From Multatuli To Poncke Princen
September 13, 2018, Speech by: Bonnie Triyana, Chief Editor of Historia, at Pakhuis de Zwijger Amsterdam
Let me start my talk tonight by sharing my experience when I was helping the government of the regency of Lebak to establish Museum Multatuli in Rangkasbitung, which is already open for public since February 18 this year. Several months before the new museum was opened, a group of local journalists came to me for an interview. One of them was asking me about the reason why the museum had been given the name of Multatuli.
“He is a Dutch, a colonial master, an infidel white man, why should we commemorate him? Why don’t you use a local historical figure for it instead of Multatuli?” said the journalist.
I was not taking his question too seriously. I asked him where about he came from. He said, he came from a village about 45 kilometers away from Rangkasbitung, the capitol city of Regency of Lebak. I told him that I could give a suggestion to the Bupati (or mayor) to change the museum’s name and name it after a local historical figure. I asked him whether had an idea or not? He answered he did not know anything about local historical figures.
Then I mentioned one name, a famous person during my childhood in Rangkasbitung (and I’m sure all children that are born and raised in Rangkasbitung would know about this person) and I asked him, whether he know him or not? He shook his head. Then I said to him how can we make people from many other places interested to come to the museum if local people like you do not even know anything about the figure that we are going to use for the name of the new museum? He told me that he had not read Max Havelaar yet.
The establishment of the Multatuli museum became controversial among local people. The government of the regency of Lebak (and those who are involved to this project, including me) has been accused of being “antek Belanda” or Dutch’s henchmen. The 5th generation of Adipati Karta Natanagara, the opponent of Multatuli, was among those people who refused that Multatuli’s name was used for the museum.
On November 10 2017, during the commemoration of National Hero Day, a group of students went in to the street of Rangkasbitung, protesting against the government and demanding that the name of the museum should be changed. They said, “why should we glorifying Multatuli, a colonial master!”
Whatever he did in the past, he will always be the Dutch, our enemy,” said one protester.
We all know that history never has single perspectives. But in this case, the history has been misunderstood. Max Havelaar is not a mandatory book in school that students have to read. That’s why not many people know the context of this historical background. Indeed Multatuli was not a person who fought against colonialism. He was only a man who wanted to restore justice under the colonial system. But the book he has written was an inspiration for many Indonesian figures, from Kartini to Sukarno, to understand that the colonial system would never have been a success without support from local feudalism.
The protesters don’t even really care about the museum that brings up the messages of anti-colonialism narratives: it is comprised of seven sections, showing to people chronologically about the origins of colonialism in Indonesia, how the Dutch as the colonial master build the colonial state, how people has been exploited by the colonial system, how Indonesians reacted towards colonialism and eventually struggle against the Dutch colonial master to gain the independence.
The story that I mention above is showing how history of colonialism in Indonesia has been misunderstood simply because of the racism bias. It is deeply rooted in the past colonial era, in which the society has been formed based on races, as regulated in Regeerings Reglement 1854. According to this regulation, Indonesian society in the past was divided into three major groups of races: Europeesch, Vreemde Oosterlingen and Inlanders.
Obviously, the experience of being a segregated society in the past has contributed to defining who is the “real” Indonesian and who are “the others” among of us. The role of people who has been perceived as the “others” among Indonesians remains ignored. For example, the Chinese minority will always be seen as “the others” in society even though certain Indonesian Chinese figures have played an important role in the liberation movement of Indonesia.
In 1960 the government prohibited the book written by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesian Hoakiau or Indonesian Chinese overseas that is about the discrimination over Chinese minority in Indonesia. In 1968 the government also prohibited the book written by historian Slamet Mulyana. The book is about the role of Chinese in spreading the Islam to the Archipelago.
When I was a school student during the Soeharto era, my history teacher taught me that the struggle to gain Indonesian independence was merely done by Indonesians. But there was no explanation about who is exactly ‘the Indonesian’? There was no information that among people who struggled against colonialism there were some people who always seen as “the others.”
This kind of mis understanding might potentially ignore the fact that the struggle against colonialism was also the struggle to uphold human dignity. And it involved many people from various backgrounds; it did not matter who they were as long as they were committed to the Indonesian independence.
One of “the others” figure that we should not to forget is Poncke Princen. Born in The Haag, November 21 1925 as the eldest son of four. His father, Arnold Princen was a painter who worked as an art teacher. His mother, Theresia Princen-Van der Lee was a decisive socialist-woman who looked after her children very strictly.
Poncke went to a seminary in Weert, Limburg Province where he was educated to be a priest. But somehow he started doubting and became very critical towards religion because of small things that had happened during his school in the seminary. One of the reasons he started doubting the religion was because the of underwear. One day the director of the seminary judged him guilty because he was not wearing underwear.
In his autobiography, titled Poncke Princen: Een Kwestie van Kiezen, zijn levensverhaal opgetekend door Joyce van Fenema, Poncke quoted what the director had said to him, “You have to cover your body as good as you can. Nudity is a sin that can be a stain to your holiness. Your body belongs to God. It is not merely created by God for your own sexual satisfaction.”
Instead of feeling guilty of the mistake that he made, Poncke thought of his father who was always painting naked models for the paintings. He thought it would be easier for him to have forgiveness from God through the confession in front of the priest. But what about his father? Poncke and his brother Kees, were worried that God would send their father to hell because of those nudity pictures.
From that moment, Poncke had grown into a rebellious young man who always fought against anything that he thought oppressed the human dignity. That is also the reason why he really wanted to join the war against the Nazi’s when Germany had occupied the Netherlands. He never went to the war because the Nazi’s captured him and sent him to the concentration camp in Vught.
