Published in The Independent, Thurs 16th Sep 2009
The shadow puppeteer flicks his wrist as he beats a stumpy stick against a wooden box and begins a dramatic introduction to a story about Kunti, a mother who fights for social justice. This is Pucung, a remote Indonesian village where skeletal leather puppets, some of Indonesia’s best-known handicrafts, are made. The character has a mass of black hair. Ann Dunham, too, was famous for her shock of black hair, which she claimed came from a trace of Cherokee blood in her veins. Barack Obama’s mother also did more for social justice in her adopted Indonesia than her son’s accounts suggest.
“What is best in me, I owe to her,” the 44th US President acknowledged in the second edition of his memoir Dreams From My Father. But Dunham has been little more than a footnote in his extraordinary story. In the preface, Mr Obama wrote: “She travelled the world, working in the distant villages, helping women buy a sewing machine or a milk cow or an education that might give them a foothold in the world’s economy.”