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Rifle Reports

Rifle Reports: A Story of Indonesian Independence

Mary Margaret Steedly
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 382
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  • Book Info
    Rifle Reports
    Book Description:

    On August 17, 1945, Indonesia proclaimed its independence from Dutch colonial rule. Five years later, the Republic of Indonesia was recognized as a unified, sovereign state. The period in between was a time of aspiration, mobilization, and violence, in which nationalists fought to expel the Dutch while also trying to come to grips with the meaning of "independence."Rifle Reportsis an ethnographic history of this extraordinary time as it was experienced on the outskirts of the nation among Karo Batak villagers in the rural highlands of North Sumatra. Based on extensive interviews and conversations with Karo veterans,Rifle Reportsinterweaves personal and family memories, songs and stories, memoirs and local histories, photographs and monuments, to trace the variously tangled and perhaps incompletely understood ways that Karo women and men contributed to the founding of the Indonesian nation. The routes they followed are divergent, difficult, sometimes wavering, and rarely obvious, but they are clearly marked with the signs of gender. This innovative historical study of nationalism and decolonization is an anthropological exploration of the gendering of wartime experience, as well as an inquiry into the work of storytelling as memory practice and ethnographic genre.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95528-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Technical Notes
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION: The Outskirts of the Nation
    (pp. 1-19)

    Each year on August 17 the highland town of Kabanjahé, like every other district seat in Indonesia, celebrates the proclamation of national independence. Banners, billboards, and strings of electric lights decorate the broad main streets.Perjuangan(struggle) andMerdeka!(independence), the keywords of nationalist mobilization, appear everywhere, from cigarette advertisements to T-shirts. Freshly painted gateways at the entrances of side streets and public buildings mark off national time in red-stenciled numerals: on the left side, 17–8-45, the date of the independence proclamation, and on the right, 17–8 of the present year (figure 1). Schoolchildren begin practicing their parade...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Golden Bridge
    (pp. 20-70)

    The image of independence as a golden bridge to the future can be found several times in Sukarno’s political writings. It first appeared in his 1933 speech “Mentjapai Indonesia Merdeka” (Achieving an Independent Indonesia), quoted in the epigraph above, but nowhere was it more significant than in his famous “Birth of the Pancasila” speech, of June 1, 1945.¹ Speaking to a committee of Japanese officials, Javanese aristocrats, and elite nationalist politicians who had been convened to explore the possibility of Indonesian national independence, he argued that political independence must precede rather than follow from the resolution of such “petty issues”...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Buried Guns
    (pp. 71-112)

    Farewell My Hero, read the banner over the house. MAJ. SELAMAT GINTING (RET.), COMMANDER, SEKTOR III NAPINDO HALILINTAR. We will continue your aspirations to fill up independence.

    It was nearly dark by the time we arrived in Kuta Bangun, a midsized village in the central region of the Karo plateau. Even without the banner we couldn’t have missed the place. It was bustling with the kind of activity that signaled a ceremony, and the shoulder of the road was lined with city cars: low-slung Toyota sedans and Daihatsu Charades, SUVs and Land Rovers with government license plates. The funeral announcement...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Imagining Independence
    (pp. 113-162)

    Word of Indonesia’s independence reached the Karo highlands even before it was officially announced in Medan. According to Sektor III historian A. R. Surbakti, the news was carried by Selamat Ginting and his friends when they came to collect the buried guns of Juma Pali. In an exuberant rush of movement and emotion, Surbakti’s (1978:34) account draws the reader into the action as their 1938 Ford coupé convertible speeds back toward the city, loaded now with the disinterred Japanese guns: “Their spirits seethed with joy, as if no power on earth could oppose them.” When a policeman stops the car...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Eager Girls
    (pp. 163-207)

    In April 1946 Rakutta Berahmana was appointed head of the republic’s civilian government for the Karo district, with the newly created Javanese title ofbupati. This is how his family found out about it. His wife, Nandé Berah, was staying with her in-laws in the village of Limang at the time. “All we knew,” she said, “was that he was spending a lot of time in Kabanjahé.” It was her maternal aunt Nandé Tékén who brought the news when she came to help with the rice harvest. “Oh, Nandé Berah,” the old lady announced breathlessly (in Nandé Berah’s laughing rendition),...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Sea of Fire
    (pp. 208-242)

    “They talk about the Bandung sea of fire [Bandunglautan api],” said Nandé Timur beru Ginting, the widow of the former Sektor III chief of staff Ulung Sitepu, “but if you want to talk about a real ‘sea of fire,’ actually compared to our villages, the sea of fire wasn’t there,herewas the real sea of fire.” She was referring to the burning of the city of Bandung, West Java, in March 1946. It was one of the most famous events of the independence struggle, one of the handful of incidents that all Indonesian schoolkids would know, at least...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Letting Loose the Water Buffaloes
    (pp. 243-274)

    “Every war is ironic,” writes Paul Fussell inThe Great War and Modern Memory, “because every war is worse than expected” (1975:7). The incommensurability of means and ends, the “dynamics of hope abridged,” the disjuncture of optimism before and despair afterward, the “benign ignorance” of those at home and the horrible recognitions of those who fought, the frailty of human flesh and the deadly power of metal and machinery—all these are figures of a tragic irony that, according to Fussell, has come to be “an inseparable element of the general vision of war in our time” (35). It is...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Memory Artist
    (pp. 275-310)

    News from afar sometimes seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to one’s own remembered past. This is not because of the banal redundancy of events but because of memory’s interpretive reach and its inclination to refurbish itself in contemporary designs and novel images. In 1994, when I was collecting these stories, horrifying pictures of ethnic violence from around the world seemed to appear nightly on the television news. In central Africa, roadways were filled with thousands of starving, desperate people traveling toward unknown destinations. This made a big impression on my Karo informants. “That’s exactly how it was here,” they...

  14. CONCLUSION: The Sense of an Ending
    (pp. 311-324)

    The evacuees’ return to their homes after the Renville Accord was not the end of the struggle, though it does provide a convenient stopping point for my story of Indonesian independence. The events that followed had more to do with the consolidation of the state than with the idea of independence. During the yearlong hiatus in the fighting, Indonesians turned their attention to matters of administration and governance, political routinization, and military reorganization. The army set up new training programs emphasizing guerrilla warfare, clarified and strengthened its chain of command, and endeavored to enhance the discipline and esprit of the...

  15. APPENDIX ONE: List of Informants (by date)
    (pp. 325-329)
  16. APPENDIX TWO: Glossary and Abbreviations
    (pp. 330-335)
  17. APPENDIX THREE: Time Line
    (pp. 336-338)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 339-352)
  19. References
    (pp. 353-366)
  20. Index of Cited Informants
    (pp. 367-368)
  21. General Index
    (pp. 369-396)