Imagine this: you rock up to your favorite East Coast surf spot (or West Coast), and you stare in horrified astonishment at dozens of corpses bobbing the water. Sharks leisurely swim in to the feast.
This isn’t an imagined scene. This actually happened. Fifty years ago. All along Bali’s coasts, Tabanan to Klungkung and even further. Back then, of course, there were no surfers and no beach side resorts. The beaches were mostly secluded coconut groves, with quiet estuaries, perfect places to dispose of people murdered by their thousands and tens of thousands. Entire hamlets and neighborhoods taken away and massacred in one of history’s least known mass murders in a time of violent political and social upheaval. An estimated 50,000 Balinese were murdered by other Balinese in one of the island’s darkest and least-talked about secrets.
Your blog correspondent was a nine-year-old boy living in Klungkung. I was an eyewitness to these events. When you see them, you don’t forget. I lost playmates and their families. They got tossed into the ocean by Klotok. That’s why I don’t like surfing those beaches (Read my account of this.)
Surfing in Bali these days, you resign yourself to the masses, a horde that is leaking around the edges into those early sunrise hours and to places that normally are quiet. To this old man, they sort of blend into the background, part of Bali’s eternal parade of visitors who come and go, some staying for longer, but eventually they too leave.
These past few weeks, though, I’ve made an effort to have a closer look at them. A majority are under thirty years of age, I would say and certainly nearly all are under fifty.
So the events that happened on this tropical paradise island of fifty years ago is ancient history, as far removed and with as little relevance to their holiday life as the Napoleonic Wars.
But it is a relevant history. Human nature is a constant. It could happen again.
So, with the 50th annivesary of the so-called Gestapu Affair on us this week, may I suggest you read my account of those days (Bones of the Dark Moon) and the continuing cloud they cast on Bali today. I’m sort of beating my own drum, but it is a drum worth beating. Please spread the word.
Print copies available at Periplus and Ganesha bookstores in Bali and else where in Indonesia.