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

Chapter 13


A story of family survival

This morning, like other mornings, the sun was shining. It was early September, still the dry season. Inside the house, there were the usual signs of life. Tarni, the wife of the man of the house, was busy organising her six children. She had to get the three older children ready for school. Svetlana, the oldest, was in 4th class of primary school. Wawang and Timur, the second and third children, were both in second class of Cidurian primary school in Cikini in Jakarta.

The house in Jalan Malang was large with a spacious yard. It had once been a ballet school for Dutch girls. The Dutch ballet teacher used to live there. Tarni did not know exactly how her husband managed to get the house, but she remembered that a number of people were interested in it, including people high up in the government. Her husband, Nyoto, was a member of parliament at the time – after the 1955 general election.

As usual, Tarni took her children to school. The three little ones stayed at home with her sister-in-law and the domestic helper. The drive in their Fiat car from Jalan Malang to Jalan Cidurian took no time at all. In those days, the streets in Jakarta were empty, and it was nice to drive. Then she went on with the driver to Cikini market to buy some vegetables, after which she returned home.

Svetlana, the oldest child, was clever and independent. She was nine. Her complexion was rather dark, and she was pretty like her mother. Her younger brother Wawang was exactly a year younger, also born in February. He was the one who caused Tarni the most trouble. He was shy and lacked confidence, and often cried at school. When he was in first grade, Tarni often had to wait outside the classroom, and when Wawang was acting up, she had to join him in the classroom, sitting with him at the back of the class.

After just six months, Wawang refused to go to school. He was very happy when he had to repeat his kindergarten year and could be together with his younger brother Timur. Timur was born in August 1958, so was eighteen months younger than Wawang, but was more confident than his older brother. Timur did not like eating rice. The brothers attended the kindergarten at the main office of Lekra (Lembaga Kesenian Rakyat, Institute of People’s Culture) in Jalan Cidurian, Cikini, Jakarta. This is why, despite the age difference, Wawang and Timur ended up in the same class at primary school.

Wawang and Timur were the only boys. Tarni’s other children were all girls. Apart from Svetlana, the oldest, there were the three youngest children: Risa, aged five, Irina aged three, and Atun who was just one year old. Risa was born in a leap year, on 29 February 1960. Three of the children were born in February – Svetlana, Wawang and Risa. Irina, the fifth child, was born on 30 June 1962, and Atun on 14 April 1964.

It is not easy minding six children alone. They all need attention. Tarni’s sister-in-law, Untung, also lived in the house. The children called her Aunty Win. Her husband was Uncle Yan, whose family was Chinese. Uncle Yan – his full name was Tan Yan Gei – worked at the Irama recording company. Tarni’s sister-in-law helped look after her nephews and nieces. Tarni also had a domestic helper who did all kinds of chores. Every day was busy.

When Svet, Wawang and Timur finished school, usually they did not go straight home, but went to their Aunty Marto’s house in Jalan Surabaya. Aunty Marto had only one child, a daughter named Budi, and she and Svet were good friends. Aunty Marto was not really the children’s aunt, but they called her that because the family had known the Nyoto family for such a long time that they were like relatives. It was not far from Jalan Cidurian to Jalan Surabaya, just a short walk across the Cikini railway tracks.

Sometimes, Svet and her two younger brothers would go to school with their father, if he was not too busy. Nyoto took this opportunity to pop in to the Lekra office which was close to the Cidurian primary school. If the children saw their father’s car outside the Lekra office after school they knew their father was there. The children would run to meet him and he would take them out for a ride. Usually he would treat them to an iced drink called Es Shanghai, or he would buy them a cake at Tjan Njan shop on Jalan Cikini Raya.

The children called their father ‘bapak’ and their mother ‘mamah’. It was a happy family. Bung Nyoto (as he was known) was rarely angry at his children, just like Tarni. They were both warm hearted and patient. Every now and then the children would do something to annoy them or would cause trouble. Wawang’s health was not good. He had a skin condition, and often had to be taken to the doctor for injections. This ritual of going to the doctor caused big problems, because Wawang hated the injections and the medicine.

Time moved on. Nyoto was busy with all kinds of activities. Apart from being a Minister, he was also Second Head (Ketua II) of the Central Committee of the Indonesian Communist Party, editor of the Harian Rakyat newspaper, and a leading figure of Lekra, but he was also head of a household with six children. Everything had to proceed in tandem. Outside the house, the political temperature was heating up, and there was much friction. Tarni did not understand much of the political upheaval. Her duty was to support her husband and bring up their six children.

And the end of September came. As Minister, Nyoto was often away from home. This time he was accompanying the Deputy Prime Minister Soebandrio on a tour of Sumatra. Towards dawn on 1 October 1965, a group of army officers carried out a swift action. They took some generals by force to meet President Soekarno, the Great Leader of the Revolution. But things did not go according to plan and there were casualties. It was truly a morning from hell.

That’s when the storm broke.

Tarni and her six children were at her younger sister Tari’s place in Mampang Prapatan at the time, where there was a family event. The house was in the precincts of a piping factory owned by the Bakri family. Totally out of the blue, the shocking news came by telephone. Jakarta was in crisis! Tarni and the children were told to go back home at once. It wasn’t yet clear what exactly had happened, but Uncle Koen Li, the Nyoto family’s driver, said that a number of generals had been kidnapped by an army brigade.

You can imagine Tarni’s worry. She had no idea where her husband was. She had no idea when he would come home. The only news was from the radio and the television. The situation was chaotic, uncertain. Every minute was terrifying. Tarni could only hope that the worst would not befall her family. Luckily the next day the entourage accompanying the Deputy Prime Minister Soebandrio returned to Jakarta from Sumatra.

