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

Thursday, September 22, 2016


At home with the Aremaniacs                                  

The Brits would have loved it.  Deep in the heart of East Java the Union Jack carried with pride, waved with vigor, cheered by thousands.
But the only blondes bobbing in the swirling ocean of football fanatics were two benign Belgians, disguising any assumption that they might be Dutch or American.  Their trick was to pull on Harry Potter cloaks of invincibility, in this case T-shirts screaming love for Arema Football Club.

Paul Beetens and Annie Aertsen (right)needn’t have bothered.  Had the boisterous crowd known the couple were from the tiny royalty that’s become the darling of European soccer they’d have been mobbed as heroes at Arema’s giganormous birthday bash in Malang.
The day-long show celebrated 29 years of less than spectacular successes on the field (Arema was last trounced by Persipura Jayapura) but almost three decades of heartfelt hope and soul-wrenching prayer. With wet cheeks they recall 2010, the year of majesty when they reigned over the Indonesian Super League.
To revive the fatigued ambition the fans painted the town blue. Although 11 August is the official 1987 birthday, the police persuaded organisers to shift to the nearest Sunday to minimise disruption.  The tactic was a success. Total chaos was reduced by five per cent – gridlock by marginally less.
The Belgian tourists thought the event a hoot.  And a roar, amplified by a hundred thousand Hondas, plus a backing choir of Suzukis and Yamahas.
“It’s a celebration of solidarity,” they shouted. “Everyone seems happy. We’re lucky to be here at this time.  We came for a trip to Bromo – and this is a bonus.”

Malang’s followers didn’t get labelled Aremaniacs by holding soirees with the gentry so security was intimidatory.  ‘Was’ because threat fatigue soon set in – as it does wherever trouble is imagined.  Suspicion is a high-maintenance emotion with a short shelf-life.
A Brimob squad in age-of-terror black vaulted from a Barracuda APC (armed personnel carrier) that looked like a giant toad. They checked packs of tear-gas cartridges, slung Pindad SS1 assault rifles across their chests and swaggered into the front line. 
The everyday cops, eclipsed by this awesome show of military might, showed their authority by pulling out traffic offenders and disarming riders carrying flagpoles.
“To stop them being used as weapons,” said one Polwan (policewoman) who then used a confiscated stick to whack the bottom of a fan giving cheek.

In the West this arresting sight would have been a clear case of police brutality – upgraded to sexual assault in the hands of an ambitious lawyer with a Facebook account. There’d be stand downs, sackings and a Federal inquiry.  But this is Indonesia – so the victim just laughed and rode away, 
cheered –or maybe jeered - by the bystanders.  It was difficult to know whose side they supported.
Arema’s birthday party is one great Do It Yourself shebang, at odds with the official choreographed  17 August Proclamation Day events where goose-stepping discipline rules. The hand-made banners often use English to add status, though the grammar and spelling tended to dampen that desire.
Though the mob was largely male the event was egalitarian.  Women may have been outnumbered, but they compensated with enthusiasm by pillion dancing and urging the drummers to bang harder.
Teenage Fitri’s message across her bosom was encouraging: Football For Unity, Indonesia is not Iran or Saudi Arabia, so a woman’s place is almost everywhere.
The Union flags were there to inspire. The UK teams are models for Arema fans who wish their lads could be as skilled and focussed as ManU.   In Malang it’s the English league which excites.
The fans trickled through the gauntlet of gendarmes, and then opened throttles for circuits around the flower beds before the Balaikota (town hall).  The courtyard was fronted by two blue fibreglass lions, so kitsch they wouldn’t make it into a Disney cartoon movie. 

Arema’s symbol is a lion for reasons as weird as the cult.  The horoscope sign for August is Leo, known as singa in Indonesian. So the fans call themselves singa edan (crazy lions) and carry cuddly toys to represent the jungle king.
They also use a corrupt form of mirror writing, even applied by Merdeka University Rector, Anwar Sanusi to show his campus has street cred. He featured in a poster mouthing the decidedly unscholarly ‘tamales ngalu nuhatu’, which untangles as ‘happy birthday’.
Suddenly the police radios sputtered and the uniforms dashed away.  Clearly a fight had erupted, or – shock, horror, - maybe a suspicious package. Fortunately it was the lunch bell and the packages contained the local alleged delicacy nasi rawon (black beef soup).
In the absence of authority the helmetless rode on regardless.
Noir may be elegant in Paris salons and warming in cold climes, but in the tropics it’s torture. By noon the sweating Brimobbers decided there are limits to anonymity, so ripped off their face masks. 
This delighted the gigglies seeking selfies with Men in Black. The bullet-proof Barracuda began to melt.  So the doors were opened, letting the local guys goggle the weapons wonderland.

