Category Archives: Indonesia

Along the Sumatra Railroad, August 1945

From Chapter VI, The golden spike, in The Sumatra Railroad: Final Destination Pakan Baroe, 1943-1945, by Henk Hovinga, trans. by Bernard J. Wolters (KITLV Press, 2010), pp. 276-281:

It was 15 August 1945. The previous night telexes had spread the news across the world: ‘Japan surrendered. Armistice on 15 August at 00.00 hrs.’ The Japanese officers there in the godforsaken green heart of Sumatra also knew that. They shouted: ‘Banzai Nippon’ while they knew that they had been defeated. But they kept quiet. They only talked about the railway that was finally completed at the cost of immeasurable human suffering. At the cost of more than eighty thousand dead, the vast majority of which were romushas.

The POWs who were waiting motionlessly between the trees, still had no knowledge of the surrender. With sweat dripping down their chins, they did not dare to move. Ignorant of this historical moment in the world’s history, they looked breathlessly at how the bottle on the table was uncorked, how the glasses went around and the biscuits were presented. A short while later the tense ceremony, that had lasted not even half an hour, was abruptly terminated. Tables and chairs were hastily loaded on to the lorries after the emaciated workers had also been offered a biscuit and a swig from a bottle. Then they were ordered back to the trains. One departed to the north, the other to the south, to the camp in the gorge, where fresh rumours had circulated in the meantime….

That evening, shortly before sundown, the POWs were counted and recounted. All men had returned from the railway. The Japanese commander stepped forward in front of the hundreds of almost naked human wrecks. The ribs could be counted on most of them; many were covered in wounds and tropical ulcers. With their hollow eyes they tensely watched the well-fed, arrogant Japanese. Would he announce what they had all for so long desperately wanted to hear? Lieutenant Visser interpreted:

‘Now that the railway is finished, thanks to the efforts of all of you, I have been given the authority in the name of His Majesty, the Emperor, to inform you that all of you are permitted to rest from this moment on. In a short while you will all be relocated to more pleasant parts of the country. As of today all rations of rice, vegetables and meat will be increased. You will be provided with these new rations as soon as we receive new stock. At this moment we do not have any meat or vegetables and we have only a supply of rice for a few days. Pending your relocation, you are not permitted to leave the camp.’

That was all…. The choking uncertainty lasted for over a week, while the men were hanging around the camp with nothing to do. It was probably 24 August when the first train with a real steam powered locomotive stopped at Camp 11…. On August 27 a second contingent of POWs was transferred in the same manner…. The last group from the south departed on 30 August, taking with them the entire inventory of the camp that was now completely abandoned….

‘We obtained complete certainty a little later during roll call. Lieutenant Visser stepped forward and shouted: “Today is 31 August. It is the birthday of our beloved Queen Wilhelmina. That is why together we are now going to sing our national anthem, the Wilhelmus: one, two, three…” But nobody had the courage. “Then I will do it alone”, Visser said as he began to sing. Fearfully, we looked at the Jap, but when he did not move we all joined in one after the other. At first hesitatingly, but then louder, from the heart. It was a very strange moment. I saw the Jap slowly move his legs; he put down his samurai sword and stood up. When the last words of the anthem sounded, he stood directly across from us and saluted. That was when we knew. At last! We hardly dared to believe it, but this time it was true. We were free. We cheered, shouted and cried. We were free. Finally free…’

Without an official Japanese declaration of surrender lieutenant Visser’s group was the last to find out that the war was over. Two weeks earlier the wildest rumours of a possible surrender had already been going around the first camps near Pakan Baroe [‘New Market’]. Mid August hope of an impending liberation was also glimmering in Camp 2 when the usually sadistic Koreans suddenly turned friendly, even inviting a group of prisoners from the camp staff to a meal! That had to occur at midnight and without knowledge of the Japanese. Naturally the place that would be least likely to attract undesired visitors and snoopers was the cemetery on the other side of the stream. There, at the graveyards, the Koreans offered the representatives of their victims a conciliatory meal. They told the captives that the war was almost over and that they, the POWs, should not be too hard on them. After all Korea had also been occupied and suppressed by the Japanese for years, so that the prisoners and the guards were actually partners in adversity….

