Indo ProfileStoriesMoesson editor Vivian Boon with her opa Indo legend Tjalie Robinson

By Vivian Boon

For me, he was my Opa Tjalie

April 22, 1974 is the day my grandfather died. For me he was my Opa Tjalie. To this day I regret not getting to know him – I was only a toddler when he passed away.

From what my parents, my grandmother, my aunts have told me, I know he loved me. He liked to go for walks with me and he taught me difficult words. As a two-year-old I knew what a ‘condensation mark’ was, thanks to my grandfather. At that time, I called the plane that produced the stripe in the sky a ‘nong nong’.

He also secretly gave me pieces of Cadbury chocolate, the kind with nuts and raisins. Years later when I was studying in Amsterdam, I bought one of those chocolate bars from the night shop around the corner. I did not have a conscious memory of the pieces of chocolate that Opa gave me, but I was instantly addicted to the very sweet chocolate. When I told my father how I fell in love with that particular chocolate, he laughed and said: “I know why”.

As I grew up, I could sometimes be jealous of all those people, outside of the family, who had known my grandfather. They were able to tell me things about him that I did not know. I thought it was unfair that vague acquaintances could talk more about how my grandfather spoke, moved, and lived his life than I— his granddaughter. Later, I was grateful that there were so many who had known him, who wanted to share his story with me, and with others—because his story was an important one.

Indo legend Tjalie Robinson
Indo legend Tjalie Robinson

Tjalie Robinson, Indo Legend

The outside world and the Indo community had gotten to know my grandfather as Tjalie Robinson, a legend. He was the one who gave the Indo community a voice: writer of the immensely popular Piekerans, writer of the acclaimed novel Tjies, Founder of Tong Tong magazine, and co- founder of the Pasar Malam in The Hague.

Tjalie Robinson, alias for Jan Boon (1911-1974), was born in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, in a year that his totok father Cornelis Boon, a professional soldier with the KNIL, and his mother Fela Robinson, daughter of an Englishman and a Javanese, were on leave in the Netherlands. When he was three months old, they went back to the Dutch East Indies.

In Tong Tong, all the dead return to life. ~ Tjalie Robinson

Boon started his professional career as a teacher in Java. In 1936, he became a sports editor at the Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad. Jan Ritman, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper at the time, wrote in Tong Tong about their first encounter after Boon died:

“He wanted something other than teaching. I still consider myself lucky that I accepted Jan Boons’ application. There were always candidates who were attracted to what they believed to be an adventurous profession. I don’t know what got into Jan, knocking on the door of the newspaper. I also don’t remember why I decided to give this quiet and humble young man a chance. Neither of us regretted our decision. Behind the seemingly quiet front, the adventurer hid, who he has always been and will always be.”

Boon spent the time of the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies in various prisoner of war camps, including Singapore and Johor Bahru in Malaysia. After the war he first worked as an administrator at Bruynzeel in Sampit, Borneo. He followed his future wife Lilian Ducelle there. This is where he wrote his masterpiece Tjies, which was published years later under his other alias Vincent Mahieu. An alias he only used for his more literary work.

But Boon missed the newspaper and Jakarta and became a journalist for the Indonesian morning paper De Nieuwsgier. This became the time of the Piekerans, the famous serial in the Saturday edition, that was later also in the newspaper in Surabaya. They were devoured by the Indo community. Readers recognized the typical Jakarta (street) life Robinson described in original petjoh. Jans’ pseudonym, Tjalie Robinson, to honor his mother’s family name, would from then on be and remain his ‘trademark’.

Giving the Indo Community a Voice

In 1955 he left with his family for the Netherlands, where he initially lived in Amsterdam. In 1959 they moved to The Hague. Beginning in 1956 he edited the magazine Onze Brug, which became best known when he renamed it Tong Tong in 1958 (later renamed Moesson). A tong-tong is a hollowed-out tree trunk that was used in Indonesia as an alarm clock and signaling instrument. The rhythm of the beats indicated which message it concerned. Indos and their experiences were at the center point of the magazine. He set himself the goal of keeping the memory and existence of the Dutch Indo culture alive: “to work towards living monuments of an immortal past”. Robinson asked his readers to contribute their stories and told them “if you don’t know how to write, just pretend you’re writing me a letter, start your story with “Dear Tjalie” and the rest will follow”. Tong Tong became the buoy of the Indo community. Robinson gave the Indo community a voice: people shared their memories of the Dutch East Indies, their new lives in the Netherlands or elsewhere in the world, and connected over shared experiences.

