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Jakarta Post

Taking notes making history and Sukarno'€™s stenographer

  • Johannes Karundeng

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, February 13, 2014   /  11:36 am
Taking notes making history and Sukarno'€™s stenographer Heroine: Netty Karundeng, one of Sukarno’s stenographers, poses with her Bintang Mahaputra medal, the highest honor given to civilians for gallantry, in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Johannes Karundeng)" height="333" border="0" width="499">Heroine: Netty Karundeng, one of Sukarno’s stenographers, poses with her Bintang Mahaputra medal, the highest honor given to civilians for gallantry, in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Johannes Karundeng)

In 1945, a 17-year-old girl who learned how to take shorthand had a front-row seat for the creation of Indonesia.

People today grab smartphones to record a meeting, forgetting that venerable devices such as tape recorders or dictaphones were once the principal tools used by government and business alike to capture a conversation.

However, some may be surprised to learn that before those gadgets, there were stenographers, who used a special form of handwriting called shorthand, illegible to the uninitiated, to record human speech as quickly and accurately as a machine.

In Indonesia, a girl from Minahasa, North Sulawesi, was taught the craft by her father in the 1940s. For that girl, Wuaimbene Anthoneta Karundeng, also known as Netty, a talent for shorthand gave the then 17-year-old girl a front seat at the historic events leading to the birth of the nation.

Netty’s father, Eleazer Karundeng, invented Indonesian shorthand (called the Karundeng system) in 1924, based on a Dutch version.

Mysterious: A sample of the Karundeng system of shorthand developed by Netty’s father and later modified. (Courtesy of Miswar Publishers)Mysterious: A sample of the Karundeng system of shorthand developed by Netty’s father and later modified. (Courtesy of Miswar Publishers)
The Indonesian system, like all shorthand methods, uses special signs instead of letters to capture the words of a speaker. It was used by the Japanese and Dutch during the colonial period — and widely used by reporters and secretaries as recently as the 1990s.

Eleazer brought his daughter onto a team of six stenographers to document the proceedings of the Indonesian Independence Preparation Committee (PPKI).

The committee, formed by Sukarno and Hatta and representing the different ethnic groups, religions and islands of what would become Indonesia, spent hundreds of hours meeting in Jakarta in the 1940s, formulating the foundation of the new government, Netty recalled.

Hundreds of pages of shorthand were written at the PPKI sessions. When meetings ended at dusk, Netty and her father would continue working, often late into the night, going through each page, checking and integrating their transcripts before typing the official record to be distributed the following day.

The deliberations, as witnesses recollect, were harmonious. Everyone focused on independence and to do what was best for the people — although there were heated discussions, such as deciding whether the new state should be a federation or a unitary republic or whether Indonesian laws should be based on sharia.

Netty herself had to walk home late in the evening with her father when her work ended, as public transportation had already stopped.

Although World War II was officially over; the sights, stench and sound of conflict still lingered in Jakarta, Netty recalled. Sporadic street fighting continued between Japanese troops, Dutch soldiers and Indonesian guerillas.

While the PPKI met in a building that the Japanese called Chuo Sangi In (now the Gedung Pancasila) in Pejambon, near Gambir, Central Jakarta; Netty lived with her family in Pegangsaan in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

Her neighbors included the young independence activist and journalist Adam Malik, who would become one of Indonesia’s greatest politicians, as well as Chairil Anwar, the acclaimed poet and rebel who died a few years later at just 26.

Crafting a nation: Bung Karno (fourth left) at a meeting before the Independence was proclaimed. Netty, then 17, said the meetings were held in secret and she only found out about the proclamation from friends hours later. (Courtesy of National Archives)Crafting a nation: Bung Karno (fourth left) at a meeting before the Independence was proclaimed. Netty, then 17, said the meetings were held in secret and she only found out about the proclamation from friends hours later. (Courtesy of National Archives)
Netty recalls Chairil as a thin, long-haired chain smoker who often came over to chat with her and her sister, and usually ended up in conversation with their mother.

Surrounded by nationalists and freedom fighters, Netty said that she was motivated to contribute her best to the birth of the new nation.

Of Manado heritage — her family moved to Jakarta when she was a year old — Netty was also involved with a pro-independence movement called Loyalty of the Indonesian Sulawesi People (KRIS).

She remembers night visits to Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital (then called CBZ) to identify the decomposing bodies of KRIS fighters killed in skirmishes with Japanese or Dutch soldiers.