When a few days later the news of liberation seeped through to everyone, the most heart-warming scenes took place everywhere along the railway. On 25 August at eight o’clock in the morning the POWs in Logas (Camp 9) were informed that the war was over. The Japs disarmed the Koreans, while a Korean non-commissioned officer stood to attention before a Japanese soldier third class. The next day all ducks and chickens of the Japanese camp commander had disappeared. They had been consumed by the prisoners.


Filed under disease, food, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, labor, Netherlands, slavery, war

Maggot therapy in Sumatra, 1944

From Chapter IV, Maggots with sambal, in The Sumatra Railroad: Final Destination Pakan Baroe, 1943-1945, by Henk Hovinga, trans. by Bernard J. Wolters (KITLV Press, 2010), pp. 184, 186:

A great problem in many camps was the acquisition of an adequate amount of proteins. Even though in Camp 3 little fish were caught in the river with a klamboe [= Malay kelambu ‘mosquito net’, also borrowed into Tok Pisin], most other camps were not near a river. Again Indonesians knew that the maggots of fire ants and coconut beetles were edible and also palatable when cooked with sambal. Doctor W.J. van Ramshorst, who was fighting a losing battle against disease, came to similar conclusions:

‘The greatest problem was the lack of food. The sick men were totally emaciated and had lost their immunity to all kinds of infectious diseases. I got the idea to use maggots from the chickens that were quickly becoming fat foraging around the latrines, feeding on the fly maggots there. There was always a cloud of flies buzzing over the holes in the ground where people were defaecating. And I thought to myself, what is good for chickens, must also be good for men. It is a filthy story, but we hauled those maggots by the bucketful from the latrines, washed them, cooked them and gave them to the sick men with sambal. On this protein rich diet their condition improved visibly.

I made another discovery in that terrible camp, where those working on the railroad were sent to die. We had no disinfectants to treat the filthy tropical ulcers. But again maggots were the solution. I bound an old rag with larvae around the wound and after a few days it was cleaned beautifully. Many still died from undernourishment, beri-beri, malaria and bacillary dysentery, for which we had no cure. But at least with those maggots we were able to save a good number of our people.’

POW Ben Wolters discovered another remedy for tropical ulcers, when two large ones developed on his left foot instep. One afternoon he was sleeping on his left side on the balé-balé [bamboo stretcher on wooden posts] with his left foot instep toward the boards. He woke up due to an itch in the ulcers, which had turned dark red. When he took a closer look and inspected them he saw tiny ants. They had removed all deleterious material. After [he removed] the tiny ants, he covered the wounds with a cloth patch and glued it with fresh liquid latex from a rubber tree. Soon the wounds were healed. And so ants and maggots made a positive contribution to the POWs’ lives.

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Filed under disease, food, Indonesia, Japan, labor, Netherlands, war

Some Loanwords in Indonesian/Malay: A

From: Loan-Words in Indonesian and Malay, ed. by Russell Jones (KITLV Press, 2007), ignoring the far too numerous loans from Arabic, Dutch, and English.


aci (Amoy) elder sister
ahsiu (Amoy) dried, salted duck
a i (Amoy) aunt (addressing younger than speaker’s mother)
akew (Hakka) term of address for boy (‘little dog’)
amah (Amoy) female servant
amho (Amoy) secret sign, password
amoi (Chiangchiu) younger sister; girl
ampai (Amoy) detective
angciu (Amoy) red wine
angco (Amoy) dried Chinese dates (Z. jujuba)
ancoa (Amoy) how can that be?
anghun (Amoy) shredded tobacco
angkak (Amoy) grains of red sticky rice (O. glutinosa)
angki (Amoy) persimmon (D. kaki)
angkin (Amoy) waist belt
angkong (Amoy) grandfather
angkong (Amoy) ricksha
anglo (Amoy) heating stove
anglung (Amoy) pavilion
angpai (Amoy) card game employing 56 cards
angpau (Amoy) present given at Chinese new year
angsio (Amoy) braise in soy sauce
angso (Amoy) red bamboo shoot
apa (Amoy) dad, father
apak (Hakka) old man, ‘uncle’ (lit. father’s elder brother)
apék (Amoy) old man, ‘uncle’ (lit. father’s elder brother)
apiun (Amoy) opium
asuk (Hakka) ‘uncle’, father’s younger brother


abaimana anal and urethral orifices (with regard to ablution)
acita fine rice
anggerka gown
antari inner
arwa saw-edged knife
aruda rue (bot.)
ayah Indian nurse


