Indonesia Submarine Crew Sang a Farewell Song, Weeks Before Sinking

Below deck of their submarine, Indonesian sailors huddled around a crew member with a guitar and sang a pop song called “Till We Meet Again”.

Weeks later, the same sailors disappeared deep under the Pacific when they descended on a torpedo well and embarked on a frantic international search. Indonesian military officials said on Sunday, four days after the ship’s disappearance, that it broke into three parts hundreds of meters below the surface, leaving no survivors among the 53 crew members.

Now the video of the submarines singing is on Indonesian social media in a nation where a steady stream of bad news haunts many people: devastating earthquakes, erupting volcanoes and sinking ferries.

“If land is not the place to go, there is a place for you in heaven,” wrote members of the band Endank Soekamti, who composed the song, on Instagram under a clip of the sailors’ performance.

The clip went viral after the Indonesian Navy released it on Monday. Lt. Col. Djawara Whimbo, a spokesman for the Indonesian military, said in an interview Tuesday that the video was taped last month to honor the outgoing commander of the Navy’s submarine fleet.

The video hit a nerve online, also because the song – which describes a reluctant farewell – sounds particularly poignant after the accident.

Some social media users speculated that the seafarers had an “inkling” of the impending accident and were singing about their own fate. Colonel Whimbo said this was a mirror image of “cocoklogi,” an Indonesian phrase that describes how to look back on people’s lives for clues to explain seemingly random events.

People in the Muslim-majority country, from remote villagers to high-ranking politicians, often rely on belief and superstition to understand current events. A number of Indonesian presidents have paid their respects to the spirit world, consulted with seers or, for example, collected magical tokens.

In the years following the 2004 tsunami, which killed 230,000 people in Indonesia and elsewhere, many Indonesians blamed then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for the disaster, saying he bore the shadow of cosmic calamity.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a former spokesman for the Indonesian Civil Protection Agency, told the New York Times in 2018 that he made a point of incorporating local wisdom and traditional beliefs while communicating the science of the disasters.

“The cultural approach works better than just science and technology,” Sutopo said. “When people think it’s a punishment from God, it makes their recovery easier.”

The most recent disaster occurred last week when a 44-year-old submarine, the Nanggala, disappeared before dawn during training exercises north of the Indonesian island of Bali. Search parties from the USA, India, Malaysia, Australia and Singapore later helped the Indonesian Navy in the hunt for the ship in the Bali Sea.

For a few days, naval experts feared that the submarine might run out of oxygen. Then the navy confirmed over the weekend that it was broken and sunk to a deep ocean floor.

Among the items a remote-controlled submersible found at the crash site was a ragged orange escape suit.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday expressed condolences to the families of the fallen seafarers, calling them “the best sons in the nation” and noting that the government would pay for their children’s education through college.

“May the spirits of the warriors of the golden sharks get the best place at the side of Almighty God,” he said.

The song the sailors sang last month, “Till We Meet Again,” happens to have a complex backstory.

Musician Erix Soekamti said he and his bandmates wrote it about six years ago on a remote island east of Bali, as a tribute to the local people they met during a month-long recording session.

The lyrics of the song can be interpreted as fatalistic:

The beginning will end

The increase is stopped

Highs meet lows

The song was supposed to convey optimism, said Mr Soekamti, but it has slowly been linked to loss, misfortune and death.

A few years ago, he said, the crowd sang it at an Indonesian soccer game after a goalkeeper on one of the teams died in a previous game. “Then it became a loser song,” he said. “When a team loses, this song is sung.”

“Until we meet again” was covered by other musicians; A melancholy version of Indonesian singer Tami Aulia has been viewed more than nine million times on YouTube.

But Mr Soekamti said his band are now avoiding playing it and recently declined to include it on an upcoming live album.

“I’m sad,” he said, “and in a way afraid.”