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

Chapter 11


Rahim Marhab

History will reveal the truth

My name is Rahim Marhab. I was born in 1941 to Marhab and Ntokea in the village of Bambelamo, Parigi, in the district of Parimo, the province of Central Sulawesi. The village of Bambelamo is on the main trans-Sulawesi highway that runs between Central Sulawesi and South Sulawesi. It is about 55 kilometers from the city of Palu, which is the capital of the province of Central Sulawesi. I was the youngest of three children. The eldest, my sister, was called Saho, and my older brother was called Hajasa. My father worked in Poso in handicraft, making gold and silver ornaments. He supported the family with this work. But my father died while I was still young, and so my mother and older sister had to work to support the family. Fortunately, my mother and sister could sew clothes, knit and crochet. After living in Poso for a few years, I returned to Parigi. When I got back to Parigi, my older brother fell seriously ill, and then he died. I was very sad to lose my brother who was also part of the backbone of the family.

In 1952, I started primary school in Parigi, and six years later I graduated as the top student. I then went directly to the junior high school in Parigi, but only for a few months, because my mother, who was my one and only support in life, passed away, leaving me forever. No choice. That is the phrase to describe when I had to quit junior high school. And so in 1959 I decided to go to Poso by motor boat, and ended up continuing my schooling there. It was in Poso that I met Yakob Lamajuda, the person who introduced me to Marxism. At the time, Yakob was the local head (lurah) in Kayamanya. He was related to my father’s family, and so he invited me to stay at his house. And it was at his house that I first came across the books ABC of Politics (ABC Politik) about Marxism, and How Society Develops (Bagaimana Masyarakat Berkembang) which was about communist ethics and morals. These books introduced me to Marxist teachings, and I became interested in them.

In 1961, I decided to join the Communist Party in Poso. I had to wait until 1962 to be sworn in because I was not yet of membership age. Actually, in mid 1962 I graduated from junior high school, again with top marks, and my uncle suggested that I go on to maritime college, but I refused and decided to return to my home village of Bamalemo. There I met Bung [Brother] Hasan Tungenge from the Communist Party Sub-section Committee [committee at the sub-district or kecamatan level. Trs] of Parigi who asked me to establish a Communist Party committee in Bambalemo. This I did, and on 12 October 1962, the Bambalemo ‘Resort Committee’ [Committee at the kelurahan, sub-sub-district, or lowest level of representation. Trs] of the Communist Party was officially established, with me as Secretary and Simin B. Pulo as deputy.

In early 1963, another Communist Party Resort Committee was established in Central Parigi, covering the area from the village of Kampal to the village of Sidole. I was chosen as deputy secretary. Because the organisation was going so well, Dai Borahima was chosen as head of the Indonesian Peasants’ Front (BTI, Barisan Tani Indonesia) on the East Coast in what is now the district of Parimo, and I then took over his position as Secretary. In early 1964, the Parigi Section (Seksi, district or kabupaten level. Trs) of the Committee of the Communist Party held a conference, and various people were chosen to further the party’s mandate; Sidin Umar (secretary), Hasan Tungege (deputy secretary), Ukas Abdullah (head of the secretariat), and Maks Lumanto and myself as executive committee members.

I had many reasons for wanting to join the Party; one of them was what they called the ‘3M’ method. This stood for: Merangkul (Embrace), Membatasi (Limit) and Menggunakan (Utilise). The Party also taught me that service to the community is the highest aim of all struggle. This was the essence of the vow we had to make when we decided to become part of the Party. It was the same aim as that taught by the figure for education, Ki Hadjar Dewantara; ‘at the fore give example, in the middle work alongside, and at the back encourage.’ I truly implemented these communist teachings, because I thought they were wonderful if implemented properly. I had to be prepared to help everyone, paying no heed to their social class. Party teachings said we must not differentiate between people, because man is God’s creation. So when people say that the communists were anti-God, this is wrong, because I was never taught this in the Party. Actually, before the 1965 incident, many people thought that we communists did not believe in God and had no religion. This was totally wrong!

I could see that within the Party its members were prepared to ‘go below’ (‘turba’, turun ke bawah), to the grassroots, to see the social situation for themselves, so they would get a picture of social reality directly and not from others. They had to not only know and see social conditions for themselves, but also to change situations that were backward. Once I saw that the roof of the mosque at Siniu was leaking badly, so that every time it rained the floor of the mosque was full of puddles. This was a big problem for the people who went there to pray. So I proposed to the Village Head that we should repair the roof. I told him that friends from the Indonesian Peasants’ Front (BTI, Barisan Tani Indonesia) were happy to repair the roof. There were many sago palms in that village, so I asked them to sew sago palms together to thatch the roof. After the Village Head gave his approval, we worked one Sunday to repair the mosque roof. Beginning in the morning, food started arriving, because I had told them to bring food.