In 1959 Robinson organized the first Pasar Malam, together with Mary Brückel-Beiten, in the The Hague Zoo. The first time there were already 3,000 visitors. After four years, the Zoo had become too small venue and the Pasar Malam moved to the Houtrust Halls. Later the market was moved to the Malieveld, a big open field in The Hague. Today the annual festival still exists and is called the Tong-Tong Fair. It attracts more than 100,000 visitors.

Indo Boon Family in 1963 at L.A.Airport -Vivian Robinson-Ducelle
The Boon Family in 1963 at L.A.Airport from Vivian Robinson Ducelle Photo Collection

American Tong-Tong

In the sixties Tjalie Robinson moved to California, together with his wife Lilian and their two children Lucian and Vivian. Approximately 30,000 Indos moved to the USA in the 1950’s and 60’s. A lot of them moved to Southern California where the Indo community came together for all sorts of activities at ‘De Soos’.  On August 15, 1962 the first American Tong Tong was printed. On the opening page, Tjalie wrote: “It’s not only with ‘Great Expectations’ but also with the absolute conviction that we will succeed with this first Indo magazine in America, that I write this opening article for The American Tong-Tong”.

For about two-and-a-half years, every two weeks a new American Tong-Tong appeared, with news from and about the American Indo community. But, in 1965, the publication ended. It was, as Tjalie wrote, only meant to be a ‘temporary break’. On February 28, 1965, the last American Tong-Tong was published. In the last edition, Tjalie highly recommended the Soosblad, the publication later known as De Indo—that was run by his friend and ‘kindred spirit’ René Creutzburg. That small publication with the famous yellow cover did not see its last publication until last August, after René Creutzburg passed away.

Netherlands Return

In 1968 Tjalie Robinson and his family left California to return to the Netherlands, where the original Tong Tong had hit difficult financial times. It took hard work and effort to get the publication back on track, but Robinson succeeded.

In 1974, Tjalie Robinson died at the early age of 63. In the first Tong Tong that was published after his death, Jan Ritman wrote: “He had become the center point of a crowd of friends spread all over the world. Those Indos and totoks who had loved Indië and still love Indonesia. They may have shared or rejected his ideals – to preserve the Dutch Indo identity – but they all admired the courage and tenacity of the talents he used or rather consumed in the years that were given to him. He was the prototype of a man who united the best qualities of an Indo in himself. No matter how sharp his pen, he would never knowingly hurt anyone”.

Monsoon: Growth, Bloom, Rest

His wife Lilian Ducelle took over as CEO and editor-in-chief of the magazine. She said, “I cannot replace my husband, but I can continue his work”. She later said she could not have done the job without the help of her son Lucian, who stepped in as editor, graphic designer, and more. In 1978 Ducelle renamed the magazine Moesson (which is pronounced as ‘moose-on’) the Dutch word for monsoon. It was the name that Tjalie had originally wanted for the publication. In the September 15th issue of 1977 Lilian Ducelle writes: “A monsoon always represents two monsoons: a period of growth and bloom and a period of rest, always alternating and never quite the same. Both periods are essential to nature and to humankind”.

Sixty-five years after the first publication, Moesson is still going strong. Two whole new generations have come of age, each of which feels very involved with their background in their own way. There are new, young generations that are interested in their roots and culture. While they now read and write the stories, stories from the first generations are still very important. If you want to know what shaped your grandparents, your parents, and yourself, it is important to read and learn about the first generation.

