Interview With Sakini

Sakini discusses his experience as a gravedigger during the 1965-66 massacres in Indonesia, and talks about the community’s encounters with supernatural forces after the killings.

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Sakini begins by discussing the tensions within his community of Mentaram in Indonesia during the massacres of the mid 1960s. Hajj Sirka and Mr. Mahisa, hardline Muslim community leaders with Nahadatul Ulama (NU), and their associates from BANSER, plotted to kill all non-practicing Muslims who did not regularly visit the mosque. Mentaram also had a community of abangan people, who nominally accepted Islam but also believed in mysticism and ancestor worship, and did not follow orthodox Islamic practices in praying. Some abangan were wealthy, but were more discerning than regular Muslims, and less concerned with worldly affairs. This contrasted with the more staunch Muslims, who claimed to wield spiritual authority but were concerned with accumulating wealth. He recalls that a few prominent Muslim men owned large rice fields, unlike the masses.

Sakini explains that these religious tensions were painted as anti-communist containment efforts by the state during the massacres from 1965. Many victims were not actually members of the communist party (PKI). A curfew was enforced, and men of the household would not remain at home at night, but guard their families outside. During clashes between ANSOR and suspected communists, both ANSOR combatants and civilian men from the locality would fight one another in large groups of 25-30. This emboldened ANSOR executioners to muster the courage to slaughter their fellow citizens, even if they had been afraid to at first. Some were even bold enough to threaten to orchestrate mass killings in broad daylight. Further, ANSOR and alleged PKI members had a standoff on opposite sides of the nearby river. Food was also scarce at the time, and even petty criminals who stole animals like goats were killed as alleged PKI supporters.

Sakini was a gravedigger during this time with his uncle, and recalls seeing brutal murders and mutilation of victims, even women, for whom he had to prepare graves. Many of these acts were due to personal grudges, and his own arrest was also the result of such a grudge. He also discusses the supernatural elements of the conflict, such as how many individuals used charms to allegedly become immune to physical injury, or the use of enchanted weapons that were said to be able to move independently to track and kill targets. He claims that some even made contracts with supernatural entities to gain superhuman abilities. When burying murder victims, he recalls informing the deceased that he was not their killer, but merely following orders to dispose of their remains. He shares that some surviving relatives of victims experienced being visited by the ghosts of their deceased family members. 

Some who fled their hometowns to avoid being killed grappled with the trauma long after the 1960s, until the former perpetrators died. Ultimately, Sakini finds that all the perpetrators of these extrajudicial killings faced karmic retribution for their actions, such as suffering long, debilitating illnesses and disability.

Questioner: So the leader was Hajj Sirka?

Sakini: Yes, with Mr. Mahisa, from Gadi. Mahisa used to want the people from this region (on this cemetery road from the north to the east) to be massacred. All the people of Mentaram had to die, according to Mahisa. What was their sin that they had to die? They had done nothing wrong. Finally, one of my relatives contacted his son in Surabaya named Seka, who was in the Navy, and Dola, who was also from the Navy. Back then, Adat was a member of the PM (military police) from Malang. After that, they raised four companies. That's right. The 4 companies were complete with weapons. Their vehicles were placed on the road nearby for a day and a night. 

Questioner: The army truck?

Sakini: Yes, the green truck...

Questioner: Guarding against attacks, right?

Sakini: Yes, that's it. Once there were no raids the previous night, in the morning, from the north of Soro market to the south, armed army trucks circled around and announced through loudspeakers, "Come on, who dares to slaughter the people of Mentaram ..."

Questioner: Why would the people of Mentaram be massacred, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, that's it. It's called deep hatred (gething mburu sengit—Javanese)... of the chairman whose name is Mahisa .... When Adat came from Malang with four companies, they gave a message: "If you dare to kill the people of Mentaram, I will make red (slaughter) the people around the mosque (Gadi)".  Adat said this while traveling around the streets of Soro village with a loudspeaker, "Come on, whoever dares to kill residents from the intersection (Soro market) to the boundary at the cemetery (Mentaram), I will slaughter them all." 

Questioner: Was that during the day, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, in the afternoon!

Questioner: Did you see it directly?

Sakini: Yes, I know Adat, Dola and Seka are still my relatives. Since then, there have been no more invasions and forced abductions of Mentaram residents. My neighbor, Marki's father, was taken and tied up at that time.  He was already urinating in his pants.

Questioner: Who tied him up, Grandpa?

Sakini:  Yes, Hajj Sirka.... then his son (Marki) did not accept this treatment and said (to Hajj Sirka), "If you're a hero, then slaughter the people of Mentaram, Sir. If you are a hero, bring all your allies. (If you dare) I will slaughter all the people from north of the Soro market to the mosque (Gadi). Come on, where are your allies, show me Mangan, I will come." This is what Mangan relied on to kill the people of Soro.   

Questioner: Where is this Mangan, Grandpa?

Sakini: Mangan is part of Blitar residency. Precisely speaking, in Sogok. 

Questioner: Who was in Mangan, Grandpa?

Sakini: There was Jani and his friends who were brought here, to kill the people here. I know those people by heart. 

Questioner: Was there a Kaimi who joined the executioners?

Sakini: Yes, Kaimi was one of them. 

Questioner: I know them very well. Kaimi, then Setu. But in the Mentaram neighbourhood, Setu was afraid. In others, he was brave. The executioners in the area were Tayin, Jopram, and Sawir from Kamis. Then people who lived around Sobah included Sawi, Drisi, Bati. Now Bati is still there. If I'm not mistaken, the one who didn't participate in slaughtering was Haj Sae. 

