It started with a piece of cloth

It started with a piece of batik cloth.


This initially was to be a new year message to Indonesian friends, and then friends of Indonesia were added and, once that got started, I thought other people might enjoy the story.  Without making too much of this little story it is also about our interconnectedness, understanding where we come from, the importance of understanding history, exploitation and colonialism -  and a bit about those who fought for justice and civil rights.  

This message of interconnectedness got started because Charlee and I were having a POPUP sale of our batiks a couple of years ago.  In the process one of her neighbours came over with a piece of cloth which she had acquired in South Africa.  When we looked at it, it looked very distinctively Indonesian. 

Coincidentally, the topic resurrected itself a few days later when I was looking for some Christmas music by Miriam Makeba, the wonderful South African singer.  Scrolling through her albums, I noticed that she had recorded a song called “Suliram” after hearing it from Malay/Indonesian descendants of slaves and political dissidents brought to South Africa by the Dutch several hundred years ago. And then who would have guessed that Pete Seeger (“We Shall Overcome”) would walk into the picture.  Pete Seeger learned the same song in 1949 from a young Indonesian who was passing through New York. Seeger performed it regularly at concerts in the 1950s and 1960s. Many lullabies have been written in English to this melody.  However as Seeger said, "Some things you just can't possibly translate."

And then I recalled several years ago, Daud Sinjal and Haifa Shahab (Indonesian friends) invited me to go with them to the then city hall of Jakarta to meet and talk with a group of South African people of Indonesian descent.  It was post apartheid and race and origins could be talked about more freely in South Africa and these folks wanted to know about their origins and how their ancestors got to South Africa.  I remember one man, in particular, talking about how he got off the plane in Sumbawa (one of the eastern islands in Indonesia) to find to his total astonishment that he was surrounded by “people who looked just like me!” – to use his words. 

 If your memory about why and how Indonesians and Malays were sent to South Africa as slaves or political dissidents is a bit murky go to:

 CNN also has an interesting audio-visual presentation looking at Cape Malay life.  See:

If you want to hear Miriam Makeba sing the song go to:

Or for Pete Seeger:

To find out more about the song go to: Ohorella  says ” I believe that lyrics is from Suliram sung by Miriam Makeba. As far as I know, she heard this song from Malay/Indonesian descendants brought there as slaves by the Dutch several hundred years ago. So, the words are quite strange for a native Indonesian like me but I can still guess the meaning (e.g. here we pronounced it Soleram). Here I try my best “:

Suliram is a girl's name

Suliram, suliram, ram, ram
Suliram yang manis
(Sweet Suliram)
Adu hai indung suhoorang
(Oh my only one)
Bidjakla sana dipandang manis
(Be a wise person, it is indeed sweet)

Tingi la, tingi, si matahari
(oh high or high is the sun)
Suliram, Anakla koorbau mati toortambat
(Suliram, oh a calf died because it's tied)
Suliram, sudala lama saiya menchari
(Suliram, I've searched for so long)
Baruse klarung saya mendabat
(Only now I got it)

La suliram, suliram, ram, ram
Suliram yang manis
Adu hai indung suhoorang
Bidjakla sana dipandang manis 

It started with a piece of cloth. 

Bruce and Charlee


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