Save
Author: Harry A. Poeze1
View More View Less
  • 1 KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies
Open Access

Hermann Hülsmann, Mijn reis naar Indië 1928–1929: Persoonlijk dagboek van Hermann Hülsmann. Edited by Noor Bekius-Hülsmann. Volendam: LM Publishers, 2018, 512 pp. ISBN: 9789460224942, price: EUR 29.50 (hardback).

The young lawyer Herman Hülsmann (1903–1983) was invited by the Jan Pieterszoon Coen Association to visit the Netherlands Indies in 1928. The prestigious organization, chaired by Henri Deterding, sought to interest young and talented alumni to start a career in the Indies. With three companions, Hülsmann traveled through Sumatra and Java. They were treated as distinguished guests, and the leaders of the estates and institutions they visited went at length to inform and entertain the quartet. Their trip began in East Sumatra, and was continued on Java (Batavia, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Semarang) and ended via Belitung again in East Sumatra. They visited a range of colonial endeavors—estates in tea, coffee, rubber, sugar, tobacco, and quinine, mining enterprises in tin and oil, local government, with its schools and hospitals, and railway facilities. Thus, the visitors gained a unique insight in the Dutch ‘colonial project,’ and they painted a rosy picture, praising the technological progress and expertise of the Dutch business elite. Hülsmann kept a very detailed diary of his journey that is now at last published, slightly edited, and illustrated with a few hundred of the photographs Hülsmann took. It is an account with interesting insights as well as often tedious and technical reports. For the most part these have been relegated to an appendix. The diary takes stock of the state of affairs during Anno Domini 1928. Hülsmann does not rise above the clichés the Dutch harbored about the Indonesians. He echoes his informants. The penal sanction, for instance, that applied to the workers on the Deli estates is, in his opinion, a useful instrument. This goes as well for the fingerprint registration of workers that the sugar factories on Java organized, in which 170,000 workers were included and which served to exclude unruly elements (pp. 215–217). The journey is concluded with a trip through Aceh, not very fashionable at the time. Hülsmann did not return to the Indies. He entered a career in the Dutch judiciary, which he concluded as a judge in the High Court. As for editorial care, there are only a few mistakes in names and terms, but these could have been avoided by more scrutiny. Sardjito is named Sarsito, Dr. Amir has become Amee, and Schrieke is written as Schriecke. This book is valuable for its scattered information on quite a number of enterprises and opinions. To make this information available, an index would have been of primary importance. I find it incomprehensible that neither editor nor publisher has insisted on an index. Much of their efforts in publishing this book are not as richly rewarded as they might have been.

Gerard Termorshuizen and Coen van ’t Veer, with the co-operation of Sjoerd Meihuizen, ‘Een groots en meeslepend leven’: Dominique Berretty Indisch persmagnaat. Zutphen: Walburg Pers, 2018, 287 pp. ISBN: 90789462493155, price: EUR 19.95 (paperback).

Gerard Termorshuizen (1935) has earned himself a great reputation as the historian of the Dutch East Indies press. In his monumental two-volume Een geschiedenis van de Indisch-Nederlandse dagbladpers (volume I 1744–1905: Journalisten en heethoofden, volume 2 1905–1942: Realisten en reactionairen) he surveys the multifaceted dailies and the leading journalists. Among them were a number of remarkable personalities, who gave the Indies press its unique qualities and faults. Its tropenstijl (tropical style) stood for fierce polemics and personal attacks, which reflected readers’ tastes. Termorshuizen’s studies beg for more information on these men and their views, some of whom were true representatives of gutter journalism, some also sincere and progressive. He took the initiative himself by writing a biography of Herman Salomonson, Een humaan koloniaal (2015). Now, together with Coen van ’t Veer (1968), he has published this biography of Dominique Berretty, probably the most controversial newspaperman in the twenties, who not only reported headline news, but produced headlines through his own doings. Berretty was born in 1891 in a poor Eurasian family. He was ambitious, intelligent, innovative, and competent, and started his journalistic career in 1910. His rightist sympathies, support of the colonial rule and disdain for Indonesians, as presented in successful weeklies as De Reflector and De Zweep, made him popular and also wealthy. He was the first to see the opportunities of a Netherlands Indies press agency, which became Aneta. He had a monopoly on news service from abroad, and was able to defend his position, by legal and illegal means, until he died prematurely in a plane crash in 1934. He went into advertising, and telegraphic and radio transmission, securing himself the most profitable starting-point, helped also by good and well-kept relations with the government. This story is not altogether new. It builds on the press history, but expands on it, and becomes more specific. Apart from this the personality and private life of Berretty are narrated in more detail. His spectacular entrepreneurship, megalomaniacal indulgence and his exuberant love life—he married six times—all contributed to the Berretty persona. He was wealthy and invested his money in the building of Villa Isola in Bandung, still an architectural landmark. In this he overplayed his hand, though it was exacerbated by the worldwide economic crisis. When he died, he was deeply in debt and desperately looking for a way out of his troubles. To conclude, Termorshuizen and Van ’t Veer have done a fine job.

