potential, particularly in craft.  The batik home industries using natural dyes offer luscious designs of such originality and color that you want to buy them all because they surpass anything from the factories in Surabaya.
Finding the right handicrafts can also be rewarding, though there are limited attempts at quality control.  The plumage theme common on old carvings has been replicated on children’s trams that wander slowly around Sumenep’s central town square, but await an entrepreneur to make this a notable symbol.
The local government has some funny ideas about promoting tourism; its two poorly-stocked shops won’t sell some artefacts because they’re ‘to display, not for you to buy’.  So where can we purchase?  ‘Don’t know.’
[The answer is the village of Karduluk, about 40 minutes drive south of Sumenep on the road back to Suramadu; don’t blink or you’ll miss it.]

The standout contrast is the Sumenep museum and kraton where the guides are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and funny.  Here’s one of their tales:
The concubines’ bathing pool was painted yellow till past president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited. Officials feared he’d be annoyed by the color of his rival Golkar party, so added blue to represent his Democratic Party. 
Madu means ‘honey’ and some etymologists reason this relates to the island’s famous jamu, herbal mixtures to ward off ills.  Yet hives are rare.
If the factories, container terminals and other mega-businesses have moved across the shallow brown sea, their presence is well hidden.  As a Ministry of Public Works report trying to explain a lack of progress noted, the Madurese are ‘very sensitive people and may not be very tolerant in [sic] anything.
‘The Madurese have their own culture that is strongly rooted in Islamic values with three pillars of leadership: Bapa and Ebuh [father and mother], kyai [religious teacher], and rato [government].

‘The Madurese demand that the decision making in the development process should involve
these three pillars. On the other hand, Eastern Java is inhabited by Javanese which is [sic] industrialized and modernized.’

The cliché ‘off the beaten track’ does not apply, because some sections of the north-west coast road have yet to be beaten, let alone surfaced.  Madurese artisans erect stunning minarets soaring heavenwards, but earthly horizontal construction seems a skill too far.  The regular roadblocks of youths jangling tins are not to raise cash for asphalt but to build more mosques.
The route wanders through villages lacking space for morning markets.  So vegetable buyers and sellers take over the road, goat traders prosper and visitors go nowhere. The dangers here are not the jagged limestone rubber-rippers but squashing a farmer’s tomatoes under a tire, or her outstretched foot.

If your travel arrangements include packing impatience and keeping to a schedule, go elsewhere. However if you share the 19th century Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson’s belief that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive, then Madura is marvellous.
The pleasures come in places like Makam Agung, a pre-Islamic cemetery with royal family graves dating back to 1413. Here rests Pragalbo [died 1531], the king who apparently converted to Islam on his deathbed so his subjects discarded Hindu-Buddhism.
Unlike cultural sites in East Java where authorities have ‘beautified’ the location with trim hedges, straight paths and barbed wire fences, Makam Agung’s splendid decay, its rotting and rusting signs, are so genuine the sacredness is tangible.
In the distance the gleaming white and blue dome of the mosque at Arosbaya shimmers in the heat.  Here passing motorbikes don’t rattle – they purr, the sound soaked up by the humidity.  Mongooses dart across clearings.  Swallows sweep the shadows where insects seek safety.

Doves coo in the centuries old banyan trees leaning together for support like a couple in their dotage. The eight-point sun symbol of the Majapahit Empire is here, along with Arabic calligraphy. The mossy walls are crumbling, the gravestones sinking into the space once filled by the Cakrangingrats regents, their loved ones and descendants.
The headstone shrouds create columns of ghosts. This is how it should be – dust to dust in serenity.
Caretaker and kyai Nari, 70, said villagers fearful of spirits moved away, leaving the graveyard an island in a sea of paddy.
“I have eleven generations of my family buried here,” he said. “There are many stories about this place. Once three men tried to cut down a tree.  They went home and suddenly died. Snakes emerge at night, but I’m not afraid.”
Nor should visitors be fearful of the bronze-chested fishermen; if they weren’t hauling nets they’d be in Jakarta advertising cologne on TV, intimidating actors whose only claim to being macho is through splashing water on their designer stubble.
No need to preen in Batumarmar where Real Men prefer to show off their boats, painting swirling multi-colored images on prows and sterns. Yet these are working craft, catching tonnes of tiny fish to be dried on the docks. 
Wandering and chatting, discovering places the guide books haven’t found and the government hasn’t touched, learning how different are the lives of the Madurese from other Indonesians and how few know of the world beyond though it’s there on the horizon - these are the visitor’s rewards.

(First published in J-Plus, a supplement of The Jakarta Post, 31 May 2015)

Monday, May 25, 2015


The story that wouldn’t stop gnawing     

Every great nation strives to know the truth of its foundation, why it exists and who was responsible.

