FAITH IN INDONESIA

FAITH IN INDONESIA
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, April 19, 2015

STRAIGHT SHOOTERS

Bowyers, quivers and cupid                               
      
When she’s disarmed Malang high school student Difah [Dwi] Anggraeni (left) looks like any other texting and tweeting teen, seemingly more concerned with friends than future.
But after warm-up exercises on a scorching morning, the 17-year old shoulders her high-tech weapon, garners more gear, straps on a chest protector and gets deadly serious. She’s soft spoken and unassertive, but you wouldn’t want to get between this lady and a yellow disc, whatever the distance.
Standing sideways to the mark she stares through the peep sight.  A moment to be pensive.  A glance at the trees and their waving leaves.  Mmm, a westerly – five knots?  A tweak of the sight – half a notch should be enough – no, make that a quarter.
Slowly she takes aim and gives undiluted, unqualified, no-compromise concentration plus what she calls “feeling” to the task in hand:  To speed a steel-tipped carbon-fiber projectile at more than 300 kilometers an hour and hit with such force it will puncture the outer skin and penetrate deep inside.
Using a trigger release she fires. A hiss as the strings relax.  She checks the result using a ten times magnification monocular. Bullseye [or what the pros call ‘gold’] and more; this shot is in a tight cluster in the four centimeter center. No surprise, for this adolescent archer is the national champion in her class and practising for the June regional competition in Banyuwangi.
“Some friends who hang out in malls think I’m a bit crazy,” Dwi said.  “Every day I must do better than yesterday. I’m trying to reach such a level that I’ll represent Indonesia internationally.”
Unlike other archers who need total quiet to focus their eyes and minds, and bristle at interruptions, Dwi claimed she performed better with an audience because noise made her work harder to shut out distractions.

Her shooting partner Nur Amalina [Lina], 17, uses a more traditional long bow.  This speaks the ‘twang’ that struck fear in medieval armies faced with squadrons of bowmen launching sheaves of arrows. 
It would also have frightened a family at the far end of the suburban wasteland range and across a road when Lina overshot and potted a pot on their veranda about 200 meters beyond her target.
The neighbors blamed Dwi because she was carrying a compound bow that appeared far more formidable with its pulleys and limb bolts, sprouting a stabilizer and making it look like an outdoor television antenna.  But even this modern invention (see breakout) is still hard pressed to beat the simple traditional bow in the hands of an expert.

Coach Yudhi Purwanto, (left) who used to practise silat [Indonesian martial arts] before adding another string to his bow, said archery was not a point-and-shoot game. “A good archer needs to be many things, scientist, meteorologist, technician and athlete,” he said. “But above all they must have the right mentality.
“Here we’re practising on targets 50 and 70 meters distant.  If Dwi fired straight gravity would drag her arrow down.  So she calculates the range, calibrates the bow and fires five centimeters above the center to allow for trajectory.
“Today there’s little air movement, but a cross wind or down draft can deflect an arrow. Horizontal allowances have to be made.  On top of all this a top archer must have strong nerves.  This is not a sport for those without willpower.”

Although many spend big, archery doesn’t have to be expensive. Sweet potato seller Machbud Junaidi equipped his son Abel Hisyam Azhara  (left) with a Rp 90,000 [US $7] length of PVC plumbing pipe to make a passable bow – and no-one in the egalitarian fraternity sneered.  Which is as it should be;  Robin Hood wasn’t an elitist.
Little Abel is able and ambitious.  The 12-year old wants to use his skills to take flight and travel the world; when he’s not lining up an arrow he’s practising English so he can articulate archery everywhere.
University student bowman Danang Kamal Musthofa’s parents helped fund his hobby – Rp 6 million [US$ 460] for a dozen arrows and four times that sum for the bow and accessories.  These include a quiver and so many gadgets there’s a separate purse.
There’s even a special grip to help pull arrows out of the target, but a strong wrist does the job equally well. Boots, however, are necessary. Tournaments are supposed to be set in swards of glory, but Indonesia’s Sherwood Forests are thick with mud as adhesive as sticky rice.
Danang claimed archery helped his psychology studies because it has taught him concentration.
“You need to be dedicated and fit, able to stay calm and control your breathing,” he said. “I enjoy challenging myself, trying to be the best I can. You also get to meet other people because archery isn’t dominated by men and it’s really a young person’s sport.”
Another advantage? “My girlfriend is also an archer.”


