Interview With Syamsul

Syamsul discusses his experiences as a member of Ansor and BANSER during the 1965 Massacres in Indonesia.

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Syamsul initially joined Ansor prior to 1965, merely following his friends into the organization. He highlights that even before Ansor’s formation, the Nahadlatul Ulama (NU) had a predecessor student organization, the NU Students’ Association (IPNU). When he first joined Ansor, Ansor and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI)’s youth organization, the Pemuda Rakyat, competed to expand their membership through rival art performances. In particular, the Pemuda Rakyat’s genjer-genjer song and dance performances were very popular and drew many youth. Ansor responded by launching marching band performances, in which Syamsul participated, given his prior marching experience from school. He was also part of Hansip, a national civil defense group that predominantly drew its membership from Ansor. 

He recounts how the PKI abducted and killed Mr Mahisa, a prominent NU leader, which he argues was the trigger for the violent massacres of PKI members by Ansor in retaliation. According to Syamsul, the PKI had prepared pits to discard the corpses of victims beforehand. The PKI and its farmer union, the BTI, had wanted to share the yield from the rice fields of wealthy Muslim landowners, but the latter were unwilling, resulting in a clash between BTI and BANSER. When Ansor and BANSER took on the role of guarding villages and persecuting PKI figures at night, the streets became quiet, as PKI youth remained home to avoid being killed. Ansor vigilantes also used passsafewords to distinguish their comrades from enemies. He explains that the only equipment they needed were weapons and flashlights, for which they extorted batteries from Chinese shops.

Victims would be brought to the village according to quotas set by the police for each locality, and then taken to the graveyard where ANSOR youth would kill them and dump their corpses in pits. However, the police did not directly kill the PKI suspects by themselves; those suspects were killed by ANSOR members. Syamsul also highlights their 3 most prominent ANSOR executioners, Kaimi, Bati, and Soleh. He also recounts an occasion when Bati covertly entered a PKI household to execute an enemy, and another when ANSOR continuously pursued a Pemuda Rakyat member who had challenged ANSOR. They eventually found him hiding under a mound of animal waste, and seized documents with a list of Muslims to be kidnapped. During these operations, ANSOR worked an Islamic mystic, whom Syamsul claims was able to heal wounds instantaneously. After executing the Pemuda Rakyat member, they returned to pray, for which the community made arrangements. While most NU-affiliated youth were unafraid of the murdering and corpses, Syamsul also notes that others were afraid and would even shiver when tasked on operations.

Syamsul (pseudonym)

Question : Have you ever been a member of Banser, Grandpa?

Syamsul : I was formerly a member of Anshor, then was appointed to Banser.

Question : Before or after Gestok?

Syamsul : Before Gestok. At that time there was rivalry, especially against Pemuda Rakyat. The Pemuda Rakyat was rather arrogant, it was indeed. They were big-headed.

Question : Give me an example of their arrogance?

Syamsul : Provoking the others. They dug holes. There was strong rivalry between Pemuda Rakyat and Anshor.

Question : Where did it happen, Grandpa?

Syamsul : In Sepan hamlet, Gajo. Both sides were provocative. But Pemuda Rakyat was more provocative. They made provocative statements fiercely. Even Anshor’s provocativeness was arguably beaten by that of Pemuda Rakyat. Pemuda Rakyat was also braver. It could be said that at that time, Anshor was immobilized by the Pemuda Rakyat. They wrote down who would be killed and put them into holes dug in the ground. Whoever (amongst the Youth of Anshor) were written down for this event. The clerics were identified before the Gestapo on September 30, 1965. At that time, all the clerics were identified by the PKI.

Question : Why were they identified?

Syamsul : Simply, they would be killed secretly. Then in 1965 (in Jakarta), it was known that Ahmad Yani and Nasution were kidnapped. That made Anshor muster up their courage a little.

Question : A little?

Syamsul : Truly courageous. The Army itself was less courageous than Anshor. The courageous figures (the executioners) were Soleh, Sarjoti, then Kaimi.

Question : Grandpa, why did the clerics need to be killed by the PKI?

