May 1998 Jakarta Riots

May 16th, 2008, in History, by

Spew looks back on the May 1998 riots and the issues of mass rapes, anti-Chinese sentiment, and how the rioters came to be judged.

It has been a decade since Reformasi (reform) movement took place in Indonesia that succeeded in forcing Suharto to step down. Every year after the movement, media and political and social analysts reflect on what has happened and has been happening since Suharto was ousted. Since reform is the grand theme, these reflections therefore highlight the progress of reform in Indonesia. Although many topics can be written regarding reformasi in Indonesia only democracy and political reforms are arguably having much more attention than other issues.

Having said this, I would like to shift the focus away from political reforms and democracy and reflect on the riots that took place in Indonesia. The riots shocked the international community and may have changed their views on the Indonesian people. To some extent, the riots may have confirmed the wide representation of Indonesian people as having an amok culture. The friendly, hospitable, and inclusive attitude can suddenly turn into vicious, violent, and barbaric acts. When one of the Bali Bombing perpetrators Amrozi had his picture taken in foreign media, people bewildered with his smile: how can he smile after killing innocent people? There seems no other alternative to explain this perplexing phenomenon but put it into a cultural category box called amok.

Not long after the riots which took place in Solo, Medan, Jakarta, and Surabaya, Indonesians were shocked to know that many people were burnt to death in malls and shopping centres. The government, however, labelled them looters. Quoting the government, media outlets played an important role in perpetuating the representation of people who were burnt to death in malls. In their headlines, looters emerged as a product of discourse on representation of poor people in Indonesia. Labelling them looters instead of victims will impact on how big was the state’s responsibility for the dead people. Looters can be equated with criminals and with their deaths, the state should not be responsible for dealing with criminals.

Labelling them looters also denies the history of well-being of the poor in Indonesia. These “looters” are victims of structural violence stemming from unfair economic development. According to a report released by Jakarta based non-governmental organisation, Volunteer Team for Humanity, the total death toll was about 1200 people Tim Gabungan Pencari Fakta Kerusuhan 13-15 Mei 1998 (TGPF), Laporan Akhir Kerusuhan 13-15 Mei 1998, Jakarta, 23 Oktober 1998. available from:,
[Accessed at 8 May 2008]
. The majority of the dead were those who were trapped in the burning shopping centres.

What made the riot gaining more attention, however, was the rape of the Indonesian Chinese. The stories of rapes appeared publicly not long after the news of more than a thousand deaths in malls emerged. It was Jakarta based NGO, Volunteer Team for Humanity (Tim Relawan untuk Kemanusiaan-TRuK) that brought up the issue about the rapes. According to their report, hundreds of Chinese women were gangraped. Human Rights Watch, Indonesia: The Damaging Debate on Rapes of Ethnic Chinese Women, 1 September 1999, available from:, [Accessed at 10
May 2008].
Yet, this appalling news did not immediately receive sympathetic gestures. In fact, doubts were voiced publicly as to whether the rapes indeed had taken place.

In response to the rapes issue, the Indonesian Minister of Women’s Affair Tutty Alawiyah, for instance, contested the data provided by TRuK and asked for concrete proof regarding the mass rape. Karen Strassler, “Gendered Visibilities and the Dream of Transparency: The Chinese-Indonesian Rape Debate in Post-Suharto Indonesia”, Gender & History, Vol.16 No.3 November 2004, pp. 689–725. Similarly, Roesmanhadi the Chief of the Indonesian Police contended that the failure of providing “concrete data” meant that NGOs could be charged with disseminating lies. Ibid.

Responding to the furore over mass rapes as well as international pressure to deal with these rapes the Indonesian government formed a joint fact finding commission (Tim Gabungan Pencari Fakta Kerusuhan Mei 13-15) in which government and NGO were expected to work together to solve this puzzle. Although working within a strict time constraint, this commission finally completed its report and suggested that the riot was a result of political tension at elite level and worsening economic condition. The report, however, did not draw a conclusion that mass rapes were systematic violence but only confirmed that such acts happened simultaneously with the riot and that among those rapes were some that were carried out with particular purposes. TGPF, ‘Laporan Akhir’. For more discussion on TGPF, Jemma Purdey provides an excellent account on the dynamic within the fact finding commission. See, Jemma Purdey, ‘Problematizing the Place of Victims in Reformasi Indonesia: A Contested Truth about The May 1998 Violence’, Asian Survey, Vol. 42, No. 4, The Legacy of Violence in Indonesia, (Jul-Aug, 2002), pp. 605-622.

The raging debate over the mass rapes seemed to impact on the representation of the riots. Once the stories of rapes unfolded, discourse on rapes submerged the other gloomy stories such as those who were burnt to death in the shopping centres. During that time, “anti-Chinese” became a lexicon that is often used to understand the riots.

