Wordcatcher Tales: Totok vs. Indo-European Dutch

Two books about Indonesia that I’ve recently blogged excerpts from have discussed divisions between newcomers and local-born, assimilated expatriates in the former Dutch Indies.

In Bittersweet: The Memoir of a Chinese Indonesian Family in the Twentieth Century, local-born Chinese are referred to by the Malay/Indonesian word peranakan (< anak ‘child’), whose other meanings include ‘of mixed ethnicity or cultural orientation’ (therefore ‘creole’), ‘hybrid (of cattle)’, or ‘uterus, womb’. By contrast, the newly arrived (F.O.B., Issei, etc.) immigrants are called totok, meaning ‘pure, full-blooded’ in Malay/Indonesian.

The Malay/Indonesian word totok is also used in Being “Dutch” in the Indies: A History of Creolisation and Empire, 1500–1920 to refer to Dutch expatriates newly arrived from the Netherlands. But the contrasting formal term used to designate the local-born Dutch expatriates is “Indo-European” (rather than the perhaps too informal Indo) in the English translation, apparently following later endonymic usage by the same group during the era of rising nationalism during the 1800s.

The following excerpt (pp. 221-222) from a chapter entitled “The Underclass” expands upon upper-class Totok attitudes toward their “Indo-European” inferiors:

The inclusion of the Mestizos and the poor whites in the category “European” was a legal and, to some extent, a cultural question; but despite this incorporation, a vast social gulf remained between rich and poor. Newcomers expressed their discomfort (caused by the lower-class Europeans) by mocking those born in the Indies, particularly Indo-Europeans. Interestingly, just as it had been a century earlier, it was not the Mestizo men but the women who came in for criticism. Johannes Olivier, who travelled in the East between 1817 and 1826, referred — like his 17th- and 18th-century predecessors — to the “loose manners of the female Liplaps [half-breeds]”. At the same time he admitted that “there are some exceptions, and indeed certain of the Creole girls are truly beautiful, with souls as pure as their skin is white”. Skin colour would frequently be related to inner purity. This same Olivier, who was expelled from the colony in 1826 on account of drunken and unseemly behaviour, returned to the Netherlands and became head of a boarding school in Kampen. He saw fit to air his prejudiced views in his own periodical De Oosterling, the oldest journal about the East Indies to be published in the Netherlands. In it he made fun of the garbled Dutch spoken by the “coloureds”.

Olivier was, of course, a colonial snob, horrified (at least, on paper) by racial mixing and contact between European men and Indo-European or Indonesian women. But he was one of many. Feelings arising out of racial prejudice would often be expressed in moral terms, cloaked in arguments of public decency and educational standards. Thus, in 1835 the commander-in-chief of the Dutch Indies’ army Hubert J.J.L. Riddel de Stuers wrote of Indo-Europeans: “They possess the bad characteristics of the European, combined with those of the Indonesians. They take after their fathers in their excessively lascivious ways, and by their mothers they are brought up in idleness. How could they possibly turn out good?” What De Stuers was describing here was the notion of the hybrid, a concept that took firm root in the later 19th century. It had its origins in biology, where it was used co refer to the crossing of two breeds of animal, implying the combining of two pure strains. As used here, it seems to mean the combination of two “pure” racial types. It is striking that the hybrid apparently combines most remarkably all the bad qualities of the two parent races from which it is composed.” Although the term “hybrid” never became part of everyday speech, it was certainly widely used in the Indies and contributed to the racial stereotyping associated with the European underclass. Many expressions came into everyday use ro refer to the poor (Indo-)Europeans, for instance, Liplap, blauwtje (blue-hued), sinjo (for men), nonna (for girls), petjoek (a cormorant), Indo and the accepted “correct” term inlandse kinderen, which means literally, “native children”.

Besides the ever-present prejudices, there also developed a social vision in which the various offshoots of the European clan were deliberately drawn closer to the European community. In this process, the long history of the Dutch presence in the East Indies and the fact that most government jobs were filled by Indies-born Europeans were both highly significant. Indeed, the Indische element in colonial society was so overwhelming that it would have been impossible to exclude on explicit grounds the Europeans born in the Indies.


1 Comment

Filed under Indonesia, language, migration, nationalism, Netherlands

One response to “Wordcatcher Tales: Totok vs. Indo-European Dutch

  1. I never heard my Dad use the word “totok” – have got to ask him about that. I do recall though saying “Oost-indisch doof” when we did not react to him speaking to us kids…..

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