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Breaking the Silence: Survivors Speak about 1965–66 Violence in Indonesia

Chapter 2


Beny

The search for healing

The two years of bloodshed involving their father Beny, took place before his children were born. Even before Beny married Sara. And the history lessons the children got at school were totally silent about the dark side of this nation’s history in which their father had been involved. The film Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (‘Treachery of the Communist Party 30th September Movement’) which the government required to be shown every year on September 30th and which all primary school children had to watch, certainly did not tell the real facts.

Conversations about these events began only when Beny’s oldest daughter asked her father to talk about this part of his life. Unlike her brothers and sisters, Maria had the opportunity to read some books that discussed the 1965 Tragedy from the perspective of the victims. In the beginning, she found it difficult to talk about these things with her father. She wondered whether he would want to talk, and if he did, whether she herself was ready to face his story and his role as a perpetrator.

But Maria grew to understand that it was only through confronting the wounds of the past that someone can be truly healed of their psychological scars. The healing of the nation has to start with the healing of families and society in small groups, which can widen over time. This is difficult to achieve, but if successful, it will contribute to the nation’s healing from the wounds of its cruel past. Her father’s history is part of the nation’s history. And this same history shapes who he is today. Maria felt the need to make peace with this history, no matter how black it is. She was also aware that real peace comes only when the truth is revealed, no matter how bitter it is.

Beny tells his story

Maria made an appointment with her father. On a public holiday, she went to his house. He lived about 200 kilometres from the city of Kupang, the capital of the province of NTT (Nusa Tenggara Timur, Eastern Indonesia), where he lives and works. It took Maria about four hours to get there. She left early in the morning. When she arrived, it was nearly lunch time. Ravenous, she ate the food her father’s step children had prepared. Maria’s mother had died three years previously.

After lunch, Maria explained to her father why she wanted to talk to him. Initially, she thought that he would object to talking about his involvement as a perpetrator in the violent events of 1965–1966. But he did not refuse to speak about this sensitive issue.

When they started chatting, Beny seemed nervous. Maria was nervous too. They were sitting in the sitting room. To ease the situation, Maria began to ask questions about Beny’s childhood. Soon Beny became more relaxed and began to chat casually about his childhood on the island of Alor. He also talked about his schooling before he entered the police force.

Beny was born around 1942 in the interior of Alor Island, Eastern Indonesia, the son of a village head. He himself is not sure that 1942 is the year of his birth.

Back then, it was not common to write down the year of birth. But I was probably born earlier than this, because when the Japanese invaded Alor (1942) I was already aware of it. I was maybe around seven at the time. I can still remember running to hide because we were afraid of the Japanese planes.

But for some reason, on his birth certificate and official documents, the year is written as 1942.

The island of Alor is known as the ‘kenari’ (canaga) island, because it has so many kenari nut trees. The nuts are dried and eaten with pounded dried corn that is dry-roasted.

Beny remembers his childhood in the kampung there well. Their life was very simple. He spent his days playing with his siblings and cousins. They would make swings from vines that hung from the banyan trees. Sometimes they made a lot of noise and annoyed the neighbours. One day, the vine holding the swing broke while they were playing. Beny and his cousin Bastian fell. They sobbed loudly. ‘It seems that one of my uncles was mad because we used to make a lot of noise near his house. So he deliberately sabotaged the vine so we would fall and stop playing here’, Beny said.

Their kampung was up on a hill, about four kilometres from the coast. The entire kampung was enclosed with a cactus fence, to deter enemy attacks. Before Beny was born there were many fights between tribal groups. This was why the elders planted the cactus fence.

Beny remembers how they used to go looking for meting shells on the beach at low tide. Usually they went with their mothers and other women. Work was determined according to gender and the women had to look for small items of food on the beach. Going to the beach was always fun. Beny could run around with his friends to his heart’s content.

