Sukarno 100 years: The Son of the Morning Sun


Bali Arts Festival is reputed for its shows that present the arts and culture from every regency in Bali. It has also hosted performances from Indonesian provinces and from countries as far away as Korea and the United States. On the opening day a huge parade of dancers and musicians is held in the center of Denpasar. 'It is modelled after a similar parade introduced by Sukarno,' recalls Gusti Made Sutjahya, a historian, who has witnessed such a parade when he was a small kid.'The parade I witnessed was arranged as a welcome to Sukarno and foreign guests.'

Sukarno, Indonesia's first president, is a controversial figure. After his overthrow by Suharto in 1965, his teachings were banned. People were afraid to quote him, lest they would be suspected of being communist. Only after the fall of the New Order in 1998 was he fully rehabilitated, especially after his daughter Megawati became vice-president of Indonesia.

On June 6, 2001, people will commemorate the centenary of Sukarno's birth. As the founding father of Indonesia and the 'proklamator' of the country's independence, not only is he admired for his historical role, but he has become a mythical figure. Everything about him and his personality is subject to discourse and business. Street vendors sell his posters at crossroads side by side with posters of musical stars. His portrait, and not that of the ruling president, often hang on the walls of living rooms. To some, he remains a living president, indeed.

Sukarno used to be called 'Bung' or 'brother', an egalitarian term attached to independence leaders in the years preceding the Pacific War. He was a fascinating orator. To this day, people still recall his fiery speeches.

'Many shops were closed for the occasion, for the owner wanted to listen to the radio,' says an elderly man. He could quote from the Ramayana and Mahabarata epics and from international history and literature.

His speeches were great performances and he was a great stylist, with an uncanny ability to simplify complicated concepts so that they be understood by common people. 'In our epoch of awakening, everyone should become a leader and teacher,' he once said.
Legends about Sukarno's predate independence. In the 1920s, a rumor spread in Central Java that the country would be freed from colonialism by someone whose Bopo Bali Ibu Mentaram (born from a Balinese father and a Javanese mother). It was not far from the mark: Sukarno's father was Javanese, his mother Balinese. He is reported to be born when the morning sun was rising, hence his name of 'Putera Sang Fajar', the son of the morning. Other legends abound, adding a supernatural touch to his political genius. Many dukuns (shaman) have portrait of Sukarno on their wall as a reference to his supernatural powers.

Sukarno's mother was from a brahmin family of Northern Bali, where his father worked as a teacher and copyist of Old-Javanese manuscripts for the famous Dutch linguist Van der Tuuk. Van der Tuuk probably introduced Sukarno's father to theosophy, and the latter transmitted this hobby to his son (Vickers, 1996).

Sukarno was born in Surabaya. While in high school in the same city, he boarded a room at Tjokroaminoto's, one of the founders of the Sarekat Islam (Moslem Union), which was to become the well of the Indonesian independence movement. Political and religious leaders who met there not only discussed political and religious problems, but also talked organizational matters and strategy of the political struggle. Among Bung Karno's teachers was also a Dutch socialist from whom he learnt about the labor and socialist movement in Europe. After high school, Sukarno moved to Bandung to attend the city's Technical Faculty, the only one in the country. There he met with people from other political trends, and in particular secular pan-ethnic nationalists.

On July 4th, 1927, Sukarno (then 21 years old), founded the Indonesian Nationalist Union which, less than a year later, was renamed the Indonesian Nationalist Party, which advocated a policy of non-cooperation with the Dutch government and demanded full independence. Less than a year later, the Governor-General issued a warning in the Volksraad (People Council). Sukarno was put under close surveillance and, in December 1929, was arrested as a dangerous agitator. In August 1933, the Governor-General ordered him exiled to Ende, on the island of Flores. Four years later he was moved to Bengkulu in South Sumatra. When the Japanese entered Palembang he was removed to Padang, but he managed to escape. The Japanese eventually caught with him in Bukittinggi and took him to Jakarta. During the Japanese occupation, Sukarno and fellow independence activist Mohamad Hatta decided to pretend to collaborate with the occupation authorities. They were considered as the 'above ground' party, who worked together with the 'under-ground' party led by Amir Syariffudin for the same purpose of achieving independance.

