The Retreat IV: Conclusion

Sep 27th, 2011, in News, by

‘The Retreat’ by J. Eijkelboom, Part IV, the Conclusion, continued from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.


A few days later I went to pick up my monthly wages at the battalion’s administration just before noon. I met a few acquaintances in the canteen where I had dropped in to have a beer and stayed on to drink and play cards with them until about four. I bought a pair of little white shoes for Soemiati on the way back so that I only got home when it was close to half past four. I found Soemiati in the little room beside the kitchen; the notebook in which she kept her pantuns and Malay songs lay shut on her lap. I asked her to heat up some food and take it to my room. She kept her head bent while I was speaking and when she promised to be ready quickly she didn’t look at me either. I wondered what was going on now again and felt annoyed. At that moment, as if she had felt my rising anger, she smiled at me from under her eyelashes, without raising her head, but rather shyly than coquettishly. I smiled back.

I have brought something for you

I yet shouted, and walked whistling to my room. It was probably a passing fit of depression again, I thought casually. She had already been uneasy before I departed in the morning. At a certain moment she had grabbed me anxiously and asked,

You will stay here, won’t you? You won’t leave me, won’t you?

I had answered, laughingly:

Oh no, don’t worry so much.

And then she had threatened, suddenly vehemently:

Take care that you don’t break your word!

Without stopping laughing and on an impulse of a malicious desire to tease I had said:

We will see.

When she had put down my plate with her head still bent she sat herself down on the stretcher. I produced the new shoes and put them in her lap. Soemiati found them magnificent. I had thought that she would be enraptured but now she looked rather shy. I looked at her: there were tears glistening in her eyes. I knelt down near her, pulled the flip-flops she was wearing off her feet and put the shoes on them. While I was busy with that she started to stroke my hair; it was the first time that she caressed me without me having started it. She was now staring right in front of her. So when I looked up to her face I saw immediately the gaping wound in her throat.

How did that come about

I stammered –

O, it is nothing, it is nothing

she said warding off the question.

Don’t ask any further. It was a little accident. I have already forgotten it.

The wound was no longer bleeding. Neither did the skin around it show any traces of blood, she had apparently wiped these off already. There was nothing but a vertical slit in the skin, probably drawn with a razor blade. And she had done this herself and intentionally. I knew this without asking her.

Without saying anything more I took her with me to the medic who quickly put on a bandage, grumbling that he would be too late for the cinema.

Once they have got something like that in their nut you can’t stop them anyway. If it doesn’t come off at one time, it will at some other time. It is occurring fairly frequently lately; nothing else but fear

the medic explained.

So, that’s fixed. And no longer any funny business sis

And to me:

it would be a pity though if she kicked the bucket, sergeant. It sure is a fine bit of ass!

I nodded tacitly. I knew that he would find me pathetic if I didn’t retort in the same style but my dejection was too great for that.

Silently we returned. If I had acted again as if nothing had happened, perhaps it would have been left at that. But I had put it in my head that one has to confront a threatening danger instead of fleeing for it, a tactic that perhaps suited me but certainly not Soemiati. I insisted that she would tell me why she had committed that deed of desperation. The only thing she could come up with was the request, repeated again and again, to leave her alone, but I kept urging her mercilessly. Finally I even shut her up with pen and paper; what she couldn’t say she should rather write instead. When I left her in this situation she was sitting with a deeply unhappy face behind the table, like a child that has its first day at school. I felt no less miserable when I was pacing up and down in the backyard. After a quarter of an hour I returned to her. She had only written a few lines. A few confused sentences which didn’t say much more than that she was afraid.

But why then? I will really take care that nothing untoward will happen to you

I shouted impatiently. But perceiving the uselessness of any further talk I walked away fast.

A few hours later she joined me in my room. She looked somewhat excited. Not at all that helpless and miserable, I observed with satisfaction. She even started to laugh loudly when a burning cigarette butt that I had wanted to throw out of the window fell down on my kelambu. I was again reassured already. I asked her to sit with me, but she preferred to keep being busy, folding a shirt here, and smoothing down a sheet there. I started reading a paper myself.

Do I dare?

I heard her ask suddenly, and looking up I saw her standing in front of me aiming precisely at my forehead with my pistol. At first I wanted to say:

Take care, that is dangerous

but the pistol was on the safety catch anyway. Thus I said:

Go ahead babe.

If that was her idea of fun I wanted to join in the game. Only when she had pulled the trigger it came to me that she wouldn’t be able to see whether a pistol was on the safety catch or not – that she had thus tried to murder me just now … I jumped up with a scream striking the weapon from her hand. Roaring with laughter she left the room.

