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The Indo Project asked its followers on social media, “How did your mother or oma instill Indo culture in you?” TIP is pleased to share some of its followers’ responses below.

Look for the Good in People

Look for the good in people, my mom said. ~ Nicky Thornton Guerrero

Always Have Enough Food

I learned from my mother: always have enough food in your house. So you can offer your visitors a meal and never send them home with an empty stomach. ~ Ellen Eilbracht

Food is Love

In memory of Barbalina Jacoba Wallet-Moal, 1923-2016

How did my mom instill Indo culture in her children? Through food. Like many Indos, my mom expressed herself through cooking. Food was love, food was caring. Food celebrated milestones, food comforted the grieving. She always had enough – for the friends we would bring home after school, for friends and family who happened to just drop in, and for expected or unexpected guests. Everyone was welcomed into our home with food.  Bringing food to the table was not always easy, especially during WWII in Indonesia, the ten years she lived in Holland, or the early years as an immigrant in Culver City, California.  She never turned anyone away. I never heard her say “I don’t have enough”.  She always ate last.  My mom continued cooking every day until after her 93rd birthday.  She passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2016.  A couple of weeks later, we learned she had provided a last meal to everyone who came to the restaurant for dinner after her funeral. That was my mom. We love and miss you, mom. Tiny, Thea, Ries, and Corrie. ~ Corrie Verhagen

A Mix of Cultural Habits

This is a precious question. My mother taught me to make Indo food like perkedel, spekkoek, risoles, pangsit, ayam smoor etc…all sorts of cultural things. My aunt gave me traditional congklak games. But other than things they brought from Indonesia and objects they had taken with them in the 1960s, I reckon for me as third generation it was a bit difficult to know what defined being Indo…. apart from being Eurasian and having a connection to the Dutch East Indies. I felt that the Indo culture (or mixed culture) was not strongly developed… it was exactly this a mix of cultural habits but none of which were so profound that they remained after leaving Indonesia or far until later generations. In my case at least. ~ Johanna Hertel

Indo Maria Elisabeth Looye as a young woman, most likely in the Netherlands
Indo Maria Elisabeth Looye as a young woman, most likely in the Netherlands

Admired for an Amazing Life

In memory of Maria Elisabeth Looye, 1932- 2022 

Dee or “Deetje” (pronounced Day-cha) was a nickname her father, Paul Alexander Bauwin, gave her. Those that knew her in Holland called her Deetje, her friends here simply called her Dee. She was born on the island of Java, Indonesia on December 2, 1932. She died at age 89. She and her six siblings survived the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, her father was a Cavalry Sergeant in the Indonesian Army, and because he directed soldiers his family was always looked after and fared better than most.

The family traveled to Holland when Indonesia became unsafe, and there she got a job at the post office sorting letters. She met John at a dance and called him “meneer” the Dutch word for sir. They have been together every day since then. They married on October 22, 1958, in The Hague, and John, after being caught with a small bag of dirt taken from the roadside intended for a flower box for his bride, was tired of the rigid ways of the Netherlands and said, “I’m going to America”.

Indo Maria Elisabeth Looye and husband John
Indo Maria Elisabeth Looye and husband John

The four of them traveled by train to Los Angeles, California, and settled in Costa Mesa (Orange County) where they reunited with Opa and Oma Bauwin, her brothers Max, Harry, Hank, and John, and sisters Theresa (and family), Christine, and Jeanette (Sjoni). They moved into a small house where Linda was born. After a few years, they had saved $200 for a down payment and bought a three-bedroom house in Santa Ana for $17,000 where Roger and David were born.

In 1978 with the help of Max, they moved from the outskirts of Gainesville to Woodbine, Texas. Roger and David went to Callisburg and played football – a game which she grew to love. One day as she excitedly jumped up and down on the bleachers her feet slid and she fell through and found herself standing on the ground underneath them. She knew everything about football and loved to watch it on TV. She always wanted her beloved Cowboys to win.

Indo Linda McKesson with her Indo mother Maria Elisabeth Looye
Linda McKesson with her mother Maria Elisabeth Looye

She loved to cook, garden, and keep a clean house. She loved her family, her grandkids, and her friends. For a time, she sang in the choir at Woodbine Baptist Church with her friends. For each grandchild born, she crocheted around a flannel square and made blankets to swaddle the new baby. ~ Linda McKesson

KHernandez - Indo Oma Aagje van Olden as a child
Oma was born to Aan and Anna Algra

An Incredible Woman Who Lived with Gratitude

In memory of Aagje van Olden, 1929-2022

I saw your call for stories of how our moms and omas instilled Indo culture in us. This could not come at a more perfect time as my Oma Aagje van Olden passed away on March 29th and her story is one for the books.

