Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

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

Chapter 4


Lambatu bin Lanasi

Demanding rehabilitation of his reputation

Kapontori is a sub-regency (kecamatan) to the east of Bau-bau, about 50 kilometers from Buton, the capital of Southwest Sulawesi. The population is mainly Muslim. Kapontri is a famous market centre. Traders gather here from all around, selling basic necessities like rice, sugar and flour and there are also people selling fish and all kinds of root vegetables.

Lambatu was born in Kapontori on 14 November 1935. He was the son of Lanasi and Waambe and had seven brothers and sisters. His father was a prayer leader in the mosque, and every night he taught his children their prayers.

In the 1950s, Kapontori was still a backwater. It had only recently got its first primary school. The children all walked to school, most of them barefoot. Only one or two of them wore sandals. When they finished primary school, if students wanted to continue to junior high school, they had to move to Buton. To get to Buton you had to go by boat, and it took a full day. That was if the weather was good. If the weather was bad, it could take much longer.

Most of the people in Kapontori were small-scale farmers. They worked their fields in rotation. Their fields were not very large and they produced just enough for their own needs. Part of this produce had to be given as tribute or a kind of tax to the king of Buton. At the appointed time, this portion was gathered at the village hall to be taken to the regency and then on to the king. It is not surprising that once they finished primary school, few of the children were able to continue their schooling. They had to help their parents with the farming.

The people of Kapontori remained trapped in poverty. There were many causes. For instance there were ‘unofficial’ demands made on parents who sent their children to school. Apart from paying fees, they had to deposit a substantial ‘tax’ per child to the regency government in Bau-bau. Then there was the feudal system still operating in the circles of the Buton palace. Even though Indonesia was now independent, the influence of the royal family remained strong. The last king to govern was La Ode Palihi and his heir was La Ode Mukti. The royal circle still felt free to make regulations that frequently burdened the people.

Attracted to socialism

As a teenager, Lambatu began to think about finding a way out of these traps. This is what drove him to continue his schooling at the junior high school in Buton. His parents worked as hard as they could to find the money, so that that Lambatu’s ideals could be realised. In 1953 he moved to Buton. His hard work bore fruit and in 1956 he graduated from junior high school.

After junior high school, he went on to senior high school in Makassar. He chose a vocational high school specialising in law (Sekolah Menegah Kehakiman Atas) because it gave a kind of guarantee of work after graduation. The work would be well paid and he would have a comfortable life. While studying, he began to earn some extra money by working at the Makassar state library. ‘There I read books about socialism, nationalism, and religion. But I was most attracted to the books on socialism. One of them had the title, “Ways Society Can Develop (Bagaimana Masyarakat Berkembang).”’ Lambatu was able to earn 250 rupiah a month at the library, which was enough to cover his daily costs like food and the hostel where he stayed. So he no longer had to ask his parents for money.

When he graduated from senior high school in 1963, he returned to his village. This is the way he talked about the struggle he then had to face:

I returned to my village holding ideals about changing oppression, using the knowledge I now had. In the beginning, the people supported my ideas about changing certain primitive social patterns, for instance, changing swidden agriculture to settled agriculture. People should till the same fields. I showed them by turning one hectare into wet rice fields. I also pioneered the building of a private junior high school in Kapontori. And I taught. And from all this, I earned the people’s appreciation and won their support.

There were a relatively large number of students at the junior high school, about 35 in all. The school developed into the pilot for a junior high school specialising in agriculture (Sekolah Pertanian Menengah, SPM). This kind of high school was much more appropriate for people in agrarian situations. Today, the school he founded still exists, and is run by the state (SPM Negeri 2, Kapontori).

With this strategy, Lambatu did not have to wait long before the people showed their support. One by one, the people followed his example and began to till settled fields, and they got larger harvests.

Apart from his teaching activities, Lambatu was also active in organisations together with his friend Ahyani, who was head of the district (kabupaten) level Communist Party committee in Kapontori. In 1964, he was invited to join the committee of the Communist Party in Kapontori. He found communist teachings, with the principle ‘work according to your expertise, be paid according to your needs’, very attractive. He thought that by applying communism, man’s oppression of his fellow men would disappear. People’s welfare would be more equal.

In 1965 Lambatu replaced Ahyani as head of the Kapontori committee of the Communist Party. Ahyani had been promoted to a higher position in the Party. Soon after, the 30th September Movement in Jakarta happened. It rocked the entire nation, including Buton. With the assumption spread by Lieutenant General Soeharto that the Communist Party was behind the Movement, all Communist Party officials were arrested and imprisoned without any due process of the law.

