Life

Record-Keeper of the exiled
and forgotten


Sarmadji Sutiyo collects obituaries of the exiled and the outcast.

Since 1968 he has documented dozens of death certificates, letters and pictures of about 50 exiled Indonesians who died far away from their homeland, families and friends.

His endeavor has been heard by the politically exiled people, mostly those who live in Western Europe, where at least 100 people are spending the twilight of their lives alone.

Hence, every time an exiled friend died, friends or family would send a letter, sometimes with a death certificate, the picture and short obituary to Sarmadji's place in Amsterdam.

Sarmadji, known affectionately as Warjo to his friends, carefully keeps the documents in folders inside a clear plastic holder.

""Some of my friends also entrusted their books and papers to me, when they heard that I have a private library and documentation,"" Sarmadji told The Jakarta Post.

His small apartment could hardly be considered fit to live in. It looks more like a library that has a bunk bed filled with pile of books along the edges, and a kitchen.

He keeps some of the books and publications inside banana crates that make his apartment resemble a fruit warehouse.

In the library-cum-house, he has little red books in the original Chinese and in Indonesian translation. Sarmadji also has some publications by leftist organizations like the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) or People's Cultural Institution (Lekra).

""I call this special collection a 'Monument to those who cannot go home',"" he said.

Sarmadji, 75, cannot go home because he went to study at a university in Beijing before the Sept. 30, 1965 tragedy took place. Previously, he was a government official at the Ministry of Education in Jakarta. His political activities in Indonesia was mostly related to PKI's youth arm, Pemuda Rakyat, which he joined in 1950.

After years in China, he moved to the Netherlands where he lives in his ""library"" alone.

He has named his library ""Perhimpunan Dokumentasi Indonesia (Indonesian Documentation Collection)"" or Perdoi. Assisted by his friend, Gogol Rusiyanadi, he has made a stamp for the library, an e-mail address (perdoi@gmail.com) and has started putting in the catalog thousands of the titles he keeps.

""I'm thinking to put more serious effort into the library, like setting up a foundation for this,"" he said.

So far, Perdoi has been largely financed by Sarmadji himself. However, he realizes that his collection is valuable, not only for him but also for the public. Many of the books he keeps are rare and important for academic research.

He can even claim his collection is the most complete library of the leftist thinking of Indonesia, for many leftist books and publications in the country were destroyed or held in locked vaults.

""Some of the collection was displayed during an exhibition at the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague,"" Sarmadji said, beaming.

A staunch supporter of Soekarno and a true nationalist, Sarmadji obviously feels proud to be recognized as a contributing Indonesian, if not by the state but by workers at the embassy.

Decades of exile from his own homeland have not faded his hope that someday he could come home as a respectable Indonesian citizen.

After his Indonesian passport was revoked in 1965, he kept a special passport for the citizenshipless. The passport allows him to go everywhere in the world except to Indonesia.

His hopes were high when then-justice minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra came to the Netherlands to make a first step toward reconciliation. But when no news ever came after the visit, he decided to register as a Dutch citizen.

""I was born before 1945. So the Dutch government told me I could have Dutch citizenship if I agreed to be called a Dutch Indies citizen. It felt like being back as a 'kawula', a servant to the Dutch government,"" he said.

But he really wanted to visit Indonesia, so he complied with the requirement; therefore, he can visit the country on a tourist visa.

He has no family in Indonesia except for his brother. He also has no income if he leaves the Netherlands, the government of which gives him decent pension from years of working as a glass cutter in a factory.

Speaking with him, one cannot feel how deep his sadness is, because he seems strong and happy.

But for years he has been doing the saddest work an exiled citizen could ever choose to do: Neatly saving stories of one lost friend after another, keeping track of those who died far away from home, all as an alien.

(Evi Mariani)

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