How Mr Archer got his break
Ten millennia ago some cave dweller with more smarts than pelts reckoned there had to be a better way to get a bison steak than chasing, stoning and spearing. Every week a fellow woodsman was trampled or gored when a wounded beast turned on its tormenters trying to push a pointed stick through its hide.
How could a hunter kill from a distance without getting hurt by his prey? The pioneer of occupational health and safety had probably noticed how tense forest vines could be plucked and used to flick leaves. Why not adapt this idea – and let’s call our family The Archers.
If you don’t like this theory develop another – it can’t be trumped.  Like the invention of the wheel and the mastery of fire, the bow has shaped the development of humankind, but its origins are unknown.
The bow appeared on all continents bar Australia, where Aborigines developed the spear launcher known as a woomera, the name now used for an outback rocket range.
Some bows were small, like those used by North American Indians shooting from horseback.  Others, like the English longbow, were infantry weapons.
The 13th century Mongolian leader Genghis Khan conquered much of Central Asia with troops equipped with recurve bows. The ends, or limbs of the weapon, are turned outwards, creating greater force.
The weapons still used in Papua are reported to be about two meters long and made of bamboo.
Although the development of strong but flexible materials last century such as fiberglass, carbon, laminated wood and lightweight metals pushed archery into a new level, composites using bamboo stuck to wood or animal horn were pioneered in Asia long ago.
The compound bow, invented in the US in 1966, uses a system of eccentric pulleys and cables, and is now widely seen in contests.
A skill this old has a special vocabulary: Arrows are made by fletchers, bows by bowyers.  The notch in the arrow that takes the string is a nock.
East Java has the reputation of being Indonesia’s premier archery province.  No-one seems to know exactly why, apart from claiming the people are famous for being straight shooters.
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(First published in  J-Plus, The Jakarta Post, 19 April 2015)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

PDI-P CONGRESS: PARTY BEFORE PRESIDENT


Mega eyes our voting system                                               
Megawati Soekarnoputri (the second name is a patronymic - daughter of Soekarno) doesn’t want direct elections. That’s what she told applauding delegates at the Bali conference this month (April) of her Partai Demokrasi Indonesia – Perjuangan (PDI-P – the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.
‘Her’ party because it’s not an organisation to develop and implement new ideas from the smart young to boost the Republic’s economy, lift millions out of poverty, repair the crumbling infrastructure and raise education levels.  It’s a vehicle to keep her family in power.
Mega has no formal authority.  The PDI-P has the largest number of seats in the Parliament (109 / 560) but a coalition of opposition parties holds total control. Despite this she jerks President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s strings, reminding all that the former furniture salesman is just a ‘party worker’ who wouldn’t have the top job  had it not been for her imprimatur.
She’s right.  Had she ignored the overwhelmingly negative surveys and stood herself in last July’s election as originally planned, Indonesia would now be led by President Prabowo Subianto.  He’s the scion of a family with a centuries old lineage, a hard-line former general with a bad human rights record, and once son-in-law of the nation’s second president, the dictator Soeharto.
If Mega wasn’t the self-imposed head of the party she founded last century she’d now be toast.  Although she was Indonesia’s fifth president between 2001 and 2004 she inherited the position when President Abdurrahman Wahid was impeached, and did little more than let the army and her mates run the show.
That was too much like the bad old days for an electorate hungry for reform; in two later presidential direct vote contests she was soundly rejected by the people.
Of course this wasn’t her fault, but the ‘treachery’ of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) who quit her Cabinet over claims of being sidelined.  For a while he became a media darling and in 2004 beat his former boss to become the nation’s sixth president.  She’s never forgiven him.
In the villages and crowded kampongs of Java, sun-wrinkled portraits of first president Soekarno can be found hanging in even the poorest of homes.  He died 45 years ago but remains an iconic figure, symbol of the glory of Indonesia’s hard-won independence from the stubborn colonial Dutch and held in awe by the nostalgic elderly.
Mega believes that she has inherited that aura, even if betrayal, incompetence, fickle voters and age frustrate her ambitions.  So she’ll nurture the flame until her children Mohammad Prananda Prabowo, Mohammad Rizki Pramata – and particularly, Puan Maharani, learn how to grasp their destiny.
(Mega has been married three times, her father nine.  Her younger sister Rachmawati Soekarnoputri is a leading member in the opposition Prabowo’s party, Gerindra.)
Addressing the conference, where the 68-year old matriarch was acclaimed supreme head for a further five years, Mega denounced direct voting as a Western import.
In the present anti-foreigner climate - aggravated by Tony Abbott linking 2004 tsunami aid with mercy for drug runners on death row - that’s the sort of claim that gets delegates on their feet and stamping. 
Everything currently wrong in the resource-rich archipelago is the fault of sinister others plundering the nation’s wealth, corrupting the young with evil ideas, and interfering in sovereign legal processes; purge the outsiders and all will be right.  That’s what her Dad did in the 1950s and so excavated an even bigger pit of economic mismanagement.
Mega doesn’t want the Indonesian system where the president is chosen by the people whatever party he or she represents; that’s populism.
What would suit her is the Australian process.  Under our law voters tick candidates from parties that have already proclaimed their leaders. Electors might not like the individual but you approve their party’s policies.
If our northern neighbour had used that arrangement Mega might now be President of Indonesia for the second time because her party topped the polls.
Instead the man sitting on the edge of the Palace sofas once comfortably occupied by Mega as a child, is the easy going not over-bright Jokowi, briefly Governor of Jakarta and before that a likeable small town mayor.  Now he’s floundering, way out of his depth in the fetid crocodile swamp that passes for Jakarta politics
Jokowi is not part of the feudal Javanese military, business and semi-regal dynasties that have run the world’s fourth largest nation since Soekarno proclaimed independence from the colonial Dutch in 1945. That was part of his appeal.  
Despite getting little campaign help from Megawati, but a lot from the hopeful young, he won by eight million votes over Prabowo in what was widely interpreted as the triumph of the little man.
Sadly Jokowi, 53, has proved to be exactly that. If there’s a statesman’s gene in Jokowi it has yet to become dominant. No one is saying he has greasy palms, but when given the people’s mandate he fumbled the pass, dropped it and then lost direction.
Elected on promises of no more transactional appointments, a cabinet of altruistic reformers and a massive crack down on corruption, he’s failed on every pledge.
He also told Cabinet ministers to abandon senior party roles to concentrate on their jobs. Mega’s daughter Puan, Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, has ignored her leader.
Mum made Puan the party head of political and social affairs, and handpicked 25 others for top tasks saying she’d tested them all – but only she knew the test.
The PDI-P has another record:  It’s the party with the most members jailed by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). One serving politician was even arrested in his hotel at the congress for alleged bribery.  In a news story The Jakarta Post reported ‘the party’s central board is full of graft-tainted figures and politicians with dubious reputations.’
Again and again the terms ‘trustworthiness’ and ‘loyalty’ were used by Mega when discussing her choice of party officials.  Missing were words like ‘ability’, ‘education’, ‘diligence’ and ‘intelligence’. Jokowi’s demand for selection by merit went unheeded.  No doubt policies for the nation’s betterment and improved foreign relations were debated in depth, but these escaped detection by journalists.
None of this would matter much if there was a viable opposition with a fresh agenda waiting to take over the shambles.  Prabowo, 63, was widely expected to savage Jokowi till he became ineffectual, though the President is doing that without outside help.
However Prabowo has his own problems with two parties in his coalition ripped asunder by internal leadership challenges.
That’s not an issue in the PDI-P.  If there were any delegates who thought it’s time to remind that the party calls itself Democratic they are staying quiet.  When the leader of the world’s third largest democracy lacks the courage to confront his matron, who else would dare?
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 First published in On Line opinion 14 April 2015.  For comments see:
http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=17259