When Dr Frank Palmos, whose words start this story, was in Jakarta more than a half century ago he was handed a sacred trust.
Neither he nor the donor realized it at the time for the young Australian was one more face in a sea of students at the since demolished Ikada Stadium. They were listening to diplomat and revolutionary leader Dr Roeslan Abdulgani speak on the Principles of the Indonesian Revolution. 
The stand-out was that Palmos wasn’t just the only foreigner in the audience - he’d plonked himself in the front-row.  Blessed with confidence, language skills and an inquiring mind the historian-to-be and the Foreign Minister that was, mixed and matched.
So when Palmos returned to the capital in 1964 with a degree in Indonesian Studies as correspondent for several newspapers the friendship thrived. “Dr Abdulgani was as exciting and funny as President Soekarno,” Palmos recalled.  “He was generous with his relationship.”
The freedom fighter was also a writer with a strong interest in history, particularly the birth of the nation in 1945 where he’d been a midwife.  His book One Hundred Days in Surabaya that Shook Indonesia was translated by Palmos into English. 
Till now historians have reckoned it’s one of the few authoritative texts about youngsters armed with bamboo spears who turned words into action after Soekarno proclaimed Independence on 17 August.
Six weeks later a British-led force of tough Indian troops landed to recover the East Java capital for the return of the colonialists.
But the Surabayans defied the battle-hardened Gurkhas, killed their commander Brigadier Aubertin Mallaby, and fought furiously against the misinformed invaders, for the Dutch had arrogantly assumed they’d be welcome back.
The fighting climaxed on 10 November, now recognized as National Heroes’ Day.
Although the British eventually secured the city and its port the revolutionaries’ furious resistance inspired the nascent nation to maintain the struggle for four more years till the Dutch capitulated in 1949.
The story of those tragic times is now to be retold.   Tanah Keramat [Sacred Territory] should be available in Indonesian in time for the 70th anniversary of the day that determined the Republic would be free.
Palmos developed the book out of his doctoral thesis at the University of Western Australia.  Inevitably he’s encountered some resentment: What’s a foreigner doing with such precious national memories?  Recounting any state’s history is a job for the home-grown.
“I have a ready reply,” said Palmos during a visit to East Java where he’s been supervising the translation and talking to a publisher. The initial print run could be 5,000 copies – a big order in a culture where readers browse but seldom buy.
“I could not have written this without access to the personal papers of Dr Abdulgani, one of the Republic’s founders.  These were given to me by his family when he died in 2005.
“Before everything went to the National Archives I worked through the collection.  It included documents the 1945 History Committee had assembled to publish a major book.
“However Soekarno was against the project; he didn’t wish to focus praise or attention on any one ethnic group, or city or incident.
“After Soekarno was deposed by Soeharto, Dr Abdulgani became Ambassador to the United Nations. [The headquarters are in New York.] While in the US he was influenced by the way Americans handled their history and kept it alive.
“Later in the 1990s he was an advisor to Megawati Soekarnoputri [daughter of Soekarno and later the nation’s fifth President] when she was opposing the Soeharto government. So he was never able to write the book.
 “Another major resource was General Purnawarman Suhario’s Memories of a Student Soldier. I encountered this by chance and learned the author was still alive.
“I borrowed a video recorder and rushed to Jakarta.  The old soldier, known as Hario Kecik, came to the Obor Foundation publisher’s office in his uniform and medals – it was an extraordinary and moving moment. I also had access to interviews conducted with veterans by the army.  My book is really fulfilling and extending Dr Abdulgani’s dream.”

 [In 2003 Dr Retnowati Abdulgani-Knapp [ right, with Frank] published a biography of her father titled A Fading Dream.]
After Jakarta Palmos was sent to report on the Vietnam War.  In Saigon he survived an ambush that killed four other journalists.  He spent two years in the US where he covered space missions. Later he worked in Australian television.  “But the Battle of Surabaya continued to gnaw,” he said. “It was unfinished business.”

Palmos’ trip to Surabaya was funded by the Australia-Indonesia Association.  Last year he won the AIA’s media section award given ‘to recognise and honor Australians who have made significant contributions to the greater understanding and friendship between Indonesians and Australians’.


On the award night he told the audience:  “I’d like to leave this earth knowing I’d left behind a legacy of literature and history.”


On a side trip to Malang this month (April) Palmos, 75, told The Jakarta Post: “The Indonesian people treated me so wonderfully as a student. It would be wrong for me not to use the knowledge I’ve gained to repay the Republic for what it has given to me.
“I didn’t expect Indonesian historians to be so disinterested. But Soeharto had his version of the past written after the 1965 coup and I think many just gave up. They should now read and criticise and add to my book.
“Serious journalists are beholden  to continue writing and do more than just go home and talk about the old days.
“The people of Surabaya are the first independent citizens of Indonesia.  They saved the Republic, they defended the Proclamation.
“I hope Sacred Territory revives young people’s interest in their nation’s history.  The older generation has had its chance. Dr Abdulgani told me long ago that it was a good story; he was right.”

 (First published in The Jakarta Post 25 May 2015)

