By David Armstrong (Semester 14/Feb 2002)
Murdoch University

Before I went to Indonesia with ACICIS to study at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta, I thought that I knew a lot about Indonesian history. I had read many books, in particular books about Sukarno. I delighted in stories about him, such as the time Sukarno visited the west and was secretly filmed by the CIA in a compromising position with a beautiful woman. They tried to blackmail him by saying that they would release the tape in Indonesia, for people to see what he was really like. He laughed at them, and told them to go ahead. He knew his people would really love the tape, and his stature would rise another notch. What bravado. What a man. He truly was a Jago.

So on one of my many holidays from study at UGM I headed for Blitar in East Java. Why Blitar? you might ask, when the tourist havens of Bromo, Bali and Banyuwangi were so close. Because Blitar is where Sukarno spent his youth dong, and it is where he is buried. It is a typical nice small Javanese town, with friendly people, a terrible exchange rate for foreign currency, lots of padi fields, and close to the important but overrated Candi Panataran (A$3 return by ojek, if you bargain hard).

My main destination, of course, was Sukarno’s grave, Makam Bung Karno. I arrived on a Tuesday afternoon of a normal week, but there was still a gay carnival atmosphere in the blocked off road outside. Lots of visitors, lots of souvenir shops, lots of becaks, lots of people selling Sukarno memorabilia.

Inside Makam Bung Karno was very different however. It was quiet, subdued, and peaceful. The noise from the street outside didn’t seem to make it over the wall of the compound. Hundreds of villagers arrived by the busload all afternoon . They sat together in groups at the four sides of the pendopo that houses his grave. They chanted together, they prayed. Then they had photos taken standing beside his grave. It was mesmerizing. A deeply moving experience for them, as well as for me. It is very obvious that the Sukarno mystique is still alive and well amongst the rakyat of Java.

I met the Juru Kunci. By some strange typically Javanese irony his name was Blah SOEHARTO Blah (maaf Pak Blah, but I lost your business card and can’t remember your full name). The official photographer was a pleasant young man who, once he realised that I could speak passable bahasa Indonesia, questioned me about life in the west. Are the movies true? Is there free sex in the west? Was it possible for him to go there to see for himself? These were hard questions. Do I base my answers on his definitions and cultural assumptions or on mine? Surely he would misunderstand an honest answer from me. In the end I took the easy option, and I told him that it was all a big lie by Hollywood to sell more movies. There is no sexual freedom in the west.

The other must see attraction in Blitar is the house that Sukarno grew up in. It is a very interesting, beautiful old house, now turned into a museum full of pictures of the great man. I dallied for some time here, and got into a discussion with one of the young men sitting on the steps outside. He showed me some photocopied magazine articles that he was selling. They were from 2001, the 100th anniversary of Sukarno’s birth. As soon as I saw them I knew that I had to have them. Feigning total disinterest at his first price of A$5, though I would have gladly paid double that, I got a set for A$2. Why did I want them? The first article said that Sukarno had 9 wives and 11 children. Only a week previously I had given a short presentation in my Percakapan class at UGM saying that he had 5 wives, and now I am told he had 9 wives. I couldn’t believe it, so I had to to have that article. And it was true, or so the article claimed. The great man had 9 wives, 3 of them younger than his eldest son. The man WAS a Jago.

The article was from Tempo, 10 June 2001, and the wives and children were:

        • Oetari
        • Inggit Garnasih
          – Ratna Juami (anak angkat)
          – Kartika (anak angkat)
        • Fatmawati
          – Guntur Sukarnoputra 1944
          – Megawati Sukarnoputri 1947
          – Rachmawati Sukarnoputri 1950
          – Sukmawati Sukarnoputri 1952
          – Guruh Sukarnoputra 1953
        • Hartini
          – Taufan Sukarnoputra 1951-1981
          – Bayu Sukarnoputra 1958
        • Dewi Sukarno
          – Kartika Sari Sukarno 1967
        • Haryati
        • Yurike Sanger
        • Kartini Manoppo
          – Totok Suryawan 1967
        • Heldy Djafa