Examining International and Indonesian Responses to H5N1 Influenza – Cindy Lin

Examining International and Indonesian Responses to H5N1 Influenza

Cindy Lin


In this paper, I will discuss two protracted responses towards the H5N1 influenza outbreak in Indonesia – the Participatory Disease Surveillance and Response (PDSR) designed and imple- mented from 2005 to 2010 and the aftermath of Indonesia’s refusal to share viral samples with WHO from 2007 to 2011. From Indonesian governmental and international responses, I attempt to demonstrate how discussions on biosecurity, risk control and development differ and in turn, emphasize how borders of modern-state Indonesia were shaped differently by these two events. This article addresses the less conspicuous relationships between biological materials and sovereignty in Indonesia and how these associations are operationalised and instrumentalised by different levels of governance. In the first case study, we will observe how PDSR serves as form of surveillance to monitor and regulate backyard poultry farmers on how to be clean, healthy and non-contagious, implying that the modern citizen is an individual capable of self-managing his or her own health. In the second case study, we will examine how and why the Indonesian government suspended sample sharing with World Health Organization (WHO). This refusal to share and cooperate with international developmental agencies was later, perceived as a threat to global health security.

I argue that while interventionist international responses to contain influenza projected poverty unto marginal villagers largely unattended by the central government, the government’s refusal to share viral samples reemphasizes nation-state sovereignty and highlights the disparities between Global North and South. The H5N1 pandemic which was increasingly viewed in terms of secu- rity led to differing receptions from both Indonesia and the international sphere. One protracted event highlighted the implications of threatened sovereignty and the other refuted its permea- bility to reassert Indonesia as a country capable of consenting to participation in global health surveillance and security.

Background Information

The country’s first confirmed human case is a 38 year‐old government auditor living in a Jakarta suburb on July 2005 [1]. By mid-2005, the virus had reached 31 out of 33 provinces [2]. Econom- ic losses surmounted to over $500 million with more than “2.5 million workers in the poultry industry affected” by August 2005 [3]. Indonesia suffered the highest number of human H5N1 cases and deaths in the world. Indonesians’ huge reliance on poultry also indicated large changes in consumption and daily living with the extensive surveillance, checks and controls conducted by contracted trained teams of vets who trawled neighbourhoods practising backyard poultry farming.

The H5N1 influenza pandemic received unprecedented international mobilization and fund rais- ing among the wealthier nations in the global North, especially the USA. In just four months

from “President Bush’s speech to the UN on 14 September 2005 to the close of the Beijing confer- ence on 18 January 2006” [4], over 100 countries were engaged, a new UN office was established, and US$1.8 billion was raised [5]. At the same time, in 2007, the Indonesian government pulled out of the Global Influenza Surveillance Network (GISN) and justified its action by emphasizing on the origins of the H5N1 (avian influenza) virus and thus, Indonesia’s inherent entitlement to determine the usage and spread of these viral samples. Indonesian state authorities’ proclamation of sovereignty over biological materials drew negative critiques from the international communi- ty as a lack of international cooperation in assuring global health security.

Biosecurity and Sovereignty

To understand biosecurity, I will employ the definition adopted by Aihwa Ong. She defines biosecurity as an “emerging set of thinking and practices through which the state protects and leverages bioresources by placing constraints on the free market forces.” [6] Biosecurity engages “new practices and knowledge formations” designed to understand and manage both “disease and security” in innovative ways [7]. Biosecurity is also a response to challenges within weak- ened public health systems, the “return of the microbe” in the form of new frightening diseases like SARS and West Nile virus and the ongoing battle against the AIDS epidemic [8]. Biosecuri- ty also extends to political events such as the post-September 11 World Trade Center bombing where biological threats in the form of posted letters contained deadly anthrax bacteria [9]. There emerges, in these aforementioned events, a sense of being threatened, endangered and in dire times, requiring of preventive interventions [10]. Where the dangerous non-human is concerned, it is also depicted as protectable, manageable and controllable. Along the same vein, intervention measures employed to control the spread of H5N1 influenza in Indonesia allow me to analyse how national sovereignty, biosecurity and science interact.

To think about the H5N1 influenza in the global scale does not eliminate the possibilities to talk about nationalism. It is precisely how the epidemic was framed as a “global” threat to biosecurity that I will be able to explicate how the self-acknowledged responsibility espoused by particular groups of people such as intergovernmental and international aid agencies to prepare and elim- inate the epidemic contest certain nation-state boundaries. Furthermore, the fear of “bioinsecu- rity” allows wealthier nations to construct risk around Southeast Asia biosphere so that unsafe bodies can be kept within dangerous borders [11]. These international interventions did not enhance Indonesia’s sovereignty and at times, threatened to disrupt these boundaries by eclipsing what was more important to Indonesia. In Celia Lowe’s words, it might appear to be “an attempt to protect the security of the United States by intervening ‘there’ before the problem came ‘here’— in other words it seemed not unlike the global war on terror.” [12].