Monday, April 13, 2015

WANT TO BE RICH? CATCH A FALLING LEAF

The hill of good fortune    

                             
It’s a strange scene – one that would outrage the puritans. The fact that it operates openly in Indonesia should give cheer to pluralists.
Several Muslim women wearing long skirts and headscarves walk confidently into a building in the courtyard of a Chinese temple on the East Java mountain of Gunung Kawi.  They’ve come to have their fortunes revealed through an ancient ritual known as Ciam Si involving poems based on birth dates.
They’d travelled for five hours from Lumajang, 150 kilometers further east, just to see what 2015 might bring – a practice that some religious authorities claim is haram [forbidden].
After buying flowers and old coins as offerings the pilgrims progressed up the hill, through a mural-clad gateway before entering a darkened timber room with two gravestones.
Here they meditated alongside men and women who the guards identified as Buddhists and Christians.
The graves are supposed to encase the remains of Mbah [leader] Imam Sujono who died in 1876 and his colleague Mbah Djoego, also known as Kiai Zakaria 11 who passed away five years earlier.
The spelling of the names often differs, and so do the stories. The principal theory is that both men were supporters, relatives perhaps, of the high-born Diponegoro who led a rebellion against the Dutch.
The prince was arrested in 1830 at Magelang in Central Java and exiled to Makassar in South Sulawesi where he died 25 years later.  His colleagues fled to Kawi where they helped restore religiosity and improve cropping techniques.
After their deaths their graves gained a reputation for bringing good fortune to those who make the pilgrimage – like the ladies from Lumajang.
Does it work?  The best known case is that of Ong Hok Liong who established the Bentoel tobacco company after meditating on the mountain. 
For years he’d unsuccessfully sought the right name for his cigarettes.  Then the sight [or dream] of a hawker selling edible bamboo roots known as bentoel set the heavy smoker and drinker on the road to creating the nation’s second biggest tobacco company – and an early death from liver disease.
At least he didn’t have to sit for hours – or longer – under the sacred dewandaru [Eugenia uniflora ] tree waiting to catch a falling leaf, another alleged path to prosperity.  If the classification  is correct the tree is a recent import from South America where it’s known as the Surinam cherry.