Indeed, anti-Chinese sentiment was played up at that time. But one should bear in mind that political marginalisation towards Chinese people throughout Indonesian history may have contributed to Indonesian peoples’ understanding of their identities. Anti-Chinese sentiments, in this respect were constructed in order to lay foundation of what constituted Indonesia or pribumi. When the riots took place, the anti-Chinese sentiments were played up in order to represent the violence as something natural which stemmed from the tension between pribumi and non-pribumi.

In other words, these urban poor were dead when they would like to loot things from Chinese stores. And the rapes were merely manifestation of frustration derived from imbalance economic status between Chinese and non-Chinese.

As one crucial element to understand violence are the victims, the existence of victims who died in shopping malls and Chinese victims could help us to deconstruct the representations of May 1998 violence. Yet, in doing so we should not be differentiating them based on racial lines as this will only perpetuate the New Order logic. What we should look at regarding the May violence is that race can be a powerful discourse in producing the knowledge of that violence. Only radical understanding of victims of May Riots which weighs much on the interrogation of dominant discourse may lead to a better comprehension on what happened in those three days of atrocities.

137 Comments on “May 1998 Jakarta Riots”

  1. kinch says:

    You’re not likely to add anything useful to the debate until you free your mind from this po-mo deconstructionalist crap, my friend.

    Interrogate the dominant discourse my ass!

    Has it ever occurred to you that this kind of verbal sludge IS the mode of dominant discourse in what passes for ‘intellectual’ circles these days and perhaps you should go interrogate IT for a change? 🙂

    I doubt it, because that would require actual thought rather than mindless parroting and random insertion of po-mo phraseology for extra brownie points.

    As for any pribumi low lifes who got incinerated in malls in 1998: Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword. Fair is fair.

    Nobody doubts that there was some official attempt to deflect mob attention onto the usual Chinese scapegoats at that time. This fact, however, is hardly relevant as anybody with more than five minutes’ exposure to Indonesian realities knows that the mob wouldn’t have required more than the slightest encouragement to get started.

    Yes, Indonesians are charming and friendly people on a good day. Yes, they run amok every 10-30 years. Probably due to the constant strain of being charming and friendly all the rest of the time :D.

    As for the Chinese being set up as The Other (haha i beat you po-mo loser… Edward Said references beat your Frenchified wanking on points every time :)) by some manipulative state power structure… well blah blah blah… One only needs to read Pram’s Big Book to see how he goes out of his way (for his own ideological reasons) to portray Chinese as brothers of the pribumi. The obvious inference is that said pribumi back in Pram’s day NEEDED bashing about the head with a book to knock into their thick skulls the notion that Chinese were not their exploiters… and that this idea must go back a long way.

    Yes, the Dutch did tend to treat different races as being fit for certain occupations… but at the end of the day nobody set the Chinese up as capitalists and manipulated the pribumi into opposition against said Chinese as a way to manipulate and dupe the common folk. It’s just a simple fact of life that the Chinese tend to be harder working and have a culture which is more rational and less amok. Not to mention less Islamic (but we’ll leave this one alone for today).

    Naturally this causes great subconscious shame and resentment in many pribumi ->>> extreme violence every now and then.

    The Indonesian Chinese are certainly not all saints, but nothing excuses the lazy, vicious envy (combined with subconscious shame for being undearachievers by comparison) which so many pribumi use as an excuse to attack them. And there is also little excuse for your pretending to analyse a problem whilst actually saying *less than nothing at all*. If you want to show off your intellectual credentials by writing this kind of crap go write about something more harmless…. or if you’re really brave, go deconstruct Islam :). Interrogate the Dominant Discourse! Preferably in Banda Aceh, but I imagine even Cirebon would be a good place to start.

    Have a Nice Day ™.

  2. spew-it-all says:

    Dear Kinch,

    I was surprised to read your comment which is full of resentment towards me. I am not intending to show off my knowledge of theories. Nor am i wanting extra brownie points for using ‘po-mo deconstructionalist crap’ (what a neology!). Rather, it is an attempt of looking at the May 1998 violence with poststructuralist perspective. What is wrong with that my dear friend? Surely, anyone can write or use theories to analyse things. I am afraid if i am using Marxist, you may launch a fierce criticism toward me by calling it marxist-crap.

    If there is a flaw in the analysis due to the inappropriate use of theory or lack of data, you can simply point it out with civility. I am very certain that you can actually engage in this discussion with a proper manner. Or you might like to write an article about the May Riot from different angle?

    Since i have been a regular reader in IM, i noticed that discussion gets really intense not because of differing arguments expressed by commentators here. Rather, the intensity stems from offensive languages and tones used in the discussion. It is very sad that a great forum like IM becomes an opportunity for a middle classes to express their frustrations. Frankly, with this offensive nature, it is hard to see the difference between mailing list of radical islam such as FPI and Indonesiamatters (IM). Ordinary Indonesians who can comprehend any english language might have thought that IM is better than FPI or Sabili. In fact, only language rules out the difference.

