The swingers guide to Islam. Or, so you thought you knew all about Indonesian Islam!

This is an article from 2012 by Aubrey Bedford for the now defunct Global Mail.  The article makes it pretty clear that this particular practice is a local tradition which no doubt far predates Islam coming to Indonesia. The title is titillating but ultimately quite misleading. There are all sorts of these cultural/religious mash-ups in many religions and Indonesian Islam with its rich history of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity has these syncretic mash-ups all over the archipelago.   No doubt following on Aubrey’s work, in 2014 Dateline, SBS Australia did a short documentary called Sex Mountain which enhances Aubrey’s text.

[Begin] On a hill in the centre of Java, thousands of Muslims regularly turn up to a religious ritual with a surprising stipulation: to seek their fortunes, they abandon spouses, find strangers, and have sex with them. Continue reading The swingers guide to Islam. Or, so you thought you knew all about Indonesian Islam!


The Highlands Trilogy – return to the PNG Highlands after 25 years

“There skin is different…but their shit smells just like ours”

On of my all time favorite documentaries is First Contact (1983), first part of the The Highlands Trilogy by Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson.  The trilogy is set in the Papua New Guinea Highlands and shot over ten years, First Contact (1983), followed by Joe Leahy’s Neighbors (1989) and Black Harvest (1992).  In First Contact Australian miners recall the first trek into the New Guinea highlands and the first contact between white people and the estimated one million Papua New Guinea highlanders.

Almost 25 years after filming Black Harvest  (1992) Bob Connolly returned to the Papua New Guinea Highlands and caught up  with the key characters from his award winning  documentaries.  Watch via ABC Australia an introduction, then a fuller episode via Foreign Correspondent.  If you like what you read and see, let me know and I will send you a copy of the trilogy.

DER Documentary writes that First Contact: ” [is] the classic film of cultural confrontation that is as compelling today as when it was first released over 20 years ago.

When Columbus and Cortez ventured into the New World there was no camera to record the drama of this first encounter. But, in 1930, when the Leahy brothers penetrated the interior of New Guinea in search of gold, they carried a movie camera. Thus they captured on film their unexpected confrontation with thousands of Stone Age people who had no concept of human life beyond their valleys. This amazing footage forms the basis ofFirst Contact.

Continue reading The Highlands Trilogy – return to the PNG Highlands after 25 years

Singapore’s golden triangle: The money, the land and the labour

I am a big fan of Le Monde Diplomatique and a long time subscriber. In June  2016 I sent them a request for more articles on Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Low and behold in August this gem of an article about exploitation of the region surrounding Singapore appears.  It is heavy on the economics and does not discuss further issues of the very murkey and shady foundations of Singapores wealth bound up with the exploitation of its near neighbour Indonesia. But it does give a good feel for this region off Sumatra and the bottom of Peninsular Malaysia

Philippe Revelli from Le Monde Diplomatique, August 2016 writes:  

Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have an agreement. It’s less about economic cooperation than about mutual exploitation, and some do a lot better than others.

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Photograph by the author, taken at Johor Bahru in Malaysia, as part of a folio in 19 parts titled ‘Cabotage’ (

kilometre-long bridge links the island of Singapore and the city of Johor Bahru in Malaysia.  Near the bridge, café terraces on Meldrum Walk in the city’s Bandar district are crowded on Friday evenings. Many customers are Singaporeans here to let their hair down. The owners of the hotels, bars and restaurants are Malaysian, and much of their workforce is Indonesian, some undocumented. It’s a neat illustration of the division of labour between these countries under the guise of economic cooperation. Continue reading Singapore’s golden triangle: The money, the land and the labour

Indonesia’s Gotta Catch All the Communists

A red scare is sweeping Indonesia, digging up the ghosts of the 1965-1966 mass killings, and threatening a fragile democracy.  By Aubrey Belford for Foreign Policy, August 12, 2016

Indonesia’s Gotta Catch All the Communists

JAKARTA, Indonesia — What do Pokémon Go and half a million dead communists have in common? They’re both things that, within the space of a few days, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu described as tools of shadowy forces bent on doing the country harm.  On July 18, Ryamizard, a conservative former general, warned the public that the hit game was likely being used by foreign intelligence services to harvest information on vital sites in Southeast Asia’s largest country.

Three days later, it was the dead reds. Following the conclusion of an activist-initiated “people’s tribunal” in The Hague that found the Indonesian government “responsible for genocide” in the 1965-1966 killing of at least 400,000 people suspected of being associated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), Ryamizard again fronted the press.

