The bombing of Paddy’s Pub and the enormous bomb outside the Sari Club in Kuta Beach, when the crowd rushed out minutes after, was a horrendous act of sick, arrogant minds. The choice of Bali was also crazy. A peaceful tourist resort, it seems, swimming in blood.
But this lovely and mystic place, with its beautiful and hospitable people, the astounding landscape, sweet villages and inviting beaches, has a horrible, modern history.
36 years ago, Bali was the scene of one of the most atrocious massacres ever, in South East Asia (not to count the war). – Blood does not have a chance to dry up in Bali! – Read the story about blind revenge and mystic belief..
The 30th of September 1965, the Indonesian army generals Supardjo, Untung and air force commander Dhani met in the air force base Halim, outside Djakarta. They were simply plotting to make a coup d’etat.
Behind them they had the Merdeka Palace guard and various regiments, drawn together, to march through Djakarta, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Indonesian armed forces the 5th of October.
The reason behind the discontent generals is not really clear, even at this day. But Supardjo had a communist background and the two others perhaps wanted to side with the big communist party and take power. The Indonesian communist party at that time was the third biggest in the world (after China and the Soviet Union), with about 3 million members and led by the charismatic leader Aidit.
Around four a clock in the morning they set out with troops to arrest the six most prominent generals in Indonesia, for the moment gathered in Djakarta for the festivities. They managed to get hold of three generals live, two other were shot in their homes and the sixth, general Nasution, was saved by his wife and managed to escape in the middle of a volley of shots, over a wall, into the Iraqi embassy. Unfortunately his young daughter was killed in the firefight.
The three generals alive were brought to the Halim base, where they were tortured and executed. Their bodies were thrown in a well, called the Crocodile Hole.
But the coup makers forgot one important person, general Suharto, who at that time was in command of KOSTRAD, the army reserve. A neglectance that later was to cost them dear.
When he heard the news, he quickly realized that something quickly had to be done. The problem was that the troops loyal to Untung and Supardjo were positioned round three parts of the Merdeka place, while the KOSTRAD troops only had one part. By carefully orchestrated negotiations, Suharto managed to get them over to his side and the coup was practically over. Strangely enough both president Sukarno and Aidit went to the Halim base during the day. It was generally thought that the communists were behind the coup attempt.
Before Suharto stormed the air base, Sukarno slipped away in his wife Dewis, little car. He later denied every involvement. Aidit got away to central Java, where he hid during several months. Untung, Djhani and Supardjo also got away, but were later found and killed.
The bodies of the dead generals were found after a couple of days and the army demanded revenge on the communists.
Suharto and Nasution were furious. They decided to get rid of the communists in Indonesia and made it in the most obvious way – they killed them and those who were not killed, quickly changed opinion.
The blood bath started in Java in October. The worst massacres took place in central and eastern Java, especially in the communist strongholds of Jogjakarta and Solo, places I visited two years later during my voyage through Java, on my way to Bali. The killings spread over to Sumatra, Sulawesi and Kalimantan. The army was involved, but for the most parts civilians and villagers killed the communists. The Muslim organisations and imams lively encouraged the killings.
Life in Bali, meanwhile, continued more or less as usual, but trouble was, indeed, inescapable. In December, violence exploded after a clash between the army and communist youths. One soldier was killed. The commanding officer called his superiors in Denpasar and asked what to do. The reply was: “Behave as a commander should!”
After weeks of frustration, the unit finally got green light to start the killings. There were, however, relatively few troops in Bali, so they got very eager and swift help from PNI (Partai Nasional Indonesia). Their black shirted shock troops, the Tamins, went to work with a horrific efficiency.
The Tamins carried out their gruesome task in a very organized manner, working in teams, going from village to village, and checking out their victims with help of communist party lists, information from villagers, neighbours and other informers.
The killings were swift, without torture and with a certain politeness. Sometimes the killers made little speeches, explaining why they had to kill their victim. Usually they slit open the throat or beheaded the person. Sometimes they run through a sword.
Soon the killings went out of hand and erupted in an orgy of savagery. Whole villages , including children, went after the communists, chasing them over fields, burning their houses, clubbing, stoning and stabbing them to death. The bodies were thrown in mass graves, dug by themselves or their executioners, or dumped into the sea. In Bali where the funeral ceremonies are so important, there was no time for proper burials. There were simply too many bodies. The death toll rose quickly by the thousands.
The closest parallel in recent history might be the killing orgies of Jews by villagers and Einsatzkommandos in eastern Poland, just after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. One can also think about the massacre of Germans by the Red Army during the Expulsion in 1945 (see my article about the Expulsion in Words & Art, History).
Whole villages were burning and the killings started to affect groups like Javanese and Chinese merchants. Old feuds and accounts were settled under the guise of the anti-communist campaign.
The hardest hit place was in Negara, the main town of the county of Djebrana, the home of the corrupt Governor Sutedja and the local communist leader Puger. Thousands of communists were murdered in the most appalling way and houses were sacked and burnt.
