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[Photo: The Hague, after 1933. Oma Moesje is second from the right wearing white]

The Story of my Indo Oma

By Robert Kaya

Before I even met my Oma, she already had a long and interesting life. She was born in Kota Raja, Aceh in 1891 as the ninth of ten children. Her father was a Dutchman from Laren, in the Netherlands, called Willem Zwier and an indigenous Christian woman named Siema. My Opa, Jacobus Wilhelmus Kaya, was born in 1881 in Banda-Neira, Banda Islands.

Marriage in Batavia

Oma and Opa met somewhere in Java and they eventually got married in Batavia (now Jakarta) in 1913. In the years following, they moved many times and they had four children – three boys and a girl, all born in different cities. Their third son was my dad, Max. When my Opa retired in 1933, he was asked to move to the Netherlands and establish a society to assist Indo youngsters who were studying in the Netherlands. The family soon relocated to The Hague.

Passport issued 1933 to allow them to travel to the Netherlands for the first time.

Widowed Before the War

Unfortunately, Opa died suddenly in 1939. Then the war broke out in Europe. My dad had gone to do his National Service in 1939 and tried to escape to England like so many did. In the end, he decided that he couldn’t leave Oma and his younger sister behind. Soon after, he joined the Resistance. When they were liberated in 1945, he decided to join forces in England to liberate the Dutch East Indies. He followed the training to become a commando and was shipped to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to get parachute training. Before they were deployed the bombs on Japan ended the war.

He was sent back to the Netherlands and married my mother – whom he met during the war. He was again shipped out to the Dutch East Indies and was based in Makassar. His sister, Zus, in the meantime got married to an Indo MD who also joined the army and was shipped out to Makassar, his birthplace.

Moving to Batavia

I was born in 1946. My mother and I changed our accommodations, switching between Oma Moesje and my mom’s mother. Nana was English and married to my Dutch granddad. Sometime in 1947 my mom and I were allowed to join my dad in the Dutch East Indies. Oma was granted permission to join her daughter and my other grandparents moved to Batavia (Jakarta) where a job was waiting for my granddad. My mom and I traveled on the Groote Beer to Batavia and then on to Makassar where we moved in with my uncle, auntie, and Oma.

My dad and I in Malang 1948

Oma’s Return to the Netherlands

We moved around to different places and met up with Oma and my other grandparents on several occasions. In 1949, my dad and my uncle were transferred to Netherlands New Guinea (NNG). We moved there too, but Oma had to return to the Netherlands. When my sister was born in 1952, we also returned to the Netherlands. Of course, we moved in with Oma in the Statenkwartier in The Hague. Dad went to Korea with many of his buddies from the army in DEI. My uncle and aunt also returned from NNG and we were all together again.

Proud Indo

I shared a bedroom with Oma during this period. Quite often she would take me to school in the early days. I was blond but tanned with a typical tropic look. There were many Indo kids in the area and we were regularly called pinda pinda poepchinees (peanut peanut poop Chinese). Oma would call them out and threaten to hit them with her handbag. She wouldn’t take any nonsense and instilled in me the feeling to be proud of my Indo heritage.

Family portrait of Opa and Oma and their four children

Cooking With Oma Moesje

In 1954, we were able to secure our own place where we moved without my father. Later when mom and dad had engagements or went on holidays, Oma came to look after my sister and me. That wasn’t always easy – as we didn’t get on and had regular arguments. On Sunday mornings the family would get together at Oma’s place for lunch. I was always eager to assist her. Cut beans for the ‘sambal goreng buncis (green beans)’, grate coconut to make ‘Santen’ klappermelk (coconut milk) nice and fresh. But also for my favorite Ketan (sticky rice), freshly grated coconut and a (big) drizzle of Gula Jawa (palm sugar). Enak (Tasty)!! She also made Cendol a family favorite.

Sunday Visits

Oma moved quite a few times but the Sunday routine never changed. We all grew up and I tried to keep my routine visits going while her other grandchildren had different activities on Sundays. I was the closest to her and she had a great part in shaping me. Until I migrated to Australia in 1986, I went to spend time with her whenever I could. When I visited the Netherlands every year, I would go to my parents first and dad would give me a moment to greet my mom. He then would say, Oma is waiting for you and off we went.

Saying our goodbyes became harder every year.

The Indische Nederlandse Jongeren Beweging (Indies Dutch Youth Movement) founded by my Opa after he retired.

My Indo Girl

In 1974, I met Joyce in Sydney where she was based as a KLM stewardess. What were the chances? In 1975, I married my little Indo girl in the Netherlands. Our two Omas were seated together and were in a nice conversation until Joyce’s Oma walked away upset. My Oma had mentioned to her that she hoped Joyce could make me happy. They were both in their eighties!

Farewell

One day in 1987, I woke up in the middle of the night bathed in sweat. Joyce woke up and asked what was wrong with me. I said to her “Oma has passed away”. Fifteen minutes later the phone rang and my mom confirmed my nightmare.

She was my real Indo Oma. RIP.

Batavia - my 3rd birthday, with my my mum and dad, my nana, and Oma Moesje

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you for your story! Us Indo’s share such an amazing and unique history. As a small community we have so many connections. Your oudste opa Jacobus Wilhelmus sounds very familiar. I will have to look at some papers I have from my oudste oma Katatarina Paays DeWolf. I see that name and opa Paays family line comes from Banda as well. My older cousin went there and saw it was mostly oral history with the local people. Its all such a cinematic history! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks for your reaction. One of my cousins visited Banda 2 years ago and found it hard to actually discover anything other than that what we already knew.
      Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to go and find out myself.
      So much has happened in those regions. It’s hard to imagine what kind of life they had.

  2. Not a Dutch or an Indo, but the last part about the nightmare of your oma had died reminds me of my dream that my grandma had died back in 2019 3 hours before her actual death, RIP to her.

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