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Bonek

Bonek

I am reading Fajar Junaedi’s book Bonek: Grup Supporter Terbesar dan Pertama di Indonesia (Yogyakarta: Buku Litera 2012), yes I am.  From my search of the KITLV catalogue, this appears to be the first monograph on a supporter group or soccer fans in Indonesia. Junaedi is an academic based at Universitas Muhamadiyah Yogyakarta. He has published widely in Indonesian academic journals and has presented at many conferences. His book contains numerous references from English language sources, but, he is yet to have his work published in English language academic journals. Some of these are from 20 years ago – these could have been updated. This book traces the transformation of and formation of ‘modern soccer fandom’ in Indonesia.

The early chapters refer frequently to fan – i.e. the culture of hooligans and ultras –  in other parts of the world. For me, this positions soccer fandom as being something derivative and ‘western’ or ‘European’. Junaedi’s contribution becomes clearer, however, when he analyses the specifically local conditions that gave rise to the emergence and formation of Bonek. One of these factors was the mutually supportive role played by Dahlan Iksan and his newspaper Jawa Pos. In straightforward terms, Junaedi writes how it was Dahlan Iksan who realised the mass market of soccer fans his newspaper could reach through covering their team in a detailed manner. Persebaya fans were hungry for information and Jawa Pos was willing to push their enthusiasm. It was the Jawa Pos that would also facilitate the trips of the Bonek to go to Jakarta to watch Persebaya play. Bonek’s relationship with the media wouldn’t always remain so mutually beneficial.

Bonek,the author argues, are a united group of supporters. This is one factor that, apparently, differentiates them from other supporter groups. For example, the fans of PSS Sleman and PSIM in Yogyakarta have their own subcategories of fans. This results in internal fighting as well as fighting between the fans of the clubs. The unity of the group was established throughout the mid-1980s when Persebaya fans would travel to Jakarta on buses as organised by Jawa Pos. These trips became known as Tret…Tret…Tret. This was the sound of a group marching together, and also that of their festive cheering and improvised playing of whatever musical instruments at hand: drums, trumpets, and acoustic guitars, perhaps for more intimate settings.

The name bonek comes from Bondo Nekad: bondo, a Javanese word meaning ‘resource’ and nekad meaning ‘reckless’. And thus, bonek are those who live recklessly off minimal resources. This name was giving to the supporters who would leave Surabaya with as little as no money to go and watch Persebaya play in Jakarta. This quality of ‘reckless’ is part bravery and part over-commitment and risk-taking. The lack  of money on the inter-city trips is replaced with ransacking stalls at train stations. Having no train ticket is no problem; the train companies know that they will damage their trains and train stations if they are not transported from one city  to the next.  The iconic image of bonek is the Wong Mangap or Ndas Mangap (as pictured above). This is the Rambo-like portrait of a man shouting his anger and support for Persebaya. Fajar Junaedi states that the image was first drawn by Mister Muhtar (2012: 85). ‘Mangap’ means ‘open mouth’ in Javanese.

The Wong Mangap is a further device to strengthen the connotation of Bonek fans with that of the independence movement. The Persebaya fans, formalised and generalised into being ‘bonek’ are imagined as the inheritors of the spirit of 1945 independence struggle (Junaedi 2012: 97). The Wong Mangap is imagined as shouting the call for ‘merdeka’ (independence / freedom). This remains a potent word in contemporary Indonesian politics and the national imaginary – it is routinely used as the PDI-P’s call to arms, call to enthusiasm. The spirit of 1945 is invoked as being the eternal, true and real ‘spirit’ of the Indonesian nation.

Bonek, however, have an ambivalent relationship with both the media and the nation. The media, as written above, was central to the rise of fandom for Persebaya and to their mobilisation. The media, however, has also, Junaedi argues, played a dominant role in subjecting Bonek fans as being stereotypically disruptive, violent and of being hooligans. Bonek fans claim that the media only reports ‘yang negatif’, while ignoring what is ‘positif’. That is, many media reports focus on the violence and riots of soccer fans, but, bonek fans argue that violence is framed as inseparable from being bonek. The nekat of bonek is framed by bonek themselves as indicative of their passion and bravery, while for the media the nekat indicates their hostile and violent attitude to all that opposes them or gets in their way.

The bonek, who came to prominence during the 80s and 90s did so during the height of the New Order era. This was an era when many forms of social movements and organisations were subject to tight control. Labour unions were broadly suppressed. Literature and the arts were strictly censored by arts organisations and the practitioners themselves. Congregating together through the means of supporting Persebaya offered one means for the urban poor to gather collectively and assert their rights and presence in the streets and public spaces. Their congregation was seen as relatively muted because it was directed through football rather than politics. This, however, is contested: the bonek can easily be framed as disruptors of peace as soon as they are either pushed or moved towards violence. They are easy targets of violent and direct policing.

bonek - police - train

The book concludes with a short chapter on ‘Bonek and Trains’. The author briefly engages with the idea that the growth of football in Indonesia (and elsewhere) was facilitated by the development of the rail-network. Perhaps this is one reason why football teams have longer and stronger histories in Java, where the rail network is strongest. The author writes of how the rail network has increasingly been used by Bonek as a means to perform their tret…tret…tret travels to matches in other cities. But, these are moments fraught with danger and with violence, moments for confrontation. Sometimes the violence is directed towards the bonek fans on the trains, sometimes they are the perpetrators. Junaedi has written that is only when Bonek fans have been killed as a result of the violence on these inter-city trips that they have been regarded as victims, rather than agents of violence.

Junaedi’s Bonek: Komunitas Suporter Pertama dan Terbesar di Indonesia is the first monograph on football fans in Indonesia. The book has many weaknesses, not least of all a lack of editing which would have removed the repetition and helped to push the author to develop ideas and explore some issues further. There is a lack of presence of the voices of the fans themselves. One doesn’t read of the trajectory of the supporters in how they become affiliated with Bonek and what being a Bonek means to the Bonek themselves. He doesn’t touch on their background, as if being a ‘uniform group’ doesn’t warrant further inquiry and as if the claims of uniformity, solidarity can be taken at face value. Junaedi also doesn’t look at the specific gendered qualities of being Bonek: there is little or no place for women. Nonetheless, Junaedi has given serious consideration to an area of public, national, and popular culture largely ignored in studies of contemporary Indonesian society.

External Links:

Bonek Suporter Persebaya

Persebaya, official website:

Metro TV reporting on Bonek fans throwing stones at the Arema bus (January 2010).



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