Syamsul : At that time, the PKI rejected NU and their clerics. They wanted to occupy the seat of power by themselves. During the Gestapo era, I went to Muncar. Muncar was ….

Question : Banyuwangi

Syamsul : Yes, it was. Mauli’s brother, named Kolis, got married in Banyuwangi. He married Mr. Dolen’s wife and took her to Muncar, Banyuwangi. Kolis was a young Anshor in Gajo village at that time. He was older than me. Then Kolis always became the leader. In Soro, he stayed in Hajj Sirka’s house, and he was invited to trade copra. There were many young people in Soro and Nandes. There, they formed a gambus (short-necked lute) orchestra.

Questioner : Who did the gambus belong to?

Syamsul : It belonged to the youth of Anshor. At that time, many young people and youth movements began to emerge. There was a dormitory for the Banser to gather.

Questioner : What were Anshor’s tasks at that time, grandpa?

Syamsul : Their job was to fight against the Pemuda Rakyat. In the presence of Banser, the Pemuda Rakyat became afraid and shrank. Then the Pemuda Rakyat were chased ….

Questioner : You also took part at that time?

Syamsul : Yes, that’s right. They were chasing each other and fighting each other, then the mass slaughters happened.

Questioner : So, before the Gestok, there was enmity, right?

Syamsul : Yes, you’re right. Fierce enmity.

Questioner : How old were you at that time, Grandpa?

Syamsul : Around 24 years old.

Questioner : You were already an adult at that time, grandpa?

Syamsul : The execution was held at that time. The young men went to it. Many young people took part in this event. Brave young men. Chasing, hitting back of the head, falling down and slaughtering. That was what happened at that time. 

Questioner : Brave people, grandpa.

Syamsul : Yes, that’s right. There were no soldiers in the frontline. Military troops were always behind Anshor and Banser.  Therefore, when Anshor and Banser deployed, the army and police personnel only accompanied them from behind. At that hour (19.00) there were not any people passing by. The streets were very silent, except for the Anshor and Banser youth there. None dared to get out of their houses. If the Pemuda Rakyat left their house, they would be taken down. On the streets, every morning dead bodies lay, covered with leaves, mats, and sarongs.

Questioner : Where did it happen?

Syamsul : At the T-junction on the crossroads of Sinden in Siwi (downtown). The Banser headquarters was located in Kaman, Siwi. Right at the Kaman Mosque. The head of NU at that time was Mr. Sisik (penghulu). Mr. Sumarjito was the subdistrict head. They were in contact with the branch chairman, Mr. Taran.

Questioner : Mr. Taran, whose house was in Siwi, on the east side of the road?

Syamsul : Yes, you’re right. At the time of Gestapo, Mr. Taran’s house was busy. On that day, my wife’s brother, the representative of the youth, was close to the subdistrict head. The subdistrict head at that time was Sumarjito. Then, Mr. Sisik was a headman. Mr. Sumarjito was the son in law of the head of Jambeng Village. Later, Mr Sumarjito was implicated in the PKI. Then he was dismissed from his position as the head of Siwi subdistrict.

Sumarjito came from Madiun. He was good at giving speeches. It was found out later that he got involved in the PKI.

My wife’s brother, Bramanto, was a classmate of Mr. Abdal when he was at Sekolah Rakyat (the People’s school). He, currently living in Jakarta, is a board member of the PBNU. He used to work for The Ministry of Religious Affairs. Now his son has replaced him. He used to be an officer.

Actually, the one with the sharp (bloody) hand was Matito. But Matito has passed away. He lived in Degan hamlet.

Questioner : Oh…. Matito was an executioner as was Kaimi, grandpa?

Syamsul : Yes, he was (smiling). His hand gripped the neck of a PKI person till it broke and they died.

  He had a child and lived a long life. The son is also old. His name is Sarjoti. He is old but when it comes to telling these stories, he is still clear ….

Questioner : Which house is his?

Syamsul : The house that was demolished.

Questioner : Where did he move to?

Syamsul : He built another house.

Questioner : Where is it exactly?

Syamsul : From the north, you go straight ahead till the T-junction, then turn right slightly. On the left side, there is a newly built house. That is the house where he lives. 

