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Bukittingi again


It had been my intention to leave for big city Padang today, but besides having a couple of important attractions to try to squeeze into the morning, other considerations served to delay my departure. I had realised a little late that I would hit Padang on the one day the local museum, seemingly the cities sole redemption, would be closed. I'd also sussed that the French Grand Prix was on that night and skeptical as to the chances of catching it in Padang, touristy Bukittingi would cater better I chanced. I tackled a few morning chores such as another infernal laundry routine, as well as taping up one of the shoulder straps of my now weary looking bag which had begun to fray badly. I also managed to fashion myself a second standby miniature torch, salvaged from a fangled defunct lighter, it was the size of an almond and worked well. During all this I'd been "entertained" by a cacophany of sound emanating from the town, with a drum band seemingly competing against the mosques for supremacy. Its as well to note here that in all my Islamic wanderings I had never had to endure such a constant litany as was pumped out here in Bukittingi. Besides the predictable 5 times daily dirge which was the painful sounding muezzins call, the main mosque in town here continued unabated with an all day diatribe of brainwashing bullshit, liberally peppered with references to Allah and Mohammed, even broadcasting perceptibly sycophantic conversations of mutual affirmation. If these guys were trying to buy themselves into paradise then Allah would certainly have to afford them a few brownie points for effort. It was then over breakfast that the local boys at the hotel explained the juxtaposed jungle beat. It transpired to be in celebration of the graduation of the local Islamic students for christsake, whereupon today there would be Koranic recital competitions, tempered by a festival of indiginous Maning Kabau culture in costume, music and dance. One of the guys even offered me the chance of suiting up in local moslem garb for it, doubtless for a price. It would clash with the Grand Prix but I would think about it, I was Mashti Andy after all!

I hoofed it over a brow of hilly Bukittingi headed back to the local panorama park, a viewpoint which afforded a fine vista over Sianok Canyon with Mt. Singgalang serving as a fantastic backdrop. Upon entry to the park I hadnt yet had a chance to notice the resident monkey brigade here until it was too late, parked on a bench sorting myself out, a cheeky macaque sneaked up behind me and nabbed my can of juice. I saw the funny side and was just glad it hadnt been my camera. The offendor sat proud as punch on a fencepost swigging away before a vicious squabble ensued for a share of the loot! It was from here that I went out in search of the Gua Jepang, the Japanese Caves. The Japs had dug in here using forced local labour during World War II in no uncertain fashion, to create a veritable rabbits warren inside one wall of the gorge face. A false start down chunky stairs into the valley floor only revealed sealed off tunnel mouths, but I re-ascended to find the entrance next to a memorial statue of Japanese soldiers, or perhaps it was intended to be in denigration of them. Surprisingly the guides left me to descend again unmolested, to find a grid of long grey bores, some of which must have been a kilometre or more in length. Rather disappointingly there were no lingering vestiges of their occupation, and even the many labelled cross shafts signed variously as Geology Museum, Theatre and Cafe were now defunct. That was in contrast to the complete absence of directional signs, you could have got lost with little difficulty. Fortunately no one had had the sick sense of humour of moving the vacant custodians chair which pinpointed the only way out!

The theme was continued in part across the road at the local War Museum, and from a small collection of arms and black and white photos I tried to piece together Sumatra's seemingly constant legacy of occupation and insurrection. Traditional swords and machetes on display had been used in the mysterious Paderi, Kamang and Manggopoh campaigns. I was then left a little puzzled by the Sitiyuh Batur incident of January 1949 whereupon the KLIN, the Dutch colonial army had been tipped off about guerrillas fighting for Sumatran independence and wiped them out to a man. Indonesia had shirked off the Dutch immediately after World War II so I believed, but the chronology was subsequently qualified by the revelation of a storyboard, explaining that under the premise of Allied Forces who had accepted the Japanese surrender and stayed to oversee prisoner processing, the Dutch had incredibly pursued ambitions to re-colonise the country. It seemed that there had been a mini insurrection in Surabaya (Java) in late 1945 for unfathomable reasons and I could only guess that the Dutch had tried to maintain a toehold there. I later learned that in fact it was local opposition to the Allied demands to surrender captured Japanese and Dutch weapons, they surely new that they would need them. Another rare and legible caption in English spilled the beans again in relating how the Dutch had subsequently gone against the 1947 Linggarjati Agreement and overtly attacked Indonesia, eventually resulting in a ceasefire being signed aboard a US warship in late 1948, known as the Renville Accord. One photo had shown the Proclamation of Independence by Sukarno on 17th August 1945, and there were subsequent comparable declarations and ceremonies to finalise the protracted path to freedom 4 and 5 years later to the day once the Dutch had been forced out once and for all. Other depictions of ceremonial troops and fighters in the field allowed me to appreciate just how bumpy the road to Indonesia's independence had been, and why their colonial masters had been so deeply resented. This had been achieved with the help of captured Japanese and Dutch weapons, and there was also a veritable arsenal on display of home made revolvers, British Tommy guns, Bren guns of varying nationality, even a German Schmeiser. Mortars, both contrived home grown models and captured ones were represented, and they had even made use of machine guns and cannons retrieved from downed aircraft. There were photos of abandoned Japanese aircraft being put to use too. I was then reminded of the 1964 "Konfrontasi" movement against Malaysia, and then the September 1965 Communist Revolt in Jakarta which was crushed by General Suharto. This I later learned to be a sham of staggering proportions, it was Suharto himself who had instigated the coup to glean power, simultaneously using the premise to crush the Communist movement and his fellow generals. As if to remind me that this country had just seen one war after another, there was also a cabinet full of captured weapons and artifacts from "Fretelin" East Timorese freedom fighters seized during "Operation Seroja" 1977-79. It was rather poignant to see a local banknote written in Portugese and a bracelet once worn by a guy called Jesus. No resurrection for this one though.

On the way back around town I caught the Hatta Monument, a statue of the Bukittingi born boy made good, who had risen to become Indonesia's first vice president. I resisted the drudgery of traipsing out to his doubtless underwhelming birthplace museum, but it served to point out that Sumatra had seemingly held a surprisingly important role in the country's history. It had been remarked between other travellers that of Sumatra one expected only rainforest and little else, yet it wasnt like that at all. Pretty bushed after another hot one, I had done service to all that Bukittingi boasted and so invested the rest of the day in writing, before catching the Grand Prix over a few beers. The muslims could keep their prayer parade.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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