One meeting of the PKKI, however, looms large in Netty’s memory: June 1, 1945, when Sukarno made a speech that described Pancasila as the ideology that would be used to build a new nation.

Bung Karno mesmerized everyone present, including Netty, who almost forgot to take notes. Sukarno’s voice thundered, Netty recalled. His fist pounded. His words enthralled. Some were close to tears.

Immediately after, Netty’s father told her to ask Sukarno to elaborate on her notes. What were the concepts the president-to-be had used to formulate Pancasila?

Her heart pounding, Netty knocked on the door. Sukarno let her in. His face was still sweating from the emotional speech, his white shirt damp from perspiration. She could not believe that she was in the same room with this great man.

Tremulously, she asked what references she could use in regard to Pancasila. Without uttering many words, Sukarno scribbled an answer of a piece of brown wrapping paper.

Among the references Bung Karno provided were the French “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” and Sun Yat-Sen’s San Min Doctrine (Three People’s Principles).

Sukarno, Netty recalled, was proud to say that while the French and Chinese had only three principles, Indonesia had five.

Meeting place: The PPKI convened in the Chuo Sangi In, now the Gedung Pancasila in Pejambon, near Gambir in Central Jakarta. This undated photo from the 1920s shows the building as the Volksraad. (Courtesy of Tropenmuseum)

Heroine: Netty Karundeng, one of Sukarno'€™s stenographers, poses with her Bintang Mahaputra medal, the highest honor given to civilians for gallantry, in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Johannes Karundeng)

In 1945, a 17-year-old girl who learned how to take shorthand had a front-row seat for the creation of Indonesia.

People today grab smartphones to record a meeting, forgetting that venerable devices such as tape recorders or dictaphones were once the principal tools used by government and business alike to capture a conversation.

However, some may be surprised to learn that before those gadgets, there were stenographers, who used a special form of handwriting called shorthand, illegible to the uninitiated, to record human speech as quickly and accurately as a machine.

In Indonesia, a girl from Minahasa, North Sulawesi, was taught the craft by her father in the 1940s. For that girl, Wuaimbene Anthoneta Karundeng, also known as Netty, a talent for shorthand gave the then 17-year-old girl a front seat at the historic events leading to the birth of the nation.

Netty'€™s father, Eleazer Karundeng, invented Indonesian shorthand (called the Karundeng system) in 1924, based on a Dutch version.

Mysterious: A sample of the Karundeng system of shorthand developed by Netty'€™s father and later modified. (Courtesy of Miswar Publishers)Mysterious: A sample of the Karundeng system of shorthand developed by Netty'€™s father and later modified. (Courtesy of Miswar Publishers)
The Indonesian system, like all shorthand methods, uses special signs instead of letters to capture the words of a speaker. It was used by the Japanese and Dutch during the colonial period '€” and widely used by reporters and secretaries as recently as the 1990s.

Eleazer brought his daughter onto a team of six stenographers to document the proceedings of the Indonesian Independence Preparation Committee (PPKI).

The committee, formed by Sukarno and Hatta and representing the different ethnic groups, religions and islands of what would become Indonesia, spent hundreds of hours meeting in Jakarta in the 1940s, formulating the foundation of the new government, Netty recalled.

Hundreds of pages of shorthand were written at the PPKI sessions. When meetings ended at dusk, Netty and her father would continue working, often late into the night, going through each page, checking and integrating their transcripts before typing the official record to be distributed the following day.

The deliberations, as witnesses recollect, were harmonious. Everyone focused on independence and to do what was best for the people '€” although there were heated discussions, such as deciding whether the new state should be a federation or a unitary republic or whether Indonesian laws should be based on sharia.

Netty herself had to walk home late in the evening with her father when her work ended, as public transportation had already stopped.

Although World War II was officially over; the sights, stench and sound of conflict still lingered in Jakarta, Netty recalled. Sporadic street fighting continued between Japanese troops, Dutch soldiers and Indonesian guerillas.

While the PPKI met in a building that the Japanese called Chuo Sangi In (now the Gedung Pancasila) in Pejambon, near Gambir, Central Jakarta; Netty lived with her family in Pegangsaan in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

Her neighbors included the young independence activist and journalist Adam Malik, who would become one of Indonesia'€™s greatest politicians, as well as Chairil Anwar, the acclaimed poet and rebel who died a few years later at just 26.

