Living My Research: Indos (Eurasians) in Indonesia Since 1949

One of the most common questions I’m asked as a PhD candidate isn’t the usual ‘why did you choose this topic’ or ‘why are you investigating race/memory/other academic term from that perspective’. Rather, it’s ‘how does it feel to be living your research?’ The reason is simple. For the past three years I’ve researched the history of Indos – Eurasians, or people of mixed Indonesian and bule descent – who are mostly famous in Indonesia today as Sinetron stars. I’m married to an Indonesian man from Manado, so of course the children we are expected to have will be labelled Indo. A few people have laughingly commented that I’m doing personal, rather than academic research, for my own future family.

Andika and Ros at their 'verloofde' (engagement party. Photo: Rosalind Hewett
Andika and Ros at their ‘verloofde’ (engagement party). Photo: Ros Hewett

The comment that comes up most frequently is wow, you’re bule and your husband is Manadonese – you’re going to have gorgeous children who’ll become celebrities! Many Indonesians are delighted that I have an Indonesian husband, even if some warn me he could be a bit nakal¸ because apparently that’s what Manadonese people are like. My husband’s been warned that his wife will probably divorce him and is also nakal, because that’s what bule women are like. A few concerned Australians warned me before getting married that Andika was probably only interested in me because he wanted to migrate to Australia for a better life – never mind that he’s from a much wealthier family than me! And then there are our unborn children, who don’t really seem to have much choice in the matter; they’re going to be good-looking and probably terrible Sinetron actors, as the stereotype goes. At times we’ve had to negotiate these stereotypes on a daily basis, sometimes through three language mediums: Indonesian, Manado Malay and English. We’ve learned to smile patiently and laughingly report to each other the ways in which we’re supposed to behave based on our ethnicity and/or race.

I might be living my research, but I became interested in the history of Indos in Indonesia before my husband and I were ever a couple. The historian in me wanted to find out why an older generation of Indos, almost all of whom (about 200,000) left Indonesia after 1949, settling in mostly the Netherlands, had such different stories and different ways of identifying to the younger generation in Indonesia today. The term remained the same, but many of the meanings associated with it have changed. The older generation mostly identify as Dutch speaking children of European men and Indonesian or Indo women, born in the Netherlands Indies (colonial Indonesia), who found themselves outcasts in the new Indonesian Republic and forgotten by the former Netherlands Indies government, the Dutch government and the Indonesian government. During the early years of the National Revolution (1945-1949), thousands of members of this generation were killed on the islands of Java and Sumatra, notably in several mass slaughters carried out in East Java, because they were perceived by fervently nationalist pemuda groups as loyal to returning colonial troops after Japanese surrender. This period (1945-1947) is called the Bersiap by Indos who left Indonesia, and was one of the main catalysts behind their decision to leave the country.

My research looked mostly at what happened to those who remained in Indonesia, though I did some oral history interviews in the Netherlands in late 2012 and also Queensland, where some Indos of this generation had emigrated. I lived in Jakarta for almost a year in 2013, and during this time met young and elderly Indos across Java and in the Minahasa region of North Sulawesi. Then, to try to make the long wait for an Australian partner visa more bearable, I lived in Manado for a few months with my husband in 2014, and worked through the documents I’d collected from the Dutch archives about the 1950s. These documents talked about the breakdown of Dutch-Indonesian relations over the West Irian issue, which didn’t become part of Indonesia until 1963 (today the provinces of Papua and West Papua). The result was the complete expulsion of all Dutch citizens in December 1957, in what’s called the Black Santa Claus Incident (Peristiwa Sinterklas Hitam). All Indos remaining in Indonesia with Dutch citizenship left. The small number who took Indonesian citizenship assimilated, particularly during the Suharto years, and for many, it wasn’t really until after 1998 that they began to gather with other Dutch speakers and recall the days of their youth.