anata you
arigato thank you
aza hamlet


acar pickles
adas fennel
aftab sun
agar in order to
agha nobleman
ahli versed in; member of
aiwan hall
ajaibkhanah museum
akhtaj vassal
almas diamond
anggur grape
anjir fig
arzak beautiful gem
asa mint
asabat nerve
asmani heavenly
atisnyak fiery, glowing
azad faultless


alabangka lever
alketip carpet
alpayaté tailor
alpérés ensign, sublieutenant
andor (obs.) a litter on which images of saints were borne
antero whole
aria lower away (naut.)
arku bow (of a kite)
aria, aris-aris bolt rope, shrouds (naut.)
arkus arches (triumphal, with festoons)
armada armada, squadron, naval fleet
asar roast; barbecue


acara program, agenda
adi beginning, first, best, superior
adibusana haute couture
adicita ideology
adidaya superpower
adikarya masterpiece
adimarga boulevard
adipati governor
adipura cleanest (etc.) city (chosen annually)
adiraja royal by descent
adiratna jewel, beautiful woman
adisiswa best student
adiwangsa of high nobility
adiwarna glowing with colour
agama religion
agamiwan religious person
ahimsa non-violence
aksara letter
amerta immortal
amerta nectar
amra mango
ancala mountain
anda musk gland
Andoman Hanuman
anduwan foot chain
anéka all kinds of
anékawarna multi-coloured
anggota member
angka number, figure
angkara insolence, cruel
angkasa sky
angkasawan astronaut; broadcaster
angkasawati astronaut; broadcaster (fem.)
angkus elephant-goad
angsa goose
aniaya violation
anjangkarya working visit
antakusuma cloth made from several pieces
antar- inter-
antara (in) between
antarabangsa international
antariksa sky
antariksawan astronaut
antariksawati astronaut (fem.)
antamuka interface (of computer)
antarnegara international
anugerah (royal) favour
anumerta posthumous
apsari nymph
arca image; computer icon
aria a high title
arti meaning
Arya Aryan race
aryaduta ambassador
asmara love
asmaraloka world of love
asrama hostel
asta cubit
asta eight
astagina eightfold
astaka octagonal bench
astakona octagon
astana palace
asusila immoral
atau or
atma(n) soul


acaram wedding ring
acu mould, model
andai possibility
anéka various, diverse
anékaragam various kinds
apam rice flour cake
awa- free from
awanama anonymous
awatara incarnation
awawarna blanched, decolorized

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Filed under China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, language, Malaysia, Portugal

The Financial Ascent of the Dutch VOC

From: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin, 2008), Kindle Loc. 1780-1831:

The campaign for a reform of what would now be called the VOC’s corporate governance duly bore fruit. In December 1622, when the Company’s charter was renewed, it was substantially modified. Directors would no longer be appointed for life but could serve for only three years at a time. The ‘chief participants’ (shareholders with as much equity as directors) were henceforth entitled to nominate ‘Nine Men’ from among themselves, whom the Seventeen Lords were obliged to consult on ‘great and important matters’, and who would be entitled to oversee the annual accounting of the six chambers and to nominate, jointly with the Seventeen Lords, future candidates for directorships. In addition, in March 1623, it was agreed that the Nine Men would be entitled to attend (but not to vote at) the meetings of the Seventeen Lords and to scrutinize the annual purchasing accounts. The chief participants were also empowered to appoint auditors (rekening-opnemers) to check the accounts submitted to the States-General. Shareholders were further mollified by the decision, in 1632, to set a standard 12.5 per cent dividend, twice the rate at which the Company was able to borrow money. The result of this policy was that virtually all of the Company’s net profits thereafter were distributed to the shareholders. Shareholders were also effectively guaranteed against dilution of their equity. Amazingly, the capital base remained essentially unchanged throughout the VOC’s existence. When capital expenditures were called for, the VOC raised money not by issuing new shares but by issuing debt in the form of bonds. Indeed, so good was the Company’s credit by the 1670s that it was able to act as an intermediary for a two-million-guilder loan by the States of Holland and Zeeland.

