IIAS Newsletter 23

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GENERAL A STATE OF V I O L E N C E (EXCERPTS): Colonial crime Official sources are inclined to conceal colonial violence. These sources, however, occasionally display openings through which one can suddenly see a different re­ ality. An example Is an unsolicited report, submitted to the colonial government by the tobacco planter C. Amand in 1872, that caused considerable unrest among colonial officials. W ith this report, Amand denied the prevailing colonial picture of the Javanese peasant community as a ‘pal­ ladium of peace' by depicting a world in which cattle theft, extortion, opium smug­ gling, violence, and especially intimidation were daily phenomena. The most impor­ tant actors in this regard appeared to be the so-called jagos. Literally, jago means ‘cock’ and the term not only refers to a culture in which masculinity, fighting skills, and magically achieved power are empha­ sized, but also to a new category of local strongmen who, operating in the shade of the official colonial government during the nineteenth century, in fact controlled the Javanese countryside. As Amand tells us,‘On Java, the occupa­ tion of the thief is bound to the local insti­ tutions which provide a vocation to many, for some an opportunity to invest money, and, conversely, the thieves offer advan­ tages to their protectors.’ To this he adds that ‘no village leader considers his village to be complete, nor in order, if it does not, at least, have one thief, ore even several, all of whom are under the command of the oldest and wisest thief, called a jago' Vain attempts were made in Batavia to bring the credibility of this report into doubt, whereas efforts to keep it from the public were quite successful. The message was indeed shocking: the entire construc­ tion of the colonial government on Java was based, in fact, on an extensive net­ work of rural crime, largely due to the in­ ability of the official Javanese governing body to control all of java. For this reason, it was forced to bring the so-called local strongmen into their service, in exchange for which these jagos were free to carry out their own criminal activities. Jagos were no noble bandits who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, and neither did they form a remnant of an old and decaying culture. Rather, they were the product of a new colonial relationship. A comparison with the emergence of the mafia in Sicily during the same period shows that, in both cases, we are dealing with a stagnating process of state forma­ tion through which a new group of bro­ kers in violence could emerge. These bro­ kers were in service of the rural and colo­ nial elite and generally operated against the rest of the population. On Java, crime and the state were largely formed and re­ inforced by each other. Apparently the colonial state was not able to control the crime that it had helped to create. Here again, we come across an important colo­ nial heritage that was to play a dangerous role in post-colonial Indonesia. Decolonization o f Indonesian historiography The rough outline of the genealogy of violence I have provided here shows how the concubinage of a repressive colonial state and local crime has produced poorly raised children. In accordance with colo­ nial tradition, these militias were never of­ ficially recognized, but they determined and, to a large extent, still determine the public appearance of post-colonial Indone­ sian politics.The violence and fear have yet to find a place in official Indonesian history books, where the rigid continuation of a colonial perspective Is evident. In his recent book, Seeing Like a State, James Scott shows how state institutions have attempted to reduce complex reali ties into clearly arranged ideas in order to control society. Such simplifications cause a great deal of local and particular knowl­ edge to be lost.1Although Scott does not deal with this directly, national historiogra­ phy is pre-eminently an activity which


