Family StoryStories

The Indo Project posted on social media, “TIP wants to know: Tell us about your Omas and Opas! What did they mean to you? What did you learn about Indo culture from them?” Ingrid Johannes responded sadly, “Wish I had that opportunity.” Many Indos can empathize with those feelings. With those sentiments in mind, TIP is grateful to all those who responded to the call: honoring our Omas and Opas.

Indo Debby Felman with her Oma and Opa
Indo Debby Felman with her Oma and Opa

Oma and Opa Always Spoiled Us

I remember that when I was a little girl, my opa always asked me to walk on his back to give him a massage. I never walked on my oma’s back; I guess her back did not trouble her. To me, this was pretty normal although I was a bit afraid I would hurt opa.

Oma used to cook semoor from chicken. Sometimes I smell the same smell when I walk at a Pasar. We went to visit opa and oma almost every weekend. It was a 2.5 hours drive, and we stayed the whole weekend. We slept in the second bedroom and in the living room as well. Oma and opa always spoiled us. ~ Debby Feldmann

My Two Grandmothers

I am Ronny Geenen, born in the Ombilin Mining town Sawahlunto in west Sumatra.

During the Japanese occupation in World War ll, several members of our Geenen and Chevalier family members were imprisoned in Bangkinang. To mentioned a few—my mother Clair Geenen-Chevalier with her four children, a step-sister, my niece, her mother and also both our grandmothers. Oma (Moesje) Helena Maitimo was married to Opa Carolus Geenen, and Oma Jacueline Ballart was married to Henri Chevalier.

Both of my opas died before the war broke out.

Indo Oma Helena Maitimo
Indo Oma Helena Maitimo

Oma Helena Geenen-Maitimo was born on May 24, 1879. Oma Jacqueline Chevalier-Ballart was born on October 30, 1881.

During our imprisonment in camp Bangkinang, we’d often have to stand in line, and we have to make a deep bow for the Japanese soldiers. One day in 1944, Oma Helena Geenen-Maitimo—who was then 65 years old—was standing beside the rest of the family when we all had to bow for the soldiers. Oma could not bow deep enough, and the solider hit her to the ground. After that, he tried to hit her with his boot. Both my younger brother Billy, seven years old, and I, eight years old, jumped forward to help our oma. We both got kicked by the soldier as well.

Oma Helena Geenen-Maitimo died in November 1945, a couple months after the war. After the war in September 1945, my mother was united with my father Eddie Geenen. He and about thirty others, all employers of the Ombilin Mining Company, were tortured by the Japanese. Because my dad needed medical treatment badly, he, my mother, her four children including my step-sister and Oma Jacqueline Chevalier-Ballart were shipped from Padang to Batavia. Despite all the treatment my dad was given, he died on August 15, 1948.

Indo Oma Jaqueline Ballart
Indo Oma Jaqueline Ballart

My mother went to the Dutch emigration services in Batavia to leave for the Netherlands. Applications for her, her four children, our step-sister, and Oma Jacqueline were filed and approved two months later. We were estimated to leave Batavia in September 1949. Two months before that my mother was ordered to come to the Dutch Emigration Services. There she was told that Oma Jacqueline Chevalier-Ballart was allowed to leave for the Netherlands, but Clair Geenen-Chevalier and her four children had to stay in Indonesia.

Reason: a widow with four children cannot make it in the Netherlands.

We had to stay. Our oma left us crying. Our neighbor in Batavia helped us by selling the house we were living in. From that money my mother could pay for the cost to be shipped to the Netherlands too. We arrived in the Netherlands in January 1951 and were moved to a hotel pension in the area of Nijmegen. Oma Jacqueline Chevalier-Ballart and her grandchild, our step-sister was living at that time in a two-bedroom apartment in Katwijk.

One day, her grandchild came home from school and found Oma Jacqueline Chevalier-Ballart on the floor. She died alone at the age of 71 years. ~ Ronny Geenen, My Indo World

Indo Oma and Opa Teunisse at home
Indo Oma and Opa Teunisse at home

Loved Them with all Their Hearts

My parents – Oma and Opa to ten grandchildren who love them with all their hearts. Oma is missed everyday, and Opa remains a stubbornly loyal Dutchman, always making sure the grandkids know he is there for them. ~ Patricia Teunisse, Board Secretary

Indo Oma and Opa Teunisse on their way to visit grandchildren
Indo Oma and Opa Teunisse on their way to visit grandchildren
Indo Opa Pieter Willem Ockerse and Oma Blanca Mathilda Marie Ockerse née Schulze with my father Willam Fedor Pieter Ockerse in the middle left and younger brother Frederik Ockerse to the right.
Indo Opa Pieter Willem Ockerse and Oma Blanca Mathilda Marie Ockerse née Schulze with my father Willam Fedor Pieter Ockerse in the middle left and younger brother Frederik Ockerse to the right.

Remembering Opa Ockerse

To read another story about omas and opas, check out Ralph Ockerse’s memories of his Opa Ockerse.

Read more stories about Indo omas and opas

Happy Oma & Opa Day!

