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

Friday, October 09, 2015


Could SBY bridge the divide?                                                    Duncan Graham

People Can Change - but not President Jokowi, as portrayed by executed Australian Myuran Sukumaran

 Late last month a small workshop was held in Perth.  It involved 20 influential Australians and former Indonesian president Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono [SBY] who retired last October.  The Constitution prohibits a president serving more than two five-year terms.
The private chat encouraged more optimism than SBY’s public speech a day later because participants believed their visitor was listening.  However the formal address was not a pathfinder and largely bypassed by the media. 
Here was a chance to refill the tank with high-octane ideas so the coughing and spluttering vehicle carrying his nation and its neighbour into the future might find second gear.  Sadly SBY missed the turn.
This is not to diminish the importance of the house-full event organized by the USAsia think tank, which has made SBY a Senior Fellow. 
Anything said by the previous leader of the world’s third largest democracy deserved an audience.  His 2010 speech as President to the Federal Parliament encouraged belief that both nations could bond better.  SBY scattered goodwill and we loved it, even if his past as a general in a brutal army made us feel a little queasy.
Since then much has gone sour. Australia bugged the phones of its “great friend” and his wife Kristiani – refusing to apologize for what former PM Tony Abbott called “reasonable intelligence-gathering operations”.
Australia ignored regional solution proposals for handling asylum seekers fearing corrupt authorities would make plans unworkable. It then violated territory to turn back Indonesian ferries knowing the Republic’s navy was too weak to react.
There were other insults, enough for a touchy guy to snub the island continent forever.  That SBY has overlooked the contempts shows mettle – a quality Australians respect.
So he’s scaled the high moral ground but so far failed to capitalise on the achievement.  It was the same in 2004 when directly elected with a majority above 60 per cent.
In those brief and blissful moments SBY had the people’s mandate to reform the judiciary, start repairing the nation’s crumbling and congested infrastructure, and reinforce the ideology of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika [Unity in Diversity] by respecting minority rights.
But he dithered, and the opportunities drowned two months later; a tsunami hit Aceh in North Sumatra and all energies rightly focussed on recovery.
Now SBY has another chance.  He’s only 66, but already an eminence grise. He ruled for a decade without using the Army; Indonesia stayed intact while other Muslim-majority nations imploded; poverty was reduced on his watch and the economy strengthened. 
He has a real doctorate, an Order of Australia and shirtfronts of international awards. He’s also a visiting professor at the University of Western Australia.
 He speaks and even sings English. Unlike his successor Joko [Jokowi] Widodo who is reported to be indifferent to foreign affairs and uncomfortable among diplomats, SBY is so cosmopolitan he probably knows the best nasi goring in the world’s capitals. 
Indonesian electors remember him as a pedestrian president, but overseas he has the gravitas absent in the current leader.
SBY used his Perth address to challenge the neighbors to rediscover each other, though news reports emphasised his comments on commerce.
Business is hugely important but canny traders don’t need a retired politician to chant the mantra that Indonesia is big and getting bigger, so more mouths to feed.  Any entrepreneur unaware of this hard-set fact should start Googling Sits Vac.
If Indonesia hopes to lure more than the 265 Australian companies now in the archipelago [there are 360 in tiny Dubai, according to Trade Minister Andrew Robb] it must answer some blunt questions:
When will Indonesia develop a clear and stable policy on commodity imports?  When can foreigners invest knowing disputes will be settled legally, fairly and openly?  When will the corrosion of corruption be confronted with Singaporean resolve?
SBY is no longer leading man but he hasn’t left the stage.  As head of the fading and graft-tainted Democratic Party he knows how the gears grind in Jakarta’s political machine.
This creates an advantage of contacts, and a problem of impartiality.  Smart ex-leaders cut past ties to avoid the silent-phone curse that bedevils the power-famished, like Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad.
 Britain’s Tony Blair became a peace envoy in the Middle East while New Zealand’s Helen Clark headed for a top UN post in New York. 
Likewise an important new role awaits SBY away from Jakarta – as an international relationships guidance counsellor. Where better than with Australia where the shouting matches are a constant concern?
SBY’s Perth speech spoke of more people-to-people exchanges, particularly students.  Here he can do something; Australia is willing [more than 10,000 Indonesians are enrolled in secondary and tertiary education] though few Australians have found the right visas to open their tablets in Indonesian tutorials.  It seems Indonesian Immigration has a touch of xenophobia.
In the private meeting SBY was told that “some of Indonesia's smartest young people should be invited to work in Australia with tech start-ups to create innovation jointly between our two countries. Indonesia has some brilliant young minds.”
A splendid idea, with a rider:  “Australians need to understand Indonesia is not an enemy but rather a potential partner.”  To change that perception the Republic has to remove a serious impediment – capital punishment.
For five of SBY’s ten years in office he kept his nation on the right side of history.  When the firing squads reloaded, three of the four victims were murderers.
In April SBY abandoned a visit to Australia after drug traffickers were executed, citing a “disturbed relationship”.  Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described his words as “gracious” and evidence of disquiet among Jakarta’s elite.
So SBY has some moral authority, though tarnished, to champion abolishment.  Now he needs the courage to help Indonesia join the majority of nations that have freed themselves from the evils of primitive punishment.
There’s urgency here:  further shootings are promised.  If these go ahead the bullets will shred more than flesh.  There’ll be deep wounds to reputation and relationships. 
SBY might respectfully point that out to his successor using the most refined Kromo [high-level Javanese].  From his vantage point SBY can see how judicial murder demeans a government, dashes down the positives and nurtures ill-will.
Others have said this before; but the Elder Statesman’s baritone will be heard in the archipelago above any chorus of foreign human rights activists calling for - wishing for, praying for - a compassionate Indonesia.

