Welcome to Paradise – you’re on our death list
‘We sat on the bed in the dark, petrified and shaking. We began to pray. Balinese Djona, a Hindu, sat praying holding his hands together …with a sharp knife in-between them, just in case.
‘Jeannie … said both Muslim and Christian prayers to be on the safe side. She had a wire coat hanger clasped between her hands … I sat praying Christian style, with a white stiletto-heeled shoe in my hands.’
Outside a lynch mob was attacking pregnant Jan Mantjika’s campus home while her Udayana University lecturer husband Djati was away. In an earlier incident his colleagues had rescued him from a planned abduction.
The Westerner and her friends could hear the screams and shouts as Indonesians were rounded up by militias and slaughtered in the surrounding paddy.
This was Bali, 1965, a year after the young couple arrived from New Zealand, her homeland and the place where he’d been studying agriculture for seven years. From the start their lives were idyllic – Djati came from a regal family in Ubud where Mantjika was treated like a princess despite being a ‘casteless Kiwi’.
The first nine chapters in her autobiography The shadows that dance in and out of my memory are accounts of the happy days. A useful contrast against the barbarity to come. though too detailed.
How she got out of the house to go shopping or have her hair done is of limited interest, particularly when the stories are peppered with clichés. Only later do we realise that some of her apparently joyful friends and neighbors had other agendas and were dobbing in locals.
After General Soeharto dethroned first President Soekarno a purge of real or imagined communists followed. Academic reports, particularly from researchers overseas, are available but few first-person accounts by non-Indonesians.
It’s also a fine rebuttal to the massacre-deniers though the chance to present her story to an influential audience was lost when discussions were halted at the 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. This followed police threats to close the event if the organisers persisted in raising the ghosts.
Back in 1965 the Mantjikas, with one small child and another on the way, could have fled without shame.
Most foreigners did as the tensions built. Food and basics like soap became scarce. Paranoia flourished. Distrust spread like flu. Friends and neighbors shunned each other. It was a time to whisper, to be deeply fearful.
The couple were helping start the island’s first major tourist accommodation, the Hotel Bali Beach, by preparing staff training programs.
This involved Mantjika translating instructions which she often did at night. No curtains because they could not afford materials. The banks refused to process the travellers checks brought from NZ.
Neighbors seeing Mantjika typing while her husband – also a suspect because he’d studied abroad - held meetings with hotel staff in the same room. This clearly indicated they were plotting a coup or counter coup, depending on the observers’ politics...
Mantjika’s childhood in NZ’s North Island provided a curse and blessing in Bali. A headstrong young woman she at first refused to stay hidden, venturing beyond only to encounter the thugs. One gang chased a man into her yard while yelling matiang, matiang! [kill him].
She saw him beaten and hacked: ‘Bleeding strips of raw flesh hung from his body … the trembling and nausea took a long time to abate.’ He died in the street.
In January 1966 Mantjika started labor pains. Djati borrowed a car and broke the curfew in a race to Sanglah hospital. Shots were fired but they got though and baby Lawrence was born.
When the killers had exhausted their blood lust a cholera epidemic from corpses dug up by dogs took hold. Shops had been looted of medicines and disinfectants. At night neighbors with a sick relative crept out for water to wash the afflicted.
As with many who pull through it’s the tiny memories that remain. For Mantjika it was the squeaking of the well pulleys.
When Djati’s eight rupiah a month salary resumed, rice cost two rupiah a kilo. They supplemented a diet of dragonflies and snails with food parcels from NZ, though these were often ransacked by customs.
Writing this book has been wrenching but cathartic. Like others who have survived the soul-shredding experience of discovering depravity and hate in their own community, Mantjika double-bolted the door on her memories.
But the hinges kept creaking; fifty years later with others disclosing the Republic’s awful secret Mantjika believed it was time to tell her story.
She dedicates her book to family and the post-coup generations ‘who never knew what happened because no-one would speak…
‘Unconsciously one files away memories too horrific to want to recall… fear and horror were something we breathed from the moment we woke …’
As a version of normality slowly returned the Mantjikas discovered their names on a death list and a pit on the beach prepared for their bodies.
Soeharto lifted bans on private enterprise. Mantjika borrowed money and opened Jan’s Tours. It was a gamble. Bali was yet to become the international must-visit destination; the airstrip was so short the few planes used parachutes to brake.
Business slowly prospered and Mantjika became involved in voluntary work, including raising money for the disabled through the NZ Rehabilim Trust. But the savagery took more victims. Her marriage collapsed. Nightmares stalked her for years.
The remaining chapters cover family anecdotes of limited appeal beyond the Bali ex-pat community. For others the book’s core serves as a vital eye-witness history of the most shocking and shameful event in the Republic’s short life.
The shadows that dance in and out of my memory
By Jan Mantjika
Published by Saritaksu 2015
(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 December 2015)