My research has taken me to some fascinating places – old Dutch cities with cobblestoned streets, modern retirement homes on the Australian Sunshine Coast, coastal fishing villages consisting entirely of people tracing their descent to Portuguese and Spanish traders four hundred years ago, and Pacific Place, one of the most elite shopping malls in Indonesia. People have been kind enough to share their stories with me, from humble fishermen to Dutch Indo activists to famous Sinetron stars to housewives serving me delicious snacks to retired soldiers expressing their complete loyalty to Indonesia. Possibly the most interesting tie-in between my own circumstances and the history that I’ve researched is the fact that I found out my husband’s great-grandfather was Indo, of Dutch and French descent, and I was able to interview Andika’s great aunt about the family history before she died last year. When we attended the funeral, I was able to provide relatives who were present at the interview with a copy of the recording, perhaps contributing to living family history. Some of my interview participants have kept contact with me, and they are awaiting the inevitable book that I’ve promised them. The networks I’ve made across three different countries, not only because I’m married to an Indonesian, but also thanks to the kindness of the people I’ve met, have made the whole PhD project a joy to undertake. They have all contributed, much more than I have, to the writing of a forgotten piece of Indonesian history.

AIYA Links: 27 February

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Basuki: A New Era for Jakarta

Jakarta has recently elected its 17th Governor, Mr. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. We caught up with Clarissa Tanurahardja to get her take on why she thinks he is the man to mark a new era for Jakarta.

The Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Photo: Solo Bagus.

The new Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, is a leader who is notable for his straight shooting and transparency in his role in public office. He has also helped reduce the communication gap by opening his phone line to Jakarta’s citizens.

One of the main characteristics of Basuki’s vision for Jakarta, is his efforts to make Jakarta one of the first smart cities in Indonesia. For instance, he bought Google Enterprise in order to build “Jakarta as a smart city”. The new Governor has also installed fiber optics networks and 3.000 CCTV cameras in Jakarta to improve accountability.  His vision for Jakarta as a smart city is to enhance technology to empower Jakarta citizens’ lives. He also believes transparency in government’s work will create public trust in the long run.

Basuki also initiated Jakarta’s tourism vision for both Jakarta’s citizens and tourists by providing double decker buses to go around historical and attractive landmarks in Jakarta.   In 2015, he also successfully proposed the Kota Tua Area in Jakarta as a nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Basuki wants to preserve Jakarta’s traditional culture by revitalising the Kota Tua area.

Basuki faced some challenges during his work as Governor of Jakarta, such as how to handle corruption in the bureaucracy and the effective management to solve flooding in Jakarta. To reduce inefficiency in the bureaucracy, he implemented e-budgeting system with greater security to reports directly to Ministry of Home Affairs. Furthermore, he collaborated with Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management to mark a flooding area in Jakarta and solve complaints for Jakarta’s citizens.

During his time as Governor of Jakarta, he suggested street vendors move to specific market areas thus helping to reduce traffic congestion. He also negotiated a minimum wage increase for citizens, and has commenced surprise inspections of government offices. Moreover, Basuki also launched e-money for helping Jakarta’s citizens in parking payment and TransJakarta buses in order to fulfill the vision of Jakarta as a cashless society.

He has vision that working for Jakarta’s citizens should be based on core principles such as integrity, justice for society, and professionalism. As he states, “The Jakarta that we strive for is a Jakarta with humanitarian principles and that upholds a great character!” (“Jakarta yang kami perjuangkan adalah Jakarta dengan prinsip-prinsip kemanusiaan dan mewujudkan karakter yang hebat!” )

To learn more about the new Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, you can visit his website or Twitter. To explore more about Jakarta as smart city, you can visit the official website.

AIYA Links: Happy Chinese New Year


AIYA would like to wish all those celebrating Chinese New Year a safe and happy Year of the Goat. 恭喜發財!

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Halo from Kalimantan Selatan, AIYEP 2014-15

Halo teman-teman! For those I haven’t met yet, I’m Alex – a boy’s name around Indonesia, but not in my case. I’m writing from Banjarmasin, Kalimantan Selatan, where thirty-six of us are taking part in this year’s AIYEP (Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program).