Nyoto arrived back home late at night. He immediately took his wife and six children away from their house in Jalan Malang to a house in Jalan Tirtayasa in Kebayoran Baru in South Jakarta. This was a large two-storey house. Nyoto and his family often stayed there on holidays. The house used to be owned by a Chinese family that had returned to China, and was then bought by the Party.

Tarni remembers that they stayed there only for a few days. While they were there and Nyoto spent his time reading, their house in Jalan Malang was ransacked by a mob. All their furniture and personal effects were thrown into the street and set alight. The newspaper also reported that things had been found at the house: army fatigues, complete with guns and grenades. But actually those army fatigues belonged to Wayang and Timur. They were children’s costumes that Nyoto had bought in Singapore, and indeed were complete with metal helmets, rifles, pistols and hand grenades. All just toys.

There was more ridiculous news saying that the mob had also found in Nyoto’s house a tool for eye-gouging. But what they called an ‘eye gouger’ was actually just a back-scratcher, the type sold everywhere as souvenirs in Solo and on Jalan Malioboro in Yogyakarta. However the saddest thing of all was that they burnt Nyoto’s entire book collection of thousands of books. Nyoto had painstakingly built up his collection, buying books from all the countries he visited. He had also been given many books as gifts.

Nyoto’s second child Wawang remembers his father’s book collection. There were thick volumes, most of them in foreign languages like Dutch, Russian, English, French and German. The books were stored in Nyoto’s study on specially-built bookshelves that went right up to the ceiling. This was an old Dutch house, so the ceilings were very high – about four metres high. There was also a big bookshelf dividing the sitting room from the family room. And apart from this, in the back garden there was a sort of shed that was separate from the house, and this was full of books neatly arranged on bookshelves. To the side of this were the rooms for the driver and the domestic helper.

One night, a group of soldiers came to the house on Jalan Tirtayasa. Luckily, some friends of Nyoto’s were staying there that night. A dialogue took place between the two sides. Nyoto said that as State Minister, his duty was to assist the Deputy Prime Minister Soebandrio carry out his duties. They left Nyoto alone, but took his pistol (which he owned himself) and took with them some of Nyoto’s friends. According to Tarni, from that moment her husband knew that he and his family’s safety was at risk if they stayed on in that house. They had to leave at once and find another place to stay that was safer.

And so began the episode of being refugees, or on the run. It was not an easy thing to find a place to sleep the night. Everyone was looking for safety, and to take in the family of the Communist Party leadership was a reckless act. Taking in one person seeking shelter might be possible, but to take in a whole family with six children was something else indeed. And some of Tarni’s children were still very young. There had to be baby food and milk. Not to mention clothes. Not to mention the children complaining. It was a huge imposition.

When they first left the house, fortunately one of Nyoto’s friends agreed to shelter Tarni and the children. Nyoto himself went elsewhere. But after just a few days in the Kebayoran Baru area, Tarni and the children had to move again. For a while, Wawang and Timur were separated from their mother and the four girls. But after the whole family had been moving around the city of Jakarta, they finally ended up at the student hostel of CGMI (Consentrasi Gerakan Mahasiswa Indonesia, Indonesian Student Movement Concentration) in Gunung Sahari. Tarni no longer remembers exactly when this was, but it was definitely 1965. She does recall that she often heard Christmas carols from the neighbour’s house.

The student hostel was a temporary construction. The walls were half brick topped with woven bamboo. It was set in the middle of a plot of land, and there was a large yard in front of the house. To the left and right of the house was about 2 metres of land. There was a high bamboo fence around the house, although it was not very compact. The hostel had a verandah at the front, then a sitting room, dining room, three bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, toilet and a manual pump at the back for water. There were two entrances to the house, one at the front and one at the back. The hostel was situated in a densely populated neighbourhood where many people of Chinese descent lived.

There were a few students still living at the hostel. Tarni’s children called them Uncle Gorma, Uncle Robert, Uncle Pardede and Uncle Kaligis. Many of their friends came and went, some of them staying overnight. Usually they discussed the latest developments and shared information. Gorma was from the Hutajulu clan, and was a student activist. He was strict and rigorous. He was made hostel leader. Even so, he often went shopping in the market and he could also cook. Pardede was the youngest of the students, and he was close to the children. But if the children did not take their showers, he would chase them with a reed broom.

Wawang talks about how he and his younger brother Timur had lots of friends when they stayed at Gunung Sahari – the neighbourhood children. He loved to play mock battles, hide and seek, bamboo sword fighting, and kites. Wawang was nine and Timur was turning eight. They used to make guns from match boxes, make their own kites, and the older kids taught them how to smear the kite strings with powdered glass. If they got bored with their games, sometimes they would wander around the neighbourhood and go out to the main road of Gunung Sahari Raya.

Svet and Wawang also loved reading comics. They don’t remember where the comics came from. Maybe those Sumatran uncles gave them the comics. There were stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. There were also stories about heroes created by Indonesian writers. It was also around this time that Timur, who previously would never eat rice, began to like rice. There was a radio at the house in Gunung Sahari. This is where they got the latest news updates. And there were also songs popular at that time by singers like Titik Puspa, Lilis Suryani and Fety Effendi. A real hit song that used to be played constantly was ‘Gang Kelinci’.

Sutarni’s belly got bigger by the day. She was pregnant. She remembers that when they were at Gunung Sahari, her husband visited her and the children twice. This was towards the end of 1965. And then her labour pains began. She was taken to a birthing clinic near Gunung Sahari in Jalan Kartini. And here her daughter was born, who she named Esti Sayati. The young Batak man called her Butet. Butet was born on 23 July 1966. This same date has now been named national children’s day. Butet was the only one of Nyoto’s children not named by their father, and she was also the only one who never met him.

