While working on the ‘show your true colours’ anti-smoking campaign with Vital Strategies, I was instantly exposed to a clear information gap that seemed to occur in Indonesia. The government appeared to be on one side and a sector of the population was on the other side, without all the information. Looking further into this obvious miscommunication, I spoke to a local that had been living in various parts of Yogyakarta for the past two years. Benk Riyade is an artist, activist and trombone player originally from Surakarta.
Initially, I started to ask Riyade about his thoughts on smoking as he was not linked to the work we were involved in as an activist with vital strategies. Instantly he condemned smoking, expecting that was what we wanted to hear but as we got further into discussion it became clear that he did not fully understand the negative consequences of cigarettes. He “only smokes kretek (clove) cigarettes [as they’re] made in Indonesia”, clarifying that this meant they were good because “they stimulated the economy and helped out Indonesian families” not foreign companies (Riyade, B. 2017, interview, 3 February). Riyade also stated that children shouldn’t smoke is because it is a financial drain on the company but “if they live in the mountains, it’s acceptable due to the colder temperatures” (Riyade, B. 2017, interview, 3 February). Whilst some of these statements is not strictly incorrect, they’re wildly misleading. This proves that while the government may not necessarily be sharing entirely incorrect facts with its population, it is certainly not enlightening them with a truthful and well-rounded understanding of the dangers of smoking.
During his time in Kampung Kali Kode, Riyade was working on a mural that explored the political climate of Indonesia. He was very passionate about educating the working class on their position in the country and the power they could have should they be properly represented in parliament. Riyade was very passionate about democracy and was strongly against the pseudo-democratic dictatorship that left “the average Indonesian with no rational alternative to the status quo” (Bjerregaard, M. 2014). He said he wanted to “make the community realise that the community is the backbone of the country, especially workers”(Riyade, B. 2017, interview, 3 February). It is in this way that Riyade ironically began to share his own distaste for an uneducated information gap that seemed to be occurring between the parliamentarians and the working class in Indonesia.
It was only while talking to this Indonesian activist that I began to realise this lack of shared knowledge spread far beyond the realm of an anti-smoking campaign. There appears to be a lot of misleading information as the government takes advantage of their power and their lesser educated population.
Bjerregaard, M. 2014, ‘What Indonesians really think about The Act of Killing’, The Guardian, March 6, viewed 15 February 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/mar/05/act-of-killing-screening-in-indonesia>.
Nugan, E. 2017, Smoking Kills, photographed by Eliza Nugan, 3 February.
Riyade, B. 2017, Interviewed by Eliza Nugan, Indonesia, 3 February.
Riyade, B. 2017, Then we hereby declare “That the suffering of the people must be stopped”, Instagram, viewed 16 February 2017, <https://www.instagram.com/p/BP5oETBAgKi/ >.