Jan 31, 2023 Last Updated 12:03 AM, Jan 26, 2023

My eyes may be blue, but I am Indonesian

My eyes may be blue, but I am Indonesian
Published: Oct 19, 2014

Rosalind Hewett

The urn containing Joseph Moor’s ashes held in the Menteng Pulo War Cemetery, Jakarta - Rosalind HewettIn 1942, Japanese troops invaded Java, part of wider Japanese incursions during the Pacific War. Hendricus Moors was only nine months old when his father Joseph, a Dutch soldier in the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL), was captured by the Japanese. It wasn’t until ten years later that word reached Hendricus and his mother, an Indo (Eurasian) of Javanese and Belgian descent, that Joseph had died in Japan in 1943 as a prisoner of war. Joseph’s body was cremated and his ashes sent to the Menteng Pulo War Cemetery in Jakarta. About once a year, Hendricus visits Jakarta to look at the urn containing the ashes of the father he does not remember.

Hendricus and his Javanese wife lived in Bandung when I met and interviewed him, though he was born in Magelang in Central Java. After his father’s capture, his mother was forced to find work in Magelang to support her two children at a time when, Hendricus explained, there was no work. ‘The Japanese left and everything was tough. It was difficult to get food, especially because I’m being honest here there was a type of boycott against people of Dutch descent. Indonesians didn’t want to sell food to people with Dutch ancestry, but because my mother reminded people that my father had been good to the villagers, the villagers after my father left were good to us. They did it secretly… But we were scared of other Indonesians, because if [our ancestry] was known, we could have been killed.’

Suspicion of Eurasians

Between 1945 and 1947, many Eurasians were killed in Java by groups of young, fervently nationalist Indonesian men (pemuda). Indos were seen by some as enemies, partly because many supported the return of Dutch rule after Sukarno’s declaration of independence on 17 August 1945. After Indonesian independence was formally recognised by the Netherlands in 1949, only a small number of Indos who had held European status in the colony chose to take Indonesian citizenship. Thousands began leaving en masse for the Netherlands, particularly after Sukarno expelled Dutch citizens in 1957.

Hendricus’ mother chose to remain in Indonesia. In 1956 she married an Ambonese man, and Hendricus eventually followed in his stepfather’s footsteps and entered the Indonesian air force, where he later rose to the rank of colonel. It wasn’t until 1988, when he applied for a civilian passport, that he realised that technically he was not an Indonesian citizen, because his father had been classed as a European in colonial Indonesia. With his sharp cheekbones and blue eyes, Hendricus looked ‘foreign’. Unlike many other Indos who left, however, he said that he had never been charged higher prices because of the way he looked, because he spoke Indonesian like a local. Once, though, some children had caught sight of his face through a car window when he stopped at traffic lights and called him ‘Mister’, a term which is usually reserved for western foreigners, reminding him that his features, at the very least, pointed to his foreign ancestry.

‘More Indonesian than other Indonesians’

In 2006, Hendricus began attending gatherings for Dutch speakers held in Bandung. He began to re-learn the Dutch phrases his mother had used when he was a child, which linked him to the Dutch father he couldn’t remember. It was at these gatherings that he learned about what had happened to many other Indos like him who had left for the Netherlands and other countries. A few, who had retired in Bandung, told him about regular Indo cultural events held in the Netherlands and what it meant to ‘be Indo’ there: speaking a mixture of Dutch and Malay, eating Dutch Indonesian food, and being both ‘eastern’ and ‘western’. Hendricus felt that he was very different to these Indos: ‘Those in Indonesia like me don’t have any connection with the Netherlands at all, because I lean more towards the Indonesian side, which I can’t give up… I can’t speak Dutch, I don’t know the Netherlands, so I can’t feel that I am Dutch. No, I cannot feel it. I don’t feel in myself that I am Dutch.’ In fact, he thought that he was perhaps ‘more Indonesian than [other] Indonesians.’

The stories of many Indos who felt they had to leave Indonesia paint a graphic picture of violence, poverty and discrimination that many Indos of this generation once experienced in Indonesia. These stories emphasise that Indos would have gone to the Netherlands if they could, because they were not welcome in Indonesia. Hendricus’s life presents an alternative version to this history. He explained that he was raised in Indonesia, all the ups and downs in his life took place there, and his wife was Indonesian. He felt intense pride, though occasional disappointment in his country, at being an Indonesian.

Hendricus had lived through all the major periods of modern Indonesian history the Japanese Occupation, the National Revolution, the Sukarno years, the Suharto years, and finally the post-1998 Reform years yet he was born in and a visible product of colonial Indonesia. In some ways his life is one piece of what he called the ‘missing link’ between colonial Indonesia and Indonesia today. But he also embodies the national concept of ‘unity in diversity’ first envisaged by Indonesia’s founders, who wrote of an Indonesia embracing people of diverse backgrounds. ‘My eyes may be blue,’ he said, ‘but yeah, what can I do? I am Indonesian.’

