TOTOK, INDO: WHAT IS REALLY THE DIFFERENCE?

Three months ago, I exchanged e-mails with Priscilla K M regarding the fact that there is very little available in English that deals with the horrific circumstances of the Dutch-Indonesians on Java under the Japanese during WWII that I describe in “with nothing but our lives”. Priscilla is the founder of The Indo Project whose focus is to preserve the history and culture of the Dutch-Indonesians in the English Language.

When I mentioned to Priscilla that I was not a Dutch-Indonesian but was a totok (person born in the Dutch East Indies but with a pure Dutch father and a Dutch mother), she wrote me this lovely comment:

“Indo, Dutch-Indonesian, Totok, Dutch-Indo, etc…. it’s all semantics. What is important is that we, who have our roots and were born in the former Dutch East Indies, are a people who have similar remembrances of a land that is no longer there…a sort of melancholy that binds us. Just as important is that we keep that history alive by writing about it. I look forward to your book, Leo.”

Yes, indeed. Thank you, Priscilla.

Leo

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2 Responses to “TOTOK, INDO: WHAT IS REALLY THE DIFFERENCE?”

  1. Ingrid Schroder August 21, 2015 at 6:51 am #

    Hello Leo, I am so glad I found this post as I have been wondering the same thing, as my father & Opa & Oma are Dutch but lived in the former Dutch East Indies for a long time – 1918 to late 1940’s. I never realized until today that there is a name for them – totok. (As I knew they weren’t Indos)
    My mission now is to try and find out which camps they were in (in WWII) as all I have been told is that my Oma (& infant daughter) were in 3 different camps and not sure about my Opa. (they lived on Pulau Tello) The infant daughter is my auntie and still alive but does not want to talk about that time.
    Regards Ingrid Schroder

    • Leo Keukens August 24, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

      Hello, Ingrid.
      I am pleased that you found my website and that it was of some help to you. I don’t envy you trying to find out about the WWII camp experiences of your family. Living on Pulau Tello at the start of the war, your Oma and your aunt most likely wound up in one of the camps in Sumatra but not necessarily in a camp that was geographically the nearest to Pulau Tello. Your Opa was almost certainly not in the same camp as your Oma and aunt; he most likely wound up in one of the many labor camps. Much depends upon whether he was military or had another background.

      That your aunt does not want to talk about her experiences is not surprising; I hear that all the time. Noting that you referred to her as an “infant” during the camp time, I assume that she was probably to young to have a good memory of that time and is living with the burden of some memory of events that were traumatic to her exacerbated by what she may have (over)heard later on. Apparently, your father was not in a position to give you any information either. As in all families, your Oma and Opa probably never talked about their experiences.

      If you email me using my website giving me some more basic information about your family, such as approximate ages in, say, August 1945, I will try to give you some pointers about what sources of information you may be able to tap into. Fortunately, the Japanese were dedicated record keepers and surprising information may be available if you manage to find the right source.

      Leo Keukens

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