2021 Indo International-Moesson-2nd-Edition
Moesson International 2nd Edition with René Creutzburg's grandson Kalani as cover story

I am proud to say that I am at the helm of the organization my Opa Tjalie founded and which, thanks to the efforts of my Oma Lilly and the editors-in-chief that followed in her footsteps, has become what it is today. I see it ask my task, as Moesson’s task, to bring the generations together, so that our unique cultural history does not only have a rich past, but also a rich future. And to achieve that, we have also set up a magazine for that international crowd of Tjalie’s Indo friends that Ritman referred to. They can now come together and keep the Dutch Indo identity alive by sharing their stories in Moesson International and showing Indos across the world that the Indo identity is being kept alive.

Tjalie once wrote: “In Tong Tong all the dead return to life”. This is not only true for him, but for all those who we have loved and lost, for the country – the Dutch East Indies – that was loved and lost by them. The stories we share in Moesson and Moesson International will keep all of them, and our history alive. Keep sharing your stories and let’s keep our culture alive.

Indo Moesson Editor Vivian Boon - Photo Credit Herbert van der Beek
Indo Moesson Editor Vivian Boon - Photo Credit Herbert van der Beek

Vivian Boon was born in The Hague in the Netherlands. She grew up on the Prins Mauritslaan 36, an address well known in the Indo community since it was the address where Tong Tong / Moesson was housed for many years. Vivian and her parents (Mark Boon and Ina van Marwijk) lived in the same building, together with her grandparents Tjalie Robinson and Lilian Ducelle.

After finishing high school, Vivian earned a Master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Amsterdam and attended Boston College. There she took her first steps in television journalism with New England Cable News. For the past 25 years she has worked as a TV reporter and editor for two Dutch National news networks: RTL Nieuws and the NOS Journaal. On May 1st, 2019, Vivian took over her grandfather’s company and became editor-in-chief and publisher of Moesson and Moesson International. She is honored and grateful that she is now able to continue the work of her grandparents and hopes to contribute to keeping the Dutch Indo culture alive.

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Do you have memories of Tjalie Robinson? Have you been to a Tong Tong or Pasar Malam festival? Share your thoughts with The Indo Project in the comment section below.


    • Averil Steevensz
      Los Angeles CA.

      Hey Vivian,
      I’m not sure if you remember me. Ik ben de dochter van Roy en Marijke Steevensz.
      My Mam and Papa also contributed to the Tong Tong in those days when I was very young. And Oom Tjalie and Tante Lily we’re a common name in our household.
      When our parents decided to send Peggy (my sister) and I to Holland in the summer of ’72’. I was 10yrs and Peggy was 14. And we we’re to meet our Opas en Omas for the time. Along with Ooms en Tantes, cousins and second cousins.
      Those days was all about de Tong Tong / De Moesson and De Soos.
      We loved De Soos! And Tong Tong was away the Indo communities united in America.
      And I never forgot when we got news Oom Tjalie died. I never seen Mam
      cry before. Our families we’re close in those days. We were Indos and proud of it.
      How wonderful to continue your family legacy. We’re all proud of you.

      Much love,
      Averil Steevensz

  1. A copy of the Moesson with this article about Oom Tjalie was forwarded to me some time ago by my cousin who lives in Holland. It was recently brought up to me again by Priscilla❤ of The Indo Project. They are getting ready to republish my Paatjes story honoring his memory. He is nearing the 10 year anniversary of his passing.

    Oom Tjalie is “mijn Paatje” William (Bill, Will, Willie) Boon’s older brother. I grew up with my cousins Vivian & Lucian. I remember the Boon get togethers when Oom Tjalie and Tante Lilly (Lielie) came to live in Whittier. My Pa and our family and Oom Henkie (the youngest of the Boon brothers) and his family would get together. I was always excited to see Vivian since we were surrounded by boy cousins. They’re stay in the US was shortlived but the memories live on forever. Glad you are at the helm of the Moesson, Vivian. What an honor and what an honor to be a Boon. (Boon blijft Boon) I will subscribe to the Moesson and make sure I share it with my kids who were fortunate enough to grow up with their Oma and Opa. So the Indo lives on in them. ❤.