Rosalind Hewett (rosalind.hewett@gmail.com) is a PhD candidate in Pacific and Asian History at the Australian National University.


Other related articles from the II archive:

'Stopping intolerance'. An interview with Zainal Abidin Bagir
'Unity in diversity? Ethnicity and the nation'. Edition 78, Apr - Jun 2004 

Inside Indonesia 118: Oct-Dec 2014




#9 Alif 2016-08-25 16:41
Indonesians have a long way to go living by their "unity in diversity" motto. In fact, they don't even honor a longstanding Pancasila principle guaranteeing all citizens freedom of religion. To this day minorities who profess a religion other than islam, are subject to persecution and discrimination. A tolerant and secular society? I don't think so.

Well its because of the provocative media and some narrow minded people that are spreading some provocative information or news, that many of the people who are listening this info are not learning or searching about who is the provocator or suspect and eventually triggered in most case , Violence based or in the name of religion , race ,etc.
#8 Guido Bernsdorff 2014-11-19 13:09
I am 2 quarters Dutch, 1 quarter French and 1 quarter Austrian, and I spent most of my life in Africa and in Asia (among other places in Indonesia). I could imagine living with either of my three 'nationalities', but I would never be an Indonesian, even if my mother of father would have been of Indonesian extraction. The country is extremely race-conscious and racial and religious discrimination are rife, especially against Chinese, whites, Papuas and Christians. I married into an old established peranakan Chinese family
and feel very happy with my in-laws and their sukubangsa. Peranakans are tolerant, honest and well educated. They do not discriminate and respect all religions and ethnicities.
#7 +3 Ronny Geenen 2014-10-29 03:48
Johan, your last sentence is 100% true. We Indo's in the US are more Indo that those who are in the Netherlands. We have both a background from the old Dutch-Indies and the Netherlands, but because we were kicked out and left both countries, we build something new here in California. We were kicked out of our fatherland and were not welcome in our motherland. That is why we have to find something else, like an uncle-land.
#6 +5 E. Wijaya 2014-10-28 07:53
Mr. H. Moors is a lucky Indo though. He had a good job. Being a colonel of the Indonesian Air Force is a respectable status. I know an Indo in Malang, East Java who is not as lucky as Mr. Moors. His physical built is European, but his name is Javanese. I ask if he knows his Dutch family or the family name, but he does not know about it at all. He only remembers that his father worked as a local warden in a local prison.
His name is Mr. Hadi Sutrisno. He worked with the Indonesian railway as a railway crossing guard which is a low rank in the company.
Now, he is retired and lives happily near the railway crossing that he used to guard.
#5 +2 George 2014-10-24 19:49
This is an interesting story and shows indeed the difficult and different experiences of Eurasian Indonesians. I hope more research is done in this field. Many Eurasian Indonesians who were not recognized as their children by their white, European fathers, became part of the village life and culture of their native mothers, because they were considered "bastards" by the then colonial society and structure, and as such were just natives.
#4 +3 Ronny Geenen 2014-10-23 22:22
We are Indo’s, not equal, but more different. We are sober and magic. We eat Indonesian food, but also Dutch stew. Some of us are brown with blue eyes; others are blond with black eyes. We are not half Dutch and half Indonesian or whatever you might think. We are something special with our own culture. I do not go along with those who say that we need to adapt to the Dutch or the Indonesian culture. We are different and ourselves; unique. I am not Dutch or Indonesian. I am an Indo with a particular culture and history. And the Dutch, Indonesians and any other culture must respect that. An Indo culture in all its individuality and uniqueness!
#3 ILSE CORYDON 2014-10-20 12:54
Indonesians have a long way to go living by their "unity in diversity" motto. In fact, they don't even honor a longstanding Pancasila principle guaranteeing all citizens freedom of religion. To this day minorities who profess a religion other than islam, are subject to persecution and discrimination. A tolerant and secular society? I don't think so.
#2 +7 Roz Elkington 2014-10-20 12:27
Thanks for an informative and personal article. I found it interesting, and it's sobering to think of the range of experiences that Hendricus "carries around" as a witness to so many aspects of Indonesia's history. He'd be amazing to talk to, I'm sure. Perhaps he should write a book!
#1 +3 Johan Hennige 2014-10-20 11:35
I am an Indo, born in Bandung. In 1950 we moved to Former Duch New Guinea and in 1950 to the Netherlands.Do not tell me the Dutch were tolerant to us at that time,we were kind of intruders.Many Indos then emigrated to the US, Australia, Canada and, like me to Spain s.o.. I know of Indos who went back to Indonesia to live and enjoy life there. The Indos in the Netherlands are holding on to their cultural background for the time being and then, it has faded away.

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