Not long after Butet was born, the army came and ransacked the house at Gunung Sahari. It was still very early in the morning, but everyone in the house was woken. Tarni sat on the edge of the bed holding the baby. Captain Suroso, the army commander sat beside her. He asked her questions, speaking Javanese but in a rough way. Maybe this was his way of intimidating her. Meanwhile the other army personnel searched the house, even going up on the roof. They managed to find some books that Gorma had hidden in a hole under the rubbish. The search went on for ages.

When they came to search the house, Timur happened not be at home, as Gorma Hutajulu had taken him to North Jakarta where they stayed the night. So they escaped being taken by the army. Tarni and the other six children were taken away by car. The young men had already been taken first via the back door. The neighbours lined the alley way to the main road, and others peeped out from behind their windows. Wawang remembers that he was told to bring a rolled up mattress. Maybe the army was thinking about the newborn baby. All of them were then taken and detained at the Military District Command (Kodim) on Jalan Budi Kemuliaan. Today this is part of Bank Indonesia.

Tarni and her six children were put in a tiny room which was already full of women prisoners. You can imagine how it was when this room had to accommodate seven more people, even though six of them were children. There was one bathroom and toilet right beside the room, which often stank. Across from the bathroom were two rooms used for interrogating prisoners. The one on the western side was bigger than the main interrogation room, and was only about seven or eight metres away from the women’s’ cell. And in that room horrific episodes took place day after day. Screams, shouts and howls along with the sounds of beating and whipping were constant.

The brutal soldiers used all kinds of torture on the prisoners. This was also the case with the female detainees, who were sure to endure sexual abuse, especially the young ones. The army used any means at all to get the confessions they wanted. The most piercing and terrifying cries were heard when detainees were tortured with electric shocks. Some of them, because they held out from giving information, or were forced to confess, were later taken to the beach and shot. Many of the detainees were naked when they were tortured.

Wawang remembers how he once saw a man wearing only underpants thrown out of the room, covered with blood. He had received such a savage beating that he smashed against the door so hard it opened. The man was unconscious. Usually the torture victims would be returned to their cells, and there their cellmates would tend to them as best they could. They used cooking oil, shallot onions or just a rinse of warm water. The prisoners used to cook in the cell to supplement their meagre rations.

Then, one day Gorma Hutajulu was arrested. Like the other prisoners, he was interrogated and tortured. You could hear his loud screams when he was being given electric shocks. Tarni and the children recognised Gorma’s voice, but they could not utter a word. All they could do was hope that Timur was safe. Tarni was dreadfully worried about her third child, and just hoped someone was caring for him. Something else that made Tarni panic was when little Butet was accidentally burnt with hot water from the thermos. Fortunately Tarni was permitted to take her to the clinic, under guard of course.

In early 1967, around mid January, the military operation called Operasi Kalong (Operation Bat) had a big success when they captured Brigadier General Supardjo, one of the leaders of the 30th September Movement. Captain Suroso and his men were all promoted as a result. Captain Suroso was now major. When they began the interrogation of Brig. Gen. Supardjo, many people crowded around him. They came to get a close look at him, but this also put psychological pressure on him to confess.

Not long after the arrest of Brig. Gen. Supardjo, Tarni and the children were released from the Military Resort Command. Tarni’s younger brother Sutarwo gave a guarantee and took responsibility for them. The release was also because of Sutarwo’s personal efforts, through meeting President Soeharto’s wife, Ibu Tien Soeharto, at her home to ask for permission to take Tarni and the children to Solo in Central Java. There was a family connection between Tarni’s father Soemosutargiyo and Ibu Tien Soeharto’s father, Soemoharyomo. They were cousins, descended from Mangkunegara III. For people from Solo, this is considered close family. But sadly politics had severed this link, and they had to pursue separate paths.

Tarni’s brother Tarwo lived in Baturetno, a town between Solo and Pacitan in south Wonogiri. He worked in the Tasikmadu sugar factory in Karanganyar, Solo. As a relatively high-ranking employee, he was allotted a moderately large official residence. He was in charge of supplying the sugar factory with limestone from the hills of Selomarto to the south of Baturetno, which was taken by rail. The limestone was taken by truck to the station at Baturetno, and then in cattle wagons by train. Today those railway tracks are gone – all submerged by the Gajah Mungkur dam.

Needless to say, the arrival of Tarni and her children in Baturetno attracted much attention. In such a small town, everyone knew everyone. And Tarni had young children with her, none of whom could speak Javanese. Tarwo’s position as Limestone Controller at least kept the local people from gossiping. But many local figures knew who Tarni and the children were. Namely, a family affected by the incident of 1 October 1965.

Uncle Tarwo (as the children called him) had nine children of his own. Three boys and six girls. On top of this, there were relatives and nephews and nieces. So it was a big extended family even before the arrival of seven more. It was lively and happy there. But even though Tarwo was relatively well off, these were difficult times. The economy was in a mess. And everywhere people had to queue for rice and kerosene.

Everyone, Tarwo and his extended family included, had to tighten their belts and live as best they could. Svet, Wawang and their younger brothers and sisters had to learn how to live frugally. For breakfast, they would usually eat rice porridge or broken-rice porridge, namely the ‘second’ broken grains that were much cheaper. Sometimes the children would eat steamed cassava cake (getuk), with palm sugar or soy sauce. For lunch they would have boiled corn husks, or boiled cassava with chilli vegetables and soya bean cake.