Hans Visser, Wieteke van Dort: Kind van twee culturen: Schetsen uit een Nederlands-Indische familie. Schoorl: Conserve, 2018, 372 + 16 pp. ISBN: 9789054294665, price: EUR 19.99 (paperback).

Wieteke van Dort (Surabaya, 1943) is a well-known artist with a long career in many fields—including as an actress, singer, and author. Major interests are children’s television and the Indo-Dutch heritage in the Netherlands. After many years of research, journalist Hans Visser has now published a biography of Wieteke van Dort, which is far more than a straightforward life story. Wieteke herself is first mentioned only after 150 pages. Until then her ancestors are the focus. Some among them were Jewish and left their town of origin, Dordrecht, in the 1840s to seek their fortune in the Indies. Success was slow to come, after hard labor. A propitious marriage with a girl of mixed Indonesian-Dutch ancestry involved the Van Dort family with profitable sugar factories in East Java. Wieteke’s father thus became the respected manager of a sugar factory in Sidoarjo. Visser has unearthed a lot of new material on the fate of these average Indo families in the Indies colony who experienced the profound changes the Indies underwent. Visser aptly shows this by continuously integrating micro and macro history. However, it is often difficult to keep track of who’s who in this complex history, and so including a family tree would have been helpful. Tempo doeloe, as the colonial period was often called, ended in 1942. Wieteke’s father was not interned by the Japanese and continued to work as a highly appreciated manager. Visser gives an extensive survey of the events during the Japanese occupation and the revolutionary turmoil afterwards. Surabaya became the center of the resistance against the return of the Dutch, with bloody outbursts directed not only at officials but Dutch and Chinese civilians as well. Wieteke’s father Theo was apprehended in October 1945 and killed in public by the notorious mass-killer Sabaroedin. Wieteke, her mother, and other family members survived and settled in Surabaya. They stayed and worked as welfare and cultural agents until 1957 when all Dutchmen were expelled. Wieteke had theatrical ambitions and talents and became an actor in the classical repertoire before assisting famous cabaret artist Wim Kan. After that, from 1968, she became the leading lady in a number of pathbreaking television series for children. A fortunate combination of actors, authors, and composers resulted in unique shows. Visser pays a lot of attention to these shows and discusses their background and impact. Wieteke became the voice of the Indonesian-Dutch community in the Netherlands. Nostalgia played an important part in her performances on television and in theatre, particularly through her character of Tante Lien in the Late, Late Lien Show. But she also became a spokeswoman for the Indo community and the Indies veterans. Some critique surfaced over the nostalgic view presented of the colonial era, as well as the use of petjo, the Indo pidgin, but it did not derail Wieteke. Visser has chosen to concentrate on her theatrical work, and thus neglects her work as a singer and author, as well as other important parts of the multi-talented Wieteke. I wonder why. As for the documentary part, I sadly miss a bibliography/discography of Wieteke van Dort’s publications and LP’s, CD’s, and DVD’s. A bit more input could have greatly improved this fascinating biography.

Willem Punt and Nicola Meinders, Survivor Junyo Maru en Pakan Baroe. Arnhem: White Elephant, 2018, 174 pp. ISBN: 9789079763238, price: EUR 17.00 (paperback).