None of these arrangements would have been sustainable, of course, if the VOC had not become profitable in the mid seventeenth century. This was in substantial measure the achievement of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, a bellicose young man who had no illusions about the relationship between commerce and coercion. As Coen himself put it: ‘We cannot make war without trade, nor trade without war.’ He was ruthless in his treatment of competitors, executing British East India Company officials at Amboyna and effectively wiping out the indigenous Bandanese. A natural-born empire builder, Coen seized control of the small Javanese port of Jakarta in May 1619, renamed it Batavia and, aged just 30, duly became the first governor-general of the Dutch East Indies. He and his successor, Antonie van Diemen, systematically expanded Dutch power in the region, driving the British from the Banda Islands, the Spaniards from Ternate and Tidore, and the Portuguese from Malacca. By 1657 the Dutch controlled most of Ceylon (Sri Lanka); the following decade saw further expansion along the Malabar coast on the subcontinent and into the island of Celebes (Sulawesi). There were also thriving Dutch bases on the Coromandel coast. Fire-power and foreign trade sailed side by side on ships like the Batavia – a splendid replica of which can be seen today at Lelystad on the coast of Holland.

The commercial payoffs of this aggressive strategy were substantial. By the 1650s, the VOC had established an effective and highly lucrative monopoly on the export of cloves, mace and nutmeg (the production of pepper was too widely dispersed for it to be monopolized) and was becoming a major conduit for Indian textile exports from Coromandel. It was also acting as a hub for intra-Asian trade, exchanging Japanese silver and copper for Indian textiles and Chinese gold and silk. In turn, Indian textiles could be traded for pepper and spices from the Pacific islands, which could be used to purchase precious metals from the Middle East. Later, the Company provided financial services to other Europeans in Asia, not least Robert Clive, who transferred a large part of the fortune he had made from conquering Bengal back to London via Batavia and Amsterdam. As the world’s first big corporation, the VOC was able to combine economies of scale with reduced transaction costs and what economists call network externalities, the benefit of pooling information between multiple employees and agents. As was true of the English East India Company, the VOC’s biggest challenge was the principal-agent problem: the tendency of its men on the spot to trade on their own account, bungle transactions or simply defraud the company. This, however, was partially countered by an unusual compensation system, which linked remuneration to investments and sales, putting a priority on turnover rather than net profits. Business boomed. In the 1620s, fifty VOC ships had returned from Asia laden with goods; by the 1690s the number was 156. Between 1700 and 1750 the tonnage of Dutch shipping sailing back around the Cape doubled. As late as 1760 it was still roughly three times the amount of British shipping.

The economic and political ascent of the VOC can be traced in its share price. The Amsterdam stock market was certainly volatile, as investors reacted to rumours of war, peace and shipwrecks in a way vividly described by the Sephardic Jew Joseph Penso de la Vega in his aptly named book Confusión de Confusiones (1688). Yet the long-term trend was clearly upward for more than a century after the Company’s foundation. Between 1602 and 1733, VOC stock rose from par (100) to an all-time peak of 786, this despite the fact that from 1652 until the Glorious Revolution of 1688 the Company was being challenged by bellicose British competition. Such sustained capital appreciation, combined with the regular dividends and stable consumer prices, ensured that major shareholders like Dirck Bas became very wealthy indeed. As early as 1650, total dividend payments were already eight times the original investment, implying an annual rate of return of 27 per cent. The striking point, however, is that there was never such a thing as a Dutch East India Company bubble. Unlike the Dutch tulip futures bubble of 1636-7, the ascent of the VOC stock price was gradual, spread over more than a century, and, though its descent was more rapid, it still took more than sixty years to fall back down to 120 in December 1794. This rise and fall closely tracked the rise and fall of the Dutch Empire. The prices of shares in other monopoly trading companies, outwardly similar to the VOC, would behave very differently, soaring and slumping in the space of just a few months.

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Filed under Britain, economics, Indonesia, Netherlands, piracy, Portugal, Spain, Sri Lanka, war

Sumatra, Dec. 1945: The Japanese Army Retaliates

From A Japanese Memoir of Sumatra, 1945-46: Love and Hatred in the Liberation War, by Takao Fusayama (Equinox, 2010), pp. 121-123:

Maj. Gen. Sawamura, the regiment commander, who had been so patient thus far, had at last run out of patience. The compassion and compunction he felt for his soldiers, who had been cruelly killed [by Indonesian nationalist youths] while restraining their fire in accordance with his orders, rested heavily on his heart. He reported the situation and his resolution to the divisional headquarters by wireless and asked the divisional commander for permission to attack the Indonesians. The surprised divisional commander sent a telegram to warn against such a rash act and sent his senior staff officer, Lt. Col. Muromoto, to Tebing in a hurry.

