Tag Archives: Indonesia

This is serious, unspeakable

Nearly a week ago I was horrified enough to post Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Since then the scale of the calamity has not disappointed our worst fears back then. The better part of whole villages and towns demolished by the tsunami, inland whole villages effectively sunk in mud and sinkholes from the quake, access roads cut off. People who were days ago heard from beneath the ruins are now silent, dead. There is now talk of simply covering over whole urban areas and declaring them mass graves.

As for the damage caused by the tsunami, we have learned that one of the warning monitors set up to warn of such an impending disaster after the 2004 tsunami had been broken for a very long time and reportedly no money had been available to repair it.

Tonight I heard a relief worker remind us that Indonesia has “only been a democracy for 20 years” — it used to be under military dictatorship — so that who is in charge of what is still a bit “higgledy piggledy”. The most basic aid is still, a week later, to reach many of the worst hit areas.

Indonesia tsunami: Balaroa and Petobo face being turned into mass graves after earthquake

 

Sulawesi, Indonesia

It’s hard to write a new post when a country one has visited quite a few times and with whom one has close personal relationships has been hit by another tsunami:

Hundreds dead as quake, tsunami hit Indonesia’s Sulawesi

Indonesian tsunami: Death toll passes 400, Vice President warns it could rise into the thousands

Sulawesi is one island I have not visited though I have been wanting to go there for some years now. I have heard and read much about it and its people. What has happened is unspeakable.

Sad Day for Indonesia

Today’s news about the conviction of, and two year jail sentence handed to, Ahok (governor of Jakarta; official name = Basuki Tjahaja Purnama) for blasphemy is a kick in the guts for many Indonesians (and Australians who frequently visit Indonesia, like me).

Solo is a major city in the central island of Java and associated with very conservative Muslims, including — in the past — terrorists who don’t think it anywhere near conservative enough. (I found Solo boringly, depressingly spartan, ascetic, etc, compared with other parts of Indonesia I have spent time in.) But Indonesia is a kaleidoscope of cultures, lifestyles, languages, races, histories, and my experience in Solo scarcely compared with my time in other cities of Java and miscellaneous islands between Malaysia and Australia. Personally I have experienced nothing but positive vibes from every Indonesian I have met, even though I look and sound so totally white non-Muslim Australian.

I can never forget a time I was in Java soon after a devastating earthquake in the island of Sumatra nearly a decade ago. I came across many groups attempting to raise funds by all sorts of creative means and when one of them approached me I was more than willing to give generously, and I did. What surprised me, though, was how, on looking around after I dropped some cash into a bucket, literally multiple scores (hundreds?) of eyes were all focused on me, the tall, white, out of place Westerner — and they were all smiling, some giving me a thumbs up. I had no idea that it would mean so much to them that a westerner would help them out like that — or that it would mean so much if a westerner turned his back or gave a mere pittance.

These are not the people I know when I read about the Ahok “scandal”.

I have to admit I have never visited Aceh, though. Aceh has the reputation of being unlike any other part of Indonesia in that it is an ultra conservative Muslim enclave intent on living under the barbaric precepts of medieval religious doctrines and has long been at something of a quasi state of war against the rest of Indonesia and its national government.

Everywhere else I have been throughout Indonesia I have known only, nothing but, friendly, smiling faces, happy talk and banter, friendship either real or potential.

So I was surprised to see the extent of popular support for extremist parties over the current Ahok “scandal”. What keeps coming to mind is that figure I was taught way back in a high school history class: that Hitler’s Nazi party came to power with a mere 30% of the popular vote. Violence and threats of violence do indeed too often intimidate the meek and mild.

Oh my god, for all the problems I have with the current democratically elected Indonesian leader (he approves of the shooting dead of drug smugglers for pity’s sake) I do hope his efforts to ban Huzb ut-Tahrir and their ilk have the desired effect.

 

Early Morning Ngaben (Cremation)

Woke up to my first morning in the world’s largest Muslim nation, though this trip I am in a corner that mixes Muslim with Hindu, Buddhist and animist traditions – Bali. As I stepped out of my very basic but comfortable enough hotel I walked into the following:

It’s a cremation ceremony. Ngaben (pronounced Nah-Ben). I’ve seen a few of these now so I did not wait to see all the doings right through this time. This was the first time I got close enough on the beach to see the body, however. No doubt wishing to look directly into my own mortality. An old man. It was a good seeing so many taking great care to give him a reverential send-off. Not too many years and I’ll be like him. I left smiling, warmly assured. He was so peaceful and loved.

ngaben

More Scenes from Bali

I always dreamed of coming to Bali and getting locked in as a result of a volcanic eruption that would not allow my flight to return to Australia. But catching a cold while stuck here was definitely not part of that plan. Since the pace has slowed, however, I have time to post a few more scenes:

A procession to a local temple:

procession

Entering the temple gate . . . . read more »

Cremation on a Bali Beach

Sitting in a pleasant warung one morning when I heard clanging of gongs and rhythm of drums; looked out to see a street procession . . . .

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On asking the waitress I learned it was a cremation and I could go and see the ceremony on the beach just around the corner.

Come to Bali! Relax on the beaches. Witness cremations.

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By the time I arrived the body had been taken down from its carriage; some of those in the procession were sheltering in the shade.

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Others were crowding around the body to lay on it their parting gifts and offerings. read more »

Balinese dancer — informally

Strolling though Sanur, Bali, last night I was lucky enough to catch a Balinese dancer informally, that is, not for public showing. – I at first thought she was practising, but that makes it sound like work. It looked more like she was enjoying dancing for no other reason than that she loved it.

