Making Them Indonesians – Helene Van Klinken
Review by Jan Black, Alola supporter
The cover photo says it all – A group of children lined up in uniform with only two directly facing the camera. The others are looking elsewhere and the middle boy’s body language is arresting. He turns uncomfortably to look at the unfamiliar hand that clasps his shoulder, the hand belonging to the smiling Mrs Suharto, standing next to her husband behind the children of East Timor. The lad clearly looks askance towards the proprietary hand.
4000 children taken to another country, another culture and another life – each child having been wrenched away and some strive to find their way back to East Timor. Others build their lives in Indonesia with barely any recognition of their early life.
This book is based on the author’s PhD which she developed to give due rigor to her investigation. The solid research of the little known story is leavened with political analysis and sociological insights and the voices of those taken, and those left behind.
Whilst the research is painstaking in striving for facts and documentation where there is little, the insights tell us a lot about colonization and the attitude of superiority and paternalism which pervades this system.
The various contributors to this situation are explored starting with Suharto and his ‘presidents children’ paternalism, which in turn condoned removal of children by soldiers – some motivated by compassion, others by demonstration of dominance by trophy hunting – children as spoils of war. Then the organisations, particularly the religious ones institutionalized the practice.
Van Klinken has included her photos of children and families throughout the book and they illuminate the text. She also draws parallels with the forced removal of aboriginal children from their families inAustralia, particularly in the lack of recognition of the distress and suffering compounding the vulnerability of children and their families.
As Kirsty Sword Gusmao says in the Foreword, ”Those who took the children often did so with the best of intentions but their paternalistic attitudes, including taking many children against the wishes of parents and families, meant there was little understanding of the personal suffering and the pain that separation causes.”