Because Baturetno was a rural area, it was not too difficult to get basic foodstuffs because locals still produced their own food. There were all kinds of plants in Uncle Tarwo’s large garden including coconut trees, turi bushes, lead trees, papaya, banana, cassava, chillies and tomatoes. Out the back he kept goats, chickens, ducks and geese. There was also a fish pond. And you could always also buy vegetables cheaply in the market.

All the children, Tarni’s children and the cousins, played in the large yard. The girls liked to play house or market, as well as knuckle bones and a counting game with seeds called congklak. The boys liked to play with kites, marbles, cards, and do drawing. Together, boys and girls would play a ball game called kasti, chasing, hop-scotch, and walking on stilts. They communicated in a mixture of Javanese and Indonesian. And if at times they did not understand one another, they found this funny and laughed about it.

Uncle Tarwo’s house was directly across from the primary school. Svet and Wawang attended school there. Svet was in fifth class, Wawang in third class and Risa in the first class. They immediately attracted a lot of attention from the teachers and the other pupils. Lessons in Javanese language, arts and literature were completely new to them. They had never learnt to write the Javanese alphabet. It was not easy. Nor was the Javanese language which has seven different levels, or three main levels, the everyday language of ngoko, the more polite level of krama lugu, and the extremely polite krama inggil.

The Javanese language has a rich vocabulary. Every flower and plant has a separate name, as do animal offspring. For instance, a baby buffalo is called a gudhel, a baby lizard is called sawiyah, a chick is kuthuk, a puppy kirik, and so on. In the culture lessons, they learnt traditional Javanese sung poems, all the twelve different verse forms, like pucung, dandanggula, pangkur, mijil, megatruh, kinanti and so on.

Even though Svet and Wawang were born in Jakarta, they already had some familiarity with Javanese art forms. They knew about gamelan music, wayang kulit, wayang orang, ludruk and ketoprak. Their father Nyoto’s role as a driving force in Lekra was extremely important in introducing the children to art forms from all over Indonesia. Nyoto used to have a large record collection. Apart from national songs, classical music, jazz and popular music, he also had a lot of kroncong and Javanese traditional arts like gamelan, wayang orang and ludruk.

Wawang talks about his primary school days in Baturetno as a really happy time. There were lots of practical lessons in village skills. He learnt crafts, like how to make door mats and brooms from coconut fibre, reed brooms, feather dusters, and limestone ash trays. There were other crafts with wood, coconut shell, bamboo, fungus, coconut husks, roots, chicken feathers and all kinds of things. He particularly remembers learning to draw wayang kulit figures and cut them out on cardboard, with all the decorative incisions and painting.

Another typical village activity was to look for grass and firewood, and to herd ducks and goats. Sometimes he would walk with his friends along the railway tracks and go swimming in the river. There were often all night wayang kulit performances, and he would stay up watching, tucking a sarong around him as protection from the mosquitoes. They could not watch the ketoprak drama performances, though, because you had to buy tickets. He could only peep through the cracks in the walls.

One year later, in 1968, Timur arrived from Jakarta. Tarni was very relieved. At last her third child was together with them again and he was healthy and well. But Timur did not go to school in Baturetno. He went to stay with his aunt in Solo, Tarni’s older sister called Sutarminah Djusen. Uncle Tarwo was number seven in that family of 12 children, and Tarni herself was number eight. Timur attended the Tegalharjo primary school which was close to his aunt’s house. She had a huge house. This was because her husband, Djusen, was an architect and a contractor. He helped build the campus of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, the Daksinapati University campus, and the campus of the Indonesian Institute of the Arts in Solo.

In 1969, Svet and Wawang also went to live with their Uncle Djusen in Solo. Svet had finished primary school and now enrolled in junior high school (SMP Negeri III) in Solo. She was in the same class as her cousin Rita, Uncle Djusen’s fourth child. Wawang entered class 5 of the same primary school as Timur, Tegalharjo school. The younger girls all stayed at Baruretno. Wawang and Timur remember their time in Solo fondly. They got to know every nook and cranny of the town, and can remember all the names of different areas and places to this day.

This was the time when everyone was crazy about the band Koes Plus, and then other bands like Mercy’s, Panbers and Favourite Group. The top singers in Solo were Titik Sandhora and Waljinah. There were many youth gangs too which often caused trouble. Street fights and brawls, skipping school, graffiti, racing in the streets, sex, staying up all night and getting drunk were the gangs’ daily rituals. But in response to this, many martial arts clubs of varied persuasions arose, such as karate, pencak silat and kung-fu.

But that year Uncle Djusen died, after a long illness. His only daughter was not with him at his death because she was with her husband in Pekanbaru, Riau. Crowds of people came to his funeral and joined the procession to the graveyard. Afterwards, there were many problems concerning his business to do with management and also his many business assets. His wife did not want to have anything to do with all this, and asked all her late husband’s relatives to sort it out.

Then, in 1969, something dreadful happened. The army arrested Tarni, accusing her of secret meetings with ‘communist remnants’. Even though what they were referring to was when Tarni attended her niece’s wedding in Solo. The new commander at the Military Area Command (Korem) wanted to make a name for himself. So he found a pretext to take Tarni for ‘further processing’. She was taken to Solo together with her youngest daughter, Butet. She refused to leave Butet behind, because she was too young. Tarni also did this deliberately because she thought that the army would not act as irresponsibly if she had a small child in her arms.