Case Study 1: PDSR Biosecurity and Developmental Ideologies

International Development Agencies and Poverty Lens

The Indonesian government was in a difficult position to negotiate with the well-funded and specialized international developmental agencies who designed responses that projected notions of poverty to Indonesia’s rural villages. Since early 2006, FAO’s main activity in Indonesia was the revised Participatory Disease Surveillance (PDS) programme – the Participatory Disease Surveil- lance and Response (PDSR) programme. This programme recommended a “community-based response” to prevent disease spread through the collaboration of Indonesians to provide infor- mation on the location, date and time of outbreaks [13]. However, FAO review of PDSR detected that there was no interrelationship between “reported human case rate” and quantity of backyard family poultry [14]. Moreover, the association between poverty and being “risky” was largely propagated by USAID’s large monetary and logistical investments in PDSR responses to cast poverty and thus, uncivil living as integral to poorer households [15]. In other words, USAID, a pro-poor development agency, was less concerned about funding relevant interventions than to give out funds to targeted populations who exemplified as ideal receivers of the agency’s mission. The developmental ideology only exists insofar as rural backyard poultry became emblems of both risk and uncivility. The huge amount of funding enjoyed by the Indonesian government also meant that other factors which could have caused the spread of avian influenza were not consid- ered. The funding incentivises the Indonesian government for not playing a significant role in the investigation of other viral spread causal factors.

The perception that the government was largely inefficient and unresponsive to global health security was aggravated by how international responses wanted biological hazards to be only con- fined within Indonesia. Indonesia was surveyed by the global health community and was forced, implicitly, to conform to regulations which may not be relevant to Indonesians’ ways of managing crisis. Komnas FBPI [16] funded by the Indonesian government, USAID, UNICEF, CIDA [17], JICA [18] and the World Bank developed Indonesia’s “National Strategic Plan for Avian Influen- za Control and Pandemic Preparedness,” as a response to the international mandate that every country has “a preparedness plan.” [19]. To conform to Global North’s standard for risk manage- ment, Indonesia’s borders were penetrated and predefined by how safe Indonesia was to countries outside of its borders. Even though Indonesian residents living in rural areas refused vaccination despite their prior observations on patterns of infection, their intentions were ignored by In- donesian authorities and international specialists in PDSR survey teams [20]. The PDSR team whose methodology sought to source for “community-based” knowledge in preventing pandemic spread refused to acknowledge the community’s request [21]. It was clear that the developmental ideology persist in Indonesia’s lack of participation in the PDSR programme, further reaffirming international agencies’ poverty lens in controlling and monitoring the epidemic. Indonesia’s bor- ders were permeable to the extensive inputs of international agencies who wanted Indonesia to be biosecure for the sake of wealthier nations’ economies and populations.

“Ibukota” and Modernity

However, this projection of poverty unto rural villages was not exclusive in how the Global North saw the South. The Indonesian government’s focus on capital cities’ development perpetuated
the imagined village as underdeveloped, unhygienic and thus, unmodern. I argue that the design of both the Indonesian state and international responses towards alleviating the ramifications of influenza spread prove erroneous insofar as the Indonesian government maintained the ideology of developmental nationalism only within certain privileged districts in Indonesia.

The ambitions to clean up Jakarta stemmed from the “centralising and self‐serving pembanguan development ideology of the Suharto era”. Developmental nationalism was manifest when both Suharto and Sutiyoso, then Jakarta governor’s (1997 – 2007) ideologies on development focused on the “visible order” of the capital, Ibukota (Mother city) [22]. Prioritizing the trimness of ibu- kota over enacting prevention measures outside of the city [23], developmental nationalism in ibukota was materialized in the form of policies. Both Suharto, the 2nd president of Indone- sia (1967 – 1998) and Sutiyoso sanctioned two decrees to instruct the illegality of unregistered domestic birds and inspections for monitoring the presence of uncertified animals [24]. If found to be infected with the H5N1 virus, these infected birds will be culled and owners will be com- pensated with Rp12,500 per bird [25]. Such policies exemplified the misplaced concerns of Indonesian authorities who were interested in the public image of Indonesia and how it reflected on them. Not only had international developmental agencies sought to permeate and redefine dangerous borders, the Indonesian government had reinforced these borders by propagating developmental ideologies in the making of ibukota.

Case Study 2: Viral Sample Sharing

Threatened Global Health Security

In the second case study, the Indonesian government tacitly exemplified the disparity in acces- sibility to healthcare between Global North and Global South by choosing to protect viral sam- ples for vaccine making within Indonesia’s boundaries. It became salient that the interests of the developing and the developed nations do not always meet, particularly with regard to the issue of viral sample sharing for pre-pandemic vaccines.