Questioner : He doesn’t go out anymore, does he?

Syamsul : Never at all. Sarjoti is extremely fierce. 

Questioner : Can he speak clearly, grandpa?

Syamsul : He still speaks clearly. Sarjoti was in the dormitory. Then, at that time he was assigned to Jakarta. There was a rumor that the Anshor and Banser would be killed there. But it was found out that they only traveled to Jakarta to look around Hubang Buaya (the place where the assassinated General was buried).

Syamsul’s wife : Not Hubang Buaya, but Lubang Buaya.

Syamsul : Well, nothing I can do, this mouth is already running.

Questioner : That’s OK, grandpa. You’re old now.

Syamsul : I’ve had a stroke.

Questioner : Oh, you’ve had a stroke.

Syamsul’s wife : He’s still symptomatic, actually.

Syamsul : At that time, the cruel executioner from the village was Abuh. The very cruel executioner from the dormitory was Sarjoti. He was just a small boy, but he was very brave.

One night, there was a meeting of the Youth of PKI in one of the houses in Raka village. Then a young man who went to that house reported it to the dormitory (Banser). Soon, that night the young Anshor men went to Raka village. There were 4 people in that house. They met to identify the people whom they would kidnap. Then the young men of Banser from the dormitory heard about it. They arrived. The PKI people in the house didn’t dare come out. They hid on the ridge of the house. They climbed onto the ridge. That’s right. There was a fight between the young Anshor men and the youth of PKI. There were two or three houses where the roof tiles were thrown at the Anshor and Banser below.

At that time, Sarjoti was small in stature, the big one was Mr. Soleh. So, the spear was handed over to Sarjoti. Sarjoti’s body was small, so it was easy for him to break into the house without being seen by the PKI youth. He quickly got into the house and from below, he struck the PKI people with the tip of the spear. “Ouch!”, one of them shouted. He was hit, then he ran on the roof. 

It was easy for the people below to see those on the roof. However, it was difficult for those on the roof to see the people below. Finally, after being struck from below, the PKI member fell down. His body rolled off into the gutter. On that day there were three or four PKI members. 

Then he returned to his own village. There was also a commotion to besiege the PKI members in the village. At that time there was a feud between Sain and a man from Cempe hamlet named Timus. He has a stocky build. In Pace village, Sain was the head of Banser. Timus challenged him. The Banser from Gajo village gathered south of the Santu River.

Questioner : Who challenged you? 

Syamsul : The one who challenged me was Timus, a member of Pemuda Rakyat. Meanwhile the Banser relied on an elder named Grandpa Lanit (a mystic). During the siege, Timus hid in a hole on the ground where cow dung was dumped. Timus entered it and then covered himself with garbage left over from cow straw and cow dung. We didn’t expect him to be there. He was not found in his house. There was only a kitchen building. The main building was inspected. A firearm was found in the middle of his house. Apparently, Timus was afraid of being attacked by Banser. Timus’ hiding place amidst cow dung was a bit far from his house. His wife showed his hiding place. 

Then they went to the house of Mr. Kamituwa, a PKI member. But he was not at home. When Mr. Kamituwa didn’t answer their calls, the house was inspected. Finally it was found that Mr. Kamituwa of Pace village hid above the ceiling. Finally, he was captured and taken to the intersection of Cempe hamlet. Then he was taken to Bambang river at that time.

Questioner : Did you go along at that time?

Syamsul : I participated. All the youth at that time participated by carrying swords everyday. Then there was Soimin, a tall man with yellow skin. He was placed at the intersection. Meanwhile, the others scattered to look for the targets (PKI members or Pemuda Rakyat) and to look for Timus.

Then there was a young man from Kamis. This young man, a member of PKI, was caught by Kaimi, then he was seized. Kaimi then cut off his head, it was separated from his neck. Then the head was grabbed by the hair and thrown to the crowd, and it hit the thigh of an onlooker. The head then rolled on the ground. The tongue stuck out of his mouth. It happened in Cempe hamlet near Bambang river.

At that time we just liked it. We did not scream in fear when we saw the corpse. We were not afraid, it seemed like God told us to do something….