Indo Oma Aagje van Olden with her first child
Oma Aagje van Olden with her first child

Oma was born to Aan and Anna Algra on February 16, 1929, in Tjimahi, West Java, Dutch East Indies. Her mother died when she was young and her father was killed in WWII. She married my Opa on July 19, 1950, and they had six children. Three were born in Indonesia, one in Holland, and two in the United States. They fled Indonesia in 1954 to Holland, where they lived until they came to the US in 1959 and settled in Southern California.

Indo Oma Aagje van Olden with her first three children
Oma Aagje van Olden with her first three children

Oma instilled Indo culture in us in so many ways. She could grow mangoes in any climate and always had the most beautiful plumeria, of which we all have cuttings that will live on with her memory. When you went to Oma’s house you could expect a botol cebok in the bathroom and at least one piece of ratan furniture, no matter how the styles changed. These little touches of Indonesia gave her fond memories of her homeland and now represent home to me.

Indo Oma Aagje van Olden with husband with contributor Kelly Hernandez, second eldest grandchild of nine and five great-grandchildren
Oma Aagje van Olden with husband with contributor Kelly Hernandez, second eldest grandchild of nine and five great-grandchildren - 1981

Then there’s the food. The most delicious food, unmatched by any other cuisine, if you ask me. The smell of fried onions gives me comfort and cooking the dishes Oma cooked brings so much joy.  To give you an idea of the kind of strong, resilient woman my Oma was, we had no idea she did not like to cook until last year!  She just did it because it had to be done but boy, was she good at it. The only things Oma passed on to us that surpassed the joy of eating her food are love and family.

Oma and Opa carried traditions of family gatherings through generations. To this day, when we gather all of us, down to the great-grandkids, everyone has the best time. The feeling of unconditional love and support is such a priceless gift that our family was given.

Indo Oma Aagje van Olden with her husband and six children
Oma Aagje van Olden with her husband and six adult children

To give you another idea of the kind of woman Oma was, she was one Opa could not live without. He followed her in death, only nine days after her passing on April 7, 2022. He survived the Japanese prison camps, malaria, and starting over in a new country twice, but could not live with the heartbreak of his true love after 71 years of marriage. Their lives will be celebrated together during a dual service at the end of the month, as it should be. I’m sure they are enjoying coffee and spekkoek together in a beautiful heavenly garden now.

Oma was such an incredible woman who lived with gratitude, never dwelling on her struggles. Kind, loving, hospitable, strong, and stoic. She is truly my hero and will be missed terribly but also admired for the amazing life she lived.  ~ Kelly Hernandez

Instilling Culture in the Next Generation

Neither my Oma nor mom instilled our traditions in me. But I, on the other hand, am flooding my grandchildren with the culture as much as I can. ~ Joan Grabe-Hoppe

HChattelin-Grandmother-left-het-Sister-right-an-uncle-in-the-middlle Helen Chattelin's Indo Oma and her sister in kitchen
Helen Chattelin's Oma (left) and her sister (right) and uncle (middle) in kitchen

Taught Me Everything About My Roots

My grandparents and parents left Indonesia for the Netherlands in 1950, of which they had heard many good things.  The reality turned out to be somewhat different!

I was born in the Netherlands, but the bond that my grandparents had with Indonesia was so strong that I always felt more connected with Indonesia than with the Netherlands.

My grandparents taught me everything about my roots, and they introduced me to the secrets of the Indonesian kitchen. Whenever grandma was cooking, I was always allowed to help. So I learned to make boemboes in her way, and I took over all the actions in the kitchen from grandma. And after cooking it was always said by Grandma and Grandpa: “Now it’s time to wash everything because if you cook good Indonesian food, you will dirty many pots and pans’.

About superstition, I was told that if someone wanted to give you a sharp object, such as a kris, a knife, or scissors, then that same person, the giver, had to give you a little prick with that object otherwise it would bring bad luck. 

HChattelin-IGrandma-flowery-dress-and-het-SisterJPG Helen Chattelin's Indo Oma in floral dress and her sister
Helen Chattelin's Oma in floral dress and her sister

Politeness was often talked about, because you couldn’t be polite enough. Holding the door open for older people, letting an older person go first when you wanted to get on the bus, addressing an older person with “you” and not immediately with “your”. Ultimately, politeness was held in high esteem by my grandparents, and I still hold to that. ~ Helen Chattelin

The authors and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information and content of this article.