streamlines the complex and multidimen sional narratives about the past by erasing large parts of these stories. Indeed, nation­ al historiography is the officially approved simplification o f the past. The birthplace of this conventional historiography was the nation-state which took shape in the course of the nineteenth century in Eu­ rope. Based on data from official archives, the account of the birth, growth, and flour­ ishing of ‘the fatherland’ was told. In this regard, colonial history formed a sort of come from , and w hat they share. This On zz June zooo, Henk Schulte Nordholt was installed as the overseas appendix to the national epic and should be a story that includes the HAS Extraordinary Chair in Asian History at the Erasmus U ni­ told the story of the establishment and versity, Rotterdam. Two excerpts from his oration text, ‘A State victim s, in the same way as the histo­ development of the Dutch Indies, or ry o f Europe should include the vic­ o f Violence’, are presented here together with an interview rather,Tropical Holland. tim s o f that history. Therefore, the made with him shortly after the event. Following decolonization, nationalist history o f Indonesia should include historians in the former colonies adhered the killin g s o f ’65. As long as this is primarily to patterns founded by colonial By M A R I E K E B R A N D not the case, it is not a true history historians, but embraced a different moral approach; colonial ‘development’ became w ith which people can identify. n jo u r oration you de­ ‘exploitation’ and ‘religious fanatics’ be­ scribe a strong link of con­ came 'nationalist freedom fighters.’ The How doyou locate these killings within tinuity stretching from new national history consecutively out­ thegenealogy of violence thatyou trace in the colonial period to the lined the story of the nation in terms of a Indonesian history? New Order regime of Soehargrand pre-colonial civilization which al­ A great deal o f what happened in ready contained the essence of the nation­ to and indeed to the present th at period in Indonesia has been de­ al identity, the heroic struggle against day. Is the history of Indonesia really this scribed and analysed very w ell, for ex­ western imperialism, the martyrdom fol­ coherent? lowing colonial exploitation, the subse­ ample by Jeff Robinson in The Dark W ell, I exaggerated a little b it to quent national awakening, the struggle for Side of Paradise. Nevertheless, I am make my point, because a lo t o f emfreedom, and, finally, the heavily fought bat­ s till puzzled by how many people 3has is is currently laid on the viotles for national independence.2 During were actually killed. In certain parts ence in present-day Indonesia. And the New Order, a closing chapter was o f Bali, Java, and Sumatra really thou­ for Indonesians, the mass added which tells how the nation fell prey sands and thousands o f people were to internal discord, how it was saved just killin g s o f the 1960s are the starting killed. A t a certain moment, the PKI in time by Soeharto, and how he then led p oint o f a ll violence that came after­ Professor Henk Schulte N ordholt the country to lasting development and [Communist Party] was to ta lly dis­ wards. But I th in k th at in order to delivered his inaugural lecture permanent stability and opened the door m antled and the m ilita ry could have understand structured patterns o f vi­ on 22June 2000 to the end o f history. It is a pitiful history taken over power, but the violence olence, you m ust look further back in which remembers only official heroes and went on and on. For me, the only way in colonial reports, there you see a tim e to the colonial period. That is is silent about the thousands of victims. to make sense o f this extraordinary very civilized image o f the state. Only why I emphasized this violent nature Colonial as well as nationalist historians violence is by view ing it as a ritu a l o f because the system was not perfect do put forward this perspective and, there­ o f colonial rule, because it is not only purification, or a ritu a l cleansing. In these kinds o f reports enter by acci­ fore. centralize the primacy of the state. Indonesian historiography that needs Indonesia, this violence marked the They show little interest in comparisons dent. Once you see this, you can find to be decolonized, but D utch h istori­ with other regions o r in themes which do establishment o f a regime o f fear that other traces as well in the colonial re­ ography as well. Colonial violence as a not serve the interests of the state. In­ parallels the regime o f fear th at the ports. There is a very strong continu­ structural phenomenon is taboo in donesia is no exception in this regard, as Dutch established at the beginning ity between the late colonial state and Dutch historiography. A lo t o f Dutch political violence and the silence of history o f the tw entieth century through the the New Order state, as both used people seem to believe that the In ­ is a common phenomenon in many post­ violent expansion o f colonial rule. For crim inals to get things done. And this donesians liked Dutch presence in colonial societies in Asia as well as in a very long tim e, people remembered is also the way power structures are Africa, and is therefore best understood in the Netherlands Indies. This is sim ­ this violence and, although there was a comparative way. organized today. Politics and the ply a m yth! In a certain sense, Indonesians are mo­ a ‘rule o f order’, it was basically b u ilt fig h t for prominence are now done in mentarily ‘a people without history.' Since upon the fear o f the colonial guns and the streets, no longer in the parlia­ You show that local colonial rule was his fall, Soeharto’s version of history is no violence. A sim ilar situation arose in m ent I am afraid. sustained by developing a symbiosis with longer credible, but an alternative has not the 1960s: after the mass petty crime. Doyou also see yet emerged. Indeed, fifty-five years after killin g s, the people were parallels with the present independence, Indonesia still has to decol­ really afraid o f the state. day in this respect? onize its own historiography. In March of this year. President Abdurrahman Wahid Nowadays, in Indone­ Has the Chair in Rotter­ broke an important taboo in this respect sia, when thieves are by making a public appeal for investiga­ dam and the writing of this caught, people k ill them. tions of the murders in 1965 and ‘66, and oration influencedyour un­ People do not rely on the also offered an apology for the role that derstanding of the history of police, they do not tru st the militias of his own organization had Indonesia in a specific way? them. They ju s t go after played.3 Most o f a ll it gave me the crim inals and chop It will be interesting to see whether a the opportunity to march new Indonesian historiography will suc­ them to pieces, literally. through tim e, from the ceed in liberating itself from the interests, They say: ‘We learned nineteenth century to perspective, and conceptual framework of from the New Order that the state.An important question in this re­ wards the tw entieth and when there is a problem, gard is whether there is still anything left back again. The Chair in you can solve it by using Henk Schulte N ordholt (r) enters the room of the nation after so many years of state Rotterdam is at the De­ violence, and now we do w ith Professor P.W.C. Akkermans, domination.The concept of a plural nation partm ent o f Societal His­ it ourselves’. This im ­ is - with economic recovery - perhaps the Rector o f Erasmus University, Rotterdam tory, where comparisons plies the decentraliza­ only approach the nation state can take to are extremely im portant. protect itself from disintegrating religious, tion and privatization o f So, in Rotterdam, I gave a course on ethnic, regional, and criminal violence, and You write that Indonesians need a new violence. But the linkage between to promote democracy. Although such a mass killin g s in Indonesia and Cam­ historiography with which the various government and crime goes back to nation is in the first place heading for a bodia and made use o f much more groups of people in Indonesian society can the late nineteenth century when it common future, a new national history general literature on genocide and identify. was the cheapest solution available must, however, provide the accompanying the Holocaust. I am getting more fa­ Yes. What you see now in the actual for a colonial system to keep society story in which the diversity of the country m ilia r w ith this comparative ap­ post-New Order period is the emer­ under control. I make a comparison is honoured and room is made for the vic­ proach and o f dealing w ith very spe­ gence o f ethnic, regional, and re li­ between Java and Sicily at the same tims. No small responsibility rests upon In­ cific situations, and I like th at very gious conflicts. I am very worried donesian historians to tell this story. moment in tim e, and the sim ilarities