The Communist party in North Sumatra had not joined in the attack on the Japanese. Instead, it maintained connections with the divisional headquarters, expressing its willingness to cooperate. Since the road to Tebing under the control of the Indonesian youths seemed to be too dangerous for a Japanese car, Lt. Col. Muromoto used a Communist party jeep, for the journey.

In general, the behavior of the Indonesian Communist party in Sumatra toward the Japanese was completely different from that of the party in Java. The Communists generally did not like the fact that Indonesian independence was supported by the Asian nationalism of the Japanese, and in Java they sought to cause hatred and trouble between the Japanese and the local people. The Communist party in East Sumatra, however, had never caused any trouble for the Japanese. Instead, it had been cooperative. The head of the party was Abdul Xarim, a famous independence leader who had often been imprisoned by the Dutch. He was released by the Japanese army and became an active cooperator as the head of the Fatherland Defense Association to inspire Indonesians in Sumatra to patriotism and Asian nationalism, mobilizing young people for the defense services. When he became head of the Communist party after the war’s end, all the Japanese were very surprised. But his party did not cause any trouble, unlike the Communists in Java. He was in reality a nationalist, and resisted Dutch colonialism as well as the control of the international Communists. He was, therefore, expelled by Communist headquarters in Java some years later.

Staff Officer Muromoto, arriving in Tebing, found the situation was much more serious than his division headquarters had guessed. It seemed difficult to sway the resolve of Maj. Gen. Sawamura, whose many beloved subordinates had been killed. In addition, it was believed that the Japanese would continue to be killed if no response was made to the massacres. Consequently, Lt. Col. Muromoto finally agreed that Tebing should be attacked. He reported his opinion to the division commander who responded by granting his permission. Maj. Gen. Sawamura immediately announced the order to attack. The soldiers of the 5th Regiment, who were watching this process with bated breath, simultaneously stood up in high spirits.

His Excellency Sawamura has ordered an attack. The regiment commander, who thus far prohibited any attack, has finally given his permission. Comrades, be pleased. We will retaliate for you. His Excellency Sawamura has ordered retaliation at last.

At 3 o’clock on December 13, a battalion commanded by Maj. Takayasu Seno that was well known for its smart operations, left Bahilang. Before departing. Commander Seno warned all his troops: “This is a war against the youth party. Attack them resolutely. The enemy, however, is only the radical youth party. Never injure any other inhabitants. Anyone damaging the name of our glorious Imperial Guard Regiment will be strictly punished.”

After closing off the four exits to the city with small groups of troops, the main force rushed into the town from the south with two tanks at its head. Field cannons were not used in this attack because the soldiers did not want to injure the general public. The youths of Pesindo resisted at the entrance with fierce firing, but the tanks opened the way, crushing the barricades, and soldiers followed behind on foot. The youths were surprised as the Japanese soldiers’ bullets, which had never before been directed against Indonesians, began to hit them. They retreated, gathering in their headquarters in the central square. They shot from all windows with rifles and machine guns, but ran out when the tank guns hit the house. The battalion thus occupied the house in a short period of time. The street fighting continued until late in the day and several Japanese soldiers were killed or wounded. Since the troops closing the road to Medan at the Padang Bridge initially concealed themselves behind the west bank, a large group of the radicals who tried to run out across the bridge became victims of the machine guns from a Japanese ambush.

The next day, with the cooperation of Indonesian policemen and moderate inhabitants, the occupying force searched the entire city and arrested the hidden radical youths and agitators. Those arrested were examined again and anyone proved to be a friend of the Japanese was released. Parapat, the Tebing Branch leader of the Fifth Corps, was one of those released. Some fifty remaining radicals were later killed and buried in a corner of the central square. All the Indonesians in the city were astonished by the unexpectedly severe attitude of the Japanese army who had looked so faint-hearted after losing the war.

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Filed under Indonesia, Japan, nationalism, war

Origins of the Indonesian National Army

From A Japanese Memoir of Sumatra, 1945-46: Love and Hatred in the Liberation War, by Takao Fusayama (Equinox, 2010), pp. 38-42:

The Allied Forces began a full-scale advance on Indonesia by the end of September [1945]. Three British-Indian divisions commanded by Lt. Gen. Sir Phillip Christison advanced to Indonesia, with two divisions allocated to Java and one division to Sumatra. Before leaving Singapore for Indonesia, Christison declared that his army was landing in Indonesia only for the purpose of disarming the Japanese and had no desire to intervene in the domestic affairs of the Dutch East Indies.