Then a young man from Cempe ran to the crowd of Banser. He pointed out Timus’ whereabouts. Soon, Banser went to the location. Then they broke into the house of BTI’s leader. Only a bicycle was found, the person had left. Then the bicycle was damaged by Banser. Then they pulled the frontside of the house until it collapsed. At last, they brought and poured kerosene into the house. The house was burnt down by the crowd and then they left to continue seeking Timus.

Accidently, Timus was handled by Ali, my own brother, and me. At first, we struck the mound with the tip of our swords. But then the cow dung moved upward from the ground.

“It’s him!” I shouted in surprise as I raised my sword backwards, and alas, the tip of my sword hit the eye of Grandpa Lanit. To my surprise, Grandpa Lanit wiped his wounded eye and the wound disappeared. This truly happened. 

“Shoot!” the others shouted.

“Don’t shoot!” Timus replied from his hiding place.

Timus then stood up from his hiding place and raised his hands as a sign of his surrender. Then he was embraced by a member of Banser as a sign of being arrested. He was brought up from the hole.

Then there was a youth Anshor leader named Tayin.

Timus was successfully arrested. When he was questioned, he simply obeyed. Not long after that, his friend Sakimin was slaughtered first. The one who slaughtered him was Kaimi from Soro village. Timus was also slaughtered by Kaimi. Then there was also an executioner named Bumin. He deserved to be the executioner. He was very brave.

Questioner : Is he still healthy now, grandpa?

Syamsul : He is.

Qusetioner : Where does he live now?

Syamsul : In Sopo village

Questioner : He had a good relationship with you. Were both of you from the same group?

Syamsul : Yes, we were in the same group. Then there was San. He’s my elder brother. Once he was framed by Kamituwo to be arrested. Even though he was not involved in the PKI. This Kamituwo was actually our friend, but he eventually left somewhere. My brother, San, then went to Kalimantan. He is still strong and healthy now.

Not all the Banser youth were brave.  Some of them were timid. Like Musri, when he was ordered to do something (slaughtering the PKI), he even shivered. But how could he do it if he couldn’t stand it, huh? 

Then there were “quotas”. We were given a “quota”. We just liked it. Sepan graveyard had three “periods”. (First period) 3, (second period) 9, and the last (third period) if I’m not wrong, 7. 

Questioner : What was that grandpa?

Syamsul : “A quota”. A quota of the PKI people who were about to be slaughtered.  A quota was from Siwi. They were delivered to the graveyard in Sepan hamlet. I haven’t got any idea about the Sampir graveyard (Degan hamlet).

Questioner : It means they were sent from Siwi and killed here, grandpa?

Syamsul : Yes, you’re right. They were passed through the guards. The guards told the youth that Sepan hamlet would receive “a quota”. Then the youth stood before the guards. If they were here to guard and then the “quota” came, they would immediately be taken to the cemetery. The police officers only delivered them. They didn’t want to do it themselves.

Questioner : Didn’t they dare, grandpa?

Syamsul : They didn’t dare, actually. They only stopped at the road. They didn’t go into the graveyard. 

Questioner : Who did the assassination? The Anshor, grandpa?

Syamsul : Yes. The Banser and Anshor did it.

Questioner : The police officers and the military personnel didn’t dare, grandpa. Did they?

Syamsul : They’re not brave. That’s right. They did not dare. After that, the PKI members were slaughtered, lifted up, and thrown into the hole dug in the ground. The dead bodies were piled up; five, six, seven, eight, and nine in one pit. That’s the story of that era.

In Kamis hamlet, the last time I wanted to pass by, the people here were about to leave. I thought it was so because the people did not want to see them. I invited the dormitory people. In this dormitory, there was a man named Puki, from Tegala village. He was known as a "striped man", whose skin was striped with white and brown lines  after being badly burned. The people were still there. Previously, there had been a plan from Sampi (a Banser leader in the village) to have the old Banser gather at his house. From here, it was Sarjoti and me. There was a southerner from Sajar hamlet. That’s where I met Puki. It became crowded and familiar as we gathered at Sampi’s house. We made a joke. Sarjoti was kidding. He used to bully people…  He killed the people of Sopo village (after September 30th 1965 riots). One of those who got killed was a sorcerer. This was because Min’s horse died from his black magic. Min was Sadi’s brother-in-law. He’s still my relative, also Sarjoti’s family. His neighbor was a soothsayer.

