Published in the Sunday Jakarta Post, 19 March 2006


Inul's Bottoms are to Blame

All during the Soekarno years Indonesia was recognizable as a nation of island people with a respect for feminine beauty, in all its forms: the founding president himself was an avid collector of Lee Man Fong’s luscious paintings of Chiong Sam and sarong-clad beauties (Lee Man Fong was Asia’s answer to the Sam Vargas of playboy’s Vargas girls fame, Ed). In this era of emerging nationhood, Indonesian women were known for their coy charms and refinement. Indonesian society was conservative, but certainly not prudish (Soekarno made sure of that!)
 During the Soeharto years, a period of military occupation, a more risqué mood prevailed amongst the masses, if not at Madame Tien Soeharto’s doily-strewn bunker with its origami excesses and aquaria. Like the soldiers, certain sectors of society craved more carnal pleasures: the infamous Tari Ular of East Java and the Sundanese Jaipong achieving wide popularity.
Who will ever forget Camelia Malik’s gyrations?
During the same decades Jakarta’s transsexual trolling beat, Taman Lawang, was barely 500 meters from the Soeharto’s Jalan Cendana base:  mini-skirts on these ladies of the night got shorter and shorter as the Soeharto years rolled on.
 When President Habibie came to power the wadam (wanita-adam. Ed.) were driven from their hereditary cruising grounds, only to re-surface on the Kuningan ramp, opposite the Regent Hotel (now The Four Seasons, Ed). By this time, mini-skirts had become optional: many polite families returning from  wedding receptions at the nearby  the Sunda Kelapa mosque, or from vespers at Gereja Emmanuel, would be shocked on the ramp by a hirsute display of full frontal nudity by a flashed map of Tasmania. But still society remained silent, preferring to self-regulate rather than over-react.
 During the late 1990s, under the rule of the liberal and fun-loving president Gus Dur, Jaipong-style dance spectaculars returned with a vengeance, this time in the form of Dangdut dancing, that wonderful East Javanese tension-breaker popular in Surabaya, the horniest city in Indonesia, which is also  Gus Dur’s heartland. The hydraulic bottoms of one Inul, in particular, attracted the attentions of the silent majority and protests were heard. Inul became famous across the Malay archipelago, being flown in a government Hercules on more than one occasion to entertain the troops, in the tradition of history’s other great bottom-wobblers, Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich.
 The reign of Megawati Soekarnoputri coincided with the emergence of the hipster as a major fashion force in Jakarta society. Megawati’s healthy respect for individual liberties was accompanied by a surge in western behaviour amongst the masses, particularly in Jakarta, where necklines and waistlines were plunging. Neo-cons attempted to push an Anti-pornografi and Anti-pornoaksi  bill through parliament during the Megawati era, but it was voted down. 
 In the present era of social and economic reform, under President SBY, the conservatives   are again taking aim at sexy dancing (Inul’s bottoms are to blame), topless bathing and lewd art. The new Draconian laws proposed, to control excesses, are striking fear into the hearts of many: the Balinese, in particular, are very worried about repercussions for their culture – sexy Joged dancing, topless bathing in the river, and erotic temple carvings are part and parcel of life in Bali. Balinese tourism is likewise dependent on a certain relaxed attitude towards morality and sexuality.
 The Balinese are nothing if not prudish! 
 What is Bali’s history of nudity and sexual licentiousness one may well ask!
The island of Bali burst onto the international art and erotica scene with the publishing of German art photographer Gregor Krause’s sensational 1936 book. His photographs featured beautiful maidens bathing bare-breasted in riverside springs.
 For Orientalists around the globe it had been a long wait: since 1906, when the first images of  a beautific Bali – featuring ornate sea-side temples and languid, artful natives – reached the western world, via  the drawings of Dutch war artist  W.O.J Nieuwenkamp.
In 1938, renowned Hollywood director Busby Berkeley included a Bali-based production number – “I wanna go back to Bali, they don’t have a word for no” – in his  ”Gold Diggers in Paris”.
The implication was that the ’Island of the gods’ was awash with lithesome teens in sarongs having hula lessons (this was far from the truth, but the image persists to this day).
 Things were heating up in the U.S. too: the Javanese expression “goona-goona”, popular in Bali at that time too, to describe black magic,  was adopted, as early as 1938,  as New York slang for “nookie” in the night. It can still be heard in new York to this day, in certain quarters.
 In 1940 actress Constance Bennet and her husband the Marquis de la Falaise made a hauntingly beautiful film called “Legong: the Island of Virgins” which featured a languorous lead actress called Putu. Her perfectly formed breasts got an academy award nomination for best supporting act.
After  ”Road to Bali” hit the big screen – starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamore in a wet sarong  – the world’s mammary voyeurs were positively panting.  European travel companies were promoting tours to see the “8th and 9th wonders of the world”, respectively.
 In the 1950s Indonesia’s founding father, Soekarno was appalled by all the slobbering – German tourists, in particular, were singled out for censure. He decreed that the women of Bali must cover up in public. A French couturier was imported to fashion a suitable chemise.
The world lost its most gorgeous topless culture but gained a politely prudish populace. Jakarta was appeased, Bali rolled on regardless. 
 For the next 55 years things went along swimmingly, with only the tourists popping them out in public and the traditionally demure  Balinese promoting their island on its scenic and cultural attractions rather  than the god-given gifts of the female populace.
 In late 2005,   certain factions again started pushing for the adoption of  the controversial “Anti-Pornografi dan Anti-pornoaksi” laws.  One imagines that the delicate sensibilities of these neo-cons are riled by the dangdut dancers that hog the national television screens and the increasingly “western” portrayals of Indonesian women as sex objects in the nations media. 
  The violent objections of the Balinese against the mooting of such new laws, expressed in daily demonstrations across the island, is evidence of the Hindu populace’s fears that the introduction of anything that suggests of Syariah law will spell the beginning of the end for their unique culture.
 “Are we to do away with lingga and yoni statues?” the temple priests cry. “Will Dewi Ding Dong (the faux fornicating puppet giants that parade in certain East Balinese villages) be banned???”
 “I suppose  they (the neo-cons) think that they are  holier than thou,” (memang mereka lebih suci) screamed Gus Dur, in the nation’s press,  echoing a common Balinese sentiment sometimes heard in temples and palace courts when a person presumes spiritual or moral superiority.

P. S.
I am writing this in India, watching a Bollywood movie production number called “ Do do the Voodoo” with  Hindoo leading  ladies in  shorty “mumblers”  having their legs violently ripped open and then twirled around in an aggressive Dutch wink way that makes my valve slam shut. In “The Hindu” paper I just read there are photos of Delhi’s new Hindu Morality police, the equivalent of Malaysia’s mobile Syariah officers wading into Lodi Park conoodlers with rattan canes! “Cane chairs, not people,” I screamed. “Fake furs, not orgasms.”

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