His father and the men farmed. They planted corn, sweet potatoes and yams. The basic foodstuff was corn. Even though Beny’s kampung had rocky soil, there were some places where plants could grow well. Apart from farming, the men also liked to set traps called ‘bubuh’ – baskets made of bamboo – at the beach, to trap fish. Many fish could be caught this way and brought home for family meals.

Apart from farming and fishing, the men also liked hunting with bows and arrows. The most common animals they hunted were deer and wild boar. When they went hunting, the men took along their pet dogs. They always divided what they caught on the hunt with everyone in the kampung. ‘Whenever the men came back from hunting, it was like a party. Everyone was happy with the meat from the hunt.’ The men would talk about their experience hunting. The women would chat away while cooking. The children would enjoy meat they roasted themselves, having rubbed it first with salt.

Apart from cooking and taking care of the home, the women also worked in the gardens, particularly at planting and weeding times for the corn, beans and peanuts. Apart from that, they also did weaving and wickerwork with lontar leaves. Their weaving and wickerwork was mainly for their own use, but they also sold it at the Sunday market, or exchanged it for other daily necessities with people from other kampung who they met at the market.

Back then, polygamy was common in Beny’s kampung. His father, who was head of the kampung, had seven wives. Beny’s mother had only one child, namely Beny. But from his step-mothers, Beny had many step-brothers and sisters, and in his family upbringing there was no distinction made between them. He considered all of his father’s wives his mothers. But sometimes there was jealousy between his father’s wives. Beny still remembers his own mother once left the house for months and went to her uncle’s place because she felt her husband had unfairly treated her.

In 1947, Beny’s mother died of stomach problems. She had difficulties with her digestion and bowel. Beny was about five years old then. He remembers his mother as slim, with clear skin and a mole near her nose. She didn’t talk much, but she could certainly complain if something offended her. His mother’s name was Makit, which in the local language means bitterness. When she converted to Christianity, her name was changed to Maria. Having two names, a local name and a Christian name, was normal back then. It was like having two identities at once: a cultural identity and a religious one.

Education and work

From the age of six, Beny attended the Sunday school which was run in their village. The children learnt Christian hymns and listened to Bible stories. They were also taught the alphabet. When he was seven, Beny started primary school at the next kampung, which was 12 kilometres away.

At seven years old I started real school. It was a long way away from my kampung. So I had to board, the Dutch word for that was internat. I couldn’t stand it. The teacher was nasty. If we were late coming back from our home kampung at the beginning of the week, we were beaten. After just six months boarding, I decided to quit school.

One of his older step-brothers, Christian, was already a teacher in the town of Kalabahi. So he came to pick up Beny and took him to live with him. Beny spent six months there, learning the Indonesian language. In 1950, when he was about eight, his brother took Beny with him when he moved to Kupang. He wanted to give up teaching. He had registered for the air force (AURI) and been accepted.

In Kupang, Beny went to primary school and on to junior high school, graduating in 1958. Then he went to senior high school there. But after only two years in senior high school, a job opportunity opened up in the provincial office of the Directorate of Social Work. Beny decided to stop school and work as a civil servant. After two years in the Kupang office, he was moved to Alor to work in the branch there.

After just one year working back in his birthplace, Beny heard an announcement that there were openings for applications to join the police force.

I was excited about joining the police, because I really liked their uniform. And what’s more, they got the uniform for free. As a civil servant, I had to buy my own uniform.

After taking some tests in Alor and passing, Beny returned to Kupang for six months’ training to become a police officer. There were 240 people in the course. The policy was that only the top 100 in the course would be placed in Timor. The rest would get placements outside of Timor (like Alor, Sumba, Flores and so on). Beny passed as number 70, and so got a placement in Timor.

The murdered

When the topic of conversation between Maria and her father turned to the violence of 1965–1966, the mood started to change. There were long periods when Beny remained quiet. In the beginning, Beny remained convinced that the killings of ‘members’ of the Communist Party was something that had to be done, and was right. But then he grew unsure. Were the killings right?

