Indonesia

My ancestors and family lived in Indonesia for many generations.

The family story goes that one of our ancestors came from Scotland and married an Indonesian woman. There is a family tree book in the family, that goes back to a planter in Sumatra and a small portret of a guy, but nobody knew who he was. Also there was supposedly a family grave in Sumatra and there are pictures and stories from my family in Java. After some research I found out more about my history and ancestors.

In the 18th century in Bencoolen (Bengkulu) my English ancestor (Henry Lewis) started his life in Indonesia (after leaving Scotland or England somewhere before 1783) and married an Indonesian woman. I found out she was probably named Elisabeth and that he worked for the British East India Company at the trading-post Fort Marlborough in Bencoolen (now Bengkulu). I’m still trying to find out where he and she came from. Later their three sons worked here too, for Sir Stamford Raffles (and later with him in other positions). Their names were Charles Richard, Henry Robert and William Thomas. One of them was painted on the portret. Raffles was the Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen and later the founder of Singapore. He abolished slavery here and gave people back their rights.* He also wrote books about the history, culture, flora, fauna and culture of Indonesia (with illustrations), which William Thomas contributed to. A book of Laws was written by Henry Robert. Charles Richard worked in the Magistrates office of Fort Marlborough.

When the Fort and Bengkulu were transferred to the Dutch in 1824 (Anglo-Dutch treaty), the English left Indonesia with some of my ancestors and their (my) family. Other ancestors stayed in Bengkulu and had to become Dutch. The next generation married an Indonesian women too and one of them became a planter in Bengkulu. Others worked for the government in civil services, councils, teachers or various other jobs. First on Sumatra, later on Java.

My great-grandfathers were secretary of Salatiga and engineer and head of Civil Services in Salatiga. They lived there next to each other with their families. That’s how my grandmother and grandfather met each other as children. My grandmother’s mother was an Indonesian orphan adopted by a Dutch family. Later my grandmother moved to Sukabumi and eventually my grandparents moved to Batavia (Jakarta). My grandfather worked here for the Indische Handelsbank and my grandmother was a school teacher here. She has also been a teacher for the Sultan’s children in Medan. Her sister was married to a tea planter in Bandung. After WOII my grandparents got married and had two children here, my mother and my uncle.

In 1955 they moved to the Netherlands (with pain in their hearts) and had two more children, my aunts. They wanted to go to Australia, but had to go on the boat to the Netherlands first and weren’t treated like they were welcome. I don’t know why they changed their mind, but they stayed in the Netherlands. My grandmother’s sister did move on to Australia later.

I was raised with two cultural backgrounds. My father is Dutch and my mother was born in Indonesia, just one month before the independance was finally recognized by the Dutch. While I was growing up I learned much about both cultures and habits and was always interested to know more about Indonesia. My grandmother, mother, uncle, aunts and many good friends of the family, who were also from Indonesia (and were aunts and uncles to me), told me many stories about Indonesia, showed me pictures and off course always encouraged me to taste the delicious food. I also learned to cook it myself. When I was a chef at a community restaurant in Leiden, I cooked my family’s recipes. Usually more than 60 people came to eat, sometimes more. This enthousiasm for Indonesian cuisine or culture hasn’t always been here. From what some of my family members told me, at first they weren’t very welcome in the Netherlands, when they came here by boat in the winter of 1955 (my grandfather later). And in my childhood I was also ’teased’ for being ‘black’ by some people and they told me ’to go home’.

Well, this also made me more proud of my Indonesian blood and more curious about where I come from. My grandmother always missed Indonesia and told me many stories. My mother was very young when she came here. Nowadays in the Netherlands many people still don’t know much about Indonesia, except for some of the bad things that happened there in the past and some prejudice. I agree with the people who I talked to in Indonesia about this: “we are all brothers (and sisters) now”. I’d like to know and show more about the beautiful and positive sides of Indonesia. And many of my friends are interested to hear and see my story.

During my journeys some people I met and some who read my stories (on my website and social media) told me I’m a brave woman and a big inspiration. I really liked to hear that, but I’m just curious to see where I come from and love travelling and discovering new things. I discovered how amazing Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are and that I’m probably not so different than my ancestors. And I also met other descendants of the same ancestors. I’m looking forward to continue my journey.

I’m currently doing more research in the East India Company online archives of the British Librairy, the Singapore National Archive and the University Librairy in Leiden (Netherlands).

* I’m happy and proud to have found out that not all ‘white’ people were bad people and ‘black’ lives mattered back then too, at least to my family and their friends. I’m proud of my Indonesian blood and think what really matters is the colour of your heart. I would have felt ashamed if my family or ancestors would have been on the wrong side of history. But then that would have also surprised me, because we have Indonesian blood and of course I was raised see people for who they are as a person. I talked about this with some of the people I met in Indonesia and I agree with what most of them said: “we are all brothers (and sisters) now”.