Interview With Simali and Sajah

Husband and wife Simali and Sajah, speak about how their family lived through the Indonesian Massacres of 1965 and its aftereffects, while Simali experienced being purged three times during the 1960s.

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Simali was working as a teacher in his hometown of Blitar, when an opening for the village secretary in his village came up in 1962. Various people encouraged Simali to run for the position, including those affiliated with the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). Endorsed by the PKI, he ran and successfully became a village secretary. Even then, he had already begun to realise the fractured direction in which Indonesian politics would take in the years and months leading up to the Gestapu Incident in 1965. According to Simali, there was internal dissent even within the ranks of the Indonesian National Party (PNI) over leaning towards the left. Such dissent, the way he viewed it, was caused by how different groups within politics misunderstood each others’ intentions rather than disagreements over ideologies. Nonetheless, the fact that he became village secretary due to the PKI’s endorsement was to work against him in end-1965 when an army coup sought to eliminate communism from the country. 

A few months before the coup, in January 1965, Simali married Sajah. The outbreak of the coup meant that Simali had to experience being purged multiple times. The only reason why he managed to survive the first round of purges was because he was living with his in-laws. He was not physically present at his own house when Bansar raided his residence. His oldest brother had frantically ran to where he was, in order to deliver the news and encouraged him to go into hiding. He was lucky not to have been caught then. Unfortunately, his luck ran out when he was captured at Tulungagung in 1968, when PKI guerrilla forces went up against the New Order regime. He was imprisoned at various prisons, the final of which was on Buru Island, for a total of sixteen years. While Simali was imprisoned, Sajah had to raise two children on her own–both of them not even three years of age. She did various jobs selling a variety of wares, from chess pieces to books.


Interviewer: Were you originally from here, Grandpa?

Simali : Yes, I am a native here.

Interviewer : So were you born in this house, Grandpa?

Simali: Ooh, no. This is my house. My parents are there. 

Interviewer : When you came back from Buru this house was already here, Grandpa?

Simali: Not yet. My son was only born in 1965.

Interviewer : You already had a child in 1965, Grandpa?

Simali : Yes. I was married on 30 January 1965. My first child, a girl, was born on 29 November. It was chaotic (elsewhere) but it was not so chaotic in this village. 

Interviewer: So, the birth of that first child?

Simali: I was already on the run.

Interviewer: In September? So, you didn't see the baby being born?

Simali: So, at that time I was already in Surabaya. I had already escaped.

Interviewer : In September, Grandpa?

Simali: It was not 30 September, but 10 November. I was participating in the Hero's Day ceremony.

Interviewer : Where?

Simali: Here in the Kasah sub-district. I was one of the officials in the sub-district. I participated, but after participating the atmosphere was not good. So, I just escaped to Malang. Surabaya to Malang, like that. I was there until December. On 24 December I left Surabaya for Jakarta.

Interviewer: What year was that?

Simali: The year 1965.

Interviewer : Still in 1965?. Were you in Jakarta then already, Grandpa?

Simali: Right, 1965. I went to Jakarta with my friends. Some of my friends worked in Senayan, in a vehicle factory. Anyway, I went along. No one took care of me sleeping there. In Senayan, at Pintu Sembilan. Next to that, there was a car warehouse at that time. Lots of cars. What car was it, a Fiat? That's Italian. It was just used for guests in 1962, for what sport?

Interviewer: GANEFO.

Simali: GANEFO, the Games of New Emerging Forces?

Interviewer: Yes, that's what it's called, an activity that Bung Karno was proud of, sports outside the Olympics, he organised that. How long did you remain in Jakarta, Grandpa?

Simali: Until March.

Interviewer: Of 1966?

Simali: Right. Because my wife's house was close to the lava there; in Blitar there was lava.

Interviewer: It erupted, Grandpa? Mount Kelud? I see.

Simali: Yes, after that I went home. My wife's parents were near the lava flow. I went to Bandung, my brother was in the army. So, I told her, "Take me home!"