The enthusiasm the BTI members displayed fixing the roof led members of PSII (Partai Sarekat Islam Indonesia, Indonesian Islamic Union Party) and NU (Nahdlatul Ulama, Revival of Islamic Scholars) to say, ‘people say those guys have no religion, but look, they are the only ones doing this work’. Actually, there were many from other groups who wanted to help fix the roof, but they seemed to be embarrassed. Maybe because the ones who were doing the work were PKI people who they thought had no religion. After we finished fixing the mosque roof, we also fixed the roof of the village community centre which was in a bad way, like the mosque. The way we saw it, our practical work was an example of the Party’s teachings of ‘going below’. We had to be always prepared to help in people’s daily life. That way, people could really sense the existence of the Party and that it was not just occupied with power. I never saw any other political party carrying out this kind of activity.

After I passed the short course for teachers in [Communist] Party schools (KKGSP, Kursus Kilat Guru Sekolah Partai) held at the house of Hasan Tungenge and also at the local primary school, I took the plunge and opened a Party school in Silanga. Unfortunately, at night people threw stones at the building. Even though on the first day 20 people had already enrolled. After that incident, I sent the tutors from Gerwani (the Indonesian Women’s Movement), like Aminah, Sabiha, Pihu and Sapina, back to the main secretariat. I did not want them being the target of such rage. I myself was confused as to why people would act like this, even though all I wanted to do was help people who were still illiterate. And even after I was treated in this way, I still wanted to continue the Party school. When Lamunuri, the Party head in Siniu, heard this he immediately sent an adjutant and ordered me to move the Party school to Siniu. He said ‘the people in Silanga don’t think, they even kill each other there’. This was a serious blow to the spirit of Party members.

The Party school in Siniu opened with just a few students, but gradually the number of students reached 300. We divided them into classes of 20. They came from all kinds of social strata and age groups, and some were still illiterate. We taught them Marxist teachings which had been summarised in a political primer or ABC. I did not have to provide the books, because they were freely available. All I had to do was help them understand the contents. And unlike formal schools which demanded long periods of study, the Party schools required only ten days. After this period of study, every student was given a kind of certificate which said, more or less, that they had successfully completed the course. Their faces were so happy when they received that certificate. It was indeed very basic, but nonetheless to them the education they got at the Party school was really useful, and I fully trusted that they would go back and put what they had learned into practice.

*   *   *

As for my love life, I had a rather unique experience. After pursuing relationships with a few women, I eventually married someone who had never been my girlfriend, Ida Nusiplo’o. And she is still my life partner to this day. It might sound strange, but actually I married her not for love as other couples did. I married her because of an instruction from the Party.

In fact, I already had a girlfriend in Ampibabo at the time, called Ibonia. She was rather short, with fair skin and long hair. I had already asked her family for her hand in marriage. We first met when I was looking for long grass for thatch. After passing each other and stealing a few glances, I felt something stir in my heart. It was love at first sight and I immediately decided I would make her my wife.

I pedalled the bicycle I had taken to carry the cut grass, trying to chase after her. I asked everyone I met, explaining what she looked like, desperate to find her. After quite some time, I did eventually find her house which was about one kilometre from where we had first met. Her family greeted me warmly. Once when I visited the house, her parents told me to stay the night because it was already late, saying it was dangerous to go home. I was surprised to discover that our families were related, something I found out when exorcism prayers were held for one of my family who had to be rid of an evil spirit, and members of her family were there too.

It did not take long for me to declare my intention of making her my wife. I went with my uncle to her house and she immediately accepted my proposal. We decided to wait six months before marrying.

But then suddenly a messenger from Bambalemo came and asked me to meet Maselo in Parigi. I told the messenger that I was going to get married soon, and he asked, ‘Brother, do you want to be a champion of the family or a champion of the nation?’ I said, ‘champion of the nation’. ‘So, what are you waiting for? Let’s go!’ the messenger said. I went to take my leave of Ibonia. We even had a photo taken of us together. This was our parting, because our wedding plans came to nothing. After our parting, Ibonia got news that I had been taken to Poso and shot. Someone told me that Ibonia had been devastated to hear this. She was ill for three months, and lost all her hair from shock at hearing this news. Later on, a messenger came once from Ibonia’s family telling me to come and marry her, but my situation did not permit it.