The world's biggest selfie! Photo: Alex Murfett
The world’s biggest selfie! Photo: Alex Murfett

It’s great to be back in Indonesia. And, maybe more importantly, great being in Mattone village and Banjarmasin for the first time. There is no doubt that our experiences here have given us a greater understanding of the respective local cultures.

The first thing I noticed about AIYEP before it even started was how awesome it is that there’s a program for Australians to immerse in local Indonesian cultures. A month and a half in, nasi, jam karet, motorbikes, five-plus meals a day and sitting around our host families’ living rooms have become reality. And what was originally a tentative group of candidates replying to group emails is now a well-bonded group. Indonesia is definitely good at bringing diversity into one fun, exciting mix.

The bonding of our group was facilitated over a series of orientations, in Perth, Jakarta and Banjarmasin. Big picture discussions about teamwork, culture and village life evolved into plans for our ‘Cultural Performance’ (CP) and Community Development (ComDev) projects.

The CP was undoubtedly the big achievement of the orientation. Our performance is a collage of dances and songs we put together to depict Australian and Indonesian culture, as we identify it. Selecting the content was initially a challenge as both cultures are so varied and we felt a responsibility to encapsulate it all. The more we have performed it, we’ve started to see our job as having fun while we are doing it and putting forward a positive national spirit. We visit a handful of schools and community events every Monday to perform the CP. I like doing the saman and our choir-violin-guitar medley of ‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow’, ‘Siti Ropa’, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘Rasa Sayangi’. The CP is a good way to reciprocate some of the generosity we’ve been shown by sharing some of our culture with the community.

For a lot of us, the ComDev project was the first in our personal lists of activities we were most excited to do. We arranged ourselves into six divisions to tackle local issues related to education, health, sports, waste management, business and promotion/events. The general consensus was that we wanted to create sustainable projects that would integrate into and benefit village life. The program of activities was, therefore, simple but carefully planned and researched as to involve the maximum number of villagers we could muster up.

In my  opinion, our ComDev project was a great success. The villagers were open-minded and enthusiastic and we could always count on them attending – usually more than we anticipated.

My main project was a project to spark more interest in tenun ikat (traditional weaving) in the village, which had died down leaving just two weavers. We traveled between Mattone and a tenun Corporation in the next village that had a flourishing membership of fifty-two. The underlying difference was that Mattone had a deep-seated perception that tenun is outdated. We held a workshop for the women who were still interested in learning and practicing tenun, but didn’t have the means.

Some of the other projects that were particularly memorable were the ones I noticed the community particularly enjoying. Like, the tooth-brushing lessons for SD1-4 where the children got excited over the hygiene kits we’d made them and used them at home that night. And the new soccer pitch which quickly became a new hang-out spot for the village’s teens.

Had it not been for our host families, I don’t think we would have got the same response from the community. A select group of our host parents were active helpers in our projects from day one. Joey and Skivo’s dad helped within the Business division, offering to take us on our research trips on the back of his tosa (rubbish trailer). The news of AIYEP travelled quickly through our host families. Once the neighbours had paid us visits at our houses, we got to know the community – and, more rightly, they got to know us.

The culmination of our stay in the village was the Pesta Rakyat festival on the second-last day. Pesta Rakyat was a platform for showcasing Mattone’s small businesses, music, school and crafts and was the results of a month’s planning by the Promotions/Events division. In three days, the land next to the beach was transformed by fifteen or so marquees and an enormous stage fitted with a professional sound system. We finished the festival with our trademark CP, a few songs by the AIYEP band and a record-breaking selfie that featured all the villagers.

Saying goodbye to the village was difficult. The scene outside the Kepala Desa’s office on our last morning was a sad sight. With emotional hugs and promises to come back, the bus drove us away, to the beautiful mountain village of Loksado. We spent five days there for the planned mid-visit break, shamelessly doing nothing.