After a sleepless night I stretched out on my bed next day, overcome by heat. I had hardly dozed off when Soemiati hurriedly entered the room. She threw herself half over me so that I was immediately wide-awake. –

What is it?

I asked frightened, looking into her haggard eyes.

Tell me what I should do!

she called out.

You don’t have to do anything

I answered grumpily, and turned to the wall. She left the room groaning. A bit later my uneasiness got the better of me. I got up and walked to the outbuildings. Soemiati was sitting on the floor in her little bedroom, with her head against the wall. She looked at me with glassy eyes, without seeing anything. An aluminum mug was beside her, and across her chin there was a trickle of purplish-brown liquid. I picked up the mug and smelled it: there had been carbolic acid in it. I picked her up and laid her down on the baleh-baleh. I quickly walked to my room to get norit. A colleague of mine had just come home; together we administered her the dissolved norit.. When the evening was approaching, she could move normally again but the far-away look in her eyes only disappeared when she saw me; they then got a look of insane hatred.

Shortly after that she tried again to take her life, this time by jumping into the deep well behind our house. It took a while before a lamp was found but when it shone into the well it turned out that she was holding on to the supply pipe of the water pump. A ladder was fetched and one of the bystanders lowered himself into the well with a long rope that was fastened under her arms. She did not resist but she didn’t cooperate either. When she had reached the parapet of the well I took her over. After the desperation of the first few moments I had felt a great rage rising within me. My only and unreasonable thought was that she had no right to treat me in this fashion. But I could of course not punish her in the presence of five or six men who had saved her with so much effort, almost with tenderness. I could however not refrain from pulling her against me with such violence that I hurt myself. Soemiati remained silent however: she only slowly turned her face to me. Her gaze was calm and clear. She didn’t have the dreamy appearance that somebody who has almost drowned sometimes has. There was also no longer any hatred in her eyes, not even reproach. She only looked; she did not judge but saw everything. Though her look had destroyed me in one blow, I continued to carry her inside without the slightest hesitation. Her arms and legs were dangling will-lessly from my arms that I kept straight as a die. Nobody could see that this almost lifeless body had vanquished me.

But now I wanted to orient myself further entirely to the wishes of Soemiati it appeared that I could no longer reach her altogether. With the protestant distrust of myself that I originally acquired in my youth, I told myself that perhaps I was only prepared to surrender because that surrender could be accepted no longer. I tried to satisfy my need for penance with this kind of self-torture. I also drank more than usual because in my intoxication I could sometimes imagine not to be too far removed from her insanity.

Sometimes I could hear her softly complaining in her forlornness, but there was nobody who could help her any more. Though she no longer tried to take her own life she now repeatedly left the house and went on the road, not knowing herself where to go because she was again and again found in a different spot. When one asked her then where she wanted to go, she generally didn’t answer. Sometimes, however, she endlessly repeated the words

I want to go home

words that were pronounced without any intonation at first but that gradually were absorbed into an uninterrupted humming. She seemed then so much a perfectly contented child, absorbed in itself, that I could feel a pity for her that almost cured me of my despair. But this never lasted long. Her insanity showed other horrible sides that drove me back to my old train of thought. Every night the guard woke me up a few times to report that Soemiati had come out of her room again and wanted to go into the street. Feebly protesting she was then taken inside again, where I stayed with her until she slept. One time I found her at the end of the gallery, staring motionless into the dark garden. I put myself beside her and softly called her name. When she didn’t react I put my head near to hers and called her name again. Suddenly, deliberately and with a lightning speed that came the more unexpected because of the motionless attitude that had preceded it, she pushed her head with malicious force into my face. Trembling with fright, pain and a hatred that surpassed all other feelings within a second, I grabbed Soemiati. I pushed her in the direction of her room and with one shove I threw her from the door opening onto her bed. She got up right away to get through the door but I pushed her back with more force than before. Neither of us uttered a word or cry during this struggle, also when she got up for the second time and I gave her a smack in the face that made her tumble backwards. Before she could get up again I jumped on her and pushed her down violently on the baleh-baleh. At that moment, while I had to restrain with my whole body the woman who resisted furiously, I came to my senses. With a muffled voice, but without losing my grip of her narrow wrists, I asked her forgiveness. But this too no longer penetrated to her. Her apathy returned as suddenly as her frenzy had been aroused. She slept within a few minutes.