Interviewer : From Bandung to here? You came back here, Grandpa?

Simali: Right. I went home to my wife's village, there was no one there.

Interviewer: Here, next door?

Simali: Over there, near Lahar river.

Interviewer : Oo, the village near Lahar river?

Simali: It's near the village where the lava flowed through. When I got there, there was no one there. I didn't know that my wife had gone back to her in-laws, to my parents' house.

Interviewer: Where is that?

Simali: Here.

Interviewer : Oh, right here in Gado?

Simali: Yes. I mean, I want to take my wife and bring her to Jakarta.

Interviewer : That's one child, isn't it?

Simali: Yes. When I got home, I wanted to take my wife there, but my mother and father told me, "No need to go there."

Interviewer : Do you mean your mother? 

Simali: Yes, that's my wife (at my house).

Interviewer : That's amazing. So, you were just released from prison, and you had already gotten married and even had  two children? Two, right?

Simali: Oh, not yet. The first one was born before 1965.

Interviewer: He was born, wasn't he?

Simali: He was born on 29 November 1965.

Interviewer : He was born then, right, Grandpa? He got married after you left Buru, right? Your son.

Simali: Oh, yes. My daughter got married in 1990. I already had this house by then. My friends who lived close here, were told that I was having a party.

Interviewer: Okay. That means around 1990? How many children do you have, Grandpa? One was born in 1965, and the second?

Simali: In 1968. Yes, after I returned from Jakarta, my wife became pregnant, and I was not allowed to go to Jakarta. So, I was left with my family in Tulungagung. Then I reunited with my wife for three years. Yes, I learned to live as best I could.

Interviewer: In Tulungagung?

Simali: In Tulungagung. There we had another child. Yes, a boy, born in 1968. 22 April 1968. I remember, 21st April was Kartini's day, on the 22nd my son was born, then on the 23rd I was arrested.

Interviewer: Oh, my god. So, you only saw your second child one year after he was born? 

Simali: Yes, when I returned, my firstborn was already in the second grade of junior high school. The youngest child was in the fifth grade. 

Interviewer : Who caught you, Grandpa?

Simali: There was a case in this area of East Java. If there was no case, it would have been okay. What was the name of the case? It was friends in Jakarta who failed in organising a movement. The first movement chosen was Lamongan which failed, then Solo which also failed, and finally it went to Blitar. Ir. Soekatno, etc., all the people from Jakarta.

Interviewer: Oh, people (leftists) who fled from Jakarta.

Simali: Well, there was that incident, people fled Jakarta to here. They lived in the caves, in South Blitar. The government conducted an operation called Trisula Operation. One whole battalion in East Java was mobilised. The operation was also known as the Pagar Betis Operation. Well, that targeted those figures. Soekatno and Rewang were caught. They were from Jakarta. I was one of those caught.

Interviewer: In Tulungagung, right?

Simali: Right. Then I moved from Blitar to there. From Blitar I moved to Madiun. 

Interviewer : Oo, from Tulungagung it was directly to Blitar? Did you meet Grandpa Santono there?

Simali: Right here, the centre of operations was here.

Interviewer: Who captured the military or the civilians, Grandpa?

Simali: All the forces were authorized to look for targets like that. Yes, they were looking for them. This means that even people who have never seen it, they didn't know the name. Many of my friends were illiterate. They didn't know. If accused of supporting it, what did it look like? A mother, who had a son named Mardilo, was taken away to prison. She was arrested during a celebration ritual. Even the neighbours were there. However, the catchers didn’t care. 

Interviewer: Where was that, Grandpa? Here in Gado?

Simali: Yes, in Blitar anyway. Especially after the South Blitar incident broke out, (rising) horror. The Brantas River to the south was all blood. There were no more people during the Pagar Betis Operation.


Simali: Actually, many people want to open up. Have you read Mr. Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s book?

Interviewer : Oh, yes. I've read almost all of them.

Simali: From The Earth of Humankind to House of Glass. There it is.

