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32  Indonesia Today

Tall mountain in the background in Batu near Malang Tall mountain in the background in Batu near Malang
During my first couple of holidays in Indonesia, I noticed that the second and especially the third generation of Indonesians in the big cities try to adopt a Western lifestyle.

Jakarta seen from a plane.
Jakarta seen from a plane
Now that I’m 84+ years of age, in 2010, the last couple of times I visited Indonesia, one old companion after the other had passed away; that's just unavoidable. With them, I often went to visit old, familiar places ‘from the good old days’. But that was about all, as things there, too, have moved on over the past 54 years. Many old houses have either seen major renovations or have disappeared; huge numbers of high-rise apartments have shot up in the cities and even the streets and alleys I knew have changed so drastically that I had trouble recognising them. During the first years of Indonesia’s independence, many of the old buildings and monuments of the colonial era were taken down, but fortunately quite a number have actually been conserved, as was later discovered. When enquiring about the whys and wherefores, the reply is that, whichever way you look at it, it is part of the rich Indonesian past, including the three hundred years of Dutch colonialism.


However, what’s new to Indonesia is the widespread corruption after the war, which, in my opinion, will turn out to be ineradicable. Because judges and government officials, precisely those people who should be examples to others, are in the lead as far as corruption is concerned. The same applies, by the way, to many other countries that became independent after the war.

This says: The Catholic Church of the Birth of the Blessed 
					Virgin Mary
This says: The Catholic Church of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Different experiences within one and the same generation

I did mention before that our second generation of East Indian Dutch people had lived through different things than the first, but realistically, this was also already partly the case for the first generation, as a consequence of the big changes caused by the Second World War. Because of this, when I decided whom I would include in the first generation, I also included - perhaps not quite correctly so – our parents and young people like myself who finished primary and secondary school before the war. Especially young people who - regardless of whether or not they got married after the war – had lived steadily in the pre-war Dutch East Indies for quite a number of years; a calm period which was ended abruptly by the three and a half years of Japanese occupation, followed by sudden, total and irreversible changes in everyday life.
'Shooting' during a visit to Indonesië
'Shooting' during a visit to Indonesië

A person from the ‘first generation’, who is now 75 (in 2010), was born in 1935 and therefore would have been 7 at the time of the outbreak of the war in Indonesia in 1942. This ‘first generation’ will find it only hard to believe that, despite the fact that I am only less than ten years older, I used to wear a 'hansop' at home (a one piece clothing item consisting of extra short shorts with hardly any legpipes, sewn onto an extra short shirt) and I used to sometimes wear a little sailor’s suit when we were going out. And that not much later, when I was a young boy full of mischief, my father gave me a sun helmet to protect me against the hot sun and also an air rifle to shoot 4mm lead shot with. Those boys who didn’t have an air rifle would at least have a catapult as part of their ‘hunting gear’ to shoot down semi ripe fruit in someone else’s garden to make into rujak manis at home, which was eaten greedily. These were everyday things for my peers before 1942. This 75-year-old in 2010 would never have heard of a ‘hansop’ or worn a little sailor’s suit, would only ever have seen sun helmets in movies and air rifles weren’t allowed and not even for sale just before the war!
Dorpsbewoners kijken lachend toe als ik de vruchtbomen in hun tuin aan het bewonderen ben.
Villagers smiling at me while I admire the fruit trees in their garden.

What if ...

People forget that it were mainly the Americans and the English who, with help from the other Allied troops, won the Second World War. However, if the allied forces had lost, Europe would have been made up of one large state nowadays: the Greater German Reich, and Asia would have been just one state: Dai Nippon or Greater Japan, and things would have turned out very differently for every one of us on this planet! It is certain that the East Indian people would never have ended up in the Netherlands, or rather: in the Greater German Reich, if Hitler had become the ruler of Europe. Let alone the dark skinned Moroccans and such!

Show one’s colours

Papaya’s, meloenen en jeruks (citrusfruit)
Papayas, melons and 'jeruks' (citrus fruit)
Of course, being one of “The Last of the Mohicans” I carry quite a lot of (nowadays) useless ballast around as luggage in my backpack; intangible memories of an indeed colourful past. As our generation, the first generation of East Indian people, disappears, some members of the second generation will no doubt have picked up bits and pieces of our East Indian habits, traditions and ‘peculiarities’, but for the third generation this will be pretty much history. Which is good too, as for them the integration into Dutch society will be complete, except perhaps for the fact that their skin colour, which they got from us, could still play a minor, but fortunately insignificant, role. In this respect I would like to tell our future offspring: be proud of your (great) grandparents’ colourful past, as even within the first generation, I’ve come across people who felt ashamed of having had an Indonesian mother or grandmother.
Tasty fried free range chicken
Tasty fried free range chicken

But the latter is linked to a very complex and sad story. In Dutch society in the Indies, several fully Dutch men, and some East Indian Dutch men who had gained, or were hoping to gain, a certain status in society had a ‘nyaï’, an Indonesian concubine. The children the man had with her were generally legitimated by the father, and as such they would have their father’s family name and in accordance with the law they would have Dutch nationality. This type of arrangement was a normal and accepted phenomenon within the European society and, strangely enough, it was even desired if one wanted to get a promotion and move higher up the ranks. However, should someone attend receptions and such with their lower-class Indonesian wife, they could generally forget about their aspirations to move up the ranks immediately. The concubines were to stay out of sight at all times, except of course when amongst friends. However, exceptions were made if a man had married a princess, i.e. a legal daughter of the Sultan of Yogyakarta or of the Susuhunan of Surakarta, who were generally emancipated and had received a Western education. The man would actually consider such a nyaï as his ‘lawful’ wife - despite the lack of a marriage certificate - and they would generally stay together as husband and wife until death. Fortunately, the latter, i.e. that mixed marriages were an issue, no longer applies to Dutch society nowadays. It’s impossible to imagine life today without mixed marriages between different races.

Op de buitenweg rijden langs sawah’s, is mijn lust en mijn leven
I just love driving past sawahs along country roads.
Yet in our family, the descendants of the generations of Indo Dutch can still find out a lot about the country of their origin, if they should be interested in this in the future. After years of research and consulting other sources as well, I’ve managed to establish the family trees of both my parents, ancestors, close relatives and their children. There is lots more they can find out about “those good old days”, as nowadays some of the rich history of the Indo Dutch in the Dutch East Indies of that time, has now even been stored digitally on the internet.

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