When the poor call for our aid

I was enjoying myself at a music festival when the news of the tsunami broke (2004). It changed everything. The whole site became dedicated for the next few days to raising money for the victims.

I was planning on visiting Padang in southern Sumatra, Indonesia, when the earthquake hit them. I knew that again western countries would be being deluged with efforts to raise money and many would give generously.

Inevitably there are concerns expressed, too. Where does the money actually end up? But that doesn’t seem to really matter tooo much in most cases. Even if only 20% of what we give “gets through” — that yields a better result than having given zero.

I had not realized how western-centric I had become, thinking it was all a matter of “us westerners” giving to the poor. Stories circulated about corruption at the other end.

So I was moved to see when I did visit other outlying islands of Indonesia to find that the locals seemed not to have heard of western aid. They acted as if it was all up to them. I confess I was a little moved to see such poor people acting in solidarity with their own and giving what they could. I didn’t want them to give anything — how could they afford it? Where you can get “a meal” for a little as a few cents from a street hawker, the poorest were giving the equivalents of a few cents, a few even of a dollar or two. They were the equivalents of a westerner giving tens and twenties of dollars.

And it is all in open boxes. No receipts. No tax breaks. No accounting. Just trust. People acting together to care for their own.

When approached by those raising money I felt all eyes on this western visitor to their country to see what he would do. I put in a blue looking note with a few zeroes on it, not much at all in my currency but far more than any other single donation in the box. I knew I had done the right thing when a man from across the street yelled in gratitude and gave me a thumbs up and big smile. The word got around ab0ut how this privileged westerner conducted himself among at such a time.

It was unforgettable — to think how easy it is for westerners to forget that we are only helping from the sidelines. Those people themselves are the ones with the heartaches, and they think only of seeing what they themselves can do. Western aid is an extra. (It is mostly money in the pockets of the western contractors, too, but that’s another topic for another time.) It was a sobering experience that helped put me back in my place. It is the local inhabitants who are bearing the burden, of both suffering and relief efforts.

Indonesian youth preparing to walk through the market to collect money for their earthquake victims in Padang, 2009.

Candi Ceto

Nearby the Candi Sukuh is a (Hindu?) temple, “Candi Ceto”, also high up in a mountain region.

Full set of photos on Flickr

Samples:

the alignment of all the pillars

IMGP7138

IMGP7157

I wish I knew

looking back across town

Sukuh Temple in Java – different, embarrassing, erotic and largely unknown

Borobudur temple view from northeast plateau, ...
Borobudur Temple Image via Wikipedia

I was recently holidaying in central Java and one “ancient” temple I had hoped to see was Candi Sukuh. I had heard it was very different from the usual run of the mill temple complexes at Borobudur and Prambanan, which I also had to see of course, and I hoped a first hand look would help me understand a little more about the culture and people that built it, and a little more about what we (humanity) are.

Prambanan temple complex from the front gate.
Prambanan temple complex image via Wikipedia

I had not realized that there was more to Jogyakarta than Borobudur and Prambanan. There were also other smaller but no less interesting temples (candi) – Plaosan and Sewu. And nearby Solo’s Candi Sukuh was neighboured by a somewhat similar Candi Ceto. It will take me time to sort out and label the photos I took of all of these, but I have completed my Flickr set of the Sukuh photos.

Some of my labels and descriptions are really questions begging for more knowledgable persons to enlighten me to the meanings and stories behind them.

It was no easy task finding and reaching the Sukuh temple. The locals I asked at Jogyakarta seemed never to have heard of it. At one point I was told to change buses just outside the city, but there I was put on a bus that returned me to my starting point! Another generously took me on his motorcycle to what he thought was where I wanted to go, but I had to tell him he had taken me to the wrong temple. Finally I was told that the temple I wanted to see was way over in east Java towards Bali, and it was impossible to see it from Jogyakarta.

After all that I finally gave up any hope of seeing it, but a chance meeting at the Prambanan complex with an architecture student from Solo university was my lucky breakthrough. I owe Vava much — he very kindly offered to take me out to the sites on his motor cycle the next day. All I had to do was catch a train from Jogyakarta to Solo and meet him the following morning. I drove him mad with my incessant photographing, I’m sure. But he was responsible for the best part of my holiday, enabling me to see not only temple complexes too rarely seen (or even known) by outsiders, but also so much of the central Java countryside and people.

A major feature of the Candi Sukuh complex, a two meter high phallus or lingga, has been removed and placed out of public view in a back work room of the National Museum. At first I thought it might be on display in the museum, but I soon had doubts about that when I visited the museum to find it quite small and flooded throughout with classes of happily noisy and mobile young schoolchildren. But I eventually found the two meter lingga through a smudgy window to an out- of-bounds workroom.

Presumably Muslim sensibilities are at work here, both at the official and local levels.

But the temple does certainly raise interesting questions about our religiosity when contrasted with the far more modest and widely known temple complexes of central Java. The similarity with the Mayan structures is also remarkable.

My Candi Sukuh photos are now on Flickr. Links to Wikipedia and other information about the temple are also included there.

A few of them here —

The pyramid - how reminiscent of the Mayan structures!

Yoni again - the same

Dancing elephant-man in smithy

Three flat tortoise platforms

Scene from Sudamala story?

Someone must have really liked his head