Interviewer: Well, you are in the same unit with Mr. Santono, right? In Unit XI too?

Simali: No, no. I was the first person to be sent to Buru Island, with a group of 850 people on a ship; aboard ABRI 15, the army's warship.

Interviewer: What year was that?

Simali: In 1969. Departed from Nusakambangan on the 16th of August 1969, at 17.00 in the afternoon. The next day was the 17th (Indonesia’s Independence Day).

Interviewer: 16 August 1969, at 5.00 pm, right?

Simali: Yes. That was the first departure. From Sodong, that's the dock of the Batu (Cilacap) prison; the dock that was usually used to drop off war prisoners; they departed from there. The journey was nine days and nine nights. The problem was that the ship was an old ship; it had only been used twice to transport prisoners before it broke down. 

Interviewer: Fragile against waves in the sea, was it? Well, you were there with Mr Pramoedya Ananta Toer, right?

Simali: I was almost always in the same unit with Mr. Pramoedya. Unless Mr. Pram was isolated. He was often isolated. You see, every time there was a journalist from anywhere, Pram was looking for him. Even though there was Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Yabing, and Hasyim Rahman, all writers, Pram was the most famous.

Interviewer: So, you were in the same unit as Mr. Pram, right? In Unit II, right? Or, Unit III, with Mr. Pram?

Simali: Yes, it's called Wanayasa. So, among the twenty-one units that were there, mine was the first.  Yes, it's not too far (between units), half a day's journey. The river used to be cleaned. When we got off the ships, we used, what's the name of it, like a truck that can fit 200 people. Unit I was still far from the sea.

Interviewer: Unit III was closer to the sea, Grandpa?

Simali: It was closer. The journey... We used small motorbikes like that Jeep. But that's the big one, which is usually used to unload the boats. So, the one at the back will be opened when you arrive at the mainland.

Interviewer: That means there's still nothing there, Grandpa? Forest only?

Simali: There was nothing. When I first came, the barracks were not yet finished. I made it myself.

Interviewer : You made it yourself, Grandpa?

Simali: New... we used just reeds; the people who made it were Moluccan prisoners.

Interviewer: Were there any barracks before then?

Simali: We were the first to make the barracks. When we arrived, it was still that land, a field of reeds, and then bamboo poles were put in; it was covered with reeds. The native people didn't want reeds, but we used reeds. They used sago leaves because the leaves were wider. There was no wall yet.

Interviewer: When you arrived (on Buru Island), what were you asked to do by the soldiers?

Simali: Yes, not asked, but forced to fulfill their own needs; the soldiers just looked around. The escort at that time was Pattimura (battalion). The escort from Pattimura was an enlisted rank. So, imagine that they didn’t know anything.

(Interviewer’s note: An old woman entered  the main room at this point of the interview. She is Simali’s wife, Sajah).

Interviewer: How old is your wife, Grandpa?

Simali: I'm already 87. 

Interviewer: Your wife is 80, right?

Simali: Younger. Around 79.

Interviewer: You're still healthy.

Simali: We have two children. My first child is now outside of Java.

Interviewer: Oh, the one born in September?

Simali: November 1965. That's the one.

Interviewer: The second one lives in Blitar, Grandpa?

Simali: No. In Surabaya.

Interviewer: Oh, so it's just the two of you here.

Simali: Right, they couldn’t find a job here.

Interviewer: At that time, Grandpa?

Simali: Yes. They were blacklisted.

Interviewer: Does that mean that there was a description of ET (meaning: Ex-political prisoner) on the KTP, Grandpa?

Simali: Yes, there used to be. The ID card had a mark. 

Interviewer: Now it's clean, isn't it?

Simali: Grandpa Tan or whoever told me to keep it. I didn't know if it was still there or not. I didn't care anymore. It's already...

Wife: Electric ID card.

Simali: I haven't changed it; I have the ET one. 

Interviewer: (to Sajah) So, what was Grandma when Grandpa Simali was taken for “college” (meaning: detained)?

Sajah: Newlyweds. The year of 1965. On January the 30th I was a bride.