(First published in New Mandala 9 October 2015)

Friday, October 02, 2015


Vigilance in verse  


There’s a buffalo thief abroad. Be on guard. We need a plan.  It must be good. Best recruit a seer who can spirit a tiger.

Those lyrics in Minangkabau were sung and played by New Zealand ethnomusicologist Dr Megan Collins as part of her initiation into the mysteries of West Sumatran music.  They were composed as an exercise in imagining a potential threat.

A tuneful community alert.  A song instead of a siren.

Government orders, official posters and stern pronouncements about dangers by grim men in uniforms have their place, but nothing comes within a chord of a memorable ditty.

In 1907 an earthquake and tsunami killed thousands who rushed to the beach in Simeulue Island [150 kilometers off the west coast of Aceh] to collect fish when the ocean retreated. The survivors wrote and recited the song, which became part of the local folklore.

“Spreading important safety messages through music storylines continues,” Collins said.

“It was effective when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit.  Only seven islanders from a population of 78,000 on Simeulue perished.”

Elsewhere more than 250,000 coastal dwellers in 14 countries were swept away.  The heaviest death toll was in Aceh where about 170,000 died.

Even earlier, memories of the gigantic 1883 Krakatau volcanic explosion in Sunda Strait, which killed an estimated 36,000, have also been preserved in verse.

Collins is an expert on the music of the rabab pasisia selatan.  She says the instrument looks like a baroque violin, though purists who think only a Stradivarius is worth caressing with a horse-hair bow might label it a folk fiddle.

Which isn’t far wrong.  “It’s the people’s instrument,” Collins said.  “It’s made in the villages by craftsmen.  The music is usually heard at weddings and other community events, often accompanied by a flute and a singer.

The rabab’s ancestor may have been the European violin carried by Portuguese or Dutch sailors centuries ago. Collins, who has studied organology, the science of musical instruments, says its provenance is still unproven.

Perhaps a nostalgic minstrel mariner off a three-masted Dutch fluyt and fiddled to remind him of another land. A Minangkabau person was drawn to friendship by the music, which happens in a perfect universe, and was gifted the violin.

Of course it could have been acquired through robbery, not romance, but we digress.

For more than two years in the 1990s Collins studied the music of the Minangkabau at the Indonesian Arts Institute in the West Sumatran capital of Padangpanjang.  Her doctoral fieldwork with masters of the art was in Pesisir Selatan village on the coast.

The rabab is not played like the violin with the musician standing or sitting, but by squatting cross-legged.  It can’t be held hands free under the chin.  It’s a four-string fiddle though only two are played; one lies slack while the other has mystical powers which some claim to be curative.

The instrument is often played by dukun the traditional healers and spirit mediums
Collins modestly claims she has still to reach the level where she can understand the instrument’s supposed magic qualities.

In the meantime Collins’ skills can entice and enchant Kiwis who hear her CDs, play in concerts or on national radio where she’s performed in six one-hour programs featuring the sounds of Sumatra. 

Collins was raised in a musical family that traces its ancestors back to mid 19th century migrations from Ireland, England and Scotland.  As a child she was “a closet bagpipe fan girl” but instead learned the piano and violin.

Now her mission is to “exoticize music, to get rid of its orientalism” so it speaks to all whatever their ethnicity or national allegiance.