After the liberation, Poncke joined the Dutch Army. He was among thousands of Dutch soldiers when General Hendrik Johan Kruls spoke about the Dutch military mission to restore the order and security in Indonesia after the war. Poncke thought that there was something wrong with this mission. He said how can you restore order and security without shooting Indonesians with killer machine? How can the Dutch do that when the Netherland just have been freed from the Nazi occupation? Why are the Dutch doing something that is the same as the Nazi’s did in occupying a free and independent country?
In 17 July 1946 he refused his deployment to Indonesia and decided to desert from his service as an army. But was lucky at the beginning, went to France as a free deserter until he came to Belgium where he was put in jail by the marechaussee. Eventually he was forced to go to Indonesia. But the deployment would not change his opinion that the Dutch did the same as the Nazi’s when they occupied the Netherlands.
Poncke came to Indonesia in January 1947 and stationed in Bogor. He was motivated to join the Indonesian side after the violence actions committed by the Dutch army. He had seen a girl killed by Dutch soldiers in Bogor and got upset when he saw how the soldiers buried the death body of the girl that was treated even worse than an animal. He also saw how a Dutch soldier shot an Indonesian detainee to death without any reason.
In 1948 he was crossing the enemy line and joined with them to fight against the Dutch soldiers, his own compatriots. Since he was joining with the Indonesian side, he was no longer foe of Indonesians but he became the traitor of his own compatriots. He lost many things in his life. He lost his Dutch friends and above of all, he lost his wife, an Indonesian woman who was shot to death by the KST soldiers.
After the war ended, Poncke decided to start his career as a politician. In 1956 he was elected as a member of Indonesian parliament. He became a politician who was always very critical towards the Sukarno administration and the Indonesian Army which were very dominant at that time. Poncke felt that the Indonesian democracy was in danger. As the result of his critical attitude, he was send to jail two times. First, he had to stay in prison for one year, from 1956 until 1957. Then the army send him to jail for the second time in 1960. He was released in 1966 after Soekarno was toppled down by Soeharto.
When Soeharto was in power, Poncke did not stop his critical attitudes. The first action under Soeharto era was when he revealed the communist massacre in Purwodadi, Central Java. He got the information about the mass killings from a local catholic priest who had a confession from local militia. Mamik, the name of that local militia, admitted that he killed around 50 local members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) only in one night.
Poncke came to Purwodadi on February 1969 along with two Dutch journalists, Kees van Caspel and Henk Kolb. They were both from De Haagsche Courant. Poncke broke his own word to give the information exclusively to Dutch media by opening this issue for the public in Indonesia before the Dutch media published it first. This case made the Soeharto administration in flame. They accused Poncke of being a communist sympathizer which was denied by Poncke. As the impact of the case, Soeharto postponed his state visit to Netherlands in 1969 on behalf of the normalization of the relationship between two countries.
During the Soeharto era, Poncke never retreated even one step to keep critical against abusive power. He always advocated for the people who stand against Soeharto. After he was released from Soeharto’s jail in 1967, he supported many activists including the East Timorese liberation movement. In 22 February 2002 he passed away in peace and many Indonesian activists commemorate him as a human right defender, a truly freedom fighter.
What we can learn from the story of Multatuli and Poncke Princen? Colonialism does exist and it has gripped Indonesia for hundreds of years. No matter how hard the effort to erase that fact about it, it would never be able to change the historical fact that Dutch colonialism existed in Indonesia. Indonesia gained its independence on August 17 1945 and during the period of the Indonesian independence war there have been historical events that we should to know as the lesson for nowadays and the future.
By any effort to reveal the historical events from the period of Indonesian independence war the use of the term “decolonization” should be considered. This term has ambiguous problems when it comes to the question “who decolonizing who?” The Dutch surrendered to Japan on March 1942. And the Japanese occupied Indonesia until they surrendered to allied forces on August 14 1945. Indonesian independence proclaimed by Sukarno and Hatta on August 17 1945. What the Dutch wanted to do is to recolonize Indonesia, to restore the power as they had before the arrival of Japanese in Indonesia.
I realize that there are some blank spots in the history of those periods that we should dig in to. I am sure not many people of the younger generations both in Indonesia and Netherlands would know about why many people, including children, woman and elderly were send to the internee camps during the Japan occupation and some of them died of starvation and were executed to death.
To share these stories to the young generation is as important as to share the story of VOC exploitation in Indonesia for the young audiences in the Netherlands. So that there will be no commemoration event as the Dutch had in 2002 to glorify VOC as the first multinational company in the world that brought Netherlands to the golden age, denying the fact that VOC has started the colonialism and imperialism in Indonesia.
Last but not least, let me read a letter of Sukarno that he send to a Dutch soldier who guard him during his exile in Brastagi, on December 1948:
Een collega van U uit Medan vraag me: haat U de Nederlanders?
Ik antwoordde: Neen!
Mijn antwoord was oprecht. Ik haat de Nederlanders niet. Ik haat aleen de koloniale verhouding, het imperialisme. Waarom zou Ik het Nederlandsch volk haten? 95% van het Nederlandsche volk evenzeer slachtoffer van die koloniale verhouding, als het Indonesische volk, dat nu zijn vrijheid zoekt.
Ik droom van een wereldbroederschap en vrije volkeren. Een vrij Nederland en een vrij Indonesie, – een hechte vriendschap kan de twee met elkaar verbinden. Het kolonialisme moet weg. Ik sta tegenover der Nederlander als mensch tegenover mensch. God schepsel tegenover God schepsel, waar geen haat tusschen zich.
U hebt mij goed behandeld. Ik dank U daarvoor oprecht. U den officier. Maar bovenal, U den mensch! Moge U zegenen.
Met vriendelijke groet, Sukarno
Brastagi, 31 December 1948.
Watch Bonnie Triyana’s speech video from minute 12:56 – 32:35