Indonesian Boys' Clothes: Personal Experiences--Frank Neijndorff

Figure 1.--This photograph was taken about 1940. It shows Frank and his brother and sisters visiting the graves of their ancestors.

Frank Neijndorff has written a lovely account of his boyhood in the Dutch East Indies. It is titled Achterom Gekeken (A Backward Glance: My life in the Dutch East Indies 1929-1949). [ISBN 90-805567-3-4. copyright Frank Neijndorff, Spechtlaan 63, 2261 BB Leidschendam, Holland. The book gives an account of his boyhood growing up in the Dutch East Indies. Three periods are covered. First: the last years of undisputed Dutch colonial rule (1929-42). Second: World War II anf life under the Japanese occupation (1942-45). Third: the period after the War during which sovereignty over the archipelago was disputed between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Indonesian Republic (1945-49) . The book may be ordered from the author. The author maintains a Dutch-language website.

Family Background

I was born in Surabaya, East Java, the youngest of four siblings in a Eurasian family. My ancestry is exemplary of the mixed origins of Dutch Eurasians.

My father's family settled in the Indies in the 18th century. Jochem Neijndorff (who may have spelt his name as Neuendorff originally) was from Karlskron in Bohemia, at the time part of the German Empire, now in the Czech Republic. He enlisted with the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.) and came out on the East Indiaman Overnes as a steward in 1746. His wife's surname was French (Latour). His son was my first ancestor to marry a native woman. Two would follow, the last one my grandfather: my paternal grandmother Ngalima was christened Maria Masena when she married.

My mother's father was a Sephardic Jew from Rotterdam, her mother belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. In this faith we were all raised. My father, orginally a Roman Catholic, converted to my mother's Church when they married.

These mixed origins explain our looks : our complexions range from creamy white to dark brown, and all shades in between. Dark and light skins, blue and brown eyes, blonde and chestnut hair are frequently found even within one family. I have a brother who is 8 years older and two sisters born in 1923 and 1927.

Our Family

My father was the Director of Public Works of the City of Surabaya. As such he also directed the city's Development Company, Council Housing and the Market Services. We lived in a comfortable house with a large garden. From the front part it looked smaller than it really was, since the premises became wider at the back, fanning out into the servants'quarters. Our servants said that this was supposed to bring luck, that much money would come in and not much money would be spent. Beginning small and ending big.

Our Nanny

My nanny was called Nnh. She was a foundling whom my maternal grandmother had raised with her own children and she stayed with my mother when she married. She dressed and undressed us, put on our shoes and took them off and bathed us twice a day. If our feet or legs hurt she would massage us, at which she was very good. When my parents went out in the evening Nnh looked after us and lay down on the floor of our bedroom until we were asleep. She doubled as a housekeeper. She held the keys of the storeroom and ruled over the other servants. Her son became our chauffeur.

Climate and Setting

Surabaja has a very hot climate. In October and November the heat can become almost unbearable. My father, whose position carried the right to go on leave on full pay to Holland every five years, never used the possibility and got two months of domestic leave every year. This enabled us to spend the hottest time in the hills to the south. Here the climate was more pleasant. Temperatures rose to 25 degrees Celsius (77 F) only. My father had a country house built at Poenten on the slope of Mount Ardjoeno (11,000 ft), some 40 miles from Surabaya We often went there on weekends too and as we left the city by clear weather we could soon see majestic Mt. Ardjoeno, light blue at the horizon.

As we drove south we enjoyed Dutch national songs and songs of the krontjong repertoire, a kind of music that is, like Eurasian people, a mixture of East and West. The house at Poenten had its own staff, but Nnh always went with us. The first stretch was through sugar cane plantations and coconut trees. We would stop in between and buy kroepoek oedang (shrimp crackers) and telor toebroek (dried salted roe) at Sidoardjo then move on through slightly higher terrain between flooded ricefields. In Poenten I walked and fished in the ricefields, rode my horse and went swimming at the pool in Selecta, a famous resort higher up on the mountain. Long rows of white tufted duck walked quacking over the dikes that separted the fields and little Javanese boys bathed water buffalo in the river. At harvest time children sat in small huts and pulled the ropes of empty tins to scare the birds away. My mother told me always to wear a hat to protect myself from getting a sunstroke. I also watched cockfights. Quite a cruel game: razor-sharp blades were ties to their legs and bled the loosing bird to death. The Javanese were very found of betting on the winning cock.

