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The voices of the oppressed from a satay stall

Bambang Muryanto

The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta  /  Tue, December 18, 2018  /  08:57 am
The voices of the oppressed from a satay stall

Survivor: The real life Sumilah works at her satay stall in Prambanan on Aug. 2, 2012. After being freed from the Plantungan women’s camp in 1979, she opened the stall to support her family. Sumilah died on March 27, 2018 at 67. (The Jakarta Post/Bambang Muryanto)

The Selasar Barat Building inside the Gadjah Mada University (UGM) complex in Yogyakarta was turned into a satay stall on the evening of Nov. 30.

The stall was said to belong to Sumilah, known as Bu Milah, a survivor of the 1965 tragedy when hundreds of thousands of Indonesian people accused of supporting the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) were killed.

Sumilah’s stall not only offered lamb satay, with its appetizing aroma, but also a slice of historical truth about the genocide and reconciliation.

The stall, which was once open in Yogyakarta’s Prambanan Market, was the backdrop of a theater story titled Selamatan Anak Cucu Sumilah (A Banquet for Sumilah’s Children and Grandchildren).

Thirteen female genocide survivors, members of the Teater Tamara troupe, and about 30 UGM students, who are part of the Teater Gadjah Mada group, as well as performers from Malya Studio, took part in performing the two-hour play.

The play made no separation between the audience and performers.

Spectators were free to watch the actions of the players, who were divided into four groups, respectively performing the hanging of the lamb, chopping it up, the piercing of the meat with bamboo skewers and the grilling of the skewered meat into satay.

“The process of satay making is a subtle metaphor depicting the various forms of torture inflicted on people [charged with supporting the PKI],” play director Irfanuddien Ghozali told The Jakarta Post.

Specter rising: Svetlana (front right), one of the daughters of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) chairman DN Aidit, participates in the Selamatan Anak Cucu Sumilah drama performance. Specter rising: Svetlana (front right), one of the daughters of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) chairman DN Aidit, participates in the Selamatan Anak Cucu Sumilah drama performance. (The Jakarta Post/Bambang Muryanto)

Maria Goretti Sumilah, the real-life persona behind the play, who was falsely arrested, died on March 27 this year. Sumilah was not a political figure, artist or leading intellectual. She was only one of the common people victimized by a haphazard arrest without ever being rehabilitated by the state.

Yohanes Bayu Aji, Sumilah’s youngest child, was moved by the show. In his childhood he also had the stigma of being a PKI child.

“I want the public to know that my mother wasn’t a criminal. She was indeed a political prisoner but she knew nothing about politics,” he said, wiping the tears running down his cheeks.

On Nov. 20, 1965, when Sumilah lived in Prambanan and was only 14, she was caught by soldiers. The correct target should have been another woman who also bore the name Sumilah, a primary school teacher who came from Kulon Progo.

Sumilah then endured sexual assaults when she was interrogated.

The state then immediately sentenced Sumilah to 14 years’ imprisonment without a proper trial.

Throughout the sentencing period, the state transferred Sumilah from Wirogunan Penitentiary in Yogyakarta to Bulu Prison in Semarang, Central Java, and finally to a women’s camp, Plantungan, in Kendal, also in Central Java.

Sumilah finally got her freedom in 1979 and later opened a satay stall to support her family.

When some 300 spectators gathered on the stage, making the atmosphere in the Fisipol UGM’s western plaza much like the market where Sumilah’s stall had once been, the play began. Several female survivors as players distributed snacks and paper hats to the visitors.

Mid-stage loudspeakers relayed the “Bersuka Ria” (Rejoicing) and “Soleram” songs in the lenso (handkerchief dance) rhythm to build a vibe of the 1960s.

Performers also sang the children’s song called “Mana Dimana Anak Kambing Saya?” (Where’s My Baby Goat?) and twisted the lyrics into “Mana Dimana Kambing Hitam Saya?” (Where’s My Scapegoat?). This illustrated how the PKI and its members were made scapegoats for the failed coup that started with the murder of six army generals on Sept. 30, 1965, in Jakarta, prompting the Army to hunt down whoever it regarded as PKI backers.

The army’s manhunt for PKI members and alleged supporters resulted in the death of between 500,000 and 2 million individuals, according to various historians, making it one of the biggest genocides to take place after World War II.

In the lamb-hanging group, a woman wearing a hat walked around while ringing a small clock. She was reading off the number of UGM lecturers, students and administrative officers dismissed by the UGM rector for allegedly being PKI supporters.

“Prof. Herman Johannes, January 6, 1966: 112 lecturers, three assistant lecturers, 2,986 students, 1,212 administrative staffers,” said the woman in this group.

According to Abdul Wahid in his article titled Campus on Fire: Indonesian Universities During the Political Turmoil of 1950s-1960s published in Archipel, Paris, this year, out of the 11 state universities, UGM discharged the largest numbers of lecturers, students and staff members.

Sri Muhayati, who was then first treasurer of the Student Council Corps of UGM’s Medical School, was one of those victims.

“Fifty years ago I was a UGM medical student and the letter from UGM rector Prof. Herman Johannes forced me to quit,” she told the spectators.

Her student identity card and letter of dismissal as a UGM student were displayed at the exhibition of archives organized along with the theater show. Other objects being exhibited were sneakers owned by a survivor named Bu Endang, while she was confined at Plantungan, bath soap for smuggling love letters, photos of 1965 survivors and four videos with testimonials.

In their performances, some actors also read extracts from the capture of Minke by Jaques Pengemannan in Pramudya Ananta Toer’s novel Rumah Kaca (The Glass House). The groups read different versions: Tugas Berat untuk Pangemannan (A Tough Job for Pangemannan), Pitung-Pitung Moderen (Modern Pitungs), Pengasingan Minke (Minke’s Isolation) and Kematian Minke (The Death of Minke).

Irfanuddien said Minke’s story portrayed how the Dutch colonial rulers always put him under surveillance thus arousing the spirit of nationalism and this was suitable for describing the situation of the 1965 survivors.

“They [the survivors] are free but they seem to remain in a glass house in which they are always being monitored,” he added.

Meanwhile, UGM lecturer Ulya Niami Efrina Jamson said the theater show served as proof that the university, which was one of the sites of conflict and violence in 1965, could now become the site of reconciliation.

“Reconciliation cannot happen unless there’s recognition of the truth about the past,” she said.

Irfanuddien agreed with Ulya and he said that staging the play was also an important part of the reconciliation process because it would inform many members of the younger generation about the past.

“At first they were shocked to learn about the incidents that occurred in the past,” he said.

Retyan Sekar, a student of the Indonesian Islamic University, was one of the shocked students after she watched the play and said there should be a lot more programs to reveal the truth behind the 1965 genocide.

“The voice of survivors should be heard to enlighten young people,” she said.