Through Indonesian friends I managed to get Soemiati admitted to an asylum in the mountains near Malang. The last time I visited her there, before my departure for Holland, is still clearly in my mind; for a long time it was a reality that has been continuously repeating itself, before it could become a memory, like it is now. I walked through a garden full of varicoloured flowers to the pavilion in which Soemiati had been put up. I encountered a few nurses; one of them had on her apron a sort of badge with the picture of the president of the republic. They pretended not to see me but when they had passed I could hear from the rhythm of their footsteps that they both looked around at me. I hadn’t been wise to show myself there but once there I wanted to complete my visit. Soemiati was sitting on the doorstep of the pavilion. She kept her head bent deeply so that the two plaits in which her hair had been fashioned fell on both sides along her neck; I felt it as a loss that others too could now see her slender neck. She sat there softly humming, rocking her upper body to and fro. I lifted her head with my fingers against her temples. She immediately covered her eyes with both hands. I could, however, now hear the words that she repeated in uninterrupted humming:

Saya minta dibunuh. I ask to be killed

Her mouth had a childish expression of satisfaction with this. When I asked whether she wanted to go inside with me she remained sitting as if she had heard nothing. When I tried, however, to raise her up she got up meekly, but without taking her hands away from her eyes. I tried to get her to talk but she didn’t react to any of my words or gestures. Finally I got the idea to offer her a cigarette. I felt almost happy when she accepted. She inhaled deeply a few times but without any pleasure. After she had had three or four whiffs I took the cigarette off her again, out of fear that she would burn her fingers and lips.

At that moment the matron entered, a Dutch woman of around forty years old. She greeted me with a disapproving nod. –

A sad case

she observed, looking at the other woman with a gaze that had to express pity, a pity that had to legitimate her silent reproach earlier.

And still so young

she sighed after this.

How old is she, seventeen?

Twenty four

I answered curtly. I had almost added

three years older than me

but I checked myself in time.

You can stay here for another quarter of an hour

the nurse concluded our conversation. She apparently found my answer too ridiculous to enter into. It did strike me now that Soemiati looked indeed younger than I had ever known her. In the room where I had brought her she had seated herself on the tiled floor. Yet the manner in which she wound and rewound her plaits around her fingers looked too mechanical to resemble the playing of a child. Shortly after I took my leave from her because she had started humming again and I feared that she would repeat her earlier words. I greeted her and disappeared hurriedly, without looking back.


55 Comments on “The Retreat IV: Conclusion”

  1. avatar bonni says:

    Sad ending… :'(

    *wiping tears and pulling myself together*

    Ok… Well, that’s logical… That’s how the expats should deal with nowadays Indonesian sluts especially the mentally unstable ones… Greet them then dissapear hurrily without looking back…

    It’s always the same, they went over the excitement then say goodbye…

  2. avatar lomboksurfer says:

    All d memories in a flash/ recalled all d horrors unabashed/ time moves so fast/ what was our’s gone @ last/ really wished u a nice life/ despite d recall despite d strife/ bitter-sweet was our special treat/ never again want to taste that dessert

  3. avatar Arie Brand says:

    Yes Bonni , there in that asylum in Malang he didn’t look back – but in the ensuing years he did a great deal of looking back until, four years later, he put it all on paper.

    The last time I visited her there, before my departure for Holland, is still clearly in my mind; for a long time it was a reality that has been continuously repeating itself, before it could become a memory, like it is now.

    And it was not just that final scene that was still clearly in his mind. The whole affair obviously still haunted him seeing the detail in which he describes it.

    He clearly felt guilty about it:

    With the protestant distrust of myself that I originally acquired in my youth, I told myself that perhaps I was only prepared to surrender because that surrender could be accepted no longer. I tried to satisfy my need for penance with this kind of self-torture. I also drank more than usual because in my intoxication I could sometimes imagine not to be too far removed from her insanity.

    One can say that “he had a great deal to answer for” – to me it has been an open question to what extent that was the case.

  4. avatar Gustave says:

    Nothing much has changed over the last 60 years…

  5. avatar Hannah says:

    Poor, poor Soemiati.

  6. avatar ET says:

    The story proves that relationships with Indonesian girls are certainly not for the faint hearted. But the passive-aggressive borderline behaviour at the end of the story is also not uncommon with people, especially women, in other civilizations, even in the West with its ‘liberated’ lifestyle. It would however be interesting to investigate if such syndrome is induced or reinforced by cultural and other circumstances or in the first place attributable to biogenic factors.

  7. avatar bonni says:

    Arie,

    Yeah, unlike nowadays guys… Hahaha

  8. avatar Lairedion says:

    It was obvious from the very beginning the war setting would be an important element to the story. After reading the whole story it’s safe to conclude this very war setting is essential to the tragic ending.