Indonesia’s sovereignty was threatened when the World Health Organization (WHO) shared
viral samples from the H5N1 outbreak with an affiliated pharmaceutical company without the knowledge of Indonesian authorities. Viral strains were used to make patented vaccines and sold to Indonesians at unaffordable prices. Patents stifled the sharing of virus samples necessary for Indonesia’s development of their own vaccines and did little to reduce Indonesia’s high rate of H5N1 outbreaks. In response, Indonesia state agencies depicted unconsented viral sample shar- ing as a form of biopiracy [26], violating countries’ sovereign control of their biological resources. The Indonesian authorities stopped viral sample sharing with WHO and proposed for sharing to only resume if a revised Material Transfer Agreement is signed among other proposed reforms [27]. Indonesia’s move was perceived as a threat to global health security by other parties involved in this protracted event. This was exemplified in how developed countries framed the issue of health as of particular concern to global ties and security [28].


Sovereignty is conceived differently in this case study when Indonesian authorities reconfigured the status quo between Global South and Global North through resisting biological and in turn, economic and political power over developing countries. When claiming the WHO’s under- handed ways of obtaining samples as “biopiracy”, Indonesian government’s antagonism towards sharing viral samples was not simply to intimidate the West. It was an unwitting act of resisting power in its very terms by implicitly highlighting how Indonesian borders are constantly pene- trated by international interventions in their mission to stop Influenza spread beyond Indonesia’s “risky” borders. Coupled with international developmental agencies’ immense pressure on trying to obtain effective results in controlling influenza and protecting their borders, I argue that Siti Fadilah Supari, then Indonesian Minister of Health (2004 – 2009) exemplified a figure of Indone- sia’s resistance to ineffective foreign-funded aid.

Nationalistic rhetoric was embedded in Supari’s response towards non-consensual viral sample sharing. She created a new doctrine, which she named as “viral sovereignty” [29]. Viral sov- ereignty, from the health ministry’s perspective, proposes that viruses are a nation’s biological inheritance dependent on their place of origins – nations have exclusive rights to viruses [30]. By employing the concept of sovereignty to prescribe Indonesia’s borders and their rights to bio- logical property, this particular living unit had a sole proprietor – Indonesia. Supari also did not accept WHO’s first concessions – laboratory improvements and free vaccines – in February 2007 and chose to fight for a revised WHO research system and greater accessibility to production of vaccines in Indonesia and other developing countries [31]. Such reforms ensure that the health- care disparity between Global North and Global South can be better mediated. These reforms also reassert how the borders of Indonesia became increasingly distinct and recognizable to other international and Global North powers.


In this paper, I discuss how nation-state borders and sovereignty were emphasized differently in two case studies; both cases concerned the H5N1 outbreak in Indonesia from 2005. In the first case study, we saw how the PDSR programme initiated by FAO and largely encouraged by USAID embroiled poverty in the everyday living of Indonesia’s “rural villagers”. These preventive inter- ventions served the purpose of the Global North in assuring that H5N1 influenza stayed within Indonesia’s dangerous and permeable borders. However, this was not unaccompanied by the Indonesian government’s way of marginalizing non-capital cities and rural areas. In other words, the Global North was not entirely accountable for the pro-poor developmental ideologies which circulated Indonesia during the H5N1 outbreak. Developmental nationalism was opposed in the next case study when viral sample sharing between Indonesia and WHO was halted to decrease the chances of more unaffordable patented vaccines being produced and sold to Indonesians. This fear translated into an emphasis on Indonesia’s sovereignty where it was previously threatened. Supari’s viral sovereignty reaffirmed borders differently from how it was being shaped in the first case study – her borders were firm and sincere to Indonesia and developing countries’ concerns. What is most striking in the study of these two protracted responses is how borders became more influential in times of crisis and how they were differently employed to reinforce or dismantle particular disparities between the North and South. Science and technology elucidates the mak- ing of the nation and nation-state and reemphasizes less prominent ways of understanding the construction of risk, security and development in the Global South.

Cindy Lin is a researcher dedicated to the study of shared technological and scientific spaces, vernacular technologies and intergenerational knowledge exchanges in the Global South. Her previous ethnographic work involved extensive fieldwork on the politics of DIY maker and hacker culture in Indonesia and the flows of scientific and technological information across nation-state boundaries. She will be a PhD Student at the School of Information, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor this Fall 2015.

Works Cited

Forster, William Paul. Risk, modernity and the H5N1 virus in action in Indonesia: A multi‐sited study of the threats of avian and human pandemic influenza. Institute of Development Studies. University of Sussex. January 2012

Forster Paul et Charnoz Olivier, Producing knowledge in times of health crises: Insights from the international response to avian influenza in Indonesia. Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances, 2013/1 Vol. 7, n° 1, p. w-az.

Lowe, Celia. VIRAL CLOUDS: Becoming H5N1 in Indonesia. Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 25, Issue 4, pp. 625–649.

Lowe, Celia. Preparing Indonesia: H5N1 Influenza through the Lens of Global Health. Indonesia. No. 90, Trans-Regional Indonesia over One Thousand Years (October 2010): 147-170

Normile, Dennis. Indonesia Taps Village Wisdom to Fight Bird Flu. Science, New Series, Vol. 315, No. 5808 (Jan. 5, 2007): 30-33.

