Bali’s mass killings of 1965, or why I don’t like surfing the east coast — Part I

(Note: this is re-post of an earlier post. Your blog correspondent has just launched a new novel, Bones of the Dark Moon, a contemporary tale of Bali exploring Bali’s 1965 massacres, which you can see and order on the side bar.)

A hot day in December, 1965. I was nine years old, a blond, sun-crisped Bali bulé boy, and a Balinese man I’d never seen before hunched on the parlor sofa of my parent’s house in Klungkung, east Bali. He reeked of fright: acrid, bitter, biting. He was silent, hands clasped between his knees. A former member of a Communist party’s community organization, he was helpless, hopeless, marked for death, a marking that painted not by gray-skinned pallor but by stink. I’ll never forget that smell.

Outside on the street in front of our house marched squads of Balinese men in black with machetes and spears, some with guns. The taming–the killing teams. Efficient. Deadly.

They were the victorious nationalists, rampant and on the hunt for Communists, who only a year previously were poised for political power and the control of the country’s future. In those black, brutal months, with a madness sweeping over the island, an estimated 50000 Balinese were slaughtered by other Balinese, killed for being Communists and for being leftist and for having said the wrong thing, even (in one recorded case) for having provided a pressure lantern for a Communist mass rally.

Klungkung had a large PKI presence, with many of the high caste Brahman families being party members. Kids I’d played with on the streets and fields and banyan trees simply disappeared. Thousands of corpses were tossed into estuary ravines by the seashore, and into the ocean itself. A journalist staying with us told of seeing a raft of bodies floating in the surf, sharks leisurely feeding.

This is why I don’t like surfing the eastern black sand beaches and sandstone ledges. There’s something spooky to that water, the roaring surf, the deep offshore trenches. There’s one particular place near Klungkung, now on the surf guide radar, that I’ve flatly refused to surf — I get goosebumps just standing on the beach.

When we moved to Gianyar when I was a teen, I had to will myself to paddle out at Lebih beach and the breaks around there, but I never lasted long. It wasn’t sharks, or being out alone—the other world, the what the Balinese call the unseen realm, shimmered very close all around me. The Balinese have a word for places like this–angker–and they would know exactly what I’m talking about, which is not really “spooky” but mystical, spiritually charged, dangerous.

I don’t know how many visiting surfers, or even resident expat surfers, know of this dark and terrible chapter of modern Balinese history, but I can tell you that every Balinese of a certain age has memories of that violent time, memories they are reluctant to talk about. Every coastal village and town in Bali that has turned into a surfing destination hides its own secret killing fields, its forgotten burial grounds.

I always knew that one day I’d write a story about those times, and I have. 1965 was nearly 50 years ago, time enough to turn those events into “historical fiction” but it’s not really history yet. It is important to know, because it could happen again. No joke. Not the same precise players, but the animosities, the jostling for power, and the heart of mankind remain the same. I find it awkward to plug my own work, but it is a great story that is getting terrific reviews. Many thanks to those who have already bought the book. It stands alone, separate from its author, but on the other hand, the author also needs to buy nasi bungkus for his belly and wax for his surfboard (although my back is presently giving me fits). Your support would be greatly appreciated.

Part the Second will be less hat in hand, and more details, with pictures, of the events of 1965.

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10 Responses to Bali’s mass killings of 1965, or why I don’t like surfing the east coast — Part I

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m an expat living in Jakarta. Will there be any outlets up here to get your book?

    • My publisher is negotiating with Periplus. In the meantime, you could buy direct from me via Paypal — see the link on the blog sidebar (you can specifiy to Paypal the shipping address) — or you can use my contact address to set up an ATM transfer (in rupiah). Shipping is free, and you get a signed first edition to boot.

    • Hopefully the novel will soon be in stock at various other outlets…will let everyone know! It’s Galungan holidays in Bali — the island goes comatose.

  2. Glen says:

    I was surfing Cucukan in May this year, out by myself another Australian on the beach waiting for the tide to fill in…I took off on a set wave all I remember is getting set and thinking this is going to be a bit of a drop woke up under water, broke the surface worrying I was near the impact zone. Actually had had drifted some way from……..don’t remember how or the paddle in.
    Board must have hit me in the jaw somehow and I lost consciousness, later I also lost a wisdom tooth from the incident.

    Am I superstitious……dam right I am won’t be surfing there again :-)

    But there is that other right that works on low swell……LOL

    Will be ordering a copy of your book thanks looking forward to the read love reading your blog

  3. Jordi says:

    Hi Richard, I don’t usually post comments, but since tomorrow I’m moving back to Europe I’m gonna make an exception, hope you don’t mind. It’s been almost 3 years here in Bali but for some reasons I’m going back to Europe. I’ve lived for nearly 2 years in a small village in the east coast and I’ve NEVER surfed Cucu’s, it’s a bad vibes area. However I’ve had wicked waves in the east, usually in a bunch of secret places. Hopefully those places stay unknown for a very very long time. I’ve seen how one spot that used to be secret has became extremely popular and crowded. On a good day you’d find 3-4 guys out max, now you can easily find 20.
    I’ve enjoyed your blog so much and I plan to enjoy it from home so keep up the good work. And well, feel free to get some wax today as I just purchased your new book for my iPad.
    Your fellow reader

  4. Bukit Bear says:

    Congratulations mate – did you publish this on your own? I’m definitely down for copy – please email me your account details. My father’s 10 brothers & sisters lived through that period up in Sumatra – not many like to talk about it. I look forward to reading your version of this history…

  5. robert says:

    Congratulations Dick, look forward to reading ‘ Bones Of The Dark Moon ‘, cheers, Robert

  6. Thank you for any other fantastic post. Where else could anybody get that type of
    info in such a perfect manner of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for
    such information.

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