    Native women having love relationships with Dutch soldiers (the enemy) were basically being seen as traitors to their own people. Both Eijkelboom and Soemiati should have been aware of this but love is sometimes an “uncontrollable beast”. Given this and the thought and fear of being left behind got Soemiati into attempting suicide. Indeed tragic but not extraordinary. Sometimes the feeling of fear, shame and guilt altogether becomes unbearable.

    War experiences can have a tremendous influence on state of minds in many different ways. Eijkelboom himself wrote this novelle as a way to deal with his experiences during his stay in Indonesia.

  9. avatar Arie Brand says:

    It was obvious from the very beginning the war setting would be an important element to the story. After reading the whole story it’s safe to conclude this very war setting is essential to the tragic ending.

    Native women having love relationships with Dutch soldiers (the enemy) were basically being seen as traitors to their own people

    Lairedion you might be right.

    We know this pattern after all from other war situations. I have myself clear memories of the way Dutch girls who had “socialized” with German soldiers were treated after the war. Those who have seen the film “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (which gives a picture of the French situation) will have an idea how. Another movie that comes to mind is “Ryan’s Daughter” which tells us about the fate of an Irish girl who had an amorous relation with an English officer (but this was not long after the Easter Rising and she was also, wrongly, suspected of being an informer).

    But was the situation as clear as that in Java? What exactly happened to Soemiati from the time that she disappeared into that kampong in Surabaya until she came back to E. Her own account seemed a bit fishy and gave E. cause to look at her “searchingly” . Especially her last two claims, that in the hospital she was guarded night and day by a TNI soldier ‘in civilian clothes’ and that a female spy was set on her in the train seemed to reek of advanced paranoia rather than anything else. She was, in the scheme of things, just not important enough for the TNI to bother about her in that fashion.

    Eijkelboom’s and Soemiati’s story was not unique. When the Dutch army was at full strength it had about one hundred thousand soldiers in the Archipelago and there was moreover a fairly continuous change of personnel. There must have been thousands of relations like that between Soemiati and E. in that time. Yet I know of no other account of Indonesian girls being hassled by their compatriots in the way Soemiati suggested (which doesn’t mean that they don’t exist of course).

    I made the comparison with the Dutch-German situation. But to what extent does that enlighten us? Relations between Indonesian women and colonial bules had, after all, existed for centuries. To be a ‘nyai’ of such a colonial character (who very often was a soldier) was before the war an honourable position. Nieuwenhuys tells us that even the ‘nyai’ of the meanest ‘kampong Indo’ (= Eurasian) often insisted on being addressed with the aristocratic title of ‘Raden Ayu’.

    It could be that Surabaya made the difference here. That is, after all, the place where the ‘Battle of Surabaya’ was fought (with British(Indian) soldiers, however, rather than the Dutch). It is possible that the hostility towards the ‘enemy’ among the civilian population was there greater than elsewhere. Eijkelboom saw so many hostile glances around him that he decided not to accompany Soemiati any further when she disappeared into that kampong. But not long ago a brother of mine sent us an old letter in which he described a trip from Purwakarta (where he was stationed) to Bandung. This trip took place in almost exactly the same time as that in which the later part of E’s story is placed. (that is when the Round Table Conference had already started). In Bandung my brother had to wander around for hours because he couldn’t find the address he was supposed to go to. He was in uniform – yet he didn’t mention anything in that old letter about signs of hostility.

    Could it be that Soemiati had been rejected by her relatives (if indeed they were that) because they found out that she had been a prostitute?

    However, Nieuwenhuys, no mean judge, seemed to believe that the fact that she was regarded as a ‘traitor to her people’ was the decisive factor.

    Whatever was the case: it is clear that when Soemiati rejoined Eykelboom she felt very anxious. And he aggravated that by his half-commitment and by making promises of which she felt that he was unlikely to keep them.

    When she had slipped into insanity he became aware of that – hence his guilt feelings.

  10. avatar bonni says:

    But was the situation as clear as that in Java? What exactly happened to Soemiati from the time that she disappeared into that kampong in Surabaya until she came back to E. Her own account seemed a bit fishy and gave E. cause to look at her “searchingly” . Especially her last two claims, that in the hospital she was guarded night and day by a TNI soldier ‘in civilian clothes’ and that a female spy was set on her in the train seemed to reek of advanced paranoia rather than anything else. She was, in the scheme of things, just not important enough for the TNI to bother about her in that fashion.

    I was wondering about this too, Arie.