Ong, Aihwa. Introduction. Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate. Duke University Press Durham and London (2010): 1-51.

Smallman, Shawn. Biopiracy and vaccines: Indonesia and the World Health Organization’s new Pandemic Influenza Plan. PhD, International Studies. Portland State University. 2012. 21- 36.


  1. Celia Lowe, VIRAL CLOUDS: Becoming H5N1 in Indonesia, Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 25, Issue 4, 627.
  2. Forster Paul et Charnoz Olivier, Producing knowledge in times of health crises: Insights from the international response to avian influenza in Indonesia. Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances, 2013/1 Vol. 7, n° 1, p. y.
  3. Priosoeryanto et al., 2005: 146 cited in Forster. “knowledge”, z.
  4. The short span of time required for a significant number of wealthier Global North countries clamouring to raise funds and awareness on the H5N1 virus and containing the risk of outbreak outside Indonesia is remarkable.
  5. William Paul Forster, Risk, modernity and the H5N1 virus in action in Indonesia: A multi‐sited study of the threats of avian and human pandemic influenza, Institute of Development Studies. University of Sussex. January 2012, 61.
  6. Aihwa Ong, Introduction. Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate, Duke University Press Durham and London (2010): 40.
  7. Celia Lowe, Preparing Indonesia: H5N1 Influenza through the Lens of Global Health, Indonesia, No. 90, Trans-Regional Indonesia over One Thousand Years (October 2010): 152.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Aihwa Ong, Introduction. Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate, Duke University Press Durham and London (2010): 26.
  12. Lowe,“clouds”. 629.
  13. Mariner and Roeder, 2003 cited in Forster, “knowledge”, ad.
  14. Forster. “risk”. 22.
  15. Ibid., 17.
  16. National Committee for AI Control and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness
  17. Canadian International Development Agency
  18. Japan International Cooperation Agency
  19. Lowe. “preparing”. 153.
  20. Dennis Normile, Indonesia Taps Village Wisdom to Fight Bird Flu. Science, New Series, Vol. 315, No. 5808 (Jan. 5, 2007): 32.
  21. IIbid.
  22. Forster. “risk”, 125-126.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid., 130.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Shawn Smallman, Biopiracy and vaccines: Indonesia and the World Health Organization’s new Pandemic Influenza Plan. PhD, International Studies. Portland State University. 2012. 20.
  27. Smallman, 23.
  28. Stefan Elbe 2010 cited in Smallman, 26.
  29. Ibid.,25
  30. Ibid.
  31. Khor 2007 cited in Ibid., 26 & 31.


Reflections on Latihan – Thow Xin Wei

Reflections on latihan: one Javanese approach to learning Gamelan

Thow Xin Wei

Because gamelan is a performing art, one often thinks in terms of where and when it’s performed, but I’ve always been more interested in the way it is rehearsed. Perhaps this is because of my own real appreciation of gamelan began when I was invited to my first rehearsal—or latihan—with NUS’s Singa Nglaras Javanese Gamelan ensemble: I must’ve heard the music once or twice before I actually tried playing it but it hadn’t really more of an impression than just a vague memory of seemingly interminable tinkling percussion. And when I tried listening to recordings in those early days, I just wound up being rather confused: apart from the female vocalist, everything else seemed indistinct and complicated. So it was really through latihan that I began enjoying gamelan music.

IMAG0189 - Oom Tommy
The Singa Nglaras Gamelan from NUS

When I recall those first few latihan today, I can still remember how impressed I was that every- thing held together without any apparent conductor, speeding up and slowing down casually and effortlessly, each part independent yet somehow in harmony, like a group of friends going out on a stroll. And the atmosphere was different in intensity from my secondary school and junior college choirs: it was relaxed and amiable, yet remaining dedicated and—somehow—productive.

To this day, I find it a little difficult to explain a latihan to non-gamelan friends. We usually say “rehearsal”, but then people often assume there’s an upcoming show, which might not always
be the case. “Practice” or “Training” captures the sense of open-ended improvement, but sound rather serious for what goes on—there a fair bit of chatting, and quite a lot of snacks. One friend of mine says we’re “jamming”, which captures the informality of the occasion, but—and I’m nit- picking, I know—that sounds like we’re improvising which isn’t exactly it. The best analogy I can think of is a bunch of friends who get together to play soccer on weekends and who might occasionally train up for a friendly competition – it’s nice to win and they hope to improve, but mostly they just want to play.

In 2011, I travelled to Surakarta to study gamelan for a year [1]. This city, commonly called Solo, remains one of the Meccas for gamelan musicians. It is also famous for being the sister city of Yo- gyakarta just a couple of hours by road to the west. Both cities contain palaces which, divested of military strength during Dutch colonialism, expressed their rivalry in the cultural arena, resulting in distinctive styles in their traditions of batik painting, gamelan music, dance and theatre, and Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry). Each city also contains institutes and high schools offering qualifications in traditional arts; they are further nourished by neighboring regions such as Klat- en and Wonogiri with many musician and Dhalang (shadow puppeteer) families.