This slice of science prunes the myth that the shrub was cursed to stay small by a holy man because it snagged his clothes.  The sage was trekking through the area to divide the territories of King Airlangga.  That was in the 11th century. On Gunung Kawi fiction trumps facts.
The tree has outgrown the original railings so a bigger fence has been built to stop the impatient giving the branches a shake to rain down wealth.
Kawi is an extinct volcano - at 2,551 meters but a pimple on the topography.  It’s not to be confused with the temple cluster of the same name near Ubud in Bali.
The village on Gunung Kawi’s slopes, just a fifth of the way to the summit, makes this mountain one of the most visited in Indonesia.  At weekends, holidays and certain dates like Jumat Legi [the evening preceding Friday in the 210-day Javanese calendar] the place is gutter-to-gutter  pilgrims, both Indonesian Chinese, Javanese and occasionally a few overseas visitors.
Pack a backpack of patience and get a massage to harden the hide before venturing into this cauldron of commerce. Prowling touts pounce the moment you turn off the asphalt.  Have trouble parking in an empty yard?  At least three men will ‘help’.
Need a ‘guide’ to take you up and down the one sloping narrow street? Take your pick.
Feel inclined to help the poor? You’ll run a gauntlet of beggars and kiosks offering everything from cassava [reputed to be the nation’s finest], flowers and all the knick knacks of numerology, soothsaying and clairvoyancy.
If you doubt the effectiveness of a donation, the bigger coins are recommended  for the traditional Javanese kerokan back rubbing session.  This is supposed to draw ‘wind’ or evil spirits out of the body as malevolence is known to be attracted to money.
Apart from cultural anthropologists and the odd bemused journalist, everyone else who comes to Gunung Kawi is also drawn by dollars; they’d certainly not consider their desires wrong – for who doesn’t want good fortune provided it’s not at the expense of others?
The shopkeepers selling tourist floss seem to be doing well enough, for many don’t bother opening when the river of humanity drops from a flood to a trickle during weekdays.


Unless you’re addicted to crowds, this is the time to enjoy Gunung Kawi without being squashed like an orange.  The leaves from the dewandaru waft down to the tiles of the empty courtyard to be swept up by caretakers.  If the story was true these guys should be millionaires – but at least they look fit. Not all pray for gold - good health is more precious. 
The downside of a visit outside the crushing times is that the hustlers are hungrier when pickings are few, so tend to be excessively eager.
There are signs warning visitors against wearing immodest clothes and taking photos, but the amicable guards are prepared to study the skyline if camera-clickers ask politely.  This is not an euphemism for bribing.
Gunung Kawi isn’t just for those with faith in the unknown.  Sceptics can  also puzzle over human nature while watching heavy business folk exit their big black limos, snap orders into smartphones, and then abandon logic to seek a glimpse into the future through rituals bereft of reason. That’s a matter for wonder.
As is the sight of people of different faiths meditating together.
How to get there: From Malang a by-pass on the road to Blitar cuts off the town of Kepanjen and at least 30 minutes of what used to be a two-hour drive.  The landscapes are lush, the roads reasonable.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 13 April 2015)


Sunday, April 12, 2015

NOBLE DEAL, NOBEL PRIZE

BTW
Anything’s better than bullets         
EXCLUSIVE:  Rio de Janeiro, today, 2017:  President Joko [Jokowi] Widodo is to be nominated for the Nobel Prize for international leadership in developing new ways to handle the drug scourge.
The recommendation, which has yet to be officially announced, has been unanimously endorsed by the 22 heads of the Brazil-based Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP)
The Jakarta Post has obtained the statement which will accompany the announcement. This says that two years ago when President Jokowi opened his campaign to kill the drug trade, few believed he could persuade other nations that capital punishment was not the answer to trafficking and pushers.
The fact that more than 50 countries have since followed Indonesia makes President Jokowi an appropriate recipient, the statement continues.
Palace insiders claim the President’s epiphany followed a meeting with Virgin Airlines founder Sir Richard Branson.
Earlier appeals by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to stay the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran had apparently hardened the President’s resolve.
“The pleas angered the President,” said a senior aide speaking on condition of anonymity as he was unauthorized to comment.
“He reckoned Mr Abbott cared only for his two citizens, and not all those on death row or our 4.5 million addicts – that’s about the population of Sydney.
“With scores dying every day the electorate demanded decisive action. Mr Abbott offered no solutions. When he linked mercy to the 2004 tsunami aid Mr Jokowi turned off his phone. He’s a man who reacts to reason, not pressure.
“Sir Richard is a tough businessman, not a parochial politician.  He thinks laterally and invited the President to lead the world by finding new ways to tackle drugs.”
Palace sources confirmed a secret meeting had been held where the mega millionaire, who is a board member of the GCDP, offered well-researched facts from Commission archives.
Contacts present at the two-hour closed-door forum revealed that Sir Richard said that shortly before the Bali Nine smugglers were caught Indonesia had already executed three foreign drug traffickers.  This was widely known yet the Australians still went ahead; this fact made nonsense of the deterrent theory.
GCDP analysts had shown that addicts and mules are damaged people in hopeless financial and personal situations, unable to make sane choices.  They take risks whatever the punishment because every option is dreadful.  All believe they’re too smart to get caught.
The GCDP offered to fund a review led by Indonesian criminologists into the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent and the government agreed to a moratorium.
The 178 page document is expected to be presented at a glittering event in the Presidential Palace next month. The buzz says Oprah Winfrey may be a guest.
Last night in London Sir Richard praised the Indonesian President as a man of courage and foresight. “I remember way back in 2015 thinking he was a stubborn guy, a foreigner to facts,” Sir Richard said.
 “What some considered intransigence was, in fact, a mask for the admirable Javanese traits of compassion and deep thinking. I told him ‘let’s kill the trade, not the traders’.  Anything’s better than bullets.”
The entrepreneur stayed tight-lipped on the report’s 17 recommendations. These are expected to include substituting long jail time for the death penalty and shorter spells for reformers who’ve expressed real remorse.
It’s no secret that there’ll be an International Center for the Prevention of Drug Trading at the University of Gadjah Mada; modern clinics in every province will help rehabilitate users.
A No Demand – No Supply social media campaign targeting drugs using teenspeak and. featuring celebs rather than uniformed government bosses will be launched.
Cash for these initiatives will come from a ten per cent levy on every packet of smokes sold.
A Palace spokesman refused to confirm or deny the report. “Let’s just wait and see,” he said.
However former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that if the story was true a Nobel Prize nomination was a great privilege.  He added:
“However the real honor belongs to the Indonesian people who have backed the President’s noble journey to make Indonesia a world leader in stamping out the drug trade while protecting human rights.” Duncan Graham

