Tue, 16 Aug 1994

Torn inner tube spread news of Indonesia's independence

By Ati Nurbaiti

JAKARTA (JP): A torn inner tube filled with handfuls of grass helped witnesses of the proclamation of independence spread the word as far as they could go - Central Java and back - with the only available car around.

"Only few people owned bicycles, and only Sukarno and a few other Indonesians owned cars," recalled Surastri Karma Trimurti, now 82, who was then a 33-year-old reporter for the Djawa Shinbun Kai.

Before the Aug. 17 proclamation, she and other activists managed to take over the Japanese occupied radio station on Jl. Merdeka Barat. However, the Japanese, through the Antara news agency which was then called Domei, tried to deny the news of the birth of a new, free country called Indonesia.

"So we felt we had to spread the news to confused Indonesians to counter these denials," said Trimurti. Many remained unaware even though the news had reached places as far as San Fransisco in the United States.

A friend stole a car belonging to a Japanese official, but it had an irreplaceable, torn inner tube.

"Every time we refilled the inner tube with grass, we told people crowding round the car that Indonesia was free," she said.

Scores of others spread the word on foot, by telephone and telegraph.

"People were overjoyed and provided us with rice. We had hardly a cent on us but we didn't go hungry," said Trimurti, who with her friends managed to cover the 544 kilometers to Semarang, Central Java and then back to Jakarta armed only with a red and white flag.

The story of the grass-filled inner tube accompanies every speech requested of her on Independence Day.

The Japanese realized their denials had little affect because Antara reporters, including Adam Malik (later Indonesia's late vice president) had also taken part in preparing the proclamation.


After attending the short ceremony, Malik called his colleague, Asa Bafagih, from his hiding place in a friend's house and dictated the proclamation which Soekarno had just read.

Malik reminded his friends not to notify the Japanese censorship board, Hodohan, where every piece of news had to be reported. When interrogated, the reporters gave the stupefied response, "we thought you already issued permit..."

Days before, activists (Trimurti called them anak nakal or delinquents) broke the seals on radios to be able to hear vital news concerning their colonial rulers putting their heads, literally, at risk.

Trimurti added, "The Japanese saved bullets for war and would not waste them on `criminals', they would behead any dissidents."

The scheduling of proclamation was "a matter of days," Trimurti explained, since on Aug. 14 at 2 p.m., people listened to announcements from radios, the seals broken, that Japan had been defeated by the Allied Forces.

On the same day Soekarno, Muhammad Hatta and another noted Indonesian, Radjiman Wedyodiningrat, returned from Saigon with a message from the regional headquarters of the Dai Nippon, the Japanese army. Japan, they said, would make a gift of independence to Indonesia. This was a repeated promise, but many did not believe it would be that easy.

Soon after Soekarno delivered the message, Japan was obliged to hand Indonesia back to the Allied Forces as it was under the Dutch.

Among the Japanese, however, were those who thought an independent Indonesia initiated by the natives themselves would serve them better, and she, her late husband Sayuti Melik and other partners found safe places to hold their meetings in the homes of a few Japanese high officials.

"They didn't join the meetings and stayed upstairs," she said.

On Aug. 16 Trimurti said she was busy finding out about the controversial "kidnapping" of Sukarno and Muhammad Hatta to Rengasdengklok, West Java. It turned out that a number of freedom fighters feared the Japanese would prevent the proclamation if it was done in Jakarta, and encouraged him to read it outside the city.

But, finally, it was considered safe to conduct the event at Sukarno's residence. The organizers abandoned initial plans to hold the crucial proclamation at the large Ikada Square (now Lapangan Banteng). "We spread the information that the square was going to be heavily guarded," said Trimurti.

Admiral Maeda

The proclamation text was drafted at the house of the Japanese Admiral Maeda on Jl. Imam Bonjol (then Jl. Nassau Boulevard) and took until the morning, 4 a.m., of Aug. 17 to write.

Trimurti's late husband, Melik, was then Sukarno's private secretary. Melik typed the text based on Soekarno's draft, which was then signed by Sukarno and Muhammad Hatta "on behalf of the Indonesian nation."

Early that morning, Trimurti returned from another meeting place and prepared breakfast for her two sons at their home on Jl. Kramat 5. Then, clad in a kain kebaya, she walked to Sukarno's residence to hear him read the proclamation.

"Bung Karno's clothes were all wrinkled, I don't think he changed after a sleepless night," Trimurti said.

Trimurti, who stood near Sukarno's wife, Fatmawati, said she felt "so proud" as she watched the red and white flag rise in front of the house on Jl. Pegangsaan Timur 56, now Jl. Proklamasi.

"Fatmawati was silent, she was very young," recalls Trimurti of the 23-year-old First Lady. She can't remember whether others cried, but she didn't.

She was filled with memories of painful discrimination, like when she and her five-month-old baby were jailed for six months by the Dutch for the publishing of an offensive article. "Native inmates had to clean the well-equipped cells of Dutch criminals," she remarked.

"But I also thought of the many tasks ahead of us." This, she added, was why she was not interested in joining the Barisan Berani Mati, or literally the armed, "braving death" civilians, after the proclamation was read. "I preferred to be alive," she confirmed.

Trimurti, who was the chief editor of the now defunct Mawas Diri spiritual magazine, treasures her hand-drawn, crisscrossing diagram which chronicles the flurry of events between Aug. 14, the announcement of the Japanese defeat, and Aug. 18 when the draft of the 1945 Constitution was ratified.

The sketch was made for a book, which she has yet to write. "The usual...I'm busy with working, writing, living," Trimurti explains. She forgets she is old. "I could climb over that fence," she asserts, pointing to her gate, forgetting her injured leg, "but people here would make a fuss."

She wishes she could look for any of her friends who are still alive, "But my sons sold the Plymouth in fear of me driving around."