Then Min asked for help to terminate this sorcerer. Sarjoti was willing to terminate him if the youth of Sopo village also came forward to join him. They called the sorcerer from outside the house. He came out.. Sarjoti said that this person was the one disturbing the residents, to the point he became famous outside the village. Sarjoti gave one punch and this person fell right down. Sarjoti grabbed his neck and strangled him to death.

Then, Sarjoti and Sadi said that they went to Banyuwangi for a week. They returned and said nothing happened. The situation is safe until now.

Questioner : Did all the members of Pemuda Rakyat leave at that time?

Syamsul : They did not dare get out of their house. They were all at home. If they went outside, they would die. So, they were all at home.

Questioner : So, no one ran away from home, right?

Syamsul : They didn’t dare to do that. In fact, the youth who stayed at home were the ones who survived. They were rarely taken. If they left the house, they would lose their lives. They were told to stay at home. They obeyed and stayed at home. At this hour (19.00), the situation was very silent. The only light available was an ublik (a homemade kerosene lamp made from a tin or used glass bottle with one wick made from cloth). The light just flickered. At that time, I often met someone on the street at night. He was the only one who dared to leave the house. He was an old man. His name was Grandpa Hajj Buan. When they went out at night there was a code among them. When the word “Janur” (young coconut leaves) was mentioned, the word “Kambil” (coconut fruit) was the answer. If “Kambil” was mentioned, “Janur” was the answer. Just like that.

Questioner : What did they mean, grandpa?

Syamsul : That’s the code among the members of Banser. I used to go around Keple hamlet. All the residents of Keple hamlet and Kenan village were PKI. And this all changed after the arrival of Hajj Mastomi (Muslim, diligent worshipper). Now all the residents are NU members. In the past, every house had a dog. Now no one keeps a dog. Now everyone cups their hands, now everyone prays (as per Islam).

Questioner : What were the activities in the past?

Syamsul : A long time ago there was a lot of dancing and drinking. Anyway if you heard the sound of “klining-klining” (clapper), it meant there was a tayub performance in Keple.

Questioner : Were there many Pemuda Rakyat members in Keple?

Syamsul : There used to be people from Gajo village who ran to Keple. There were many young people in Keple. They hid there. When they were chased to the house, nobody came out. Instead, three dogs stood in front of the stairs of the house. Soon these dogs were attacked by the swords. Blood sprayed and pooled on the ground. The dogs did not move. Every day, we went around this. 

Questioner : Approximately, how long did it last, grandpa?

Syamsul : Around one month. It was before the fasting month.

Questioner : It was after 1965 Gestok. Right, grandpa?

Syamsul : Yes, it was. Gestok was marked by the assassination of (army generals) Ahmad Yani and Nasution. When I returned from Banyuwangi, the soldiers checked the people on the road. They asked me about my correspondence. I worked strategically. If there was an inspection, I would get out of the vehicle. They came towards the car. I told the driver that I would get out and wait for him a bit far in front of his car. So, I got out of the car and walked. At that time, they inspected the car but not the walking men.

At that time, many youths of Muncar raised sickles over the soldiers. It was very surprising. My brother, Kolis, the head of Banser, later got involved in a fight with the Pemuda Rakyat there. Mass fights broke out in Cluring village between Banser and Pemuda Rakyat. It was the enmity between the two organizations. There was an incident where Banser chased members of Pemuda Rakyat to one place. Even though Banser chased the Pemuda Rakyat, the number of Banser people was less than those of Pemuda Rakyat. There was an unbalanced fight. Banser lost. All the Banser people died in the attack.

At that time many members of Pemuda Rakyat said, how come there was a fight like that? Here, there was a Gajo native who lived in Banyuwangi at that time. He did not dare to leave the house at all. His name was Mr. Jadi. He knew about the clash between Banser and Pemuda Rakyat. My brother warned him not to leave the house. If he got out of the house, he would die. He tried to follow my brother’s advice. He hid in a row of soybean sacks. Then Mukidi, Jadi’s brother, an influential person in Cluring, did not get involved in fight. He ignored the fight and did not take part in it.

