Social World of Batavia.

Book Review

By Calvin Sidjaja, Jakarta, Indonesia

Title:  Social World of Batavia: Europeans and Eurasians in Colonial Indonesia

Author:  Jean Taylor Gilman

ISBN-10: 0299094707

ISBN-13: 978-0299094706

This is probably one of the most complete literature of Dutch-Indonesians you could find. Written in readable language, this book contains valuable information for any Dutch-Indonesian who is curious of their history.

During the colonial period the Dutch made social caste to divide people according to their ethnicity: Dutch/European, Creole (Dutch/European born in Batavia), Asians (oriental people), Eurasian, and the bottom was Indigenous people. It’s interesting to note the striking difference of social life in Indies and Netherlands.

The Dutch government had many times voiced their concern over the Creoles and Dutch people in Batavia of being too Asian. Dutch language must compete with Malay and Portuguese, and it was not easy to replace them with Dutch. This book also answers why Dutch was never successful as English, because the colonial government feared the spread of Dutch language to non-dutch will increase their accessibility to knowledge.

Speaking Dutch language was considered prestigious. If Dutch wanted to promote Dutch, it means they must build schools for natives, educating them in European manners, making them more educated. It should also be noted that pure Dutch never thought Eurasian/Indo people as “Dutch”, but rather, second class citizen with Asian blood which they thought derogatory. Officially, Eurasians was European, but in practice, they were considered second-class citizen. They were having complex to the pure European and tried to conceal the Asian blood as best as possible. This condition will turn upside down when Japanese invaded Indies and put European in the lowest caste. The Eurasians now trying to deny their European heritage and desperately trying to convince the Japanese administration of their Asian blood.

This is a wonderful book that could explain the socio-cultural situation in Batavia and is highly recommended for those who want to know how Dutch-Indonesians lived in Batavia. This is a must-read for all Dutch-Indonesians out there.

While the book received praises from its readers due its readability and comprehensive information, ironically it almost receives no attention in the Indonesian’s booksphere, it’s understandable since Indo’s existence is virtually erased from Indonesian timeline. Modern history books used in schools rarely mentioned about Indo. Bersiap, the infamous period that brought traumas to most Indos was not part of Indonesian collective knowledge.

This book could be used as introduction to the 2nd and 3rd generations who are probably puzzled and confused of their heritage due to decades of cultural alienation and wondered how their ancestor lived in motherland. As a 3rd generation who is passionate and trying to rediscover my lost heritage, I found this book as one of the greatest contribution to our forgotten history.

 

3 Comments on “Social World of Batavia.

  1. From my life’s experiences, even long ago as a child overhearing grown ups talk, I have seen that social class and standing, and racism always seem to be of great issue amongst the minority itself, which ever that might be at whatever moment. Indeed amongst themselves they debate (and debacle) over who is superior due to lighter skin or ‘better’ national origin very fiercely. I, proudly, call myself “Indo” by choice, but there is no such “nationality”. My nationality is in accordance with the laws of the land, under which I was born. Nationality and Race are two different things. Years ago the teaching simply was that there are “officially” only four races in the whole world. They are Oriental, Negro, Mongolian and Caucasian. Non of these are determined by one’s skin color or nationality. They are determined by skull formation. I think people have debated the race issue to shameful proportions of confusion, just because they needed to prove where one belonged. One thing is universal for all, of us, mixies and that is we can, and are, hated at times at both sides of spectrum. Just depending which way the wind blows. There is a time, however, when everyone’s jargon stops, and that is when our blood has to be categorized for medical purposes. When I volunteered as a Bone Marrow Donor it was of vital importance that they knew my exact background, to help others (four years later they found a match. I was told that that happens less than 4% of the time outside one’s family. Regrettably the person never made it to procedure). There, I was filed away as “Eurasian-Pacific Islander”. For me it is simple. I am an Indisch meisje of French, Chinese, German, Austrian, Indonesian and Dutch blood, born under the law of The Netherlands which made me a Dutch national. The Japanese did not put the Dutch, and all the other Europeans on a lower rank. As far the the Japanese were concerned, in essence, they too regarded the Dutch and other Europeans as higher and more important. They targeted them because they posed an immediate threat to them. They weren’t afraid of ‘handling’ (in their minds) the others. Why, indeed, they made servants out of them, unless they, too, showed a fighting fist.

    • Hello. I wonder, are you still registered as a bone marrow donor? I have a dear friend who is in urgent need of a bone marrow transplant and she is Dutch-Indonesian. It sounds like your background is similar? She lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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