During the Japanese occupation, Sukarno campaigned extensively across Indonesia, and these safaris contributed to a great extent to his popularity. After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered (August 15, 1945). Independence was at hand. The Indonesian leaderships, pressured by radical youth groups (the pemuda), were obliged to move quickly. With the cooperation of individual Japanese navy and army officers (others feared reprisals from the Allies or were not sympathetic to the Indonesian cause), Sukarno and Hatta formally declared the nation's independence on August 17, raised the red and white national flag, and sang the new nation's national anthem, Indonesia Raya (Greater Indonesia). The following day a new constitution was promulgated and Sukarno was elected President of the Republic of Indonesia by the leaders who were gathered in Jakarta at the time. But to the Dutch and the Allies alike, Indonesia wasn't yet to be a country. They entered Indonesia to restore the Dutch's colonial power, but the history decided otherwise. The wave of history was unstoppable. New countries were popping up all over the maps of Asia and Africa.

The combination of Sukarno's stubborn consistency and pressures from the United Nations and the USA, the Dutch eventually recognized the independence of their colony in 1949.
Sukarno and the image of Bali

Born from a Balinese woman had prepared Sukarno's a special place in Bali, and for the Balinese. Yet during the first decade of independence, the conflicts between the nationalist republicans -non-cooperative to the Dutch— and the loyalist or federalists -the former Dutch collaborators— still occurred. It was still hard to many Balinese to consider themselves as citizens of the newly born Republic, especially because of their particular customs, religion and culture. In 1958, however, the island was officially made a province of the Republic of Indonesia with its own governor.

Unlike the Dutch who wanted to preserve Bali from the influence of modernity, the Balinese nationalists spread the positive aspects of progress and education. They refused to treat Balinese society as a 'living museum'. The Sukarno-backed first governor of Bali, Anak Agung Bagus Suteja, prohibited women to expose their breast in public, and forbade tourists taking photos of bare-breasted women. Suteja's decision reflected to a certain extent the determination of Indonesians to create a modern image for their country. In many respects, this was due to Sukarno's influence, as Suteja was appointed against the wish of the regional parliament, which was still dominated by the federalists.

But neither the nationalists nor federalists could deny the importance of tourism for Bali. In 1963 Sukarno decided to build an International Airport and a 300-rooms hotel, which became the Bali Beach Hotel, which was opened after his overthrow. Sukarno, however, is better reminded in Bali for his role in the fields of the arts and culture.

Sukarno the Arts Lover
Sukarno's presidential collection amounted to more than 2000 paintings. He often claimed that if he hadn't been president, he would have liked to become a painter. And he painted indeed, mostly water color on paper. As a young journalist of Pikiran Rakyat in Bandung, he had also been a cartoonist.

In his presidential palace, Sukarno would often take his guests around for a show of his collection of paintings or sculptures. Be they ministers or president, film stars, or diplomatic officials, this was the introduction to serious business. He was keener than even the artist to explain the meaning of a painting. In 1946, when the country was barely one year old, Sukarno officially opened an exhibition of the works of Hendra Gunawan in Jogyakarta. The painter was a personal friend, as were other famous artists like Sudjojono, Affandi, Basuki Abdullah and Dullah.

Unlike gallery owners of the days, who often acted as boss to the artists, Sukarno treated them as equal to politicians, bureaucrats or other professions. Not did he like the works, he was also appreciative to the creators. He even appointed an artist, Henk Ngantung, as governor of Jakarta. In Bali painters like Ida Bagus Made Poleng or Sobrat could any time visit him at the Tampak Siring presidential. With regard to taste, however, according to Jean Couteau, an art-critic, Sukarno did not understand the complexity of Balinese paintings.

In his memoir, Dr. AAM Jelantik reveals how Sukarno was appreciative of the arts. Having heard that Peliatan music and dance club of Peliatan had a wonderful dancer, he came incognito to Djelantik's wedding anniversary, at which the dancer was performing. In another episode, Djelantik says how Sukarno brought Javanese dancers to perform dances in front of the Balinese public. It was a sort of exchange program, set up to render Indonesians appreciative of each other' cultures.

Since Sukarno's mother was Balinese he had a special affinity toward the island. He had a palace and a large stage for art performances built on one of the most beautiful spots in Bali. It was built on the same location as the old colonial government's guest house, perched on a steep hill above the charming Tampaksiring temple complex. From this ideal position he had a bird's eye view over the public bathing just outside the temple. He delighted seeing the fresh water from the nearby holy spring splash profusely over the bathing women's naked bodies.

Sukarno had a big collection of nude paintings. After his fall, these paintings were hidden by Tien Suharto, his successor's stern wife. She had them up in a presidential storeroom. They were considered valuable only as pornographic pictures.

Indeed, Sukarno and women are inseparable as gossip partners. Handsome, smart sympathetic and a president, he attracted many women. He had as many as six wives, and gossips said that he had uncountable lovers.

Text by Benito Lopulalan and Asep Kurniawan.
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