Held at Bau-bau jail

Lambatu told his story, his voice slow and bitter.

In November 1965, two members of the Kapontori military police came to get me at my house. They arrived without any arrest warrant. Without much thought, I went along. I was taken to the Bau-bau prison. When we got there, we – a group of around 20 people including committee members of the Communist Party in Sapolawa, Kapontori – were all put into one cell three metres square. It turned out that the cell was already home to detainees from Buton. I got very scared when I saw what had happened to them. They were covered with wounds, and had bandages on their heads.

His family had been calm at first, because they believed that Lambatu really had been taken away to keep him safe. They thought he would just be kept for a short time while the police asked for information. But it turned out that he was taken to the Bau-bau prison.

The cell had concrete walls. The height from floor to ceiling was only around 2 metres. For the detainees who were tall, this was already torture. Even those who were not so tall were uncomfortable. But it was not the discomfort that he was afraid of, it was the state of the bodies of his friends who had been arrested before him. Some detainees had to be dragged into the cell because they couldn’t walk after being beaten up by the guards.

All this made Lambatu’s hair stand on end. His heart was thumping. He was extremely worried that he was going to suffer the same fate. But there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. All he could do was pray and ask for God’s protection. And what he most feared came about. After a few days it was his turn for interrogation. During the interrogation the officers asked fabricated questions that made no sense at all.

There were three things they kept asking about:

a.   Documents relating to the 30th September Movement which had reputedly been distributed to districts, including Buton.

b.   Holes that the Communist Party had dug to bury their victims. The interrogator showed a photograph of a sanitary hole that he said was a hole the Communist Party in Buton had dug. This suspicion was linked to the discovery of the seven dead army officers in an old well at Lubang Buaya in East Jakarta.

c.   The visit of an Indonesian navy vessel to Sampolawa harbour in August 1965. This ship, which was sailing to West Irian, had to berth in Sampolawa after an engine failure. But the authorities were making the accusation that it was actually dropping 500 guns to arm the Communist Party which was going to carry out a coup d’etat in the Buton area.

Lambatu and the other detainees denied these accusations. They felt they knew absolutely nothing about them. Because he remained firm in his denial, Lambatu had to suffer the consequences. An officer in army boots stamped on his foot, or his foot was crushed with a table leg, or he was kicked. Often in these interrogation sessions, the interrogators (made up of police, the military police corps, and a local interrogation team called Teperda, Tim pemeriksa daerah) would hit his face. Sometimes they would hit with cane. If they thought the answer he gave was too complicated, then the interrogation would proceed with electric shocks to various parts of the body; the cheeks, the ears, the stomach and the genitals. Once they attached an empty condensed milk tin filled with sand to Lambatu’s penis. Then they ordered him to jump up and down. He passed out. They poured water over him to revive him. When he came to, they interrogated him again while giving electric shocks. Usually the interrogations ran from seven at night until four in the morning. The officers stopped only when they thought they had enough for the dossier.

Lambatu also talked about the food conditions in jail.

The torture we suffered was not only physical and mental, but on top of this, we had minimal food. For instance, we had 50 boiled corn kernels once a day for two months. Then we had 3 pieces of boiled yam twice a day for a month. One spoon of sago, which was like glue for one month. Many friends died because of that.

It was not only the detainees who were tortured. Their families were also terrorised, as happened to Lambatu’s wife, Waode Zatina. Zatina and Lambatu had married in January 1964. She was the daughter of an aristocratic family in Desa Watabo, about four kilometres from Kapontori. One year after their marriage, they were blessed with a son. Sadly, the baby was born premature and lived for only three months. Waode was still coping with the death of her son when she had to face another extremely difficult time, namely separation from her husband who she loved dearly.

Misfortune seemed to plague Waode. Two years after her husband was arrested, in 1967, two men from the Military Police office in Kapontori came to her, namely Second Lieutenant Azis Dahlan and Second Lieutenant Ramli. They wanted to search for documents in Lambatu’s cupboards. According to them, Lambatu had confessed that these documents were there. The search was carried out at 9 o’clock at night, witnessed by the village head, La Dinu. The two officials left at 10:30 without having found anything, and threatening to return.