(First published in The Jakarta Post 12 April 2015)
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Friday, April 10, 2015

BY THE NUMBERS - EAT

The Highway Code for an extreme feed                    



Where to stop for a feed?
Parked trucks are a good guide – the drivers know the best places for cheap and wholesome fare.  Busses in a restaurant forecourt indicate a broad menu; if the passengers aren’t satisfied they’ll travel with a different company next time.
Roadside kiosks selling specific meals, like bakso [meat balls] and nasi padang, an array of pre-cooked foods on separate plates, are usually well signed so motoring customers know what to expect.
But how about a warung [food stall] that only advertises numbers, and where de-coding the menu relies on cultural memory – or knowledge of fortune telling?
By her own admission Sri Sujayati, 40, is a vendor of “extreme foods” in the village of Talang Agung between Malang and Blitar in East Java.  She calls her business Ono Wae, Javanese for ‘always available’.
 “When you come here you must know what you want,” she said. “I don’t cheat.  The ingredients I use are the real thing. Every dish costs the same – Rp 10,000 [US 75 cents].”
Feel like a plate of turtle served with rice?  Ask for 27.
Prefer something snaky, like python potage?  Select number 29.  If not pre-ordered there’ll be a long wait.  Cooking a snake takes at least two hours.
Quicker is frog stew, guaranteed to get you jumping.  We recommend number 24.
A big guy needs something masculine and ferocious.  Wild boar at 93 should put bristles on any man’s chest.
Behind Bu Sri’s shop is a sack with body parts of a big monitor lizard, including a claw. Along with geckos this meal is recommended for those with body itch. She doesn’t sell dog meat [number 11], popular among the Minahasa from North Sulawesi, because there’s no demand locally – but many other creatures find their place in her pots.
While this writer was unsuccessfully seeking the courage to order a rat or bat pie, two famished construction workers arrived, both keen for an 02.

“I used to have a sore throat but that’s gone since I started eating snails,” testified Tofa, 23 (right, white T shirt). His mate Muntiono, 31 agreed. “It keeps me healthy.  My breathing’s a lot better.” Suggesting the men might give up smoking to achieve the same result was deemed inappropriate under the circumstances.
“Customers come from all around to eat certain animals believing there are physical benefits,” said the cook. 
“Everyone has their own beliefs about what works. Men like snake because it gives them stamina.”  This is a genteelism for sexual prowess.
There’s no suggestion that gambling or anything improper is underway at Ibu Sri’s wide-open warung on the main road– she uses the code as shorthand because “everyone in this area knows what the numbers mean.”  There’s no written menu.
This seems to imply that there’s a lot going on in Indonesian society that doesn’t always meet the outsider’s eye, let alone the strictures of the authorities, secular and religious.

