Friday, January 13

A Broken Piece Of History

The 30th September Movement (Gerakan 30 September, abbreviated as G30S) was an organization of Indonesian Armed Forces officers who, in the wee hours following the night of September 30 1965, assassinated six top Indonesian Army generals in an abortive coup d'état.

Only Suharto escaped.

Later that morning, G30S declared that it had taken President Sukarno under its protection. Suharto, head of the strategic reserve, mobilized. By the end of the day, the coup attempt had failed in Jakarta. Meanwhile, in central Java there had been an attempt to take over an Army division, as well as several cities. By the time the G30S rebellion was put down, two more senior officers were dead.

In the days and weeks that followed, the Army blamed the coup attempt on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Soon a campaign of mass killing was underway, which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of alleged communists. Suharto took over; his 32 year tenure was called the New Order. A few years after it finally ended, Transparency International named him 'the most corrupt leader of all time.'

In a New Order propaganda film Pemberontakan G30S PKI (The Sept. 30th PKI Rebellion), during the failed coup the generals were tortured before finally being killed. The generals' faces, it was claimed, were sliced with razors and their eyes were gouged out before their bodies were dumped into a hole. The Army, long cultivated by Western powers, turned on the PKI 'Maoists' with a vengeance.

The Dutch historian W.F. Wertheim says:

It is by no means certain that the leadership of the PKI or members of its central committee played a role of any importance in the preparation and execution of the putsch.

Many believe that it was Suharto who had egged on the G30S indirectly. The 1966 "Cornell report", a preliminary account of the event drawn up by academics Benedict R. O. Anderson and Ruth McVey from Cornell University, reached the conclusion that the coup was the outcome of an internal army affair, stemming from a small clique in a certain division, which attempted to use both Sukarno and the PKI leadership towards its own ends.

In Bali, in the waning days of Sukarno’s regime, conflict had increased between the high-caste capitalist class, and the lower-caste communists pursuing land reform and more equitable harvest-sharing with sharecroppers.

The communists were one of Sukarno's main supporters, and they were using his tottering regime to further their own agenda of taking over by winning the forthcoming elections. Dipa Nusantara Aidit, the Maoist theoretician heading the PKI, presided over a cadre that was the third largest communist organization in the world after the Soviet Union and China.

In the early 1960s, Bali’s first governor, the Sukarno-appointed Anak Agung Bagus Suteja, increased participation of the PKI in the island’s administrative bodies. The son of the last Raja of Jembrana, Anak Agung Bagus Suteja was influenced by socialist ideas from his school years. Dutch colonial authorities imprisoned him in 1948-49, and after Indonesian independence he was appointed governor of Bali by Sukarno, due to his royal lineage as well as his image of being a leftist idealist.

Land was seized unilaterally from the Brahman and Satria landowners, Wesiya or Chinese businessmen were kidnapped and found murdered. In retaliation, landlord-employed thugs destroyed sharecroppers’ crops and razed their huts, and various government offices were mysteriously burned. A slow-burning revolution, at once a civil war and a class war, was underway.

A serious of ominous natural catastrophes struck Bali: rat plagues, insect infestations, crop failures, and finally, the violent eruption of Gunung Agung in 1963.

The mountain exploded during the holiest of Balinese ceremonies, the once-in-a-century Eka Dasa Rudra, a purification rite in which harmony between people and nature is restored in all 11 directions. (The ceremony was forced to be held 10 years earlier than it was due at the behest of Sukarno, apparently to impress a convention of travel agents. Midway through Sukarno's shindig, Gunung Agung began to shower the area with ash and smoke, finally exploding in its most violent eruption in 600 years.)

The earthquake that accompanied the eruption toppled most temples. As molten lava rushed towards them, the Brahman priests prayed frantically, hoping to appease the angry gods, assuring the devotees they had nothing to fear. In the end, thousands of Balinese were killed, hundreds of thousands left homeless, and a layer of hot choking dust lay over the whole island -- a quarter of Bali had been turned into a black lava desert.

