This photo was taken after the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya that took place during the 1950s when the Brits ruled Kenya. They took the land of the Kenyans and put them in restricted zones forcing them to work cheaply for white middle class Brits who moved to Kenya for a "richer" life...one based on cheaper labor. To get the Kenyans to work for them, they had to take away their means of supporting themselves.
Radiolab - did an astonishing program on how researchers discovered this long repressed story. Relatively recently, 15 miles of hidden archives were found detailing the internment and abuse of these individuals. The Kenyans revolted after their land was taken; for their rebellions the Brits labeled them mentally disturbed. Then put them in a "rehab" center that required they admit their wrong doing-- eventually they would be "rehabilitated" (brain washed and abused) into a narrative of submission.
Some brave academics-- one was only 20 when she embarked on this journey of discovery -- alone in Kenya she visited villages with a translator and heard stories no British textbook could explain. This woman and now others have upended this old dusty British version of the Mau Mau. While those who suffered are quite old, they have won some victories-- at the very least their pain is being acknowledged-- publicly and internationally.
Asking Dangerous Questions in Indonesia
Yesterday, I met Joshua Oppenheimer, another example of someone who started asking questions and has made enormous contributions to upending a repressive narrative about Indonesia's 1965 genocide.
I believe, Oppenheimer's Act of Killing includes the most extensive compilation of perpetrator narratives since Claude Lanzmann's Shoah. I told him so.
Act of Killing allows perpetrators to tell about the thousands and thousands of people they slaughtered by hand during the 1965 genocide. They are literally boasting in the film. Oppenheimer explained after that he now believes boasting is part of trauma and may reflect shame more than pride. Maybe so -- but the
bravado is unnerving. Yesterday the United States Institute of Peace hosted a showing of his newest film The Look of Silence.
This film, also designed to reveal Indonesia's still largely repressed story about the 1 million so called "communists" killed in just a year when Suharto took power from Sukarno.
Why is this more than history?
Many of the perpetrators and victims in the film would say to interviewer, "Why are you bringing all this up. This is history. It is in the past."
So why talk about it? Oppenheimer showed how schools STILL teach a gigantic lie that these so-called "communists" tried to take power and we must get rid of these terrible people that gouge out eyes and slice open faces. The film shows very clearly that it was the military coup that sliced up bodies and dumped them into rivers, mass graves, and sadly under some of the resorts you may have visited in Bali.
Oppenheimer and his mostly anonymous team of filmmakers risked their lives for their research. He said during the Q & A that he still receives death threats. Many of those who committed the atrocities are still in power. Even though Indonesia's new president had no connections to the killing, the still very powerful military does.
Indonesians came to speak with me after the film because I explained I had had an opportunity to speak with some former political prisoners during my own time in Indo. They said they still cannot talk to their friends back home about the truth; they say everyone was taught the military actions were justified. To challenge school education would be difficult and create tensions.
"My mother died three years ago. She refused to ever talk about it. She must have lived with this terrible pain within her," one woman from Jogjakarta explained.
Oppenheimer's film, however, has done great work in upending the government's narrative. It has been viewed by hundreds of thousands. It received an Academy nomination this year for "Best Documentary."
Your Questions Matter
We do not need to be as brave as the 20-year-old heading alone to poke around Kenyan villages or as Oppenheimer who risked death to ask his questions. That does not mean your questions do not matter. If you have someone in your life over seventy, they likely have stories buried in their heart you could excavate.
In doing so, you might help them and help upend the repressive environment around speaking. The lies cause great suffering for people. When governments and schools tell them the beheadings of their children either never happened or were justified...some go mad. The dissonance between what they saw and what the society tells them is excruciating.
The School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution is airing The Act of Killing July 28th at 6:30pm - Arlington Campus. Oppenheimer might skype in. Please join. For more info...http://scar.gmu.edu/event/film-screening-act-of-killing