Written by Administrator
Tuesday, 21 December 2010 06:12
AsiaViews, Edition: 37/VII/December2010
Category: BOOK REVIEW
Nyai & Concubinage in the Netherlands East Indies
Author: Reggie Baay
Translator: Siti Hertini Adiwoso
Publisher: Komunitas Bambu, Jakarta, 2010
Pages: 297 pp + xx
PERNYAIAN or concubinage is generally a life full of imbalanced relations between a foreign male and a native woman which eventually produced an Indo (of mixed Indonesian and European blood) generation. Even though such relationships have produced a number of descendants, such as Reggie Baay, the writer of the book, it cannot be denied that concubinage has a dark history. Therefore what is happening is not an amnesia, but rather a ?deliberate forgetfulness? of the history.
The essence of the book focuses on the marginalization of women in human history during the colonial period in the Netherlands East Indies. The concubines? very low position in society is a disgrace some 800,000 Eurasians in the Netherlands prefer to brush aside. But not Reggie Baay.
He has a strong desire to oppose or fight such an ahistorical tendency, not because he has nyai blood running through his veins, but because he believes that concubinage is a reality and a part of the Dutch social history. Therefore, the history of women who were scorned and would soon be forgotten must have attention, according to him.
It is a reality that a nyai tended to be marginalized and that she was just a worthless individual. In his view, pernyaian deserves to be studied, remembered and have a rightful place in history. He does not want the history of the life of nyais to be buried so no one would ever remember it.
True; it is also a fact that the image of a nyai as perceived by many is a disgraceful and negative one. Scattered in the book are views that typecast a nyai as a despicable lowly woman. Not only was she equated with a prostitute, she was often regarded as no more than a lustful animal. Although it was a prominent impression, this stereotyped image was not always true.
There were some nyais who lived with European men out of love. However, for most women those days, living as a concubine was not by choice but rather by compulsion or for survival. It appeared as if they lived side by side while in fact they did not know each other. It was because concubinage was just a temporary solution for European men that they were able to treat their nyais according to their whims.
There were also loyal mistresses who were subtly dubbed inlandse huishoudster (native house helper). But more dominant were the humiliating terms such as moentji (sic) or snaar (string). Or, meubel (furniture) which suggests that a nyai was no more than a piece of furniture which could be auctioned off. The most positive term was boek or woordenboek (book or dictionary) which derived from the notion that a nyai could also play a role as a translator or a language teacher (for the master) to communicate with the local indigenous people.
In Baay?s view, such a humiliating profile continues to exist until now and constitutes a prejudice resulted by the conditions during the colonial time. He also says that the typecasting of a nyai was intended as a line to separate the social and racial statuses. As a social phenomenon during colonial days, certainly not every judgment towards nyai was negative. Annie Foore, for example, sympathizes with the nyais and portrays them objectively. Nyais also had an important role, at least as an agent of culture.
Some facts even indicate that Princess Laurentien, the wife of Prince Constantijn, the youngest son of Queen Beatrix, is a descendant of a nyai named Mankam. In fact, some of the relatives of Prince Bernhard are also nyai descendants.
In this light, it is time that nyai is given her rightful place in the Indies family as well as in the history before it is too late. That is Baay?s hope.
By: Ibnu Wahyudi
Tempo No. 16/XI/15-21December 2010
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 December 2010 06:12 )