Monday, May 18, 2015


Those were the criminal days                                   Duncan Graham
When I was a schoolboy, praying pubic hairs would soon appear like those I’d seen in the communal cold shower after playing rugby, I became a terrorist.
Or would have been if the standards of today had been applied.
First I acquired a hand gun.  It was a powerful air pistol.  It may have come through a swap with a friend.  I already had a revolver with no trigger guard that I’d found in an old air-raid shelter, useless because I couldn’t get the short .32 ammunition it needed.
 But I did have same calibre slugs for an air rifle which was used to ping squirrels and rabbits; however no-one knew of the more easily concealed weapon. 
One evening I took a friend and the pistol for a wander around the streets. Keen to show off I took aim at a sparrow in a bush, missed and shot out a window in the house behind.
We ran home followed by the shouts of a furious woman, but in those days street lighting was either absent or dim so we got away.
Today the charge sheet would have read:  Going armed in public to cause terror, discharging a firearm in a public place, having an unlicensed weapon, causing wilful damage to property, endangering life - and probably a few more.
Convictions would have barred me from travel and public service jobs as I also became a bomber.
Joining the cadet corps was not compulsory ‘but I can’t remember anyone not volunteering, Graham,’ said the fat red-nosed ex-soldier employed as the public school’s sergeant major. 
His job was to shout a lot, teach us how to bayonet sacks of straw and strip a Bren gun.  Under his tutelage I learned that violence was evil, though that wasn’t the message he delivered.
On Saturday afternoons we had to run around parkland and shoot at the enemy with our Lee Enfields.
Each cadet was issued with ten blank rounds but no-one counted if all were fired.  I kept a few and bought others from mates. The .303 cartridges had crimped ends which could be prised open to access the cordite.
When I’d accumulated enough I found a short length of old waterpipe with one end closed.  Following instructions in a book I … well, I’d better censor the details lest I’m accused of aiding and abetting criminal behaviour though it’s all on the Internet.  All this was done in my father’s tool shed.
He was at work.  So was my mother.
My younger brother and I went to a nearby abandoned quarry where perverts occasionally came to ask us to masturbate them (something we never reported because it was too embarrassing) and blew up our pipe bomb. 
It sounded like the crack of doom as the explosion bounced off the chalk walls.  The thick-walled pipe, ripped open from top to bottom like a banana skin, became an impressive trophy and lifted my peer rating. 
Today I’d have been arrested at gunpoint by an anti-terror squad.  My pixelated features would have made the TV bulletins as the flak-jacketed police pushed me into a car to face a charge sheet that would have me imprisoned for years.
Instead of going on to write the news, I’d have been on the news, denounced by shrill editorials headed EVIL IN OUR MIDST, my behaviour analysed by social scientists, my chances of a good career shredded.
I don’t know why I didn’t make more bombs; maybe I realised the dangers, but more likely having done another naughty deed, it was time to try something else.
This meant running away from home to escape my quarrelling parents, which I achieved easily after sabotaging the telephone.
This time I had no instructions, but science classes had helped. I unscrewed the base and pulled out a couple of wires. I already had a passport and friends in France, so it wasn’t difficult to escape – nor for the French police to find me and get my father to take me back to Britain.
Interpol was involved, but the incident was treated as a silly teen’s emotional escapade– though it certainly shook my parents into better behaviour.  I think I remember someone saying ‘he’s just growing up’, which I considered an insult.
Then came the Hungarian Uprising where the brave youth of that communist dominated country were risking all to seize freedom.  Or that’s how it seemed in the right-wing papers my Dad read.
Who couldn’t be stirred by the determination of boys just like me? They needed help; I knew how to clean a 1914 rifle and make a bomb, so I’d be invaluable.
Fortunately my father, having realised he should pay more attention to his offspring, disappeared my passport.  He channelled my energies into the Boy Scouts where I was given adventures aplenty and soon became a much-badged troop leader.
And eventually an Australian citizen with no criminal record.
Thank God I’m not growing up today.

(First published in On Line Opinion 18 May 2015.  For comments see:

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Anglo artisans keep potting along                                        

Sri Saparni, 45, (right) claws out a fistful of dark chocolate clay, adds a pinch more and throws it on a small wooden wheel.
She gives it a spin with a wrist-flick, and then splashes her hands in a tub of muddy water. A quick pummel to expel air, then the rising and shaping.  It’s an act of creation, simple yet wondrous.
Exactly 75 seconds later she’s crafted a lipped bowl of simple beauty using technology that was present when men stalked megafauna and a mammoth steak was the real thing.
The only concessions to modernity are the use of wire to cut the pot free from the wheel and a small bearing salvaged off a car so the wheel spins smoothly.  Otherwise Sri and her colleagues in the central Java village of Bentangan could be potting around in Mesopotamia during the Stone Age. (See Breakout).
“I learned my skills from my mother, as she did from hers,” said the 45-year old as she deftly transformed an ugly lump of dirt dug from a nearby paddy into a practical utensil – and a thing of beauty.
“About 80 families live here.  Most are involved in making and selling pots.”
She thought it strange than an outsider should see art in what is to her a basic job, an industrial enterprise, though located in the villager’s living rooms and verandas.

For these toilers are, like weavers, carpenters, metalsmiths and other skilled artisans, among the thousands of seldom recognized ‘home industries’ that power much of the nation’s regional economies. 
In a side room is the kiln, a floor of bricks above the fire chamber where rice straw is burned for six to ten hours, depending on the weather.
In what used to be a bedroom a broody hen incubates her clutch on a mattress tossed onto piles of anglo, the little braziers that have long been the archipelago’s kitchen ovens. Even in some cities you can still see them on the sidewalks boiling a kettle.
It comes in two separate parts – a dish or pot supported above the flames on three lugs attached to the lip above the fire chamber.
In 2007 the Indonesian government set out to encourage 50 million householders to stop using kerosene as a cooking fuel and convert to gas.  The lime green metal cylinders are now everywhere, but it took time to convince the nation to go for gas.

One of those not persuaded was Sugino, 61, who got a bad burn on the inside of his forearm when free gas ignited – perhaps from a faulty bottle or, more likely, misuse of the equipment.
“After that I decided I’d never try gas again,” he said. “Food cooked by gas is tasteless.  Many think like this because there’s been no reduction in our sales of anglo despite all the pressure to make us change.
“You can use anything that burns with an anglo.  Bits of wood can be scavenged – gas can only be bought. [The three kilo canisters cost about Rp 17,000 – US $1.30] to fill
“Of course people break their anglo and need new [The largest cost around Rp 7,500 – US 60 cents.]  If you put bricks around the sides to stop rapid cooling they can last a long time.”
The irony of Sugiono’s gas accident is that he’s never been injured working the kiln, though his tasks include stoking the furnace and shovelling smoldering ash over the pots.
For occupational health and safety professionals the kilns of Bentangan, about 20 kilometers south-west of Solo, should be featured in a textbook titled Hazards Beyond Belief.
The dry straw is stacked next to the fire so it can be easily pitchforked into the flames.  The workers are unhampered in their labors by the need to wear steel-capped boots, a fire- retardant apron or face mask.
Anglo in 5 star hotel