  11. avatar Lairedion says:

    Arie, I don’t know if I’m right, I only refuse to believe the war circumstances had little or no influence on the story and I don’t want to be too harsh on my judgement towards Soemiati. Those unanswered questions leaves room to the reader’s imagination. The easy way is to equate this story with a regular present bar tale, I think it would make this story fairly irrelevant and meaningless. As Oigal stated in the comments section of part I, it’s fun being a hopeless romantic. 😉

    Of course there had been relationships between bules and Indonesian women for centuries, this has led to a virtually new ethnic and culturally distintive group known as Indo’s but such relationships during the war of independence had become peculiar. In no way Indonesian women were treated like the “moffenhoeren” (excuse-le-mot) in the Netherlands but I discussed this story with my father and he could recall a story or two where women were punished for their love affairs.

  12. avatar Lairedion says:

    Her own account seemed a bit fishy and gave E. cause to look at her “searchingly” . Especially her last two claims, that in the hospital she was guarded night and day by a TNI soldier ‘in civilian clothes’ and that a female spy was set on her in the train seemed to reek of advanced paranoia rather than anything else.

    But this is more or less my point. The TNI might not have regarded her of being important, Soemiati herself might have thought so. It is unclear whether this was deliberate to gain control of the situation or the result of this position she got herself into.

    Again, given the war situation I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

  13. avatar Arie Brand says:

    But this is more or less my point. The TNI might not have regarded her of being important, Soemiati herself might have thought so …
    Again, given the war situation I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

    Well, yes, we agree here. I am not suggesting that she was deliberately lying. I think she showed signs of paranoia then. It was actually at that point of their conversation that Eijkelboom started to think something similar.

    I looked searchingly at her. There was a clear glint in her eyes but it was not the flash that I knew so well; her merriment, rage or desire had sparkled in a different manner. The hard light that I saw in her eyes now meant hostility, madness, danger.

    What I have a bit against the “traitor of her people” notion is that it seems to suggest that the whole population was as one man (and woman) behind the TNI. If that had been the case it wouldn’t have had to mete out those dreadful punishments to people who were cooperating with the old regime. Remember, at one stage Eijkelboom and Soemiati moved into a house that once belonged to a lurah, who had fled. Who or what had he fled from? More than likely from the TNI. Of course, after independence everyone had been a one hundred percent patriot during that time of transition but the reality was different. For one thing, the possible outcome of the conflict was then for many people still uncertain. Now, in hindsight, decolonization seems to have taken place with ‘historical inevitability’ but it is unlikely that things looked that way to everybody in the years after the war. No African country had yet been decolonized. Neither had Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Sri Lanka etc. In Java too quite a few people must have been hedging their bets.

    To return to Soemiati: as I said earlier there must have been thousands of those love stories in that war situation but it is quite unlikely that the majority of them ended in insanity. So we cannot just blame that situation for what happened to her. Eijkelboom limits himself to a precise description. He doesn’t attempt to provide an explanation, except for his own part in the drama when he came to understand too late that his attitude had worsened her anxiety.

  14. avatar Lairedion says:

    Arie, I can agree with what you’re saying here, it’s all not that black and white. Even in my own background families have been torn apart by siding with either the Dutch or the Indonesian freedom fighters.

    What I’m trying to say here is that we shouldn’t be too harsh on judging Soemiati’s seemingly “erratic” behaviour given the circumstances.

    In ieder geval een mooie discussie zo, toch?

  15. avatar agan says:

    Could it be that E was voicing his social critic of the dirty aggression/Politionele acties waged on the young republic then? or a reversed case of Stockholm syndrome classic?
    Was his account of soldiering and love struck episode with Soemiati the young prostitute his metaphor of describing the colonial power trying to return back to rule its former colony, prostitution was his code word for an improper/forbidden relation involving exploitation of the weak by the powerful.
    History takes its course but nothing much has changed turned out Soemiati survives though still insane by the repeated abusive sexploits by the current pimp, the power that be.

  16. avatar Arie Brand says:

    Agan,

    Your interpretation is ingenious but I don’t believe that Eijkelboom meant it that way. That relation with Soemiati was a deeply personal experience for him. He wasn’t going to use that to make a political point.

    Ten years ago, when he was 75, he was interviewed on the occasion of the publication of his other stories about that time. He then also said something about the political side of things. When he went to the Indies he was 19 and in political matters entirely naive. He was not anti-colonial, like the soldiers who had a communistic background. They had been told they were going to restore peace in Indonesia. At first he believed that. He used the term ‘brain-washing’ in that context. Originally they dealt with cheering crowds when they entered a place but that was, he said fifty years later, because we were bringing them rice and textile. Only gradually it came to him that politically they were on the wrong side. They were fighting a whole people there and that could never be justified. Moreover such a fight could never be won. So the Round Table Conference came to as a relief to him.