Despite being less of a tourist destination than Yogyakarta, Solo still exerts its own considerable charm on the foreigners who come to it: during my stay I met people from all over the world who had stayed for years—sometimes decades—and others who returned as often as they could. Many of us were associated with the traditional arts in some way: besides those on the Darmasiswa pro- gramme there were also those who came at their own expense. Some were conducting ethnomu- sicological fieldwork, and many were professors, but at times the academia felt almost peripheral, as if just an excuse to come back and learn, play together, and drink tea.

P1030276+so+serious - Oom Tommy

Under the scholarship I was officially studying at the Institut Seni Indonesia (Surakarta), but a lot of my learning came from the latihan I attended while in Solo. There would usually be one pro- fessional or senior musician leading the group, and the participants were often a mix of experi- enced musicians and casual players. Some groups were fairly serious gatherings that played long, classical repertoire, while in some others the musicians would finish off the session with more upbeat langgam or Sragenan. The repertoire could be planned (especially if there was a show or broadcast coming up), or spontaneously chosen by the players (necessitating thick books of notation for the novice musician like myself who hadn’t memorized everything popular). Some- times the latihan felt more like an excuse for the neighbourhood to get together, while in others one could sense a stronger note of ambition. Some were easily accessible, while others you’d only go to if somebody invited you, or better yet, you knew the musician in charge. One of the more interesting groups started off as a club for employees at a train station: consequently the gamelan was in a room within the station’s garage and you climbed over an antique locomotive to get to it. And my favourite latihan played twice a week in an annexe of the Mangkunegaran palace, notable for having both musicians and dancers practicing together, and also for attracting a large number of young Solonese.

Despite their variety in skill, participants, repertoire, location and motivation, there are a few similarities in the way latihan are conducted. They tended to be regular, each one happening once (sometimes twice) a week, regardless of whether there was any event upcoming – and many of the foreign gamelan enthusiasts would order their schedules around them. Another similar- ity was the general etiquette of choosing your instrument. Newer members will generally place themselves (or be placed) at the balungan instruments whose parts are straightforward: one plays exactly what is notated, and has other musicians playing in unison as a reference. It’s perfectly acceptable to get lost on one of these instruments and copy the person next to you as long as nec- essary. A student learning the more technically demanding instruments might be allowed to play along on them if a better musician isn’t available, and people will usually reserve comment about the result. Still, it’s not good form to head straight for it even if nobody is there: one has to wait to be invited. This is true even if one can play the instrument – professional musicians at an unfa- miliar latihan will tend to sit at the side until invited into a particular spot. Inexperienced players normally avoid the gongs which mark key points in the music, because mistakes there are fatally jarring to experienced musicians—this was something I learned firsthand. And although it’s easy to make a sound from them, it’s often hard to get that sound exactly right in terms of quality and timing.

Another tendency in latihan is how pieces will often be “played through” without stopping, with learners making use of the inherently cyclical nature of the music to help work through tricky bits as they recur. Occasionally this gets carried to an extreme – at one particular latihan there were often moments where two or three musicians would soldier on while everyone else looked lost and embarrassed. But generally if the music does happen to break down, there’d be some tea and discussion before trying again [2]. Most groups had at least some opportunity to perform: either for weddings, or at one of the routine events that provided a platform for such groups to play for an audience. Such events usually fell on specific days in the 35 day Javanese Month, and would sometimes, intriguingly, be termed as a “shift in rehearsal venue” (pindah latihan).

A rehearsal in Indonesia organised by Pak Pardi (in white, on Rebab)
A rehearsal in Indonesia organised by Pak Pardi (in white, on Rebab)

Although less structured than the lessons at the conservatory, and less instructive on technique than private lessons, latihan expose one to a wider range of music and musicians. And while the learning process is slower, I think the long term benefits are greater: one can start to play the music from intuition and familiarity, learn to hear how the parts and musicians relate to each other, and develop the ability to musically “joke”—much like speaking the language you’ve learnt in a class with locals. And as a further benefit, one becomes not just better at playing but also better at listening: as I’ve learned to play more instruments with other people I start to hear them more distinctly in recordings, discovering where the melodies converge and diverge, and finding delight at those little moments and idiosyncrasies that make what seems to be a very formulaic and structured music bukan matematika, in the words of one of my teachers.

Coming back to Singapore, the latihan are probably the part I missed most: despite spending an extended period in Indonesia, I rarely left Solo because I often settled so nicely into the routine. Over here numerous differences prevent a “latihan culture” from developing: the first of course is the relative difficulty of accessing a gamelan set in Singapore. These tend to be owned by educa- tional institutions since each set costs between SGD30,000–50,000 to commission and ship, and then needed to be housed, maintained and periodically tuned by an expert from Java. Such a sub- stantial investment means that sets may not be easily accessible to people outside the institution that houses them, limiting the venues and opportunities for a casual group to organize rehearsals. Furthermore, with all the money and effort spent there is then the pressure for the institution to justify their investment, necessitating performances, workshops and other events. All of these mean that rehearsals may need to be more focused and less relaxed, potentially straining the social interaction.