By the numbers

The code can be cracked using the Tafsir Mimpi 100 Trilyun [100 trillion Dream Interpretations].
This cheaply printed and badly bound book is unlikely to be found on the shelves of your local library rubbing covers with biographies of the great and good. 
Like the promises 100 trillion is a gross exaggeration, though mixing and multiplying can expand permutations.
Buyers have to ask around.  The one featured on this page was under a newsagent’s counter.  It cost Rp 15,000 [US$1.20].  The seller insisted it be kept in a brown bag and not opened in public because, he said,  numerology is haram [forbidden] along with astrology and fortune telling.
There are no details of the publisher or printer in Tafsir Mimpi, but every page has crude pictographs linked to numbers – and not just for animals.  Number 60 relates to the police, 21 is a prostitute, while 43 is a young widow – and also a fish.
Number 11 can be a headscarf, fan, mushroom – and a greedy government minister.
The complex angka togel lucky number forecasting was widely used when the State lottery was operating.  Angka means number and togel is a combination of toto [lottery] and gelap [dark], implying a system that’s slightly shady.
The national lottery, also called NALO with a top prize of Rp 1 billion [about US$400,000 in the currency of the time] was known as Sumbangan Dana Sosial Berhadiah [SDSB Philanthropic Donation with Prizes].  However the religious weren’t softened by the euphemism and insisted it meant gambling, which is haram.
Until reluctantly banned by the Soeharto administration in late 1993 following prolonged pressure from Islamic authorities, the lottery was a splendid income stream for the government and, allegedly, other individuals linked to the President’s family.
In those pre-democracy days an independent probing of the accounts by a free press was impossible, so the public couldn’t trace the rupiah river.
The togel or toggle system persists in Hong Kong and Singapore where predictions on cards can be bought using allegedly lucky numbers associated with dreams, fortuitous events – and animals. 
Some Indonesian men’s tabloids, under a NALO heading include the numbers along with crime stories featuring sexual deviances and advertisements for paranormal services.
The togel cards are often illustrated with pictures of young ladies in various states of undress, suggesting  that a big win will lead to success in bed.
Indonesia’s Secret World

Referring to numbers instead of words probably dates back to the 6th century, according to cultural historian Ismail Lutfi.(right)
“Long ago an ancient form of Javanese was used,  mainly known to royalty,” he said. “It was based on Sanskrit and is no longer heard.
“Words had many meanings, including numbers. These were used to represent the object. Javanese people like to use symbols, and these became the language.
“Although it seemed to disappear in the 16th century with the arrival of Islam and the Dutch the knowledge  remains in some parts of East Java.  Gambling is illegal, but still continues. A person might, for example, dream of two dogs in his house. He can construct a number on the objects and use that to lay a bet.
“This is the secret world of Indonesia.  It’s a kind of numerology known as candra sangkala – a chronogram [arrangement of letters to indicate numbers and reveal a date]  based on the waxing and waning of the moon.”
Ismail, a senior lecturer in history at the Malang State University, said the system wasn’t taught. Although it was difficult to get information the code was understood in villages and kampong.
“It’s part of our cultural memory known as getok tular  meaning it’s handed down by word of mouth,” he said. “For many this is a more effective way of acquiring knowledge than reading books or listening to government announcements.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 April 2015)


Monday, April 06, 2015

PLATES OF PERANAKAN

A taste of place, time and people        
                     
Flicking your eyes off Malang’s chaotic Jalan Laksamana Martadinata to try and spot the hidden one is not recommended; you’d hit a pothole or a pedicab. Yet the Go mansion was once a landmark.
The coffee baron’s neo-classical Indisch Empire residence in Klenteng Straat was built 115 years ago.  At the time it shouted: ‘Look, we’ve prospered.’  Now the message is whispered: ‘We’re just part of a business streetscape.’
Commodity prices crashed in the 1930s depression; after the Japanese invaded the house became a refugee center.  During the Revolution nearby buildings were torched, but the grand one was untouched.
The Go family survived, including one member who was interred during the occupation. Before the Japanese arrived Koo Siu Ling was born here to her schoolteacher mother Go Pheek Thoo, known as Ietje. Good times returned until President Soekarno mismanaged the economy and courted communism.
Some in the family moved to Jakarta, and then the Netherlands where Koo entered university aged 16 to study engineering.  Later she married, spent four years in Australia and another four in the US; now she lives in Holland but regularly visits her birthland.
Over the decades five meters has been cut off the front garden. In the erasure of all things colonial the widened road, formerly named after the 1825 Chinese temple opposite, was relabelled to recognize an admiral with no connections to the city.
The 1965 coup d’├ętat and purge of real and imagined Reds hit the Chinese community badly.
But the people of Klenteng Straat had long severed their connections with China.  They were East Java Peranakan, mixed blood descendants of immigrants from Fujian Province who had married Javanese women. 
Though this family’s ancestors were relatively late arrivals some had been in Indonesia for centuries; the port of Gresik on the north coast of East Java was established by Chinese traders in the 14th century. That made little difference. The narrative that accompanies their success story is sinophobia.  
“Since the Independence of Indonesia the Peranakan have periodically been subjected to discrimination and persecution,” writes medieval historian Paul Freedman in this unusual book. “This has produced a number of paradoxes.”
These included the repression of Chinese identity and culture, the closure of schools and the banning of Chinese language and writing. Despite this around 30 entrepreneurs got cosy with President Soeharto to build his and their business empires.
The tough Peranakan have learned resilience.  Freedman reports that despite two ministers in the 1947 revolutionary government having Peranakan origins, those labelled non-indigenous remained a convenient scapegoat for their perceived “clannishness and disengagement” and the nation’s economic ills.
Forced to Indonesianise, Koo’s father Koo Liong Bing changed his name to Kolama – meaning ‘formerly Koo’.  To keep their dignity the ever adaptable Peranakan scattered and like their ancestors, some sought opportunities in lands elsewhere.
The other survivor was the cuisine and in the Go family it all resided in the cookbook of Koo’s mother which had travelled to Holland.
The sun-parched pad was opened by Koo after the old lady’s death in 2000 aged 89.  It has become the primary source for Culture Cuisine Cooking published in Indonesian, Dutch and English under one cover.  Most of the 82 recipes were written in Dutch, though others used Hokkienese and Indonesian. Contributions from Ietje’s sisters and friends also found a place.
The title gives the impression that it’s ABC - Another Bloody Cookbook - on an already sagging shelf.  Wrong:  This is also a lucid account of the Peranakan, adding to our understanding of the complexities of this nation’s past.