Simali: There was a benefit too. At that time, I was not invited back to my parents, so I stayed with my in-laws.  Fortunately, if I hadn't been married in 1965, I would have disappeared. Because I was married, I slept there, and I wasn't in my room at night when they raided my house. At around 4am in the morning, my oldest brother went there.

Sajah: Early in the morning while crying "where is your husband? Go quickly, run quickly, I'll give you the fare!"

Simali: At that time, I had a position in this village, the position of carik.

Interviewer: Village secretary, right?

Simali: Right. I used to be a teacher–an elementary school teacher. Then during the school holidays, there was an opening of carik in this village. I didn't think about it before, but because I was at home, people encouraged me to run.

Interviewer: What year was that, Grandpa?

Simali: In 1962. Yes, I just followed. At that time, a political competition was like that. At that time there were communists, NU—NU was the most productive—, there was Masyumi, and many others.


Interviewer: (To Sajah) When Grandma was left behind by Grandpa, he went to “college”?

Sajah: Right, “college” without a diploma (laugh).

Interviewer: What did you do at that time? 

Sajah: Fortunately, I still have my father and mother. I could only work in the rice fields. I also worked at the lathe. I also used to work at the lathe. Yes, welding and polishing.

Interviewer: Was that so? Did you take part in polishing?

Sajah:  Yes, polishing, and using the lathe. Sold at home. I bought and sold it again. I polished, and then I sold. I sold stuff like chess, and stamp handles. I bought it in bundles, then I cut it, cleaned it, and sold it. 

Interviewer: Well, the story was that you were in Tulungagung, right? Did you start “college” when you took it?

Sajah: Not yet. Incidentally, there was a volcano eruption in 1966 and I already had my first child. My husband had not seen his first child. He searched at a hospital in Blitar and couldn't find me, coincidentally when I returned. He was looking for his new baby, but he was taken home at 5 pm after I finished giving birth. In fact, at dusk he (my husband) was rushed by my brother, escaped to the west again to Sampi Wolu, then to Surabaya.  At that time the Banser arrived at my home and even searched under my bed! ‘We were just asking for mineral water!” they argued. They (Banser) were from the Mawar Etan hamlet! Near the Islamic boarding school. Now they've all died of old age, not saying goodbye to me. I didn't get to say goodbye. (laugh)

Interviewer: Do you like to joke around, Grandma?

Sajah: Yes. I remain angry for a long time, son. So that I don't get old too quickly.

Interviewer: Do you usually joke, Grandma?

Sajah: No, I haven't; now I can't get angry at home. Now it has stopped. I am silenced. Who doesn't get annoyed? I can only buy food. If it's not good, say so, sir! If the food is not flavourful, I heat it again.

Interviewer: When you were in Tulungagung in 1968, wasn't your husband arrested for “college”? 

Sajah: Right, when my second child was born.

Interviewer: Well, did the officer immediately enter the house or what's the story?

Sajah: My husband went for a walk, there happened to be a boy here as the "right" boy; rode a bicycle looking until...

Interviewer: From a green group? (Note: Green was the colour affiliated with the Islamic conservatives in Indonesia).

Sajah: Yes, green. My husband went for a walk and encountered six men. My husband did not approach them. The house was silent. I was cooking rice until it burnt. "Gado men arrived, 6 men." Did they know my husband was here? He didn't respond. Oh my god, my child was still small. Right, I happened to be able to buy a house for 400,000, the house faces west... Well, I happened to have  another child, my son. On 21 April, it was Kartini Day, and on April 22nd my son was born, then on 23 April my husband ran.

Interviewer: Oo, that means when you were carrying it (your second child), it was the morning of the 23rd?

Sajah: Yes.

Simali: I was washing clothes.

Sajah: I gave him breakfast because I couldn't bear it. There was rice and crackers. My mum took me there.

Interviewer: Well, after meeting the Gado boys in the morning, in Tulungagung, what did you do then, Grandpa?