And Indonesians can enjoy her talents too when she tours Java in mid 2016 with the Wellington-based Gamelan Padhang Moncar playing in Yogya, Solo and Malang.

Collins, 43, now manages the gamelan, a role entrusted to her by Professor Jack Body who died earlier this year.  He led the orchestra on a tour of Java in 1993 when Collins was one of the players.

“That kicked off my enthusiasm for Indonesia,” she said. “I won a Darmasiswa Indonesian Government scholarship.  Java was too crowded which didn’t suit a Kiwi country girl, so I went to Padangpanjang. 

“Apart from a few tourists passing through I was the only foreigner.  I lived with a local family so became immersed in the language and culture.” 

Her initiation included rubbing her fingers with limes over an open fire to make her hands supple. She is now fluent in Indonesian and Minangkabau, which she prides herself on speaking with the accent of a native speaker.

Don’t assume all this is esoteric stuff for oldies and academics.  Sumatra’s sounds survive because they’ve adapted, embracing pop and dangdut the throbbing amalgam of Middle Eastern and Indian music.

“Minangkabau music isn’t rare, it’s popular,” Collins said. “It’s played on television and radio and uploaded to YouTube.  A song about a  flash flood that took out a major highway has been viewed more than 50,000 times.

“Siril Asmara’s VCD Sum-Bar Mananggih [West Sumatra Weeps] about other natural disasters following the 2004 tsunami sold 15,000 copies in 2013.  Composing and playing music can have a cathartic effect.”

Collins is now cooperating with NZ geomorphologist Dr Noel Trustrum and Indonesian scientists to produce a multi-media book on preparing for emergencies; it’s based on the principle that local oral wisdom trumps imported knowledge.

Trustrum has worked on aid projects in Indonesia including Aceh and recently published a book of photos and essays about the restoration of Banda Aceh and the resilience of its people.

“Messages can be locally generated, changed and moved between genres,” Collins said.  “They are an amazing way to create awareness and remember the tragedies of the past.

“Think of the Western children’s song Twinkle, twinkle little star. We all know the tune.  Now swap lyrics or create new ones. The rabab is ideal for this because it’s a story-telling instrument.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post Friday 2 October 2015)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


BTW: No spitting in Sydney or bigamy in Brisbane

Considering Australia for a vacation, study or work?  Prior to passing through avenues of airport scanners you’ll be polishing your English to better interact with the locals and comprehend the culture.

Fortunately advice is available courtesy of a government booklet Life in Australia. The copyright page has a twee symbol indicating the availability of interpreter services but translates more like three beer bottles.  Those familiar with Australian pastimes might consider the image apt.

There are facts about the island continent’s geography; this useful information indicates why walking from Perth to Brisbane via the Simpson Desert is a mite unwise. It also reveals that laws prohibit racial discrimination.  To know more about this advanced legislation ask an Aboriginal person.

There are tips on proper behavior, such as waiting quietly in a queue to be served.  The author wrote this advice after experiencing Soekarno-Hatta check-in counters.

The first queue you’ll encounter at Sydney will be with radar-eyed quarantine officers.  They know with biblical certainty that every wayang kulit souvenir harbors prohibited tropical insects.

Don’t argue – the free speech lauded in LIA doesn’t start till you’re safely beyond the customs hall and can use your cellphone.

Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is recommended.  Particularly to anyone wearing a Border Force uniform, dark glasses and carrying a gun.  Welcome to Australia.

It’s hard to know whether the section on clothing is meant to entice or repel visitors. The brochure explains that some beachgoers wear ‘little clothing’ and that there are designated nudist beaches. 

To avoid misunderstandings these are defined as places ‘where people may swim without any costume or clothing’.

Tourists keen to get the bare facts about the folks Down Under having fun in the sun should not assume that those showing skin have ‘low moral standards.’  What they often have is melanoma.

Imagine your naughty GPS inadvertently takes you to a nudist beach.  You reluctantly stop to goggle and giggle, then find your emotions aroused.  Take care.  Rant and rage, but don’t spit.  Impolite, says the brochure.

If inclined to sing the national anthem praising a land ‘girt by sea’, the lyrics are provided.  You may need to lend a copy to a local; Indonesians know every word of Indonesia Raya. Australians have problems reciting both verses of Advance Australia Fair.

Two lines read:  For those who’ve come across the seas / We’ve boundless plains to share.  Some have taken these welcomes literally and set sail from Cilacap for the promised land. They’re now sharing cramped detention in Papua New Guinea’s jungles.  Never confuse songs with statutes.