    I will take your point about intellectuals who produce dominant discourse, however. I realise that this is becoming a bit too much to handle.

    I will have a nice day, regardless!


  3. timdog says:

    From a standpoint of nothing more than literary criticism, perhaps it would have been better if the original piece was written in a voice that lay somewhere between spew’s pseudo-academia and kinch’s sizzling rant…

    I’ve read the article twice, and I’m afraid to say I am still not at all clear about what spew really thinks – a shame in a section entitled “opinion”.


    During the riots as well as attacks on Chinese property and rapes of Chinese women, there were also some attacks on Indonesian Arab property and accounts of rapes of Indonesian Arab women. I have always felt that that fact ought to have some significance in the “discourse” – but I’m not quite sure what…

  4. rima says:

    I remember being in fear at home during the May riots. Fortunately, we lived in South of Jakarta, where the looters weren’t so many and we had the military protecting our area, but I remember how we could hear from several kilometres away the sounds of people shouting, still gives me the shivers.

    After the riots, I heard stories from my friends who lived in the West of Jakarta, of rapes and looting, I knew many who fled the country out of fear for their lives (and one family whose daughter was gang raped by 5 men). It really saddened me.

    When I heard the government dismissing the claims of rape and abuse, it saddened me even more (especially because I knew it happened – I was working in a radio station at the time and my journalist friends had pictures of the riots, rapes, and the victims etc).

    Although these unspeakable acts were as you say ‘a manifestation of frustration derived from imbalance economic status between Chinese and non-Chinese.’ it really is not an excuse and certainly don’t make it right.

    I agree with kinch on most things but especially on his last paragraph about the Chinese. The fact is, we are all Indonesians, but more important we are all human. The atrocities committed in the May riots are acts of animals, there is no excuse and it should never happen again, to anyone.

    As for understanding what happened back then, I think what’s more important is how the government should finally accept that it really happened, and acknowledge it. It is a great shame on our faces that once upon a time the govt denied those atrocities (the rapes) even took place.

  5. kinch says:

    (Oops! Sorry I forgot to close the link tag in previous post. Moderator please feel free to delete that one.)

    I wrote a ‘sizzling rant’ with eyes wide open because such mental constipation afflicting spew-it-all requires a powerful enema. I didn’t particularly mean it to be ad-hominem, but some ideas are just so retarded that you can’t attack them without some reference to the holder of said ideas – especially when you don’t have time to go dream up a Socratic Dialogue which gradually and gently pillories the misguided.

    Anyway, spew-it-all, no personal malice was/is intended and I am sure you are kind to your children and pets and an all-round nice guy/gal in daily life… this is not remotely connected to the fact that at the same time I have nothing but contempt for your cogitations on the topic of May 1998.

    Dialectic. Learn to love it(tm).

    You might go take a look at this and see whether or not your disease is incurable:

    >>>I’ve read the article twice, and I’m afraid to say I am still not at all clear about what spew really thinks – a shame in a section entitled “opinion”.

    Naturally. In fact how could spew be sure what spew really thinks since in his/her reply to me, he/she seems to think that ‘theories’ are interchangeable… it’s an interesting little Glass Bead Game for some maybe… although even there, the social science types have gone and got it wrong… because their po-mo one-upmanship games don’t really have any objective stable rules. Anyone with a bit of mathematical maturity knows that the most interesting games (e.g. Go, Hold’em) generate great complexity and intellectual depth out of the constant rigorous application of a very small number of simple objective rules. Perhaps ‘Glass Bead Circle Jerk’ says it better. Oops! There I go again 🙂

    Rima, I too know quite a few Indonesian Chinese from Glodok, Pluit, etc.. and what happened in 1998 deserves to be written about and remembered with the merciless eyes of Truth and Objectivity. Unfortunately, you’ll have to go a long way from the Academy before you find a place where a spade is a spade and not an patriarchy-manifested excavation implement for interrogating the dominant terrestrial silica substrate’s narrative.

    As for any facing up to the historical facts in Indonesia itself… dream on. Never going to happen… which unfortunately means that the amok cycle repeats every few decades. Just fact of life… nothing for it but to live in the right areas and have one or two family pet generals… you know the drill.

  6. spew-it-all says:


    Admittedly, the last paragraph shows that the article is not well articulate. Initially, i wanted to post it without ‘discourse analysis’. There are some reasons why i use discourse analysis in the article, however.