Tarni was detained and interrogated at the City Hall in Solo. She refused to acknowledge that she had ever had secret meetings with Communist Party people. To most of the questions she answered ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I forget’. But this was the truth. Tarni had never been active in the party, in any organisation, or in Gerwani. She was truly a housewife whose focus was the family. Of course she knew many party people and officials, but this was because they were her husband’s colleagues. After a short time, Tarni was moved from the City Hall in Solo to the Women’s’ Prison in Bulu, Semarang. Butet was still with her.

Butet was a favourite with everyone at the prison, with both the women prisoners and the guards. She lightened their hearts and entertained them. When families came to visit the prisoners, they always gave Butet snacks like cakes and bread or other food. Luckily, Butet never caused any trouble in the prison. She used to ask why there were so many women there. She also missed her older sisters, who did not come to visit. Tarni’s youngest brother came to visit a few times. Aunt Djusen and Uncle Tarwo came to visit the prison in Semarang only once.

In prison, Tarni worried constantly about her other children. She was desperately sad to be parted from them. The political and military upheaval had completely changed her life and that of her family. But she hoped that all her children were safe with their relatives. Their willingness to help was truly astounding, especially when they themselves were interrogated and detained for short periods, needless to say because of their family relationship with Nyoto. Nonetheless they continued to generously offer support and to help as best they could. And this is how things should be.

Unlike other women prisoners, Tarni was always treated well in prison. The guards showed her respect. But some of the officers were malicious, complaining, quarrelsome, or acted tough. Well, they were just human beings. It is understandable. The women prisoners, to combat boredom, were given various activities. There was physical fitness, badminton, and ping pong. There was also sewing, weaving, crochet and knitting. The results were various pieces of handiwork ‘made in Bulu prison’.

Time marched on. In early 1970 Tarni got news that her three daughters in Baturetno, Risa, Irina and Atun, were now together with the other three children in Solo. It was not good for them to be separated from both their mother and their older brothers and sister who were safe in their widowed Aunt Djusen’s care. The children helped to liven up that big house. There was also a relative called ‘Wo Wir’ living there, a domestic helper called Mbok Nem and the driver called Kasimanto.

After the death of her husband, Aunt Djusen’s health declined. Her stomach enlarged and it felt as though she was being pierced by something sharp. She went to the doctor and was also examined in hospital, but nothing helped. And then, at the suggestion of a relative, she decided to go to a traditional healer in Purwodadi. His diagnosis was that Aunt Djusen was the inadvertent victim of black magic. She had been affected by a spell that was not meant for her. Because she was in a weak physical and mental condition, the spell had entered her.

As soon as she got back home from Purwodadi, the healing ritual began. Every morning, Wawang and Timur had to go and buy a chicken egg at the Gilingan market near the house. They rubbed the egg all over Aunt Djusen’s body, and then they cracked it open. And, incredible! In the yolk there was a rusty needle. This went on every day for 40 days, and that was exactly the number of needles found in her body. After that, her health improved, although she never fully recovered her former health.

Aunt Djusen’s daughter, Isnaeni, worried about her mother’s health, and decided to take her to Pekanbaru. Isnaeni’s husband worked with Caltex where there were good medical services. And Isnaeni had two sons aged four and five. They were very happy to be close to their grandmother.

Aunt Djusen asked her youngest sister, Tardi, to look after the house and Tarni’s children. Tardi and her family were living in the area of Jebres, to the east of the city. But they now moved to Aunt Djusen’s house. Tardi also had many children – six at this time. The oldest, Heru, was 12, the same age as Timur. And so now the big house was full of children. They all got on well, even though there were the normal quarrels and fights here and there. Like all children.

This was the period when the economy was unstable. Everyone was still living hand to mouth. In Solo, people had to queue to buy rice or kerosene. Every now and then the government would distribute cracked wheat (bulgur). But it did not taste good. Many people preferred corn to cracked wheat. People in the city were much worse off than people in villages like Baturetno. In the villages, people could still grow their own produce. But even with this, conditions worsened when a national lottery called NALO was introduced. Who knows whose crazy idea this was. The people were told to live on false hopes alone!

The national lottery had a terrible effect on social life. Everyone suddenly went mad gambling. And not only men, the housewives also became addicts. From high officials to becak drivers, from farmers to students, everyone turned into a gambler. Suddenly there were fortune tellers everywhere, called dukun or paranormal. Many families were destroyed, all their worldly wealth gone, along with their dreams. Many changed to a lesser form of gambling, for instance betting on the last two, three or four numbers of the lottery. The lottery was drawn weekly. And that’s what happened. The poor got poorer.

Towards the end of 1970, Wawang was preparing for primary school exams. Three subjects were examined at a national level, namely Indonesian, arithmetic and general knowledge. He studied in a group of five. Every day they would move from one person’s house to the next. Finally, the examination day arrived. The exam was held at a different school. This was a good system. And it turned out that Wawang’s hard work had not been in vain, because he got good marks. He scored 10 for every subject. He hoped his good result would please his Aunt Djusen, because it was she who had cared for him and put him through school.

Uncle Tarwo now entered Wawang in junior high school (SMP Negeri III) in Solo. The headmaster of the school, Maryadi, was Uncle Tarwo’s friend, and all his children went to this school. For some reason, many children from the Surakarta palace, sons and daughters of Paku Buwana XII, also went to this school. One of them, Tedjowulan, was a classmate of Svet’s, and it was he who later came to be Paku Buwana XIII, replacing his father. Two other sons of Paku Buwana XII, Suryo and Bandono, were classmates of Wawang.

And time moved on. Every day, Aunt Djusen’s financial burden grew. Her house was large, and cost a lot to upkeep. Costs of electricity, water and maintenance were high. Not to mention the costs of food and school fees for all her nephews and nieces. Her only income was her late husband’s savings. So to reduce the financial burden, with the agreement of her children, it was decided to sell the house on Jalan Wolter Mongisidi.