A fence was erected to give the police some peace. The sticky-beakers stepped over, the kids ducked under. The Ninjas gave up.
 As most celebrants were Muslims the only lubricant was water.  So when prangs occurred and mudguards cracked the response was resignation, not an excuse for a boozy brawl.  Foreign club managers should attend next year’s party (probably 13 August) and learn about crowd control:  Keep the crowd dry.
The greatest danger was not from a deranged knifeman but an invisible toxin. 

The fans should have prayed for real winds of change. Concentrated carbon monoxide kills.  In lesser doses it sickens.
The saddle dancers lost their balance, the banner boys began to flag, the kids in lion masks stopped growling and started coughing. Arema’s birthday is a fun show which should be on the tourist calendar, a marvellous expression of organic togetherness.
But on a windless day in Malang it’s a health hazard.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 22 September 2016)

Friday, September 16, 2016


Who controls the past?    

In a world of few absolutes it’s safe to say that Dr Peter Carey (right) will not be submitting his CV to a cabal of bureaucrats for a permit to ply his trade.
The proposal that Indonesian historians should be certified like halal foods sounds like a brain fade by the Bureau of Idiot Notions during a full moon. But the source is the Education Ministry's Directorate General of Culture
A spokesman said registration was for international events and scholarly journals. Assessors would check capability and competence. 
Carey, adjunct professor in the History Department of the University of Indonesia (UI) appeared bemused.  He told Strategic Review
“It’s odd – pretty outrageous. This is the sort of thing found in North Korea, China and the stan states like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
“Who is qualified to evaluate?  About 90 per cent of research on Indonesia is done by outsiders.  This is the fourth most populous country but it has the smallest capacity to explain itself to the world.
“Politicians fear history.  They see facing the past as dangerous.  But society respects historians.  We are novelists who visited the archives.”
Government certification also overlooks the brutality of academia where reputations can be shredded by slipshod citations and faulty footnotes.  Historians get forensically scrutinised, like climate scientists and cancer-cure researchers.   No outside agency’s penalty could match the career-crushing that follows a damning peer review.
The licence proposal surfaced after the International Peoples’ Tribunal meeting in The Hague passed judgment on Indonesia – and Carey detects a link.  The judges heard evidence of the government-sanctioned slaughter that followed the failed coup d’├ętat allegedly engineered by communists 50 years ago.
This June the IPT concluded that mass killings which took an estimated 500,000 lives were crimes against humanity and victims should be compensated.  The Indonesian government snubbed the proceedings and rejected the findings
Accounts of the 1965 events were taken from individual witnesses and historians unconcerned about endangering their warrants. 
Victors write history. After the coup the Soeharto government hired the late military historian Nugroho Notosusanto to pen its account of the putsch. 
As the author was also Minister for Education and Culture (and rector of UI) his version prevailed, ignoring the slaughter.  This was taught to millions of children across more than three decades. 
Australian historian Professor Kate McGregor wrote that Notosusanto was ‘the central propagandist of the New Order regime’.
 “It was a dire era, the de-intellectualisation of Indonesia, like being lobotomised,” said Carey. “The results are with us today in the low interest in books and reading.”
Carey’s objections to licensing are not because he quivers on a shaky academic and personal platform. He started research in the archipelago in 1971, speaks the language and is married to an Indonesian.  
Before retiring from Oxford University in 2008 and settling in Banten he was a researcher, teacher, media commentator and author.  He’s also been an awarded human rights activist in Cambodia, Timor Leste and Myanmar – where he was born in 1948. 
Neither is it because he knows less about Indonesia’s past than the Director General of Culture. Carey still holds a British passport but he’s the go-to guy for facts on the guerrilla fighter Prince Diponegoro and the 1825-1830 Java War, the topic of his doctoral thesis.
Carey said stories of the derring-do Yogyakarta-born aristocrat who confronted the Dutch also inspired Soekarno’s anti-colonial revolutionaries. Now the yarns are exciting new generations of aspiring nationalists through books, plays and comics.
Inevitably facts morph into myths.  Diponegoro was a skilled tactician who outmanoeuvred Dutch soldiers for much of his campaign, but not the pure and polished royal beloved by his boosters. Carey said Diponegoro was a “Jekyll and Hyde character  ... a very difficult person to live with – maybe a bit like (Russian author) Tolstoy. 
“He was religious but not a killjoy. He liked sharing a glass of Chardonnay with his captors, claiming he drank for medicinal purposes.  He didn’t lose his humanity or his spirit … he was a man of iron.”
Carey’s biography The Power of Prophecy: Prince Dipanagara (alternative spelling) and the End of an Old Order in Java was published in The Netherlands in 2007.  It’s around 1,000 pages and has a price tag equal to a dollar a page.
This has put it beyond the reach of most Indonesian libraries, let alone students.  So the author has revised his work for a three-volume paperback edition in Indonesian retailing for around Rp 250,000 (US 19).  It’s titled Takdir; Riwayat Pangeran Diponegoro. (Destiny; the History of Prince Diponegoro).
The rebel leader was arrested when invited to discuss peace proposals under a flag of truce.
 “The Dutch betrayed Diponegoro but didn’t execute him because they feared local anger and problems in Europe,” said Carey. “He was treated with respect and exiled to Manado and Makassar where he died in 1855.
 “The Dutch had a deep sense of insecurity and feared the British (who ruled between 1811 and 1815) might return.”
This month [sept] Carey addressed about 150 students at the Malang State University’s campus cafe to promote Perempuan-perempuan Perkasa di Jawa XVIII - XIX (Strong women of the 18th and 19th century).  The book was co-written with Dutch historian Vincent Houben.
“The Dutch records don’t give attention to the important role played by women,” Carey said. “It’s my vision and mission to help Indonesians understand the warp and weave of their history. My work is in the public domain.
“More important than talk of registration is to ask: What is the role of the public intellectual in modern Indonesian society?  By discovering the nation’s history we can reflect on what is happening today.
“It’s too late for licensing historians – Pandora is already out of the box.”
(First published in Strategic Review 16 September 2016)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Dodgy data bad for your public health                               
There are lies, damned lies and statistics. Numerous claimants to coinage.  Possibly Benjamin Disraeli.