Born in 1921, Willem Punt fled his poor family at the age of 13 to take a job with the big Dutch shipping company SMN. His career only rose from there. The Second World War stranded him in Surabaya in December 1941. He witnessed the inglorious downfall of the Dutch colonial empire, and was interned by the Japanese in Bandung and Batavia. In September 1944 he was put on transport by the ship Junyo Maru, with five thousand allied prisoners of war and Indonesian convicts. Their destination was Padang, where they were to be put to work constructing a trans-Sumatran railway, but Junyo Maru never made it. It was torpedoed and 5,640 people perished. It ranks thus among the worst five sea disasters ever. But Punt managed to survive, and next worked on the railway for almost a year under miserable circumstances. In December 1945, he was back in the Netherlands. Punt was an important informant of Henk Hovinga, who published the standard reference work on the railway, which was translated as The Sumatra Railroad: Final Destination Pakan Baroe, 1943–1945, published by KITLV Press in 2010. Next to this account there is ample room for Punt’s own story, only recently recorded by Punt’s granddaughter Nicola Meinders. His memory is astounding and results in a lively and exact account of affairs, especially on the Junyo Maru. Punt’s will to survive and his inventiveness confronted with life threats are extraordinary, and make for special reading.

Art de Vos, Gordel van geweld: Overleven in Indië, een familiekroniek. Schiedam: Scriptum, 2018, 400 pp. ISBN: 9789463191265, price: EUR 24.99 (hardback).

Historian Art de Vos worked ten years to write this family chronicle about the turbulent life of the KNIL non-commissioned officer (NCO), later officer, Henk Navest (1913–1994), his wife Trijntje (1919–2008), and his sons Ab (1939–2013) and Ceel (1940) during the years 1940–1950. The basic sources for his narrative are interviews, diaries, military reports, and other literature. De Vos does not rework this in an account following scholarly conventions. He creates ‘embellished non-fiction,’ or, in his own words using contemporary terms, ‘the spirit of the past is evoked.’ Information on his approach, and which passages are fictional or non-fictional, is scanty. This of course diminishes the historical value of this book, however much De Vos sticks to the facts. In this way Henk Navest’s experiences in the war against the invading Japanese on Java, his internment and work as a convict on the Burma railroad and in Singapore are narrated. Upon Japan’s surrender in August 1945, he is drafted again by the colonial army and sent to Belitung, Bangka, and Surabaya. Especially in East Java, he was involved in 1949 in an intense guerrilla war against the Republican forces. He was in command of a unit of Madurese soldiers, called the Tjakras, who detested the Republic and sided with the Dutch. Navest was involved during 1950 with the organization of the Dutch soldier’s repatriation. His family was interned during the Japanese occupation, and experienced its hardships in Cideng, Jakarta. After August 1945, they had to go through many more hardships before they were evacuated to the inhospitable Netherlands. In all, this is a well-written account about the turmoil an ordinary Dutch family went through. It is not a trustworthy historical source—a pity, as more on the Tjakras or the interesting account of the stay of Soekarno, Hatta, and Roem on Bangka during the first months of 1949 would have been welcome. The book is marred by a great number of misspellings of Indonesian geographical names and words. It is both sloppy and disrespectful to have not made the small effort to check these words and names.

Kester Freriks, Tempo doeloe, een omhelzing. Amsterdam: Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep, 2018, 111 pp. ISBN: 9789025309336, price: EUR 10.00 (paperback).