Perhaps they stay safe because they’re not on edge fearing the sudden arrival of workplace inspectors and the closure of their businesses.
Modern kilns are sealed and fired by gas or electricity which allows precise controls over the process.  Older kilns are wood fired; if the timber is hard and dry, high temperatures can be maintained.
But straw flares and dies. It gives out a surge of heat before crumpling into ash and smoke, so the fire must be constantly attended, and then left to cool for at least a day.
How to tell the temperature, which should stay constant between 1000 and 1200 degrees Celsius?  How to know when to keep burning and when to stop?  The potters of Bentangan only encounter thermometers at the puskesmas [community health center].
The intensity of a firing can be boosted by pulling out a few floor bricks to let in more air or fanning the flames. The temperature can be dropped by starving the flames of fuel; it’s all done by feeling.
Quality control is simple; if the pot rings when tapped, ting-ting say the locals, it’s OK.
While the West agonizes over ways to get back to basics, recycle and use natural products, Indonesians just get on and adapt whatever’s to hand.
The proof that intuition trumps instruments is in the results – batches of bisque [unglazed] ochre pots and anglo ready for the shops in Yogyakarta and Semarang in Central Java, and Surabaya across the border in East Java.
Sumiyem, 75, used to make the journey in a pick-up or truck two or three times a month, but has now passed marketing on to younger villagers.  “I’m getting too old,” she said as she easily hefted a clutch of anglo outside.  There are pots – but no pot stomachs in Bentangan.

A revolutionary invention

Nomadic tribes never mastered the art of pottery, for who’d want to carry a heavy and fragile container across deserts?
 It was left to our ancestors who settled in the fertile lands between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what are now parts of Iraq, Kuwait and Syria to develop receptacles, first for transporting and holding water – later for cooking.
The Bill Gates of Mesopotamia watched workers turning clay to get the shape right and thought laterally.  Why not keep the potter’s hands in one place and rotate the bench to make the job easier and the artefact symmetrical?
So the potter’s wheel was invented about 5,000 years ago, which allowed production to boom. One of the many spin-offs was the ability to decorate a whirling pot and so add art to an artefact. Mesopotamia was also the birthplace of writing.
In those days, as in rural Indonesia today, workers squatted on the floor and spun the wheel by hand.  The kick wheel was developed later, probably in Europe where potters sat on chairs which allowed their feet to be involved in the process.  Now electric motors drive wheels.
First published in The Jakarta Post J Plus 17 May 2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


A legacy of love and music                                             

Gamelan musician and composer Jack Body, 70, a major and enthusiastic promoter of Indonesian arts, died last Sunday (10 May) in his homeland New Zealand.
His great interest was in using music to cross cultures and create international friendships.
He had long suffered from lung cancer, which till recently was in remission.  He continued to compose.  Poems of Love and War incorporating Javanese themes was judged the best classical album in the 2014 NZ Music Awards.
Shortly before he passed away he was presented with a festschrift of more than 100 contributions simply titled Jack.  He is survived by his long-time partner, linguist Yono Soekarno, originally from Bandar Lampung in Sumatra.
Jack Body first encountered Indonesian culture in the early 1970s when exploring the world as a young musician of great promise.
He had already graduated with a masters degree from Auckland University and with a prestigious arts fellowship went to study in Cologne and at the Institute of Sonology at Utrecht.
Then he took the long way home wandering through Europe and Southeast Asia with his mind and microphone open. The last stop was Indonesia.
“I was an innocent abroad and I knew next to nothing about the country,” he told The Jakarta Post seven years ago. At the time he’d just returned from two visits to Yogyakarta to record the palace guards playing at the kraton.
 “I'd already been to India and was intrigued by the music I'd heard in the streets and villages.
“But Indonesia was quite different. By comparison I found India to be harsh. In Indonesia I started recording the sounds I heard the way other people take photographs of their travels.
“I followed my ears. I recorded birds, animals, street sounds, music. I was fascinated by the fantastic richness of the culture. I liked the way people took things easily. They couldn't be bothered to get hot and bothered.
“What attracted me most? The sensuality.”
He taught at the Akademi Musik Indonesia [now Institut Seni Indonesia – Indonesian Arts Institute] in Yogyakarta for two years. Back home he joined the NZ School of Music in Wellington where he became an associate professor.
His compositions covered all genres, from chamber music through to themes for television soap operas.
Two years ago he accompanied the School’s gamelan orchestra for a tour of Bali and Java. They performed to a full house at the Yogya Gamelan Festival where the locals were stunned to discover Kiwis were so professional in traditional Indonesian music.

A few days before the composer passed away he was awarded the Arts Foundation of NZ Icon Award Whakamana Hiranga, limited to a living circle of just 20 artists.
At the presentation in a Wellington hospice the Foundation said Jack was a prolific world-class composer with a global reach. 

The citation continued: ‘The impact of his artistic life on NZ is profound. Jack has given so much to audiences, local and international composers, musicians and students. The Arts Foundation is honoured that Jack has accepted the Award and proud to have him as the first composer to be named an Icon, and the first Laureate to also receive an Icon Award.’