Questioner: Did Bati participate in the slaughtering, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, he participated in the slaughters. Bati had a good relationship with me. When he meets me, he says, "The Gestok era was very crowded..." I said, "How was it crowded?" Bati said, "There was a lot of slaughter." I said, "What did they do wrong? Why did you kill them?" Bati replied, "Yes, I was told to. If I didn't want to, I would also have been killed." My mind said it was true that someone had told him to. Then I said, "What wrong did those people do? What if you face the law of karma? If you die immediately, you can be buried. What if you're made to suffer for years on a bed? For years if half the body is dead, unable to walk.  Made paralyzed and unable to do anything. Wouldn’t you regret it?" Bati said, "Yes, it's just luck that I'm still alive today." I replied, "But you participated in the massacre, didn't you?"

Questioner: That meeting was after the Gestok incident, right, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, we met recently. After he (Bati) realized. If we leave it as it is now, where every party is equally brave, then the people will be finished. In the past, they (the Mentaraman people) were outnumbered. If they got one person, they killed him; if they got two people, they killed them. 

Questioner: Is that so, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, that's how it is... I've observed that the butchers in their later years live a very miserable life. They get the karmic law of half-dead bodies. Sawi fell and couldn't get up for five years. He started crawling, and slithering, and couldn't do anything on the bed. Then Tayin and he were lying on the bed for five years. 

Questioner: Kaimi was also the same, Grandpa?

Sakini: Kaimi still walked, but his body was half dead.

Questioner: What was the story of Setu, Grandpa?

Sakini: Setu just followed his friends. I met him in Surabaya. I asked Setu, "Why are you here?" Setu replied, "Yes, I ran here because Kaimi (his younger brother) wanted to kill me. I reminded Kaimi not to continue renting out the rice fields. Kaimi did not accept and wanted to kill me. I finally ran here." Setu followed his son for many years. I forgot where the place was in Surabaya.

Questioner: That was after Gestok, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, after Gestok.

Questioner: Was there a story that Setu joined the PKI, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, but it's Kaimi's story. Kaimi wanted to kill Setu because he wanted to seize Setu's property. But Setu was a person who didn't give up easily. Although he liked gambling, Setu only played cards, not other types of gambling. It was Kaimi who spent a lot of his parents' money.... That's why, when Setu advised Kaimi, Setu was almost killed. Then he ran away to Surabaya. 

Questioner: Oh, I see...

Sakini: Yes, while his youngest brother, Kiyat, remained silent. He didn't care about such matters. That's why he has lived a long life till now. 

Questioner: So, Grandpa Sakini, at the time of Gestok you were already an adult, right?

Sakini: I was already 15 years old when Gestok erupted. I was born in 1951.

Questioner: You were already a big man. I think you can remember it well. What exactly caused people to kill their neighbors, Grandpa? It's really surprising...

Sakini: Gestok was about just deep grudges (gething mburu sengit) finding expression (murder). And it happened all over Indonesia at the same time...

Questioner: Just deep grudges ...

Sakini: Yes... the origin was that they were told to eliminate the party (PKI) and replace it with another party. But their guidelines (for the executioner group) was to eliminate the people of that party. That was the origin. And Gestok was during the time of Mr. Soeharto. Those turbulent times...

Questioner: So why did the people of Mentaram need to be killed?

Sakini: Ansor/Banser accused the people of Mentaram of rarely going to the mosque. They hated people who never went to the mosque. That was the origin of the problem. 

Questioner: Including from Hajj Sirka’s side?

Sakini: Yes. He wanted only the people who went to the mosque to be left unhurt. That was his wish... So, even the teachers, even though they taught well, were arrested and killed. Yes, they were killed. That's how it happened. ... At that time, after twilight, in Mentaram there were no (adult men) in the house. Everyone ran out of the house. Men my age and above ran outside. They would fight outside the house. If you were inside the house, you could be caught, but not if you were outside. No matter how many (executioners) there were, there were many villagers defending too. When they hunted people down, there were at least 25 to 30 people on both sides. 

Questioner: The Banser, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes. Including those who smeared their faces with black, covered their mouths, and tied their heads with udeng (batik cloth). So that it's not clear who killed them.

Questioner: Either the neighbours, or who?

Sakini: I didn't know. If they were the ones hunting, they knew who to catch. But the ones who were being hunted didn't know who was hunting them. Instead, they knew who we were... I knew all the people who did the arresting. This was because they would always issue orders every time a victim was about to be killed, "There will be a delivery tonight, make a hole! Find a place!"

Already from the cemetery gate, they would have hacked the victim. If it's a man, they sliced off his earlobe. If it's a woman, they stabbed her vagina with a sword. What was appropriate for humans to do? Then blood was splattered everywhere. I could only scream in my heart. Even if you want to kill, do it at the edge of the hole so that the blood is not splattered everywhere. You have to clean up, you have to cover the blood with soil. 

Questioner: From the cemetery gate to this corner?

Sakini: Yes. 

Questioner: Was the victim dragged, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, they were dragged. It was still good to lift the victim. Dragged. What I mean was that if you slaughter the person at the edge of the hole so that the corpse just falls in... This was how they killed him. (Demonstrating) Both hands were tied in front, both feet were also tied. Then the chin was pulled up and then they got slaughtered. Some held the body and others slaughtered it. I am very familiar with their actions.

Questioner: Did you participate in it?

Sakini: I was helping my uncle (the caretaker of the Soro cemetery). When the massacre was over, they said, "That's it, all you have to do is cover it!" Then I covered it in one hole. When I was covering, I said to the corpses, "I was just told to cover you. They are the ones who killed you. I'm just doing the burying. If you want to retaliate, it's up to you how you retaliate. I was just told to bury you. I'm just taking care of you and not disappointing you. I hope you will be safe until the end of time." That's what I said in front of the corpses.   

Questioner: Who was the female victim, Grandpa?

Sakini: Mr. Kabir's wife. His house used to be near Mr. Sinar. He is Haj Sori's father.

Questioner: I knew Sori… who used to own a truck?

Sakini: Yes, that was his house. Mr. Kabir's house was on the east side of Sori's house...