As a trainstopper the intro to an ABC Health and Wellbeing programme last month [aug] couldn’t have been more shocking: 
‘About one in two Australians will be diagnosed with cancer. That means if you don't get it, the person sitting next to you will.’  Later promotions sandwiched ‘during their lifetime’ between the sentences, though it seemed superfluous. 

Will – or may? How could this be? Fifty per cent of the population?  That’s 12 million people. Surgeries and hospitals would crash. 

Cancer is an important issue that demands attention – which it received in the story of a fit young man who cared for his health yet still contracted bowel cancer - but had the ABC got the figures wrong?

Like most Australians I’ve lost friends and relatives to the disease and know others in treatment.  But that’s a small minority of my acquaintances.    

Denise Musto from Audience and Consumer Affairs took a fortnight to reply that the unit was ‘satisfied that the story kept with the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy’ adding:

‘… the statistic was taken from the Cancer Australia website which states:  ‘In 2016, it is estimated that the risk of an individual being diagnosed with cancer by their 85th birthday will be 1 in 2.’  Then it added a rider: ‘1 in 2 males and 1 in 3 females’.   

So the ground had shifted. The birthday clause was not in the original promotion nor was the gender difference.  But the data was still frightening.

Cancer Australia’s Dr Nerissa Soh said the national government agency got its statistics from on-line books published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

“In the All Cancers on their Incidence page, there are numbers for the risk of being diagnosed with cancer before the age of 85,” she said. “In 2012 this was 1 in 2 and this risk has been the same since 1987.”

Is risk certainty?  Not in my understanding of language.

Mark Short, Manager of the Australian Cancer Database at the AIHW confirmed his organisation was the source of the figures, but added:

“However, there are some important ‘ifs and buts’ that go along with it which perhaps the ABC programme did not explain. I’m only going to explain the main one to you because the others would be getting into too much nitty-gritty detail.

“Risk of being diagnosed with cancer by age 85 (1 in 2) does NOT (his emphasis) equate to proportion of people 85 and over who have had a diagnosis of cancer. If that were so, as you point out, half of all people 85+ would have had a diagnosis of cancer (before reaching 85), which is clearly not true.