Keen to meet traditional Aussie families?  Take your pick from ‘single parents, step and blended families, same sex couples and couples living together and not formally married’.

No morality alert, but a warning:  Although the arrangements above are legal, having an extra wife is not.  Though gay and lesbian pairings are OK, polygamy is off the marital menu.

The contradictions of cultures are well illustrated: Australians have ‘a deep suspicion of authority’ yet are ‘mostly … conformist’. Sounds like Indonesians.

Understanding the language helps so definitions have been added. The world knows  ‘Barbie’ as a doll. In Australia it’s a barbecue. Get it right:  Grilled plastic is not fantastic.

To ‘barrack’ doesn’t always refer to soldiers returning to their huts.  It might be a verb about supporting a sporting team.

A ‘digger’ is an excavator.  It’s also a soldier. A ‘shout’ is a raised voice, – and an offer to pay for all the drinks in a bar.  I hope this clarifies the situation.

An Okker can be either ‘a boorish, uncouth, chauvinistic Australian’ or someone displaying ‘good humor, helpfulness and resourcefulness.’  No need to fly south to meet either group – the first will be in Kuta, the rest in Ubud.

The other good news is that in Australia ‘all jobs and professions are open to men and women’.  This was well illustrated by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Cabinet: Only two were women.

Now the Republic plans to lure more tourists it’s time for a brochure explaining Indonesian values.  It could point out that President Jokowi’s cabinet has eight women. 

(First published in The Jakarta Post Sunday 20 September 2015)

Monday, September 14, 2015


Knowledge – your other passport       

  From left:  Kenny Watono, Fachrul Sugiyanto, Klara Dalay, Komang Anita Andriani, Amaliah Fitriah and Angela Roswita Hartono.

They are among Indonesia’s most incandescently bright. Their English is accented but close to perfect for non-native speakers.

The tertiary education teaching system they’ve encountered is radically different from past experience.  They’ve had to adjust and make sacrifices.

On the plus side these student members of the Republic’s diaspora in the South Pacific have learned to be independent and disciplined, even to cook.  None reported discrimination.  They’ve overcome communication hassles, alien values and worrying lifestyles.

“New Zealand has legalized same-sex marriage,” said language studies student Kenny Watono, 21, from Malang and who lives in a hostel.  “Seeing couples of the same sex is an eerie thing for me because I come from a country where it’s prohibited.

“Kiwis’ drinking and partying habits are not nice for people who don’t do such things. Now I think: ‘So what?  I don’t care. They’ll move on.’”

There are upsides for people like Amaliah Fitriah, 40, (left) who is working towards a doctorate in development studies.  She brought her husband Rudi Kurniawan and two daughters on her NZ scholarship.

“Overseas studying has changed the way we live,” she said. “Now we have time for quality family life. In Jakarta Rudi and I saw our children briefly as we rushed to work early and came back home late and tired.

“In NZ we are much closer.  We employed a maid in Indonesia; here my husband shares the housekeeping and child rearing.  He’s an engineer but in NZ his qualifications aren’t recognized so works part-time in a supermarket.  I’m so lucky to have such a supportive man.”

Kenny and his colleagues hanker for Indonesian food. For international relations student Fachrul Sugiyanto, 21, from Garut in West Java, the need is halal ingredients.  He plans to work for the United Nations or a non-government organization.

Most miss their friends and families and shiver more than they sweat in the cool climate.  Not all are in a rush to return home after graduation.

Klara Dalay, 20, will eventually be a nurse; her qualifications should help her don a white uniform in most Commonwealth countries and the Middle East.

“I want to work in NZ for the next couple of years and see where it goes,” she said.  “I’m not intending to go back to Indonesia for now.”

Angela Roswita Hartono, 22, also from Jakarta, hopes to get into a NZ –based food manufacturing company.  She’s bought a car, useful in a country where public transport is limited.  Her parents were against her studying in the US because of that nation’s gun culture.

“If your ultimate goal is to get a job here then the NZ government’s skills shortage list [published on the Internet] is a good place to start,” she said. 

Most Indonesians are studying at Massey University; it was founded in 1927 and has a purpose built mosque.  Its main campus is in Palmerston North.

This is a city of 80,000 two hours drive north of Wellington, the NZ capital; it’s the center of rich farmland served by the Manawatu River and an education hub with students from around the world.

At least 80 are Indonesians.  They’ve formed an association to maintain their culture and help new arrivals. 

Of the six who spoke to The Jakarta Post, five have part-time jobs even though NZ has a 5.8 per cent unemployment rate, higher in rural areas.