Questioner: That ancient house, Grandpa?

Sakini: That's right. He used to be a bangkelan. A bangkelan is a clothing merchant in the market. They were a rich family... the massacre happened at 8 pm. The husband and wife were dragged together. The gold bracelet she was wearing is still intact.... The grave is there. There are two graves. Their daughters erected the 2 graves. Their adopted daughters. 

Then there were people from the northern mountains (Siwi) slaughtered together with Kabir. The spirit of the person from the northern mountains sent a supernatural message to his nephew, "Come visit me, son. My house is over there near the crooked guava tree. There used to be a crooked cashew tree there." At first he visited me and asked, "Sir, where are the graves of the Gestapo victims?" I said, "What's wrong, sir?" He said, "I was visited in a dream by my uncle, asking me to visit him here."

Questioner: His uncle visited him in a dream, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, asking him to visit. Then I showed him the graves of the victims. There were seven bodies in the hole.

Questioner: Including the Kabir couple as well?

Sakini: Yes, Mr. Kabir and his wife, then people from the northern mountains (north of Siwi), and four other people. I didn't ask where those four people came from. Yes, this was where the victims of the Gestapo were buried. Then among the lamt0ro trees, two bodies were buried there. 

Questioner: Among the cut lamtoro trees?

Sakini: Yes, that's right.

Questioner: West of the papaya tree, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, that's right. The south side of the lamtoro tree. There are two bodies there.

Questioner: Who were they, Grandpa?

Sakini: I don't know. They gathered here. We found carnelian. On the south side of the middle road, a gold ring was found.

Questioner: There were 7 victims there, and 2 victims here. That makes nine victims. How many people were on the south side of the middle road?

Sakini: I don't know how many there were. Then in the south corner, there were 4 victims. 

Questioner: 4. So the total was 13 victims. 

Sakini: There were 2 victims there if I'm not mistaken. I remember being asked to make the hole, "Don't make it wide!" 

Questioner: The order was from Haj Sirka …

Sakini: Yes, from Haj Sirka. They already had a target whom they would kill later that night. 

Questioner: So, they killed the people of Soro?

Sakini: Yes, that was the plan. But the only one who got killed (from Mentaram) was Iwak. I placed Mr. Iwak there, in the corner north of the middle road. I left his grave alone because there was no one else with him at the time.

Questioner: Iwak was a Soro native, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, from Soro, Mentaram here. Only one person was captured.

Questioner: After that, the soldiers were invited here?

Sakini: Yes, then the soldiers from Malang were invited. Then from Malang they called Dola and Seka from Surabaya. "Comrades, gather today. Bring several companies." So, two companies came from Surabaya, and two companies came from Malang.

Questioner: What about Mr. Iwak?

Sakini: Mr. Iwak was an ordinary person...

Questioner: A member of the PKI?

Sakini: No, just an ordinary person. 

Questioner: Why were you arrested, Grandpa?

Sakini: That was a deep grudge (gething mburu sengit)?

Questioner: Gething mburu sengit? I don't understand why they didn't do anything and were killed...person) 

Sakini:  Yes, that's the case. Even though (people were) not from this party (PKI), they were said to be from the party (PKI). 

Questioner: Grandpa, in those days was food difficult to get?

Sakini: The era of cheap food is only now. In the past, getting food was difficult. Around the time of the Gestapo, eating was difficult. We used to eat gamblong. Gamblong was cassava pulp made into flour. Those who bought it had to queue. 

Questioner: That was before the Gestapo?

Sakini: Yes, before the Gestapo it was good to eat tiwul. That's why people were so skinny back then. They couldn't stand hunger. It's just that they rarely get sick. For example, they only drank in the morning. They ate in the afternoon if they had something to eat. If there was nothing to eat, then they just drank fluids. And the body remains healthy. People in the past rarely got diseases. My uncle also passed away not long ago. He died less than 15 years ago. 

Questioner: So, you are now the caretaker of this cemetery, replacing your uncle?

Sakini: Yes.

Questioner: So you've memorized it since the Gestok incident, right?

Sakini: Yes, I feel sorry for my uncle. He didn't care about the time when digging holes for the victims.

Questioner: What time did you dig, Grandpa?

Sakini: Usually at 7 p.m. I was told to dig the hole.

Questioner: He dug with you?

Sakini: Yes, me, my late uncle, and my neighbor.... My uncle said, "Kin, please help dig the hole. Haj Sirka will send you later... Just make the hole a little wider, Kin... and Haj Sirka lightly threatened, "Whoever doesn't want to help dig the hole, I'll slaughter." That's Haj Sirka. Haj Sirka's 'I'll slaughter you' was a common utterance (sego jangan—Javanese) from his mouth. 

We never faced chaos as severe as Gestok. Just after Gestok there was a terrible event in Sumbek. The location was north Blitar. Then there was the boundary of the lava river between Sumbek and Yung. There was a river barrier.  

Do you know the story of the war in the puppet show between Dursasana and Werkudara? That's how the war almost happened in Sumbek. One side was north of the river, the other south of the river. To the south of the river, Ansor members lined up five people over 200 meters. Likewise, those in the north of the river also lined up that far (people who were considered PKI). They challenged each other, "If you dare to go north/ if you dare to go south!" This was true.

If the southerners had not been suppressed, perhaps many would have died in the south. Many people were lost at that time. Because many of the weapons of the people on the north side of the river can magically fly around for their victims like the Dayak people. 

Questioner: But there was no war, Grandpa?

Sakini: It didn't happen. It seems that the leadership in East Java kept them from fighting. Otherwise, they would have been finished. The weapons can fly by themselves and track their victims. 

Questioner: Back then, did anyone have large rice fields, Grandpa?

Sakini: At that time, it was Grandpa Kat from Gadi who had a large rice field. Then Grandpa Tawi, then Grandpa Sujah.