“What the risk figure is saying is, based on the cancer incidence rate statistics we have right now and assuming that they remain the same into the future, a baby born today has about a 1 in 2 chance of being diagnosed with cancer before they turn 85.

“If that person gets cancer they have a fair chance of dying from it before they turn 85 in which case they disappear from the population (or, just to make matters more complicated, they might never be diagnosed with cancer but still die before turning 85).

“So the people who make it to age 85 are not representative of  all the people born 85 years ago; they are the lucky ones, at least as far as longevity goes.

“If you imagine that everyone who dies remains in the population as a zombie (a non-hostile one!), then perhaps about 1 in 2 members of this ‘alive + zombie’ population will have been diagnosed with cancer before turning 85.

“I say ‘perhaps’ because, as mentioned in the first paragraph, there are other ifs and buts that go with the mathematical formula that calculates the risk; the risk figure should be taken as approximate rather than exact.”

From all this hedging it’s clear that the ABC’s original statement is at best open to misinterpretation and most certainly depressingly alarmist. 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes clearer figures gleaned from the census:  ‘In 2011-12 there were 326,600 persons who had cancer, or around 1.5 per cent of the Australian population. This reflects little change from 2007-08.’ 

The real concern that should have drawn the ABC’s attention is this: Despite all the advances in preventative measures, sophisticated treatments, social awareness programmes, massive expenditure and intensive world-wide research the risk of getting cancer has remained the same for the past 29 years.  Why?

Whatever that risk it certainly doesn’t mean that ‘if you don't get it, the person sitting next to you will.'  Unless that person is an octogenarian statistics juggler.  Or a zombie.

(First published in On Line Opinion 14 September 2016:  See:



Saturday, September 10, 2016


Heritage is identity                          
Indonesia harvests at least US$10 billion a year from tourism; this crop could rocket should serious energy and acumen be applied to entice visitors beyond Bali. Only 15 per cent of Australians go outside Kuta and Ubud.
Yet next door in East Java are landscapes to challenge the adventurous and cultural riches to dazzle the curious – one magic mountain harboring a great storehouse of ancient arts and mysteries. There are plans to create a World Heritage Site. Sadly few know and fewer visit.
 Duncan Graham reports from Trawas in the Majapahit heartlands.

 On 17 January Nigel Bullough tumbled down a ravine. It was a defining though agonising moment in the explorer’s 44-year career in Indonesia.
The British-born historian who uses the nom d’archeologie Hadi Sidomulyo was seeking centuries-old sites on East Java’s Mount Penanggungan when he fell.
He was saved when his camera strap snagged the shrubbery. But his left arm was jerked from its socket and the bone fractured.
It took his mates five agonising hours to get him down the mountain, and a further hour in a slow drive over rough roads to reach a police hospital. A surgeon dashed from afar in the early hours.
“The treatment was excellent,” Sidomulyo said more than six months after the accident. “My arm is almost back to normal.  The mountain had opened up and given us so much.  It briefly revealed its secrets and now it was time to close. And next day it started to rain.

“Penanggungan was telling me that it was time to sit down and work on our discoveries.”
These have been extraordinary.  More than 130 previously uncharted sites have been found by Sidomulyo and his colleagues, including Malang State University lecturer Ismail Lutfi (right)
The private University of Surabaya (Ubaya) funded the explorers, even though it has no faculty of archaeology.   But it does have the 40-hectare Ubaya Training Center (UTC), with on-site accommodation in the lush foothills fronting Penanggungan where scholars can stay.
 Former rector Anton Prijatno is now chair of the Ubaya Foundation raising funds for the bush campus.  He was friends with the late pioneering conservationist Dr Suryo Prawiroatmodjo who lived near the mountain and knew it well. (See Breakout)

