Skip Navigation

Inul Daratista: Getting to the bottom of the pornography bill

Commentator Duncan Graham speaks to beauty icon Inul Daratista about speaking out against the pornography bill

Jakarta Post
Saturday, June 3, 2006

By Duncan Graham

Surabaya --- There are millions of desirable damsels' derrieres in Indonesia.

Every testosterone-charged man and figure-conscious woman will testify to the accuracy of that statement and rejoice at the great glory of nature.

But none move quite like the cheeky cheeks of Inul Daratista, proud owner of the archipelago's most famous and controversial buttocks.

If you want to get to the bottom of the divisive pornography bill debate then this lady is the one responsible. Three years ago her name was eclipsing those of politicians and sports stars, nation-builders and demolishers, corruptors and crusaders.

Inul got the nation's knickers in a twist because of the way she swiveled her hips to dangdut.

Dangdut is the throbbing, jangling, mystic mix of Indian, Arab and Malay music that's inseparable from kampong life.

During the repressive New Order regime dangdut's popularity was too powerful to ignore. Former president Soeharto is said to have had the coarse lyrics and crude sexuality cleaned up; he made dangdut the medium for messages on morality and national development.

But Inul took dangdut back to its raw and raunchy roots. You didn't need to attend a concert to see this phenomenon. Every kampong TV set, every roadside stall was playing her DVDs to gawking, slack-jawed crowds of men. More than three million pirated copies are said to have been sold.

For this sort of popularity you'd expect much admiration -- and envy. This base emotion comes in many guises, including denigration, condemnation and moral outrage -- real or contrived.

The people with a mortgage on such matters decided her performances were lewd and corrupting the nation. The Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) called for a ban on her concerts and demanded the porn laws that are now under debate.

Despite (or because of) the frumps, Inul became the warm-up act most wanted during the 2004 election campaign. It seemed that even the most pious candidate was prepared to overlook the MUI edict when it came to drawing voters.

If you couldn't afford the real thing there were plenty of Inul imitators. But like all Elvis look-alikes, not one has quite matched the original.

This is a story of kampong kid makes good; it's also a sobering tale of manipulation, chicanery and thuggery. As they say in the music business -- this is just the upside. Read on and you won't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington.

Inul was born Ainul Rokminah in the East Java industrial town of Gempol, 60 kilometers south of Surabaya.

By age 12 she was singing and dancing to rock, then dangdut. For a few thousand rupiah -- usually less than US$1 -- she'd be up on stage.

So were hundreds of other lithe lasses. So far nothing unusual.

But young Ainul was also canny and ambitious, certainly no ephemeral airhead. She changed her name to Inul Daratista (bubbly) hit the road for the "Big Durian" (Jakarta) and, shoving Javanese reticence aside, soon scored a TV spot.

And suddenly -- Big Time! Those hips, that bountiful bottom testing the rip limits of Lycra, the one and only ngebor (boring, as in drilling) style, absolutely ours, proudly parochial, defiantly Indonesian.

Westerners watching the grainy videos were perplexed. By their entertainment standards Inul was grossly overdressed, as sophisticated as slapstick. Erotic? Perhaps, if you'd been on a female-free desert island for the past year. Boring (as in boring) seemed just the right word.

But Inul wasn't only shaking her booty; she was also snatching back Indonesian village culture and restoring it to the little people. She was their triumphant voice of survival -- and if you didn't like it, then up yours!

Many were insulted -- among them Rhoma Irama, the so-called "king of dangdut" and Soeharto favorite who forbade Inul from using his songs.

Worst was to follow. She was banned in Yogyakarta, Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere. More recently, she's been ordered out of Jakarta by the Betawi Brotherhood, told to keep away from Depok by the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) and had one of her karaoke lounges "visited" by a mob.

And all because she exercised her democratic freedom of expression and publicly denounced the porn bill. The feisty and unpretentious Inul, 29, spoke to The Jakarta Post at her splendid six-bedroomed mansion built next to her parent's home -- still in the same kampong 200 meters from a match factory.

If the Betawi braves are planning an assault they should beware the Inul infantry, volunteers all. The neighborhood reckons she's their homegrown gal and they'll brook no nonsense.

Local government has even officially changed the alley name to Gang Inul and built a silver archway.

Do you now regret speaking out against the pornography bill?

I have no regrets because I thought about what I was doing. It was right. I've had a lot of support. If the bill is passed I worry about what Indonesia will become. I don't want society to suffer.

Are you going to quit Jakarta?

No. I intend to keep going. I'm not afraid of the Betawi -- I'm afraid of the way that the government is handling the problem. I'm frightened about what's happening to Indonesia.

I pay my taxes, I pay my bills. I'm a good citizen. In return I and everyone else expects protection by the State against these anarchists who seem to be increasing. That's our right. I want the rule of law applied. We all want security and balance.

Write that down -- I want the President to know!

Have you been hurt by some of the things that have been said about you?

I'm not (involved in) pornography -- I've never done that. I feel hurt at people's stupidity. So many want to interfere in the lives of others.

I'm a Muslim, serious about my faith. I'm not a "KTP Muslim" (one in name only). I regret the things that MUI are saying. Why are they bothering with anti-pornography measures? That's not constructive. Why are they always talking about women? The priorities in this country should be getting people jobs and a better education.

I'm doing what I can for the economy -- I have a staff of 750 and seven karaoke lounges. I've had to work hard.

I believe in Pancasila (the five basic principles of the Republic). I'm a pluralist. In my extended family we have Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists -- we're always having festivals!

Do you have enough work and are you fit? I heard you had back problems.

I'm very busy and have no back problems. I'm supported by my husband (Adam Suseno, a Chinese-Indonesian). I've been married eight years. I practice and keep fit.

Please tell journalists to get the facts right and not spread lies. There's so much jealousy, so many imitators. I don't speak ill of others. No one should be negative.

You seem to have become something of a role model for young women. What's your message to them?

Be independent, be yourself. Get a good education. I wanted to be a doctor but had to leave school after junior high because there wasn't enough money. Sadly, women are not respected by Indonesian men.

I want to raise the status of women. I want them to be brave enough to take risks. I'd like to be a new Kartini (Javanese women's emancipation heroine Raden Ajeng Kartini who campaigned for women to be educated and independent. She died in 1904 aged 25).

I've been approached to get involved in politics, but I've refused. It's too corrupt. I draw my strength from my family and life experience. I return to Gempol whenever I can to be near my parents and the people I grew up with. Here I can forget I'm Inul Daratista.

Despite all the problems I intend to remain cheerful. I'm an optimist.

Tomorrow will be better.