Published in Jakart Java Kini, October 2008

Late 19th century Indo in Batavia.

Indo, Indon, Indonkrupuk..a critical appraisal at this point in time

There is quite a bit of confusion about these terms at the moment.
‘Indo’ is an old colonial era term for half-castes, now being bandied around expat Seminyak to mean ‘Indonesian’.
‘Indon’ is the nasty diminutive of the proper noun ‘Indonesian’, commonly used by Malaysians to describe the Javanese underclass of construction workers and maids. The noun ‘Indon’ is also used by many expats to describe the Indonesian language, replacing the formerly ubiquitous ‘bahasa’ (popular with expats in Kemang in the 1980s), and the long but correct term ‘Bahasa Indonesia’.
‘Indokrupuk’ is an hysterical term coined in the 1970s by the ultimate ‘Indo’ Soedarmadji Damais, Jakarta’s cultural czar, to define a person of mixed blood, as in: Indokrupuk Batak-Jerman or Indokrupuk Belanda-Jawa.
Those of us who love all things ‘Indo’―such as pisang goreng keju or Ava Gardner in ‘Bhowani Junction’―find it abhorrent when one’s trainer or real estate broker now spits out the term in the same manner that Dame Edna Everage does the term ‘tinted folk’.

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There is a darker side to the history of the word ‘Indo’ too.
Unlike the dashing English Nabobs―who (generally) married Indian Begum wives in the 18th and 19th centuries and returned home fabulously wealthy with a brood of ‘tea-coloured’ children―the Indonesian ‘Indo’ of the 19th century was often marginalised and discriminated against, right up until the post independence era when most fled to Holland or even Dutch New Guinea (the present West Papua). The word ‘indo’ is most probably derived from the colonial era name for most of the Malay archipelago, Nederlands-Indië. The ‘Indo’ was often the brunt of barbs from the indigenous Indonesian Jakarta slang; the term ‘Londo Depok’, for example, refers to a common type of European (originally, from the Bali-Dutch ‘Indo’ community of Depok).
Not unlike the position of the Parsee community in India, the ‘Indo’ community provided few independence heroes. “Loyal to the Dutch, friends of the Indonesians”, might have been the ‘Indo’ motto. There was, however, an ‘Indo’ political party in 1930s.
Due to Indonesia’s traumatic decolonisation process, few of the original, prominent ‘Indo’families remain. The very ‘Indo’ Manadonese were somehow absorbed, quite effortlessly, into the new Indonesia, post 1945.

There have been many famous and much loved ‘Indos’ throughout Indonesia’s history and many hated ones too, such as the fantastically corrupt ‘Indo’ Governor General De La Parra. Other prominent ‘Indos’ include Amandari founder Adrian Zecha (Czech-Dutch-Sundanese-Chinese), Mata Hari, Joop ‘Potlood’ Ave (Dutch-Manadonese), Tommy Soeharto’s lawyer Juan Felix Tampubolon (Batak-Dutch), and Jakarta fashionista Ghea Sukasah (Dutch-Javanese). Issues of mixed-blood seem barely relevant in this day and age, as miscegenation seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

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The use of the word ‘Indon’, however, needs to be seriously addressed. I recently discovered a ‘Bali Barat Spa’ in Malaysia, where ‘Indons’ were being held as virtual sex-slaves, locked in at night and afforded only basic human rights. Many construction industry ‘Indons’ are likewise entrapped in situations of sub-standard employment, often robbed of their life savings by unscrupulous ‘agents’. These victims even refer to themselves as ‘Indons’ as a way to describe their under-class status, in the same way that hostages often identify with their kidnappers.
Something needs to be done.

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It is to the flamboyant ‘Indokrupuk’, however, that this writer most often directs his gaze. Now that the stigma of mixed-blood has all but dissolved in the more enlightened societies across the globe―outer Essex and Outer Seminyak really the only remaining white supremacist states―the ‘Indokrupuk’, with his or her broader gene pool and multi-cultural upbringing, not to mention the beauty of blue eyes and brown skin, makes for fabulous tabloid fodder.|
At the big fat royal cremation in Ubud, recently, for example, I discovered three generations of gilt ‘Indokrupuks’ within the palace walls (the first President of East Indonesia, Tjokorda Gde Raka Sukawati, had taken a Parisian woman as his fifth wife (!!) and the courtyards were littered with their offspring! Likewise Bali’s Karangasem, Pemecutan and Singaraja royal families have all been ‘infiltrated’ by blondes over the years.

The ultimate Indokrupuk – Princess A. A. Bulantrisna Djelantik of Karangasem, legong guru, doctor, grandmother, philanthropist.

Last month saw a gala tribute to the lives of the much decorated Dr. Anak Agung Made Djelantik and his Dutch wife Astri held at Taman Ujung, one of the family’s ‘water palaces’, at which a brood of Djelantik’s danced.
It was a joyous affair attended by an army of ‘Indokrupuks’ and international devotees.
At such an event one can seek relief in the knowledge that the next generation of ‘hybrid-Indo-models’ is ensured―many Balinese children from prominent families are marrying foreigners!
It is the vibrant Oz-Bali-Kiwi Indokrupuk community that produces the winners it must be said: any number of surf champions, Cinetron stars, international models, and newscasters.
It is the plight of the lowly ‘Indon’, however, that needs official attention: for too long the brave Indonesian workers abroad have suffered at the hands of unscrupulous overlords.
In Singapore the regular round up of illegal ‘Indon’ workers is shown on the evening news to the accompaniment of Wild-West ranch round-up style music or similar.
One’s Malaysian friends seem downright ignorant about Indonesian culture. Only in the palaces of Malaysia’s Sultans does one hear the admission that the majority of the Malay royal families are descended from the mighty Majapahit or the brave Bugis.
Singaporeans are mostly just plain horrified when reminded that they are surrounded by ‘Indons’ and Malays of every ilk! Ha!
And this is ignorance not just abroad, but here in Indonesia too, in the glossy tourist magazines, whereas Indonesians are being typecast as a race of masseurs and domestics.

Made Wijaya is the nom de plume of Bali-based Australian writer and landscape designer Michael White.

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