The work they’ve found has seldom been in the professional fields they’re destined to enter.  They serve in restaurants or do menial retail jobs. Shops close around 5 pm – an annoyance for Asians used to unregulated trading hours, but a boon for staff keen to have an outside life beyond labor. 

The minimum wage is NZ$ 14 [Rp 125,000] an hour, less tax of 10.5 per cent.  “With that amount of salary students can cover their needs,” said Kenny. He wants to teach English, though doesn’t know where.

“We can trust the police because they are usually honest and cannot be bribed. We can sue our employers if they pay below the minimum rate.”

The students said the Indonesian system of school leavers going direct from classroom to campus is flawed because many were immature and uncertain about career possibilities. 

NZ high school graduates often take a gap year, locally known as OE [overseas experience] before returning to learning with a wider knowledge of the world and a sense of direction.

However Bali-born Komang [Anita] Andriani, 21, knows where she’s going once she graduates in international business studies.

“I want to move to the big cities like Wellington or Auckland and find a job in a bank or insurance company,” she said.  “Later I can set up an on-line clothing shop in NZ.”

Amaliah will be heading for Jakarta when she graduates in 2017 to pick up her career with the Ministry of Education and Culture. 

Like other professionals she knows that’s not always easy. Jealous stay-at-homes can block prospects for the glamorous returnees with their higher skills and smart ideas.  Indonesian wages will be much lower and commuting stressful.

Scientists who rely on high-tech equipment may find the gear they used in NZ isn’t always available back in their old labs.

A particular concern is fitting back into Indonesia’s hierarchical status system after experiencing NZ egalitarianism.

“I experienced some culture shock, such as how straightforward Kiwis are to each other,” Amaliah said. 

“Indonesians tend to be more subtle.  Students here call senior lecturers by their first names, while in Indonesia we use honorifics like Sir and Madam.”

All urged others to travel to learn.  Because Massey is multicultural the Indonesians say they’ve formed bonds with people from countries apart from Kiwis.

“Studying overseas has forced me to be more independent and responsible,” said Klara. “I know I’ve grown so much as a person.”  Added Anita:  “Knowledge is your other passport to the world.”


(First published in The Jakarta Post 14 September 2015)

Sunday, September 13, 2015


No faith in figures                                                  Duncan Graham / Lumajang