As I write this segment, it’s near the end of my second week in Banjarmasin – the city phase. I’m having a different experience and relishing it just as much. The main adjustment is that we’re not all living next-door anymore, but I’m finding keeping in touch relatively easy with the benefit of technology in the city.

My new host family is full of wonderful people (no surprises there) and has welcomed my counterpart and I with open arms. Every day Aba, my host father, drops me to where I need to be and seems to have put his meal times in sync with ours. Syifa, my older sister, is similar. She’s always ready to hang out and usually we like to sit and look at her newborn nephew while he’s sleeping. Mama, my host mother, is a simply a legend. Take last night as an example. I came home from my work placement fatigued. She took one look at me and said, ‘we’ll go upstairs, I’ll give you a massage’. It isn’t just massages – it’s fruit, jengkol, kue, kacang rebus – craft activities together – and makeovers in traditional attire!

AIYEP has also spoilt me with my work placement. I elected to be in print media and was placed at the next best alternative, iRadio 90.1fm. The station is broadcasted around Banjarmasin, Jakarta, Bandung, Jogja, Medan and Makassar and our programs are locally based.

The first morning, my workplace counterpart and I were interviewed on air. There were questions about who we are, what we experienced in Mattone and where we’re from. We’ve also been researching news and local fact pieces for social media updates on Twitter and Facebook, writing scripts for the weekend announcers and producing the evening shows.

My first experience in an office in Indonesia is cheerful and fun. Every morning around ten, we eagerly go outside and loiter around the front as the jamu seller approaches with her sweet and salty concoctions. During the day, it isn’t uncommon for my colleagues to come up and sits next to me for a chat. And when it’s time for lunch, we all eat together. The same goes for afternoon snacks – someone can always be counted on to bring cakes, gorengan, fruit salad or krupuk and we’re up out of our chairs, chatting.

Thinking over some of the things I’ve experienced on AIYEP so far, I feel unbelievably lucky. I feel as though the relationships we developed in the village and are still developing in the city and amongst the group are real. There’s something to say for the generous, friendly Indonesian spirit complementing the relaxed, playful Australian spirit.

It will be hard leaving. These experiences will last a lifetime. As for moving forward though, there is a lot to engage with through AIYA and the Indonesia-Australia community in Melbourne. So, sampai nanti!

AIYA Links: 13 February

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2nd Impressions of Indonesia

It’s Saturday 15th November, approximately 9 PM and I’ve just arrived at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport Jakarta, dead tired following over 13 hours in transit since I left behind the schizophrenic weather of Melbourne, but incredibly excited to be visiting Indonesia for the second time, only this time with my good mate Kiran in tow. I don’t quite know why I felt even more excited this time around than I did when I arrived in Jakarta for my very first visit on November 30 last year. Maybe it’s because I’m much wiser now and know what orderly chaos (and crazy fun) to expect beyond the airport? Or maybe it’s because I have my good friend with me, whose only travel experience beyond Australia is the over-commercialised, generic tourist trap of Phuket, Thailand and the Malaysian Peninsula. In many ways I’m just as excited for him as I am for myself, and as our taxi careens down the Jakarta Outer Ring Road towards our accommodation in Cilandak Barat, I’m keen to hit the ground running and give both of us an authentic “Indonesian experience” on the busy streets of the capital city. With only 8 days before we leave for Singapore, the clock is ticking….

Travelling in 'Kota Gila'. Photo: Michael Reardon
Travelling in ‘Kota Gila’. Photo: Michael Reardon