Questioner: They used to have the biggest rice fields, didn't they?

Sakini: Yes, that's right. They used to have the most rice fields in Soro village. Back then in Gadi hamlet, there were Grandpa Kat and before him his father, Grandpa Silam. Those are the only ones who were rich.


Questioner: Why did people have the heart to slaughter fellow humans, Grandpa?

Sakini: Because they had to. If they didn't want to, the superiors would kill their friends. How could you refuse if the leader said so? In large numbers, among ten people, one person who didn't have the heart would also gain the heart. That way, they would have the heart. 

One had the heart because his life was also in danger. If he didn't have the heart, then he too would be killed. I think that's a situation that was both good and bad. For example, if you were invited to gather and then ordered to kill someone you didn't want to, you would be threatened with getting killed yourself. Is that good? I think not. 

Questioner: So, forced, right? But was Kaimi forced? Wasn't he a big, tall man?

Sakini:  Yes, however he was invited to hunt people (PKI) in a group here and there, and he would eventually participate. Kaimi was indeed a very determined character. 


Questioner: What did people do in those days, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, farm laborers, what else could they do? 

Questioner: Farm laborers for Pak Nawawi, Mbah Tukijah...?

Sakini: Yes, that's it. Harvest workers (derep), then farm laborers. In the past, derep did not use bicycles. In the past, derep used a shouldering tool (bajong). That's how it used to be.

Questioner: Derep is harvesting rice. But, why did they eat gamblong?

Sakini: It was harvest time. If you didn't harvest, you ate gamblong. We only harvest once every rainy season. Then, the rice was six months old. Now, the rice is 4 months old. In the past, we did not use (chemical) fertilizers. So, one rice harvest a year. So the planting period was every rainy season.

Questioner: Were there fertilizers used?

Sakini: The fertilizer was made of leaves of trees left to compost. There was no chemical fertilizer in the past. 

Questioner: What did you do with the leaves?

Sakini: The leaves, such as banana leaves, were chopped into small pieces and then planted in the soil. Then there was no plowing of the land. So, what was done was to plow the soil as best as they could. The fertilizer was from lamtoro leaves. There was no use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Only recently have pesticides and chemical fertilizers been used. In the past, rice was planted and left alone.

Questioner: Grandpa, do you remember there was a fight over rice fields between the PKI and NU?

Sakini: There was none. Hunting the PKI was just a matter of deep grudges (gething mburu sengit). 

Questioner: Deep grudges ... What about Mr. Kabir?

Sakini: Mr. Kabir was a shopkeeper. A clothing merchant in the market. 

Questioner: A PKI person or not, Grandpa?

Sakini: No, he was not. Just selling clothes.

Questioner: Why was he killed?

Sakini: Yes, that's why...people who rarely go to the mosque were called PKI.

Questioner: Both husband and wife, right?

Sakini: Yes. 

Questioner: If there were female victims, was it just Mrs. Kabir?

Sakini: There were other female victims. 

Questioner: There were other female victims besides Mrs. Kabir, right?

Sakini: There were... The women were called Gerwani, the men were called PKI. 

Questioner: Mrs. Kabir?

Sakini: Yes, Gerwani. The men were called PKI.

Questioner: Did you witnessed Mrs. Kabir being taken to this cemetery that night?

Sakini: Yes.

Questioner: And then she was tortured, right?

Sakini: Yes, her genitals were poked with swords such that she screamed in pain. And the sword was very sharp...

Questioner: So she wasn't dead yet, she was poked in the privates with a sword....

Sakini: Yes, that's right, and their swords were very sharp.

Questioner: I used to sit on that tall shrine. I approached after the victim was dead. Then I buried the corpses. When the people (Banser) left the graves, I started to remove the bodies. I witnessed this killing many times. Not just once or twice.

Every time I buried a corpse, I always told the spirits that I am just being told to do it. If I did wrong, I apologize. If you don't accept your death, avenge your death in your way. Because God has not yet called you, but those people have already sent you. 

Isn't it for God to take a life? But those people took it. 

The murderers were very difficult to identify. They (the murdered) were their neighbors. Their children and grandchildren would mingle with them. What wrong did these people do to be killed? God has not yet taken their lives, yet these people had already taken their lives. 

They (the killers) committed the murder from a book. So who made the book, why didn't you think about it? I would have thought about it, even as a child. 

Questioner: Whose book was it, Grandpa?

Sakini: NU people learn from books. Other people didn't. Others think straight, they didn't want to offend others. Just remember, pinching others  hurts, so don't pinch. These abangan people thought like that, they could even think deeply. On the other hand, that group (NU) did not think. Their only desire was to win. And they won because they had many allies. 


Sakini: Every Monday or whatever day, people who were considered to be involved in the PKI were required to fill in the attendance list in Siwi. Sign at the Koramil, Siwi. These people had their heads shaved. At that time it was rice planting season, called "padi dolusus". But if someone said "padi dolusus",  it means "ndas gundul ndas lesus" (bald head, lesus wind head - an insult), these people who were considered PKI would get angry. Teenagers at that time were naughty. 

At that time, everyone who was considered to be involved in the G on September 30th, 1965 had their head shaved. Even though they did not know anything about it. Yes, that's just nonsense. The origin of that was a deep grudge. 

Questioner: Grandpa, what was the situation like in the year of Gestok?

Sakini: At that time the Gestok incident happened simultaneously. The first day was on Friday Legi (Javanese calendar). Then it was like this time when the harvest arrived. At that time the first two people killed were near their homes, on the road, and in the street. 

Questioner: What was his name, Mbah?

Sakini: Their names were Saera and Sapto. That was the beginning of Gestok in Soro. The one who was killed by Haj Sirka. The two men were thieves. They were father and son. Saera was the father and Sapto was the son. Sapto had three brothers. His brother's name was Jalmo. The family was all thieves. For example, they would take rice from the fields, tie it up and take it home. Anything they found was taken. If they found a chicken, they took it. An entire chicken coop could be finished because of that family.

