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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos

In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos

by Richard Lloyd Parry
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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802142931
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 02/10/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 1,061,773
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

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Towards the end of my first time in Indonesia I stayed in a house on the edge of the jungle and dreamed the worst nightmares I have known since I was a child. The house was a bungalow of wood and thatch with a road on one side and on the other a wooden couch where I slept under the sky. A thicket of palms and flowering trees descended to a river at the bottom of a steep valley. At night, the sound of cars and motorbikes fell away and the noises of the forest rose up around my bed: the electrical sound of the insects, the flutter of birds' wings, the rush of water. I spent the evenings alone in the tourist cafés and bars down the road. Later, after I had fallen asleep with the jungle in my ears, I dreamed of knives and faces, and gigantic alien creatures which were half-lobster and half-wasp. I dreamed of a mobile telephone that would not stop ringing and of endless conversations with a man named Colonel Mehmet.

The island of Bali, where I was staying, was peaceful. The violence in Jakarta had caused no reverberation here. Or that was the impression which the local people were at pains to give: the smiling woman who gave me the bungalow key, the boy in the sarong who came in the mornings to sweep the floor and change the linen. Every day he brought offerings of petals and rice which he placed on high ledges, to thank the benevolent spirits, and on the ground, to appease the demons. He showed me how to summon him by means of a wooden gong which hung from the eaves of the bungalow. Its hollow body was carved into the shape of a grimacing goblin; the stick was the giant erect penis which the goblin brandished between its claws. But either the offerings were too small or the goblin was not fearsome enough, for the next night the evil dreams came again. They began with Colonel Mehmet on the mobile phone. 'You not strong enough are!' he bellowed. 'Or not clever enough. Ja! And all the time you are such a fine fellow, too!' In my dreams I tried throwing the phone away, burning it, even drowning it in the bath, but always it floated ringing to the surface as the colonel and his men drew nearer.

The trouble in Jakarta had upset me, perhaps more than I realised.

It had begun a month earlier with an unprecedented event: a mass demonstration by members of the opposition democratic party. All day and night, hundreds of people had camped out in the party headquarters, singing songs, telling stories and delivering speeches in support of democracy. All had been careful not to mention the president by name, but everyone knew that the demonstration was a direct challenge to him, the strongest and most intense criticism he had faced in thirty years. It was breathtakingly bold; it seemed unthinkable that it could be allowed to go on. But days passed and the demonstrators were left undisturbed.

One evening I had visited them in their headquarters. It was festooned with flags and poster-sized portraits of the opposition leader. The next morning, just after dawn, it was raided by commandos dressed in plain clothes. Lines of police kept spectators at bay as the attackers threw stones at the building; once inside, they produced knives. Hundreds of the demonstrators were arrested and people said that many of them had been stabbed to death and their bodies disposed of in secret. That afternoon there were riots across the city, and tall concrete office buildings burned with black smoke. For the first time in my life, I saw streets of broken glass, armoured cars advancing slowly upon crowds, men and women weeping with anger and trepidation.

It is important never to lose the sense of wonder at such things.

But now I was in Bali, the small, green holiday island east of Java, and I was here to relax. I chose to stay away from the beaches and travelled instead to the island's interior. The jungle soothed me, but it polluted my sleep with bad dreams.

I dreamed of climbing into an immense rusty ship. It was overladen with silent, dark-skinned passengers, and lurched sickeningly in the water as I stepped aboard. I dreamed that I was chasing a magnificent butterfly through the forest. A black beast was watching me with green eyes. Then the mobile phone rang, and I knew that when I answered it I would hear the barking voice of Colonel Mehmet.

During the day I sat reading in front of the bungalow, or walked past the restaurants and into the village. I visited a park where monkeys stared sulkily from trees and later, at a souvenir shop, I purchased one of the ithyphallic gongs. I met a German couple who confessed that they too were having bad dreams in Bali, he of a giant black pig, she of 'ghosts and visitors.' And on my last day I encountered a ghost story of my own.

I had cycled out to a spot on the outskirts of the village where thousands of white herons gathered at dusk. They flew in from across the island, all black legs and thin necks, folding themselves up as they dipped into the tops of the trees. A Balinese man told me that they were the spirits of people who had died in a great massacre thirty years ago. Most had never been buried; no prayers were ever said for them. They wandered the jungles and rice paddies as ghosts, and thousands of them roosted here in the form of white birds.

That night I opened the history book I had bought in Jakarta and began to read about the anti-communist killings of 1965 and 1966, by any standard one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century.

They had begun after a mysterious coup attempt against the old president, led by left-wing army officers. Within a few weeks, bands of militia men and soldiers were rounding up communists, real and imagined. There were denunciations and death lists. Whole families, entire villages, were seized. The suspects were driven away to ditches or clearings in the jungle and executed with sickles, machetes and iron bars.