4 Days in Kota Gila: Never Enough

Our first day in Jakarta set the pace for the rest of the trip. We were up by 6.30 AM, but didn’t leave the house we were staying at until 9.00 AM, by which time the roads were relatively busy (for a Sunday at least). Catching a taxi was not for me, so I coaxed my friend onto the next Metromini heading northbound on Jl. Fatmawati towards the Blok M Bus Terminal, from where we would take the much more modern Transjakarta bus to the north of town. This was my friend Kiran’s first real introduction to Indonesia and it’s safe to say he was a little worried for the first 10 minutes or so of our ride on the Metromini. I on the other hand felt very happy, even a little giddy perhaps to once again be surrounded by the orderly chaos that defines this country in my mind, and makes cities such as Jakarta so damn exciting! To cut a long-story short, we managed to catch the final minutes of Jl. Thamrin’s car-free Sunday approximately 90 minutes later as we walked from Setia Budi up to the Grand Indonesia Roundabout, where our casual pace was interrupted by the onslaught of Jakarta’s banked-up traffic flowing freely once again. After lunch we arrived in Kota Tua and having obligingly posed for countless rounds of “boleh foto misterrr!” we followed an old canal past decrepit Dutch colonial buildings, to the otherworldly floating village of Sunda Kelapa. Here our path was met by a mixture of curious children, stray cats, chickens and an old man who after finding out I was Australian could only say “Tony Abbott!” with an amusing look of bemusement on his face. Our remaining 3 days in ‘Kota Gila’ as I like to call it, involved visiting UI, Bogor, MONAS and Tanah Abang, in between running around so I could catch up with my many local friends.

Bandung: A Urban Oasis Amongst Even More Orderly Chaos

On Wednesday night, having missed the 6.15 PM train due to Jakarta’s notorious macet, we caught the later 7.45 PM service from Stasiun Gambir to Bandung, where I would spend the next 2 days fitting over a year’s worth of clothes shopping into just a few hours whilst doing the customary sightseeing all tourists do when they visit a new city for the very first time. We arrived in Bandung just before midnight and although I couldn’t see very much, I was immediately impressed by the seemingly cooler, greener, hillier environs of the country’s 3rd biggest metropolis. We were fortunate enough to stay on Level 18 at one of Bandung’s better hotels, which meant by morning the green expanse of the city came into full view from the heights of Cilembeleuit Hill. A short jalan-jalan along Jl. Cihampelas and I had already fallen for the ‘Paris of Java’ and her elegant, tree-lined streets, tempered by the usual pandemonium of Angkot’s, beggars, buskers, hawkers, stray cats and curious locals which can be found all across the entire archipelago. By Friday evening, it was time to leave for our next destination and stepping aboard the Kerata-Api, I knew I had just experienced a very special place, one which held my keen interest and left me feeling pleased yet not entirely satisfied. I hadn’t seen enough of Bandung and wanted to delve even further below the surface of this intriguing town as soon I could take time off work again….

Jogja: Like Coming Home for the Second Time

I didn’t sleep very well during the 7 hour train journey, but I did wake up 4.00 AM the following morning to find myself in Yogyakarta Station just as expected. I was tired as usual (nothing’s new), but I immediately felt a strange sense of belonging, almost like I was “coming home” for the second time, even though I only spent 3 nights in Jogja during my last visit in December 2013. There’s something almost magical about this town, everything from Jl. Malioboro and its daily parade of eccentric characters, to the serene sights of Candi Borobudur and Prambanan had left a lasting impression on me to this very day. Jogja has all the mod-cons of Jakarta, but without the traffic or confronting poverty and all the greenery of Bandung, but without the smog of a big city. My 2 days in Jogja were criminally short, but me and my friend Kiran managed to make the most of it, visiting Pantai Pok Tunggul and Ngandong on the Southern Coast of Java, in addition to the temples mentioned above. Monday morning we left Jogja for the ‘utopian’ city-state of Singapore, where the people behaved like carefully programmed robots, the trains ran on-time to the very second and the streets were so forensically-spotless it appeared a little more of their character had been wiped away with each clean. From this short distance I really did miss the orderly chaos and friendly faces of Indonesia, and it made me realise what I love soo much about this country. On 2nd impressions, Indonesia is just as busy, exciting, enthralling and repugnant as before. But above all, Indonesia is a brilliant cross-section of humanity in all its beauty and ugliness, packed into a few thousand islands only 1/3 the size of Australia’s landmass. Indonesia is humanity writ-large!

