Rifle Reports: A Story of Indonesian Independence

Rifle Reports: A Story of Indonesian Independence

Rifle Reports: A Story of Indonesian Independence

Rifle Reports: A Story of Indonesian Independence

Synopsis

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 Reports is 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 Reports interweaves 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.

Excerpt

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) and Merdeka! (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 routines weeks in advance.

Kabanjahé is the capital of Tanah Karo (I., Karoland), an administrative district in North Sumatra Province. It is ordinarily the kind of place that travelers pass through on their way to somewhere else. All the main roads that cross the Karo plateau meet in Kabanjahé, spinning off the market square in pinwheel formation. Long-distance transportation is funneled through the terminal on the edge of town, but all the local buses pick up passengers at designated spots around this central square. Villagers returning from the market or from a visit with citydwelling grand children, or on their way to a wedding or funeral, cluster on the street corners or loiter in the coffee shops, waiting for their bus and exchanging news. This is where you can pick up the latest gossip about deaths, marriages, scandals, and school admissions. Students . . .

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