Kester Freriks calls his Tempo doeloe, een omhelzing a pamphlet that speaks out on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Dutch citizens whose identity derives from their birth, youth, and stay in the Indies, which links them to parents and forbears over there. For them, after their painful farewell, the Indies memories are cherished as captured by the nostalgic term tempo doeloe. In Freriks’ opinion, the ‘euphoria’ is now exchanged for an indictment, in which terms as colonialism, violence, and suppression set the tone in today’s reflections. The memories of the Dutch in Indonesia, themselves a very heterogeneous lot of people, of their past are now ‘contaminated’ by these terms, the author argues, and an objective evaluation is nearly impossible. This state of affairs seriously hampered and hampers the integration of Dutchmen in post-war Dutch society. Freriks counts himself among them. He was born in 1954 in Jakarta, and left Indonesia in 1957. The spell of Indonesia, however, never left him, whether consciously or unconsciously. Freriks points an accusatory finger at almost all post-war historians who he holds responsible for the damage done to the memories and identity of the settlers from the Indies. Freriks selects two culprits for his harshest judgement—the well-known titles by Oostindie (Soldaat in Indonesië) and Limpach (De brandende kampongs van Generaal Spoor), as one-sided and misleading. Freriks would exchange these books, without hesitation, for one paragraph of Louis Couperus’ De stille kracht. Curiously, Freriks praises Van Doorn and Hendrix’ study Ontsporing van geweld as brilliant. In no small measure Oostindie and Limpach grow out of Van Doorn and Hendrix—so what causes this greatly differing judgement? Freriks presents his small book as a pamphlet, which may explain its imbalance and harsh judgements. Sincere emotions are expressed, but is he right? There has been and is room for both perspectives—even in a single monograph—one reflecting tempo doeloe and nostalgia, the other documenting the features of colonialism. And this last aspect was not one only dealt with after 1945. Already from the beginning of the twentieth century, the Indonesians opposed the colonial government, on a scale and with demands for which Dutch society and government in the Indies were unprepared.

Bernard Keizer, Freerk Kamma, de witte Papoea: Over leven en werk van de Wierumer zendeling en antropoloog dr. F.C. Kamma (1906–1987). Dokkum: Dokkumerdiep, 2018, 72 pp. ISBN: 9789075412192, price: EUR 9.90 (paperback) (to order from juanysra@hetnet.nl).

Freerk Christiaans Kamma, De visschersvloot komt: Jeugdherinneringen over Wierum. Second printing. No place: no publisher, 2018, 79 pp. No ISBN. Price: EUR 7.90 (paperback) (to order from juanysra@hetnet.nl).

Freerk Kamma’s life story is remarkable. From a poor country boy he managed to overcome many obstacles to be admitted as a Protestant missionary student at the Zendingsschool Oegstgeest. After six years, in 1931, he was sent to New Guinea to start his pioneering labor to convert the Papuans, which went hand in hand with educational and developmental activities. He was posted on Yapen and in Sorong. Assisted by his wife, Kamma was excellently suited for the task. Moreover, he respected the original Papuan culture, and did his best to record its objects and texts. All of this earned him the honorific title ‘The White Papua.’ During the Japanese occupation he was interned, and his health was permanently impaired. Thus, he was not able to return to his mission field. He became a teacher at the Zendingsschool, studied ethnology at Leiden University, and in 1954 earned a PhD on the Messianic Koreri movements in the Biak area. His scholarly interests thus became predominant, without, however, detracting from his involvement with the Papuan fate as Indonesian subjects after 1962, when Indonesia included West Irian in its territory. Kamma has not been forgotten. A newsletter has been published since 1990, and two foundations support educational initiatives in West Irian. In Wierum, his village of birth, an exhibition about his life was staged from June to September 2018, accompanied by a well-illustrated (though sadly captions are missing) and adequate biography written by Bernard Keizer. Added is the obituary of Kamma by Simon Kooijman in Bijdragen 1988. Coincidentally, a biography by Tom van den Berge of I.S. Kijne, whose activities have a lot in common with Kamma’s, is currently in preparation. Thus, two pioneers on the New Guinea mission fields have their life story recorded. Unfortunately, Keizer does not mention Kijne.

When interned by the Japanese in a camp in Sulawesi, Kamma’s health was in critical condition. His friends asked him to write down his childhood memories for his children. He did so and survived. Only recently have they appeared in print. Based on an excellent memory, he tells about life in the remote North Frisian village of Wierum, on the shore of the North Sea. It was a poor fisherman’s village, where the sea took a heavy toll—both Kamma’s grandfather and father drowned. His account of his youth—until 1918—is highly readable and sometimes moving.

Ida Hylkema, Pater onder de Papoea’s: Biografie van Sibbele Hylkema, missionaris en antropoloog. Gorredijk: Bornmeer, 2018, 256 pp. ISBN: 9789056154639, price: EUR 17.50 (paperback).