A few days later, the two officials ordered the village head to summon Waode for questioning. They were waiting at a place about 60 metres from the entrance gate to the village. Although terrified, Waode had to go alone. It turned out that as soon as she got to the gate, Lt Aziz grabbed her and held a knife to her throat. Waode passed out. Then she was raped. The next morning, La Dinu, the village head, found her on the side of the road on the outskirts of the village. He took her home.

From then on, Waode was traumatised and even went a bit mad. She would often faint, and kept to herself, not wanting to communicate with others. Her family tried to give her advice and to motivate her so that she would forget this dreadful experience. But it seemed that she had been so deeply traumatised that she was unable to get over it. She lost her appetite, and her health was affected. This went on for a long time. Even after Lambatu was released and things returned to normal, whenever she saw a soldier, she would pass out. In 1977 when she went to vote at the local polling booth, she fainted when she saw the soldiers there. After that she became ill, and she died that same year.

Lambatu only knew about the tragic experience his wife had gone through two years after it happened. In 1969 the prison supervisor gave him permission to go home to Desa Watambo to visit his wife who was seriously ill. Lambatu was accompanied by two prison guards. He felt this visit to be a wonderful opportunity. All the way there he felt overjoyed at being able to meet his family. But what he found wounded him deeply.

The suffering of the children of political prisoners was just as bad. They were stigmatised as ‘communist kids’. Even though they knew nothing at all. And with this label they had to take teasing, abuse and humiliation, along with discrimination from friends, teachers and society. As a result, many children were forced to stop going to school because they were ashamed and ostracised. There were some who were fortunate and found adoptive parents, so they could continue school.

The most sadistic prison

The interrogations at Bau-bau prison were renowned as the most sadistic in Southeast Sulawesi. Fifteen detainees are recorded as having died here. They were: Basyarif, who was shot dead by a guard before he arrived at the prison; Drs. M. Kasim, the Bupati (Mayor) of Buton who lived in Bau-bau, who was found hanging in his cell; Ahyani and La Rompu, who died a few hours after interrogation; Halili, who died three days after interrogation; and La Idi, La Ratiu, La Pei, La Jiu, La Guntu, La Naunu, La Raahu, La Kanini, La Sarapu, and La Enso, who subsequently died. The bodies of the dead were all returned to their families except for that of the Bupati of Buton, who was buried immediately.

Even though food rations were minimal, the detainees were forbidden from receiving any food from their families when they visited. And while interrogations were underway, the families were forbidden from visiting. Idul Fitri holiday was the only exception when the detainees were given a special treat of an egg and a sliver of beef.

Lambatu and his friends continued to deny the three accusations. The interrogators now focused on the accusation that some government officials in Buton had been involved in the coup d’etat plan. According to the interrogator, they had already received hundreds of guns. However, throughout the whole interrogation time, it was never proven that any guns were hidden by the accused. And we are not talking about 500 guns here – not a single one was ever found.

The interrogation now focused on the subdistrict head (camat) of Sampolawa, La Musa, who was accused of receiving guns. He was interrogated with severe torture. He was hit with rifle butts and given electric shocks (using a kind of generator with knobs for the power and the duration). Because he could not stand the torture, he finally confessed that he had received 500 guns from the Communist Party officials, La Ode Mausuda and Masihu Nuin, and he had passed them on to his supervisor, the Bupati Drs. M. Kasim.

This ‘confession’ was the pretext for the arrest of the Bupati, Kasim. After pressure and incredibly inhumane torture, Bupati Kasim was forced to confess that he was a member of the Communist Party and in April 1964 had been sworn in by M. Jafar, the Party provincial secretary at his home in Buton, and witnessed by A. Rahim, the Party provincial secretary for Southeast Sulawesi. He also ‘confessed’ to having received 500 guns from the District Head, La Musa. As a result of this confession, Buton was designated a communist hub. The Bupati M. Kasim was imprisoned together with 40 government civil servants from Buton. The sudden vacuum of government positions was then filled by the army. Kasim was replaced as Bupati by Lieutenant Colonel Sugianto.

Bupati Kasim was found hanging in his cell in Bau-bau prison in the early hours of the morning. At that time the light was poor, because to save electricity all lights were turned off at 4 o’clock in the morning. Because of this, when the detainees had to lay out his body it was not clear whether he had hanged himself or had been hanged. According to Dinu who was given the job of washing the body, the body was wounded, and had swollen as a result of torture. The family was given no opportunity to see the body because he was immediately buried in a public cemetery.