“I was drawn by his love of nature and culture,” said Prijatno (left). “I was concerned with the way young people in the cities were losing contact with their rural roots.
“We want visitors to come here and learn about our history, to draw the values of honesty, conservation and community living from the past. Archaeology isn’t just for experts – it should be for the public.
“We have to learn to live together. It’s not enough just to be an urban university.”
If Prijatno and his colleagues can get watchful locals to appreciate the importance of the riches in their midst they’ll be more likely to protect than plunder.  Late last century Penanggungan was gouged by gangs beheading statues. As museum curators like to say – heritage is identity, so such thefts hurt all in the nation and beyond.
In the UTC’s basement are photos taken by explorers last century and over the past four years. The Ubaya team discovered cave hermitages, terraced sanctuaries and maybe an offering table, hundreds of ancient Chinese coins and copious shards of pottery.
Objects were exposed only because a fire had hit the mountain in 2015. Locals think it was from a lightning strike, which adds to the supernatural explanations for much that involves Penanggungan.
Flames stripped the dense bush that shrouded sites probably unseen for half a millennium. They also disclosed well-built tracks which zigzagged up the steep slopes once trodden by sandaled pilgrims and barefoot artisans.
Commented Lutfi: “Our work has shown that worship on Penanggungan had a much more sophisticated infrastructure than previously imagined.”

The rains which followed Sidomulyo’s crash regenerated the mountain, once again clothing its intimacies – though not before maps had been drawn and cameras clicked, including from drones.
Next could be excavations; the mountain has more secrets to unveil, particularly if an old settlement site can be found.  New discoveries could fill the hollows in Java’s history.
However the involvement of overseas scientists working with Indonesian academics depends on access to research visas which are allegedly difficult to obtain.
At a UTC summer school organised by Singapore’s Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, Sidomulyo addressed museum curators and historians from Indonesia, Europe, Asia and the US. 
He told them East Java had preserved “an historical record from the pre-Islamic period which is about four times as long as its western neighbor”, meaning Central Java, long considered the core of ancient Javanese culture.
 He urged them to “just sit down before the facts … follow your intuition and don’t bother with what others think.”

Lutfi is an epigraphist, a code breaker whose singular skills have helped assemble parts of the historical jigsaw.  The craftsmen who built the temples and shrines that dot the landscape sometimes marked their handiwork by applying complex codes and the Saka calendar.
This starts from 78AD and is used in India – the source of Java’s pre-Islamic culture and religions.  These included Buddhism which seemed to co-exist with the worship of Shiva, the faiths at times mingling their architecture.
“Some sites use chronograms,” said Lutfi, studying a curious engraving. “In my opinion this is a sengkalan memet in Javanese. I see a Naga (deity in the form of a snake) priest biting his tail.  In Javanese this is naga resi anahut iku which also means 8731.
“In the Saka system this must be read in reverse as 1378, which is 1456 AD.”

Majapahit was the powerful dynasty which ruled much of Java and nearby lands from its center at Trowulan on the rich floodplains of the Brantas River for about 250 years.
Everything ended in the 16th century when the royals fled to Bali and Islam became the dominant faith.  Majapahit is still celebrated as Java’s golden epoch by hardcore nationalists.
Much of the known history of the empire comes from the 1365 epic poem Nagarakretagama written on lontar leaves. It tells of temples, places, events and the wanderings of King Hayam Wuruk – proving that President Joko Widodo’s blusukan walkabouts have a backstory.
The Nagarakretagama was returned by the Dutch in 1973 and is now in Jakarta’s National Museum. Despite this rich source there are still great knowledge gaps.
So far nothing has been discovered to confirm the stories of Ken Angrok, the 13th century king famous in boys’ comic books for his derring-do, dexterity with the kris (Javanese dagger) and Shakespearean treachery.  Sidomulyo commented dryly that the “myth enjoys a status comparable to King Arthur and his knights at Camelot”.
The legend that sustained much of Majapahit worship had the holy Mount Mahameru hauled from India to nail Java into the world, what one academic labelled the “sacred geography” linking Indonesia with the sub continent.
 Imagine repotting a garden plant; inevitably soil slips off and so it was with the movement of Mahameru.
The biggest lump became Semeru (3,676 meters), the highest peak in Java.  The rest became Pawitra, now known as Penanggungan.  At only 1,653 meters it’s a pimple but dominates the landscape south of Surabaya.
It has a vintage volcano silhouette but is classified as dead, unlike its still puffing colleagues nearby.  It is also dry, which is curious as the mountain once bristled with traffic. Perhaps creeks ran when the climate was wetter.  Maybe water was carried to the stone carvers and hermits in caves – which could explain the pottery shards.