Hinduism is the fourth largest official religion in Indonesia with more than 4 million adherents, according to the census.  But those who practise the faith of the Majapahit dynasty  claim double that number.  Data juggling – or a seer’s predicted resurgence?
The headscarves worn by goat-milk distributor Novi and her five sightseeing friends wandering the temple courtyard made one thing clear: The women were not at the East Java Mandara Giri Semeru Agung complex to worship.
“We’ve just tourists and have come to look,” she said.  “We’re curious. We are Muslims, but that’s no problem. Why should there be?”
Indeed.  The women just walked through the unguarded red brick candi bentar [split gate] and started smartphone snapping, unaware the interfaith situation hasn’t always been so relaxed.  According to cultural anthropologist Martin Ramstedt in the 1950s the Indonesian government declared the Hindu Balinese as ‘people still without religion’ and ‘targets for Muslim and Christian proselytizing.’
Yet a decade earlier Hinduism had been recognized in the foundation of Indonesia. The national emblem features the Garuda, a mythical bird-beast that carried Lord Vishnu, one of the religion’s three supreme deities.
Indonesian law requires citizens to be monotheistic, while traditional Hindus worship many gods. The impasse ended when a translation of Hindu scriptures settled on the term ‘undivided one’ as essence of the belief.
Despite this it was not until 1962 that Hinduism officially joined Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism and Buddhism as an approved religion.   [Confucianism was de-listed in 1978 and reinstated in 2000.]
Mandara Giri is the center for Hindus in East Java.  It was built in the village of Senduro on the eastern slope of Mount Semeru and opened in 1992. There’s nothing secretive - it’s a massive construction that looms over the main street
“There are at least 7,500 Hindus just in and around Lumajang [the closest city],” said Ngatemin, a juru mangku [temple priest].  “They worship here though most come from Bali.  On holy days and on full moon nights hundreds participate.”
Even during normal weekdays car loads of pilgrims come to pray before a shrine so weathered it looks authentically ancient; at the bottom is a giant turtle – at the top an image of Acintya, the supreme god of Indonesian Hinduism.  The Sanskrit word translates as ‘the inconceivable one.’
Families dressed in white sit together on the grass before a small pavilion where the priest rang a bell and chanted prayers. Flower and food offerings were made.
Hinduism probably arrived in Java about 1,900 years ago. Until the 16th century it dominated the island though often mixed with Buddhism and local traditional beliefs.
Islam appeared in the 13th century and spread rapidly, often through the faith change of a feudal ruler like Madura’s Sultan Pragalbo.  He switched to Islam on his deathbed in 1531 so his subjects had to dump their own beliefs.
Islam is now Indonesia’s major faith though legally the Republic is secular; there are more Muslims here than any other nation, and more than all the Middle East countries combined.
According to government census figures only 1.7 per cent of the population is registered as Hindu.  That’s about 4.25 million.  Most live in Bali.
Like other minorities, Hindus dispute these figures.  They allege the discrepancy is because Islam is the default religion used by officials when confused or indifferent citizens are registered.  Finding a factual figure is next to impossible.
Said Wayan Swardhani Wiraswastiningrum, a Brawijaya University cultural studies lecturer:  “It’s important to understand that there are two groups of Hindus; the Bali Aga, or original Balinese people, and the Javanese Hindus, descendants of the Majapahit kingdom.
“Some of the Bali Aga descendants have moved to Java and of course they want to practise their faith.”
Losing faith
It’s one of Indonesia’s many great mysteries:  Why and how did a religion that once flourished widely almost disappear – and so rapidly?
The obvious answer is a war with the losers fleeing, but historian Wayan Legawa, father of Wayan Swardhani Wiraswastiningrum, disagrees.
“There was no clash, no battle between Islam and Hinduism,” said the Malang State University academic.  “The exodus to Bali was more political.  It involved disputes in the royal family of the Majapahit kingdom centered on Trowulan in East Java.
“Some of the priests went further east as the families fractured and the people followed.  They included the descendants of the ancient households, like the Tenggerese now farming the slopes of Mount Bromo.”
The Tenggerese population is reported to be about 600,000, though some have converted to Islam and Christianity.
Not all made it across the Bali Strait. The Osing people in Banyuwangi on the far south-east coast of Java also claim Majapahit ancestry.  The population is around 400,000 though not all are Hindu.
A supporting theory is that the decline of Hinduism and Java’s Golden Age began after the 1364 death of the Majapahit Prime Minister Gadjah Mada.  His Machiavellian political and military skills helped the empire conquer and control the archipelago across to Timor, and lands beyond Java, into present day Malaysia and the Southern Philippines.
Once Gadjah Mada’s funeral pyre had cooled civil wars weakened the kingdom allowing vassal states to recover their independence and embrace a new religion.
Dr Wayan believes there are around eight million Hindus in Indonesia.  Outside Bali most live in East Java. 
“The position of Hindus in Indonesian society is that there’s been little change socially, though in dealings with authorities the situation has improved,” he said.
 “Relationships between the faiths deteriorated after 1974 when the Soeharto government banned mixed-faith marriages. That’s still in place and it has affected all religions.”
On the way back?           
This is the question that’s usually whispered rather than shouted such is its potency: Is Hinduism on the way back? 
The 12th century Javanese soothsayer Joyoboyo predicted a return; if it’s underway the pace is pedestrian and the evidence patchy.  Measured against the strides of Islam and Christianity, Hinduism seems almost stationary.
Even if eight million  is accepted that’s still below five per cent of the Muslim population.
Outside Bali the world’s third most followed religion has its best toehold in East Java with shrines, temples and primary schools in places like Gresik, Kediri and Surabaya.  Santika Dharma, a small high school opened five years ago in the forest outside Malang.  It caters for around 120 students and is still the only one in Java.
Principal Ketut Sudhiartha, said getting building permission had taken a long time though few people lived nearby.  The school is close to the well-hidden Pura [shrine] Luhur Dwijawarsa on the western side of Semeru, the highest mountain in Java and an important spiritual landmark.
Luhur Dwijawarsa was built during the late 1950s. It was hit by arsonists following the 1998 fall of President Soeharto. At the time churches were also burned.  Outhouses were destroyed but the community has rebuilt and  not pursued action, preferring to let the issue drop for the sake of religious harmony.
After Majapahit’s collapse temples like the world-famous 9th century complex at Prambanan in Central Java, and the 12th century Penataran in East Java, fell into disrepair.  They were looted and overgrown till rediscovered in the 19th century.
Not all old temples are suitable as many have become tourist sites, so Hindus have been building new. In 2006 a temple 11-meters high, claimed to be the tallest in Java, was opened in the village of Karangpandan near Malang, in an area where most follow Islam and mosques are common. 
A Hindu primary school runs behind the temple.  Kampung Topeng, the village next door, is the center of East Java’s mask dancing and carving – a tradition which pre-dates the arrival of Hinduism.  If there is fundamentalism and hostility to pluralism it’s not evident here.