Simali: Well, I was marked; I also thought about it; the people went back to report.

Interviewer: Report?

Sajah: Actually, I came home already.

Interviewer: It was safe, Grandma?

Sajah: No. He was in Jakarta, going to his sister's house in Bandung. His brother was in the army.

Simali: It's just that people were caught like it's not finished.

Sajah: Oh, 16 years left behind. All that time my husband was left behind. I had to find my food, go to the rice fields by myself, and bathe my children. My past was grim. I remember everything. Do you remember? Let’s talk while we eat!


Interviewer: Moreover, you were an official, how was the situation in the village like before 1965? How come arrests were happening at the village level? What's the story?

Simali: Here at that time even the radio wasn't very widespread. There were only one or two people who had radios, but the political atmosphere was already heating up.

Interviewer: In 1962?

Simali: At that time, the birth of, what is it, the National Front (the PNI). It was 1962. Well, it started to break apart.  The rifts were caused by people with different ideas and understandings of politics. So, it was not healthy. Right, people were new to politics, so sometimes it was just a normal fight. Relationships became fractured when they did not understand each other.

Interviewer: In the village?

Simali: Right, in the village.

Sajah: In the village it's like carrying your hatred.

Simali: It already exists, the communists in Jakarta had their committee. There was a provincial Regional Central Committee (KSD). I forgot what they were called at the district level.  There were those committees in the sub-district. Same at the village level. 

Interviewer: So, at the village level, what was the relationship like between different groups of people, Grandpa?

Simali: Yes, it started to fracture at that time.

Sajah: Yes, there were already signs.

Interviewer: In Gado here, right?

Sajah: Especially the Islam boarding school. Around the mosque; those who didn't pray.

Interviewer : Ooh, is that the kejawen prayer, Grandpa?

Simali: That's where it becomes obvious. It’s like voters in today’s time. Like the PDI (Party of Indonesian Democracy). Now, even death is a social need. The whole community is the same. 

Interviewer: People didn't come (to pray)?

Simali: No they were not coming. But they don't care. For example, for Muslims, there must be people who come to mosques everywhere. For non-Muslims, sometimes some do and some don't. Especially after being affected by Covid-19. Now you can count the number of people who come to the mourning after a death.

Interviewer: (Especially) if the deceased is not Muslim?

Simali: Right.

Interviewer: So, you feel it, Grandpa?

Simali: But for Muslims, it's still not bad (the mourning numbers).

Interviewer : So you feel that the situation before 1965 is like the situation we are in today?  Relationships (between people) in the village were close right? Brothers would gather in those days. And then various kinds of politics descended onto the villages. What impact did that have on normal everyday life? 

Simali: Daily life was still normal. I don't seem to care. To die is to be buried, it is not allowed.

Sajah: I am non-Muslim. Every month I pay, what is it, praloyo.

Simali: There was a conflict on that matter, we were not allowed to be buried together.  It took several days to wait for a decision. Finally, my family bought land for the cemetery.


Interviewer: I remember Grandpa Simali carrying his second child, going for a walk on 23 April. So that means they (the Gado guys) came again in the afternoon?

Sajah: No, no. That was the first child who went for a walk. I didn't have a house yet. I was still renting the house.

Interviewer: Did Grandpa Simali run away?

Sajah: Went into the house and reported to me. Until I burnt the rice (I was cooking rice), "You see, why are you walking in the area?" He usually walked when he was in Tulungagung.

Interviewer: That's the first child, right? Well, when you were in Tulungagung; you started “college” in Tulungagung, on 23 April 1968?

Sajah: Yes, in the Batakan area. 

Interviewer: Well, how did the officer come, Grandma?

Sajah: The boys, not the officers.

Interviewer: From the green group?

Sajah: What's it called?

Interviewer: Banser. (They came) during the day, Grandma?

Sajah: Early in the morning. 

Interviewer: (Grandpa Simali) was Immediately arrested, Grandma?

Sajah: No, no. They went back east, and my husband went back home and reported to me. I was stressed.