    In this interview it also came out that his promises to Soemiati were not entirely baseless (he didn’t speak about her in this interview though). He would have liked to be demobilised in Indonesia because he loved the country. On the way back he and his mates got once roaringly drunk and stormed the bridge to turn the ship around – back to Indonesia. They were knocked off the bridge and temporarily imprisoned.

    His experiences in Indonesia have deeply influenced the rest of his life. Back in Holland came the nightmares – and the alcoholism. In old age, almost half a century after he wrote his story about Soemiati, he set himself to write about his war experience again. That was a liberating exercise for him. As he already wrote above his story about Soemiati (see The Retreat I), with a motto he got from ‘Trader Horn’, “Aye, there’s something in writing’s like armour to the feelings”.

  17. avatar ET says:

    The story – and the comments above – are certainly noteworthy from a political and historical point of view. There are however other interesting angles to this story. Soemiati’s mental instability, which develops throughout the narrative at the end into a psychotic state, is IMO not to be ascribed in the first place to the war settings and social disturbance leading to independence. These events and their repercussions on her personal situation might have served at most as a trigger to turn a latent but typical passive-aggressive personality disorder into an open psychosis. Her symptons throughout the story are almost identical with those described in the relevant case studies of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

    On the other hand Eijkelboom himself comes forward as a fairly equilibrated, strong and at times ruthless personality who got himself emotionally entangled in this romantic and in other wartime experiences, leading eventually to his subsequent problems of depression and alcoholism.

  18. avatar Arie Brand says:

    Soemiati’s mental instability, which develops throughout the narrative

    ET, I could only see these symptoms emerging in the story after her return from Surabaya. Before that there was some emphasis on her quick change of moods and her readiness to dismiss unwelcome thoughts from her mind – but do these amount to mental instability? In the Walraven story there was some emphasis on this as well, for instance when he described Iti’s reaction to the news of her mother’s death.

    On the other hand Eijkelboom himself comes forward as a fairly equilibrated, strong and at times ruthless personality

    As far as Eijkelboom himself his concerned: the story didn’t give me the impression that he was (occasionally) ruthless – I agree with the other characteristics you ascribe to him, particularly now I have heard a three hours long radio interview with him that took place in 1996.

    His ‘ruthlessness’ seemed to me youthful thoughtlessness. How youthful?. Here there is a correction necessary. It was suggested in an earlier interview that he was only 19 when he came to Indonesia but that can’t be true because he was born in March 1926 and came to Indonesia in July 1947 – that made him 21. By the same token he was, at the end of the story, not three years younger than Soemiati but only one year.

    To return to that three hours long interview: it was mainly about his poetry. As far as biographical details were concerned: his alcoholism didn’t seem to be directly related to his Indonesian experiences because it only developed in 1957 when he got into a very hard drinking journalistic environment – in later life he became a teetotaller because he was one of those people who either drink not at all or drink to excess.

    I had hoped that there would be some more information on the Soemiati interlude in his life but when the interviewer moved in that direction he didn’t seem particularly eager to follow him there. He came up with some other shocking experiences in that war. One was about a mate of his who got wedged between two steel plates as the result of a bombing. He suffered unbearable pain and the injection E. gave him didn’t help, probably because it was with stuff that had gone bad in the tropics. His mate begged to be shot and that led to an impossible situation, both when one would do this or refuse to do this. In the event he didn’t do it and his mate died after howling like an animal for half an hour. After all these years this still weighed on E’s mind.

    Another shocking experience had to do with this. When he was working for intelligence he tried to get an overview of the PKI membership in his area -not an easy thing to do because it had a cell structure. His prime informant was a young boy whose older brother was a former disillusioned member. He developed a good relationship with that boy. One day a basket was put on his doorstep that, on inspection , turned out to contain the boy’s head (it made me think of the experience in Hong Kong of the Belgian sinologist Pierre Ryckmans – Simon Leys – who, one day, found one of his informants on Mao-China on his doorstep with his throat cut. That told him enough about the nature of that regime, he said).

    E. also related a thing I had never heard before. After the armistice a Dutch and a TNI batallion went together after the remnants of the ‘laskar merah’. He didn’t quite know what had been done but he noticed that after the campaign the TNI-batallion was approximately twice as large so he supposed that ‘things had been solved in an Indonesian fashion’ (in 1965 they were ‘solved’ in quite a different fashion).