Crafting a nation: Bung Karno (fourth left) at a meeting before the Independence was proclaimed. Netty, then 17, said the meetings were held in secret and she only found out about the proclamation from friends hours later. (Courtesy of National Archives)Crafting a nation: Bung Karno (fourth left) at a meeting before the Independence was proclaimed. Netty, then 17, said the meetings were held in secret and she only found out about the proclamation from friends hours later. (Courtesy of National Archives)
Netty recalls Chairil as a thin, long-haired chain smoker who often came over to chat with her and her sister, and usually ended up in conversation with their mother.

Surrounded by nationalists and freedom fighters, Netty said that she was motivated to contribute her best to the birth of the new nation.

Of Manado heritage '€” her family moved to Jakarta when she was a year old '€” Netty was also involved with a pro-independence movement called Loyalty of the Indonesian Sulawesi People (KRIS).

She remembers night visits to Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital (then called CBZ) to identify the decomposing bodies of KRIS fighters killed in skirmishes with Japanese or Dutch soldiers.

One meeting of the PKKI, however, looms large in Netty'€™s memory: June 1, 1945, when Sukarno made a speech that described Pancasila as the ideology that would be used to build a new nation.

Bung Karno mesmerized everyone present, including Netty, who almost forgot to take notes. Sukarno'€™s voice thundered, Netty recalled. His fist pounded. His words enthralled. Some were close to tears.

Immediately after, Netty'€™s father told her to ask Sukarno to elaborate on her notes. What were the concepts the president-to-be had used to formulate Pancasila?

Her heart pounding, Netty knocked on the door. Sukarno let her in. His face was still sweating from the emotional speech, his white shirt damp from perspiration. She could not believe that she was in the same room with this great man.

Tremulously, she asked what references she could use in regard to Pancasila. Without uttering many words, Sukarno scribbled an answer of a piece of brown wrapping paper.

Among the references Bung Karno provided were the French '€œLiberté, Egalité, Fraternité,'€ and Sun Yat-Sen'€™s San Min Doctrine (Three People'€™s Principles).

Sukarno, Netty recalled, was proud to say that while the French and Chinese had only three principles, Indonesia had five.

Meeting place: The PPKI convened in the Chuo Sangi In, now the Gedung Pancasila in Pejambon, near Gambir in Central Jakarta. This undated photo from the 1920s shows the building as the Volksraad. (Courtesy of Tropenmuseum)Meeting place: The PPKI convened in the Chuo Sangi In, now the Gedung Pancasila in Pejambon, near Gambir in Central Jakarta. This undated photo from the 1920s shows the building as the Volksraad. (Courtesy of Tropenmuseum)
Indonesia became a free nation just a few months later.

Netty said that Independence Day, Aug. 17, 1945, had been like any other. She was attending journalism class in Cikini designed to give stenographers a grounding in history, politics, journalism, economics, law and religion.

She later bumped into friends from the military, who informed her they had just returned from the house at Jl. Pegangsaan Timur No. 56 where Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed the nation'€™s independence.

Netty said that she had been surprised that her professors, which included luminaries such as BM Diah and Bung Hatta himself, had given no hint of the coming proclamation.

It must have been kept a closely guarded secret, she thought: The use of radio had been banned by the Japanese. Decapitation was the punishment.

Following her father as the secretary of the nation'€™s nascent parliament, Netty continued to take part in important political gatherings. She was part of the nighttime train exodus when Sukarno moved the government from Jakarta to Yogyakarta in January 1947 after the return of the Dutch.

On the train, Indonesia'€™s political elite made the journey east, along with a handful of young women including Netty and her close friend Sumarti Budiardjo, who later married national hero TB Simatupang.

'€œIt was one of the most hair-raising experiences,'€ Netty recalls.

The women tried to sleep side by side on the narrow bench of their carriage while the train frequently stopped to take on tinder for fuel.

At each stop, the train was searched '€” sometimes by the local militia, some carrying sticks; sometimes by the Dutch, carrying guns.

Although many questions were asked and each stop felt like forever, the passengers eventually arrived safely in Yogya.

In 1947, Netty went with her father to his new assignment in Makassar, South Sulawesi, where she married and settled down.

Eventually, the State Secretariat asked her to validate the facts contained in a book commemorating 50 years of independence '€” including confirming that it was indeed Sukarno who developed Pancasila.

In 1999, she was honored with the Bintang Mahaputra medal, the highest gallantry decoration the nation gives to civilians, by then-president BJ Habibie, for her service as Sukarno'€™s stenographer.

Netty, now 86, still lives in Makassar. And yes, she can still take shorthand.

The writer is the son of Netty Karundeng

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