In Suharto’s Anti-Communist Purge, Prisoners Made an Island Bloom

Tedjabayu handling a theodolite measuring tool with the Buru land survey team in the 1970s. Courtesy of Tuti Pujiarti

Book Review: Pearls on the Prairie, A Survivor’s Story (2020) by Tedjabayu

On a wall in Jakarta’s Presidential Palace, the official residence of Indonesia’s president, hangs a 1947 painting titled Comrades in Revolution. The painting depicts 19 nationalist artists and activists who fought for Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands. Among the freedom fighters, the painting also shows the face of a 3-year-old boy. The toddler is the artist’s son, Tedjabayu. 

Few visitors to the palace, let alone its primary resident, would be aware that the boy in the painting grew up to spend 14 years as a political prisoner in one of Indonesia’s darkest chapters—the purge of leftists in the wake of a 1965 coup attempt that the authorities blamed on the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and ushered in the rise of the New Order dictatorship.

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