From a poor and pious Catholic farmer’s family living in the Frisian countryside, Sibbele Hylkema (1933–1998) left his home to follow his calling to become a missionary. He studied for 13 years (1946–1959) before being ordained as a Franciscan priest. In 1960, he left for New Guinea, then still ruled by the Dutch. He was sent to a pioneer post among the Nalum Papuans in the Central Highlands. Lonely and isolated, lacking all amenities and with hardly any success in his conversion efforts, Hylkema found consolation in the study of the language and culture of the Nalum. His position was further threatened by the transfer of New Guinea to Indonesia, with uncertainty and shortages in its wake. During his leave in the Netherlands, Hylkema met with Jan van Baal, who became impressed by the fruits of his fieldwork. In his view, the work of Hylkema, not a professional linguist or anthropologist, was an excellent example of the ‘look, listen, and write down’ approach he supported. It resulted in 1974 in the publication Mannen in het draagnet, published by KITLV. In 1969, Hylkema was sent, not as a pastor, but as researcher in language and culture, to the Ekari (or Ekagi), who live in the Wissel Lakes area. He collected thousands of pages of material, but he became bitter and disappointed as a result of internal strife among the priests. He considered his work to be underrated by his superiors. Moreover, the political situation characterized by clashing Indonesian and Papuan forces produced a tense situation. He continued his scholarly work nonetheless, until he retired in 1994. Efforts to publish the results of his work among the Ekari failed. Only in 2013 was a monograph on the cowries as a new currency published, which was edited by Anton Ploeg. His notes are safely kept in the Franciscan Archive. This biography was written by Ida Hylkema, a niece of Sibbele. A visit to her uncle in 1991 stimulated her to write Hylkema’s biography. It took 25 years. It is a solid piece of work, for a considerable part based on the letters Hylkema wrote to his parents and other family members. The biography has no notes and index, but gives a bibliography.

Willem den Engelsman and Chris van Coolwijk, with the co-operation of Laurens van Aggelen, Commando in Indië. Arnhem: White Elephant, 2018, 102 pp. ISBN: 9789079763245, price: EUR 19.95 (paperback).

Willem den Engelsman (1925), from a poor farmer’s family, signed up in 1947 as a volunteer in the Dutch Army, to be deployed in the bloody decolonization war fought between the Dutch state and the Indonesian Republic. After a few months in East Sumatra he asked to be transferred to the commandos of the Korps Speciale Troepen (KST), led by the notorious Captain Westerling. KST was called into action where the Dutch military position was precarious. In fierce battles, KST generally succeeded in retaking control, often by methods condemned as war crimes. Den Engelsman was involved in a number of specific actions in 1948–1949, including the conquest of Yogyakarta with the arrest of the Republican government, and the retaking of Solo in August 1949. He denies any involvement in excessive violence. In 1950, he returned to the Netherlands. He suffered from war traumas, as well as from the disapproval of his military exploits. His grandson helped him to record his experiences, which unfortunately are brief and factual, with little personal involvement. Still, it contributes to our insight in the KST, from whose members only few personal accounts are available.

Redactieteam, Kinderen van Kamp Conrad. Nijverdal: Stichting Herinnering Kamp Conrad 1954–1966, 2018, 192 pp. ISBN: 9789090309071, price: EUR 19.95 (hardback) (to order from comitekampconrad@gmail.com).

As a legacy of Dutch colonial rule, 4,000 Moluccans—former KNIL soldiers, and their families, altogether 12,500 persons—were ordered in 1951 to settle ‘temporarily’ in the Netherlands. They were not welcome and were housed in remote and rather primitive barracks. Conditions improved only slowly, and the permanency of their stay was similarly acknowledged only gradually. Their isolation ended, and they were housed, still partly in separate quarters, in private houses. The numerous barracks were demolished. In general histories of Moluccan settlement in the Netherlands, these developments are described. In addition, a limited number of specific histories of barrack camps have been published. A remarkable addition to these is Kinderen van Kamp Conrad. Kamp Conrad housed 23 families, with a total of 180 people, in the countryside of Rouveen, near Staphorst, in the Dutch province Overijssel. The presence of some former inhabitants, with historical interests and publishing expertise, resulted in a multidisciplinary approach to save the memories of barrack life. About ten years ago the first initiative was taken to record their childhood memories. About forty interviews were conducted. The contents are presented thematically—for instance, the isolation, school, leisure activities, religion, the outer world. It all results in an attractive book, expertly edited and presented. Thus, partly by chance, a book is now available on the small Kamp Conrad, which in its portrayal of barrack life from the perspective of children also has wider validity. The Foundation Herinnering Kamp Conrad, responsible for this book, is active in other fields too. A monument was erected on the site of the Kamp, a documentary film was made, Vreemdelingen en bijwoners, by Geertjan Lassche (available on the Internet), reunions have been organized and an educational brochure is in preparation.