Displaced refugees poured into Denpasar and Singaraja where, together with unemployed urban poor, they formed a restive underclass ripe for mobilization by communist cadres, and even more caste-violence broke out.

Following the events of September 30, a tinder-box atmosphere settled over the island. In December 1965, once the anti-communist purges were mostly underway (or over) in Java, Suharto's special forces landed in Bali.

The killings on Bali started in earnest, and soon began to take on the dimensions of genocide.

Devout Balinese, led by the Brahman and the Satriya, murdered anyone suspected to be a godless communist. In the witch hunt, many old scores were settled, and many wealthy businessmen took advantage of the chaos to murder their competitors. It is a cliche that in Java the people had to be egged on to kill the communists; in Bali they had to be restrained. Vigilante groups drawn from families of upper-caste landlords butchered sharecroppers suspected to be PKI. Priests called for sacrifices to satisfy spirits angered by past sacrilege and social disruption. The Balinese Hindu leader, Ida Bagus Oka said "There can be no doubt the enemies of our revolution are also the cruelest enemies of religion, and must be eliminated and destroyed down to the roots."

The “trance of killings” reached a fever pitch in 1966, when entire "impious" clans in villages were being rounded up wholesale and slashed, clubbed, and chopped to death by communal consent. The purge became so indiscriminate that commandos finally had to step in to coordinate -- the military and police, working with civilian authorities, had to make sure only the “right” people were executed.

Anak Agung Bagus Suteja was summoned to Jakarta, he disappeared in the purges without a trace. PKI-head D.N. Aidit lived on the run until he was apprehended and executed. He remained defiant until the very end. Given half-an-hour before being executed, he started to deliver a speech. The passion with which he spoke made his captors very angry -- they were unable to control their rifle triggers. The location of Aidit's remains are unknown.

Between December 1965 and early 1966, an estimated 80,000 Balinese were killed, roughly 5 percent of the island's population at the time, and proportionally more than anywhere else in Indonesia. Based on his fieldwork in Indonesia in the 1970s and 80s, the anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote that people remembered the killings as a "broken piece of history, evoked, on occasion, as an example of what politics brings."

Below, a contemporary 'student documentary' on remembering G30S.

Tuesday, January 3

Bali Yatra

I am at the old Buleleng harbor in Singaraja, a day before the new moon of the month of Kartika (when Diwali is traditionally celebrated in India.)

In the historical Kalinga or Orissa, the subsequent full moon (Kartika Purnima) is celebrated as Bali Yatra -- the day the boats left for Bali. (More here. Above, Bali Yatra 2010 being celebrated at Cuttack's Gadagadia ghat on the Mahanadi river.)

As the sun retreats south throughout September, the northern part of the Indian subcontinent begins to cool off. With this, air increases in density and pressure begins to build up over northern India, while the Indian Ocean and its surrounding atmosphere still hold heat, making the air over the sea lighter. Cold winds start to sweep down from the Himalayas and Indo-Gangetic plain, towards the vast heat-sink of the ocean. This is known as the Northeast or Retreating Monsoon.

The Sadhabas (or Sadhavas) were the ancient mariners of Kalinga. Around Katrika Purnima (late Oct/early Nov), the winds from the Retreating Monsoons would waft their wooden boats over the waves of the Indian Ocean to Nusantara. During Bali Yatra, toy boats are floated in the rivers and beaches of Orissa.