He spoke as though the events had happened just yesterday. In 1965, he had been in the police force in the small town for only a year. The year before, in 1964, he finished his training at the State Police College (Sekolah Polisi Negara, SPN) in Kupang, and was placed in SoE, a small town 100 kilometres to the east of Kupang. He was still young at the time. Just 22 years old.

Beny was fortunate. His experience as a civil servant in the Directorate of Social Affairs led to him being selected to work as staff in the criminal investigation section. Here was someone who had never completed high school because he couldn’t afford it, yet his superiors had entrusted him with this position. In those days, it was not as difficult as it is now to join the police force. You did not have to have finished high school, and you did not have to bribe your way in.

He felt smart in his uniform. Being a policeman was something to be proud of. But the mass murders of people accused of being members of the Communist Party which took place over two years (from January 1966 until the end of 1967) in which he was involved made him ask – are the police really the protectors of the people?

I wanted to become a policeman first of all because of that smart uniform. But it wasn’t just the uniform. The uniform allowed me to protect people who were weak and who stood up for what is right. But experiencing that two years of bloodshed, of people being killed without trial, made me ask – is it true that the police uphold what’s right?

In the district (kabupaten) where Beny worked, he calculates that hundreds of people were murdered. He spoke about it hesitatingly.

Over the whole kabupaten, there were around 700 people killed. During the first phase, when the order came from Jakarta, there were no interrogations at all. People who had been imprisoned for all kinds of reasons like theft, fighting and murder were all ‘cleansed’. Anyone held in police jails was killed. And none of them had any connection whatsoever to the Communist Party. The army that had come in from Kupang gave the orders to kill all the prisoners in SoE prisons without exception. When their wives or families came to visit the next day, those people just weren’t there anymore. We told them that their husbands had been moved to Sukabumi. When they heard this they passed out, because they knew their husbands had been killed.

It was only in the second and third phases that there were interrogations to find out whether a person was really a member of the Communist Party or affiliated with it or not. Anyone listed as a member of the Indonesian Peasants Front (Barisan Tani Indonesia, BTI) or the Institute for People’s Culture (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat, Lekra) was arrested and killed. Most of the victims came from the towns of SoE and Bena in Amanuban Selatan.

Beny still remembers the sites of the executions: Cendana forest near the town of SoE; Nunumeu, which is now the general cemetery of the town; the Nonohonis River on the road leading to Kapan; Nasimetan forest near Oelbubuk; Kobe Haumeni near Niki-niki; and a place on the road leading to the village of Bele near Oinlasi. He also heard that victims who had been arrested and held in Kupang were executed near Camplong, a village around 40 kilometres to the east of Kupang. People still consider these places haunted to this day. Many people do not dare to plant things there. Sometimes people living nearby hear screams in the middle of the night in these places.

That period was utterly terrifying. Everyone was gripped with fear. The army went around fully armed. Army vehicles circled every corner of the town. Almost every night there were gunshots. The murder of seven generals at Lubang Buaya in Jakarta, which was blamed on the Communist Party, became the pretext to arrest anyone considered to be a member of the Communist Party or a member of one of the party’s affiliated organisations, and to murder them.

List of aid recipients

One reason why people were attracted to the Communist Party and its umbrella organisations was because of the Party’s concern for the people’s suffering. At the time, the island of Timor was suffering a terrible drought. For two years there had been minimal rainfall. The farmers were experiencing not only a failed harvest, but a failed planting season as well.

There was virtually no rain whatsoever. The price of rice and corn skyrocketed. Everywhere, people were hungry. At the time, it was the Communist Party and the Indonesian Peasant’s Front (BTI) that were distributing corn, rice, sugar and clothing to the people. They also distributed farming tools like hoes and spades. The women were given thread to weave cloth. As they were hungry, the people gladly accepted this offer without knowing or caring about any party ideology.