The most accessible site is also the oldest discovered so far.  The date prominent on the back wall (left) of the Jolotundo bathing pool is Saka 899, or 977 AD.  It was probably built to honor the ancestor of King Udayana, father of Airlangga.  It was first recorded by Europeans in 1815 when the British ruled the Dutch East Indies and started seeking lost temples.
Despite its great cultural and historical importance, Jolotundo is used more like a fun park and backdrop for picnickers’ selfies.  The staff are bored and uninformed.  Metal signs do nothing for the ambience. One tells visitors to be respectful.  Few are.
It’s the same at Candi Jawi about 10 kilometers further down the hill, a curious mix of a Hindu base topped by a Buddhist stupa.  It was built by King Kertanagara in the late 13th century, later damaged by earthquakes, a lightning strike and vandalism.
Restoration was halted by the war and completed in 1980 when more than 800 stolen stones were recovered.
Now it’s a favorite place for couples canoodling on its high platforms.  A large glass-fronted information board is empty.  A jumble of carved stones lies outside a lavatory.  Others are behind bars.  Their crime? Not fitting into the government’s ideas of tourists only wanting poolside drinks in five-star resorts.
Cashing in on culture
Apart from the sites recently discovered but now concealed on Mount Penanggungan, most East Java temples are accessible and within a two-hour drive of Surabaya or Malang.  Not all are well signposted, so plan ahead and research well.
The most authoritative guide is Worshipping Siva and Buddha – the Temple Art of East Java by Ann Kinney.
At Trowulan there’s a large display of artefacts and masonry salvaged from nearby sites.  There’s some information in English though few would think its presentations ideal. Lecturer Lutfi labels it a “warehouse” rather than a museum.
Its rival, though yet to be finished or formally opened, is the purpose-built exhibition hall at the UTC. Exhibits include a well-presented photographic display of Penanggungan sites, including copies of historical pictures from Dutch libraries and museums.
How to get there - where to stay

For hardened travellers keen to mix with the locals there’s basic public transport to Trawas and ojek (motorcycle taxis) will take you anywhere.  If personal safety trumps thrill-seeking a hire car is recommended.


Back in 1990 the late far-sighted conservationist Dr Suryo Prawiroatmodjo started the Pusat Penelitian Lingkungan (Hidup (PPLH-Environmental Research Center), (left) also known as Seloliman after the nearby village.  It has cottage accommodation and a restaurant, and is well known to European adventurers, though some have started complaining about the raucous clatter from motorbikes destroying the calm.

It’s within walking distance of Jolotundo (below), which is also a starting point to scale Penanggungan. Experienced trampers reckon it’s a tough five-hour trek to the top, best tackled with a guide and sturdy gear.


There are several hotels around Trawas, originally built to cater for domestic tourists fleeing sweltering Surabaya at weekends.  Closer to the UTC a ‘resort’ has recently opened to attract cyclists and hikers.  It’s clearly marked by banners advertising cigarettes.



(First published in J Plus The Jakarta Post 10 September 2016)

Thursday, September 08, 2016


Celebrating kampong culture   
Redy Eko Prasetyo (left) has a knack for getting cooperation.
Embedded in that singular term are a cluster of rare skills in community development.
They include inspiring, encouraging, leading, initiating, promoting and coordinating.  But none of these would be worth a spit in the wind without trust.
 What’s in it for him? Is he trying to take over – maybe with a political career in mind, standing for mayor when the time is right?
“No way,” he said.  “When there are official functions I’m at the back behind the scenes.  I only want to encourage development of our  gotong royong (community self-help) culture.  I have no other ambition.”
So far the lanky 35-year old musician has worked with 17 communities in East Java to get their act together and set up festivals proudly celebrating indigenous arts, or as he says: “To reclaim the spirit of the kampong.
“There’s been a stigma attached to living in dense urban communities.  The people are poor so considered second class. They have hardships. Yet they are knowledgeable and determined to improve their lives and those of their children.
“Above all they are proud and want to keep their independence.  That’s important. But how can they do this?  The answer is: Celebrate!”
Prasetyo studied English literature at university with the expectation of fulfilling his parents’ hopes for a teacher son. However he has never fronted classrooms of kids.  Instead he stands before adults in darkened halls with a microphone.
He focussed on music, became a composer and is an accomplished player of the sitar and other instruments. Clips of his performances and TEDx (Technology, Education Design) conference appearances are on YouTube.
In 2010 he moved from Yogyakarta to Malang where he has a job managing Brawijaya University’s television station.  The young family needed to rent a house that was well positioned but also cheap.  They chose Cempluk.  The name also means a little oil lamp – appropriate because mains electricity came late.
The village’s fate mirrors much of what is happening in Indonesia’s unchecked urban sprawl and illustrates why food self-sufficiency is a fading dream.
Cempluk was once on the outskirts of the East Java city.  Every family had their own slice of arable land. In this elevated area (440 meters above sea level) the climate is benign and the soil rich.  Three crops a year were common.
The villagers toiled in the fields, fed their families, sold the surplus and lived a stable life.  That was until the arrival of the men in Mercedes with plans for suburbs new.
Factories were being built nearby.  Even a university.  Workers were coming and needed houses.  The villagers started to sell their heritage.  Soon they had more money than they’d ever seen.
They bought motorbikes, treated relatives to lavish holidays, renovated their homes – and one day realised all had gone – money, land and work. The social upheaval was complete when once proud freemen had to labor under other bosses, while the womenfolk became maids to the rich.
Prasetyo, 35, quietly set about blending into the community.  In Jakarta’s high rise apartments newcomers can remain – as their dwelling name suggests –apart.  They live as they please and seldom meet folk in the flats next door.
That’s not the situation in kampongs where fitting in is essential for harmony. The neighbors must be tolerated and privacy is rare.

