Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, August 1999 )



STRANGER R.I.P
K'tut Tantri 1908 - 1997

K'tut Tantri, a Scottish-born American woman, and the author of Revolt in Paradise, was Bali's most notorious Stranger.
She came to Bali in the 1930s from Hollywood, and the story of her life here - first as an adopted princess and then as a freedom fighter for Indonesia - has a strong whiff of Hollywood about it. Indeed, when I met her in 1983, she was in the midst of negotiations with Australian film-maker for a movie about her life.
That evening while dressing to meet her, I'd been briefed as to who she was.

She had been one of the glamorous band of expatriates in the 30's and had built the first hotel in Kuta. She had been imprisoned by the Japanese, and had worked as a radio broadcaster in Surabaya for the Indonesian Revolution. Her autobiography had been translated into a dozen languages around the world, and for the past twenty years she had been living in a hotel in Jakarta as a guest of the Indonesian government, in gratitude for her heroism. I was almost terrified with awe at the prospect of meeting so illustrious a person.

I found her to be a squat, rather disagreeable old lady. She was still angry at the long list of people who she said had misunderstood her. And she was almost arrogant. At one point she said, "President Soeharto told me, 'K'tut, the entire army, navy, and air force is at your disposal for the making of your film.'"
Shortly after this, I read her book. I read it in that niggling spirit of rivalry that afflicts expatriates, and I found much that seemed simply made-up. The movie loomed.
There were clock-and-dagger exploits: a long and tender love story; years of solitary confinement in a Japanese prison; an evil princess; and camaraderie with generals, ministers, and Sukarno himself. There were also some rather fabulous details: she was a bearer of the first Indonesian passport ever issued; it was she who tipped off the Indonesian as to the hiding place of the insane killer Turk Westerling.
I asked the older Balinese what she was like. She had an awful reputation. Years later in Sydney, I saw her come into a restaurant, and I hid behind my menu.

I have just now re-read her book and feel chastened for my meanness. Behind the surface of her story (which still read rather like a tale), there was a complicated and indisputably brave person. Although one can see how she came to annoy so many of her contemporaries, her love for Bali and for the Indonesian people shines through the book. Most moving of all is her slightly misanthropic utopianism that perhaps drove her to leave her own society and cleave to one in which she was so vividly a foreigner. She suffered the loneliness of an expatriate to an extreme degree and for a very, very long time. May she find some rest in Bali at last.

Diana Darling, TegalSuci,
August 1997


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