Based on the findings of the Head of the Investigatory Team for Buton dated 10 September 1969 from the statements given by the Bupati and the Camat of Sampolawa, the police and the army were ordered to search the houses of all communists suspected of hiding weapons. Not a single weapon was found at the house of Bupati Kasim. And the accusation that he had been sworn in as a member of the Communist Party was also false. The witnesses, like M. Jafar and A. Rahim had already left Buton in 1963. In February 1964 they were in Jakarta before an overseas trip. As for the late Bupati Kasim, in April 1964 was still working as expert staff in the government administration in the South Sulawesi office in Makassar. It was only in November 1964 that he was promoted to Bupati of Buton replacing Abdul Halim.

So the truth is that the cruel and sadistic investigations of the late Bupati carried out by the interrogation team made a good man do something wrong and caused his death.

Move to Camp Ameroro

In December 1969, the government moved political prisoners based on their grouping. The detainees in group A were moved to Mocong Loe in Makassar, South Sulawesi. There were a few prison camps in Eastern Indonesia. Apart from Mocong Loe, there was Ameroro in the subdistrict of Lambuya, Kendari. Ameroro was the place of exile for Communist Party members and members of mass organisations all grouped as category B who came from Buton, Muna and Kendari. Those who were in group C were released but they were still required to report once a week at their nearest Military Police office.

Lambatu explained,

The Ameroro camp was a project of the Huluoleo Military Command 143 in the district of Lambuya, Kendari. Lambatu was moved to Ameroro. The camp was situated between two villages, Ameroro and Uwepai, about 300 metres from the main road between Kendari and Kolaka. It was about three kilometres from the army home base of Company 723, Huluolelo Military Command 143. Army residences were built in every district, to monitor the prisoners.

Ameroro Camp was not ready for people to move in. There was only a guard post and a house for those in charge. So Lieutenant Nursin was appointed head of the construction project of the camp assisted by three members of the Military Police Corps. The first thing the prisoners had to do was build barracks measuring 6 × 6 metres. Ten barracks had to be built for ten groups of prisoners. Each barrack was to house ten prisoners. When the barracks were ready, each group was allotted 2.5 hectares of land to plant rice. Because we were then considered to be self-sustaining, we were no longer given any quota of rice from the military.

Apart from planting rice, we were also ordered to plant root vegetables like cassava and sweet potato. After we succeeded with our farming, the people around the camp began to fraternise with us. They came with the camp supervisors to help at harvest time. We also opened a sports field which then became a place for sports matches between villages in Lambuya.

In 1972, the running and supervision of the Ameroro Camp was handed to a military body. Around the same time, there was a fire in the central market in the town of Roha. Yet again, this was blamed on the communists, and with this pretext, the government rounded up more people. The number of inmates in the Ameroro camp rose to 161. They came from three regencies: Kendari 37; Muna 61; and Buton 63.

To satisfy their curiosity about what was going outside, especially the political situation in Jakarta, the inmates secretly bought transistor radios. They would turn them on late at night when they were outside guarding the fields. Those on watch in the fields would tune in to overseas broadcasts like BBC London or Radio Australia. And the next morning, using signs, they would communicate to the others what was happening in Jakarta.

The farming venture ran for two years from 1970–1972. Then work activities were transferred to projects run by Military Command 143 Haluoleo. These projects employed a lot of prison labour, so the only people left inside the camp were prisoners who were old and sick, and the women.

Forced labour

The work projects were quite simply, forced labour. These projects, run by a work platoon of Military Command 143 Haluoleo, included roadwork and building bridges on the main road between Kendari and Lainea, and sawing timber, building roads and the Wua-wua Poasia bridge. This bridge is situated four kilometres from the mayor’s office in Kendari, to the east of the roundabout at Pasar Baru, in Lapuko (the district of Poasia) and in Pudaria (the district of Moramo). Projects also included the opening up of land for temporary houses for transmigrants from Andonohu in the district of Poasia. Then there was the building of the Lapuko wharf in the district of Moramo and the Andonohu wharf in Poasia; the settlement for transmigrants in the district of Moramo, and the construction of low-cost housing for military personnel in Benua-benua, Kendari.

For their work on these projects, the prisoners were given only one litre of rice per day and 300 rupiah a month. Only when the project was completed were the workers given clothes.

After existing for seven years, the Ameroro camp was renamed a ‘rehabilitation post’ (instalasi rehabilitasi, known by the acronym inrehab). Four inmates had died while carrying out forced labour, vomiting blood. Their poor nutrition was not equivalent to the energy demanded of them.