Suharto realized that something had to be done to calm the situation. He ordered a regiment of para-commandos to move into Bali from Central Java.
But the arrival of the para-troopers did not mean that the killings were over, they just organized it, so that, at least, innocent people were spared. The lootings, the arsons and the general anarchy were stopped. The search of communists and the executions continued in a more military, disciplined fashion. The communists were now shot.
The commander of the para-troopers, Sarwo Edhy, later remarked: “In Java we had to egg the people to kill communists, in Bali we had to restrain them, make sure they didn’t go too far.”
The figures of how many were killed vary, some say it was around 50 000 persons, others say it was up to 100 000. In the aftermath it was was a tendency to keep the figures low. Realistic, local people, tend to lean on the higher figures.
There are many explanations why hatred and murder exploded so violently in Bali. The communist movement was a strange intruder in the Balinese society, so full of traditions, religion and mysticism. The people are hardworking farmers and fishermen, religious and dedicated to beauty and excellent handcraft.
The communists, like in old Russia, attacked and ridiculed the old traditions and the religion. They mocked the religious rites and festivals, laughed at the dances and fanciful dresses and obstructed repair and maintenance of shrines and temples. In the economic field the boycotted and opposed development plans and tried to destroy the old cooperative system of the villages and farms.
The communists came to Bali as an alien force, but managed, however, to get many followers. The reason is simple. They promised land to the peasants and they promised the landowners that they could keep their holdings after a coming revolution, - provided they supported the party with funds before.
People felt they needed a change of some sort. President Sukarno and the government grossly mismanaged Indonesia. A basically rich country, full of natural resources, but hopelessly riddled by corruption and inefficiency.
Bali felt the effects as well as the rest of the country. Bad schools with no books and underpaid teachers, the medical system in ruins, factories closing down, thanks to missing spare parts and raw material, neglect of the infrastructure, less and less goods to buy and a mounting sense of apathy. Adding to this was the problem of overpopulation. In a 2 000 square mile island, 2 million people were squeezed together. – No wonder the communists got followers, even as they were very arrogant and known to be corrupt.
One theory is that the massacres were a kind of mass-purification ceremony for the mystic Balinese. One Balinese put it this way:
-This may be difficult for the Westerner to understand. But what happened here was a sort of mystical cleansing of all the island’s problems and ills. Things had not been going well for some years. Balinese had to labour under the Dutch, and then under the Japanese who occupied the island during World War II. Then came the revolution to make Indonesia independent, which meant further upheaval. Some years ago we suffered tragic loss of life and land when our big volcano erupted. Then, after that, we got the Communists here, stirring up trouble
In many people’s minds, all these troubles blurred into one sense of discordancy. And by ridding the island of Communists, they believed that all other problems would somehow be removed, too. It was a kind of purging of this land from evil.
The purification theory can partly be verified by the behaviour of the victims. Most offered no resistance. They marched calmly to their execution place, escorted by soldiers, Tamins or villagers, almost like the Jews did in Poland, and met their fate with great courage. There is evidence that some even put on ceremonial burial robes in order to meet death properly. People who had the chance to escape, did not run away, but instead met their fate right on.
They realized that their part of the Communist movement was wrong and had to sacrify themselves in order to purify their souls, their people and the island. With their deaths, they exorcised bad spirits and broke the bond of evil.
The Balinese are Hindus and have a very strong belief in reincarnation. Death is not a very tragic event; on the contrary, the Balinese burials are joyful ceremonies, where the participants celebrate the deceased’s new life, new role and new opportunities.
The cult-like death wish of the Balinese had a bizarre expression much earlier, in 1906. The same pattern developed, as during the Communist purge, the calm walk into death…
A Dutch freighter shipwrecked on Bali and was subsequently looted by the local population. The Dutch, colonial administration, thought it might be an occasion to teach the islanders a lesson, and sent a military expedition to the island, flourishing their weapons.
The local raja met the Dutch, who in their part were chocked to see thee force he brought to fight the intrusion of their island.
It consisted of his advisers, government, wives and children and other people of the court. In front was the raja himself, armed with a golden parasol to protect himself. They showed no signs of fear and just calmly marched on towards the Dutch guns. The Dutch commander repeatedly ordered them to stop, but in vain. He finally ordered his troops to open fire and mowed down the raja and his followers like reap wheat. The bodies fell in piles in front of the Dutch positions. Some of the rajas wives who survived the slaughter, killed themselves with krisses (the local short sword), hacking in their abdomen. They too had a wish to sacrifice themselves in order to purify their spirits and the island.
I wonder how the Balinese regard the effects of the bombs in Kuta Beach. In the televised pictures I saw local people praying for their dead. – Was the sacrifice of the victims a ceremony to purify Bali from the evil of tourists and foreign influence?
I do not know. Tourists bring prosperity to the island. The Balinese are very peaceful, Hindu people, foreign devils sounds more like Muslim fundamentalism. One can never be sure in this mysterious and wonderful island.
Source: The end of Sukarno. John Hughes. Angus & Robertson, London 1967.
Written by Erik Edelstam