Jan Tomasowa, Molukse overpeinzingen: Verslag van een prachtige maar ook verschrikkelijke reis door de Molukse geschiedenis. Soesterberg: Aspekt, 2018, 104 pp. ISBN: 9789463384797, price: EUR 9.95 (paperback).

The Moluccan Jan Tomasowa (1943) arrived with his parents in the Netherlands in 1951, on orders of the Dutch government, and as a legacy of Dutch decolonization. The stay of these 12,500 people was intended to be temporary, but continues until today. There was a lot of discord among the Moluccans, who had long been treated as second-class citizens. Their political aspirations focused on the Republic of the South Moluccas (RMS), and a myriad of other organizations. It took on violent aspects in the sixties and seventies, with train hijacks and hostage-taking. Generous government funding to a number of organizations in the years afterwards resulted in a number of cases of mismanagement. Now, private and small-scale initiatives represent the tendency of the Moluccan community to work towards a interethnic, religiously mixed, and intercultural environment.

In this chronological essay, Tomasowa looks for the causes of the developments which influenced the history and social position of the Moluccans in the Netherlands. His opinions are moderate, he explains, as he raises thorny questions, and criticizes Moluccan leadership. His balanced judgement is also to be found in other publications. Tomasowa lists an impressive number of sources, but forgets to order them alphabetically. Moreover, a number of names are misspelled. Tomasowa is also the author of a ‘factional’ trilogy on a Moluccan family, centering respectively on the Pattimura rebellion (1817), the war of independence (1945), and the exodus of 1950. These titles have hardly found publicity. They are: Pattimura: Opstand van de paradijsvogels (2015), De schreeuw van de adelaar; De ondergang van het koloniaal imperium Nederlands-Indië (2017), and Het lied van Ezra Makakea Poeta; Sporen van verraad en bedrog (2018), 800 pages altogether, all published by Aspekt. In Tomasowa’s first two accounts, he employs fictional and non-fictional actors to tell his story. He centers on the Moluccan part and sides without reservation with the anti-colonial fighters Pattimura and Martha Christina. In the second volume, the main fictional character, as a student and soldier, is involved in all the main crises of the Independence War against the Dutch, being closely associated with all the Republican leaders from Indonesia’s government and army. For instance, a love affair between the main character and Surabaya Sue is added. Unfortunately, names are frequently misspelled, and events misreported, caused by an insufficient use of sources. Tomasowa adds a melodramatic flavor to all this, which comes across as somewhat over the top. But, especially for the knowledgeable reader, it makes for good reading. The third volume differs from its predecessors, as it is almost an autobiographical account of Tomasowa’s growing up in a barrack camp in Barneveld, and his search for identity after he left his camp. After these turbulent years he settled as a community worker. His life story is supplemented with long explanations about the fate of the Moluccans during occupation, war, and exile. His relation on the barracks years—almost 200 pages—is particularly good. And without a doubt, the trilogy deserves attention.

Yvette Kopijn, Antara nusa: Levensverhalen van ouderen uit Indië/Indonesië. Volendam: LM Publishers, 2018, 127 pp. ISBN: 9789460224409, price: EUR 19.50 (hardback).

Yvette Kopijn (1966) has published a number of titles containing interviews with ‘ordinary’ people with Indies/Indonesian backgrounds. In Antara nusa, she collects ten interviews with (six) older women and (four) men born between 1929 and 1945, who were regular visitors to social meetings of the Stichting Nusantara in Amsterdam. They are of Indonesian, Indies, Moluccan, and Chinese descent. Among them is the Indonesian Chinese activist Liem Soei Liong. They tell about the colonial Indies, the Japanese occupation, the bersiap period, decolonization, the departure from Indonesia and the experiences in the Netherlands. Questions of assimilation and identity are inevitably discussed. Kopijn has organized the stories of her interlocutors to become a coherent account. Thus, underexposed experiences become visible and personal stories are recorded as part of the immaterial heritage of Indonesia and the Netherlands.