The connection between Kalinga and the spice islands finds mention in Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa. The princess Indumati -- she whose navel is as beautiful as an eddy -- is to choose her own husband from amongst the assembled princes at a swayamvara. Indumati is the sister of the king of Vidharbha, and her old nurse Sunanda chaperones her, explaining the strengths of each suitor. King Hemangada of Kalinga is described as the master of the Indian Ocean, who enjoyed the fruits of trade with the islands therein:

यमात्मनः सद्मनि संनिकृष्टो मन्द्रध्वनित्याजितयामतूर्यः|
प्रासादवातायनदृश्यवीचिः प्रबोधयत्यर्णव एव सुप्तम्॥
yamātmanaḥ sadmani saṁnikṛṣṭo mandradhvanityājitayāmatūryaḥ |
prāsādavātāyanadṛśyavīciḥ prabodhayatyarṇava eva suptam ||

There is a great Ocean in the vicinity of the mansion of this king (of Kalinga) whose waves can be seen from the windows of that mansion… the Ocean-god himself gives watch and bugles with the sounds of his waves to wake up this king...

अनेन सार्धम् विहराम्बुराशेस्तीरेषु तालीवनमर्मरेषु|
द्वीपान्तरानीतलवङ्गपुष्पैरपाकृतस्वेदलवा मरुद्भिः॥
anena sārdham viharāmburāśestīreṣu tālīvanamarmareṣu|
dvīpāntarānītalavaṅgapuṣpairapākṛtasvedalavā marudbhiḥ ||

With such a king you can take pleasure trips in the groves of palm full with the murmur of leaves, on the seashore whereto breezes waft fragrance of clove flowers from far-dispersed islands of the Ocean.

Kalidasa, generally accepted to have written in the 4th century AD, has left vivid pictures of the civilization that reached those far-dispersed islands.

In the Raghuvamsa, Dilipa, the father of Raghu, begets his son through prayer and sacrifice. Once Raghu comes to the throne, he finds his father's vassals restive. Raghu, though young, determines to show them that no disloyalty will be tolerated. He decides on a show of strength in the form of a war-march. Starting from his capital Ayodhya, he first marches eastward to the Bay of Bengal; then to the south along the eastern shore to the tip of the Indian peninsula as far as Kanyakumari; from there, north along the western shore until he comes to the mouth of the Indus and the badlands under the depredations of the Hephthalites (White Huns); then, finally, through the outlying portions of the Himalayan plateau he enters Assam and thence returns to Ayodhya. In the end, Raghu performs a sacrifice declaratory of universal sovereignty, in which he distributes everything he has in his treasury, leaving himself a beggar.

The passages of Canto 4 (in which most of the above action happens) are full of interesting ethnographic observations. After the defeat of the 'Hunas' in Transoxiana:

तत्र हूणावरोधानां भर्तृषु व्यक्तविक्रमम्|
कपोलपाटलादेशि बभूव रघुचेष्टितम्॥
tatra hūṇāvarodhānāṁ bhartṛṣu vyaktavikramam|
kapolapāṭalādeśi babhūva raghuceṣṭitam ||

Raghu's valor expressed itself amongst the husbands of the Huna women, and it became manifest in the scarlet color of their cheeks.

The 6th-century Gothic historian Jordanes wrote that the Western Huns, upon the death of Attila, "disfigured their faces horribly, with deep wounds, so that the gallant warrior should be mourned not with the lamentations and tears of women, but with the blood of men." Similar customs have apparently been observed amongst the Kutrigurs, Turks, Magyars, and Tajiks.

विनयन्ते स्म तद्योधा मधुभिर्विजयश्रमम्|
आस्तीर्णाजिनरत्नासु द्राक्षावलयभूमिषु॥
vinayante sma tadyodhā madhubhirvijayaśramam|
āstīrṇājinaratnāsu drākṣāvalayabhūmiṣu ||

Raghu's soldiers removed their fatigue of victory by means of wine, while sitting on excellent antelope skins spread on the grounds of grape-orchards.