After the children and fathers were killed, the wife then committed suicide by hanging herself on the bridge toward this cemetery. Because many people were afraid to pass through the bridge, the bridge was changed to the one that exists today. That was in 1977. At that time the village head was Mr. Parman. At that time, the village head came from the Brimob (army). The villagers were all afraid of this village head.


Questioner: Was Mr. Kabir a native of Soro village, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes 

Questioner: But his name is not like most Soro people. Had he children, Grandpa?

Sakini:  If I'm not mistaken, he didn't have any children. There was a niece in Risik…

Yes, how can 20-30 people bring 2 people.  

Questioner: Were there that many slaughterers, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, that many. 

Questioner: Were there police at that time?

Sakini: There was no police. In the past, there was no use of the police. Even if there was, village affairs called for the use of upas (local security guard). 

Questioner: So, bringing Mr. Kabir and his wife did not involve the police.

Sakini: There was no police. 

Questioner: So, the neighbors themselves brought Kabir?

Sakini: Yes, that's right.


Questioner: Besides Mrs. Kabir, what was the names of the other female victims?

Sakini: I didn't know the name. I didn't ask before. They were distant people.

Questioner: How did the distant people get here? Who brought them?

Sakini: They were chased. Then they were called Gerwani. In the old days, Gerwani was called begenggek. Nowadays it means prostitute. It's called Gerwani. Damn it (whoever created that term).  

There were indeed no quiet people back then. The ones who were there were the attackers. They were the ones who controlled NU. The others were in the rice fields. Even the war was in the rice fields.

Questioner: Did you also go to the rice fields?

Sakini: I was not allowed to leave the house. That's because if at any time there was a delivery (of potential victims), I (along with my uncle and a neighbor) was told to bury the body. At night, the men here would leave the house. 

I once dug a shallow hole for a corpse. The corpse's toes were still visible. The reason was that I was tired. Imagine digging a hole at midnight. 

At midnight I was woken up. "Come on, there's a delivery of one person! Make a hole! Come on, Jan, make a hole for one person!" shouted the killer from the street in front of the house.

Questioner: This call "Jan" was a call to your uncle?

Sakini: Yes. "Then wake up Sakini too" the killer ordered. Mr. Jan then called out to me "Sakini, get up, there's a delivery". Then I got dressed, put on my pants, and went to the cemetery. 

Questioner: Did you bring an oncor to the cemetery? 

Sakini: Oncor consumes too much kerosene. Just a small ublik. We must light it when we  get to the graveyard.

Questioner: So, it was very dark?

Sakini: Very dark. Especially since the bamboo trees along the road were thick. In the cemetery, there were still many big frangipani trees. Slowly, I cut down the frangipani trees. In the past, people rarely dared to go to the cemetery because it was very dark.     

Questioner: How did Mr. Mahisa from Gadi die?

Sakini: He was shot to death after a religious lecture in Adem. At that time there was also a shadow puppet show. Perhaps his death was planned, waiting near his house. Mr. Mahisa died in his own house. His body was dragged. Because of that man (Mahisa) the people here could have been massacred.

Questioner: Was the incident before or after Gestok (September 30, 1965)?

Sakini: It was just after Gestok. After Gestok there were still some people (considered PKI) who were killed. Mahisa at that time could be said to be on a rampage. Every night Mahisa went around to people's houses and whichever bamboo wall had "PKI" written on it, at night he asked people (executioners) to hunt them down in this hamlet, this name, this number. That's what Mahisa did. The one who shot Mr. Mahisa was a soldier...

Questioner: Do you still remember Mr. Mahisa's stature, his face, and what kind of clothes he wore?

Sakini: I still remember. What I remember most about Mahisa was that he was dressed all in black: black pants, a black shirt, a black headband, and a face full of black smudges, and as soon as he saw him, the children ran away in fear. "Mr. Mahisa is passing by, run!" The children at that time who saw Mahisa ran in all directions. Children 5-7 years old were scared to see Mahisa. 

There was a childhood friend of mine from Gadi who told me, "At that time, if I met Mr. Mahisa in white clothes wearing a skullcap, I was not afraid. But if I saw him wearing black pants, a black shirt without a collar, a black headband, and his face full of black, I immediately ran away in fear."

Questioner: Was that day or night, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, both day and night. When he wore all in black, the children ran away scared.

Questioner: Was it day or night when they wanted to arrest people (considered PKI)?

Sakini: Yes, after dusk. It was already evening.  Most of the people searching were from far away. They traveled around. Then from here (Soro) there was one person. 

Questioner: The guide was Mr. Mahisa?

Sakini: Yes, the people from afar came at that time. In the past, the people came from Mangan (part of Blitar), such as Jani. They came in the afternoon, one truck, between 20-30 people. Usually, when they wanted to act, they were given food first.

Questioner: Where did they feed them?

Sakini: At Haj Soim's house. The location of his house, from the village office (Soro), is east. It's right at the bend in the road, northwest of the road. There.... Then they ate until they were full, then they carried out the ambush. 

Questioner: Ambush?

Sakini: That's right.

Questioner: So, only after Gestok?

Sakini: Yes, just after Gestok, after the killings were rare... if in Gadi there was Mahisa, here in Soro there was Hajj Sirka and Bahas. Hajj Sirka was Sargu's father. His face was exactly like Sargu, this Hajj Sirka. I am very familiar with this Hajj Sirka...

Yes, I'm sorry. The karmic law of these executioners is that they were always paralyzed on a cot for many years. At least once they were paralyzed on a cot for 3 years. In my mind is it because God has not called for the victim’s life, but by these executioners, it was taken prematurely... Was this retribution? And then this karma also reaches the children so that their lives are a mess.

Questioner: What did Mr. Mahisa write on the bamboo walls of people's houses, Grandpa?