The person given first option on the house was Dr Kwik, her neighbour. He had once said to Aunt Djusen that if she ever wanted to sell, he would buy the house. He wanted to turn the house into a hospital. With the proceeds from selling the house, Aunt Djusen was able to buy a small house in Jalan Madyotaman, near the Batik Semar factory. The house had a living room, five bedrooms, a bathroom, toilet, laundry and kitchen. Wawang and his younger brother and sisters moved there too.

The head of the house at Madyotaman was ‘Wo Wiro’, a relative. Apart from her there was Wawang and Kasimanto’s cousin Utiek, and Aunt Djusen’s driver. Tardi and his family returned to their house in Jebres. Svet had completed junior high school and went to Jakarta for her high schooling. She lived with her aunt, Tari, at the Bakri Brothers’ factory housing complex in Mampang Prapatan.

When they had some spare time, Wawang and Timur often went to the lending library. Wawang loved to read the silat stories by SH Mintardjo called Nagasasra Sabuk Inten (Nagasasra with the Diamond Belt) and the serial Api di Bukit Menoreh (Fire on Mount Menoreh). Timur liked to borrow comics popular at the time like Si Buta dari Goa Hantu (The Blind One from Ghost Cave), Laba-laba Merah (Red Spiders) and so on. The two of them often played badminton or football. There was a badminton court near the house. At night they liked to watch television at the neighbour’s house. Their favourite program was the serial Mission Impossible.

But the time at Madyotaman did not last long. Only just over a year. That house too had to be sold. Aunt Djusen needed money to help her daughter build a house at Pasar Minggu in Jakarta. Her son-in-law had left Caltex and was now working for Pertamina in Jakarta. Economic conditions in Solo were so bad by this time that no one wanted to take in five children. So they had to be split up. This was not something that anyone wanted, but they had to accept it.

So Wawang went to live with Aunt Wigno, one of Nyoto’s cousins. Timur went to live with Mas Wahyudi, a cousin who lived in the Air Force complex in Panasan. Risa, Irina and Atun went to live with Uncle Tarso, their mother Sutarni’s younger sister (child number eleven) in Kadipiro, in North Solo. But after just a few months, Wawang and Irina were also taken to Jakarta. There, their Aunt Tarko met them to take them both with her to Sumatra. Aunt Tarko was their mother’s older sister, the fifth child in that large family. She had lived and worked in Sumatra for a long time.

Aunt Tarko lived in Kayuagung, the regency capital of Ogan Komering Ilir in South Sumatra, to the south of the city of Palembang. She had three children, Pebsi, Oki and Novi. They spoke the local Palembang language to each other. Much of the vocabulary was foreign to Wawang and Irina. They also found the accent strange. So Wawang and Irina used Indonesian. In Sumatra at that time, the use of Indonesian was more common, because there the local language was Malay.

But there was something interesting. It turned out there was also a local language at Kayuagung, and it existed in two versions. Between the ‘town Kayuagung’ (Kayuagung kota) and ‘original Kayuagung’ (Kayuagung asli) was a kampung across the Koerming river which had a different language. Areas that were very close to each other had their own languages. The language of Palembang was the unifying language. This is part of Indonesia’s invaluable heritage.

Uncle Tarko lived in a traditional Sumatran house, a wooden house raised on stilts. It measured about 6 × 11 metres. There were many supporting wooden pillars set on big stone blocks. The floor of the house was three metres above the ground. There were only two bedrooms in the house, one dining room and a kitchen at the back. The bathroom was under the kitchen, and the well and toilet were separate at the back of the house. Underneath the house there was a ping-pong table. The middle section beneath the house was used for a chicken coop and to store firewood.

At her uncle’s house, Irina’s daily job was to clean the house, help with the washing, and boil water. Wawang had many jobs. Early in the morning he had to go shopping in the market. When he got home from school he had to take a lunch box of food to his uncle’s workplace at the petrol station. After that he had to tend to the chickens. There were many different kinds of chickens, including leghorn, red brown and australop. In the evenings he would do the ironing using a charcoal iron. Sundays were gardening days when they planted cassava, taro, banana, pineapple, bitter melon and peas.

Most Sumatran cooking uses coconut cream, turmeric and chilli pepper. The basic everyday staple is fresh water fish. There are many different kinds of fish. At Kayuagung the most common snacks were fishcakes, fish crackers, fried bananas and a red bean ice drink. Every area of Indonesia has its food speciality.

Wawang stayed at Kayuagung until 1976 when he graduated from high school (SMEA Negeri) specialising in librarianship. Then he returned to Jakarta to look for work. Irina stayed longer in Kayuagung. After completing primary and junior high school, she went on to study at a high school for training teachers. Graduates from these schools could teach in primary school. Wawang and Irina had many experiences when they lived in Sumatra, all of which were good preparation for their lives that lay ahead.

Back to Solo now. When Timur finished junior high school in 1974, he and his younger sister went to live with their aunt who lived in Medan. She was Aunt Henny, Nyoto’s youngest sister. She had married a dentist from the Sitorus clan called Hakim. Henny and Hakim had met in Surabaya. Hakim was a graduate of Airlangga University where he had shared accommodation with Fadli, the dentist who was a well-known film star. Henny had four children, two boys and two girls. All four were still very young, and so Timur and Atun helped look after them.

Hakim’s work as a dentist meant that the family was relatively well off. He had many patients, and a large house. But later on his career went off on a tangent. He was made Head of the Coordinating Body for Family Planning at Tebing Tinggi in North Sumatra. This led to a political position as head of the regional government (DPRD) of Tebing Tinggi. Who knows what connection there is between dentistry and family planning. But, well, this is Indonesia where anything can happen. Just imagine if anyone had found out he was Nyoto’s brother-in-law!