Our Home

From the sitting room of our house we looked out over the rice fields and the forest-covered mountain slopes farther afield. In the evenings we saw the lights of cars up and down the hills. At night, I lay listening to the chirping of the crickets, the fluttering of bats, the watchman making is rounds and beating a hollow bamboo.

The land on which our country house was built was not our property. There were laws in those days that did not alow Europeans to own land, as a measure to protect the native population from large-scale landowners. We kept rabbits, chicken, geese and peacocks at Poenten. The geese were very watchful and chased snakes that would try to catch the smaller animals. The house was surrounded by lots of flowers and fruit trees, both tropical as well as European.

Down in Surabaja we kept dogs, chickens (Leghorns, Minorcas and Barnevelders), Balinese fighting cocks, bantam chickens, turkeys and guinea fowl. Rabbits, guinea pigs, geese and ducks as well. Pigeons, turtledoves, a myna, and kutilangs (an Indonesian nightingale). I loved my pigeons especially. When my cousins Wim and Humphrey came to live with us they killed some of them more than once and brought them to an aunt who roasted them or made pigeon pie. She praised the boys for being so good at shooting forest pigeons. Little did she know were they had come from until she found out that even her own pigeons were not safe for them.

Racial Concerns

We never sunbathed in the Indies, the sun was avoided as much as possible. It was not done to sunbathe in swimming trunks nor did we walk around stripped to the waist. There were several reasons for this. Everybody wanted to keep their skin as fair as possible. It gave you more prestige with the native people. With the natives uncovering even the upper part of the body was considered indecent and besides only labourers had to work right out in the sun.


Easter was celebrated mostly in our second house in the mountains at Poenten. Painting and hiding eggs and then looking for them was also a custom in the Dutch East Indies.

Christmas meant Sinterklaas and we put our shoes out and were really spoiled by our parents. I remember getting an electric Mrklin train when I was six or seven years old and another year I got a watch. My grandmother gave me two lorikeets which I loved most of all. We also celebrated Sinterklaas at school and sang Sinterklaas songs. Sinterklaas also vistied us at home. He was probably a subordinate of my father's. I was scared of the Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) Many well-to-do Javanese and Christian Chinese also celebrated Sinterklaas and Chrismas.

New Years meant we got a lot of presents from stallholders at the markets. My father hated this as he was every inch a civil servant. But the good givers were very smart. Whilst they saw to it that there was no proof as to who had given tem they made sure that one could guess. With Chinese New Year there were huge crowds in the streets. There were processions with Chinese dragons which I used to go and watch with the servants. I was very scared of the dragons. Fireworks were lit to chase away the bad spirits.

Queen Wilhelmina's birthday was August 31 was always celebrated in a spectacular way. In the morning there was a military parade and children sang an aubade to the governor and his wife in front of the palace. There were processions in traditional costumes. The scouts and cubs, including my brother, my sisters and I joined in the procession. In the evening there was a big function, a ball, a torch-lit procession and finally a tattoo and fireworks. Wajang performances and gamelan concerts were held for the native people


Our school was the School met de Bijbel (School with the Bible) right across the road. It was fequented by Dutch and Eurasian children who belonged to the Reformed Church, also by Chinese and Javanese children whose parents ranked high on the social scale.Teachers were often newcomers from Holland. We were taught Dutch geography and national history . We sang psalms and Christian songs, also the national historical and patriotic songs. During breaks we played at marbles and with the humming top. We played hide-and-seek and the girls skipped , played nought and crosses or knucklebones. In the dry seasons we flew kites in front of the town hall. Strings were prepared with glue and crushes glass. With those strings you could cut and win another kite. We had to wear gloves and sunglasses.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: September 2, 2002
Last updated: September 2, 2002