Another problem is the lack of experienced musicians: while Singapore does have a fair number of gamelan musicians who’ve played for a long time, differences in schedules mean that a latihan may not have enough confident players to keep the music going in moments of uncertainty. Thus, there is likely to be more explicit teaching and instruction, making it less informal. Additionally, there may not be enough musicians to consistently fill all the various positions in an ensemble, making it difficult for newer musicians to experience the totality of a piece as much as is ideal; they have lesser people to follow if they’re lost, and less guidance to the rasa, or “feeling” of the music. As a result, the latihan can be both more challenging and less rewarding than it could be.

Yet another factor is the expectations that come from learning other types of music: some may feel frustrated at the seeming lack of focus and instruction, or may insist on playing instruments that they aren’t ready for. This can, in some cases, disrupt the changes in tempo that signal transitions to different sections, causing the music to fall apart. And finally, the expectations of audi- ences here has a part in it as well – a group that is under pressure to perform frequently for the public is less likely to choose pieces spontaneously, nor rehearse the longer and more subtle pieces considered less accessible, especially for an audience in a primary or secondary school.

Despite these challenges, I still think it’s worth cultivating a space for latihan as we try to do at NUS. For one, it’s a way to build the bonds between musicians that is essential for a music that necessitates sensitivity and cooperation between players. Secondly, our experiences with different cultures in Singapore often takes place in short bursts, most commonly during a performance or a workshop. Regular latihan allows a deeper, longer engagement with not just the final presenta- tion, but also the process of crafting it. And in the end, latihan is simply a great way for people to enjoy making beautiful music together – surely, there is always more space for that! Hopefully, as more people become exposed to gamelan through the increasing number of performances, workshops, and opportunities at schools, more will be encouraged to come to latihan, and unfold the music for themselves.

Xin Wei graduated from NUS in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature. He began playing gamelan with the NUS Singa Nglaras Gamelan Ensemble in 2007, and today assists Dr. Jan Mrazek of the NUS Department of South East Asian Studies in managing the ensemble.


  1. This was done under the auspices of Indonesia’s Darmasiswa scholarships, offered to non‐Indonesians interested in any aspect of Indonesian language and culture (check it out: http://darmasiswa.kemdikbud.go.id/darmasiswa/)

Teen Age Riot – Raka Ibrahim

Teen Age Riot: The Story of Poster Cafe and Jakarta’s Underground Scene

Raka Ibrahim

The Satria Mandala Museum is a monument to decadent glory. Located in Gatot Subroto, Jakarta, it’s home to an extensive documentation of Indonesia’s military history. But, nestled in a deserted corner of the complex is a building abandoned for nearly a decade. Little can one tell, that this hollow piece of architechture once housed the legendary Poster Cafe.

It was the early 90’s, and Indonesia was under the New Order’s rule. Despite the censorships and human rights abuse, an underground music scene flourished. During the late 80’s, bands such as Roxx and Rotor camped around venues like Pid’s Pub in Pondok Indah, playing trash metal-inspired sounds to young, niche audiences [1].

“Before Poster, the scene was more ‘underground’,” observed Eka Annash, now singer of acclaimed garage-rock band The Brandals. “Mustang Radio was one of the few media that gave any exposure. They had a show, Rock and Rhytm, held regularly in Granada [2]. That was in 1991.” A band, Antiseptic, were invited to play there. In contrast with the dominant metal sound, Antiseptic played punk songs inspired by Misfits and Dead Kennedys. The small, fanatic band of punkers in the audience launched into a full-blown riot [3].

They were part of a bigger wave. Bands such as The Stupid, Idiots, and Pestolaer have emerged, playing rowdy, chaotic punk to increasingly large audiences, most of them barely in their 20’s. Venues such as Voila Discotic and Manari Open Air [4] became a hub for alternative music communities. One of the most prominent being Young Offender (YO), the first punk community in Jakarta, formed in 1992 by Ondy Rusdy and Ade “Taba” Yusuf.

One of the main way these communities expanded was through “bahasa kaos”, whereby one would wear the shirt or accessory of a band, adopt it as one’s identity, and use it to seek and identify others with similar physical expressions.

As absurd as this sounds in a modern context, the obscurity and dearth of information on alternative subcultures at the time made this approach viable. Record shops like Duta Suara in Sabang began selling albums and magazines featuring alternative artists, exposing youths to subcultures such as grunge, industrial, Britpop, and punk. Scenesters used the Blok M Plaza area, among others, to trade cassettes and organize events [5]. Some members of YO, including Ondy Rusdy, Evi Punk Tat, and Udet, had direct contact with punkers abroad. Ondy was exposed to punk during family visits to Boston. Evi briefly lived in Germany. Udet, considered one of Indonesia’s original punks, studied in New York and immersed himself in the scene [6]. When these lucky few returned home, they spread the word relentlessly.