Questioner : Was the time of the incident in Banyuwangi the same as the commotion here (South Sidi)?

Syamsul : Yes, it was

Questioner : After the incident in Jakarta, grandpa?

Syamsul : Yes, after the assassination of A. Yani and Nasution. These two figures were Muslim. They were the ‘center’ of Islam ...

Questioner : They did not accept that, grandpa?

Syamsul : Yes, they didn’t accept it, so the incident (Gestok) occurred.

The foreigners wondered about what happened in Indonesia. How could you kill your own brother? But it happened because they were disturbed first. The NU people could have been killed.

Questioner : Why grandpa?

Syamsul : They were killed by PKI… They (PKI) initiated the action, but they failed. Nasution was still alive. A. Yani was successfully killed. It was the insolence of Colonel Untung. It was Untung’s flock who wanted to kill A. Yani and Nasution. In addition, A. Yani’s friends were also killed. One was Christian (referring to one of the army generals captured and killed)… Yes, fortunately, Nasution survived.

Questioner : What was the hostility like before Gestok, grandpa? Was the rivalry so precarious? Can you tell us, grandpa?

Syamsul : Actually, the Anshor and Banser did not really care. Apparently, the PKI initiated the action by making holes to bury the bodies of the target of assassination, the clerics.

Questioner : Had they already dug the holes, grandpa?

Syamsul : They existed already. They were in Gajo. In fact, after the incident occurred, they ran to the east. In the east, they were chased, investigated, finally captured, and “settled” (killed) in the east. They didn’t need to return to the west, the arresters said.

Sometimes foreigners were astonished by the Anshor. How could the very strong PKI be defeated by Anshor? Actually, the PKI was very strong at that time. The PKI in America or those who knew where the chairman of the PKI was in Russia. Nowadays, many people in China are Muslim. They believe in God.

At that time, when they attacked Pemuda Rakyat, they came to Chinese owned shops to get anything they needed. What the Banser needed was batteries for flashlights. They would say, “I need batteries.” And the Chinese shopkeeper gave them batteries. The Banser members didn’t need to pay then. They used to pay before the 30 September 1965 riots, though. There were a lot of shops in Siwi. It was the Chinese who gave them. They (Chinese shopkeepers) just wanted to be safe.

Questioner : What did the Pemuda Rakyat and the PKI do before the Gestok that caused friction with the NU?

Syamsul : They held a genjer-genjer performance. Lerokan (traditional theater) was a new spectacle at that time. First there were Ludruk and Gambus. Then there was Lerok. 

In Banyuwangi, in every house’s walls or bamboo walls (gedhek), the words BTI were written. The houses here used to be, too. In Blitar, on the tile of the roof of the house, BTI was written with chalk. That was for PKI and BTI’s members. For the houses of NU members, it was not written. In Banyuwangi, every house, BTI was written.

Questioner : What about the art forms, grandpa?

Syamsul : Genjer-genjer was a song. Genjer-genjer was sung in the rice fields… (trying to remember). Many people liked it.

Questioner : At that time, genjer-genjer was a song about the nine generals who would be kidnapped in Jakarta, right?

Syamsul : …The cause was the generals. Mr. Karno (Sukarno) later was replaced by Mr. Harto (Soeharto). I found out after a while. The common people were just complaining. They were not able to do anything.

Questioner : So, how was the rivalry between the PKI and NU in Gajo village, grandpa?

Syamsul : It could be compared to Anshor's leap. Because of their arrogance, the Anshor became brave.

Questioner : When the rice fields in Gajo village were not permitted for cultivation, the PKI intended to seize them. Then, finally the PKI and Banser fought, right?

Syamsul : In the Tenggo rice field area, the PKI wanted to share half of the yield. But the owner disagreed. Mr. Dima had a rice field in Tenggo. The PKI wanted the rice field divided. But the owner continued rejecting them. Finally, there was a mass fight between the PKI and Banser. In the end, the PKI lost. The one who won was the owner of the rice field.