Interviewer: In Tulungagung?

Sajah: Yes. It was in Tulungagung. West Tulungagung.  

Interviewer: Did that mean that on 23 April 1968, the green group came?

Sajah: Two village officials and policemen. He hadn’t had breakfast yet. "Hurry up and eat”.  I could never forget it.

Interviewer: Sure, you don't forget about it.

Sajah: It comes by itself. I want to forget it but I still remember it. I can’t forget the picture.

Sajah: Once I sold books.

Interviewer: Is that so? During the New Order era, Grandma?

Sajah: Yes.

Simali: When the president was Hamengkubuwono (Indonesian vice president).

Interviewer: In the 1970s?

Sajah: Then the books were banned. All the books had to be removed.

Interviewer: Yes. In the early 1980s, Grandma.

Simali: The prisoners were told to cut down the forest, but Mr. Pram kept writing.

Interviewer: Given time out, right?

Simali: Yes. Isolated.

Sajah: That was the first priority. It was not allowed to go down. 

Interviewer: Ooh, did you sell Pramoedya's books?

Sajah: I did odd jobs first. Out of town with my father. I sold chess, bats, bales, and racquets.

Simali: It was also banned (Pramoedya’s works). So, circulating his works during the Hamengkubuwono era was not allowed.

Sajah: So, not allowed to be sold in shops.

Simali: Now I've forgotten. The Earth of Humankind, Child Of All Nations, House of Glass are the same. But right, it is heavy for an ordinary person to digest, especially for someone like me who only had basic schooling, to digest a book is also not easy. Sometimes I have to read it twice and it still does not sink in. Even though at that time the interrogator knew nothing about politics. Moreover, he didn't know the law. So, the interrogator was told what to say. Mr. Saidi was...

Sajah: Mr. Saidi was his friend.

Simali: Interrogated. Those were illiterate people. He was asked about dukungan (meaning in Indonesian: support), but the interrogator didn't know what dukungan was; the interrogator was a corporal. And for several years it was only the low rank. So, the interrogator and the prisoners didn't even know what dukungan was, and the one who was asked understood dukungan as dekeman (meaning in Javanese: hiding place), a synonym of delik (in Javanesse).

Sajah: The fine language of dukungan is delik.

Interviewer: Actually, all sides were misunderstood. That's where the mistake came from.

Simali: There's a lot of that. So, there were people on Buru Island who were fit. There were also many people who went against the regime.

Interviewer : I apologize, Grandpa. Why did you run away at that time?

Simali: Well, I should have died. I was already abandoned. The people here who were accused were immediately killed.

Interviewer: If they were caught?

Simali: Right, they were immediately killed.

Sajah: First it was seven, then two, then three. It was only here, not in other villages.

Interviewer: I apologize, Grandpa. Did you used to be a leader or associated with any party or organisation?

Simali: Yes, involved in various things. For me, it's because I'm a village secretary.

Interviewer: The village secretary?

Simali: Right. Everybody knew the secretary..

Sajah: If you had stayed as a teacher, it would have been quiet.

Interviewer: Oh, actually it was safe being a teacher?

Simali: No, I'm still lost. I was lost as a teacher, also I was lost as a village secretary. In 1962 or 1963, PGRI was... Non-Vaksentral. Subiyan Dinata and Subadri were all part of the central committee. Well, most in in Blitar was non-Vaksentral, so...

Interviewer: Were non-Vaksentral views the same as Sukarnoists?

Simali: Yes. Even the name Soekarno was missing here. Ir. Soekarno was missing; Dipo Sukarno was missing; then Fatih Sukarno was missing. Those people were indeed Sukarnoists.

Interviewer: Then in 1962 you were elected as village secretary, and quit your teaching job?

Sajah: Yes. Without saying goodbye.

Interviewer: Well, who chose the red circle (PKI)?

Sajah and Simali: Yes.

Simali: Yes. They (red circle) nominated me.

Interviewer: I see. Even though they were not administrators? All of them were killed?