After crossing the River (Oxus?), Raghu and his army encountered the Kambojas, an ancient Indo-Scythian people often mentioned in Indian texts:

काम्बोजाः समरे सोढुं तस्य वीर्यमनीश्वराः|
गजालानपरिक्लिष्टैरक्षोटैः सार्धमानताः॥
kāmbojāḥ samare soḍhuṁ tasya vīryamanīśvarāḥ|
gajālānaparikliṣṭairakṣoṭaiḥ sārdhamānatāḥ ||

Along with the walnut trees that bent their tops unable to withstand the pull and push of the elephants tied to them with halters, the kings of Kamboja, too, bent their heads down before Raghu in token of their submission.

Many centuries later, of course, the name Kamboja would find another home in SE Asia.

Raghu's son is Aja. It is he who Indumati -- she of the banana-stem-like thighs -- garlands at the swayamvara. (It turns out they were two dancers from the heavens who had been cursed to go stay on earth.) The couple are fated to pass away soon (rejoining the celestial dance-halls of Indra) -- a flower from Narada's garland falls to the earth, crushing Indumati, an incident that also survives in the Javanese kakawin Death By Sumanasa Flower. Aja follows his beloved into death, leaving behind a year-old orphan. This is Dasaratha, father of the future avatar Rama.

Interestingly, the marriage ceremonies described in the Raghuvamsa match the traditional marriages of old Javanese texts -- the tying of clothes, the circumambulation of fire seven times, the offerings consigned to the flames in specific order - are the same and occur in the same sequence. See here for more.

Before the 1990s, the earliest direct evidence for contact between India and Indonesia indeed pointed to a start around Kalidasa's time. The evidence consisted of stone and metal inscriptions dating from the fourth and fifth centuries AD, found in West Java and Kalimantan.

Indirect evidence (cloves were known to Pliny The Elder, c. 70 AD), had, though, pointed at an earlier contact.

A few miles east of us is Sembiran. Recent excavation at Sembiran (undertaken by Universitas Udayana and the Indonesian National Research Centre of Archaeology) has established that the significance of this site is a very considerable one for Southeast Asian history.

Sembiran has recently yielded the first securely stratified evidence of Indian trade contact with Indonesia (dated to c. 2000 years ago), during the period of Rouletted Ware manufacture and Roman trade in southern and eastern India, as represented by the famous site of Arikamedu in Tamil Nadu. Neutron activation analysis has showed that the Sembiran specimens of Rouletted Ware have identical pastes to samples from Arikamedu, and certain shards have on them Brahmi or Kharoshthi characters.

I Wayan Ardika and Peter Bellwood have assessed the date range for the Sembiran materials as most likely in the AD 1-200 range, in terms of the chronological overlap between use of the Kharoshthi script and the Rouletted Ware.

From an article "An Indian Trader In Ancient Bali" by Lansing et al:

The site of Sembiran itself was located at the head of a small sheltered bay that no longer exists. Several inscriptions in the Old Balinese and Old Javanese languages were discovered in the vicinity. These inscriptions, written nearly a thousand years later (AD 896-1181), refer to long-distance or seafaring merchants (banyaga; banyaga saking sabrang); a merchant guild (banigrama; Sanskrit vanigrama); a market officer (ser pasar), and other aspects of seaborne trade. Ardika and Bellwood observed that in contemporary East Java the term banigrama is associated with foreign traders, and further that inscription Sembiran C (Old Javanese, 1181 AD) mentions that the term juru kling may be a specific term for Indians or the descendants of Indians. Ardika and Bellwood interpreted these inscriptional finds to indicate that this region of north-eastern Bali was the scene of intense maritime trading activity about 1000 years ago, with archaeological evidence pushing this activity back perhaps a millennium further. At that time, the Sembiran site likely consisted of a settlement located inside a small and shallow bay in the coastline, peopled by native Balinese who were presumably in contact with visiting traders who were able to bring in large amounts of Indian trade pottery sometime between 200 BC and AD 200.

Below, the old Buleleng Harbor of Singaraja, the few miles of coast through where Indian influence seems to have entered Bali in its early history.