Actually the Communist Party was not the only one distributing aid at the time. The churches in Timor were also distributing food that had been donated by fellow churches abroad. The synod leaders of the GMIT (Gereja Masehi Injil Timor, The Evangelical Christian Church in Timor) for instance went around in a truck distributing rice to hungry members of their congregations.

However, for the Communist Party, their officials drew up a list of all those who had received aid. Village officials had those lists too. When the Communist Party was being wiped out, those lists were used to arrest the people who had received aid. Even though not officially registered as Communist Party members, people who had received aid were now considered as being involved in the terrible deeds attributed to the Communist Party. Until today, this is why Timorese are traumatised about being members of cooperatives. That experience was a painful one indeed. Knowing nothing at all, people who had received aid were connected to the Communist Party and lost their lives for it.

The killings were at the order of Soeharto

Beny understood that the killings were at the order of Soeharto to wipe out the Communist Party. People had to be convinced that the Party was dangerous. The period just before the massacres was extremely tense. Communist Party figures had been instigating rebellion against the government and local aristocracy. They criticised the pattern of land ownership that benefitted the pah tuaf (Timorese for kampung owners, here meaning landlords) in society, and they campaigned for land reform. It was said that members of the Indonesian Peasants Front (BTI) were instigating rebellion. And the word was that they had already dug mass graves and planned to kill the police, the army, and the bupati (mayor).

Beny himself was unsure about the truth of these rumours: How could the Communist Party attack when they had absolutely no weapons? But he remained convinced that the communists were extremely dangerous. The proof was that they managed to murder seven generals in Jakarta.

Soeharto ordered us to kill those communists. The local police chief passed that order on to us. At the time, no one dared question the truth of the story. Even to utter a word of comfort to the victims was to seen to be sympathising with the communists and you could be killed for it.

Maria and her father spoke for hours through into the night. Maria took her leave. The next day she had things to do. They agreed that Beny would continue with his story when he came to Kupang.

‘I almost went crazy’

Their second conversation took place when Beny went to Kupang for a health check-up. Luckily, it was a holiday. Maria had arranged all her appointments to be shifted to other days. She wanted to concentrate on the next installment of her conversation with her father.

They sat in the small room for receiving guests in Maria’s home. It was still very early. Rina, Maria’s daughter, joined them during the conversation. Maria’s husband was out of town on a work assignment. The city of Kupang, known for its heat, was cool that morning. Beny was wearing casual clothes, a sleeveless t-shirt and shorts. He could never stand the heat in Kupang. The small town where he lives now is cool, as it is in the interior of Timor. He prefers to live there. Beny was no longer nervous. But he did stop a few times when he was talking about his extremely intense experiences with violence and killing at that time.

Beny was one of a few executioners who did the shooting. Usually, people suspected of being members of the Communist Party were picked up from their houses and detained. Then the army decided when it was their turn to be killed. The army came from Kupang. Usually they came by truck. There would be about thirty of them, one platoon. They came from all over Indonesia, but the majority of them were Javanese.

The prisoners were ordered to dig their own graves during the day. The shooting usually took place at night. Before they were taken to the execution site, they were beaten black and blue, then their hands were bound and they were ordered onto a truck. When they got to the execution site, they were blindfolded and ordered to stand with their backs to the grave, facing the firing squad. Then they were shot. If some were still alive after being shot, they would be bayoneted. Then they were pushed into the hole. After that, the hole would be covered up and the firing squad would leave the site. The members of the firing squads were given quotas. There was one quota for army, and there was one for the police. ‘We were not paid for this. They told us it was part of our duty defending the country.’ Most of the people they shot they did not know personally. But Beny wrestled with his inner feelings.

They told us these people did not know God because of their communist ideology. But the reality was not like this. Some of them were pious. Perhaps it was fear of death that made them pious. This can happen. But in the depths of my heart I knew that most of these people had done no wrong.