    By the way, I have copies of the American Tong Tong starting with the first edition dated 15 Augustus 1962, Whittier, California. Head line is Hello, this is the American Tong Tong. De dankbare (en vermoeide) ouders, Roy Steevensz, Lillian Ducelle, Rogier Boon. The last edition in this collection, which I think Pa gave me, is dated, 15 Oct. 1963. The final pages is the story of my Opa Cornelis and Oma Fela. I was named after Oma Fela. One of the 2 middle names I carry. I never knew my Opa and Oma. I understand they held me as a baby but otherwise I have lived by the stories of my Dutch totok Opa who married a Javanese woman, my Oma. All my life that heritage came up. What are you? How can you be dutch when you’re brown? How can you be born in Holland (Bennekom, Gelderland) when you don’t wear wooden shoes? I proudly remain dutch indo with no doubt some other heritage mixed in and gave birth to twin girls (1973) and a son (1984) and have mixed the pot up a bit more adding American+ and Portuguese and then some. Look forward to my copies of the Moesson, Vivian. Opa is looking down with great pride!!

    • Dear Sylvia, thank you for your lovely comment. Boon blijft Boon 🙂 I hope to meet up with you someday over there so that we can share more stories. I know the time my family spent in California was a very happy one. And thank you for your support of Moesson and your touching last words.

      • Beste Vivian , wat een uitzonderlijke familie , die Boon’s .
        Toen ik in 1966 naar Florida verhuisde , was er geen Indo te bekennen in mijn omgeving , daardoor kwamen mijn “Indische roots” op een laag pitje te staan .
        Toen ik in 2000 weer kontakt kreeg met Tina Daniels (mjn jeugd vriendin van het Johan de Wit lyceum in Den Haag) en zij mij vroeg om als vrijwilligster op de Tong Tong Fair te werken in de Moesson stand , kreeg ik de smaak weer te pakken .
        Nu ben ik “Indo’er” als ooit , ik voel me er ” senang ” bij . Vivian , zo fijn dat je de legacy van jouw grootouders voorzet ., we zijn jou zeer dankbaar , “once an Indo , always an Indo” immers .
        Ik kijk nu al uit naar de TTF 2021 in september !
        Hetty van de Kreeke-de Sera
        Miami, Florida / Den Haag, NL

  2. I’ve read the story from Vivian Boon about her grandfather Tjalie Robinson. I have a book from her grandfather named “Tjies”, authorised by Vincent Mahieu. His real name is Tjalie Robinson. My question is whether Vivian is interested in her grandfather’s book. If she is interested in his book – it is in the Dutch language – than I’ll send it to her for free as I am one of the Indonesian women who’s interested in his way of living.
    Please contact with me if she is interested in this book.

    Lovely greetings,
    Louise Wattimena

    • Thank you so much for your kind offer Ms Wattimena. However I have several copies of Tjies myself, and so does our library. Hopefully you can make someone else happy with your copy of this prize winning novel.

  3. Thank you Vivian for sharing this story and carrying out your Opa and Oma’s legacy.
    A shout out to an outstanding decision to have Moesson publication available in English as well!

  4. Growing up in De Soos ws such a blessing. I am always dumbfounded when I meet an Indo that has no clue as to how the Indos got here. Being Indo to them means eating sate’ or oma’s nasi goreng. Keep up the good work Vivian !

    • Lucky!
      This Indo lives in Canada.
      I know nothing about De Soos.
      I typed De Soos in the search engine of the TIP website, and this article and another article came up but nothing substantial to explain the 5Ws on De Soos.

      I and certainly others that missed out on De Soos, would love to read an article on De Soos.

      Thank you, Dank U wel, Terima Kashi.

      • Jan Boon was mijn moeder’s neef, en ik herinner me al die verhalen die zij vertelde over hun jeugd. Heb ook Oom Cor en tante Fela gekent, tante Fela was mijn Oma’s zuster.
        Heb al de boeken die onder de naam van Tjalie Robinson zijn geschreven.
        Wat leuk dat ik deze bron ontdekt hebt!
        Woon al 60 jaar in Amerika, heb de oorlog in Indie meegemaakt, terug naar Holland in 1946.
        Dank je wel Vivian, dat zijn werk doorgaat!

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