The 1965 Coup and Its Aftermath
In the waning days of Sukarno's reign, conflict increased between the high-caste capitalist class and communists pursuing a more militant role in land reform and harvest-sharing policies.
Bali's governor, Anak Agung Bagus Suteja, increased the participation of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and other leftists in the island's administration and legislative bodies. The PKI's aggressive policy toward land reform understandably had tremendous appeal to landless peasants and poor tenant farmers.
Land was seized unilaterally from rich landowners. Landlord-employed thugs destroyed sharecroppers' crops and razed their huts. Government offices were burned, scuffles and armed attacks broke out, religious ceremonies were disrupted. A full-scale civil war, drawn along class lines, was underway. A series of ominous natural catastrophes also weighed in: rat and mouse plagues, insect infestations, crop failures, and, finally, the violent eruption of Mount Agung.
The mountain exploded during the holiest of Balinese ceremonies, Eka Dasa Rudra, a purification rite in which harmony and balance in people and nature are restored in all 11 directions. The ceremony, held only once every 100 years, was precipitously held some 10 years early at the behest of Sukarno, apparently to impress a convention of travel agents.
Midway through the opulent proceedings, Gunung Agung began to shower the whole area with ash and smoke, finally exploding in its most violent eruption in 600 years. Earthquakes toppled temples, hot ash ignited thatched roofs, volcanic debris rained upon the earth. As the molten lava moved toward them, Hindu priests prayed frantically, hoping to appease the angry gods, assuring worshippers they had nothing to fear. In the end, 1600 Balinese were killed, 86,000 left homeless, and 100,000 hectares removed from production.
A layer of hot choking dust lay over the whole island for a week, covering fields, houses, and streets. One-quarter of Bali was turned into black lava desert. The catastrophe was attributed to the wrath of the god Shiva in his most evil aspect as Rudra.
This disaster ultimately became a damning judgment on the entire Sukarno era. Because empty land for evacuees was not available on Bali, the consequences of overpopulation became acute for the first time in the island's history. No longer could farmers move temporarily to another part of the island, later returning to a land covered in fresh, fertile ash.Thousands had to be resettled in Sulawesi.
The failure of crops, the uprooting of many villages, and the forced evacuation of masses of people contributed substantially to the communal clashes and massacres of tens of thousands of Balinese during the purge of Indonesian communists in 1966. Internal refugees poured into Denpasar and Singaraja where, together with large numbers of unemployed urban poor, formed a restive, disaffected underclass ripe for mobilization by communist mass organizations.
Finally, all hell broke loose. On the night of 30 September 1965, six high-ranking army leaders were kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Jakarta, allegedly by communist conspirators. The attempted coup d'etat, suppressed skillfully within days by a previously little-known general named Suharto, led directly to an archipelago-wide bloodbath.
The Indonesian Communist Party was immediately banned, and Sukarno was forced to delegate wide powers to Suharto. Mass arrests followed. On 8 October fanatical Muslim youths attacked and burned the communist party headquarters in Jakarta, initiating a bloody wave of anticommunist reprisals that rolled over Java and Bali, leaving whole villages devastated and in many cases obliterated.
The killings on Bali started in earnest in December 1965 and soon began to take on the dimensions of a mass purgation, an "essential" exorcism of the island. Devout Balinese murdered godless communists whom they believed mocked their religion and threatened their pious way of life.
In the witch-hunt for "communists" old scores were settled and many non-communists wiped out. Wealthy businessmen took advantage of the chaos to murder their Chinese and Balinese competitors. On Java the people had to be begged on to kill the communists. On Bali they had to be restrained.
The "trance killings" reached a fever pitch in 1966, when whole groups of Balinese were rounded up and slashed, clubbed, and chopped to death by communal consent. The killers included small boys, encouraged in some cases by Hindu priests. The purge on Bali became so indiscriminate commandos finally had to step in to restore order.
From then on the killing was coordinated by the military and police, working with civilian authorities to make sure only the "right" people were executed. Dressed in ceremonial white attire, the victims were led to the killing fields dispassionately, almost politely, without hatred. Of a population of two million, it is estimated as many as 50,000 were killed.
The horrific bloodletting is rarely referred to today. Suharto's pro-Western "New Order" ushered in a long period of relative stability and rampant capitalist development. In 1979, the Eka Dasa Rudra cleansing ceremony was held again and completed without incident. Suharto's attendance at the ceremony was an attempt to place Bali's religion and culture firmly in the national psyche, an indispensable part of the pan-Indonesian culture.
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