Friday, January 8, 2010

Het leven van baboe Clown

I finished Chapter 6 yesterday. It begins as Chapter 5 ends, with a discussion of how the Dutch related to each other. There were many taboo subjects, including rather surprisingly, politics. I wish there had been more about why Catrinus Mak and his family were that way. Had the Netherlands been a peasant society, in which every generation was the same as the last? Had it always been that way? Alternatively, were the older Mak's reacting to an earlier generation, similar to the Baby Boomers? That is, were they rebelling against a generation incapable of keeping its private life private?

The Mak family was well off during the Depression. For his ministry, Catrinus took planes all over the colony. He loved it.

A "Baboe," was a nanny in Indiƫ. Clown is remembered but forgotten. While the busy Mak household needed her to raise the children, nobody remembered her name. Still, she has a chapter named after her, in which she appears more than briefly, but not throughout. Some regret was expressed by Catrinus years later, as he said he didn't understand the colonial dynamic and what was wrong with it at the time. Baboes made more money than plantation workers, but it was still a bad set-up.

Big Mak also writes about how the Dutch and Indos related. There was a duality between ideas of the "Mystic East" and the search for cheap labor.

His prose brought to mind some Indonesians I knew at church. They said that Indonesia was a place where you could hire a houseboy and a maid for next to nothing. This got me to wondering why most 20th Century revolutions could be viewed as failures on some level. While we're still stuck with the narratives of fighting for freedom, that's not quite how things turned out. I doubt any rebel fighters in the 1950s imagined a future in which their grandchildren could grow up to be houseboys and maids for local, instead of foreign elites.

From there, the chapter shifts into a discussion of politics. Big Mak's earlier treatment of the subject as a taboo brought to mind Europeans described by Eduardo Mallea in Bahia de Silencio. In that book, the main character travels to Europe from Argentina in 1938. Everyone he meets is very passive, waiting for the war. They are just hanging out at the same cafes. Nobody has any plans to emigrate or do anything at all.

Mak moves the story forward to show a gradual, thoughtful, awakening with some flaws. He traces how Catholics and Protestants came to oppose Hitler. There was some variation within the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, but opposition crystallized after Archbishop of Utrecht Johannes de Jong banned NSB members (NL Nazis) from receiving Communion. On the Protestant side, Johannes de Heer wrote against anti-Semitism in 1919. Although Professor H.H. Kuyper, Abraham's son, admired Hitler, Protestant sentiments kept going against him.

Mak describes how Germany and the Lutherans had some sympathy in the Netherlands. Orderly Germany looked better than England, or decadent France. Also, he quotes many people from all sides of society saying that while Hitler was wrong, they didn't care for Jews either.

He also talks about the visit to Medan of an NSBer. Catrinus Mak didn't like it. He found him to be a demagogue and got more involved in politics and speaking out.

In this chapter, one can also see how Hitler's actions ended any sympathy for his cause. Initially, Nazism was taken seriously as a theory. The Night of the Long Knives made it clear that it was just about power. While he consolidated power in Germany, Hitler alienated fence sitters and sympathizers abroad. By the time the NSBer came to Medan, people were changing their minds.

1 comment:

  1. As a rule the child taken care of by a baboe incorporated animistic elements from her. He/she learned to appreciate menjan, a special type of incense burned at auspicious days to please the spirit. Also the dukun or shaman as well as invaluable knowledge of the medicinal properties of cerain native plants that they employ rather than going to a western educated physician Maybe this and other Indonesian customs are what they tried to forget or minimize? Who knows.