Sajah: Yes.  The stories when I was giving birth in the hospital, that afternoon my husband arrived and asked about his first child “son or daughter?” “Son,” his first child answered. Then he kissed his son and left.  Right in the evening he ran away.

Interviewer: To Surabaya?

Sajah: No, no. She was taken out of the village.

Interviewer: Is that so?

Simali: Yes, hopefully, the problem is, what, to solve the issue of gross human rights.

Interviewer: Yes, that was indeed the darkest episode in the history of Indonesian politics, Grandpa. From young, I learnt that the 'red people' were fighting for justice and welfare. Other groups were also working for those things, but why do we understand them as different, even though they were also involved in independence. 

Sajah: Cleaning the body is smarter. My children's struggle was also half-dead. My son in Surabaya did not want to try to register for a job. "I don't want to, sir. I have to take care of many things (personal clearing certificate, etc.)...”

Simali: My daughter is also there. That's my first child.

Sajah: She joined her in-laws.

Interviewer : Outside of Java?

Simali: Outside of Java. She was successful in her work. She went from high school to IKIP Malang.

Interviewer: So, she teaches outside Java?

Simali: Yes. She obtained a subsidy and earned a master's degree.

Interviewer : Thank God, thank God.

Sajah: I also went to Yogyakarta to look after my grandchildren. The smallest grandchildren were brought along.

Simali: Back in 1988, my daughter graduated from a public school. At that time, was it Sipenmaru?

Interviewer : Yes, Sipenmaru.

Simali: New Student Admission Selection.

Interviewer: That means you were released from Buru Island only eight years later in 1978? DId you see your child grow up? You had never met your second child before you returned from Buru Island, so how did you manage that, Grandpa?

Sajah: Before I returned, I only had a family photo..

Interviewer: That's right.

Sajah: "Who is this?" “An uncle” “Who is this?”"An aunt." "Who is this?" Then to his father picture, “Who is this?” Just keep my child quiet. I cried when I saw it.

Simali: We only received humane treatment from  1975. We got curtains, there were no curtains before. It was still a wall, so it was replaced with a curtain. There were no photos, so they sent a photo.

Sajah:   But that was only once. The postcard letters.

Interviewer:  You can send photos there, right?

Simali: Yes, that was after the humane treatment in 1975.

Interviewer:  That means it's been 8 years since you received any news, Grandpa?

Simali: That’s right. Since sending letters from Buru was smooth …

Sajah: But, here, we received the letter only once a year. 

Simali: Especially to the priest. Because I'm a church participant, I go to the priest for anything; I used to be the closest to Mangun.

Interviewer: Mangunwijaya? The novelist?

Simali: The one who designed the Semarang Dam?

Interviewer: Yes, yes. During the New Order era, in 1993. Yes, that novelist. Like Pramoedya too. So, he went there, right?

Simali: Right. In 1972, the one who baptised me was Father Mangun. Wait, no, the one who baptised me was Andreble. A German.

Interviewer: Father Mangun gave the sermon, right? Romo Mangun was recognised in Indonesia. Romo Mangun was Catholic, but he was accepted in Islam. Gus Dur was accepted, and everywhere he went he was accepted.

Simali: That's the one who defended the people affected by the dam, was it Wonorejo or Semarang?

Interviewer: Yes, in Central Java. 

Simali: There was a defence first. "So, I will only leave this place if there is a mujaer (fish) that has eaten manggar (coconut flower) (motto)”. So, the house is no longer visible, then he will leave. Yes, accompanied by Father Mangun.

Interviewer: It turns out that Father Mangun got there. I didn't expect it. Do you have a picture of Father Mangun?

Simali: Oh, no. No human rights yet.

Interviewer: Was that in 1975? So, it was Father Mangun who gave the sermon?

Simali: Giving sermons, sometimes baptising.

Interviewer: Were you a Christian before you went to Buru Island?

Simali: Started in prison.

Interviewer: Started to get interested in Christianity while there?

Simali: Here in Blitar I also joined. There was that santiaji.