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  1. Brengt vele mooie an ook verdrietige herinneringen op. Nu op 91 jarige leeftijd kijk je terug op je leven en deelt het in perodieke gedeelten.. Nederlands Indie: jeugd tot en met de 5e klas fijne herinneringen, 2e wereld oorlog Jappen kampen, Karaes, Ambarawa en tot slot Banju Biru. gevolgd met de Merdeka tijd. Ook niet zo’n fijne tijd. Kamp tijd “Grote Kamp” in Malang. Vrij gekomen in 1948. Overdag werken om de kost te verdienen en ‘avonds de overbrugging scholen volgen. Familie overgeplaatst naar Borneo, Balikpapan. Schriftelijke cursusen gevolgd om School af te maken. Geslaagd voor toelatings examen voor de HBS. Intussen ook werken om mijn ouders te helpen met het huishouden geld. In Nederlands Indie werd mooit over koken gesproken. De keuken was voor de kokkie. Wassen en strijken werd door de babu tjutie gedaan, die ook de babu dalam was voor huis schoon maken en bedden opmaken. Die periode (de bersiap tijd) was rommelig en gevaarlijk. Zo over koken werd eigenlijk nooit gepraat Het stond voor je klaar als het etenstijd was wat wel zo gemakkelijk was want als oudste meisje in huis zou dat werk op mij gevallen zijn en had ik dan geen tijd gehad om mijn school af te maken. Pas toen het gevaarlijk werd voor de Nederlander in Indie zijn we naar Nederland vertrokken net voor de overgave in 1949. Mijn Vader en mijn stiefmoeder hadden geweigerd om voor Warna Negara te tekenen zo wij (het hele verdere gezin) werden pardoes het land uitgezet. In Nederland in die jaren waren niet zoveel bumbus bekend en was het altijd Hollandse pot op de tafel (ik noemde dat de bonnetjes tijd. Ik leerde mijn man daar kennen en toen pas had ik meer inzicht in de Indische keuken gekregen. In hun huishouden was het iedere dag nasi en sajur denk ik. De kook lucht in zijn kleren gaf het allemaal wel weg. Ik leerde George – mijn toekomstige ega – daar kennen in 1949 net na onze aankomst in Amsterdam waar wij in een ontvangst centrum waren ondergebracht. Toen kreeg mijn vader opdracht naar Den Haag te verhuizen. Hij was daar geplaatst om les te geven aan de Ambacht school in Scheveningen. In ongeveer 2 of 3 maanden later bij toeval kwam ik George tegen op het Spui. Daar hernieuwden we onze kennismaking. In 1954 trouwden wij. Door mijn schoonmoeder heb ik Indies eten leren koken. Zij was overal bekend met haar eten George. George vond het niet erg mijn kokerellen te eten dat meer op Nederlandse style was geschoeid. Een aardappel schotel is gemakkelijk te bereiden maar een rijst tafel neemt veel tijd in beslag dat is nu eenmaal een feit. George was in de Luchtmacht en in Duitsland gelegerd. Zo veel zagen wij elkaar niet. En ik werkte om een etage te kunnen huren. Ik vond een etage heel toevallig zo als dat uitkwam. Ik vond out dat het een etage was in een huis direct naast het huis van mijn schoonfamilie. Mijn schoon familie vond dat een prachtige toeval plaats had gevonden. Daar in dat huis heb ik meer en meer met de Indische tafel kennis gemaakt en was ik echt ingenomen met het bereiden van de duizend en een gerechten. In 58 ver trokken George, mijn persoon en twee zoontjes 2 en 4 jaar oud naar Amerika. Ons gezin groeide met een dochter en nog een zoon. Wij hebben Pa en Ma en de rest van George zijn familie over laten komen. Mam died in 1983, Pap in 1992 en dan volgden zijn broer Ivan, daarna zuster Lily and Yvonne. Na 67 jaren in December of 2020 was het mijn beurt om tegen George “Slamat Djalan” te wensen. Nu is ligt het aan mijn dochter om mijn kleinkinderen het verhaal voort te dragen van de Indische Rijst tafel. Hopelijk wordt dit verhaal van hoe Oost en West en de “Rijst tafel” met al zijn heerlijke gerechten voor altijd in verbintenis zullen staan.

    • Thank you, Rene’, for sharing. I agree these memories are beautiful but can also be bittersweet.

      Please consider sending in your story to The Indo Project, it would be a lovely addition to all the stories TIP has already collected.

  2. Looking at these pictures and reading these articles, it could be my family too. We have similar stories but food and family is where it’s at!

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