After being interrogated by the Area Command (Korem) of the Military Police, and detained for about one month in late 1965 in Maesa prison, Palu, I finally decided to return to Ampibabo, Parigi. I had been detained because I was a member of the leadership of the Communist Party. This was the one and only reason that I was detained and interrogated. Because things were not going well for me, I decided not to get back together with Ibonia. But at that moment I met another woman who later became my sweetheart. Her name was Hamra. I felt the same love for Hamra as I had felt for Ibonia. But with Hamra, too, things came to nothing, because suddenly Yakob Lamajuda ordered me to marry Ida Nusiplo’o.

I remember the first time I met Ida, the woman I eventually married, when she came to the village of Bambelamo, Parigi, in late 1966 looking for her husband Ruswanto, who has not been heard of to this day. Initially, she wanted to go to Gorontalo via Parigi by boat to look for her husband, but she failed to find him. Prior to this, friends who were doing forced labour on the Coffee Plantation Mountain digging irrigation ditches, clearing roads and carrying away felled trees, had talked about Ida’s coming. They said that the wife of Ruswanto, the deputy head of the Central Sulawesi Communist Party Committee [provincial level. Trs] was coming to Parigi and in the cause of Party solidarity I had to look after her. Ida stayed at Toli’s house with her three children. While she was staying there I went back and forth checking on her and her children. I couldn’t stay there all the time because I was working as a building labourer in Kopel.

At the end of 1968, Corporal Masmur took Ida to Palu. I could not follow because at the time I was still working on a building project. After one year in Palu, at the end of 1969, Ida returned. This was when Yakob Lamajuda encouraged me to marry her so that she would have someone to protect her. And so in March 1970, I went to the Village Head to announce my intention to marry her. At the time, marrying her was an obligation. I was concerned that she had three children, and I truly wanted to guard and protect her. So it was not wholly because of Yakob Lamajuda’s instruction. In other words, I did not marry Ida out of lust but because of a sense of responsibility and my solidarity with the Party. We could not expect anyone or anything to help or protect Ida.

I saw my marriage with Ida as destiny and we lived peacefully. After my release from Maesa prison, Palu, in 1966, I took her with me wherever I went. Later I faithfully carried out my duties, as a husband looking after her and her children and also the duties that were instilled in me as a Party member. And on 1 January 1971 our first child was born, called Slamet Ria Akres. Our second child was Surahman, the third Murahman, the fourth Yanti Priyatni and the last one, Sunaryansa. I never for a moment considered ignoring my responsibilities or leaving her. I understood that love is a form of responsibility. It is not like the love of young people today which arises from sexual desire.

*   *   *   *

The ripple effect of the political incident that happened in Jakarta in 1965 arrived where I was living. The accusation of the Communist Party as the mastermind of the kidnapping of the high ranking army officers was gathering strength, and this included me too as a Communist Party member. At that time, the security forces had begun their ‘cleansing’ of anything considered linked to the Communist Party, and this was going on right down to outlying areas. Probably they hoped this would ensure that the Communist Party would never cause any more trouble in Indonesia. On 16 October, we were assembled at the Military District Command (Kodim) in Poso and told that we were forbidden to carry out any political activity. On the night of 18 October, we returned to Parigi by sail boat together with the Communist Party Section (district, kabupaten level) Committee from Poso. Yakob Lamajuda and I landed at Torue, and from there we walked to Bambalemo, which was 20 kilometres away.

By now the situation was critical. On 8 November 1965, while I was firing bricks at the factory owned by W Mambu who was a member of the local Parigi police, a mob of about 300 people from the village Pelawa arrived. They captured me, my older brother Hajasa, my uncle Harati and my cousin Agi. Suddenly they started beating us with pieces of blackwood, beating my entire body except for the soles of my feet and my toes. They hit my head until it bled. After I passed out twice, we were taken to the Parigi district police station and held there for ten days. When we were let out of the cell we had to go and report to the district police station 1306-09 of Parigi and Military District Command (Buterpra) in Parigi.

Then in December 1965, I was picked up by Corporal Efendi and staff from the Central Sulawesi Military Area Command (Korem) and taken to Maesa prison in Palu. The conditions there were terrible: we were given miniscule food rations, and often any rice we did get was mixed with bran. There were 20 people crammed into a cell measuring 3 × 4 metres, so none of us could sleep properly because we could only sit on the floor. I was taken from there to the Military Area Command for interrogation. For four full days I was interrogated by the local interrogation team (called ‘Teperda’, tim pemeriksa daerah) from Menado. I remember that I felt like a lecturer, because I was made to sit on a high chair, while all nine members of the interrogation team who were sitting in a circle around me, interrogated me in turn.

