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Women, Revolution, and War

In writing as in life “I” doesn’t exist and “me” is irrelevant. Only ideals and actions that inhabit the person really count for history or for whatever.

At the dawn of time humanity was matrilinear. All came from the woman: land and property, family lineage, and even marriage proposals.

Life, briefly said, came from women. It was perhaps the memory of this long lost female supremacy over the human species that made that (in)famous woman of the Paris Commune urinate on the face of the dead French general in charge of finishing off the communards whose armed resistance to the grand French bourgeoisie and the Prussian army lasted all the way to the cemetery of Montmartre.

They were shooting from tombstone to tombstone and awaking the dead who just wanted to rest in peace (RIP). Imagine fighting to the last drop of blood in the graveyard where (maybe) heaven or hell already awaits. Anyway, the Commune was defeated and the lady who responded to the call of nature on the face of the French officier superieur was sentenced to death. And Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto. The rest is history.

In combat and military matters women are no less than men. Maybe it’s even more so because of their higher emotional charge in times of crisis. Compare it to men who are historically calculating and rational.

Moreover, men are battle-trained, from playing war in infancy to military duty when reaching manhood. This somewhat frustrating emotional charge that women have in conflict, battle, and war often leads to victory or defeat (or so it seems).

From the beginning of time until now legions and legions of women covered themselves in glory and heroics, from the Amazons of legend to the female Admiral Malahayati and her women warrior sailors in Aceh (Indonesia) defeating a Dutch maritime formation. But it is the masses of unknown women who shaped and will continue to shape the course of history who are in fact the most fascinating…

A Parisian university history lecturer once tried to explain that the French language makes a distinction between histoire (story) and Histoire (history). However, the Larousse dictionary says otherwise: the capital “H” is not used to distinguish between the two. Be it as it may, Histoire is often told, painted, written, filmed by storytellers with vested interests in royalty and all kinds of rulers and governments.

Hence the unsavoury equation: Histoire=histoire. History is only a story, nothing more. Better than go for the real thing (history) i.e. the exploration of the lesser-known in the grand tradition of Fernand Braudel who showed how simple agricultural tools could change the life of societies at large! In ancient Greek historia meant inquiry or research and it would be good to stay true to the original meaning.

Case in point. August 1945. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just been atomized and Emperor Hirohito had told the Japanese people to accept the unacceptable: unconditional surrender to the conquering US army. Japanese occupation armies throughout Asia were in disarray, awaiting repatriation while maintaining order until relieved by victorious British, French, Dutch, and American allied troops.

Not as easy as it sounds. Colonial Asia was at a boiling point for freedom, liberty, and independence after having seen how the Japanese, i.e. Asian, the army had booted out colonial masters from their countries.

In Pekanbaru, Riau, Indonesia there was a standoff between the Japanese army HQ and the local population eager to grab the weapons inside the HQ and fight against colonial re-conquest. There was that typical tension before a bloodbath to come.

Japanese soldiers were ready to shoot and the crowds of pemuda or young people were prepared to engulf the Japanese occupants in a human tsunami. But nobody was prepared to fire the first shot from the HQ and there was no pemuda to lead a human tsunami charge against the HQ. A mentally deranged man by the name of Si Ripin Gila (or crazy Ripin) had indeed just stabbed the Japanese guard with a belati kitchen knife.

But the incident remained a mere incident because everybody knew who Ripin was. You really have to be Si Ripin Gila to knife a Japanese HQ guard.

Then there was this girl. Or was it a woman? Nobody knows her or her name for she is eternally lost in the impenetrable mists of the mysterious past. Heaven only knows how she got hold of a grenade. And she brandished it in front of all the men, insulting them hysterically for their lack of courage in facing the Japanese. She then ran towards the HQ grenade in hand. For the men too much was too much. They didn’t want to be outdone by a woman in matters of courage and bravado. Better to die under a hail Japanese gunfire than to lose face! The human tsunami engulfed the HQ.

What followed was not for sensitive eyes and ears to see and hear. The Japanese troops that fell into Indonesian hands were cut to pieces or were hanged from the trees of Pekanbaru. And the pseudo executioners didn’t even know how to hang people. Japanese soldiers and officers were hoisted on tree branches, legs and arms flailing. They were not dropped from a height to break their necks to achieve instant death.

Women have the power of authentic gesture and emotion. The Pekanbaru female didn’t even need a grenade to enrage the human tsunami and get it going. She could just as well have threatened the HQ with a potato in her hand. It would have had the same effect.

The Japanese surrender of gold and arms to the nascent Indonesian forces (BKR or People’s Security Forces) in Riau province followed this episode. In return, the HQ demanded that the bodies of the fallen Japanese soldiers and officers be given back to their comrades in arms. The commander of the BKR, an army captain, told of a particularly gruesome episode where he had to re-assemble the Japanese bodies from disparate body parts. Legs, arms, and heads were put together to make a body. The captain said he drove a mortuary truck to the HQ and left quickly before the Japanese commander would have realized what had happened.

In fact, both parties were unaware that they had no responsibility in the bloodbath instigated by the grenade brandishing woman or girl. Had she died in the attack? Did she return to what is called normal life? Nobody knows. She came, she saw, and she conquered like a heroine in an unknown and unexplored history. Maybe she did more than the official heroines of the Indonesian Republic. Or other republics and countries for that matter. But as always the men became the official heroes of this event. So goes life, ainsi va la vie…

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