Processions arriving for the Bandung Conference in 1955

An overview of Bandung, Indonesia

Hello there, thanks for stopping by. As you probably know, I’ve been doing a series of posts highlighting various locations featured within my novel, Eteka: Rise of the Imamba©. Now I’m going to take you across the world to one of my favorite locations within my novel — Bandung, Indonesia. I have to admit that the countless hours I spent researching, writing and rewriting the scenes that were set in Indonesia were some of the most tedious yet fun hours I spent on this project, chiefly because Indonesia has such a rich history that was especially relevant during the Cold War era. But before we get into the cool stuff, here’s a quick overview of the region itself:

Geography and Economy

Indonesia is an Asian country, located in Southeast Asia. Similar to the Tanzania/Zanzibar region, it is actually a cluster of islands (over 18,000 islands! Whoa!). Indonesia is bordered by land by Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. By sea it is surrounded by the Indian Ocean, Banda Sea and Java Sea. It’s currency is the ‘rupiah’ and as of the time of me writing this, one rupiah = 0.000096 USD, or in reverse 10,417 (approx) rupiah’s = 1 USD. There are a number of religions practiced in Indonesia, the dominant ones being Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Indonesia is considered an emerging market, and today has the second strongest economy in Southeast Asia (it’s government has a huge hand in the workings of both its private and public sectors. The state of Indonesia owns all the petroleum and mineral rights, just to illustrate that point). There are quite a few nations that have investments in Indonesia, including the United States, Japan, India and South Korea. It’s economy is primarily built on trade, construction, mining, agriculture and oil/gas manufacturing. One good thing about Indonesia and Indonesians is that they have a growing domestic demand for their goods and services which is a stellar trait for any emerging market in the event that exports alone cannot sustain the economy.

History

Historically, Indonesia was a Dutch colony (the Portuguese were actually the first to discover Indonesia, but they were driven out by the Dutch and local resistance movements). In fact, till this day there are many preserved Dutch structures in many parts of Indonesia, a testament to the Netherlands’ past influence in the region:

Dutch colonial building in modern day Indonesia

Similar to many aspects of colonization in Africa, the Dutch capitalized on the segmented nature and geographic makeup of the Indonesian people (many different groups, not one unified identity, sparsed geography) and established their colony. The Dutch lost their control over Indonesia when Japan invaded and occupied the region during World War II (Japan fought and drove out the Dutch in 1942). Despite allegations of crimes against humanity during World War II regarding different segments of the Indonesian population (the United Nations estimates over 3 million people died), Japan was actually in support of Indonesia receiving its’ independence. However, after the total destruction of Japan’s key cities by perhaps the most devastating weapon conceived during World War II (the atomic bomb, think Hiroshima and Nagasaki), Japan surrendered to the Allies and the Indonesian leadership declared their own independence in 1945. Interestingly enough, the Dutch tried to regain their control of Indonesia, but after meeting fierce domestic resistance and international criticism, in particular from the United Nations (they were a force to be reckoned with back then), Indonesia officially gained its independence, in 1949. Today, August 17, 1945 is universally accepted as Indonesia’s official date of independence.

Indonesia during the Cold War

During the Cold War era (1945–1991), tensions were high between the Communist east (led by the USSR) and the Capitalist west (led by the USA and NATO), and various proxy wars in support of the economic interests and ideologies of the worlds superpowers were being fought in parts of Africa, the Middle East,, the Americas and Asia. This was the era of imperialism, when many superpowers sought to control via economic and political means, rather than force alone. It was the era of espionage (fun fact: Ian Fleming, the creator of the James Bond novels was a former British Intelligence naval officer, and much of his experience laid the foundation for James Bond. His James Bond novel, ‘From Russia with Love’ heavily draws from the Cold War tensions. Sean Connery, my personal favorite Bond of all time starred in the movie adaptation in 1963). It was an era that saw the mass distribution of propaganda, psychological warfare, nuclear arms races, competition in technology (think the Space Race) and even sports. It was also an era that saw a wave of nationalism sweep over many subjective countries. Majority of one time colonial territories gained their independence during this era. Which leads us to perhaps one historical event Indonesia is famously known for, the Bandung Conference.

Delegates at the Bandung Conference

The Bandung Conference was organized by Indonesia, Burma (Myanmar), India and Pakistan and took place from April 18–24, 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia. It’s primary goal was to promote collaboration between free and developing nations, and to oppose colonialism/imperialism. There was actually a similar meeting prior to the Bandung Conference held in Colombo, Sri-Lanka that was attended solely by Asian delegates. The Bandung Conference was held afterwards to accommodate the emerging markets and leaders from Africa and other Third World regions. The Conference itself was a very colorful affair (imagine all these different ethnicities and races showing up in their traditional attire from all over the world):

Delegates at the Bandung Conference

The Bandung Conference was also attended by some notable cultural icons of that era. For example, Richard Wright, at one point the most well known, wealthiest and respected African American author (he wrote Native Son) attended the Bandung Conference. His experiences there were well documented in his book, The Color Curtain. American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell also attended the conference.

Delegates at the Bandung Conference
Delegates at the Bandung Conference
List of nations that attended the Bandung Conference

Despite its noble aspirations, nothing really came out of the Bandung Conference. Nothing tangible at least. This can be attributed to a number of reasons. For one thing every nation, including the emerging markets were and still are part of a global competitive system, and the the international machine was and still is geared towards the interests of the worlds superpowers. Another reason was that the economies of all the countries that attended the conference were too similar! In other words, most of the goods and services that these countries wanted to import were mostly available in industrialized countries, so there was relatively little they had to offer each other! (The only exception to the rule was China, whom many perceived attended the conference reluctantly). There were other reasons like international bank credit, corruption, and political instability, but I don’t want to get into too much detail. The main takeaway is that the conference resulted in little tangible results, but it was a noble effort and has inspired the thinking behind many of today’s most progressive leaders in emerging markets.

So what role does Indonesia play in my novel, Eteka: Rise of the Imamba?

Indonesia, specifically Bandung makes its appearance in my novel during this period in 1955. One of my favorite scenes within the novel takes place in Indonesia, wrapped around the colorful historical context of the time. Prepare to be blown away by the reading experience.

I’ll leave you with this video of President Sukarno giving the opening address at the 1955 Bandung Conference. Enjoy.



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