Mary M. Steedly
A Story of Indonesian Independence
University of California Press 2013
Mary M. Steedly‘s book, Rifle Reports: A Story of Indonesian Independence, is “one of a kind and will continue to be so,” writes Benedict Anderson. This is high praise from one of the greats of Southeast Asian studies. A reading of Rifle Reports reveals why it is praise that is so well deserved. Steedly deftly weaves the stories of Indonesian independence told to her on “the outskirts of the nation” together with thought-provoking discussions of memory practice and the writing of history via ethnography. Concentrating on the accounts of Karo women about their struggle against Dutch colonizers and Japanese invaders, Steedly situates the fight for independence in the day-to-day activities of North Sumatra’s entire population. In so doing, she offers a much more richly textured account than conventional histories concentrated on male-dominated politics, military strategies and moments of combat provide, one that “moves toward difficulty rather than simplification, one that compels as well as enacts the strategies of patient and engaged reading”.
Mary Steedly joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to discuss Karoland, buried guns, the language of “struggle” rather than “revolution”, Sinek’s song, the importance of narrative, and what it means to do ethnographic history.