    Firstly, the riots are associated with cultural representation of Indonesian. We like running amok. There is no further explanation apart from concluding that the riots were manifestation of that cultural behaviour innately found within Indonesia. Now, is this true? Are Indonesians barbaric? Does running amok exclusively belong to Indonesian culture? What happened with Cronulla riot in Sydney? Oh we can just say that what happened in Cronulla was not Aussies running amok. It’s more working class or Lebanese people. Why only Malay or Melayu who has this ‘cultural behaviour’?

    Secondly, the riots are often seen as a culmination of tension between pribumi and non-pribumi. It’s naturally anti-Chinese violence that occured during the transition period. Again, is that really true? If there is an intense hostility toward Chinese people why did violence break out spontaneously in several cities? Coincidence seems inadequate to explain this phenomenon.

    Thirdly, when people are talking about the riots, first thing that comes to their mind is the rapes cases. Even scholars draw their attentions to sexual assaults towards Chinese women. I am not denying the rapes. But were the riots only about the rapes? Are they the only victims? What happened to more than thousand people who were trapped in malls and died? There seems to be a general assumption that says urban poor who were burnt to death are the perpetrators and the Chinese are the victims. They died because they looted the shopping centres. As comparison, you might like to think of homosexuals who were persecuted during Nazi era. These homosexuals were imprisoned or castrated but after they served their sentences they were sent to the frontier. You may have disagreed with me in this respect, but my aim was that depicting the whole picture of violence, either in Nazi case or May riots, will enable us to see the position of victims.

    All of these clearly shows how the riots are represented. Media, the government, and perhaps scholars take part on constructing the images of the riots. The last paragraph was actually talking about how these images can be contested by looking at the existence of the victims but without dividing them based on racial lines.

    I did some research about this. The fact finding team concluded that the riots were orchestrated. In the reports, it says that there are similiarity in pattern: bunch of people wearing school uniforms provoked people to loot. While they were going into the buildings, some people were pouring gasoline around the building and set the building on fire. However, i haven’t came across any evidence that Arab properties were attacked. If i have so, i might find out further as to whether the attack is driven by anti-Arab or the mass does not know who own the buildings.

    When i am writing this, I am not acting like a person who sits on my ivory tower and jot down my ideas on the riots. For five years, i regularly accompanied victims families whose members were death in shopping centres and whose shops were destroyed. Prior to that, i was deeply involved in the investigation team. My friend and i have a meeting on regular basis with these victims. Interestingly, the Chinese victims did not show their resentment towards the ‘pribumi’ victims-albeit they might have been worry to mingle.

    Last thing, discourse analysis does not exclusively belong to literary criticism. Yes, literary theories started it off first. But now, discourse analysis becomes sort of Darwinism in 19th century in that the discourse virus spreads endemically across diciplines in humanities. You have Escobar in anthropology and in the indonesian case, Tom Boellstorff with his book: The Gay Archipelago. In history, ‘postcolonial’ historians such as Dipesh Chakrabarty or Catherine Hall are using discourse theories. Many historical writings on sexuality and colonialism are often using discourse analysis which irritate Marxist historians.

    I am not sure what do you mean by ‘pseudo-academia’. But if that the label you give me, i feel honoured.

  7. timdog says:

    kinch – I’m by no means certain that I agree with you in entirety, but you are an absolute pleasure to read – more power to you!

  8. spew-it-all says:


    I knew it that you are actually a nice person. I apologise if i got it wrong.

    I have to disagree with you on truth and objectivity. If we are talking about history, then it’s misleading to assume that the past is like a log that turned into dust and to obtain truth we have to put them back together. Even though we are able to stick them back together, we cannot be sure if what we would have is the same log. The past is seen through our present eyes. So our position in temporal sense will alter any events on which we are going to re-write. Long debate on epistemology which is summarised in the question ”what is the thing in itself?” did not eventually result in giving a clear answer. I am afraid we will slip into the dichotomy of apriori and aposteriori.

    Unfortunately, those who favours Ranke’s method of historiography have to admit that objectivity is a noble dream. Paradigms in historiography have changed. So have the idea of truth. I know this might lead us to cultural relativism which may be used to justify the murder of certain ethnic groups. Yet, what should be emphasised is the honesty of using sources.

    I would not be that fatalist to believe that we are Indonesians like to run amok. If we like to run amok, why some people choose not to loot or act violently?

  9. spew-it-all says:


    Although these unspeakable acts were as you say ‘a manifestation of frustration derived from imbalance economic status between Chinese and non-Chinese.’ it really is not an excuse and certainly don’t make it right.

    You don’t get me. I am talking about representation. How the riots were represented and ‘manifestation of frustration’ is one of the representations. I am, of course, challenging it. I joined mailing list where there was a heated debate on rapes. I was contesting any ideas that rapes were hoax used by Chinese to discredit Indonesia. I also rebuffed any ideas that what happened during the riots was merely people angry because they were jealous with Chinese economic conditions. You can check in one mailing list called and type keyword ‘perkosaan massal’ in the search engine. If you are patient enough, you can read the whole discussion.