Meeting Priyo Sunanto Sidhy. 57, was a bonus for Prasetyo, and it helped that the older man was a multi-skilled musician.  The polymath taught the ancient arts of wayang kulit (shadow puppets) the gamelan and Javanese dance.
Slowly other kampong abilities were revealed when the villagers came home from laboring on production lines and building sites. This man was an imaginative sculptor, that granny a brilliant cook of old-time snacks never sold in shopping malls, that girl a dancer with much grace.
Mask carving was another inherited skill unwanted in the factories but needed in the back-to-basics world imagined by Prasetyo and Sidhy. University students disenchanted with materialism heard of the movement and came to learn and assist
With so much talent available,  why not show off? And so street festivals were started and have now become famous as crowds flock from their sterile units and gated communities to savor the music and foods they remember from their childhood.
The DIY (Do It Yourself) shows also attract outside performers like Didik Nini Thowok from Yogyakarta, keen to keep the ancient arts alive and act as a drawcard.

Achmad Winarto, community leader in the nearby kampong of Celaket said the dancer  agreed to perform for no fee only if entry was free so the local kids could experience their birthright.
The cross gender artist famous for his dual-face mask performances in Indonesia and overseas festivals led a spontaneous flash mob routine across a dusty yard alongside an ancient banyan tree.
The mixed gender and age crowd discarded their inhibitions and twirled scarves while local youngsters played gamelan music – at times using blindfolds to show they weren’t just one-trick ponies.

“It’s so important to preserve our traditions,” said Winarto urging all not to be seduced by other entertainment.  He was too polite to use the word ‘Western’ but his listeners knew what he meant.
“We’ve had to do all this ourselves – nothing from the government.  But in the past three years we’ve retrieved much of our past to bequeath to the generations to come.
“We’ve formed Japung Nusantara (Network of kampongs across the Archipelago) to keep our culture alive.”                                                           

(First published in The Jakarta Post 8 September 2016)

Thursday, September 01, 2016


Drawing a line in the sea                             
This week [w/end 3 sept] the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague started hearing a dispute between Australia and Timor Leste. At issue is the little nation’s claim that boundaries marking huge undersea oil and gas reserves worth $40 billion should be redrawn.  Duncan Graham reports:

