My curiosity for long-distance enchantment and multiculturalism was born out of a famous story, Saïdjah and Adinda, written by a much-lauded Dutch author, Eduard Douwes Dekker, alias “Multatuli” (“the one who has suffered a lot”) in 1860. His book was about “Max Havelaar, The Coffee Auctions of The Dutch Trading Company”. It agitated against the abuses of Dutch colonialism in the then Dutch Indies (now Indonesia), was widely read in his days and later, reprinted many times, and turned into a Dutch movie in 1976 by film director Fons Rademakers, which got first prize at several film festivals for best foreign film.
Credit: Wikipedia NL.
Saïdjah and Adinda was chapter 17 in this long book. My elementary schoolteacher wanted me to read the story when I was 10 (1947). Its sadness, savagery and underlying beauty of love gripped me forever. As young children, Saïdjah and Adinda were destined to marry. Their friendship evolved into love, but the local colonial master confiscated Saïdjah’s buffaloes he needed for his rice field. Forced to earn a living and cash to marry Adinda, he left the area and went to work somewhere else. Their separation was heartbreaking.
I still see the picture that Adinda had shaped in my imagination: a beautiful slim girl with long black hair, bare footed and a light coffee-brown smooth skin, wide dark eyes and a brilliant smile, the dream girl in the “Dessa” (village). I fell in love with this Adinda. But when Saïdjah came back to marry her, he found her family murdered in their shantung home, and Adinda’s body tortured and ripped open. It was a cry against colonial rule. Her sad image never left my mind.
I read the story when Holland fought its colonial war during 1945-49, which led to Indonesia’s Independence. At high-school from the early fifties, I had several Indonesian friends whose families had fled to Holland during these bitter years. At that time, I learned that my grandfather, Hector van Coehoorn van Sminia, as a young man, had spent five years in the Dutch Indies in the early 1900s to set up and manage a coffee plantation with a business companion. Had he ever seen a girl like Adinda? I wonder. But he didn’t feel that was the type of life he wanted and returned to Holland to find his love and married, going back to speed-skating, horseback riding and breeding Dutch thoroughbreds.
Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to talk to him about his life in the Indies, as he died in 1946, shortly before I read Saïdjah and Adinda’s story. I also learned at that time that a great-uncle, John Paul van Limburg Stirum, had been Governor General of the Dutch Indies from 1916-1921. As a young boy, I met him several times at my grandmother’s house, and I remember him as a very impressive man.
Only when I became 16, I heard that he had been very critical of the Dutch Government for not allowing the local population more political freedom in their own decision making. He took several measures to enhance local political participation, which were later rescinded by a much less visionary Dutch regime. He died in 1948 when the colonial war was raging and I was too small to talk to him about these things.
His vision was the main reason why, in 1962, I wrote my masters thesis for political science about the renewed conflict between Holland and Indonesia regarding Western New Guinea (the Dutch side of Australian Papua Guinea, which was part of the Indonesian archipelago). Holland had kept it out of the 1949 Indonesian Independence agreements as Dutch territory.
The thesis argued against the Dutch Government’s impossible position to keep Western New Guinea (Western “Irian” for Indonesia) out of Indonesian sovereignty. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially Minister Luns, was not amused when they heard about my thesis during my research. A month after I completed my thesis, in August 1962, Holland was forced to sign the secession of Western New Guinea to Indonesia, under American mediation (New York Agreement, Ellsworth Bunker, diplomat under President Kennedy).
Meanwhile Adinda had found refuge in my mind. She was the driver of my economic development studies in Paris and my desire to join the World Bank. She probably was also the driver behind my inclination to find her as a life companion despite all the blondes and brunettes that complicated my life and couldn’t keep me committed, spawning deep sorrow and many tears. Ultimately I found her….in 1973 at the World Bank in Washington D.C. An East-Indian beauty from Guyana.
“Adinda come true”
The World Bank is, of course, a multicultural institution by definition. All member nations are somewhat represented and you meet and work with all colors and races, from yellow to black to brown and to white. As English is the main language, everyone works and converses with each other and feels like they are one family regardless where they come from and what color or faces or accent they have. Of course, we make fun of each other, but it’s never hateful. When you exit onto the streets of the USA, locals do not understand that congeniality, as they are still stigmatized into racial differences in spite of many years of activism in this area.
But for us, that did not matter and we married on January 25, 1974.
John and Joy’s civil marriage and the parties
Though left and right our decision was criticized in 1974, after 40 years we still stand while many of the critics failed.
Both children, here pictured at my family residence in Holland, are products of a multicultural colorless approach to life. Both have successful careers, saw a lot of the Third World, and can reach out to all sides and relate to their weaknesses and strengths. Character counts, color does not. They learned to be standard bearers of good family values, keeping up the flag of all peaceful nations under one universal God, whatever name He carries or concept He represents. We are called “the family of the United Nations”, without all the infighting of that body.
The proof is that often derided multiculturalism works, and we will be celebrating this shortly.
Next – Guyana – The Blessing