Professor Body’s works have been performed in the United States, Holland and many other countries. He was also a widely exhibited photographer. His specialty has been cross-cultural compositions and experimental electro- acoustics.
In 2000, to celebrate 25 years of gamelan in NZ, he co-organised BEAT, an International Gamelan Festival with over 100 overseas participants. He was also artistic director of the Asia-Pacific Festivals and Conferences in 1984, 1992 and 2007.
In all his pursuits he set out to embed the music of Asia, and Indonesia in particular, in multicultural NZ. His success is measured by a vast collection of awards, including a NZ Order of Merit.
To help promote Indonesian culture he collected a Javanese gamelan for his university and named it Padhang Moncar.  Tien Soeharto, the late wife of the late Indonesian president Soeharto is believed to have donated the instruments. The School also has a Balinese gamelan, Taniwha Jaya.

In his compositions Professor Body integrated other musical cultures as in Campur Sari for Javanese musician and string quartet, and Polish Dances, for clarinet and Javanese gamelan.

He organized residencies in Wellington for Indonesian artists including, Agus Supriawan and Dody Ekagustdiman [both from West Java], Rafiloza bin Rafii from Minangkabau and Wayan Yudane from Bali.
Wayan said his friend was at the center of the music community because of his lifelong support for young composers and immigrants “like me”.
“He had a way of collaborating that was quite different from other composers, especially western composers.
“Jack would never isolate himself as a composer but was really open to finding something new, finding a friend and putting it all together in a way that everything and everyone was given equal value.  He had a great warmth and heart for Indonesia.”
Budi Putra who directs the Javanese gamelan is also on the local staff of the Indonesian Embassy. He said:
“Although Jack was a great artist he never boasted of his achievements. He taught, he motivated, he worked tirelessly.  He inspired.
“He was always just ‘Jack’.  He dealt with everyone in the same way and was always polite. Despite his illness he continued to think about the continuity of gamelan music in NZ, right to the last seconds of his life.
“We will continue to develop the gamelan as he wished and play at his funeral.”
Composer Michael Asmara said he was inspired to set up the Contemporary Music Festival in Yogyakarta after being introduced to a NZ composers’ workshop by Professor Body.
I felt Jack was just like the Javanese,” he said. “Yoga was his second home. The way he spoke and acted was very halus [refined and sensitive], and sometimes going round and round. He looked so excited when he played.  His patterns and forms, rhythms and tempo were inspired by Indonesia, but he also introduced other ideas.
“His music will never die.”
(First published in  The Jakarta Post 12 May 2015)


Image problems? Bad news? You need a distraction
Good morning, and welcome to Complaints Initiated and Actioned, otherwise known as the CIA.  We’ve been operating in Indonesia since the 1950s so know the market well.
 How can we help?
Are you a shoddy T-shirt manufacturer and sales are slipping and you need to get back in the black? Maybe a fading artist eclipsed by the younger generation? Perhaps a public officer whose reputation is going downhill?
We helped one gentleman a few days ago – advised him to buy a ring from a big name.  It cost him Rp 150 million, but it certainly distracted the media’s attention from his other problems. Did you see the positive photos?  Clever, eh?
It’s not a good line but your accent sounds South Sulawesi – right? Lovely! No problem, our professionals have worked with many people from your splendid province.
I’ll just run you through our service … may I have your name, please?  Thank you.  Is it alright if I call you Jusuf? 
Once you’ve paid a deposit work starts immediately.  We’ll send you some offensive designs from our range of political, religious, celebrity or sporting issues.
For example, you might like to check our latest - Syahrini Mimes her Songs showing the  artist pouting and looking fat.
That will be followed by a Twitter and Facebook campaign against your company.  Some of our most experienced people will post messages like: ‘I normally never comment on social media – but this attack on a lovely lady is disgusting.’
If that doesn’t work we’ll organize anonymous death threats.  That usually grabs the media’s attention.
We have contact with several tabloid and TV reporters.  For a reasonable honorarium they’ll report that hatred of your product has gone viral. Don’t worry, no one will check.
Then one of our staff will act as your spokesman offer sincere apologies, promise to withdraw the offending apparel and make a donation to charity. All sweet, they won’t check that either.
By then everyone will be clamouring to buy the T shirts and you’ll be famous for responding to complaints.
Within a week your product will have sold out and your company’s name will be known from Sabang to Merauke as an edgy trend setter.  What do you think?
Ethical?  Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.  Oh, you’re saying it’s not proper – though that’s a word we choose not to use at CIA.
Look, Jusuf, do you really think the kampongs are full of people expressing their outrage over every silly little thing in society?  Of course not – issues have to be provoked, and that’s the job of the CIA.
Look at it like this:  You’ve produced a boring film that’s going to lose a bundle at the box office; what better way to bring back the crowds than suggest the movie be banned because of its explicit sex scenes?
It doesn’t matter that there are no such scenes. For a relatively miniscule amount our most excellent friend in the censor’s office will say the film is being closely examined and could be withdrawn; the rush to see will recoup costs in a fortnight just from adolescent boys..
Journalists are busy folk and can’t wander the streets asking commuters what they think of Syahrini’s bottom or Flesh Eating Ghosts of Depok Mall Toilets.  Most people would reply: ‘You don’t want my views on the economy or leadership?  Get lost - I’ve got a life to lead, haven’t you?’
So you see CIA has stepped in to provide a service where outrage can be manufactured and help fill newspapers.
Fine – so, you’re not a film producer and you’d like our VIP service.  Now whose flagging fortunes can we help you recover?  Just say the name and we’ll create a plan.
Sorry, who did you say?  Jok ..what? …  And he’s your partner? Mmmm.  Look, just hold the line while I check with my bosses.
OK, here we are again, Jusuf.  I do apologise, but we really think this task is going to be just a teeny bit hard to accomplish.  Anyone else, no problem.  But perhaps this fellow’s image has gone too far down to recover.  Duncan Graham

First published in The Jakarta Post 10 May 2015

Friday, May 08, 2015


As readers will know, this blog consists almost entirely of my writings. When I find the work of others that I'd like you to savor I usually put in a link.  However this outstanding diary by my friend Frank Palmos is so good, so gentle and perceptive, so right for this time of anguish and ridiculous assertions that I thought it worthy of inclusion in its entirety.  Read this and you'll understand a little more of ordinary Indonesians and a lot more of the compassion and humour  this veteran newsman has brought to his work.