Timur continued his study at a technical high school studying car mechanics. At school, though, he had always been good at art. He was very good at drawing and painting. His writing was also good. At junior high school he painted decorations on big pots and paper parasols to decorate the school. He also made models from papier maché and drew portraits of heroes. When he was at Uncle Hakim’s house he helped out with the patients’ files. He also learnt how to make false teeth.

Timur, though, is the quiet type. Sadly, it is extremely difficult to get him to talk about his life. There seems to be something in the past he wants to forget. He has many friends. He is clever and smart, so it is not surprising that his friends like him. His laugh is just like his father’s. He also has a great taste in music, just like his father, and he can play all kinds of musical instruments. His music collection includes jazz, progressive pop, fusion and so on. He does not like politics, but is crazy about football, also just like Nyoto.

Timur was lucky in that when he entered technical high school, mechanics was a new department. Graduates were sought after by businesses. Timur graduated in 1977 and immediately got a job with a heavy industry business called Trakindo in Medan. Trakindo sent him to Jakarta many times for training courses. This was a good opportunity for him. When he was there he was able to meet his brother Wawang and sisters Svet and Risa. Timur was relocated from Medan to Lhoksemawe in north Aceh. Many businesses there needed heavy equipment. Atun, Tarni’s sixth child, was six years younger than Timur. When she finished junior high school she went on to a school for dental nurses. She hoped that she could work for her uncle when she finished. During the day, she helped her aunt with the housework, and also cared for her little cousins. Timur and Atun, like their uncle’s family, communicate in Indonesian with a heavy Medan accent. But they never learnt to speak the Batak language, just a few words here and there.

Timur and Atun were the only ones of Tarni’s children who were cared for by Nyoto’s family. The rest were all brought up by Tarni’s own family. This is because Nyoto had only three siblings, whereas Tarni came from a large family. Tarni felt relieved that none of her children was left stranded. They were all well cared for and educated well, by their own relatives. Not by other people. Not like herself, ‘cared for’ by the State. Or her husband, given special ‘disappearing’ treatment by the army!

When Irina and Atun left, Risa, Tarni’s fourth child, went to live with Isnaeni, the only child of Aunt Djusen, who lived in Jakarta. Unlike the other children, Risa never completed her schooling. The separation from her mother and brothers and sisters deeply troubled her. Even though very slightly built, she is a master of female skills. She followed in her mother’s footsteps, clever at cooking, baking, sewing, make-up and hair dressing.

Isnaeni taught Risa interior design and flower arranging. But Risa always had health problems. She had a severe stomach ulcer and often had headaches. Skills are not only obtained sitting at a school desk, one also learns extremely useful things in other ways. Learning by asking, reading, watching, listening, remembering, trying and putting into practice is another model.

Tarni herself, after almost two years at the Bulu Semarang prison was moved to the Bukit Duri detention centre in 1971. Her youngest child, Butet, was not permitted to accompany her mother. She had to be given to someone to care for her as she was now five and when children turned five they were no longer allowed to be cared for by their mothers in prison. Tarni was extremely sad about this. Now she was completely on her own, with none of her seven children. Where is there a mother in the world who would not be sad, thinking about all her children having to live without their parents’ love?

Tari, Tarni’s younger sister who lived in Jakarta, took Butet at first, but then Tarti, Tarni’s immediate younger sister and number nine in the family, ‘adopted’ her. Tarti’s husband, Heryono, was head of the Office for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics and lived in Ronodigdayan, Yogyakarta. Butet was enrolled in kindergarten. From then on, she was called Tetty, (from her full name, Esti Dayati). Heryono had two children, a girl and a boy. Esti was dearly loved by the whole family.

Tetty spent all her childhood in Yogyakarta, from kindergarten until she graduated from university. Her adoptive mother Tarti died in 1983 when Tetty was still in senior high school, and her adoptive father died in 1988 when she was in her last year of university. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Development Economics from Gadjah Mada University. Tetty is the only one of all Nyoto’s children who obtained a bachelor’s degree.

Tarni’s younger sister Tari often visited Tarni in Bukit Duri prison. She would usually bring food. When Svet moved to Jakarta she could also visit her mother. But to visit political prisoners was not easy. You had to have a letter from the local authorities where you lived (kantor kelurahan) and a special permit from the Guntur Military Police Corps in Jakarta. And to get this permit was not just one visit – you sometimes had to go many times before the permit was forthcoming. Risa and Wawang regularly visited their mother in prison.

Tarni was held in Bukit Duri for a long time. Finally, at the end of 1977, she forgets which month, she was moved yet again, this time to Central Java to Plantungan, Sukorejo. Three busloads of women prisoners were taken from Jakarta to ‘exile’ in Plantungan. Who knows what was behind this decision, why the women were moved there. Was it because they were considered to be so dangerous to the State, or was it just because they were considered no more than trash, so that for more than a decade after the 1965 incident they still had to be punished in prison, without any legal process, and without any sentence in a court of law.

Plantungan had been a leper colony in colonial times. It was situated in a valley beside a flowing river with large rocks. When Tarni arrived, the place was neat and well organised. This was not the case for those who were first sent there, though, when conditions were shocking. It was like jungle, overgrown with weeds and frightening. The living quarters were damp, dirty and stank. It was snake infested. The first group of women had to work extra hard just to make the place liveable and safe.