Sakini: PKI here in Soro. But in Sumbek it was written BTI. 

Questioner: What color was the writing? Green or yellow?

Sakini: Usually red. If he run out of red, he wrote in black. There were only red and black colors. There was no green writing.

Questioner: Were there many victims in Soro?

Sakini: In Soro, there weren't many because they were blocked by soldiers, the son-in-law of Mr. Soni, his name was Seka. Then the soldier named Adat, the son-in-law of Grandpa Yumo, then the soldier Dola. They were the ones who secured Mentaram.

Questioner: The death of Mahisa from Gadi was before or after these soldiers secured Mentaram?

Sakini: After the soldiers secured Mentaram (from the NU ambush). After that, Mr. Mahisa was said to have gone berserk with the arrival of the soldiers. Thus, Mahisa seemed to be challenging the troops. In his religious lectures, Mr. Mahisa always demonized them... Approximately one month after Mentaram was secured. It was already rather quiet. Although there were rarely any more killings, there were still 1-2 people killed at that time because the clue (Mahisa) gave... if I'm not mistaken Brimob (police) from Blitar...

Questioner: Who shot Mr. Mahisa? 

Sakini: The one who shot him. Before he was put in the truck, the body was dragged. 

Questioner: You witnessed this?

Sakini: I didn't participate... I didn't know where the body was. The body was taken (by soldiers).

Questioner: Where is the grave, no one knows?

Sakini: No one knows... it was taken somewhere...

Questioner: After Gestok...

Sakini: Yes. Even if it was 2 months after Gestok, it's not called the Gestok period... then there was another event in 1982, which was mysterious (penembak misterius: mysterious shooter events)

Questioner: Yes, which was more cruel and mysterious?

Sakini: The Gestok incident was scary (nggegirisi—Javanese) because people carried very sharp swords and then dragged them through the streets (at night). They (the Banser people) were bastards... Whereas the mystery (1982 era) was when people were suddenly taken away. At that time, there were strict guards at the posts in the village. If everyone at the post was asleep, then the officer who shot the criminals would place a bag to contain the corpse to the side of the guard post. 

Questioner:  That how it is, isn’t it?

Sakini: That's what it was...


Questioner: Before the Gestok, what was the situation in Soro, Grandpa? Was there competition in their lives?

Sakini: Before Gestok, you can imagine that life was a harvest once every rainy season. At that time it could be said that many people were hungry. Because they could only harvest once a year. Eating as much as possible during the Gestok period. Because we were colonized by the Dutch and Japanese. Especially during the Japanese colonization, life was very miserable. At the time Japan had to block the Indian Ocean...

Questioner: Did your father go to the Indian Ocean during the Japanese period?

Sakini: He did. 

Questioner: Did he participate as a romusha?

Sakini: My father participated.

Questioner: Did he survive?

Sakini: My father survived because he was guided by his father-in-law. So, my grandfather.

Questioner: Guided by his spirit?

Sakini: Yes. 


Questioner: What did Mr. Mahisa say in the religious lecture before Gestok?

Sakini: What was said about doing this sin, doing that sin. If everything is a sin, what can be done? 

Questioner: Do you remember what those sins were?

Sakini: He thought it was a sin, but people now think it's not a sin. For example, begging. If you are given something, whether you get it, or don't get it, it's okay. But, according to Mahisa, begging was a sin. 

Questioner: Watching a Ludruk performance was a sin?

Sakini: Watching ludruk was a sin. It's not permissible for people to perform wayang because it was a sin. In my own opinion, performing anything is not a sin. Because whether it is a sin or not depends on the rules of life itself. Whether it is a sin or not depends on the person himself. What people want to do, they don't want to say. There is no need to comment on other people's actions. It's better to pretend not to know. That's my way of not sinning. 

Questioner: Everything is sinful, yes. Was watching jaranan (traditional performance) a sin?

Sakini: Yes, they thought it was a sin.

Questioner: So the Mentaram people had to be killed (by Mahisa) because of that?

Sakini: Because they didn't go to the mosque, that's the first reason. Secondly, because the Mentaram people were poor, their lives were suffering. They worked as farm laborers to survive. Meanwhile, they (NU) owned a large area of land. They earned from their fields by hiring other people. That was a lot of money. Then the rice fields were wide, they didn't have to worry about starving. They could eat. 

Questioner: Was that Mr. Mahisa's group?

Sakini: Yes. They were rich. This group of them (Muslims), the preachers, had a lot of wealth. In those days, the people who became clerics were extremely rich. It was different with the brothers. The brothers think this way. They worship (belief in God), but they didn't go to this mosque. This abangan (red people), according to Mr. Mahisa's circle. 

The abangan were not inferior in terms of their thinking. The abangan did not want to comment on something. If something was good it will be seen, otherwise, it will not be seen. But they (white people—wong putihan—, Muslims) talk about everything accordingly, less this, less that. 

Questioner: What was the attitude of the abangan when they hear these lectures?

Sakini: The abangan think putihan people were not necessarily in the business of thinking about life. Putihan were smart, but they only rely on books. But for the abangan, firstly, they rely on mysticism, and secondly, because of their parents. In the old days, the name of the parent felt its power. Only Arabic books were read, but we live in Java. Those who follow them were Arabs. Can't Javanese people live their lives the Arab way? They can't. 

I am saying that if people have gone on Hajj, looking for many things, it is very easy. But for the abangan, there was no need for that. The important thing was to have enough in life. You know that some abangan have a lot of wealth. For example, Mr. Yumo. People like him, if you want to be rich, it's an easy thing. He already knew the Nalo number (lucky draw based on number guessing) that would be announced later up to 6 numbers. 

Questioner: Was Yumo's house here in Mentaram?

Sakini: Yes, his house is the easternmost.

Questioner: With Londo's house?

Sakini: The east side of Londo's house.



