Lolo Soetoro Mangunharjo or Mangundikardjo was an Indonesian geologist who is best known as the stepfather of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. He was a colonel in the Indonesian army and later worked in government relations at Union Oil Company. Two decades after his death, he made news headlines after Obama decided to run for presidency. Obama, who had spent four years in Indonesia during his childhood, was under scrutiny by conservatives who alleged that he had been a practicing Muslim, referring to the fact that most of his stepfather’s relatives were devout Muslims. Citing his registration records at the Santo Fransiskus Assisis School in Jakarta as Barry Soetoro, it was also claimed that Soetoro had adopted him and that he had Indonesian citizenship. While these claims have not been proved, detractors tried to question his eligibility to run for presidency. Obama had previously mentioned in his memoir, ‘Dreams from My Father’, how much of an influence Soetoro had been in his early life. He described his stepfather as well-mannered, even-tempered, and easy with people, who not only played tennis and chess with him, but also taught him boxing to protect himself from the "dangerous world".
Childhood & Early Life
Soetoro Martodihardjo, who went by the Javanese nickname, "Lolo" Soetoro, was born on January 2, 1935 in Bandoeng, West Java, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). His father, Martodihardjo, was an employee of a mining office from Yogyakarta.
He was ninth of ten children of his parents. During the Indonesian National Revolution, the Dutch army burned down their house, killing his father and his eldest brother. He was able to flee to the countryside with his mother.
He attended Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, from where he earned his bachelor's degree in geography. Following graduation, he started working as a civilian employee of the Indonesian Army Topographic Service.
In 1962, he earned scholarship from the Indonesian Army Topographic Service for graduate study in geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In September that year, he started to attend the East–West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and completed his M.A. degree in geography in June 1964.
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Career & Personal Life
Lolo Soetoro started his career as a geologist under Indonesian Army Topographic Service. After returning to Indonesia in 1965, he served as a colonel in the Indonesian armed forces, working for General Suharto, the second President of Indonesia.
He met single mother, Ann Dunham, at the East-West Center while both were studying at the University of Hawaii. After a couple years of dating, the two got married on March 15, 1965 in Hawaii.
Following his marriage to Dunham, he became the stepfather of a three-year-old Barack Obama. The couple later gave birth to a daughter named Maya Kasandra Soetoro on August 15, 1970.
One year after his marriage to Dunham, he returned to Indonesia for work, while Dunham and Obama stayed in Dunham’s parents' house in Honolulu so that Dunham could complete her studies. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1967, Dunham moved to Jakarta with her six-year-old son to live with Soetoro.
Till 1970, Soetoro worked at Dinas Topografi, a mapmaking survey company that was contracted with the Indonesian army. After that, he got a new job in government relations at Union Oil Company, which improved his financial situation.
For two and half years, the family lived in a newly built neighborhood in the Menteng Dalam, where they owned a house in the administrative village of the Tebet subdistrict in South Jakarta.
After Lolo Soetoro took up job at Union Oil Company, the family moved to the Matraman Dalam neighborhood in the Pegangsaan administrative village of the Menteng subdistrict in Central Jakarta. He also replaced his Japanese motorcycle with a car during this time.
Barack Obama, who studied at the government-run Besuki School for a couple years, moved to Hawaii in the mid-1971 to live with his grandparents so that he could attend Punahou School. One year later, Ann Dunham joined him there with her daughter, after obtaining a scholarship to study anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Dunham returned with her daughter three years later to live with Soetoro, while Obama decided stay with his grandparents. In 1976, the family moved to Yogyakarta and spent half a year with Soetoro's 76-year-old mother.
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Lolo Soetoro and his wife reportedly started to develop conflicting interests as he became more involved in the Western culture while Dunham became interested in Indonesian culture. The two eventually divorced on November 6, 1980, following which Ann Dunham devoted herself to studying rural enterprise in Indonesia.
Later in 1980, Lolo Soetoro got married to Erna Kustina and had two children with her: a son named Yusuf Aji Soetoro and a daughter named Rahayu Nurmaida Soetoro.
Lolo Soetoro died of liver ailment on March 2, 1987, at the age of 52, and was buried in Tanah Kusir Cemetery, South Jakarta.
Connections With Barack Obama
Barack Obama was registered as Barry Soetoro, an Indonesian citizen, at the Santo Fransiskus Assisis School in Jakarta, which led many to believe that Lolo Soetoro had officially adopted him. After Obama decided to run for presidency in 2007, conservatives used this information to question if he had ever officially changed back his citizenship to become an US national.
During Obama's presidential campaign, stories of him spending four years during his early childhood halfway across the world in a Muslim Indonesian household started to make headlines. Once his religious beliefs were questioned, citing the fact that most of his stepfather’s relatives were devout Muslims, his campaign aides formally stated that he “was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian”.
In 2006, Obama had mentioned in his second book, ‘The Audacity of Hope’ that he was not raised in a religious household and thus did not develop his religious views until he was an adult. Lolo Soetoro himself was described in a 2007 article in ‘Chicago Tribune’ as “more of a free spirit than a devout Muslim, according to former friends and neighbors”.
Lolo Soetoro’s most remarkable achievement is perhaps the impression he left on a young Barack Obama, who had been deeply influenced by his stepfather’s character. Obama later recorded in his 1995 memoir, ‘Dreams from My Father’, how his ideas shaped him when he was young, stating that his stepfather gave him “a pretty hardheaded assessment of how the world works”.
In the late 1960s, after little Barack Obama was injured in a fight with a boy in school, Lolo Soetoro bought two sets of boxing gloves, one for himself and the other for his stepson. Following a half-hour sparring session with the young boy to teach him how to protect himself, he also gave him lessons about the dangerous world where strong men often take advantage of the weak.
During Obama's presidential campaign, rumors made the rounds in the tabloids that Obama, his mother, and his stepfather, all had connections with the CIA. While Soetoro worked for the CIA-backed dictator General Suharto, Dunham reportedly was a CIA cover agent working at USAID and Obama worked for over a year at CIA front operation, Business International Corporation, Inc.