It isn’t just a stew of Dutch, Javanese and Chinese tastes; it’s also a cultural history deftly recounted by Freedman, professor of history at Yale University and author of other books on food.
What’s cooking go to do with it? Koo answers well in her preface: ‘… a world of complex social interactions lies behind [cooking at home].  Before you cook you have to plant, or harvest, or shop, mostly together with other members of the family or village.  Cooking means interaction.’
Which leads to understanding and appreciation.  Diplomats should negotiate treaties and settle conflicts in kitchens, not board rooms, preferably while removing seeds from chilli peppers. [Instructions are on page 536 along with other handy tips.]
For cuisine, like language, is at the heart of cultures everywhere.  We learn our first words from our parents – our first tastes are the meals they’ve chosen. Before microwaves and fast food the process of preparation wasn’t just a chore – it was a binding household event.
Skilled cooks seldom bother with scales – they know how much is needed.  But a pinch of pepper or a handful of chives is no help to a modern cook demanding precision. On a brief visit to Malang last month (March) Koo explained how she spent four years  working on the recipes, decoding and translating the instructions, calculating the measurements, then testing to get them right.
At the rear of the family’s mansion is a kitchen that seems little changed from the time when Koo’s grandmother was matriarch. At a timber table three elderly women washed and chopped vegetables. Another was at the sink. On one side a hefty hand pump atop a well.
The dining table sitting on a floor of exquisitely patterned tiles with the sun filtered through stained glass windows, can comfortably seat 14.  It probably looked like this in the golden times, before World War II and the collapse of a colonial empire.
Where does this two kilo book belong – the library or the kitchen?  With its moody, timeless photos it’s too beautiful to be steamed and soaked in spilt palm oil. But the recipes make it too practical to be left on a shelf as an occasional reference.
The solution is to photocopy the recipes, make a book, add notes and keep in the kitchen. Just as Ietje Go Pheek Thoo did before it all turned rotten. As Soeharto discovered, governments can  attempt to crush a culture but its seeds are in the cuisine – and they germinate.

Culture Cuisine Cooking                                                                                                           
by Paul Freedman and Koo Siu Ling                                                                                
Lecturis, Amsterdam, 2015     

(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 April 2015)                                                                                                               

Sunday, April 05, 2015

LETTING THE LEGENDS LIVE

Maskmen of the Mountain                

The slopes of Mount Semeru, Java’s highest peak, are the haunting grounds of many princesses. Battles, intrigues and other strange things have happened on these uplands in central East Java.
At one time local people borrowed – or stole – the rope supporting a magic gamelan gong.  The cord had been made from the root of a plant and had to be returned for the performances to continue.
The object was recovered, though the story doesn’t say how.  If it hadn’t, would the mountain have exploded?
“When that happens it will be the end of the tari topeng  [mask dance] traditions of Malang,” said cultural custodian Ki Soleh Adi Pramono. (Above) He’s made the tough climb to the barren, rock-strewn summit once, and to the slopes and lakes below several times.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen, although it constantly belches smoke.” The mountain is an active volcano and often puffs like a steam train.  Also known as Mahameru [the Great Mountain] Semeru is  part of Hindu-Buddhist cosmology and an abode of the Hindu deity Shiva.
Soleh won’t be lacing his climbing boots any day soon following a stay in hospital with stomach problems.  Nor is he likely to be dancing for a while as the 64-year old multiskilled performer recovers.
However he’s still able to drum in the gamelan orchestra, flick and swirl the two-dimensional figures as a dalang [producer and director in wayang kulit shadow puppet] performances.  His more sedentary choice is to carve masks.