Tarni’s relocation was sudden and without any prior notice. The family lost track of her. After asking around, they found just the name of the location, Plantungan. They had no idea where this was. No one knew. Tari gave Wawang the task of finding the place where the army had taken his mother. It was not easy to get to Plantungan. Wawang had to go to Solo first to ask his family to help find this place called Plantungan. They left from Solo for Semarang.

From Semarang they went on to Kendal. The journey was not over yet. They still had to change buses and go on to Sukorejo via Weleri. They had to wait a long time to find a car to take them there. There was no public transport to Plantungan. It was evening. Finally Wawang had to charter an illegal taxi to get there. It was a long way, and they were exhausted. And it was very expensive.

At Sukorejo, Wawang and his relative, Mas Wardi, met a female prison officer who happened to be returning to Plantungan where she worked. She asked, ‘Who do you want to see at Plantungan?’ Wawang said he wanted to see his mother named Tarni. Luckily the officer knew the Tarni that Wawang was referring to. And it was because of her help that Wawang was finally taken to meet his mother.

The meeting was extremely short, just half an hour – absolutely nothing compared to the half day’s journey there from Solo. But Wawang was relieved to see his mother healthy and her face bright. He gave his mother news of the family in Jakarta and Solo. Tarni was extremely moved that her son had come all this way just to find out how she was. Even though the meeting was brief, it was like balm to her pain of longing for her family. Tarni’s group was the last intake to Plantungan. The first group was sent there in 1971, when Tarni had been moved from Bulu Semarang to Bukit Duri in Jakarta. And when Tarni arrived in Plantungan, some of the inmates had been moved back to Bulu prison in Semarang. To use contemporary terminology, this was to maximise ‘operational funds’. The army’s behaviour is the same from one period to the next, it never changes!

It turned out that Plantungan was the last detention place. Plantungan was another entry on the female political prisoners’ long curriculum vitae. It was the most beautiful place that the Soeharto regime gave to those who had been used for the birth of the New Order, those made scapegoats to justify all his political manoeuvring. In mid 1978, the first Plantungan female prisoners were released. Then the others followed, in batches. Tarni was released at the end of 1978 from Salemba, Jakarta.

Tarni’s younger sister Tari and brother-in-law Sambodo came to collect her. The family was relieved. For the time being, Tarni stayed with Tari in Mampang Prapatan. Only three of her seven children were living in Jakarta. Timur and Atun were still in Medan. Irina was at school in south Sumatra, and Tetty, the youngest, was with her adoptive parents in Yogya. It took quite some time for Tarni to adapt to normal life after life in detention. There was also a psychological barrier for her to communicate freely and openly, even with her own children.

With many people’s help, Tarni was able to rent a small house in Rawamangun, east Jakarta. She spent her days sewing, with her skilled daughter Risa helping her. Over time, she got more and more customers. But she had problems with arthritis in her fingers and knees. She had to have regular physiotherapy at the hospital, and acupuncture from a friend who was also an ex-political prisoner. Svet, Wawang and Risa came to live with her. Later on, when Irina finished school, she too was able to come and live with her mother. She became a primary school teacher and taught at a school near her mother’s house.

There was something strange about the social acceptance of ex political prisoners. Protestant and Catholic groups were able to accept them with open arms. But the majority who were Muslim gave the impression of keeping a distance. The reason was not clear. It could be because this group was directly involved in the campaign to annihilate the ‘communists’. Rather than embrace the returnees, give them sermons or religious teaching, the Muslims seemed to actively reject them. There was only one Muslim who wanted to communicate with them and to apologise to the victims, and that was Abdurrahman Wahid.

Soeharto’s politics continued. There was the issue of ‘latent communists’ which was used to attack his political enemies. The Soeharto regime even had the gall to ask the ex political prisoners to vote for Golkar in the 1982 election so that Soeharto would remain in power. As an ex prisoner, Tarni was once called up to the local administration office (kelurahan) together with newcomers who were becak drivers and so forth. They were all registered and instructed on how to ensure that the ‘yellow’ party (Golkar) would win the election. Incredible! Soeharto and his Golkar collaborating with people branded as communists! For real!

Tarni was overjoyed when her oldest child, Svet, married a young man from Yogya. Not long after, Timur married a girl he got to know in Aceh. Her family knew nothing at all about Timur’s background. Wawang’s father-in-law, though was a military man. He was a member of the Military Police army (PUSPOM ABRI) intelligence. He knew exactly who Nyoto was. But he allowed his daughter to marry the son of a Communist Party boss! Risalina, the fourth child, married a painter who was also an ex political prisoner from Kroya, central Java. And Atun married a work colleague, also a Javanese born in Jakarta. The youngest, Tetty, married a Yogya man, the son of a dentist.

Tarni is a grandmother now, her body aged. Her youthful beauty is replaced with wrinkles. She walks with difficulty because of the decades of calcification on her knees. Her memory is also fading. But she does not forget her experience in detention. She has 12 grandchildren. Svet, Wawang and Timur each have two boys. Risa has one boy. Atun has two girls. Tetty has three children, one boy and two girls. None of them ever knew their grandfather, Nyoto. Not even where his body lies buried!

Tarni and her family’s experience was not as dramatic as that of other victims. The most painful thing was the disappearance of Nyoto, the head of the family; the loss of a father who deeply loved his family. Someone who was deliberately disappeared so as to muddy and bury history. Disappeared by his own relative, who was now The Boss [Soeharto. Trs], so that a new history could be born, so new heroes could be born. But history cannot be manipulated, it will fix itself and bury those who manipulate it.

Interviewer and transcriber: Ilham Dayawan.

Writer: Ilham Dayawan.

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

   by Putu Oka Sukanta