Back in 1961 I learned my Indonesian from student friends and listening to the
Imams in small mosques in Kampung Bali, an inner suburb of old Djakarta as it
was known then, and another mosque just south of Bandung, where I shared a
room with two brothers in a small house on a laneway called a Gang. My Siswa
Lokantara Fellowship provided an allowance of around US$5 a month.

I had expected the Imam in the Kampung Bali mosque – now long replaced by a
much larger showpiece in the welter of rebuilding in modern Jakarta – to start
lecturing our Friday kampung gathering about the importance of Islam or launch
into a political tirade. I was the only foreigner, seated on the floor in a crowd of
around 100 men on one side of the mosque, while around the other half sat the
ladies. A diaphanous curtain strung down the middle separated us.

I was not asked to bend in prayer, but I was a respectful audience. There was
subdued whispering between flirtatious young men and girls, through the
curtain, and even a bit of murmuring if the Imam’s lecture fell flat. It never did
fall flat for me.

On my first visit, the Imam announced me and welcomed my attendance. He then
gave lessons in hygiene to young mothers, told the men and women to use a nail
brush to clean their nails at all times, especially when preparing food, which is
how I knew gosok was to use a brush. His parishioners were urged to be polite
and kind and attend to the education of their children, and to look after their
own affairs except when they perhaps noticed a neighbor had not appeared for
some time, and then they must knock on the door and see if help was needed.

The price of rice was a disaster, he said, so mothers were to keep in mind the
wise use of corn on the cob ground fine and to always keep boiled water on hand.
Not a jihad to be heard in those days. Even in Bandung where they took religion a
little more seriously, but down there I heard the same helpful hints and advice to
young mothers and that oranges from nearby Garut were cheap and should be in
every family kitchen for good health. I travelled widely, on very slow moving
buses with unbending wooden seats, and even slower trains that stopped for no
apparent reason between stations, giving me time to learn even more colloquial
Bahasa, and answer questions about my family, my house, my school, and did I
know the Australian lady named Nyonya ‘Smit’ who had fair hair and lived in
Adelaide, and of course I said that I did. Everyone in Tasik Malaya knew her
because she was an Australian nurse who was very nice and friendly. I was
Australian therefore I must know her. By 1992 I had logged around 200 days of
conversation on cheap public transport.

Last week in East Java, I logged another few hours. Déjà vu. The seats were a
little softer, but not much better than 1961‐62, as my wife and I rode the train
from the beautiful town of Malang in East Java back to Surabaya, where I had
chosen to stay again at the historic Majahpahit Hotel, to introduce Alison to a
little history and show her the spot where the first fatality of the 1945‐1950
Revolution occurred. Train and bus riding is the dream situation for young
foreigners trying to improve their Indonesian, and for me it was just like old
times. I tried to gently open an inquiry into the Capital Punishment story that
was on the cities’ front pages, but they wanted to tell me of a split in a football
competition in Surabaya, which worried them. Ladies who had been strangers
when they sat down opposite me enjoined me into a chat about baby health, the
weather, my family, how lovely my wife was (sitting alongside me but not
understanding the conversation) and did we have children and was schooling
expensive as it was here in East Java.
Another man, a stranger also to them, joined in, showed off a little by saying he
had a good friend in Australia. The friend was a Mister Will‐ison (Wilson) who
lived in Melbourne and was very friendly, and laughed a lot, and did a good job
for them. I must know him. He looked a bit like me, and had black hair and he
was helpful but my Indonesian was better than his, but he tried hard. I said of
course I knew him, and agreed that Mr Willison had black hair, looked a bit like
me and was friendly, and promised the man I would say hello from Benny in
Bangli town, for him. “He’ll remember me. He was very nice,” said Benny, and the
others nodded approval.

We heard more about the Lapindo hot mud environmental disaster in Sidoarjo,
which had entombed several entire villages, that these days even diesel and
kerosene fuel was more expensive under this new government and the unusual
fact that not one of my audience had ever been on an aeroplane flight. One
mother said she went shopping as a pillion passenger, paying a young
motorcyclist to take her every market day for R3,000 (40 cents) because the
traffic made walking difficult for her. One boy asked me how Real Madrid would
go this year, which astonished me. I bought a railway magazine that said a new
train would be on the Jakarta‐Surabaya line and run at 200 kmh and China would
be paying for a new rail somewhere. But it didn’t say when this fabulous train
would be running.

Meanwhile, we chugged along at a safe 50 kmh, stopping
every now and then to wait for another down train to pass us. A taxi from
Gubeng Station Surabaya CBD to the Majahpahit cost 50 cents, on the Bluebird
meter, and I learned more about the football club split in Surabaya from the
Madurese driver.
In my scores of conversations in East Java and later Jakarta, as I was leaving, just
one person commented on the hot news of Capital Punishment and the
executions the next day. It came from my oldest friend from my 1961 Bandung
university days: he was rather blunt, saying that the two persons to be shot were
“not really Australians” being Chinese and Indian, but in any case most people
wanted all drug carriers shot, Indonesians especially. The newspapers carried
massive amounts of front page copy on the case, describing how fourteen
riflemen would be used, sketches and photographs of the massive parade of
officials involved, and the TV droned on and on, but showing only city scenes.