This forced labour finally ended on 22 December 1977. The inmates were then taken from the Ameroro camp to Nanga-nanga which was far from any town. It was situated about four kilometres from the Kendari main road towards the jungle, near protected forest. Because of its location, there were no health or educational facilities there, and nothing to support a developing community, like a market, a place for entertainment, and sources of information. By being located there, it was difficult for the political prisoners to interact with society.

In the beginning, people were terrified of coming anywhere near the camp, let alone coming in. They had been told that Nanga-nanga was a den of violence and there were many criminals there. The prisoners, whose earlier professions had been schoolmasters, teachers and civil servants, had to accommodate themselves to this situation. There was nothing to do but work hard and live from the forest to stay alive. Some of them did odd jobs outside Nanga-nanga to support their families. They still had a long struggle ahead of them, even if they were no longer behind bars.

Their suffering was even worse because their children, who knew nothing at all, had to experience being stigmatised as ‘communist kids’. And with this label, they were taunted, teased, abused and discriminated against by friends, teachers and society. As a result, many children left school because they were ashamed and ostracised. But some were fortunate in getting adoptive parents so they could continue their schooling.

The children had to attend school outside the village. Their parents were most worried during the rainy season. There were often floods that subsided only after three or four days. And if someone was severely ill, it was also extremely difficult because the nearest health clinic was seven kilometres away. It took about two hours to walk there. A woman once died in childbirth because there was no one to help when she haemorrhaged. Another woman gave birth on her way to the clinic. And there were many premature births because the mothers did not go for checks during their pregnancy.

The Nanga-nanga settlement was in Kendari. Today it is zoned in the district of Baruga, on the south of the main road between Kendari and Lainea. The first inhabitants of Nanga-nanga were 56 people from the Ameroro and Mocong Loe camps. But 14 of them left. In 1977, there were 65 people there, and many among them still had the status of prisoner so they could not move. One year later, when they were officially released, many of them chose to return to their original villages. But 42 people chose to stay in Nanga-nanga. However, this was a very isolated place. And those who chose to stay there still had to ‘report’ to the regional government authorities. In Nanga-nanga, each person was given two hectares of arable land to plant crops, as outlined in the government regulation of 1 September 1978.

The Military Command 143 Haluoleo then issued papers declaring rights to land titles to those who had worked the land, an income of 900 rupiah per month for a period of two years, and agricultural tools. From 1977 to 1982, the supervision of 1000 hectares of land was under the Military Police, but was then transferred to the provincial government of Southeast Sulawesi.

*   *   *   *

The Reformation era finally dawned in 1998. This time of change brought great joy to the former political prisoners. At last they got full land ownership papers for the fields they had worked for 20 years. They had been asking the government for this since 1996 but were never granted the papers, with all kinds of excuses. It was only in January 2008 that their demands were finally met after they went out on the streets to demonstrate, accompanied by their NGO friends.

Since ‘Reformasi’, their lives have become almost equal to those of other people. Discrimination has lessened. Apart from getting land ownership papers, they also have the right to vote in elections, to receive the quota of rice given in government programs for the poor, health assistance, and to participate in community discussions at village and district levels about planning and development, as well as the farmers’ assistance programs. In Nanga-nanga there is now a health clinic, a school and the road is being repaired.

Lambatu’s house is about 20 kilometres from Haluoleo airport in Kendari. It measures 6 metres square, like the houses for transmigrants, and is built from wood. The house has aged along with its occupant and now is in poor condition. The boards are eaten away, and some can no longer support the roof. Lambatu has not renovated his house since it was built in 1968. To him, this original house has great historic value.

Lambatu’s hair is white now, and he works every day getting wood and bamboo in the forest. His life is totally dependent on the forest. Because of this, he does not have enough money to fix his leaking house. In 2008, he and 19 other ex-political prisoners living there sent a request to the mayor for repairs. But until now there has been no response.

Lambatu concludes by firmly conveying his wishes:

What I continue to hope for as an ex-political prisoner, as we were never sentenced in any court for having committed any crime, is that we ask the government to restore our full rights of citizenship, our dignity and prestige, and our good names and respect according to the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia. We demand this right in the name of historical truth, upholding of the law, and the correction of history for his nation’s future generations.

Interviewer and transcriber: Resma.

Writer: Ika Mustika.

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

   by Putu Oka Sukanta