Thursday, 19 November 2009

Bungklang Bungkling: OATH

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Sumpah’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, as published in Bali Post, Sunday, 15th November 2009. Translated by Putu Semiada


God has been given many titles by human beings, like ‘The Almighty God, Sang Hyang Widhi, Allah, Susuhunan, etc. It might not have made God happy as often His name is used by human beings for their our interest.

God has even often been blamed.

When natural disasters happen, such as earthquake, landslide, storm, human beings say that God is angry. They might think that the God suffers from high blood pressure and easily runs amuck. Even when He does, He would destroy all bad people; such as corruptors, criminals, the big mouth Legislative Assembly members, bad high rank officials, or mediocre cinetrons.

It happens that when there is a train accident, or when a ship sinks, a bus crashes, all would says that it is all because of the divine decree. Who do they think God is? Don’t they ever think that things happen because of human error? Who is texting while driving? Who steals people’s money so that we don’t have enough budget to fix the railways, or who builds the roads which easily damage due to poor workmanship in spite of big budget involved?

It is indeed much easier blaming the fate or blaming the God, rather than admitting your own incapability of being a driver, or a high ranking official.

God has a ‘headache’ for His named is being used all the time.

The Chief of Police who is being accused of receiving bribes swears in the name of God that he hasn’t received any bribes.

The Police Chief who investigates the KPK chairmen swears in the name of the God that the case is not a conspiracy.

The holiness of the God’s name has been manipulated even though nothing is dedicated to Him.

Do they think that people will buy it when they swear in the name of the God. Do they think that when they clarify something with tears falling down from their eyes, the people will give them mercy. They might not know that people are getting smart now. The conclusion is: "Nobody believes a liar...even when he is telling the truth!"

The high ranking officials and the Police Generals seems to prefer taking an oath in the name of the God than trying to collect legal proof as it is safer; you don’t have to be responsible legally even when you are guilty.

It is safer indeed for the Generals to manipulate God’s name as the God will never check or open a press conference and tell the public that the Generals have lied or report them to the police.

It is much safer for them, as it is quite impossible for God to come down to earth and report the Generals to the police for having used His name.

Even if God does this, he might be charged as a ‘suspect’ and sent to jail instead, as a witness.

It is much easier for them to take oaths. They just need to speak. They don’t need to show their wealth or their money in the bank, nor allow any independent team to check their house, or their properties or garage.

By manipulating God’s name they don’t need to show any evidence.

We should stop them taking an oath in the name of God. They should stop talking bullshit and try to clarify how they each can have 5 cars in their garage, big savings in the bank, three huge houses, etc. They might be nervous, though.

Taking an oath in the name of God is nothing if you are still greedy.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Bungklang Bungkling: LIZARD, CROCODILE, TOAD

Taken from ‘Bungklang Bungkling’, ‘Cecak’, a column by I Wayan Juniartha, as published in Bali Post, Sunday, 8th November 2009. Translated by Putu Semiada

Lizard, Crocodile, Toad

When the police department calls themselves ‘buaya’ (crocodile), and the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) lizards, so what is the right name for ‘DPR (Legislative Assembly) do you think?

Nobody has dared to drink palm toddy or rice wine since last week. Nobody dares to get drunk.

Let just the high ranking officials get ‘drunk’. We are just ordinary people. Don’t get drunk, says I Made Tuak Labuh (I Made Palm Toddy), the head of the association.

The former head, I Wayan Liver Sakti (I Wayan Super Liver), has been fired by the members since two months as he also had a side business as health drink vendor. There has been a kind of conflict of interest (that is between palm toddy and health drink). Sort of high ranking officials: ample time or consideration is needed to fire him.

Many people buy and read newspapers, magazines and tabloids this week. They also watch TV for hours. They miss their soaps. Everybody is at amazed to what they see on TV; between the Police Department and the Corruption Eradication Commission. Nobody wants to get drunk. They want to be 100% conscious when they watch.

“Nobody wants to get ‘drunk’. They are afraid if they do so, they will act like the high ranking officials, that is talking too much but do nothing to solve problems.”

We hear a Police General saying that the police are considered crocodiles. But a four-star General protests when other institution says that the police are considered as animals. However, he doesn’t say anything when one of his subordinates says that the police are crocodiles. After one month he apologizes that the police are also like ‘lizards’ not ‘crocodiles’. Anyway, he might not realize that both are animals.