Had Xanana Gusmao (above) ) been a lesser man his vengeance could have kept the havoc alive. 
In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor and absorbed the former Portuguese colony into its republic.
Gusmao was a leader in the socialist Fretilin Party and dubbed a communist. A prime target for the army, he was tracked through the mountainside jungles and harassed relentlessly.
He was captured in 1992 and convicted in a Jakarta court of attempting to split Indonesia’s ‘Unitary State’. The sentence was life imprisonment, later commuted to 20 years. 
He was released after the 1999 UN-supervised referendum when his compatriots voted four-to-one to sever ties with their overlords.  He became founding president, and later the fourth prime minister of the re-named Republic of Timor Leste, population now 1.2 million – just half of one per cent of Indonesia’s citizenry.
When Gusmao took over what he calls his “fragile and underdeveloped country” he inherited a landscape of mass destruction caused by the retreating Indonesian army; the TNI and its militias killed an estimated 1,200 Timorese and trashed homes, farms and infrastructure with their scorched-earth policy.
According to Timor Leste’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation there were102, 800 ‘conflict-related deaths’ during the 25-year Indonesian rule, with most caused by starvation.
Had Gusmao initiated retaliatory guerrilla action against Indonesia’s West Timor, where many anti-independence supporters had fled, the condemnation would have been widespread, though maybe a mite muted. Headshaking in public, but nods in private.
Instead Southeast Asia’s Nelson Mandela chose forgiveness and reconciliation – a stand unpopular with some of his former colleagues. In 2008 Gusmao and his family survived an assassination attempt.  Now 70, he resigned as PM last year and is exercising his elder-statesman status to follow British PM Winston Churchill’s advice that ‘jaw-jaw is better than war-war’.
This month [sep] Gusmao will be in the Central African Republic to help “consolidate peace in that rich but spoiled country.”  He’s twice taken part in the Seoul-based World Summit on Peace, Security and Human Development.
His conciliation work includes speaking (in Indonesian) with his giant neighbour which treated Gusmao and his countryfolk with utmost brutality. He talks about “an excellent relationship of friendship and cooperation”. 
Strangely his discontent is now with Australia, the lead peace-keeping force during the post-referendum fighting and major aid donor since.
According to Gusmao, Timor Leste does not have an established maritime boundary between Indonesia and Australia.
He told the annual Malang International Peace Conference last month [aug] at the Raden Rahmat Islamic University in East Java that while Indonesia has agreed to start talking about the issue, Australia is “refusing to negotiate.”
“The Australian government has taken this course of action knowing it is acting contrary to international law,” he said. “But at the same time Australia urges other countries to settle their territorial disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law.”
The dispute is now being aired at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Its genesis came when independence was but a glint in the eyes of Gusmao and his rebel fighters. For Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans and his Indonesian counterpart the late Ali Alatas, the idea was a fantasy.
In 1989 they signed the 120-page Timor Gap Treaty while flying above the sea clinking glasses of bubbly.  The agreement gave Australia prime access to the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field, and the Soeharto dictatorship more aid.
Years later the freshly independent Timor Leste complained the boundaries were unfair and should be renegotiated.
The tiny state argued that the border should be halfway between itself and its big southern neighbour; this would provide access to around 90 per cent of the undersea wealth, estimated at US$40 billion.
Timor Leste is addicted to oil and gas revenues.  It exports high quality coffee, but has few other earners.
In 2006 a new treaty was signed.  This didn’t set a border, but equally divided revenue from Greater Sunrise.  The Timorese reckon this is just a temporary arrangement, and earlier this year asked the UN to start a formal conciliation process run by an independent panel of experts.
Australia was not about to toast this idea. A statement attributed to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the existing treaty was “fair and consistent with international law,
“These treaties have benefited both our countries and enabled Timor-Leste to accumulate a Petroleum Fund worth more than $16 billion,” she said.
“Timor-Leste’s decision to initiate compulsory conciliation contravenes prior agreements between our countries not to pursue proceedings relating to maritime boundaries.”
The low tide in relations between neighbours once the best of friends has retreated further. Allegations surfaced that Australian agents had bugged East Timorese negotiators talking tactics in their private government office.
Unsurprisingly citizens saw betrayal.  Last century’s cries of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ have been replaced by the equally emotive ‘sovereign rights’.  A protest in the capital Dili this year drew thousands demanding Australia negotiate.
In East Java Gusmao said his people had fought for their land and now had to fight for their sea.  He denied his comments were “inciting people to be even more resentful against the powerful of the world … that is not and never will be my intent.
“Australia knows the current resource sharing arrangements in the Timor Sea deprive Timor Leste of its sovereign rights.  Still it prefers to bully us.
“(We) do not expect special treatment, only equal treatment… we hope to engage in open, transparent and friendly dialogues in search of a joint solution.”
Australia’s unspoken concern is that revisiting the treaty might encourage Indonesia to follow Timor Leste’s example.  Further redrawing of the borders could create even higher waves in the seldom calm relationship.
(Disclosure.  The author was the Malang Peace Conference reviewer.)
First published in Strategic Review - 1 September 2016)