The tribunal’s findings were “lies,” he said. “If we listen to them, we will break apart,” he warned. “This is the work of the PKI.”   Continue reading Indonesia’s Gotta Catch All the Communists

Resort of Last Resort

 Original writen for the Global Mail by Aubrey Belford April 5, 2013

“We wake up each day hoping this will be the last morning, that we’ll be able to start living normally again,” says mother Rukhsana Jaffary of her mixed Afghan-Pakistani Hazara family, claiming asylum in Indonesia, which does not take refugees on a permanent basis.

Fear, corruption, boredom, smugglers, extortionists, Saudi sex tourists and temporary wives: such is life in the Indonesian resort town that has become limbo for asylum seekers.

Continue reading Resort of Last Resort

Islamic Conversion Theories in Indonesia : a literature review

I am an Indonesian history buff and sometime ago when a friend gave me their university database logon and password, after years out of uni, I went crazy downloading hundreds of journal articles on a myriad of topics related to Indonesian history, culture and politics. After the initial excitement of like being a kid in a candy shop I thought what was the use of locating, downloading then hoarding vast amounts of information without reading them. It would just become ‘cyber dust’ on my harddrive. I decided to focus on a few themes and download accordingly as well as take the time to read one to two new articles a day if possible.

After reading Anthony Johns’ article Sufism as a category in Indonesia literature and history I then decided I wanted to write something as a way to focus my reading. The result of receiving free materials also lead me to make my first online book purchases when I really wanted to follow leads from journal articles but was unable to locate free copies of the texts or was frustrated by google books snippet view. I wanted the whole book. I have a rich source of inspiration in the form of hundreds of articles, meaning new things to investigate as well as learn more Indonesian language along the way. Please enjoy, comments and critical remarks are welcome. Continue reading Islamic Conversion Theories in Indonesia : a literature review

Singapore First World Problems #1

We have been in Singapore for ten months. The six month expat grace period of always talking about, comparing and thinking about your previous home has passed. We are liking Singapore immensely, it offers a lot.

Homesickness, for my home city, or our previous posting, Kuala Lumpur, did not hit me in Singapore.  Over the years, except a few times, I have never really suffered homesickness. The only times homesickness has been acute has been when I took anti-malarial’s for a few weeks in Vanuatu, and when in Jakarta, I was bed ridden for four weeks recovering from a broken leg.  The most I get is a little nostalgic with cloudy overcast mornings when I get the urge to stay in bed, trying hard to deceive myself that it is cold outdoors and a good lie in is what is needed.  I say try hard because reality is that is usually 30+ degrees outside at 8am in the last three countries I have lived in.

The lack of homesickness in Singapore is the result of it being in so ‘oh so nice & familiar.’ We live in an awesome location, with friendly people, a forest, exotic birds, a great park for kids with Ent like trees, close to all amenities, huge pool & clubhouse and the sounds of frogs at night. Its also because of the fact that we came from Kuala Lumpur! I need to explain this. Continue reading Singapore First World Problems #1

Learning Javanese in Singapore via Suriname

I have been trying to learn Javanese, the language of the Central and Eastern provinces of the island of Java in Indonesia for a few year now. Not very successfully.  The Javanese language, because of the sheer number of Javanese people and their emigration throughout the archipelago, could be considered Indonesia’s second language and its influence is felt right across the archipelago. Some critics of the Indonesian experiment at nation building might mutter, ‘Its not really Indonesia, its Javanesia,’ as a broadside against Javanese imperialistic like domination over a myriad of smaller ethnic groups, but the fact remains, the Javanese and their language have seeped into every corner of the multiracial, multiethnic fabric of Indonesia.

Recently I have found some help via pop music from Suriname, the northern part of South America, wedged between Guyana and French Guiana to help me.  The how and why this can be so, could be the subject of a essay.  In the meantime enjoy some tunes from Suriname, sung in Bahasa Jawa, and I will leave you to do a little internet sleuthing to soothe your curiosity of how the Javanese ended up in Suriname.–4

Bondan Prakoso & Fade 2 Black – Ya Sudahlah

The spirit of this song still captures me. I can’t stop singing the chorus.

“Apapun yang terjadi.  Ku ‘kan slalu ada untukmu.  Janganlah kau bersedih.  Cause everythings gonna be ok.” 

Ketika mimpimu yang begitu indah

Tak pernah terwujud ya sudahlah

Saat kau berlari mengejar anganmu

Dan tak pernah sampai ya sudahlah Continue reading Bondan Prakoso & Fade 2 Black – Ya Sudahlah

Mother Dao – the Dutch coloniser’s lens in the NEI

Nitrate films preserved in the National Archives, filmed by Dutch cameraman Vincent Monnikedam from 1912 to 1933 in the Netherlands East Indies colonies. Compiling over 200 films it is a masterpiece, which shows how the Dutch ruled their colonies and the image they wanted of their social behavior through films. The songs and poems give the people of the NEI a voice through this facade, leading to a universe in the past, now lost to us.