  10. timdog says:

    Spew – sorry I hadn’t seen your post when I responded with my brief compliment to Kinch…

    I’m afraid “pseudo-academic” was not intended as a compliment.

    I myself am well aware of varying approaches to history; what’s more I have my own very definite ideas about how the topic should, and how it should not, be tackled.
    I outlined them here: (I’m afraid I got rather over-enthusiastic about the topic in hand – you’ll find my take on “history” at the beginning of my fourth post).
    I believe I did so clearly, and I felt no need for recourse to such statements as “those who favours Ranke’s method of historiography have to admit that objectivity is a noble dream” which would have served only to alienate the casual reader, and pompously to demonstrate – in what is not after all an academic forum – just how much I know…

    I love language and its use; I love the little frisson of pleasure I get when I read words that spark and crackle – like kinch’s – or when I manage to craft a sizzling sentence of my own…
    I was alienated in my own formal study of history by the way such concerns were considered superfluous and frivolous by many in the field…
    There seems to me to be an absurd idea that to approach a topic with seriousness and gravitas it is necessary to do so with wanton, willful linguistic obscurantism and utterly objectiveless use of “big words”…
    This reaches its most pathetic – and visibly insecure – manifestation where the rare historian who does write with sizzling, crackling language will invariably be tagged with the insulting label “pop historian”, no matter how sound their method, approach or training.
    Entirely because of this I abandoned formal study of history for study of journalism – low brow and a poor cousin in comparison, but a field in which we were certainly encouraged to say exactly what we meant in the simplest possible terms…

    So, I now think I am correct in surmising that your position is this: “amok” as a unique aspect of the “Malay character” (oooo! I also get a wicked little frisson of pleasure when I resurrect outrageous colonialist language;-) ) is a myth; and the interpretation of the 1998 riots as a simple expression of “frustration”, prompted largely by economic inequality between “pribumi” and Chinese is at best far too simplistic, and at worst completely inaccurate… right?

    If this is what you meant, why the hell didn’t you just say it – without the “pseudo-academia”? Had you done so then we might right now be discussing that very matter. Instead we are totally bogged down, with Kinch taking your original piece to pieces with blistering swagger, and me bickering about prose style in the writing of history…


    Attacks on Arabs in May 98 were reported in Surabaya.

  11. sputjam says:

    All that mayhem in ’98 is nothing but a smoke screen for a coup-de-tat.
    It’s been done before, ’69 race riots in malaysia, whereby a moderate leader had to make way, by resignation, for an ultra right wing malay leadership, the very same people who instigated the riot.

    In Indonesia’a case, I am unsure who started the whole riot thing rolling. Before the riots started, I was told, singaporeeans stayed away from indonesia, and some of them were airlifted out including from places like Pekan baru, with some local elite chinese, by their armed forces.(cannot be verified)

    aftermath of the riots, indonesians were forced to sell their assets for peanuts, incluidng those owned by the govenrment and local chinese businesses as part of IMF bailouts. The biggest investors in indonesia presently just happens to be singapore government.

    Was there foreign power involved in the riots? If not, then which local warlord benefitted from the riots.

    To top it off, when democracy was eventually restored, indonesian had to appoint a less than ideal, half sighted, leader to clean up the mess. Was the election rigged? who knows what documents he could have signed. He could have given indonesia away unknowingly for all we know.

    malay race are known to sell their dignity for a small fortune. that is why europeans found them easy to manipulate and ovewhelm. They are like pawns in a came of chess., dispensible. The british colonised the malay peninsular, pitching sultans against their brother or vice versa. The british did not require a huge army to rule the malay states, as long as the ruler accept a british advisor, otherwise, he will be overthrown by his relative.

  12. spew-it-all says:


    So, I now think I am correct in surmising that your position is this: “amok” as a unique aspect of the “Malay character” (oooo! I also get a wicked little frisson of pleasure when I resurrect outrageous colonialist language;-) ) is a myth; and the interpretation of the 1998 riots as a simple expression of “frustration”, prompted largely by economic inequality between “pribumi” and Chinese is at best far too simplistic, and at worst completely inaccurate… right?

    You get me right!

    Thanks for your post. It seems that we are getting somewhere. Honestly i get a bit annoyed when all criticism is centred on “objectivity”. What was that? Should we go back to ancient times and dig up all verbose ideas on objectivity? In this respect, i decided to talk about Ranke. But don’t get me wrong mate, i was not intending to show off how much i know about historiography. Rather, it’s sort of reminder that going back to epistemological question is pointless.

    Interesting to know that you finally abandoned history for journalism. I wouldn’t call any historians who write with clarity and simplicity as pop historian. People can say anything about postmodernism but one is certain that postmodernism breaks down the hierarchy pop historians and ‘historians’. I haven’t thought of abandoning history as my major, and am not planning to either.