Away from town, the issue was not on the daily conversation agenda. The rare
political comment was a put down or comment of disappointment on the new
President, but it was the price of schooling (a really hot topic), fuel, food, building
or buying a house, family health, too many traffic jams and among the boys, local
and European League soccer.

In Surabaya the Jawa Pos, which publishes in a score of cities, carried a photo of
me with Alison in a long front page story of my return to the town to have my
history Surabaya 1945: Tanah Keramat (Sacred Territory) published in Bahasa
Indonesia. The reporter was rather astounded that a foreigner, even one who
had worked on the Jawa Pos as a translator back in 1962, would have so much
praise or interest in Indonesian history.

I was saddened at some of the comments that revealed a shortcoming of
knowledge on their own history, but then I experienced that in Vietnam all the
time, where the Communist Party blames the United States for any of their
failures and hardly any young people know about the War and are more
concerned with their mobile phones, games, videos and learning English.
Among the educated youth in Indonesia, there were two themes: what was so
special about their country, Indonesia? After hearing this sort of puzzlement,
which is really their polite way of saying it was kind of me to study their history,
I explained to them that their early history will become increasingly important
as the years go on, and especially to the reporters I explained why the Republic
of Indonesia and Indonesians were special.

On 10 November next, my book will be presented publicly on what is more easily
described as Indonesia’s Anzac Day ‐ Heroes Day in Surabaya. This year is the
70th anniversary of the Battle for Surabaya in which British forces attempted to
reinstate a Dutch Colonial administration at the end of the Japanese occupation,
1942‐1945. I pointed out that since the 17 August Proclamation of Independence
and especially after sovereignty in 1950, Indonesia has remained territorially
intact, despite the extraordinary geographically‐splintered islands, scores of
ethnic groups and languages, customs, religions and population densities ranging
from intense to sparse and weather ranging from equatorially stifling to
chillingly cold.

Thus my lecture took the following form: Indonesia is quite remarkable. Growing
more important. Changing within itself, yet maintaining its total form. Since the
foundation of modern Indonesia in 1945, the USSR, once powerful on the world
stage and within the Indonesian Communist Party, had fallen apart. Indonesia
had lasted 70 years already whereas the USSR, just 74 years from 1917‐1991,
freeing its numerous captive East European states such as Poland, Hungary,
Rumania, Bulgaria, East Germany and the three Baltic States.
This was also the week of the Bandung celebrations marking the 60th year since
the famous 1955 Asia‐Africa Bandung Conference, and I reminded the young
reporters that half the attending states whose leaders paraded their new
independence confidently at the original Bandung conference no longer existed
in their original form.

Pakistan split from India over religion, Bangladesh split from Pakistan over
religious issues, Korea is still split, there are still two Chinas, the Sudan has split
north and south, Syria and Libya are in turmoil with massacres and splintered
territories, Nigeria is in constant turmoil over religion and territory, and the
Congo has become a failed state, as have several smaller West African
dictatorships. The Yemen is in yet another civil war, north against south, Sunni
against Shia, the Lebanon has lost all its former glory and is a patchwork of
conflicting religious powers and Jordan how houses a million displaced persons
from surrounding failed states. Tito’s Yugoslavia, the darling of the 1955‐1965
Asia‐African “Newly Emerging Nations” bloc that became the basis of the nonaligned
(non US‐USSR) movement, is long gone and in its place are seven smaller
states that exhibit hostility among themselves; Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo,
Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia/Herzegovina. Even Czechoslovakia is
split again, into a Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yet Indonesia continues on as one
nation, one people, one language. Think positive, I tell them. I do. So do the
ordinary, friendly, quick‐to‐smile millions who are just as afraid of the lunatic
fringe Islamists as we are. In our era it is the mind‐altered Bali and Jakarta
bombers fuelled by hatred and envy of the West and supported by Middle East
finance that scare most city Indonesians. Yet even they are not nearly as
pervasive as the fanatics of my early years of the 1960s, when Kartosuwiryo in
West Java, and Kahar Muzakar’s gangs in southern Sulawesi were on the loose.
They also exhibited the blind hatred for others, but this time it was not the West
but hatred of their own people for refusing to turn their archipelago into an
Islamic State, and the numbers they killed ran into many thousands. Throughout
all this, Indonesia has survived. For the better.

Worried about the rise of the headscarf? Don’t bother. This phase will also pass, I
predict, and Indonesian women will mostly return to their natural various
cultural roots. The Middle East is not setting a very good example for them to
follow, so they will go back to their demure but natural style of dress. They do
not, however, wish to raise their youth to be tattoed or pierced, to shout
profanities, or parade their boorish manners as they see some Australians
behaving in Bali. Two hundred and fifty million people are still under one state
umbrella, still using and improving Bahasa Indonesia, now a far more flexible
and pleasant language than in my “basic Malay” days, and they actually have
elections where parties more or less follow the rules while so many of their past
allies are now miserable, failed states.

