Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Recorder of Secret Worlds

The Recorder of Secret Worlds


Saturday, December 16, 2006, 5:57 PM Local Time

JAKARTA Don Hasman is an enthusiastic man. When he speaks, his entire body pops and bubbles with excitement.

The 66-year-old Jakarta native is a journalist, anthropology writer, explorer, mountain climber, bicycler, lecturer, and author. As he talks, his compact frame leans forward over his cup of hot chocolate, his widening eyes draw wrinkles across his forehead. His hands remain clasped under the table but his shoulders jump as if they, the hidden hands, want to fly free. He is bursting.

He says when he was a young man he studied law and decided to become a journalist for the chance to see the world. “A journalist doesn’t need to pay to travel,” he explains. “The company pays.” Following his interests, he has mainly written about exploration, the environment, and culture.

Being a journalist in Indonesia has not always been easy. Hasman was working for the daily newspaper Sinar Harapan in October 1986 when it was closed down by the Suharto, Indonesia's president from 1967 to 1998, regime. “The reporters waited a year before the company shifted us to the weekly tabloid Mutiara and the newspaper Suara Pembaruan,” he says. The three publications are owned by the same company.

“During the Suharto era, one had to be an acrobat to write,” the father of two teenaged girls remembers. “The army, the special forces, thought that no one else was clever, but we were clever too.”

Despite the freedom reporters currently enjoy in Indonesia, Hasman says, there are important topics that remain unexplored. “Things done by the former government are not being investigated. It’ll be like opening a Pandora’s Box.”

“The Marsinah case, where she was tortured and killed [in 1993 after trying to assist colleagues who had been arrested following a strike at the Catur Putra Surya watch factory in Sidoarjo where they worked] is one example,” he explains.

“The journalist in Yoga [Syafruddin, a correspondent for the Yogyakarta daily Bernas], who was killed [in 1996] by the Bantul Regency for writing a critical story is another. More recently, [civil rights campaigner] Munir was poisoned and killed on a flight.” Hasman says many know who killed these people, but the stories are not told.

“In Indonesia it is easy to hire a murderer for three million rupiah [$330 USD],” Hasman adds. “Before, maybe ten years ago, it was just one million. Many people are eager to do it.”

Hasman says technology has had a positive effect on Indonesian journalism. “It saves time and money and we can send reports from anywhere. But Indonesians use technology to show off too. We are still in an agricultural era but waste time and energy on things like airplanes as [Suharto’s crony and Indonesia’s third president] Habibie did in Bandung,” says Hasman referring to the government-sponsored, failed aircraft production company in West Java’s capital.

Low salaries are another problem many Indonesian journalists face according to Hasman. “The publishing business here is worse, more evil than in capitalistic countries,” he says. “The top get more money, they are sharks, while those who face the sticks and rocks, the reporters earn less and less. That is why reporters ask for money from sources although it is illegal to do so.”

“Except for those from Tempo Magazine and Kompas [daily newspaper], many journalists do this,” continues Hasman. “According to [the Indonesian Journalists Association] PWI regulations, they face two years in prison for this, though I do not think anyone has ever been charged. It is like the 1974 polygamy ban, never enforced.”

Hasman acknowledges there have been some positive players in Indonesian journalism over the decades. “Goenawan Mohamad, [founder and editor of Tempo Magazine] has had a great influence on Indonesia. During his most productive time when he was blooming the greatest, like a flower, a cherry tree, he also faced his worst threats from the government.”

“Without him and others, most of Indonesia would not have had good information. He is very honest, a good person, and generous. His art helped him from going mad during the Suharto period,” says Hasman about Mohamad’s interest in music, theater, and opera.

Hasman is pleased with the country’s present direction but says he is aware there remain many hurdles to overcome. “The more you know about Indonesia, the more you want to vomit. Corruption is mass here. It is as [Muslim activist] Amien Rais calls it, ‘corruption together.’”

“People start being corrupt at school,” says Hasman, “when they begin looking at their schoolmates’ tests. Parents and teachers do not teach them. This situation will not improve until the rule of law is implemented.”

According to Hasman, religion and the war on terror present his nation with some further difficulties. “Islam is a very sensitive part of life in Indonesia. The West, not the people but the governments, need an enemy now that communism is no longer. And Indonesia with the planet’s largest Muslim population has many fanatics and they are being used. Some Indonesians think that the West is in the background [to the bombings in Bali and Jakarta].”

