National Geographic : 1951 Jan
Republican Indonesia Tries Its Wings The black-market exchange on smuggled American dollars, I was told, was anywhere from 25 to 30 rupiah for a dollar. Leaving Djakarta I took to the wings of the Garuda-the Garuda Indonesian Airways-to see other parts of Indonesia. The Garuda air ways form an elaborate network throughout the island chain, linking the larger cities. Formerly operated by the Dutch, the air line now is owned by Indonesians; manage ment is jointly controlled. The pilots are Dutch, the office force Indonesian. I flew first to Djokjakarta (usually abbre viated to Djokja), capital of the old sultanate of central Java, and for a time center of the Republican movement. It was late May and the dry season sup posedly had begun. But the night before I left it rained heavily. The morning dawned clear, and, as was often the case while travel ing in Indonesia, I saw dawn from the airport. Rains had washed the sky clean of dust and smoke. Below us spread the island's sparkling, gardenlike plains; steep volcanic mountains were sharply etched on the horizon to the south. Rice fields formed vivid green-and gold patches or shone like silver where diked plots had just been flooded for a new crop. Terraces stairstep every ravine and river bank and contour the gullies. Other terraces clamber up the steep sides of the mountains (pages 28 and 29). Farm villages cluster in groves of coconut palms and other trees be side the open plains and deeper green planta tions. Plumes Curl from Brooding Volcanoes Less than an hour out of Djakarta we came abreast of Tjareme volcano, passing so close that our left wingtip seemed almost to brush its wooded slope. Although we were flying at 8,000 feet, the upper part of its cone tow ered 2,000 feet above us. Soon we passed still higher Slamet. Second highest peak in Java, it rears to 11,247 feet. As we neared Djokjakarta, a row of sharp peaks loomed before us. From one of them, Merapi, issued a curling white plume of smoke (page 27). In all, some 300 volcanoes form a knobbed backbone the length of the Indonesian archipelago. Sixty are active. Some are fire-breathing monsters, but the island soil is rich from the ashes, mud, and lava that have poured from their craters. At Djakarta we had passed through customs before we boarded the plane. When we arrived at Djokja, we had to go through customs again. Health authorities checked our vaccination certificates to see that we were immune to smallpox. Those without certificates and those who left them behind had to roll up their sleeves and be vaccinated by the doctor. Throughout my tour in the islands I found customs counters at almost every airport. Now that Indonesia, since August 17, 1950, is reorganized into a single unified Repub lic, rather than a federation of States, such formalities may eventually be abandoned. Since the country has gained independence and its capital is now Djakarta, Djokja no longer is so active as when it was headquarters of the Republican forces. Comparatively little damage was done to the city when the Dutch, in 1948, moved in during their second police action. Art of the Batik Makers While wandering about the city I saw the world-famous batik makers at work. Bothwith metal block stamps and by hand they applied wax to the cloth to cover it for the various stages of dyeing. Managers complained that they were forced again to use native vegetable dyes instead of synthetic dyes from Europe, but the sarongs and scarfs they produce are softer in tones for the shortage (page 2). In other shops I found silversmiths ham mering and polishing pieces of silver. Handi craft workers also cut beautifully filigreed fans, wayang (shadow play) puppets, and dancers' headdresses and neckpieces from goat skin and buffalo hide. The large array of buildings of the Kraton, or Sultan's palace, seemed almost deserted. Batik-turbaned retainers who showed me around wore wavy-bladed krises tucked in the back of the belts girding their long sarongs. Hamengku Buwono IX, the Sultan of Djokjakarta, is absent from his palace much of the time, but he returned briefly during my stay. Young and progressive, he had com manded the anti-Dutch Republican forces and is now Vice-Premier (page 5). Traditional Javanese dances are rarely given at the palace now, but one of the scholarly princes, Tedjakusuma, conducts a school to train young students in the classical art. When I visited his school youngsters no more than 7 or 8 years old were learning difficult postures, how to move arms and legs in proper rhythm, and how to flutter their fingers. Later I had opportunity to photograph ma ture dancers enacting episodes drawn from an cient Indian epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana,* while rich mellow gongs and * See "Pageantry of the Siamese Stage," by D. Sonakul, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIIC MAGAZINE, February, 1947.