A historical perspective on life in colonial Indonesia starting in 1927.
Stories must have run rampant during the ocean crossing about what to expect upon arrival in the Indies and many of these would have been either highly exaggerated or completely fabricated.
Nevertheless, for those passengers on board, the tales, whether tall or not, were none the wiser during this stage of their journey east.
It has become clear through written accounts of the time that for a lot of people making this voyage from Holland, assimilation to the East and its way of life was simply never to become normal.
For others, the exact opposite would hold true.
For them, making the journey provided an immediate ascent in social standing that could never have been reached had they remained in the Netherlands. By virtue of being European they were, without further need of credentials, deemed superior.
The depression of the twenties struck the world hard and the Indies did not escape unscathed. This period of economic gloom coincided with a considerably ramped up influx of immigrants from the Netherlands.
Prior to the early part of the twentieth century very few women made the journey east. The reasons were simple; poor health conditions, poor cultural activities, poor social life, poor marriage prospects, and little to no female company.
The boredom that would ensue upon arrival in the Indies, for a woman, was written about time and again and sent many of the more naive homeward bound within a year. Either leaving their husbands behind to continue working or offering up an ultimatum.
By 1915 on, this situation began to change dramatically for several reasons.
The catalyst was the Dutch Administration back in The Hague. At the turn of the century Holland’s policy’s regarding the Indies underwent a complete overhaul and entered an era of moral judgment rather than colonial oppression. The call to make these changes were brought on by the citizens of Holland who by this time were already looking to free the Indies from Dutch rule and oppression; at the very least they wished to give the native people a voice of their own.
In so doing, many areas of Indies life changed.
Education became a major issue as did basic health care and civil rights. The main areas that received focus were those that directly benefited the societies of the major metropolitan areas; namely Batavia and Bandung. In these areas not only were the above three staples of a sound life improved but so were the social, cultural and entertainment aspects of the vastly European society.
By 1927 these new measures had fully taken root.
Batavia and Bandung were the tropical sister cities of Amsterdam and Paris. Dutchmen and women had been arriving in droves throughout the past twelve years. This, along with the depression had placed severe strains on the resources of the Indies administration and their staff. A call to duty back in the Netherlands would be necessary if these stresses were to be overcome.
During the 1920’s the Dutch government requested of its civil servants, volunteers to start a new life in the Indies. The call to duty must have profoundly affected my grandfather, a police detective in the Royal Dutch Police Force.
At age 29 with a wife, two daughters under the age of 2 years and a good career, Stephanus Hendricus Gerichhausen chose to uproot his family and head to the other side of the world.
Stepping from the gangplank of the Johan de Witt as it lay moored in Tandjung Priok must have prompted a wondrous sense of discovery and unmasked the spirit of pioneering in many who gazed wide-eyed at the legendary jewel of the east.
This moniker which had for a dozen or more decades caused the imagination of countless Europeans to swirl with fantastic exotic delight and intrigue now became a reality.
Batavia had long ago lost any real claim to that prestigious title but for those arriving for the first time, seeking a better life, a healthier climate, and a more enriched style of living, then it is undoubtedly the looking glass through which their eyes were cast.