“Ujung ujungnya duit, UUD. It all ends up with money,” he continues. “The fanatics are being used. Where is their money coming from? The Middle East? The West?”

Journalism has enabled Hasman to travel as he has wished. He has been part of expeditions to Irian Jaya, Kalimantan, Wakatobi, and Indonesia’s northernmost islands, Manore and Miangas. In 1964, he traced 19th-century explorer Alfred Russel Wallace’s path through Indonesia.

The people of Papua are among Hasman’s favorite to visit. “They’re very fragile,” he says. “They change their minds quickly because they’re not yet stable. The jump from the stone age to the modern age is too high for them.”

One of his greatest adventures was in 1993 when he was part of a group of journalists who bicycled across Tibet. “There were riders from the U.S., Syria, Israel, China, Europe, and two Indonesians, about 200 of us in total. We rode 2,000 kilometers and at elevations of up to 5,000 meters.”

In addition to the bicycling and expeditions, Hasman says he has climbed peaks around the world including Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Blanc, Mount Etna, and 40 Indonesian volcanoes.

As an anthropology writer, he says he has studied the Badui, Kanekes and Kasepuhan of West Java, along with the Asmat, Dani, Yali of Irian Jaya, the Tengger people of the Mount Bromo region of Java, and the hunter-gatherers Kubu of Sumatra.

Much of his anthropological writing and work has been about the Badui. He says this is because of their proximity to Jakarta and his fondness for the people. He considers them to be reflections of past Indonesians and says that they are “straight, honest, and have their own identity.”

Hasman says that he has visited the Badui more than 500 times over the last 31 years. This makes him one of the world’s foremost experts on the tribe that has lived largely unchanged in the highlands of West Java since the time of Muhammad.

Budi Hartono, an Anthropology and Tourism lecturer from the University of Indonesia, says, “Hasman is a journalist whose work on the Badui brings out what’s good and interesting about the people.”

The Badui live in 40 villages, on 5,000 hectares in the hills around Kendeng Mountain, 120 kilometers from Jakarta. There are about 1,080 Inner Badui in three inner villages and 9,100 Outer Badui in 37 outer villages according to Hasman.

The Inner Badui are only permitted to wear home-spun and woven white cloth. They are forbidden from growing cash crops, eating four-legged animals, taking modern medicine, using electricity or any form of transportation. Due to their strict mores they are often called “The Amish of Java.”

The Outer Badui, says Hasman, follow the same traditions and norms as the inner but are less strict in their adherence.

Hasman says it is difficult to get information on the Badui and anthropologists have published papers containing numerous mistakes.

“The more you want to squeeze them, the more they try to mislead you. That’s the way their brains are,” Hasman says. “They [the observers] do not spend long enough, nor come often enough. Five to ten years is nothing. That is just enough to study the cover. You must get their confidence, but, even then, they’ll still try to hide things.”

Hasman has no plans of slowing down. He is half finished writing a book about the Badui for the Indonesian Heritage Society. Ro King, the heritage’s chairman, says, “Don has been a friend of the Indonesian Heritage Society for many years. He has given three Evening Lectures on the Badui people… Don is truly our link to these wonderful people [the Badui].”

Next year he is planning a journey to the world’s seven deadliest volcanoes. For this trip he will travel to two sites in Indonesia, plus one each in Japan, Iceland, Italy, Columbia, and Martinique in the Caribbean. He says in October he will walk the 800-kilometer Catholic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He will write books about each adventure.

Powered by his enthusiasm, Hasman hopes to continue bringing the stories of hidden worlds to his readers for years to come.

This article was published in The Jakarta Post’s Weekender Magazine, March 2007.

1 comment:

Evi Aryati Arbay said...

Hi Andrew Greene, same like what Ro King said about Don Hasman. He not only as a good friend for IHS but also for me and the others. For me he had a special place coz with him I had much memories and experiences, journey including he take and introduce me Baduy Tribe with they peace of land. And now baduy for me is like my second home and i always miss to come there again and again and never feel bored even i done it with many times. Not only about baduy, he teach me other values like a honest and friendship. Even now when I cant meet him very often like many year ago i still keep him as my teacher and bestfriend. And today after i read this articlel,i feel really miss him a lot. Hope can meet you soon my friend Don!(Evi Aryati Arbay)