(First published in The Jakarta Post Sunday 13 September 2015)

Sunday, September 06, 2015


Getting rich, getting burned: Playing with our heritage                            

At first glance they look like models of the fearsome Viking longships, though minus the sails and oarsmen. 
Or maybe a Maori waka the huge war canoes that carried skilled navigators across the South Pacific to make a new home in Aotearoa – which is now New Zealand
But what have Norse raiders who invaded and plundered Northern Europe 1,100 years ago, and Polynesians of about the same era got to do with the world’s largest archipelago?
Step closer to the sideboard and be rewarded.
Dakon boards are impressive artefacts and works of art, much loved by modern home designers keen to add a touch of local culture to their minimalist décor.  They are not boats but ancient games that many Indonesians raised before smart phones knew well.
A dakon board is usually a long and substantial hunk of carved hardwood with two parallel sets of holes or cups gouged along the top.  These hold small cowrie shells or seeds, often tamarind, though anything small and smooth will do. 
The finest are made by backyard craftsmen, though smaller mass-produced portable fold-up versions are now being sold in gift shops.

The idea of playing the game by ‘sowing’ the seeds [See Breakout] and acquiring storehouses suggests links with agriculture, maybe a diversion when it was too hot to work the fields.
The game is not exclusive to Indonesia and may have come from North Africa where archaeological evidence goes back to the sixth century AD. There are records of similar games in Europe but it seems they were not as popular as chess, which probably originated in India about the same time.
Other names are sungka [Philippines] and congkak [Malaysia].  Scientists, who like to classify everything, have labelled dakon as a mancala game after the Arabic word naqala, meaning ‘to move’.  The easiest definition is that dakon is a ‘count-and-capture’ game.

Some dakon boards are plain and functional, but many have been elaborately carved and painted to show off their splendid lines and Janus-like heads of birds or dragons.  In some versions, like those from Madura, the heads can be removed and turned around.

 The late Dutch curator Jan Thomassen à Thuessink van der Hoop, an authority on Indonesian design, suggested some figures represent the Panakawan, the comic characters in Javanese wayang [shadow puppetry].

  Because of their weight and dimensions dakon boards fit just fine on the top of a buffet where they’ll become the talking point to impress guests.  They are not associated with black magic or religious rites so there’s no chance of causing offence.

 “There’s a long and complex provenance here that’s firmly rooted in Southeast Asia and Indonesia in particular,” said cultural analyst Ismail Lutfi, a senior lecturer in history at Malang State University.

“I learned to play dakon as a very small child when I grew up in the small village of Klaten in Central Java, not far from the kraton [royal palaces] of Yogyakarta and Solo.
“My strong assumption is that the game was played by the nobles’ children and then passed on to the ordinary people.  If they didn’t have a dakon board they improvised by using floor tiles or just scratched out a pattern in the dirt. There are references to the game in Sir Stamford Raffles’ The History of Java.
“The game was also played by diplomats; because many knew a version they had something in common with their foreign counterparts.  This helped establish relationships.
“It was a common pastime which provided a wealth of learning.  Dakon which is also known in Java as dhakon and congkak [or congklak] teaches mathematics, the logic of strategy, morality and self-control.  It’s also about the consequences of cheating.”
Lutfi said that in the past parents and other adults in the family used dakon to train children to manage their lives so they could enjoy prosperity.  It could also be seen as a war game with the opponent as an enemy who had to be overcome.
“This is why words like bedil [rifle] are used when you destroy an opponent’s seeds,” he said.
“Anyone who thinks this is a kids’ game, or just something for the girls, is sadly mistaken.  This is part of our intangible heritage.”

How to play

Normally two people play, usually facing each other  either side of the board which may have up to nine holes, or cups on either side.  These are often called anak [child] with a larger one at either end known as Ibu [mother].  These are the storehouses.
The plan is to fill your storehouse with more seeds than your rival.
Seven seeds or shells are placed in each anak, though five may be used on smaller boards. One gamer starts by scooping up the contents from an anak and dropping them one-by-one in each cup and the player’s own storehouse.
The distribution includes the opponent’s anak though not their storehouse. The players work their way clockwise around the board.
The idea is to get the last seed to drop into your storehouse.  This entitles you to keep going by recharging your hand from another one of your anak.
However if the last seed drops into an empty anak the player is entitled to seize his or her opponents’ seeds from the cup opposite and drop them into their own storehouse. Then it’s the other person’s turn to play.
A seedless anak gets ‘burned’, or as some say in East Java, ‘shot’ and is out of play.
Winners have good memories, can calculate the number of seeds accumulated in any anak and know where they’ll be dropped. Modern economists call this ‘forward planning’ and ‘resource conservation’.
There are You Tube clips on the Internet of children explaining the game. Some are more confusing than others.
A video game developer in South Kalimantan has a dakon app which can be used on android devices.  There’s a free version and another which costs Rp 12,600 [US$ 1.0].  Reviews have been mixed.