According to Beny’s calculation, he himself killed 17 people. Just imagine – 17 lives. He tried to tell himself that he was only carrying out orders, but deep inside Beny felt accused. ‘I did not feel safe. No matter what, I had killed people’, Beny said, his voice cracking. His eyes welled up with tears.

His internal conflict between the requirement to carry out his duty and his doubt that these killings were right later caused Beny mental illness. Following the almost two-year-long series of killings in which he was involved, Beny suffered trauma. It made him ‘hot headed’. He was easily angered. He was known among his friends as bad. He would easily flare up in anger and beat his friends black and blue. He was even involved in a shoot-out with one of his friends in the police hostel. But Beny was not the only one to suffer in this way. One of his friends, Bertasar from Flores, ended up with serious mental health problems and had to leave the police force.

Cooling rites

In 1968 Beny was moved to a town 20 kilometers east of SoE. There he worked on getting to know his fiancée, Sara. He had fallen in love with Sara, who was an orphan and, like him, a church activist. Beny was elected to the synod council. Sara was the Sunday school teacher. After a friendship of a few months, they decided to get engaged in 1969. Once they were married, Sara soon saw Beny’s hot temper. Small things caused his anger to flare up. And it was not only Sara who was the target. People who went to the police station were also the butt of his anger.

On one occasion, Fia, Beny’s sister-in-law, came to visit. She saw Beny hitting Sara. Fila told Sara:

One of these days he will kill you, Sara, if his temper remains hot like this. Beny needs a cooling rite for his blood and temper which are hot because of the blood of those he has killed.

Fia had a relative in Kupang who was known as a person with ‘special powers’ and could perform this rite. So Beny agreed to it. Soon after, Beny and Sara went to Kupang.

They took me to the Liliba River. They had bought a dog. The dog was slaughtered and they ordered me to drink a little of its blood. Then they made the sign of the cross with its blood on my forehead. The purpose was to cool down the hot blood in my body. The rest of the dog’s blood was cast into the river. This was to cast off everything hot into the river current. After that, we took the dog meat home, it was cooked and we ate it together.

While they were carrying out this rite, Beny seemed to see the victims’ faces. ‘I remembered them. After all they were people, not animals. And we had killed them.’

Even though this rite had been performed, Sara was still worried. Beny was not as bad as he had been, but still he could sometimes get extremely angry and attack violently. So when they moved back to SoE in 1969, Sara asked a deacon who was also her friend, Yuli, to pray over Beny. Yuli said that Beny needed the blood of Jesus, not the blood of a dog. So Sara persuaded Beny to agree. Beny was told to sit, and Yuli put her hands holding the Bible on Beny’s forehead while praying for him. After that, Beny was at peace with himself.

After those prayers I felt safer. I offered my wickedness to Jesus. Before Him, I could not hide all the things I had done over those two bloody years. I also could not hide the fear in my heart. It was the forgiveness of Jesus that enabled me to make peace with myself.

‘God shut my womb’

Three years after their marriage, Beny and Sara still had not been blessed with a child. Sara had been pregnant three times, but each pregnancy ended in miscarriage. They asked God why this was so. Some deacons, including Sara’s friend Yuli, advised them to sincerely ask God’s forgiveness for Beny’s involvement in the murder of hundreds of people in Timor. ‘God has closed your womb because of the killings your husband did’, one of the deacons told Sara.

So Sara and Beny decided to ask for God’s forgiveness and grace by praying in the church together every night at midnight. They told the pastor and watchman that they needed a key to the building. Late at night, husband and wife would kneel together at the foot of the pulpit and pray for hours asking God’s forgiveness for the blood that had flowed at Beny’s hands.

They also prayed for Sara’s womb to be cooled to receive the life of God through His grace. They even promised God that, like Samuel’s wife Hannah in the Bible (1 Samuel 1:9-11), if God blessed them with a child, the firstborn would be offered to serve God in the church as a pastor.

