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What It’s Like to Grow Up as the Daughter of Jogja’s Biggest Preman

When Wulan Mayastika was a child her father ruled the Yogyakarta neighborhood of Badran.

by Dea Karina
10 November 2016, 12:00am

Wulan Mayastika. All photos by Dea Karina

It wasn't one big shocking event that made Wulan Mayastika first question her father's work. It was more gradual — a slow realization that, even to her young mind, things about her father just didn't add up. There was his name. He was born Gunardi but everyone in her neighborhood called her dad "Gun Jack" with a sense of respect — and sometimes fear. Then there was his job. He owned a bakso stall but he had a car full of weapons and a gang of men ready to use them.

"I was first suspicious that my father was a preman when I realized that his life cycle was opposite ours," Wulan said. "He worked during the night and slept during the day. When I was in elementary school, I started feeling something was odd because his friends were scary — they were big and carried weapons — but they were really friendly to me.

"Then one morning when I was getting ready for school, I was tying my shoelaces in the car. I reached down and I saw swords. I asked my mother who the swords belonged to and she said they belonged to my father."

Wulan grew up in Badran — a rough neighborhood in central Yogyakarta that got its start as a Chinese graveyard. Back in the day, thieves used the graveyard's tombs to hide from police when they were on the run. Today, Badran's association with all things criminal remains. If you're from Badran, you're either a criminal, a gambler, an alcoholic, a waria (transgender woman), or just plain crazy, Wulan explained.

In a neighborhood of criminals, Gun Jack rose to the top. He was a preman, an Indonesian bastardization of the English phrase "free man" that is used as a catchall to describe the assorted thugs, street toughs and gangsters that work in the margins, controlling much of the illegal, and semi-legal economy in Indonesia. Gun Jack worked protection for the local gambling dens, collecting fees for powerful men who operated behind the scenes. He also worked security, offering his services to the United Development Party (PPP).

In Jogja, Gun Jack was known for his kindness and open mind. He adopted a young boy from the neighboring city of Solo after his father died, taking the 13-year-old under his wing. Today, the boy, who goes by the name Mas Doni, is 36-years-old and the only one of Gun Jack's children to follow in his footsteps.

"I had to go to the streets because of the circumstances," Mas Doni said. "But Babe (father in the Betawi dialect) didn't judge or scold me at all. He never judged anyone. He wanted people to be themselves ... that's why I gave my life to Babe, as a way to repay him for what he gave me."

Gun Jack in his youth.

But for Wulan, growing up with Badran's biggest gangsters as your dad was an interesting but often frustrating ordeal. By the time she was born, Gun Jack had already served a short prison sentence for accidentally killing a man during a brawl at a local pool hall. He stayed out of prison after that, but he still had a habit of flying off the handle when provoked.

"My father didn't follow rules, he created them," Wulan said. "My father once took me to Malioboro and he parked in a prohibited parking space. Naturally the tukang parkir (parking attendant) scolded him, but he then called his friends and starting beating the guy up. I didn't like what I saw, so I got out of the car and walked home. My father followed me and kept apologizing. I was so mad. I told him I never wanted to go out with him again."

When she had a problem with a man who worked at the canteen near her school, her father arrived with a gang of men ready to "teach him a lesson." One day, Gun Jack's gang crossed paths with some rivals hellbent on seeking revenge. Wulan came home to find all the windows of her house busted out.

"All of our glass windows were shattered," she said. "My father's warung bakso was bombed. It was traumatic... and it made the papers too."

But there were also perks. Strangers would give Wulan presents when she visited the nearby train station. Restaurant owners would refuse to accept money for the bill. Even the local security guards would show her respect, often going out of their way to make sure she safely crossed the street. When he arrived to pick her up from school, all the neighborhood kids would shout "Gun Jack! Gun Jack!" when he arrived.

"Everybody knew my father," she said.

Gun Jack, on the left.

When Wulan was older, her father — the bakso vender who was actually a preman — revealed yet another hidden side of his life.

"My father thought that I was embarrassed of him, and then one day he said that he wanted to talk to me," Wulan said. "We sat down just the two of us and he pulled out a card that said he was in BIN (Indonesia's spy agency). He revealed that it was his real job and that I should be proud of him. From that moment on we grew closer and closer.

"I always wondered why he would go out of town so many times. He would tell me that he had to do work out of town, or even out of the country, like when there was violence in Poso in the 2000s and the Bali bombings in 2002... I guess that was why, he was part of the intelligence agency."

Today, Wulan, now 22, still lives in Badran. Her life as a preman's daughter inspired an early interest in how the human mind works. She studied psychology at Universitas Gadjah Mada, and now currently looking for employment.

Badran.

Gun Jack died in 2011 of lymphoma. For Wulan, her city has never been the same. A new breed of preman have taken hold in Jogja: gangs of young men who use intimidation and force to shut down events held by the city's sizable population of liberal artists and activists. It's a far cry from Gun Jack, a man who once tried to start a farm where transgender sex workers could find a way off the streets.

"It would be great for the media to cover more stories about him, because he was a good role model," Wulan said. "Especially for the people in the streets. They need an example. Nowadays it's chaotic, people just fight blindly over power and materialistic things. They need a figure to look up to, to make them learn how to live on the streets honorably, to know how to appreciate our own brothers and neighbors"

For Mas Doni, Gun Jack's life remains an inspiration for him. He was a man who donated rice to widows and helped build community mosques with his own hands.

"He was very generous," Mas Doni said. "He got along with everybody, prostitutes, pedicab drivers, street vendors, angkringan vendors, alcoholics... especially in Malioboro and ngebong or Pasar Kembang (a flower market well-known for its prostitution). He took care of marginalized groups, so when Babe was still here, the area would be respected. Nowadays that respect is gone."