They asked me when I had joined the Communist Party and what positions I had held. I told them I had been secretary of the Resort Committee, then promoted to secretary of the Sub-Section committee. They asked what ‘sub-section’ was. I told them this was kecamatan (sub district) level. Then I said that I had also participated in Party Schools (Sekolah Partai, SP), Courses for Party Teachers (KGP, Kursus Guru Partai) and Party Schools at the provincial level (SPDB, Sekolah Partai Daerah Besar). I had learnt about Marxism at these courses. Something I remembered well was studying How Society Develops (Bagaimana Masyarakat Berkembang, BMB). I gave a long explanation about this, from man’s beginnings in the Garden of Paradise in Heaven through to man’s development in this mortal world. The interrogation was always the same, from Palu to Parigi, and I would always give my long explanation in reply. After being held in the Maesa prison in Palu for one month, I was finally allowed to return to Parigi.

I was also made to do forced labour on Coffee Plantation Mountain (Gunung Kebun Kopi) for 20 days. This entire area had been planted with coffee during the Japanese occupation [1942–45], but today there are no longer any coffee plantations, although some coffee trees still grow wild in the forest. The coffee plantation road links the western coast of the city of Palu with the eastern coast of Parigi regency. The area is very hilly, and the road through the steep hills is about 48 kilometres. To the left, going from Palu, is a steep, deep ravine, and to the right there are hills that often have landslides. The forced labour consisted of clearing the road, digging ditches, carrying away felled logs, clearing landslides, and cutting grass. I was one of the fortunate ones because I only had 20 days of this work, but other friends of mine had to do it for a full year. We had to cook our own food, and were given only some uncooked rice, with nothing else. We were not paid anything at all. We were merely provided with hoes, shovels and sickles as work tools. We also had to sleep on the roadside, as no place had been prepared for us to rest.

It was not only me who was arrested, but other members of the Party too, and anyone at all suspected of being part of the Communist Party. In early January 1966, after being held for a month, some friends and I, including Paliudo, Gerson Goni, Gusti Camang, Sapina, Samsiar and Gusti Made were released. My friends and I who had been held in Maesa prison walked from Palu to Parigi. When I got to Parigi, I had to report to the Village Head, to the Parigi district policy, and to the Military District Command in Parigi. Even though I had been released, I had to report regularly. In the beginning, officially it was four times a week, but actually almost every single day I had to report because officials were always calling me in. It was only finally in 1978 that I was freed from this obligation to report.

It was exhausting going through this endless interrogation, from one place to another, from one town to another. The interrogators often punched me in the face, and when I was finally moved to Maesa prison, the interrogation came with torture. The interrogators were always looking for something I had done wrong, but I knew that I was not wrong, and nor were the Marxist teachings I had got from the Party. Not a single teaching disadvantaged others, or society. And it was through the Party that I came to understand how to build a society with social justice. Nor could I accept the accusations that the Communist Party was atheist. After all, we had fixed the damaged roof of the mosque which no other Party had done, even though they claimed that their guiding principles were religion or nationalism. So, wasn’t this enough proof that we were not atheists?

I was not the only one treated so unfairly by the State and society. Later, my innocent children were affected by the 1965 political events. My two sons, Slamet Ria Akres and Surahman, later had to leave high school just because they were the sons of a former Communist Party member and political prisoner. They were victims of the ongoing stigmatisation of the Communist Party, even though I knew that they did not really understand what had happened to them.

When I no longer had to report regularly to the authorities, I could finally heave a sigh of relief because society could now accept me once again, and the stigma of being a former member of the Communist Party slowly began to fade. My family, especially my children, began to have their rights and freedom restored. Sunaryansa was able to complete his education at the Aliyah Madrasah (Islamic school), and Yanti Priyanti completed her education at the Muhammadiyah high school. They were able to attend school with no intimidation at all.

The burden I had to bear was extremely heavy. All the terrible accusations made of me really hurt me deeply. Had I not been able to face these trials wisely, I would probably have gone mad. Fortunately, I am able to face things calmly. I always joke with people I talk to, and I do this to lessen the pain and memories of the past. Even now, in my 70s, I love to chat with my son-in-law, Yanti’s husband, until late at night. Chatting like this helps me to forget the pain I went through. Joking with others is like a balm to the pain of the bitter memories of the past.

*   *   *   *

After Reformation and I regained my freedom, society accepted me again. I was no longer reticent to work with the Village Head in Bambelamo. To this day I still use the methods the Party taught me. Every day I mix with people, and am able to get close to them. There was a time when no one could write wedding invitations, so I gladly offered to help with this. People were not afraid to come up and ask help from a former political prisoner and former Communist Party member. And finally I felt that people really accepted me again.