The people of NU were rich. Besides, they had many rice fields in their village, and they also bought rice fields outside their village. Further, Mr. Dima bought land as far as Pasuruan. He brought people from his village to work on his land in Pasuruan. They were successful there. Boeran and Abunyamin succeeded in Pasuruan. Mr. Dullah built houses for them there. They succeeded in planting tons of soybeans.

Then, when the PKI began to rise in Pasuruan, the land was sold on credit. And they bought rice fields here in Sopo village. Until now, those rice fields still exist. I had an area of 3 bau (around 2 hectares). That was quite a large piece of land. The land was then managed by three people. Hajj Sun, Hajj Rul, and Sin. Then the land was in Sin’s hands. Sin built a chicken coop, planted some rice, and planted a large area of citrus trees. The harvest was plentiful. Then some were planted with durian and avocado. The avocado often caused a stomachache for me, so I cut them off. The durian tree was left to grow. I don’t know about it now. I never visited it again.

There used to be a drum band performance by the youth. The youth of Gondapahit were amazed that nothing could beat the marching band of the youth of Gajo village. At that time, no marching band team could defeat the marching band of Gajo village Banser in Blitar Regency.

The head of Sepan Hamlet was Muri and Sandi was the head of Degan hamlet. Sandi is the son of Mr. Sollah. These two people played great roles in marching in Gajo village.

Questioner : Was it before Gestok, grandpa?

Syamsul : Yes, Ipik from Sekan was the drum band champion. Then Ummayah, Mr. Dul Kamid’s daughter, of Arabic descent, was big and stout. She was Ipik’s friend. They led the drum band. That’s very good. Ipik was in the front leading the drum band, then behind her was Ummayah.

Ummayah’s father, Mr. Dul Kamid was a cloth merchant. He usually carried pethukan (a bundle of clothes) to sell around the village. Then, his son Durahman, I haven’t seen him in a long time. He usually came here with an air rifle to huntbajing (wild animals). He hasn’t stopped by here for a long time. 

The NU people went together everywhere.

Questioner : Is your wife still the head of the Muslimat (female Muslims)?

Syamsul : Yes, she is. Then my friend and I were together in Hansip (civil defense). We entered the village officially.

Questioner : So, who were recruited by Hansip, grandpa?

Syamsul : Originally it was Anshor, but then became Hansip. Then the uniform changed. Initially, the loreng-loreng (multicolor with wavy lines, camouflage print) was the Anshor uniform, like the Army. Then, it was replaced with a drill uniform (one colour). So the loreng-loreng was gone.

Questioner : So, did you go to southern Blitar with Anshor?

Syamsul : I did.

Questioner : To the south sea?

Syamsul : Until Sambong.

Questioner : What was the PNI’s role in that situation?

Syamsul : The youth of PNI rarely participated. Instead, the PNI members embraced the NU people. The PNI had only a few members. The PKI had a lot of members at that time. The people from the mountainous region of Kidul were all PKI’s members. During the “genjer-genjer” period there were a lot of PKI people.

Questioner : How come, grandpa?

Syamsul : I don’t know how it could overflow like that. At the time, with the popularity of genjer-genjer, the number of PKI people was very large. When A. Yani and Nasution were hit by Colonel Untung, Banser had a close relationship with NU. Banser had to follow NU’s orders. It’s like Banser was NU’s son.

Questioner : And about you. Were you a member of NU or Banser at that time, Grandpa Syamsul?

Syamsul : I was initially a member of Anshor, then was promoted to Banser. Because we had no budget, we even bought our own clothes. Anyway, we were solid, and we were willing to be part of Banser.

Questioner : How did you become interested in Banser and Anshor, grandpa?

Syamsul : At first, I just followed my friends. Then the Pemuda Rakyat started marching. I had already done marching at school, so when there was marching in Anshor, I felt it was easy to do. Then we continued to get together. When there was no Anshor, there was IPNU there (Nahdlatul Ulama Student Association) and Fatayat. And when IPNU was about to “evolve” it became Anshor. After Anshor “evolved”, it became Banser.

Questioner : Was that before or after Gestok?