On the other hand, a businessman said that he was black-mailed. The question is who dares to blackmail a businessman who has powerful people―from high rank police officials to general attorney officials―behind him.

He talks a lot and begs Indonesian people to give mercy to his younger brother and he also says that many of his family members are sick. Doesn’t he know that it is easier for people to give mercy to under-privileged people instead of to the rich ones who easily spend 5 billion Rupiah for bribing. His brother is a fugitive who lives in Singapore. How does he expect people give mercy to his brother who live a very luxurious life in Singapore.

What about the Legislative Assembly? When the Police – KPK issue is as big as now, they offer no comment. But now when it is getting bigger, they start talking as if they know everything and criticize everybody. Where were they when the two KPK chairmen were busted and arrested by the police. Busy shopping? Buying new ties, new mobiles, new cars and new escorts. It’s new life for them, that they become important people and must live in the capital city.

Now the case is getting out of control. People are sick of their behaviour, especially having the Constitution Attorney playing the recording before the public which contains the conversation among the high ranking official on their involvement in the case. The Legislative Assembly members are now busy talking as if they know and understand everything.

As a matter of fact, most of them are worried if KPK will also investigate them. They are worried they will not be able to gain enough money to cover their expenses during the campaigns. When the KPK has strong power, it will be difficult for them to steal the state’s money. They will feel useless if they don’t bring much money home.

So if KPK can be diminished they will be very happy. However the situation now works the other way, the KPK is supported by civil society. To play safe, they act as if they support them. They are trying to ask for information from some different parties just to show that they are busy too. As a matter of fact, they do nothing.

If the police is considered as ‘crocodile’, KPK as lizard, what about the Legislative Assembly members/ What we should call the,?

We should call them ‘dongkang’ (toads). Because what they do is just talking and talking, but no action.

Monday, 9 November 2009


Published in NOW! Jakarta - December 2009

Baroness Widji Von Wienberg on her hastily rustled up palanquin:
here photographed in the hills behind Kumasi, Ghana.

Last month I was invited to Nigeria with my German cousin Baroness Witzi Von Wienberg—the former Miss Hamburg 1968—to take part in a cultural safari through the dense urban jungle of Lagos, and then on to Kumasi in Ghana, the heartland of the Ashanti tribe.

Like all email users I have a fear of Nigeria, which is the source of a thousand scam-spams. The fact that Lagos airport is continually voted the world’s worst airport does not help either.

But our perceptions changed once we pushed through the Lagos Airport immigration hall near midnight one night in late October and were greeted by Madam Charlotte, the Lagos Airport’s V.I.P. Protocol Directress, and her gorgeous aides, Miss Beyonce and Miss Universe.

In a phalanx of flashy fashion and psychedelic-hued hand-phones we were sped through the night—me dragging my wheely-bin of personal items across the gritty asphalt, past dark enclave after dark enclave of big men eating giant shaslicks of red meat—in search of our transport detail.

Nigerian gangsters in fashionable party pyjamas waved huge wads of cash at my cousin but she resisted their advances (“Pink tush drives the African male wild with desire,” she muttered to me, inter-alia).

Soon we were speeding down a long dark highway past crooked lamp-posts to the smart Eko Hotel on Victoria Island, Lagos’ luxury suburb.

A 1930s photograph of the old Ashanti Royal Tombs, Kumasi, Ghana.

An ethereal mosaic on the wall at the entrance to the Lagos Motor Boat Club, Nigeria.

23th October 2009: A taste of real Africa

On my first day in Africa our hosts take us to Lagos Motor Boat Club—an old and still charming colonial institution where oil barons now park giant, black 100 feet cabin cruiser equivalents to the Batmobile. We travel 45 minutes down Badagry Creek in a smart motor launch to a fishing village where a ‘jump-up’ is in progress, to celebrate the impending cremation of a beloved village elder.

On the beach we are met by a welcoming committee comprising one dwarf and three dancing ladies: the Baroness and I are soon writhing and frothing with the best of them.

It is here that we get our first taste of the local fufu (boiled yam) with the distinctive fish stew curry that is a staple in the agricultural community—it is in many ways Nigeria’s answer to Soto Betawi, but with tubs of lard.

Back in the relative safety of the Eko hotel I stand in the lobby watching the miraculous cavalcade of fancy dress.