    As for my writing, readers should take your advise on simplicity. Why can’t people ask a simple question when they don’t understand? For example, sorry spew, i don’t quite understand why do you mean in your writing? Unfortunately, what i get are ”my ass”, ”crap”, ”shame” then any question that asks me to elaborate more.

    Last thing, timdog, i agree with you that some poststructuralist-influenced writers seem to be bogged down by big fuzz words and theories.

    Apologise if my last riposte sounded a bit arrogant and might have given the impression of alienating readers.


  13. kinch says:

    Sputjam – you missed a golden opportunity to blame it on the Joos. You know… Lee Kwan Yewkelstein. And while I think of it, there’s 10 billion barrels of oil underneath Monas and they’re slowly siphoning that off with a very long drinking straw.

    Timdog – unfortunately I’m a one trick literary pony – I can only do mean. I blame it on my upbringing, and the Singaporajoos. I’m also big on ellipses… and sloth when it comes to punctuation.

  14. ausdag says:

    Does running amok exclusively belong to Indonesian culture? What happened with Cronulla riot in Sydney? Oh we can just say that what happened in Cronulla was not Aussies running amok. It’s more working class or Lebanese people. Why only Malay or Melayu who has this ‘cultural behaviour’?

    Because it’s not ‘cultural behaviour’. Have you noticed the rest of the world – Americans in My Lai? killings in Sudan, Darfur?; the daily accounts of random murder, rape, torture in the mass media….it’s nothing more than human nature. We are a depraved species. Simple as that. Each one of us is just as capable as anyone else of committing the same acts. Ever done something and then asked yourself later, “why the hell did I do that??”

  15. Marisa says:

    Eventhough I’m not an Indo-Chinese–I look like one though, May 1998 is the time when I learned the concept of “being a minority”. That’s the period when there are many of us realize: oh ..they don’t like us here, are they?. So, yeah.
    I am proud to say, nonetheless, that my mother –sadly, dad was out of town– refused to hang “milik pribumi” sign or something like that in front of our house.

    Feisty debate up there. Kinda funny as well. It’s like one of those debates about Iraq or Palestine or whatever, but when spew-it-all wrote “gloomy stories such as those who were burnt to death in the shopping centres” ..that place is just few kilometres away from my house and the other is just one mikrolet ride away.

    Actually, I was going to write an article on the subject myself. But then, I was too young to perceive May 1998 as how most of you here do, right now. All I can remember, those who are my age did try to live through it, we sure our own weird ways in facing the psychological stress, then we let go of the memories. We repressed it so hard, we literally forgotten all about it. And it is our right to not want to remember. It is our, and everyone’s, essential right to feel safe in this country.

    All we can do now is to respect and encourage pluralism in Indonesia, not only during debates or merely as a ‘personal opinion’, but as our value and oath as a human being. Those who cannot, are as animals as those who are responsible for the mass rapes and the brutal violence in May 1998.

  16. spew-it-all says:

    Because it’s not ‘cultural behaviour’. Have you noticed the rest of the world – Americans in My Lai? killings in Sudan, Darfur?

    I have indeed noticed them, ausdag. I concur with your view. Interestingly, if you type ”malay + amok” in google scholar, you will see that this label appears in psychiatry, medicine and culture journals. Why the hell are these scientists talking about? Why do they make cultural label which sound very subjugating? What can we say about this? Are they just mad scientists who think that human can be categorised easily?

  17. kinch says:

    We are indeed a depraved species. All humans are equally tarred by that brush. But some cultures are more dysfunctional than others. And different nations/cultures are mad in different ways.

    In the case of Indonesians / Malays, there really is such a thing as ‘amok’ which manifests itself in individuals and in mobs.

    Arabs have certain psycho-pathologies about women and Jews. Westerners think that the Polar Bears are all going to drown. Thais think there’s a ghost under every bed. It’s a mad, mad world.

    Next news bulletin at 6.

  18. Marisa says:

    Sorry, should’ve been..

    Eventhough I’m not an Indo-Chinese–I look like one though, May 1998 is when I learned the concept of “being a minority” for the first time. That was the period when there were many of us realized: oh ..they don’t like us here, are they?. So, yeah.

  19. kinch says:


    If Malays and Javanese run amok (and there is no doubt that they do from time to time… unless we’re living in parallel universes), is this not just a FACT? How is it culturally subjugating? If I fart after eating too many beans, should it not be written about because it might embarrass me? Assuming of course that I’m not caucasian. White people can always be criticised as colonial oppressors and orientalising alienators of those they ‘subjugate’.

    Slight digression: Since you appear to have a slight bee under your bonnet about colonialist subjugation, presumably you do not approve of Javanese people ruling over (say) Minahasans and Papuans?