Syamsul : Before Gestok. Before 1965. Anshor training was held, marching training… The color of the uniform was drill white.

Questioner : What was the color of the drill, grandpa? Black?

Syamsul : The color of the uniform for Hansip was green. The upper part of the cloth was white. After Anshor became Banser, the color of Banser was loreng-loreng at that time. Meanwhile, since the beginning, Muslimat has been active until now. This mother (his wife) is still active in Fatayat (women's organization under NU). She is an elder in Fatayat. In Soro in the era of… What is the name of the management branch… ah, I forgot the name… My wife is a senior board member in Fatayat in the Soro management. There are only two women left, my wife and a woman from Titeng village. She’s Mr. Syamsudin’s wife. Syamsudin was a naib (a head of Islamic affairs at the village level).

The name of the managing body was Mwt, which was the Fatayat management branch in Soro area.

Questioner : Banser had a drumband and marching activities. What were the activities of Pemuda Rakyat?

Syamsul : Genjer-genjer

Questioner : What form was Genjer-genjer, grandpa? A dance?

Syamsul : There was a dance. It was a new creation. There used to be ketoprak and ludruk. Then the new one was created. That was genjer-genjer. It was the season of “profit sharing”. Genjer is the grass in the rice fields that lies unattended. At first, there was a shadow play shown in Gajo.

Questioner : What can you tell me about Mr Mahisa?

Syamsul : Oh I remember. At that time Mr. Mahisa was taken to Siwi by truck. On the truck, Mr. Mahisa was beaten to death. Mr. Mahisa was the leader of NU. This was what made the Anshor people angry.

Questioner : That incident was before Gestok, right grandpa?

Syamsul : Yes, it was. It could be said that it was the prelude of Gestok. Anshor at that time didn’t do anything. In fact they (the PKI) had acted first. The climax was the kidnapping of (army general) A. Yani and Nasution (in Jakarta). In Soro, there was the kidnapping of Mr. Mahisa. Therefore, we (the Anshor) just had to avenge what the PKI had done. Anshor and NU retaliated. PKI wanted to kidnap the NU clerics. But in the end, it backfired on PKI. I was also surprised how the retaliation against the PKI happened quickly. Before that, it seemed as if these people (clerics and NU leaders) were just killed and thrown into the pits that the PKI had prepared.

The documents were already there. The records existed. When Timus was arrested in Cempe hamlet, there was a mound of earth behind his house. A jug was found, unearthed from the ground. So we asked, “What was the hollow mound on the ground?” It seemed like it was a cauldron. When it was opened, there was a document. It contained the names of the Muslims that were to be kidnapped.

So, at that time, no matter what time of the day it was, the pursuit of Timus continued. At that time, there was no time for prayer. After arresting Timus and Tukimin, the local villagers immediately borrowed sarongs for the Anshor people to pray. By then, the prayer time was almost over.

Mrs Ropi was the wife of Mr. Mahisa, the man who was killed by the PKI. Mr. Mahisa was a smart man. He was expected to become a prominent NU figure. In Gadi hamlet, there is another still alive. His name is Somet the cleric. 

Questioner : Mr. Somet was a prominent figure at that time, grandpa?

Syamsul : The prominent figure was Mr. Mahisa 

Interviewer: Imam Muhtarom

Interviewee: Syamsul

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Transcript Notes

  1. Bati also participated in this project (interview available).

  1.  How does Syamsul’s recollections destabilize notions of a binary clash between Communism and anti-Communist governments in Cold War Indonesia?

  2.  To what extent did ideology drive Syamsul’s actions, and those of his peers (on both sides of the conflict) during the Cold War in Indonesia?

  3. What was the role/function of traditional values and culture in Indonesia’s Cold War conflict?

  4. How did racial divides intersect with the Cold War during the 1964 massacres in Indonesia?

  5. Consider the various forces (social, economic, cultural, religious etc) that shaped the conflict and the lived experience of the Cold War in Indonesia. In particular, consider how these different dimensions intersected to create unique and often dangerous outcomes for the civilian public.

  6. Did Indonesia truly experience a Cold War, given Syamsul’s testimony? Would it be more accurate to characterize it as a local conflict? Why or why not?