Henk Schulte Nordholt:

A State of Violence


are striking. Therefore, there is noth­ ing Javanese about the local crim i­ nals, although they were called Ja^o and so on. You can only understand the system by comparing it w ith the same kind o f system in Italy, where the process o f state form ation was somewhat halfway. This gave the local population the impression that the state was more or less run by crooks, and they were probably rig ht. This is something you w ill never read

about the fate o f the nation in In ­ donesia after so many years o f dicta­ torship. I th in k that a shared sense o f belonging to a nation can keep In ­ donesia together. Moreover, this sense o f nationhood can, ultim ately, help to overcome the bloody conflicts we see today. As Ben Anderson says, nationalism is directed towards the future. But the narrative th at gives direction to the future has to do w ith the past; it tells people where they

much. ■ James Scott, Seeing lik e a State. How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. N ew Haven/London:Yale University Press ( 1998). Anthony Reid.'The N ationalist Q uest fo r an Indonesian Past,' in Anthony Reid and David M arr (eds), Perceptions o f the Past in Southeast Asia, pp 281-99. Singapore: Heinemann Educational Books (1979). Kompas 15-3-2000; Siar News Service

Marieke Brand teaches anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. E-mail: brand@pscw.uva.nl

17-3-2000. From this, it appears that offering apologies does n o t close the past, b ut makes it accessible.

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