I like Nigeria. Here they still say “paw-paw” and smoke Rothmans and have Schweppes in glass bottles which is very comforting. As is a surreal sit-com I watch called “Super Story” on the Africa Magic channel (Hair and make-up by Tammy Fae Baker for Shirley Q Liquor-Up-Front). Every time I turn on the T.V. there is a traditionally built African women in metres of lurex on a giant sofa being beaten by an irate husband.

My welcoming committee at the fisherman’s village jump-up, Lagos.

25th October, 2009: To Ghana

My co-traveller the Baroness is itching to find a piece of the real Africa so, after a brief encounter with the tribal arts and lifestyle shops of Victoria Island, we travel, on Day Two, via delightful Virgin Nigeria, to Accra Airport in Ghana. In Accra somebody has straightened up all the light poles and there is not a Shashlik vendor in sight, or much fancy dress.

In fact Nigeria (pop. 160,000,000) and Ghana (pop.16,000,000) are like chalk and cheese.

My Lagos host, an elegant Oxford educated architect, had told me that one in every five Africans is a Nigerian. In Lagos harbour on the way to the airport this morning I observed that one on every 15,000,000 Nigerians was fishing.

Ghana on the other hand seems to be a hive of activity and initiative.

Three porters drag my one bag across the rutted car park between the international airport—where exquisitely carved and painted signs warn of sexual deviants—and the Domestic Airport, where the Antraks Airline offices doubles as a sandwich shop.

(Africans like thick white bread sandwiches with lots of mayonnaise, chunky bits of diced carrots etc., I observed).

Late morning we arrive in Kumasi, Ghana’s answer to Bogor, and are sped, en convoy—one Honda Civic and one Vespa—to the luxury Silicon Hotel opposite the Polytechnic.

We immediately know that the hotel is designed along ‘sustainable’ lines by an award-winning local architect because it looks like a police station.

The hotel has a huge internet cafĂ©—with brocade drapes and plastic peonies in semi-classical, opalescent Madras vases—serving many fufu-friendly dishes.

But the quest is really not for the perfect fufu but for some traditional culture and textile; Kumasi of course famous for its Kente (ikat) and Adinkra (batik cap) clothes.

With our guide Idris—a doe-eyed waiter from the northern regions of Ghana bordering Burkina Faso—we visit the Ashanti Palace Museum.

Large men in Ghanaian togas—fashioned from the distinctive dark Adinkra cloth—are parked on white plastic chairs under a sprawling tree in the car park. Fufu is not far away.

They growl at us when we ask for directions.

We are led down a narrow path adjacent the palace waste bins and relieved of $20 before being told to wait (this is an African welcoming gesture of restrained aggression, Idris tells us).

The Ashanti Museum is in fact the old royal palace: a British colonial style bungalow it was built by the British after they burned down the old palace when the King, the greatest in all Ghana, refused to give up his golden stool.

The real palace is a Pondok Indah style McMansion next door with no garden and lots of Rolls Royces under wraps in the garage.

The museum has a wonderful collection of old photographs of the royal family—many from the late 19th century. One rare 1930 photograph is of the old royal tomb, now tragically restored.

The museum is fascinating and well worth the detour: the Baroness discovers a palanquin and immediately orders a copy for our foray into the hill-lands—in search of Kente and Adinkra cloth—planned for the following day.

We spend the rest of the day exploring Kumasi’s central market—Ghana’s finest—and the shops.

Traditional canoes on the Lagos River.

Frank Sarpong who runs the Bonwire Kente cloth collective in Bonwire village outside Kumasi, Ghana.

LEFT: Peter Boakye, who runs the Adinkra cloth collective.

RIGHT: An altarboy in a church in Kumasi, Ghana.

26th October 2009: A trip into the hills in search of textile treasures

The baroness leads the way on her palanquin passing village after village lined with large lounge sets and Ashanti royal stool shops until, finally, we arrive at Bonwire village which is famous for its hand looms and fufu.

The textiles are extraordinary and the fufu amuses bouche are to die for.

We shop up a storm—for the Baroness ‘Voodoo Lounge Health Spa’ in Bali—and leave Africa with heavy hearts, and stomachs.

Souvenir quality royal Ashanti stools pile up on the footpaths of a craft village near Kumasi.

Africa’s iconic armchair – a source of great pride and comfort.

Stamps used in production of the Adinkra batik cloth.

Saturday, 7 November 2009