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When one mentioned Dewi Sukarno, the image of a Japanese beauty would instantly come to mind. The petite lady of charm once graced the history pages of Indonesia in the 1960s. She became the third wife of its first president after one fateful meeting with Sukarno in June 1959—the last decade within the life of one of the nations’ founding fathers. “President Sukarno’s top priority, as well as his second and third priorities, was the nation and Indonesian people. He devoted his life for the sake of the people,” Dewi said. “So I told people around me that I will be his best secretary, best assistant, best companion, and best comrade. I decided to devote all of myself to President Sukarno.” These happy years of her marriage were all captured in an autobiography published in 1974. The book also included stories from her early life in Japan until moments after the historic September 30 Movement in 1965.

In 2010, commemorating her 70th birthday in Japan, Dewi published more stories of her life from 1965 onwards to the time spent in France, New York and after she came back to Japan. “I planned to publish these reminiscences in Indonesia three years ago and had completed its manuscript together with the publishers at Kompas Gramedia,” she said. “We spent over a year working on it, but unfortunately, the publication was forced to be on hold for one reason or another, which made me very, very disappointed.”
Changing strategy, Dewi soon planned to publish it first in English for the world to come to know the truth through the book, especially surrounding the failed revolution in 1965 and the Supersemar Document in 1966. “I will also publish the book in Bahasa Indonesia in due time because the people need to know about these stories. It is also significant to correct false records about Indonesian history, and I feel that it is my mission to write and publish the facts and truth.”

However, there were some things moments in history she regretted and would like to revisit. “After President Sukarno had passed away in 1970, General Sabru said to me that he would like to meet. I went back to Indonesia, risking my life despite the political situation, but I did not meet General Sabru. Now, I regret not meeting him at that time; if I had, I could have heard a lot from him.” Since then, Dewi had spent some years in Switzerland, followed by long-term stays in Paris and New York, before settling in Japan these days. Reflecting on her life experiences, she has since learned to be a wiser woman who has grown stronger.

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“To me, a strong woman is brave, confident in her way of life and proud of herself; she is influential and respected by others. Regardless of her beauty, her feminine qualities are beautiful,” Dewi said. Particular to her was a charitable spirit who loved to help those in need. This calling to help others also applied to Kartika, her daughter from the president, through the Kartika Sukarno Foundation to address health and education matters in Indonesia. Inspired by Margaret Thatcher and her decisiveness to put ideas into action, Dewi founded the Earth Aid Society.

Not only caring for nature, but the Society also promotes kinship beyond borders by donating to those in need. “Before the Covid-19 pandemic happened, I could hold up to five charity parties in a year to raise funds for the people in need, poor artists and musician, and animal protection groups.” Dewi would often directly deliver the donation and meet the people in need. Once, while delivering supplies from the Association of Aid and Relief Japan, she met the children of Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh.

She had visited Kashmir, Pakistan, after the 2005 earthquake and handed over 2,556 pieces of blankets and 3,500 sets of winter jackets to the International Red Crescent in Pakistan. In October the same year, Dewi donated 120 tonnes of rice to the Red Cross of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, Dewi came to the Tohoku region three times and went to 21 evacuation areas and animal protection centres to deliver essential supplies equivalent to ¥3,000,000. After the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake, she visited hospitals, evacuation areas and nursing homes for the elderly and animal protection facilities with donated supplies worth ¥2,000,000.

This story appears in the March 2021 issue of Indonesia Tatler. For the full story, grab the copy at your nearest newsstand, or click here to read our online magazine.