Across the country perhaps half a million people died, onefifth of them in tiny Bali. 'Many party members were killed by knife or bayonet,' the book said. 'Bodies were often maimed and decapitated and dumped in rivers . . . On the island of Bali, Indonesia's only overtly Hindu province, the killings developed just as fervently, with priests calling for fresh sacrifices to satisfy vengeful spirits.'

It was amid this terror and madness that President Sukarno had lost power in 1966 to the 'New Order', the government of General - now President - Suharto. In the three decades since then Suharto had rebuilt the country, extinguished democracy and snuffed out opposition to his rule. And now, in the summer of 1996, the New Order was beginning to unravel.

Nobody realised it at that time. But within eighteen months of the suppression of the democracy demonstrations, violent change would be spreading across Indonesia. Money would become worthless, people would go hungry, and the jungles would burn in uncontrollable fires. Within two years Suharto himself - the longest-serving dictator in Asia - would be forced from power in a popular uprising. Within three years, bloody local wars would flame up across the islands, to reach their climax in the vengeful, programmed destruction of East Timor. They were to be the last such events of the twentieth century - the overthrow and collapse of a military dictatorship, in the fourth largest nation in the world. I was there in Jakarta when they started, at the beginning of the end of Suharto. Over the next three years, I followed them through until the end.

* * *

I lived in Japan as the correspondent for a British newspaper. I had come to Jakarta, by chance, the week before the riots, for a dull and unimportant meeting of Asian leaders. I knew little about Indonesia, I had found few books on the subject, and my expectations were vague. Elsewhere in the world, I had always travelled with a set of advance impressions, to be confirmed or contradicted by experience; in Indonesia, I arrived without even prejudices. The country had no distinct outlines in my mind. I didn't know where to begin.

The map which I had bought in Tokyo did not help much. Indonesia sprawled across its folds, a swirl of islands shrinking and thinning from west to east: plump Sumatra, compact Java, then the scattered trail of the Lesser Sunda Islands and the Moluccas. I recognised, as a geographical oddity, the crazed shape of Sulawesi: an island of peninsulas, flailing like the arms of an acrobat. And then there were the great half islands: Borneo, divided between Indonesia and Malaysia by a jagged frontier; New Guinea, transected by a line almost dead straight. Across this profusion of unruly forms, the Equator cut with scientific severity. From east to west I traced the names along its length: Waigeo, Kayoa, Muarakaman, Longiram, Pontianak, Lubuksikaping.

Stare long enough at an unfamiliar map and it becomes possible to construct a fantasy of it through its place names. But Indonesia's gave so little away. They were diverse to the point of excess; too many different associations were called to mind to create any consistent impression. They ranged from the brutal (Fakfak) to the majestic (Jayapura). Some looked more African than Asian (Kwatisore); others sounded almost European (Flores and Tanimbar). There were occasional suggestions of exploration and colonialism (Hollandia, Dampier Strait), but one place alone -- Krakatoa -- stood out as unmistakably historic. The names on the map chattered and rumbled. With a little nudging, they formed themselves into lines and verses:
Buru, Fakfak, Manokwari,
Ujung Pandang, Probolinggo,
Nikiniki, Balikpapan,
Halmahera, Berebere.
Gorontalo, Samarinda,
Gumzai, Bangka, Pekalongan,
Watolari, Krakatoa,
Wetar, Kisar, Har, Viqueque!
Everything I learned about Indonesia added to my excitement and confusion. The country was made up of 17,500 islands, ranging from seaweed-covered rocks to the largest on earth. The distance from one end to the other was broader than the span of the Atlantic Ocean or as great as the distance between Britain and Iraq. Its 235 million people were made up of 300 ethnic groups and spoke 365 languages. As an independent republic Indonesia was fifty years old, but it sounded more like an unwieldy empire than a modern nation state. I had travelled a good deal, but never to a country of which I knew so little. All my ignorance of the world, all the experience I had to come, seemed to be stored up in the shapes of those islands, and in their names.

This is a book about violence, and about being afraid. After the crushing of the democracy demonstrators, I returned to Indonesia again and again. I stayed for weeks at a time, usually at moments of crisis and tumult. I was young and avid, with a callous innocence common among young men. Although I prided myself on deploring violence, if it should -- tragically -- break out, I wanted to witness it for myself. In Borneo, I saw heads severed from their bodies and men eating human flesh. In Jakarta, I saw burned corpses in the street, and shots were fired around and towards me. I encountered death, but remained untouched; these experiences felt like important ones. Secretly, I imagined that they had imparted something to my character, an invisible shell which would stand me in good stead the next time I found myself in violent or unpredictable circumstances. But then I went to East Timor, where I discovered that such experience is never externalised, only absorbed, and that it builds up inside one, like a toxin. In East Timor, I became afraid, and couldn't control my fear. I ran away, and afterwards I was ashamed.