    Anyway, regarding ‘amok’, if I were of Malay extraction, I would be slightly concerned that this word was probably my culture’s major contribution to the OED :).

  20. Deng Xiao Phing says:

    on 19 May 2008, the Channel News Asia will present ‘the unfinish reformasi of Indonesia’ from May 98 to May 2008.
    In Indonesia ? after 1 decade away, people are silent and okay that there are no trials against the culprits behind the anti chinese riots. We see Wiranto, Prabowo are eyeing presidential post, Syafrie Samsudin doing his business as usual. In Indonesia, accountability as public servants are basically ZERO.
    It is okay to be an incompetent army general, unable to pin-point the riot master-minds at the expense of the minority citizen of Indonesia. It is okay to be the next Indonesia president who do nothing to bring the May 98 rioters into justice. It is okay to see people run amok without any prosecutions.

    Therefore, it is expected to see Indonesia continues under multi dimensional crises after 1 decade elpse time, it is okay to see the poor became poorer, and it is okay the indonesia chinese surrendering their green passports back to immigration offices for another better countries …

    Live must go on, frankly Deng Xiao Phing encouraging all the chinese Indonesia to leave this barbaric country & bring your assets with you for your next country destination … it is okay, don’t worry & the immigration officers won’t beg you to stay in Republic Indonesia anyway … they just don’t care about your existance … the attitude ingrain into their blood cells & DNA indeed.
    Btw .. when u surrender your WNI to the nearest immigration office, they will ask you to pay money for paying to ‘the approved attorney’ to witness your renounciation of citizenship … amazing isn’t ? they will squeeze your pocket until very last minute ! amazing barbaric & indecent Indonesia system …..

  21. spew-it-all says:


    I am worried if i respond to your post, i will be commended with words such as ‘crap’, ‘my ass’ or the like. anyway, let’s move on, okay?

    I am a bit suspicious over fact that are products of science. Amok or amuk in Javanese language means rage. Never did i know about the word amuk telling more about Malay culture or identity. When the word is grasped by science and then theoritical frameworks give the foundation, hocus pocus and the truth comes out: Amok is malay culture or in their worlds, culture-bound syndrome innately found in malay people. What happens if people never run amok for the rest of their lives? Does it mean they can purify themselves or find antidote for this ‘cultural disease’?

    I can’t deny that Majapahit was colonialist.

  22. timdog says:

    Hey! We’re over that initial bumpy patch and up and running!

    As for “amok” – I just looked it up in Hobson-Jobson (the mighty 1886 Anglo-Indian encyclopedia, an absolute treasure trove which I warmly recommend to anyone). Hobson-Jobson runs to 5 pages on the topic:

    …this expression came from the Malay countries where both the phrase and the practice are still familiar… the best explanation of the fact is perhaps that it was the Malay national method of committing suicide, especially as one never hears of Malays committing suicide in any other way… it has further been suggested that the extreme monotonous heat of the Peninsula may have conduced to such outbreaks as those of Running amuck…

    Glorious stuff! Frissons of naughty delight all round!
    Hobson-Jobson then goes on to attempt to trace the etymology, and to list endless examples of non-Malays “running amuck” – rather undermining the idea of it as a unique Malay tendency…

    However, I have to say, I have had one educated, liberal Indonesian insist to me that “amok” does indeed exist, and is indeed a unique and innate aspect of the “Indonesian character”. I, tormented Western liberal that I am (despite my guilty penchant for Hobson-Jobson), was outraged. I had this conversation just after a particularly fiery outbreak of mayhem courtesy of those vigourous young sports enthusiasts the bonek.
    I protested – did he know nothing of the long-standing British tendency to dreadful football-violence? Surely “amok” was every bit as much a part of the British character as the Indonesian.
    He wouldn’t have it: Indonesians have a special and unique love of mengamok, he insisted…
    Now, my natural reaction would be to dismiss him as suffering from post-colonial inferiority complex and that very real Indonesian trait of national self-deprecation… but – whisper it! – could he be right?

  23. kinch says:

    Spew, I can’t call your last posting crap because the main para simply does not compute.

    Seriously, I suggest you drop the jargon and try expressing yourself in words of one and two syllables as much as humanly possible. You are clearly quite an intelligent person, but have confused some artifacts of recent western intellectual degeneracy courtesy of Gramsci and his misbegotten spawn for the far more difficult (but also more rewarding) process of actually thinking.

    Thought is actually a very painful and troublesome process, which is why most of the human race goes out of its way to avoid rigorous thought. That, however, is why the Good Lord gave us the modern social science faculty.