‐Frank Palmos
(Historian Dr Francis Palmos established the first foreign newspaper bureau in
the new Republic of Indonesia in 1964, the era of “Guided Democracy” and the
“Years of Living Dangerously.” His first interest in early Republican history was
when acting as a translator for the Colombo Plan in Surabaya in 1961, but his
interests turned into his full time occupation in 2008 at the University of
Western Australia. His book Surabaya 1945: Sacred Territory is a comprehensive
history based on Indonesian documents from the first days of the Republic. The
original manuscript was formally presented to the East Java government in 2011
and described Governor and Mayor as a Cultural and Archival Treasure. In 2012
Frank was award the symbolic Keys to the City for this work. Frank has been a
member of the Indonesia Institute for more than five years.)

Saturday, May 02, 2015


I’ve got a lovely brunch of coconut oil                                 

Foreigners learning Indonesian get cautioned against muddling kelapa with kepala – and for good reason.
One is the fruit of cocos nucifera, the other the head of homo sapiens, and the chances of confusion and embarrassment are great.  
So no wonder Zainal Gani shied at the label ‘Doctor Coconut’.  However being a jovial fellow he happily suggested ‘Doctor Santan’ after the juice from the white endosperm lining the inside of the shell, and usually, though incorrectly, called coconut meat.

For the former Malang hospital doctor is convinced that a diet rich in coconut products, particularly santan and virgin coconut oil [VCO], is the answer to many ills.
Despite being slim and fit Dr Zainal, 69, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes more than 30 years ago, a condition probably inherited.
The metabolic disorder that creates high blood sugar can be controlled through exercise and a strict diet.  For Dr Zainal this meant abandoning coffee, sugar, rice and fizzy drinks – and ensuring his daily menu included a cup of santan and a spoonful of VCO.
This is the liquid pressed out of the santan, and if the process doesn’t involve fermentation or the use of enzymes and preservatives then it should be odorless, clear and have a two-year shelf life.
“I did a lot of research, including books from overseas, and concluded that coconuts have many health qualities,” he said.  “The food is nutritious, vitamin rich and high in fiber.  It can help reduce weight and blood sugar.
“I know there’s been some criticism of coconut diets in the West [see breakout] but I’m not concerned.
“When I was practising as a doctor maybe 20 per cent of my patients, apart from those who’d had an accident, could find their problems reduced if not resolved with a change of diet rather than a chemical pill
“Hippocrates [the ancient Greek physician] said: ‘Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food’. That’s my philosophy.”
When he retired Dr Zainal and his wife Arliek Rio Julia, who is also a doctor, decided to back their beliefs and produce their own products under the label Vico Bagoes.  Some bottles found their way to Denpasar in Bali where they were picked up by visiting Japanese searching for VCO.
The businesspeople bought samples from different manufacturers and subjected them to a sniff and taste test.   Dr Zainal’s product passed. More analysis, this time in laboratories. After a year of negotiations his company is now shipping 2,000 liters a month.
The Japanese want double that quantity, but Dr Zainal’s daughter Arni Rahmawati, who looks after product development, said the policy was to advance slowly.
“We believe we’re the only Indonesian company using centrifugal processing and exporting VCO to Japan,” she said. “Till now the Philippines has been the main supplier.  The Japanese don’t want fermented VCO, though this produces a greater yield than our mechanical system.”
Every seven-hour day 30 workers handle 1,800 coconuts.  The nuts are imported from Bali, because these have a higher oil content.  The ‘meat’ is scooped out of the shell by hand and  shredded by machine.

This mash is then forced through a screw press (right) that squeezes out the juice – a process that’s conducted nine times. The resulting VCO is then put through a centrifuge to spin out any surviving contaminants.
VCO is as clear as water and retailed locally for Rp 25,000 [US$2] for a 130 millilitre bottle, though some outlets charge double.
The Indonesian market was going well till 2008 when foul smelling VCO [not from Dr Zainal’s company] got a bad press.
“Getting into the export market, particularly Japan which is serious about standards is a major advance,” Arni (below, lefy) said. “We can do this only because we maintain high levels of hygiene. That means having our staff understand the importance of quality control.  We have regular meetings to explain what’s happening.
“We want to develop a use for by-products. The husks go to make charcoal and other waste becomes rabbit food, but we must be more efficient.” 
The so-called milk, spilled when the coconut is split, goes down the drain.  It could be trapped and sold, but preservation is a problem as it rapidly goes rancid.
Dr Zainal said his family has so much faith in the future that they are building a new warehouse and buying equipment. “I don’t know how much we’ve spent,” he said. “Whatever we earn goes back into the business. 
“Trying to understand the best processing system has been a trial and error affair and taken a long time.  I just wish the government would support research and development to help people get into exporting.”
Indonesia and the Philippines jostle for top spot in the ranks of coconut producers, but Indonesian exports are usually the whole fruit, with processing and value-adding done overseas

Science fact – or diet fad?
The coconut craze is one of the latest diets to be promoted in the West, with one book claiming the tropical fruits have a ‘secret ingredient’ that helps slimmers lose weight while indulging on other foods.
On line retailer Amazon has 16 titles, mainly published in the US, featuring coconut diets to help shed kilos effortlessly. 
However not all health authorities are convinced the big nut is superfood, the answer to obesity and heart disease.
The Dieticians Association of Australia website claims ‘foods rich in saturated fat [such as coconut oil] are linked with a higher risk of heart disease, and eating high fat foods, which are therefore higher in energy, makes weight control more difficult’.
 Last year the New Zealand Heart Foundation issued a ‘position statement’ which said: ‘The wide range of research often quoted to support use of coconut oil is largely based on animal studies.’
The ‘facts’ flung by both sides in the debate include references to trans fats, lauric acid, enzymes and other substances only the scientifically well educated can understand.
Confused?  Best seek the advice of a health professional you trust.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 29 April 2015)