Yet venues were scarce. After Voila and Manari closed, punk regained its footing in Hotspot Cafe. After over a year, in late 1993 or early 1994 [7] a concert held there ended in a fight with local thugs. The fallout ended punk’s sojourn with Hotspot. Manari, though, had been reopened and was renamed Poster Cafe. “Business was bad, so they invited young bands to play.” Ondy said. With a capacity of 2,000 people and a simple, rectangular layout, it was ideal for concerts. YO began organizing shows there regularly, gaining a cult following.

Conflicting accounts remained over this period. While Ondy insisted that through 1993-1996, Poster was used regularly for concerts, research by academic Fathun Karib stated that during 1994, there was a lack of punk concerts in Jakarta until 1995, when a major concert was held in Bulungan. What is known, though, is that YO underwent significant changes. Submission, Ondy’s band, started playing industrial music by Ministry. Arguably the most influential transformation was Pestolaer’s. Once one of Jakarta’s most notorious punks, they reinvented themselves as Britpop/Madchester heroes influenced by The Stone Roses.

YO, however, was weakened by drugs and internal conflicts. In 1996, they organized their final concert in Poster Cafe. Ondy was already in Australia, studying fine arts. Taba stayed behind. His newfound sound started inspiring new bands playing music reminiscent of their Britpop heroes. “Punk was already strong,” opined Taba, Pestolaer’s singer. “So, I wanted to try something new.” Theirs was the beginning of a new and glorious wave.

The 29th of September 1996 marked a new era. A two-weekly show, Underground Sessions, re-announced Poster Cafe’s presence in the local scene [8]. Though the roots were laid down by punk, bands from various genres popped up. Rumahsakit, Parklife, Room V, Chapter 69, Wondergel, and Stepforward became regulars in the scene, among many others, with genres ranging from Hardcore, Madchester, Britpop, Industrial, and more.

Interestingly, these bands extensively covered songs from their idols. “There was no alternative entertainment.” said Edo Wallad, then of the band Brown Sugar. “You hear the same music everywhere. Poster was a spot that specializes in ‘different’ music. We can’t see The Stone Roses live, so we’ll just copy them! Some bands grew out of this thinking, and that’s what set them apart.” Bands such as Naif, Pestolaer, Rumahsakit, and Waiting Room were a few of the regulars that eventually released albums containing original songs.

Though Naif went mainstream, major success eluded most bands. “You won’t make it if you don’t accept the label’s meddling.” Taba said. “Most of us won’t have that.” The occasional mention in magazines and having their albums sold in shops were enough. “We didn’t want to be mainstream. We’re underground.” Said Harlan Boer, then of the band Room V. For most audiences, the Poster Cafe generation remained a niche curiosity.

Poster Cafe made more of a mark in the alternative music scene. “Our scene was sporadic, but everybody met at Poster Cafe. It was a melting pot.” Harlan said. “The shows were mostly on weekends and started on afternoons, so high school kids could come, too.” Eka, then of the band Waiting Room, concurred. “That’s what we were looking for. A place where we could communicate and appreciate each other.”

1999 brought their demise. On the 10th of March, the punk show Subnormal Revolution ended in a riot, as concert-goers clashed with residents [9]. As the riot drew to a close, so did Poster Cafe. It had been coming – a mixture of financial difficulties, the disbanding of seminal bands, and its reputation as a hotbed for drug abuse already had them clinging to existence. “They bought drinks outside and come in for free.” Edo lamented. “In the end, the scenesters killed the scene.”

Poster Cafe never lived to see the 21st century, but its impact is still keenly felt. “There had never been a venue of that size where various communities and genres could meet.” Harlan said. “Look at the bands these days. The music, the attitude.” Observed Ondy. “Our generation started that.” Later, scenesters shaped by the mutual experience of Poster Cafe merged with even more communities in spots such as BB’s Bar and Parc, paving the way for influential indie bands Seringai, The Upstairs, The Brandals, C’mon Lennon, and more [10].

Now the building itself lay dormant. According to workers, after Poster closed, a billiard club took over until it, too, went broke. Since then, the site remained empty as museum directors refused to rent the space. A visit there reveals a spot now reclaimed by nature, exuding the unmistakable smell of mold and decay.

The Satria Mandala Museum continues to pull in visitors. But one wonders, how many of them ever stopped, noticed this abandoned building, and realized its history?

Most, we observed, never even gave it a passing glance.

Raka Ibrahim is a writer based in Jakarta, Indonesia. His reviews and essays has been published by several independent arts and music publications such as Gigsplay, Jakartabeat, Jurnallica, and Indoprogress. In 2014, he was selected as a participant in the Young Art Critic’s Workshop held by ruangrupa and the Jakarta Arts Council. He currently writes for the Indonesian Arts Coalition (KSI), RutgersWPF, and at the Jakarta-based youth organization Pamflet. 