Wim van de Waal, Bestuursambtenaar in Nieuw-Guinea, 1959–1962. Leiden: Primavera Pers, 2018, 200 pp. ISBN: 9789059972650, price: EUR 35.00 (hardback).

Wim van de Waal (1939) finished his secondary school and, out of a sense of adventure, applied for a job as district officer in West New Guinea in 1959, the last remnant of the Dutch colonial empire in Indonesia. At that time, pressure from the Indonesian Republic to transfer the sovereignty of New Guinea was mounting, coalescing into threats of a massive invasion. The Dutch professed to educate the Papuans, the original inhabitants of New Guinea, in order to become independent, but the effort was half-hearted and unconvincing. Van de Waal followed a nine-month course in Hollandia (now Jayapura), and, after a few months of apprenticeship in Merauke, was posted on the Casuarina Coast, in South New Guinea, 400 km from Merauke. It was one of the most remote settlements imaginable, with about 11,000 inhabitants, divided between four ethnic groups (Asmat, Kajagar, Sawoei, and Auyu). These were Stone Age people, who still practiced head-hunting—in one of the remotest parts of the country. Van de Waal lived in relative isolation in Pirimapun, supported by a few Papuan policemen, and occasional receiving visits from colleagues and Catholic missionaries. Higher Dutch officials hardly showed an interest in the vicissitudes of their subordinates. Van de Waal, however, made the best of his stay and showed an admirable adaptability, as well as inventiveness, in solving the many practical issues that arose. He also shows admiration for the Papuans he met, who survived the inhospitable surroundings thanks to their skills and logical thinking. Van de Waal tells about his survival and his daily dealings, leading to slow progress in bringing peace and quiet.

Totally unexpectedly, Van de Waal became involved in a world-wide affair. In November 1961, the American Michael Rockefeller, doing research on the Asmat, shipwrecked with his catamaran and disappeared. His father, the politician and tycoon Nelson Rockefeller, initiated a thorough search, which did not yield any result. The whole affair was moreover politically sensitive. The United States was involved in the Dutch-Indonesian conflict as a mediator, and for the US as well as for Indonesia the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller raised doubts about the effectiveness of Dutch rule. The Dutch authorities were reluctant to investigate the case, and were content to give the shipwreck and drowning as the cause of his death. They thus ignored reports from Catholic missionaries in the region and by Van de Waal that Rockefeller was killed and eaten; it was politically inopportune to publish these. Only after the transfer of New Guinea to Indonesia were new theories launched, most of them speculative and incorrect. Van de Waal lists and discusses them (pp. 191–193). Those who based themselves on Van de Waal’s information are proven correct, as transpires from his account in this book. Van de Waal returned to the Netherlands in 1962 and started a wholly different career. His fine account, after almost fifty years, adds to our expertise about the work of district officers in New Guinea from 1950 until 1962, and tells us the last word on Michael Rockefeller’s sad fate. The big-format book contains a few hundred illustrations, many of them in color, made by Van de Waal on the spot. These are of a stunning quality.

Daan Goppel, Knalpot: Verhalen uit Jakarta. Delft: Elmar, 2018, 132 pp. ISBN: 9789038926759, price: EUR 16.99 (paperback).

After a visit to Jakarta, Daan Goppel (1987) decided he wanted to stay in Indonesia’s capital and learn the language. He was overwhelmed by its bustle and disorder, its crude chaos, and the difficulties of daily life. He stayed for a year (2013–2014), participating in the day-to-day activities of Jakartans. His stories give a lively image of life in Jakarta: traffic jams, heat, pollution, and the ostensible lack of governmental organization. He writes about the position of Europeans, the role of religion, and, in particular, the many facets of night life and prostitution. In conclusion, he writes about the decisive role of money in all social aspects of Jakarta, which causes the extreme differences in livelihood. For Goppel, everything results in the ‘wonderful chaos’ of Jakarta. His stories make for pleasant reading, and add new insights, even for those who know Jakarta, who will recognize familiar patterns.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 483 65 9
PDF Views & Downloads 258 99 11