Questioner: In Wuha the one who died was called Sama, is that right? His house used to be where Mr. Nosa currently lives. 

Sakini: I can't remember. If it's here, it's Mr. Iwak. There was only one. Then the first incident (Gestok) was on the banks of the river (Koro) on Friday Legi. Three people were slaughtered. His name was Sapto, Saera. Then Jalmo was angry that his father and brother were killed. He stole goats around Sobah's mosque. 

Then he sold them in Sumberpucung (Malang). Then in the dry season during the chili harvest Jalmo was sought by Hajj Sirka and Bahas. He was caught in Sumberpucung and put on a pick-up truck and taken to Soro. Then he was taken through this Esel—Esel used to be a busy chili market—and dropped off at the intersection in the direction of the cemetery. Jalmo was forced to walk toward the cemetery while being beaten, hacked, and kicked. It happened at 11 in the morning. Many people witnessed it. So I often complained to myself about this cruel treatment. Blood was splattered on the streets. Jalmo was buried near the cashew tree.

Questioner: The one with the reddish colored leaves?

Sakini: Yes. How was this person kemomong.

Questioner: What does that mean?

Sakini: By the way, he was often possessed by supernatural spirits. Jalmo's body strength was beyond ordinary people. 

Questioner: Magic, wasn't it?

Sakini: The kemomong is different from magic. If it's magic, one day it will lose its power. If the kemomong is sometimes entered by supernatural powers, sometimes it does not enter. But the ability will not disappear.  The kemomong person who agrees to what is asked will be granted abilitoes by the supernatural power.  Both are about supernatural powers, but the path is different (between magic and kemomong). For example, there is a large mortar that cannot be lifted by 4 people, for Giman it was used as a caping on his head. 

Questioner: So, Giman was carried along the road while being hacked at...

Sakini: Yes, even to the pit of his grave because he didn't die, his head was hit by a stone... 

Questioner: Like killing a rat...

Sakini: Yes...and there was no burying them by taking off their clothes, covering them with a board like in general humans...

Questioner: Like an animal...

Sakini: That's it...made a hole, thrown it and then buried it in the ground... no treatment, no praying...

Questioner: What about Mr. Iwak, Grandpa?

Sakini: Mr. Iwak is a gambler. Usually, gambling is accompanied by thievery. He didn't steal from his neighbors, but from outside the village. Because in the past, stealing from neighbors was embarrassing. It didn't make you feel full, and was shameful. If they stole, it was in Kepanjen and Sumberpucung (Malang). Places that are far away. Smart people are like that. The stolen money was not eaten by themselves but distributed to the poor, given for food to survive with. To live on. So, not to eat for himself. In the past, Mr. Iwak had a group of 4-5 people. But the one who was caught was just, this Mr. Iwak. What was really volatile was in the northern part of Blitar. For Soro there was nothing...

Four people were wanted by Hajj Sirka, to be slaughtered. They fled to Surabaya and survived.

Questioner: Mentaram people?

Sakini: People on the north side of the market (Soro). His father-in-law was Butuh, his father Roka. Then until the children grew up, they did not dare return home. Sometimes I met them overseas. When I was young, I often traveled. 

Questioner: Were you met in Surabaya and met Mr. Setu?

Sakini: Yes, I met him. Mr. Setu used to live in the north-west of Gubeng...his name was Sanginan.

Questioner: Yes, I know Sanginan, Surabaya. Near the train tracks.

Sakini: That's right.

Questioner: At whose place?

Sakini: I didn't know whose place it was. I was there for a long time, Mr. Setu. Up to four months.

Questioner: Then the man from the north of Soro market became a hairdresser in Surabaya. He used to ask, "How's Soro, Sakini?" "It's safe now, let's go home, sir?" I asked. "No, it's not. Is Hajj Sirka dead or not?" he asked. "Well, he's not dead yet," I replied.  It turned out later that his death was not long after Hajj Sirka’s. These two people were in succession.

Only the one in Surabaya, when he was about to die, just died. He didn't suffer from paralysis for years and only lie on the bed.

Questioner: Hajj Sirka was paralyzed on the cot for a long time?

Sakini: 5 years on a cot. Hajj Sirka's wife was also paralyzed on a cot for four years. 

Questioner: The beautiful and tall one, right?

Sakini: Hajj Sirka died earlier than his wife.

Questioner: Buried in this cemetery?

Sakini: Yes, in the front there, near the entrance to this cemetery... Then Tayin (the executioner) was also paralyzed on a cot for 5 years. Tayin lived in Mr. Sudar's house. Tayin is Mr. Sudar's son-in-law.

Questioner: Then those who ran to Surabaya were planned to be killed by Hajj Sirka?

Sakini: Yes, by Hajj Sirka and his group...

Questioner: Were they considered as PKI?

Sakini. Yes. But I didn't think they were PKI. They worked selling cool balloons for children. Did they know about the PKI?  No, they didn't. That's why it's called gething mburu sengit (deep grudges). It happened like that. 

They have a lot of allies. While we (abangan), meet friends, it's just normal. They are always in groups. Actually, we can be said to be outnumbered.

Questioner: Whose name is Sopuk, north of Soro market?

Sakini: Sopuk, was he slaughtered? No

Questioner: Did he die naturally?

Sakini: Yes, Sopuk is Mani's father.

Questioner: Mani the cobbler...

Sakini: Yes. I don't remember him being slaughtered. Back then, every teacher was called PKI. Elementary and high school teachers. That's why in the past, the slightest word made people uncomfortable, the next night they could be tied up and slaughtered. If I show you the northern region of Blitar you will be amazed and afraid. It is located along the lava river (Mount Kelud). 

The river was about 150 meters wide, but only 4 meters of water flows through it.  The NU group gathered on the south side of the river as far as 100 meters to the east, while on the north side of the river there were just as many people who were considered PKI. Just as many, just as brave.

Questioner: So, they were very close together?

