13  Income

Making Ends Meet

Field of Honour Kembang Kuning to Surabaya
Photos taken at the Field of Honour Kembang Kuning to Surabaya. Here rest all who died in the battle of the Java Sea, the Royal Navy and the Naval Aviation Service.

Until the capitulation on 15 August 1945 (according to the Japanese era, which was used at the time, this was in the year 2605) I worked at the Diëng cigarette factory at the Kramatweg in Jakarta to earn some money for our family. Every day I would join a couple of other East Indian boys and go out in this open, really old truck with made from timber with wooden rims , to deliver parcels of cigarettes to different places, intended for the Japanese managers of various organisations and to the homes of Japanese officers.

Ever Present Terror

We had to get up early every day, never knew at what time we’d finish and breaking down with the truck after dark and outside the town was a risky event. At night, various plundering and murdering gangs could be found on the almost deserted road from Jakarta to Sukabumi. It happened once to us that we broke down there. Leaving the broken down truck far behind, the other boys and I headed toward the edge of the cliff with a hessian bag and some rope. Once we were just out of sight of the road, we got into the hessian bag which we’d tied onto a tree and we spent the night hanging half over the gorge. Which was far from comfortable if I may say so, as it cooled down significantly at night in that mountainous region! Our Indonesian driver Abdul spent the night comfortably in the truck’s cabin, since he had nothing to fear.


Once a week, we collected heavy bags with sugar and rice for the cigarette factory from a wagon at one of the stations in Jakarta. Part of the sugar was intended for the saucing of the tobacco in combination with an essence, another part was for the employees to use in their coffee or tea during their break. In addition, employees were also given a bowl of plain, cooked rice during their break. On the odd occasion, Dutch prisoners of war were working at the deserted marshalling yard of such a station and if we were lucky enough to find the Japanese guards lenient, they would sometimes pretend not to notice and allowed us to talk with the prisoners for a bit. Carrying the heavy 60 - 70 kg bags from our truck to the cigarette factory warehouse took a heavy toll on our already poor strength. We didn’t earn much and in order to boost our income a little, we’d smuggle individual cigarettes to the outside world when the coast was clear and sell them to a Chinese dealer, going halves with someone working in the factory who was in on it. We shared the profit... Cigarettes of the brands Kooa, Banteng, Siraho and Misuho were hot items and the factory didn’t have enough fermentation tins to dry and ferment the tobacco leaves. No problem: the Japanese management ordered us to carefully dismount various curing boxes, used for fermenting tea leaves, at the tea company Gunung Mas on the Puncak in West Java, which we delivered in that open truck to the Diëng cigarette factory in Jakarta.

Providing for our Every Day Living

As already mentioned, we, i.e. my mother and us three children, lived on Kramat near Pasar Senèn in a lounge room in that double mansion, with other East Indian families crammed into other rooms. Both mansions had large front yards full of coconut palms. By the order of the ‘Japs’, we had to dig out various large air-raid shelters in these yards, where we could seek shelter in case of bombardments by the allied bombers. I had ‘confiscated’ this large front yard - with the approval of the three old spinster sisters of course who owned the mansions - and had planted dozens of singkong (cassava) plants so we could harvest their roots for consumption after several months. For, just like so many others during the Japanese occupation, my mother was left with no income and the harvested roots were very welcome indeed. During those years of war, nearly all mothers took up the trade of ‘seller of their own belongings’! During the war, in order to buy food, East Indian Dutch people sold, little by little, their own scarce belongings to dealers who would come by.. But of course, the money wasn’t nearly enough, so many people became 'tjatoeters’ as they were called in Indonesian. ‘Tjatoeters’ were people who’d buy items from other people to sell them on with a profit in order to generate a little extra income. They bought from people who either had things double or who made things to sell. People would for instance make dresses, table cloths, crocheting and embroidery and such from material and yarn they could buy cheaply. The ‘tjatoeter’ would sell these for them for a price that was agreed upon in advance. Any extra profit that was made, the ‘tjatoeter’ could keep for herself.

Cassave tuber and plant
Cassave tuber and plant
This ‘tjatoeting’ got pretty serious at times, as these ‘tjatoeters’ often became self-appointed representatives of micro businesses manufacturing spades (pacols) or anything you could think of, at home. They knew how much each article was, so if they could find a buyer who was willing to pay a slightly higher price, they could make some money. They didn’t need any capital to operate, as the items were passed on directly from the seller to the individual buyer or merchant, via the tjatoeter, the unsalaried intermediate generating some extra income, be it for a slightly higher amount. But coming back to my own cassava roots near ‘our’ mansion: thieves were about when it came to harvest time. A few times when I left home in the morning to go to work, I noticed the leaves of some of the cassava plants all the way at the front of our yard had somewhat wilted. A thief had seized the opportunity, pulled out the plants, stolen the edible roots and cheekily put them back in their original spot! Decency forces me to admit that I wasn't any better myself, as I occasionally did some stealing myself. I would climb into one of the many coconut palms (which weren’t mine) in this huge yard to steal coconuts, from which we made coconut oil that we used to cook our daily meals. It did scare me when, high up in the coconut palm, a green tree snake would land on me. But not much, as I don’t think they were poisonous fortunately.

Tragic Deaths Everywhere

The following story is really unnerving, as I literally faced death on an almost daily basis. The double mansion in which one single lounge room was ours, was situated at the end of a long driveway lined with trees. The driveway was pitch black when I came home at night after work. There were many small shops at the corners of Kramat-Senen-Tanah Tinggi and many people went shopping there during the day. There were also many beggars, thin as rakes, who were as good as dead. Coming home at night, I regularly tripped and took a nasty tumble on that dark driveway, tripping over one or sometimes even two dead beggars. At the crack of dawn, a municipal officer would come by, wrap the deceased beggars in a tikar (mat made of bamboo fibre) and take them away in a handcart.

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