    Real thought and intellectual progress does not come from regurgitation of talismanic phrases (‘interrogate the X’, etc.) and it also has nothing to do with amusing and unusual juxtapositions of different subjects like aboriginal lesbian ornithologists and the poetry of the late Tang Dynasty. It’s something else again… but it’s unlikely you have ever been exposed to it. The best I can do is suggest that you hie yourself to the nearest bookshop and invest in a copy of ‘Intellectuals’ by Paul Johnson and a Penguin Classics collection of Plato’s Dialogues.

    Also, as I suggested earlier in some link… go take a look at the Alan Sokal site and see what kind of fools po-mos make of themselves when they venture out of the sheltered workshop and into the big boys’ playground.

    Amusingly, one of my favourite books is called ‘Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs’. The title is in part a sly dig at some of their colleagues in other (shall we say) less rigorous faculties. But get this: the book actually *is* about the structure and interpretation of various aspects of the art/science of computation… now who would have thought of that? Something actually being what it says it is.

  24. kinch says:

    Hobson-Jobson, chota pegs, punkah wallahs… those were the days! I’m trying to remember where I last saw a real punkah (albeit electrically powered) – certainly in my youth in a certain nameless (or Spew might get a bit too excited) African country, but possibly in a Jakarta hotel’s public spaces?… really can’t remember but I know it was in the last few years and somewhere in SE Asia.

    I spent 7 years in HK a while back and it’s interesting that two bits of East India Company commercial terminology survive there in local usage: ‘Godown’ for warehouse and ‘Shroff’ for cashier.

  25. timdog says:

    Hobson-Jobson says:

    SHROFF, s. Arab. – A money-changer… used by Europeans in China as well as in India… from the same root comes Heb. soref, ‘a goldsmith’… SHROFF, TO, v. – applied properly to the sorting of different rupees…

    PUNKAH, s. Hind. – in its original sense a portable fan… but the specific application in Anglo-Indian colloquial is to the large, fixed and swinging fan… the date of the introduction of this machine into India is not know… more remarkable passages are those which we take from Dozy [!] and from El-Fakhri, which show that the true Anglo-Indian punkah was known by the Arabs as early as the 8th century…

    Hey! Here’s an idea – how about we employ them all as old-style punkah-pullers? This would do away with the need for air-conditioning and thereby greatly reduce our carbon footprint, while at the same time ensuring that none of them have enough energy to run amok – now that’s a post-modern thought if ever there was one… 😉

  26. Jen says:

    I thank you, Spew, for this article.

  27. kinch says:

    You’re forgetting the carbon emissions of all the kreteks they would be puffing on whilst they were pulling on the punkah ropes…. not that that would be a bad thing. One of my favourite smells in all the world is the whiff of it one gets as soon as one hits the terminal building at CGK. Positively perks me up, and I’m a non-smoker to boot.

    But as a form of gainful employment, yes – far too many people are filling their heads with half-baked notions in universities when they would be better off pulling on a *rope* instead.

    VS Naipaul, sitting on the verandah of the Muthaiga Country Club in Kenya and seeing a certain local walk past in the street famously exclaimed: ‘Watch out for that one – he’s carrying a book!’

  28. timdog says:


    You said that name!!!!! AAIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

    V.S. NAIPAUL! Those words have a violent effect on me – namely they cause me to RUN AMOK!
    If you scan down through this:
    you’ll see what happens…

    AAAIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! AMOK AMOK AMOK! Kill the Nobel Laureate!

    ahem… i do have to admit though that that’s a good line from the old bastard..

  29. PrimaryDrive says:

    I’m afraid kinch has a valid point. Spew does not add anything new. I must say I also hate expensive words if simpler ones can do; but that’s probably due to my own inferior english.

  30. kinch says:

    Hahaha… he IS an old bastard… but he’s certainly no Hindu fundamentalist or obscurantist – reading ‘India – A Million Mutinies Now’ would put that to rest pretty quick. Considering a good deal of his early output is about deracination (2nd or 3rd generation West Indies, etc.), It’s pretty clear that he’s another well-defined and interesting type: the outsider who becomes Head Prefect (Harry Lee Kwan Yew being another one of these), only to discover that Bunter and the lower 5th have decamped to Notting Hill and started an NGO to promote gay marriage. Tends to make a fellow crotchety.

    I love the quote… can’t remember where I came across it… got a bit of the Frank Muir about it, but it belongs in Chapter 1 of ‘All You Need to Know about Africa’ shortly after the bit about ‘Mistah Kurtz, he dead’.

    ‘Digressing about the witch hunt thread a little: unlike Ross, I rather like Pram’s Big Book ™ and some of his others too. The guy (like most humans) was an asshole whenever he had power over others, but having lived in the first half of the 20th century and been a communist is a bit like having lived in a whorehouse and contracted syphilis – would have been miraculous if he had turned out otherwise.

Comment on “May 1998 Jakarta Riots”.

RSS feed

Copyright Indonesia Matters 2006-2023
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Contact