Given the choice Soleh prefers mahogany from the island of Madura off the north coast of East Java, otherwise he settles for the local timbers.  Some techniques are traditional – four fingers laid horizontally determine the distance from chin to nose, three to forehead and two to the crown.
Inevitably  modern technology has crept into the process. Soleh’s toolkit includes a builder’s tape measure and a pair of compasses to balance the eyes.
“Malang’s masks and dances are quite separate from those of Solo and Yogjakarta in Central Java, and that’s not well known,” Soleh said at his workshop in the Mangun Dharma Art Center at Tulus Besar near Tumpang village 25 kilometers east of Malang.
“Fortunately the culture is returning, and that’s thanks to television programs about the old Javanese kingdoms. This is a turn around from a few years ago when TV was destroying our culture with imported programs and Western themes.  Now I’m getting plenty of pupils.”
Including some from overseas, mainly ethnomusicologists and other academics keen to study the ancient arts of East Java.  As with so much Indonesian traditional culture, the origins are obscure for written records are rare. As Japanese explorer and scholar Dr Masatoshi Iguchi noted in his book Java Essay, East Java has a “difficult history”.
Some authorities claim the mask dances go back to the eighth century when Gajayana, the son of King Dewasinga, fled east from Central Java for reasons unknown.
Others believe the dances are more recent, but Soleh has no doubt they are deeply embedded  in the local culture and linked to the Prince Panji story cycle.

This originated in Java, as opposed to the Mahabharata, which came from India, and was performed in wayang kulit as well as tari topeng. It became popular during the Majapahit Era, the so-called Golden Age of Java about a century after Gajayana arrived.
Soleh’s favorite character is the antagonistic Klana who comes with a moustache made from the carver’s own hair.  As a dalang he can’t have a special figure from the wayang kulit as tradition says he must treat all equally.
Soleh said the performance center was named after a famous Javanese leader who is believed to have died at Tulus Besar during the Mataram Kingdom of the eighth and tenth centuries. 
Mangun Dharma was built almost 26 years ago with Soleh’s former wife, the multi-skilled American anthropologist Karen Elizabeth Sekararum.  Now back in the US she became well known in East Java as a pesinden, a singer in Javanese who performs with the gamelan.  
Mangun Dharma has a complete gamelan, studio, workshop, outdoor performance space and just about everything needed to keep the culture alive.
The second of three children born to a family of artists, Soleh was the only one to become a dalang and mask maker, picking up the skills from his grandfather and an uncle..  After studying the gamelan in Surabaya he worked for the education department before further tuition at the National Arts Institute in Yogyakarta.

Back in Malang he lectured at the Teachers’ College while setting up Mangun Dharma.  The center proved to be a winner so he gave up the academic life to concentrate on a career as a freelance teacher and performer.
He also wrote a book recording some of the masks, music and dance steps.  Appropriately enough it’s in Javanese
Then came the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s.  Families cut back on lavish wedding parties featuring traditional Javanese performers, but Soleh said work has been returning.
On 17 August 2013 dancers and musicians from 12 villages came to Mangun Dharma  to celebrate Independence Day. This year there’ll be another two day festival  in Malang.
“The government should be helping the arts more, as they do in the West,” Soleh said. “Here they spend Rp 6 billion [US$ 460 thousand] on sport – and nothing on culture.
“Despite this I’m optimistic. More young people are showing an interest in art and want to keep our culture alive. As you say in the West, if you don’t use it you lose it.
“I know of only five other old mask carvers and dancers who understand the traditions and stories, so it is important that their knowledge be preserved. [See Breakout]
“ UNESCO has listed some Indonesian arts – masks should be included before another country steals them.
 [The UN Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity has six Indonesian crafts – the wavy-blade kris, the bamboo musical instrument angklung, batik and wayang kulit.]
“Our culture is like the bamboo – you can cut it down or burn it, even nuclear bomb it as in Hiroshima in 1945. But the root always remains and new growth soon appears.”

Seeing character


Master maskmaker Suparjo has 42 characters in his head and knows which one is hiding in the split logs he confronts at his desk. 
It takes up to three days to transform the plain lump of wood, which others would see as best used in the fire under a cooking pot, into an object of gem-encrusted beauty, mystery even,  almost with a life of its own.
Not all are regal. Ferocious demons or objects of fun, toothless oldies and the pink-cheeked Emban chewing an oversize betel nut, are also waiting to be revealed when the chisel cuts.
Suparjo, 59, is the community leader in Argosari, a hamlet deep in the corn fields and close to the Hindu Kidal Temple.  This fertile area is saturated in history.
This 13th century tower is about 20 kilometers along winding roads from Mangun Dharma, far less as the Javan hawk-eagle flies. A brief walk from Soleh’s home is the Jago Temple of the same religion and period, though architecturally unalike.   


Suparjo’s masks are also different, even when depicting the same character.
“Each village has its own style, though not everyone can tell them apart,” he said.  “The names are not always the same either.
“I’m the fourth generation in my family of mask carvers and dancers.  I started when I was in elementary school. Fortunately my son Sugeng  Suprianto, 26,  is also learning the craft so I believe and hope it will continue.”
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 (Firt published in The Jakarta Post J PLUS on 5 April 2015