In 2013, he co-founded Disorder Zine, an independent music and culture webzine. The Jakarta-based zine has been working on Kemerdekaan Bawah Tanah, a three-part in-depth feature series on the history of Jakarta’s independent music scene, focusing on three small yet highly influential music venues. The first part of this series, Poster Cafe dan Revolusi Tersembunyi, was published in 2014.

Visit them at http://wearedisorder.net/


  1. Wendi Putranto, “Histori Rock Bawah Tanah di Indonesia”, bonus article for MTV Trax Indonesia Magazine, August 2004
  2. Graha Purna Yudha. Now Plaza Semanggi, Jakarta
  3. Fathun Karib, “Kesadaran Kolektif dan Identitas Komunitas Jakarta”, Sociology undergraduate thesis, Faculty of Social Sciences and Politics, University of Indonesia, 2007
  4. A precursor to Poster Cafe, located next door to Poster.
  5. Wendi
  6. Interview with Ondy Rusdy, 21st January 2014
  7. A lack of proper documentation and an indefinite timeframe is an unfortunate, yet prevalent characteristic of this period.
  8. Fathun
  9. Wendi
  10. Interview with Harlan Boer, 22nd August 2013


  • Eka Annash 12th September 2013
  • Fathun Karib 30th September 2013
  • Ondy Rusdy 19th November 2013, 21st Januari 2014
  • Ade “Taba” Yusuf 22nd September 2013
  • Edo Wallad 20th September 2013
  • Harlan Boer 22nd August 2013

The View / Telaga Batu – Tse Hao Guang

The View

Halfway up the dappled flank of
Mount Lawu, choked and twisted paths
draw mouths like moths to greasy windows.

Tawny Java spreads itself about,
patchwork of tobacco, tea, chili, pisang,
tea, tea; parasite pickers are riding its heave.

Strange how we keep repeating,
plucking at stone eyes of Candi Sukuh,
the temple perched on these lips of the land.

Oily bowls of floret and wax are
secreted in secret nooks; weathered
faces of goddesses demand to be restored.

Loam and crop below, a skeleton
Candi above, hungry visitors above that:
strange how we see all and nothing from this

sacred level. Not quite the view of
Lawu, but close enough. Our guide prays:
“Sometimes at night, the clouds come down.”

Telaga Batu

“Hooded by seven cobra heads with
flat, round crown jewels, broad
necks and neck wrinkles”,
flesh emerges from rock; things become
things and take more than
sounds to grasp them.

We shall be akin to this, unafraid of
diverse beginnings—still some
tremble at the Hydra—
and “gradually merge into the flat surface
of the stone”. Angels’ tongues are
ammunition for our

apotheosis. “On the front side, 28 lines
of script are visible”, and though
“badly weathered and
illegible” still testify. When was the last
time words had this much power?
How is it that curses and

blessings mingle thus and demonstrate
the ubiquity of ambivalence? Yet
script “is separated from
the roughly flattened underpart by a protruding
horizontal ledge”, a realm where
poetry dares not enter.

“Thus a groove is formed, passing in the
middle part into a spout” in the
shape of a woman’s
fruit, a secret waiting to be told. Makan
sumpah! Makan sumpah! I don’t
want you to speak or

listen: I want you to swallow any possibility
of promise so the weight of all
there is becomes a
part of you. Swear allegiance to no-one
and everyone; watch meaning
weep from rough stone.



Tse Hao Guang is interested in form and formation, creativity and quotation, lyrics and line breaks. His chapbook is hyperlinkage (Math Paper Press, 2013) and a full length collection, Deeds of Light, is forthcoming. He graduated from the Masters of Arts Program in the Humanities at the University of Chicago in 2014 with a concentration in poetry and creative writing, and co-edits the cross-genre, collaborative literary journal OF ZOOS.


The View

  1. Mount Lawu: Volcanic peak on the border of East and Central Java.
  2. Pisang: Bahasa Indonesia. Literally “banana”.
  3. Candi Sukuh: 15th Century Javanese-Hindu temple or Sukuh on the slope of Mount Lawu. The three levels of the Candi are believed to be increasingly sacred the closer to the sky.

Telaga Batu

  1. Picture: McKinnon, E. Edwards. “Early Polities in Southern Sumatra: Some Preliminary Observations Based on Archaeological Evidence”. Indonesia 40 (October 1985): 1-36.
  2. Telaga Batu: A place in Southern Sumatra where an ancient Srivijayan curse inscription, carved on a naga stone, was found. Water was poured over the stone, running over the inscription, and drunk to bind the drinker to an oath.
  3. “Hooded by … ” and all other quotations: De Casparis, J. G. “Old Malay Inscription of Telaga Batu (South Sumatra)”. Prasati Indonesia II. Bandung: Masa Baru, 1956. 15-46.
  4. Hydra: Creature from ancient Greek mythology. Serpent-like beast which grew two heads for every one cut off.
  5. Makan Sumpah: Bahasa Indonesia. Literally to swallow an oath, to forswear oneself.