In 1972, more than three years after our marriage, our first child, a daughter, was born. To me, her birth was the sign that God had forgiven me. She was the child vowed to God. We offered her to God, and I prayed that God would accept our offering. In 1997, when our eldest daughter was ordained as a minister, I knew God had accepted my offering.

Apart from their daughter who became a minister, Beny and Sara were blessed with six other children. All of them, except the youngest, are now working and have families of their own.

Threats from victims’ families

In 1990, Beny retired from the police force. He had spent his entire time of service in Timor. So, with his wife and children, he decided to spend his retirement years in an area of Timor where he had spent most of his working life. Using their savings, Sara and Beny built a house for their retirement. A few years earlier, Sara explained, she had taken the initiative to open a small kiosk near their house ‘to help out with the costs of educating the children’. At the kiosk they sold daily necessities. After he retired, Beny helped out there. Sara travelled back and forth to SoE and Kupang to buy stock. She even went to Java twice a year to buy things. So Beny took turns minding the kiosk together with their children.

On one occasion, two years after Beny’s retirement, when he was in the kiosk with one of his sons, a middle-aged man arrived on horseback wielding a sword. After he got off his horse, he pointed at Beny, angry, and shouted: ‘You were the one who killed my relatives.’ Beny was scared. Luckily Beny’s kiosk was close to the police station. He immediately reported this threat to the police on duty. But before the police got there, the man had gone.

The bloody events of more than 40 years ago traumatised Beny not only because of his inner guilt that he had murdered his fellow men. He was also the target of the anger of the victims’ families. Who knows how long the history of this nation will continue to carry this enmity and revenge. The history of this violence has wounded not only individuals and families. The events also fractured social solidarity and cohesion.

Beny’s children talk

After her talks with her father, Maria invited her brothers and sisters to discuss their reactions to the fact that their father had been involved in the mass killings on their island in the 1960s, as a perpetrator. She also asked them whether it was important to them to try to make peace with the children of the victims.

Her siblings’ reactions were different. Her younger brother Semy answered vehemently.

The way I see it, Dad did nothing wrong and doesn’t feel guilty. He was only carrying out orders. Anyway, do the children of the victims actually feel it important to make peace?

When Maria explained that she had already had long talks with their father and that indeed he felt deep guilt, Semy refused to participate any more in the discussion. But Semy’s question was an important one. How would the children of the victims react? Were they prepared to talk? Did they still feel the need for it?

Maria’s younger sister Linda, who of all the children was closest to their father, thought much the same as Semy. Their father had indeed been involved, but he was only carrying out orders. ‘Father did this not of his own initiative. He was doing what he was told. Back then, if you showed any mercy at all you could be accused of being a sympathiser and you would be killed yourself’. However, Linda did think that mutual forgiveness was important. ‘We must forgive one another, just as our Father in Heaven forgives us’, she said.

Sadly, Maria’s younger brother Eman, a civil servant and graduate in English, refused to say anything at all. ‘I have no comment’, he said. Maria thought that maybe he needed time to digest the difficult questions she had posed. Or maybe he indeed did not want to talk at all. Maybe her brother represented most Indonesians who think that forgetting is the best way to solve problems

Nia, Maria’s younger sister who graduated in law, used the analogy of a judge to explain her father’s position.

A judge who orders the demolition of a house on disputed land has to do that because of her duty. Perhaps deep in her heart she does not agree with it, but because of her role as judge she cannot avoid it. So it was with our father. He was only doing what was his duty at the time.

Even so, Nia added that she and her siblings needed to talk to their father.

Probably Father still remembers who those victims were. I think he needs to talk face to face with their children. Talk from the heart. To explain what really happened at the time, and that he too was a victim of the situation. Probably their children want to know what happened to their fathers. We must acknowledge, of course, that their loss is not the same as the burden our father experienced. We, as our father’s children, can also help to build friendly relations with the victims’ families to create opportunities to talk about this nation’s wound. I agree with you, Maria. We all need to be healed from this collective trauma of our nation.