    There was a lighter note. Between 1950 and 1962 Dutch-Indonesian relations were very bad mainly as a result of the conflict about Papua. 1963 was the year of reconciliation (at the expense of the Papuans, I dare say). It was also the year that Sukarno organised Ganefo, the ‘Games of the New Emerging Forces’ in Jakarta because the Olympic Committee had blocked Indonesia from participating in the Olympic Games of 1964 as a reprisal for it having barred Israel and Taiwan from the Asian Games in 1962. Though Holland could hardly be said to be a ‘New Emerging Force’ it also participated. Eijkelboom was there as a reporter. When one of the Dutch participants managed to win a gold medal the Dutch national anthem, the ‘William of Nassau’, was played very skilfully – E. presumed that former KNIL musicians, now in the TNI, might have had a hand in that. Anyway, Eijkelboom saw many an older Indonesian ‘dash away a tear’. So that was that.

  19. avatar ET says:

    ET, I could only see these symptoms emerging in the story after her return from Surabaya. Before that there was some emphasis on her quick change of moods and her readiness to dismiss unwelcome thoughts from her mind – but do these amount to mental instability?

    The outspoken mental instability came indeed later after her return to Surabaya, when the passive-aggressive tendencies in her personality make-up developed into a textbook borderline psychosis, e.g. the scene with the gun during which after pulling the trigger without knowing the gun wasn’t loaded she burst out laughing, and also the typical posture of sitting softly humming, rocking her upper body to and fro, and then said that she wanted to be killed.
    Why can she be qualified as passive-aggressive? The main characteristic of a passive-aggressive personality disorder is the flagrant unpredictability of their reactions, a coping mechanism that is developed during childhood and perpetuated into adulthood when these persons have discovered that acting this way enables them to control their environment more easily. Quite simply, being quixotic and unpredictable will produce certain rewards and avoid certain discomforts.
    It struck me from the 1st episode already that there was something ‘fishy’ about her reactions and I posted this also in my earlier comment.
    Many persons acquire styles of relating to others that enable them to achieve an optimal level of satisfaction and security, as well as to maintain a reasonable degree of self-harmony. So-called normals may be differentiated from pathological personalities by the variety and character of the strategies they employ to achieve these goals. Healthy personalities draw upon their strategies flexibly as they face changing demands and pressures. Psychologically impaired individuals however tend to be inflexible. They approach different events as if they were the same and utilize the the same strategies they acquired in childhood, even though these are presently inappropriate. Once having learned a particular style that has worked for them, it continues to be used as if it were a sacred rulebook for navigating the future.
    Howeber, the problem that faces passive-aggressives is quite different from that of most pathological personalities. Their difficulties stem not from the rigid character of their coping style but from its exaggerated fluidity. They are actively and overtly ambivalent, unable to to find a satisfactory direction or course for their behaviour. They vaccilate and cannot decide whether to be dependent or independent of others and whether to respond to events actively or passively.
    Under repeatedly very stressful circumstances persons showing this pathological personality make-up may slip into a borderline state and become decompensated and mentally unstable, exhibiting the fugue state that we have witnessed in the last episode, during which they may damage others as well as themselves.

    As far as Eijkelboom himself his concerned: the story didn’t give me the impression that he was (occasionally) ruthless

    I agree that ruthless may be too strong an adjective for E.’s attitude. Reckless or dashy may be more appropriate terms to describe his conduct vs. Soemiati’s at times puzzling reactions, which combined with distrust because of her former ‘profession’ must have left him sometimes bewildered and desperate.

    His other first-hand experiences during the bersiap period and the early years of Indonesia’s independence also seem extremely interesting. It’s a pity that he hasn’t put them in writing or is there a transcript of the interview that took place in 1996?

  20. avatar Arie Brand says:

    ET,

    I read your comments with great interest. I realise that it is very dangerous to generalise here but I wonder whether a certain behaviour pattern that earlier Dutch commentators noticed in many Eurasian women, viz. that they were “bertingkah”, also fits into this passive-aggressive pattern.

    The novelist P.A. (“Paatje”) Daum has one such character, Betsy, in his novel “Goena-Goena”.

    In the introductory post to the “dating Indonesian girls” thread David also drew attention to this matter with these words:

    Others of the female variety, can, once we get to know them very well, come across as practically insane, hysterically emotional, scheming, over-possessive, inclined to, usually fake, attempts at self-harm in order to get their way.

    I haven’t read all the posts on that thread and I wonder whether anybody else has elaborated on that.