The 2nd Southern Expeditionary Fleet of the Japanese navy commanded by Vice Admiral Yaichiro Shibata and the Mixed Defense Brigade of the Japanese army commanded by Major General Shigeo Iwabe were stationed in Surabaya. They were caught in a serious dilemma between their wish to hand over their arms to Indonesians and the prohibition by the Allied Forces. Fortunately, something happened to resolve their dilemma. On September 21, a Dutch advance officer, Captain Huijer, unexpectedly landed in Surabaya accompanied by only a few soldiers. Displaying his authority as the victor, he defiantly ordered the Japanese commanders to surrender to him immediately and to leave their arms under the guard of the Indonesian authorities until the Allied Forces took them over. Because Captain Huijer used to live in Surabaya, he thought that most Indonesians would be obedient to the Dutch when they returned, just like before. He did not know that the attitude of the Indonesian people had completely changed during the Japanese occupation.

When the Indonesians rushed to the Japanese barracks, Vice Admiral Shibata and Major General Iwabe ordered their soldiers to hand over all arms without resisting, explaining that in obeying the orders of Captain Huijer, the Japanese forces were to disarm themselves, leaving their weapons in the care of the Indonesians until the Allied Forces received them. The Indonesians thus obtained 26,000 rifles, 600 machine guns, cannons, anti-aircraft guns, and other weapons in the space of a few days. A large amount of war funds were also secretly given to the Indonesians by a naval paymaster, Lt. Kazuyuki Mike. A great Indonesian military power was thus established for the first time.

On October 5, President Sukarno announced the foundation of his public security force, Tentera Keamanan Rakyat (TKR) and steadily expanded the army by gathering together the former volunteer and auxiliary soldiers trained by the Japanese. Ten divisions in Java and six in Sumatra were organized.

On October 26, the 49th British-Indian Brigade of 5,000 landed in Surabaya. The Indonesian force in Surabaya, who were well-armed with Japanese weapons, resolutely risked a night attack taught by the Japanese and completely destroyed the brigade, killing the commander. In early November, the British forces made an all-out counterattack on Surabaya, with one complete division of 24,000 and the support of shelling from warships and bombing from airplanes. Indonesian anti-aircraft guns given by the Japanese shot down three of the planes. The street fighting continued until November 12. The Indonesians tenaciously continued to resist with the song of “Merdeka atau Mati [Freedom or Death]” blaring through loud speakers….

In addition to the establishment of the independent government, the Indonesian soldiers who had been trained by the Japanese as Giyugun [義勇軍 ‘Loyal Manly (=Volunteer) Army’ or] Heiho [兵補 ‘Soldier Assistant/Probationary’], and discharged at the time of the Japanese surrender, quietly gathered back at the Giyugun barracks. They were organized into the public security force, the TKR, with educated youths appointed to various positions as commanders.

A further category of labor mobilized by the Imperial Japanese military was known as 挺身隊 teishintai ‘offer self/body corps’ (Kor. Chongshindae or Jeongshindae), which included various sorts of organized physical labor battalions, including those euphemistically called “comfort women” (従軍慰安婦 jūgun ianfu ‘serve-military comfort/consolation/amusement-women’).

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Filed under Indonesia, Japan, military, nationalism, war

Japanese Revolutionaries in Indonesia, 1945-46

From the Introduction by Saya Shiraishi to A Japanese Memoir of Sumatra, 1945-46: Love and Hatred in the Liberation War, by Takao Fusayama (Equinox, 2010), pp. 9-11, 13-14:

I have three namelists in front of me which I acquired during the course of my research on the Japanese occupation of North Sumatra. They were composed by a former Japanese military officer in Medan, East Sumatra, and dated May 11, 1952. The title of the first list reads, in Japanese, “Namelist of the Japanese who died in battle or of illness in/around Medan.” It contains 102 names, each with information concerning the person’s “former military affiliation,” “hometown” in Japan (one, however, is from Korea, one from Taiwan), and a brief record of how and where he died. A certain “Shimada,” for example, “died during the fight against the Dutch in front of Siantar Railroad Station, July 27, 1947. An art college graduate, an excellent painter.”

Three notes at the end of the list inform the reader that there are 88 additional Japanese who reportedly died in the region, among them the 83 who were massacred in Tebing Tinggi in December 1945 (see below, Chapter 8), but their names are unknown. There may have been further deaths which have not been confirmed. With the few exceptions of those who died of malaria or other illnesses, “most are martyrs to Indonesian independence who fell in battle against the Dutch.”