These days people often ask me to be an advisor for weddings. Once, the Village Head said in front of the District Head that it was better governing one thousand Communists than one hundred ‘good’ people. This was because the Village Head knew for himself that it was people like me who had initiated the development in Bambalemo. We Communist Party members had been trained to give our complete service to society, because we were aware that we are part of society and must make a positive contribution. And all the intimidation ceased, along with the stigma that had stuck to me.

But I also knew that this reformation was one-sided – it advantaged only the group in power. There were no real meaningful changes in society. After the fall of the Soeharto regime and the reformation that followed, I was no longer afraid to be politically active. I was once a supporter of Megawati Soekarnoputri’s party [PDI Perjuangan] but when I saw that the party supporters in Parigi were not truly committed to furthering the causes of the people, I switched my allegiance to the Democrat Party (Partai Demokrat). They accepted me openly, with absolutely no reference to my links to the Communist Party. But I refused any position in the Democrat Party because I wanted to be just a regular member.

Apart from being active in a political party, I was also part of the backing team for one of the candidates for bupati (regent) in my area. His name was Longki Janggola. Longki never met me directly to ask me to be part of his team, but other members of his backing team in my area asked me to join. So I did – not mindlessly, but because I saw that his methods and his way of working were really good. His team of supporters in my area considered me to be their leader. Members of Longki’s support team were once beaten up by some irresponsible types – probably members of a rival’s support team, when they were putting up banners. But the minute someone said that I was one of Longki’s team, they panicked. My position as an important figure in Bambelamo was enough to frighten them off.

I am no longer involved with any party. The way I see it, there is no point in supporting any party, it is totally futile. Parties are no longer of any benefit to the people they supposedly defend. It is just a waste of time to become a party member. I see that people who become members of parliament are often acting merely on instructions from their superiors, and their actions are not based on people’s needs. Those party people are not stupid, they know the rules. But people with any conscience at all are probably very few and far between.

Another proof of the loss of stigma attached to families of former communists is that two members of the regional parliament from my area, Parigi, are children of 1965 political victims. They are also smart people, so I have never felt any need to give them advice. I have faith in their capabilities.

*   *   *   *

It makes me sad when I have to remember the past. It feels like my heart is being sliced. Why did communists like me have to be treated so inhumanely? I am fortunate in that I am still alive, whereas so many of my friends are dead or disappeared. I once heard that a Gerwani member, called Ruhia from Playa, was raped by the police. I find that utterly incredible. How can those who are supposed to uphold the law rape a woman just because of her ideology? I can still remember how she cried until her eyes swelled as she told the story of being raped. Now that I am in my 70s, the only thing left for me to do is be of service to society. The only work I am capable of is tending the plants around my house.

It is my children now who support me. They are all independent. I give thanks to God for the blessings to me and my family. My marriage to Ida, which happened because of a Party order, has endured to this day. Even now that I am old, and my body stooped, Ida still wants to be with me and care for me. I can still see traces of her pretty face and fair skin. She often spoils me, calling me uwa, which is Gorontalo language for Granddad. We live peacefully and harmoniously, no longer having to deal with various forms of intimidation and social stigmatisation. Now we are accepted with open arms. I am even considered to be an important figure, and people often come to me for advice. But I always refuse all invitations to take on any social positions, including Kaili customary positions, where I now live. I know that at my age there is not much I can do, and I do not want to get in the way.

Even though people treated me so badly just because I was a Communist Party member, I do not harbour any revenge. As a Muslim, I know the story of the Prophet, who, when he began teaching Islam, was hated by those around him so he had to move to Madinah for safety. If people can treat even the Prophet in this way, then the same thing can happen to me, a mere communist. These days, I spend most of my time gardening, especially fruit and vegetables. Apart from that, I raise chickens. I am not able to do much more. With my decrepit body, and with conditions like hernia, diabetes, and cataracts, I can perform only light tasks.

Wrinkled and toothless as I am – I lost most of my teeth as a result of the mass violence in 1965 – I fit the name Uwa, Grandpa. But even though I am old and fragile, my spirit gets fired up when I listen to political news, and news about efforts to further the truth in this country.

But my hope is that the matter of the 1965 incident can be settled properly, because there were so many transgressions. Like the violence and intimidation I experienced. Personally, I hope that the government can give proper compensation, and rehabilitate the good names of those who were victims. My final hope is that there will never again be a tragedy like this in this land that I love, Indonesia. History will reveal the truth!

Interviewer and transcriber: Nurlaela Ak. Lamasitudju.

Writer: Akhmad Zakky.

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

   by Putu Oka Sukanta