Sakini: Yes, very close. The NU side shouted, "To the south if you dare!", while the north side shouted, "To the north if you dare!" over and over again. Then they gathered. The Marheinists were gathered, all dressed in black with red berets. They gathered in the village hall in the place of the Kamituwa (head of the hamlet). The meeting was attended by the Kodim. The agreement was that if one Marhein died, then 15 NU people must be killed in return. Finally, they did not dare and after that it was safe.

But a few months later there was an incident of this northerner being beaten in the market near Saweri. In Pacuan market. Then the meeting was reconvened regarding the beating incident. Finally, it was agreed that NU people were required to report every week for violating the rules. Only since then was the rule enforced. Usually, NU people were allowed to slaughter people on a whim. From there, there was a rule that if you hit someone, there is a fine of this many rupiah. That's where the law began to be enforced...

Questioner: Previously, you were just being indiscriminate?

Sakini: Yes... I remember after Gestok the rules became strict. Before Gestok, if you killed someone, if you didn't get caught, you wouldn't be looked for. It was arbitrary at that time.

Questioner: At the time around Gestok, there were many rich people and many poor people in Soro ...

Sakini: But the rich people at that time were not natural. 

Questioner: How were they unnatural?

Sakini: How is it normal if that's why they keep tuyul (satan)?

Questioner: Were those NU people?

Sakini: Yes, the NU people. Those people who pray in the morning and evening would stay at home if they had a tuyul (satan). This is because by joining people in prayer, the temperature is cold. These tuyul creatures like that air. It's still different from the abangan. Abangan people who didn't want to keep tuyul were not at home. Because among the abangan people, this tuyul will overheat. So, they were not at home. On the other hand, on the NU side, they would be at home and would bring a lot of wealth. Ask anyone, the answer must be like mine.

This is different from people who understand. They don't need the material possessions of the world. They eat just enough; they don't need possessions to be praised by others. This brother's mind is like living just to have a drink, why should he collect the world's possessions. Even if you die, die well by returning to the origin of life. 

Meanwhile, NU people are not like that. They are concerned with this world because after death they do not know. This is the difference. If an abangan dies, he wants to return to his origin. If it comes from wood it returns to wood, if it comes from the wind it returns to the wind. 


Questioner: Did you ever say that during Gestok, Mentaram residents went out at night?

Sakini: Yes, they went out to the rice fields. 

Questioner: Did you gather in the rice fields?

Sakini: In the rice fields, even if the war happened in the rice fields

Questioner: Had there ever been a war?

Sakini: Rarely (actually no) because the police were looking for them. Abangan was also guarding if (the enemy) goes berserk at the drop of a hat. So, it was better for the abangan people to stay out of the way. Even if something happened in the rice fields, there were many friends.

Penaanya: Your father was also in the rice fields?

Sakini: In the rice fields too. Everyone was in the rice fields. 

Questioner: Grandpa Yumo was also in the rice fields.

Sakini: If Grandpa Yumo goes for a walk. Grandpa Yumo could be invisible even if he was only covered by a leaf. 

Questioner: Different ability ...

Sakini: In the past, Grandpa Yumo would have been slaughtered. Grandpa Yumo's house was on the north side of Hajj Sirka's house. It is still there until now. Currently, someone else lives there. Indeed, Grandpa Yumo had been targeted by Hajj Sirka to be slaughtered. But it was difficult because he could not be seen when hidden behind a leaf. Hajj Sirka is a powerful person.

Questioner: Were there a lot of ludruk performances?

Sakini: Yes, there were many ludruk, jaranan, wayang and tayub performances. That was the main spectacle of the Javanese people at that time.  The four Javanese arts are inherited from the Javanese people. Therefore, they cannot be eliminated. Like dangdut, it only came later. For a long time, there were wayang and tayub. It was very popular when there was a wayang and tayub event, to the point of slaughtering cows for the tayuban. 

Questioner: What about “Genjer-genjer”, Grandpa?

Sakini: Yes, the “Genjer-genjer” was sung by the PKI people.

Questioner: Many in Soro?

Sakini: There were in Soro, but during the Gestok period it was applied to the death of the generals...


Sakini: There were Tuma and Bali who had big motorcycles at that time.

Questioner: Were those abangan people or what?

Sakini: Putihan people. Kambali was an outsider. That is, his son-in-law. Originally from Mangan. Many Soro people married Mangan people. People from Mangan who married Soro people were good at the Quran (Muslims). 

Questioner: Did that include Mr. Mahisa?

Sakini: Yes, he came from Mangan. Anyway, the people who made trouble in Soro were outsiders. 

Questioner: They were commonly called the abangan people?

Sakini: Yes. 

Questioner: Are you from Sumbek?

Sakini: I am from Sumbek, but my grandparents are from Yogya and its surroundings.

Questioner: So, you grew up in Sumbek?

Sakini: Yes, but my father was in Soro. In Sumbek, we cleared the forest to open up the land. Before 1950, they had started clearing plots to make moorland. 

Questioner: In Soro?

Sakini: Originally Soro. In Sumberk they were actually looking for new land. The forest was still there. They made land and then divided it up among the people who made it. The road was still half-made.

Questioner: Were you born in Soro?

Sakini: Born in Sumbek. But often went to Soro. Later, as an adult, I settled in S0ro. Here I lived with my uncle.***

Interviewer: Imam Muhtarom

Interviewee: Sakini

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Transcript Notes


  1. What does the false re-articulation of religious tensions as a struggle against communism suggest about the nature of the massacres and Indonesia’s Cold War as a whole?

  2. Consider whose agendas were being served by such curated political narratives, and how that enhances our understanding of the Cold War in Indonesia and Asia more broadly.

  3. Assess the utility of the supernatural, mysticism, and local myths as sources of information about the past. Consider if, and how, they may contribute to the study of Cold War Asia and the historical discipline in general