I resist the idea of defining experiences, when an entire life comes to its point. But I am haunted by that period. For a long time I believed that I had lost something good about myself in East Timor: my strength and will; courage. In three years of travelling in Indonesia, I had found myself at the heart of things. I could land anywhere, it seemed, and within a few hours the dramas of the vast country would create themselves around me. Cars and guides would be found, victims and perpetrators would appear, and marvellous and terrible scenes would enact themselves before my eyes. I loved the intoxication of leaving behind the town and travelling into the forest by road, by boat or on foot. And I loved to sleep next to the jungle, and to wake up the next morning in the tang of strange dreams. But after East Timor, there was never such glamour again.

On my last night in Bali, I stayed up late with my book of Indonesian history; as I expected, when I finally fell asleep, Colonel Mehmet was waiting. He seemed to know what I had been reading, and to be angry about it. 'Yes!' he bellowed. 'Very funny this terrible thing is.' But there was a quiver of anxiety in his voice and I could tell that he was losing spirit.

'Go away, Colonel,' I said, because my new knowledge had made me powerful.

'You not always can keep your eyes shut!' he barked, but his voice was becoming weaker. 'It is not good for you to find you cannot make your dream.'

'Goodbye, Colonel Mehmet,' I said.

'To the destructive element . . .' the colonel wailed, but he was already fading and trailing away, '. . . submit yourself!' I hung up the phone and found myself lying on the outdoor bed with my eyes open, wide awake in the mouth of the jungle.

I left Bali a few hours later. In Jakarta, the broken glass had been cleared up, the opposition headquarters had been hosed down and boarded over, but the soldiers were still on the streets and it was as hot and tense as before. I flew out of Indonesia the next day, as the government began to arrest people accused of orchestrating the riots. Trade unionists and young political activists were being picked up from their homes in Jakarta and Yogyakarta. Twenty-eight people, the newspapers reported, had been seized for political activities in Bali.

Copyright © 2005 by Richard Lloyd Parry. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Bad Dreams in Bali 1996     1
Something Close to Shame: Borneo 1997-1999
What Young Men Do     17
The Best People     57
The Radiant Light: Java 1998
Krismon     87
Time of Madness     101
Strength Without Sorcery     113
The Sack of Jakarta     125
The Wayang     145
Ascension Day     161
The Shark Cage: East Timor 1998-1999
The Crocodile     175
With Falintil     195
Vampires     217
Eagle of Liberty     237
Flat of the Blade     255
The Compound     269
In The Well     293
Acknowledgements     315

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In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
koeniel on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Poor Richard Lloyd Parry! Every time he came to Indonesia it's always in the times of madness. But then again he's a journalist, and that's what journalists do - travel to countries experiencing troubles looking for interesting stories. After all, we are living in this weird world where bad news make more money than good news. With so many atrocities he witnessed I wonder he's still sane, and I wonder what his views of Indonesians are. In fact I wonder how people reading this book would think of us Indonesians! Actually what worried me was the 'smiling busines'. Parry described the expression of the people he interviewed about the atrocities and many of the expression was 'smiling'. People not familiar with our people and our culture must be thinking that we are a horrible people, a nation of psychos, to be able to smile in the midst of horrific deaths like that. Not that I'm condoning the smiles of the Bali bombers or their police officers and jailers, but it has to be explained that for a lot of Indonesians a smile is not always a sign of happiness. Indonesians smile when they're embarrassed, when they can't answer your question, when they don't know what to do, when they are confused, when they are self conscious, when in front of people, to name just a few situations. Ok, enough explanation and it's not meant to be an apology either. And I'm not mad at Parry. His book is good. To us Indonesians it's always good to see the events in our country as other people see or perceive it. We lived for far too long under a dictator who controled everything including information. What we usually heard, especially the earlier events that Parry witnessed, were the official version, which is usually far from the truth. Hence our thirst for other versions and hence why I read Parry's book.Parry witnessed three different violent times in Indonesia - the killings and head chopping during the racial fights in Kalimantan in 1997 to 1999, the violent killing of student demonstrators and the aftermath riots in Jakarta in 1998 and the war in East Timor in 1998 to 1999. His stories shed light (at least for me) on the events, what led to them and all their complicatedness. In describing the East Timor war it's clear in whose side Parry stood, and I don't blame him. I too feel the same and in fact felt the same at the time even though then we only heard the official version. I am not proud of what my countrymen and government did there. But hopefully the wound has healed and peace has reigned. I wish all the best for our neighbour the Timor Leste people.Parry did not shy away from describing the gruesome situations - blood and body parts peppered the stories and you wonder what had happened with humanity, and how come there are so many twisted people in the world. And for what. Sounds very hopeless and that's exactly the feeling you get after reading his book.