Interviewer : But you were baptised in Buru?

Simali: It was basically me questioning why I should follow their religion (Islam) when I was going to be killed by those people?

Interviewer: I see.

Simali: In the past, the GP Ansor forces were mobilised in Blitar; they were told to kill the communists.

Interviewer : So, in your heart, it was like that? I see.

Sajah: It's recorded all the time. I started from a very young age until old. With the Islamic boarding school here that said, "Just kill the one who is dancing." That's it, the old days were scary.

Interviewer: So you're used to it.

Sajah: Most of the people who used to be there are gone.

Interviewer: Died?

Sajah: There are one or two who are still alive. The one who played with the whip was also gone (dead). He was the one who held the children in line.

Interviewer: Oo, I see.

Simali: In front of the children holding gender.

Interviewer: What is gender?

Sajah: Gender was a whip. The usual one for jaranan (a symbolic horse dance) but a hard one. Those children were playing with it.

Interviewer: Was they playing during the day or at night?

Sajah: During the day. It didn't matter if it's night or day.

Interviewer : Yes, as a Blitar resident, the event of 1965 was extraordinary.

Simali: There were no people like that in Jakarta. The events of 1965 just didn't exist for them. I can say that on 25 December 1965, I was already in Jakarta. At that time in Jakarta blank letters were traded. I made a letter to move there. Then I was in Tulungagung and I made a letter from here, in Gado, and it worked. In the past, there was no need to type it. I just stamped it. I also went to the sub-district every day. At the time of the incident, I could read. I stamped it first. In the past, if you wanted to seek my services from other friends, I made a lot of letters. We both slept in the trains of the Pasar Turi Station Train, many people fleeing from everywhere. But if you ran away from my place, I just made the letter.

Interviewer: You would be safe with that letter? 

Simali: Safe. Yes, anyway, if someone asked for a letter, you give them one letter, they would be safe. At least you can find something to eat. In Surabaya, people were looking for safety on an uncertain path, sleeping in the carriages of the train, the freight train.

Sajah: (streets) the city.

Interviewer: Moving around in the city…

Simali: I first escaped to Malang. Sani was still in college, I was already on the run, towards Malang. Now there is still that. He's a friend's son. Both were leftists. Well, in the end I didn't know if he was CGMI or what, just a student organisation. I wasn't a student so I didn't know.

Sajah: Well, rich people could go to college.

Interviewer : So, what year were you born in, Grandpa? 

Simali: I was born in 1939.

Sajah: 1936!

Simali: In 1939 I was already queuing for cassava.

Interviewer: Before Indonesia became independent?? 1939 was not yet the Japanese colonial era, but the Dutch era.

Simali: I queued for cassava in 1939. The problem was that during the Japanese Occupation, those who harvested were asked for ranjen. Ranjen was a deposit. The harvest for the deposit to the government ran out. We distributed cassava to ourselves. But we bought it. The Dutch colonisers planted the crops. The place was here in Kediri, in particular, Sumberejo or where it was. Well, at the red bridge place, when it was ground into tapioca, and the Dutch government was taken by the Japanese, it was sold to the residents. We queued. The flavour was not good. The cassava was two years old, the water came out inside. Like the core of the banana tree. It's actually soft, but it's not good. That was the Japanese era.

Interviewer: Imam Muhtarom

Interviewee: Simali and Sajah

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Transcript Notes

Gestapu Incident: September 30th Incident

  1. How does Simali’s and Sajah’s testimony illustrate their agencies in navigating the Cold War in Indonesia amidst the massacres in the 1960s?

  2. Simali mentioned that politics in Indonesia had become fractured even before 1965 as a result of different political factions misunderstanding each others’ intentions, even at the village level. To what extent was the Cold War in Indonesia a result of such misunderstandings, rather than any irreconcilable differences over ideology?

  3. Females like Sajah often had to fend for both themselves and their children when their husbands were captured by local forces or the authorities during the Cold War. How do you think such experiences shaped the ways in which females understood the Cold War?