To Remember: My Oma’s Story

Opa: Dutch for Hero.

Share your memories of your Oma and Opa with The Indo Project in the comments below: 


  1. Dear Margaret,

    What astounding stories you have of both sets of grandparents…so full of interesting tidbits about their lives in the former Dutch East Indies. Their strength in character and resiliency came through so well throughout your recollection of them. Thank you for this wonderful homage to your grandparents!

  2. OMG Where to begin with honoring my Omas and Opas! First, on my Mom’s side, Oma and Opa Toorop. According to my Oma, theirs was a true love story. She had only to look at my grandfather, and “ik was weer zwanger.” These were the pre-war days, the idyllic ones. My Mom, who is now 93, still relives those times, when they had a large property outside of Semarang. Having taken early retirement, Opa had bought his dream – a large property “10 bouw” outside of Semarang, Java – called “Godong Pani.” From books and local people, Opa learned how to grow all kinds of things, rice, tobacco, there were fruit trees of every kind, ducks, chickens, livestock, monkeys that warned of snakes. Oma, enterprising and supportive, learned to salt the duck eggs to be sold, to make dendeng from meat. The property was so large Opa and others, like my Dad, would go hunting for boar on it. Years later, in Didam, Holland, where Oma lived, after Sunday Church, I once asked Oma what she thought heaven was like. She described a lush land, with water, and fruit trees of every kind, and she had this gleam and smile on her face. “Oma, are you describing Godong Pani?” I asked her. She nodded yes.
    And I hold that memory dear. And my Mom relives in her memories the carefree youth she had on Godong Pani, climbing mangosteen trees, hearing the sound of ripe durian falling to the ground.
    I am so glad that Oma and Opa Toorop had that, because WW2 changed and destroyed all all that, forever. With the declaration of war, Opa was conscripted in the KNIL infantry and, like all KNIL soldiers in Indonesia, soon became a Japanese prisoner. He was transported imprisoned in Pekanbaru Japanese camp, Sumatra, where conditions were dismal and atrocious and he was made to sleep by the river on cold, wet concrete slab and eventually got tuberculosis from which he died a relatively young death (60) in Holland. Oma had to take care of all the children, and they eventually ended in a Japanese internment camp, BanjoeBiroe, Java. I can’t even imagine the strength it took to have lived through that, the fear. Mom often recounts that the Japanese soldiers would come around looking for girls, and Oma would say to the girls, ”cough!” When they asked why, Oma insisted that they do as she said. And Oma would tell the soldiers, “TB! TB!” pointing to her daughters. The soldiers would scram. In order to have a better chance of getting food, Oma set up and worked in the camp kitchen.
    Mom also tells the story how after the war, they had absolutely nothing, no money, no food, nothing. Oma went to the war office to ask for information about my Grandfather, and there she saw a woman who had lived across the road and had co-habitated with a Japanese man. This woman went to Oma and asked that Oma not reveal this, and Oma assured her that she would never do anything like that, and then Oma asked if there was perhaps a way her two oldest daughters could work in the office. Oma came home to announce to my Mom and her older sister that they now had jobs, and there would be income for the family to survive.
    Such was the strength, the intelligence, the resourcefulness of my Oma Toorop. And I have to add that she was deeply religious, went to church twice a day – a woman who trusted that one way or another, her family would be provided for. I did not know my Opa, though there is a picture of him holding me when I was a baby. But from what Oma and my Mom have told me I have the deepest respect and love for him. And I am glad that, for at least a part of his life, he lived his dream on Godong Pani.
    I also want to honor my Dad’s parents, Oma and Opa Maugenest. They divorced when my Dad was 3 years old. Opa was a chemist in the sugar factory, until the great depression of 1929 when the sugar industry went belly up. Opa Maugenest he also had large properties outside Temanggung – Chandi Roto. I went to Temanggung in 1980 and visited the graveyard where the Maugenests are buried. Opa’s father came from Lyon and was a textile merchant. Opa’s mother came from Sulawesi. As I was sitting in the graveyard, an Indonesian man approached me and knew who I was, who my parents were, where we lived in America. All because Opa had proudly told people about his family. He would sit in the warung and was described as an “orang social.” He loved people. He lost everything after the war – his dream had been to set up a vanilla plantation. He had good land – when I walked the grounds with my Mom and Dad in the late 1980’s the property was used as a testing farm by the government. Opa was a smart man. He stayed in Indonesia and became an Indonesian. He married a Chinese woman and they had a son. I have Indonesian cousins. My Oma Jans, Dad’s Mom, is the person that I look like. She loved to dance. Her mother was Javanese with hair she could sit on it was so thick and long. Her father was Dutch. I love Oma Jans because she did the best she could at a time when women did not have many options. When she and my grandfather divorced, he was given custody of the two sons – who were 3 and 5. It ripped her heart apart. Decades later, in 1969, when I was visiting her in Amsterdam, she told me she regretted divorcing my grandfather – and that she still had the dress made of velvet that came from my great-grandfather’s store. She gave me the album of photos of my father and uncle that she had kept with her throughout all the decades.

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