After this conversation with her brothers and sisters, Maria was silent for a long time. Their reactions were the same as those of most people in Indonesia towards the human tragedy that involved them and their families as victims or perpetrators. Perhaps Nia, her younger sister, was right in saying that their father was also a victim of Soeharto’s crimes.

But no matter how heavy the burden their father and their family bore, this was nowhere near as heavy as that of the victims’ families. They had lost husbands, fathers and relatives. They had been banished from social life. Their children had been denounced and taunted. Many had been blocked from becoming civil servants.

Even at church they had been ostracised. Widows had to fight not only to bring up their children to get decent lives, but also to protect them from social abuse and stigmatisation. Maria saw that the suffering of her family was incomparable to the suffering of victims’ families. She reflected on all this deep in her heart.

Looking to the future

Forty years ago, Beny was a handsome, fresh olive-skinned young man. He was slim and kept active. His friends remember him as an agile football player. These days, much has changed. His weight makes it difficult for him to walk. In 2012, he will be 70. He has problems with his health these days. Once a month he takes the bus to the provincial capital and back for his health check. Two of his children live and work in the town. The doctor says there are problems with his heart. The size of most peoples’ hearts is about one fist, but his is the size of three fists. So he is very dependent on the doctor and medicine. He has to be careful about what he eats.

Sara died three years ago. The family buried her in the yard behind the house. She was a wise woman who helped Beny through his crisis. Now she has returned to her Maker. These days, Beny’s children take turns to call on him. Thanks to developments in communications, his children can telephone if they cannot visit.

In the kampung where he lives, Beny is respected as a local figure because he was once police chief there. But more than that, he is respected because he and his wife managed to educate their children, and they are now all working and independent. His life is not wanting, but nor is it extravagant. He knows that this is because God loves him, and has forgiven him for his involvement in the humanitarian tragedy in the history of his nation.

Yes, Beny the father is probably at peace with himself now. He has gone through various traditional and religious rites and feels that God has forgiven him. He also ‘offered’ his oldest daughter for this peace with God.

But what about the families of the victims? Is there anyone to listen to their stories? Is there any acknowledgement in society of their loss and the pain they suffered? When will society, the nation and the state acknowledge the crimes they carried out on the victims of violence and their families?

Maria has listened to her father’s story. Today, she is determined to go and meet the victims’ families. Together with some members of a study group formed two years ago, she is now collecting stories from the wives of the victims of the tragedy in various islands in Eastern Indonesia. These old grandmothers talk not only about how they were destroyed. They also talk about the strength that allowed them and their children survive.

Maria sees the next step as collecting stories from the victims’ children. The path towards healing herself and the healing of her country is still a long one. Probably there will be those who refuse. Probably the children of victims will be reluctant to talk. Probably the wound is too sensitive to be touched. Probably they too, tend to forget it.

But Maria is convinced that the long path to healing is necessary and one must strive for it. The healed future begins with the courage to examine the wounds of the past and the willingness to strive together for peace between families of perpetrators and victims. The state must be involved and must acknowledge the crimes it carried out on victims and their families. Only in this way will Indonesia’s dream of becoming a just and civilised nation be realised.

Now it is the task of Maria, Linda, Semy, Nia, Eman and millions of young people in this country to strive for the healing of this nation from the mental sickness it has suffered for years and years. They cannot just forget this tragedy. Without the courage to confront the painful past and strive for true peace by listening to the stories of the victims and their families, the healing will be superficial at best.

Kupang, early June 2011

Interviewer, transcriber and writer: Mery Kolimon.

Breaking the Silence: Survivors Speak about 1965–66 Violence in Indonesia

   by Putu Oka Sukanta