AIYA Links: 6 February

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  • Indonesia joins the rest of the world in tackling food security challenges this century, writes Dwi Sunandar.

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How to Feed a Hungry Planet: Goals for 2050

The world has recently had major problems in feeding its people because it is a hungry planet. Many countries in the world are having difficulties feeding people and dealing with food insecurity.

One of these countries is Indonesia, which has had major problems with a decrease in food production that must be solved as soon as possible. As human growth continues to increase each year, the need to increase food production also rises. Indonesia is a vast archipelago that should be able to produce food by planting, gardening, or farming but the country still attempts to import a lot of its food from abroad. Actually, there are several factors that influence food insecurity in Indonesia such as a bad irrigation in irrigating the field, the quality of the soil decreasing, lack of developing technology and a lack of research in agriculture.

Human growth had increased significantly in the past several years, which has caused the need to increase food production to rise dramatically. The data from FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) shows the number of human beings to have increased by approximately 805 million people in the world between 2012-2014. Data from PRB (Population Reference Bureau) has the world population at about 7.2 billion in 2014. This is a really amazing increase in human growth. So further development in agriculture is required to meet the demands of this increase in population.

Food needs are increasing every year because of several factors. The first is the decreasing amount of agricultural land as the basis for planting as well as seeds (rice, wheat, soy, etc). The second is the effect of erratic weather conditions causing agricultural products to decrease and the quality of agricultural products are also being diminished such as the effects from droughts or other causes likes floods. The third factor is increasingly polluted environments with waste; pollutants that affect the quality of the soil becoming infertile. In addition, the use of excessive insecticide has decreased soil fertility and lowered durability of the products.

From these factors, we know what it is needed in solving problems in developing all parts of agriculture. Here, we require major actors to help develop new programs. There are three main actors here. The government, scientists as well as the individual and society are all major actors in helping to solve problems in agriculture. Each actor has a main role to help the effort whilst also working alongside the other actors. They cannot do it alone.

The first is government. The government has a main role in solving the problem of feeding people and securing food for 2050. It has a policy in developing Indonesia in the field of agriculture. It needs to offer support in building farming infrastructure such as canal irrigation to help irrigating the fields. The main role of the canal irrigation is to help irrigation from the dam to the field. In fact, in Indonesia the canal irrigation is yet to be fully achieved. The government should also exercise caution in creating new buildings such as apartments, supermarkets and hotels. This will allow the government to add areas for farming so that they will be able to farm or to plant and this will help to increase food production

The second one is science. They have an active role to develop the product quality to be better. We know that the quality of products have been decreasing because of insecticide abuse. The use of insecticides will give the negative effect of the result of the product and decrease the fertility of the ground. The insecticides include chemicals so it is not good for farming. The scientists can try to recycle the things that do not have a cost value such as leftovers, the plant, vegetables or something that can be recycled. Thus they can something new which can improve the quality of agriculture product such as making compost to reduce the use of insecticide, the use of bottles to change using more places for farming or planting.

The last one is society. The role here is really important; as it is as a society we can take action to develop the field of agriculture. The main actors are farmers. Farmers act within the farming and gardening field. They can increase the agricultural product by planting. On the other hand, they also have a problem in increasing the agricultural product such as decreased in farming land or rice fields. They cannot plant or farm products such as rice, corn or the whole grain to fulfill the needs of people if there is a decreased area for planting.

The three main actors here should work together to achieve the purpose of increasing and developing agriculture products. We know that our world in 2050 will have problems in feeding hungry people. So we must look to solve these problems. When we work together, we will come up with a good solution.

AIYA Links: 30 January

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  • Want to work with AIYA? We’re looking for people to be a part of our National Executive.
  • The Asia Society is advertising Sydney-based internship positions running from February-May this year.
  • Applications for the Indonesian government’s Darmasiswa Scholarship Program, which offers one-year scholarships for foreign students to study the language, arts and culture of Indonesia, are now open.