'Sulawesi Testifies' reveals rare perspective on 1965 massacre
The Jakarta Post
Five young people have written a historical gem of a book titled Sulawesi Bersaksi (Sulawesi Testifies), revealing rare accounts of survivors and their families after the purge of suspected communists in 1965 in Sulawesi.
Edited by author Putu Oka Sukanta, himself jailed for 10 years by the New Order, the book, written by these young human rights activists from Central Sulawesi, features interviews with an accomplice of the murderers of four detainees in the province as well as with 12 survivors and the children and wives of survivors who were tortured, jailed and forced to work after the Sept. 30, 1965, tragedy.
Historian Hilmar Farid said in a recent discussion hosted by the German cultural center Goethe Institut in Central Jakarta that the book was extraordinary, as 1965 accounts were mostly centered around Java. 'When Sulawesi comes to the front, it has to be lauded.'
Another of the book's authors, Gagarisman, a son of the leader of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) of Central Sulawesi, read a poem on the stage at Goethe, telling of his family's story after his father, Abdul Rahman Dg. Maselo, was detained in 1965 and declared missing in 1967.
They did not know for sure what happened to Maselo until 2007, when a retired soldier, Ahmad
Bantam, came forward and told the family what happened.
Bantam said he and two fellow corporals dug two holes in a hill between Donggala and Palu. He said he was told by his superior, Capt. Umar Said to sit by the car while Umar, two soldiers and a man armed with a Sten gun escorted three tied detainees, including Maselo, to the holes.
There was a loud bang and the men returned without the detainees, Bantam said.
Bantam's story, told through an interview with Nurlaela AK Lamasitudju, or Ella, was the only account from an accomplice.
The accounts of the survivors, the children and the wives were even more poignant.
All of the accounts written by Ella, Alamsyah AK Lamasitudju, Gagarisman, Muhammad Abbas and Nurhasanah were based on their interviews aided by human rights advocacy group SKP HAM Palu, where Ella worked.
Most of those who told the stories were from Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi and North Sulawesi.
Ella said that SKP HAM has recorded 1,210 tales of victims in Central Sulawesi and more in other provinces.
Unlike as happened in Java, the military in Sulawesi did not mobilize civilians to kill suspected communists, which Hilmar attributed to the lesser local influence of PKI and differences within the military, which, during the beginning of Soeharto's regime, was not as monolithic as it would be later during his rule.
Nasir, a student activist from Palu, said that an absence of civilian involvement in the violence could be due to a failure to implement the PKI's land reform policy, which gave land ownership to peasants, in Sulawesi.
In Java, members of the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the nation's largest Muslim social organization, were among the executioners of suspected communists, as many forced to relinquish land were religious leaders from NU.
Ella said the pattern of events following Sept. 30, 1965, in Sulawesi differed between provinces.
In Central Sulawesi, for example, only 17 reported missing or dead. The figures were higher elsewhere, she said. 'In Bone [South Sulawesi] alone, there were more than a thousand.'
She said she even heard stories from North Sulawesi survivors about the use of decapitation devices.
The book, published by Lembaga Kreatifitas Kemanusiaan and supported by the Tapol Campaign in London, is part of SKP HAM's work to shed light on what happened in Sulawesi, and in particular in Palu.
Years of work has resulted in a rare apology from public officials. In March 2012, after many discussions, including a screening of Joshua Oppenheimer' The Act of Killing, Palu Mayor Rusdy Mastura made a public apology to victims and survivors of the purge in Palu.
The mayor said that survivors, mostly impoverished elderly people, would get health insurance from the city's budget.
'I was guilty, too. On March 24, 1966, I was told by the military, as a boy scout, to help guard [suspected] PKI who were gathered in a square. 'I guarded them with my boy scout stick.'
Rusdy later announced a campaign called 'Palu, a City with Human Rights Awareness'.
Meanwhile, Ella said many of the survivors' wish was simple: only to have the truth revealed.
Gagarisman's family's wish, perhaps less grand, was more moving.
'The way my father was buried was uncivilized, befitting only those of the unfaithful,' Gagar said. 'I am a Muslim. Please, recover my father's body, return him to the family so we can have a funeral as befits a Muslim family.'
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