Hybrid Identity: Family, Photography and History in Colonial Indonesia

Posted in Articles, History, Live Events, Oceania on 2013-01-23 19:12Z by Steven

Hybrid Identity: Family, Photography and History in Colonial Indonesia

Undergraduate Journal of Gender and Women’s Studies
Volume 1, Issue 1 (2012)
15 pages

Sani Montclair
Department of Gender and Women’s Studies
University of California, Berkeley

As members of my family lose memories and pass away, I desire to take an even tighter grip on their narrative and the recollection of their story; their distant past has become my present exploration. I travel daily to the Indies, searching through black and white photographic albums, tracing the history of my great-grandparents and grandparents. What are these photographs conveying? Whose eyes were they for and most importantly, what story are they telling?

My Grandmother, Catherine Noordraven (or Omi) was born in Chimahi, Java in 1916. Her mother (Hubertina Samson) was an Indonesian nurse and her father (Otto Noordraven), who was born in Holland, was a Dutch soldier in the military. Omi had a middle/upper class childhood upbringing and had a brother who, like his father, served in the Dutch military. The photographic albums tell the story of their travels throughout many different places in Sumatra and Indonesia, due to Otto’s military post. The photographs of the women in the albums depict a life of leisure, showing bicycle riding, swimming and posed portraits in the yard. The photographs of the men usually illustrate militarization; the men are customarily in uniform or standing in front of government buildings. These photographs represent a highly gendered, racialized and performative colonial history.

My grandfather, Bob Jan vanderSpek (or Opi) was a Dutchman born in Bondowoso, Java in 1924. His father, Johannes Antonius Maria vanderSpek was an electrical engineer and mother, Cornelia Ann Maria vanLeuween was a stay at home mother. All of the photographs I have from his life are from the 1920s-30s and were sent to Holland before World War Two. The War left Opi with nothing; both his parents were killed and he was left with no belongings.

History depends on memory (as orally recounted or documented) as the only way through which actual experience can be retrieved. On the other hand, memory is constantly subject to change, influenced by later experiences (Cote 12).

The lines in this paper will move between history and memory, recalling a time in the Dutch East Indies when European identities and performances signified relations of power. The Dutch colonized the Indonesian islands and for two hundred years took Javanese and Indonesian women as their servants, sexual partners and wives. By the 1940s, there were numerous families of mixed racial backgrounds living in Java who were performing within the structures of a European identity. Uncovering the intersectional politics of hybrid identity is the primary focus of this paper. These mixed identities are revealed through a history of photographs in my family photo albums from the 1920s to the 1930s. The photographic albums in my possession document my family’s story during colonial rule. They narrate pieces of history and concurrently situate their racial and gendered position in the Dutch East Indies. The albums and interviews tell stories of my grandparents’ childhoods and simultaneously explore the complexities of state and homeland. Marrying a white European man was common for indigenous women, in high colonial times, and along with my great-grandmother and grandmother, my mother also married a European white man. The ruling class globally and specifically in Indonesia was white, and the whitening of my relatives’ bloodlines gave the women of color in my family higher class and racialized status. The family photo albums in my possession, along with interviews, allow me to expose these identities from the colonial model to the post-colonial. Structured through the complexities and intersectionality of performance, race, class and gender, these albums and interviews will be used as my primary source in crafting a story about citizenship and belonging…

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