First published in J-Plus, The Jakarta Post 6 September 2015

Sunday, August 30, 2015


BTW – Ten top things to love about Indonesia

Checked a listicle recently?  Grab one while you can. By the time this newspaper is lining the floor of a turtledove’s cage, listicle will be as yesterday as ‘twattle’, the splendid 17th century synonym for gossip.
Don’t know the word? It’s not a bodily gland as you might think.  The Oxford English Dictionary says listicle is ‘an article on the Internet presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list’.
That’s incomplete.  The missing line should read: ‘Designed for those with limited attention span who prefer brevity to substance’.
But what’s the point of protest?  If you can’t beat ‘em, join up.  Here’s my Top Ten:
Angkutan.  Public transport gets a bad press because many busses and bemo [minivans] are battered and crowded.  However the drivers want passengers and will hit the brakes the moment a pedestrian looks weary, even when the vehicle’s full.  Try hailing a bus between scheduled stops or catching a cab off its rank in over-regulated Western cities – you’ll still be standing in the rain a twelvemonth hence.
Facilitation payments. Not to be confused with bribes which all agree are morally and legally wrong. FPs, also known as expediters, are good value – Rp 50,000 [US$3.70] to ensure a document gets to the top of the in tray and processed tomorrow.  Better than waiting the 20 business days common where the bureaucracy is clean, but so rule-bound constipation is an occupational hazard.
Water in lavatories. The use of slang air [water pipe] is more hygienic and efficient than Western toilet paper.  It also conserves forests that might otherwise be pulped. However the drought could create a messy situation.
No renovation regulations. There are – but seem to be overlooked.  Which means home improvers can rip out walls, add extra storeys and do whatever they like - apart from build a place of worship different from the neighbors’ faith.  Safety tip for non civil engineers [uncivil engineers?]: Google ‘load bearing beams in earthquake zones’ before starting work.
Coffee. My grandfather always called the black beverage ‘Java’ and I now know why. Where else can you drink such magnificent coffee – and I don’t mean the stuff advertised on TV, but the Java served in Java village roadside stalls.
Mosque timekeeping.  Curmudgeonly non-Muslims complain that calls to prayer are an annoyance when they’re really a benefit.  No need for a clock on the wall consuming nine-volt batteries when there’s a free timekeeper with a 10,000-watt sound system.  Want a wake up call or reminder that it’s bedtime and guests should go?  Other nations label this noise pollution, but in Indonesia the pious keep our days in order, spiritually and practically.

Security.  With nosey neighbors a thief’s chances of success are zero.  Should one slip past the night watchman he’d never escape the tut-tutting matrons sweeping the sidewalk with brooms and eyes sharper than closed circuit TV.  Any disturbance in our street after 9 pm comes from caterwauling, not cat burglars.
Sex education.  To be frank [instead of Duncan], I’d be happy if someone would silence the lusty Toms’ nocturnal naughtiness.  The upside is that their activities train toddlers in the facts of life. The randy roosters provide the same service as they harass their harems, kings of the kampong.  Western kids have to wait till they can use the Internet to learn of life’s raw realities.
Kaki Lima. Mosques share the soundscape. Mobile kitchens clack brakes, bang gongs and honk horns to promote their menus. Why spend hours queuing for the right spices, translate an oil-stained Javanese cookbook and slave over a hot stove when the authentic taste will pedal up to your front gate?  Food poisoning?  The more streetfare consumed the tougher your stomach’s resistance to other bugs. Immunisation without injection.  Begone, Big Pharma.
 Motorbikes.  What other nation can boast that its highways are more heavily congested than those in the Republic? ‘You don’t see traffic like this where I come from,’ moan the ignorant expats.  Motorbikes are a blessing, not a curse. If these commuters weren’t using two wheel transports they’d be sitting in cars taking up to five times the space.  Now that would be gridlock. Duncan Graham

(First published in The Jakarta Post 30 August 2015)