All the deaths took place after August 15, 1945, the date marking the “end” of World War II for Japan. This record provides a basis for the claim that there were more Japanese casualties during Indonesia’s revolutionary war than during Japan’s three-and-a-half year occupation of the tropical land.

The second list contains 97 names of the “members of the Japanese Association in Medan.” It provides such data as birth date, age, former military affiliation, family address in Japan, current address, marriage and children, current occupation. These men were living in Medan with their families (presumably Indonesian-born) as “mechanics,” “automobile repairmen,” “plantation clerks,” “pharmacists,” “blacksmiths,” “judo instructors” etc. Their birth dates range from 1907 to 1923. When the list was prepared in 1952, they were 29 to 45 years old. Some had already lived in Sumatra for ten years since the Japanese landing in the island in 1942.

I was also told in interviews I conducted during my research that, in addition to the names listed here, there must be other Japanese who when they married entered the wives’ families, becoming Muslims, acquiring Indonesian names, and being lost to their fellow Japanese. A few more names would then be mentioned of those who had come to the Dutch East Indies before World War II, had subsequently been recruited to serve in the Japanese occupation government, and then remained on in Indonesia which had apparently become their home.

The third list contains 20 names, with their family addresses in Japan, of people who in 1952 had just been sent back by ship to Japan from Medan. I met some of these returnees in Tokyo in 1974. One said that he was happy that he had been able to come back to Japan, had started life anew, and was planning to write a memoir after his retirement. Indeed, his book was published some years later. Another made it clear that he had been “forced” by the Indonesian government to leave the village in Aceh where he was farming. According to his old friends, he had close trusting relationships with the religious and political leaders in Aceh, among them the charismatic Tgk. Daud Beureueh who was to lead a revolt against the government in 1953. Two others did not want to talk about their experiences. They were working for the Japan-Indonesia petroleum trade and their “past” was currently both an asset and liability It was not an “unforgettable, exotic” experience, but their life was still tied to it.

During the 1970s, large numbers of war-time memoirs were written* and published in Japan. Among them, the “Indonesian experience” of sharing with young revolutionaries their historical moment (the period of the revolutionary war rather than Japan’s occupation of the land) was remembered with unfading enthusiasm. The experience was something too significant for the veterans to let it vanish from their life.

    *The combined figure is significant enough considering the fact that by the end of World War II, (1) in the whole of Sumatra, there was only one division (Konoe-Daini Division) in the north and one brigade in the south; (2) due to the drastic reduction in the numbers of Japanese soldiers, the “division” barely managed to maintain its structure through incorporating the hastily organized Giyu-gun forces of local youths (at least 15 companies and 4 platoons in Aceh, 4 companies and 3 platoons in Medan) into its rank and file. See Saya Shiraishi, “Nihon Gunsei Ka no Aceh [Aceh under the Japanese Military Administration]” Southeast Asia: History and Culture [Tokyo] 5 (1975): 141.

The readers of this “documentary novel” written by Takao Fusayama will perceive the zeal with which his story is narrated. It is also his dedication that has brought his recollections across the Pacific. He not only published his memoir in Japanese, but also took the pains to translate it into English himself and search for an English-speaking audience. This unceasing commitment to the memory of the brief period of their youth, during which the lives of some hundreds of Japanese young men actually did change, is the notable feature shared by other memoirs as well. Behind their narratives we find this zeal for life. It is there, because it was their own life. Their own youth. We hear in this book, the voice of hundreds of youths whose “personal” life-stories in a “foreign” land have been edited away.

It is through this voice, however, that we may come closer to understanding the nature of the revolutionary war and the “stateless youth” who fought it. One of the former Japanese “deserters” [!] once answered my question as to why he had not returned home, “Oh, it was just natural for me to stay there.” He did not choose to be sent to Sumatra as he did not choose to be born a Japanese. He found, nevertheless, that his life should belong to Sumatra whose natural beauty he loved dearly. He had had enough of the military, enough of the state’s arbitrary control over his life. He had never forgiven the state, Japan, that had intruded into his life and, upon his graduating from college, sent him out to the warfront. He was a revolutionary youth “himself.”

His story is yet to be written. Takao Fusayama’s account of his own experiences, however, will open up and invite more attention to this unexplored field.

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