by Inge Dümpel
Since time, immemorial people have recorded images and memories with the pen and, taking it one step further, described the thoughts and feelings of their characters. I am going to tell you about someone who is Indisch in heart and soul and wants to capture and pass on this being Indisch as much as possible with her pen. That person is me: Ingrid Marijcke Dümpel. I was born on September 23, 1941, in Surabaya, on the island of Java.
During WWII, when I was ten months old, my father was taken as a prisoner of war. From the war years, I remember moving houses a lot and ending up with my maternal Grandpa and Grandma. An aunt also lived there with her children. On that farm and dairy that Grandpa managed, because the Dutch owner was interned, there were calves and lambs, fruit trees, and (in my memory) an immense garden. The war seemed far away… but now and then, unexpectedly, Japanese officers would drive up the slope to Grandpa’s house. Then the children were called and had to play on the porch, visible to everyone.
One of the children was blonde. She was quickly hidden in a room under a bed. The long overhanging bedspread that reached the floor hid her from view. When Grandpa let the Japanese in, he passed this room. He took a huge risk! What would have happened if he had had to open the door and they had discovered the blond child? Luckily it didn’t happen.
Immediately after Sukarno’s proclaimed of the Republik Indonesia on August 17, 1945, the Indonesian War of Independence broke out. It lasted until the Transfer of Sovereignty on December 27, 1949. The first nine months have gone down in history as the ‘Bersiap period’, after a catchphrase of the Indonesian youngsters, shouting ‘Bersia-a-p!’ (Be prepared!), plundering and scaring the women and children who thought that the war was over. They turned up everywhere. Grandpa could no longer protect us and took us to a so-called liberation camp, Tawangsari, near Malang (East Java). We stayed there until my father was found in mid-1946–a man I didn’t know and who I was afraid of at first.
There were several types of schools in the former Dutch East Indies since the late nineteenth century. The Europese Lagere School (European Primary School) was mainly for Dutch and Indisch children and possibly for children of the Indonesian nobility and Chinese children of wealthy parents. At these concordant schools, where the subject matter was in accordance with the subject matter at the schools in the Netherlands, the language of instruction was Dutch. I went to a Concordant Elementary School, followed by the H.B.S. (Hogere Burgerschool, Dutch secondary school) until these schools were closed on December 5, 1957 (Black Sinterklaas).
Then I switched to the S.M.A.(Sekolah Menengah Atas, Indonesian High School, Phase 2) where the language of instruction was Bahasa Indonesia, the Indonesian language. It was quite a transition. My father gave me a Bahasa Indonesia-Dutch dictionary. And boy, did I need it! I had to look up many biological, geographic, and economic terms before I understood a page. The first year I was allowed to use 10% Dutch, after that every Dutch word was counted as a mistake. In addition, you were only allowed to take the SMA final exam if you had the SMP diploma (Sekolah Menengah Pertama, Phase 1) in your pocket. I didn’t, so that first year I learned the material of the exam subjects for the SMP diploma through extra lessons. I passed.
In addition to the normal regular subjects at the SMA, we were taught Bahasa Kawi, Old Javanese, an extinct language that was spoken on the Indonesian islands of Java, Bali, and Lombok. National History was about the history of Indonesia. We also learned to read Indonesian texts in Arabic script. Later it would turn out that all this was a blessing in disguise.
We had to wear a school uniform and a kepi (or shako) on the head. White blouse with the badge (an eagle) of the school on the left breast pocket and a brown skirt. I still have that skirt!
Meanwhile, rock ’n roll was still allowed in 1957.
At the beginning of 1963, I went to Germany, and in 1964 I moved to the Netherlands. After studying English Language and Literature, followed by a course in American History and Literature, I enjoyed working as an English teacher at a comprehensive school for almost twenty years. Unfortunately, I had to stop, due to an illness. After that, I kind of rolled into journalism through study and part-time courses.
How Indisch Am I?
In the meantime, I had entered a phase of life in which I wondered how Indisch I was. In my behavior and my way of thinking. What did being Indisch mean to me? The year 1996 was special. A friend sent me an advertisement from the Pasar Malam Besar (now Tong Tong Fair) in The Hague. They were looking for hosts and assistants for a new theater to be set up. This Bibit Theater was meant for young talent in theatrical, musical, and literary fields. I applied and was accepted. The new team received thorough training in terms of presentation and working in front of and behind the scenes.
Listening to lectures on all kinds of issues related to ‘Indisch’, I have been able to feed my hunger for knowledge about being an Indisch. Slowly I also was assigned a different role there, including translator at lectures in Indonesian. The opening performance of my first self-written monologue ‘Yes, I do… do I?’ was in that theater. After twenty years I stopped as a host at the Tong Tong Fair.
Also in 1996, I met someone at an Indisch dancing event who was connected to Omroep Centraal Gemert, the local radio station. Despite my argument that I had never made a radio program before, I was invited to make a test recording. Strangely enough, I quickly came up with a format. And that has never changed since then. Three weeks after that meeting I was in the studio broadcasting my very first Indisch informational program: ‘Van de padihalmen tot de molens’ (‘From the padi stalks to the mills’). Later Indische Boekenplank (‘Indisch Bookshelf’) was added, about old and recently published Indisch and Moluccan books. After twenty years I stopped in Gemert.
I had already been making two programs for Omroep Helmond for a few years, with the same concept: ‘Soerabaja Calling’ (Indisch informative) and ‘Indische Boeken’. And I still do.
I increased my knowledge gained at the Tong Tong Fair by visiting Indisch exhibitions, symposia, and lectures throughout the country. From 1989 to 1999 I was editor-in-chief of the association magazine NINESNieuws. (Descendants of the Dutch East Indies and Sympathizers) for the Indisch and Moluccan second generation. A valuable and instructive time in which I stayed informed about what was happening in ‘Indisch and Moluccan Netherlands’ because information came in from all sides and I met and interviewed many interesting people. After that, I was editor-in-chief of the association magazine Suara Indo (The Voice of the Indo) for almost ten years.
In between everything, I followed training and courses such as Interview Techniques and Final Editing. I also started writing longer articles, stimulated by the editor-in-chief of Moesson at the time and started giving lectures about one of my great loves: Indisch children’s literature.
Before the COVID outbreak, I went to Indonesia every year. There I discovered that deep down I am closer to the Indonesians, but because of my life in the west, I have become Westernized in terms of behavior and way of thinking. My monologue ‘Yes, I do…do I?’ ends with these words: ‘But I also grew away from concepts like ‘sabar’ and ‘halus’, patience and refinement, because in the West you don’t always wrap up your words in pink cotton wool. Sometimes I look back with nostalgia at that soft, subdued girl from way back then. The strange thing is… I wouldn’t want to be any different.’
Because in the West you don’t survive if you don’t learn to stand your ground. But… is it wouldn’t or can’t?
At the request of listeners of my radio programs, I started organizing an Indisch commemoration in Helmond in 2016. I tried to be innovative and break boundaries by, for example, inviting a Japanese speaker. People were deeply impressed. I also had two Indonesian students speak through a video message about their opinion about WWII and what the younger generations could do to make a better world. They focused on education.
In 2020, the request came from people of the Indisch and Moluccan for an Indisch-Moluccan monument in the town of Helmond. There are many people living in this region who have a connection with the former Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. Who knows what may happen?
About the Author
Ingrid Marijcke Dümpel is a proficient Indo radio producer, writer, teacher, and editor. Below are some examples of her writing publications; click on the below images to find more information about each publication.
The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information and content of this article.