    I haven’t been able to find a transcript of the Eijkelboom interview. Here is the address in case you can understand spoken Dutch:

    http://www.vpro.nl/programma/marathoninterview/afleveringen/41961594/

    Eijkelboom published in old age other stories (together with The Retreat) on his war experience in “Het Krijgsbedrijf”. I hope to get a copy of that in November. If I can summon the energy I might translate some stuff from that.

  21. avatar stevo says:

    The main characteristic of a passive-aggressive personality disorder is the flagrant unpredictability of their reactions, a coping mechanism that is developed during childhood and perpetuated into adulthood when these persons have discovered that acting this way enables them to control their environment more easily. Quite simply, being quixotic and unpredictable will produce certain rewards and avoid certain discomforts.

    I find that behaviour more commonly in Indonesian women than many other cultures. They can be terribly dramatic, at times.

  22. avatar deta says:

    Well, passive-agressive personality disorder is quite understandable to happened to Sumiati for all the physical, emotional and sexual abuses she had experienced, as was described in the first part of the story:

    She had been married off in her tenth or eleventh year when “she still had no breasts”. A few years later she had run away because she was beaten every day. After that she had married and divorced two or three times more. She hadn’t been able to obtain a separation letter from her last husband, because he wasn’t willing to spend a “rijksdaalder”on that.

    With all the background, it comes with no surprise that Sumiati had a tendency of manic depressive behaviour, even before her leaving to Surabaya. Combine her earlier life experience with complicated political situation of war and ugly treatment she’d got in Surabaya, then we get a good recipe for insanity.

    I find that behaviour more commonly in Indonesian women than many other cultures. They can be terribly dramatic, at times.

    Probably not only Indonesia, but most Asia. Psychological distress prevalent to women who constantly under oppression in a strongly patriarchal society is another factor contributing to easily developed emotional outburst aka hysteria.

    Another reason why better check your wussy-o-meter before dating Indo girls, or any other girls for that matter (oh Stevo, you know I was just kiddin 🙂 )

  23. avatar agan says:

    Stevo,
    Indo women are are like emotional ninja, when they say” I’m just kiddin” you know they mean “I’m going to stab you in the jugular”.

    ” Land of the Free…Home of the BRAVE “?….yea right. 🙂

  24. avatar deta says:

    Oh, not you too, Agan! 🙂

  25. avatar stevo says:

    Thanks for your warning Agan, but I was not fooled ;

    wussy-o-meter is fine thanks deta.

  26. avatar bonni says:

    Some of, agan. Not all of them.

  27. avatar Arie Brand says:

    Some of, agan. Not all of them.

    Quite true, Bonni.

    A novelist such as Daum, who was a “realist” in the style of Emile Zola, whom he much admired, kept that in mind as well. His novel Goena-Goena, that dates from 1889, has quite a few Eurasian ladies among whom there is only one snake – the infamous Betsy. This treasure first allows her “totok” husband to be gradually poisoned by her maid Sarinah, and then draws on the “guna-guna” services of the same maid to try and get somebody else’s husband under her spell. But her own sister, for instance, is quite a different type.

    Daum makes a remark about the relation between Betsy and Sarinah that explains a lot, I think, of the display of tingkah2 among Eurasian and Indonesian ladies. She treated Sarinah, says Daum, with “an alternation of cruelty and affection” – in the “way Eurasian children deal with their servants”. Dealing with submissive servants in early life is not conducive to the creation of a predictable behaviour pattern.

    None of this applied to Soemiati, I think. It is unlikely that she was spoiled by servants. Her case seems that of an originally unstable character who is unable to deal with uncertainty and isolation and “takes refuge” in insanity.

  28. avatar ET says:

    I find that behaviour more commonly in Indonesian women than many other cultures. They can be terribly dramatic, at times.

    La donna è mobile (women are fickle), the wisdom from this famous canzone in Verdi’s opera Rigoletto is probably applicable to the female gender from all colours and races.
    However, without wanting to generalize, my personal experiences with Indonesian women are rather different. The ones that I am personally acquainted with mostly seem balanced and down to earth, less bertingkah or manipulative and without the histrionics I have come to expect from many of their sisters in other cultures. Maybe it’s because of my charisma. 🙂
    However I have to admit that until now I have been able to (ahem) resist entering into romantic relationships with Indonesian girls. Judging from the many testimonies in the Dating thread maybe I’d better keep it that way. Or touch wood, a powerful antidote to the ubiquitous guna-guna.

  29. avatar bonni says:

    Arie,

    It is true.

    Me, normal Indo girl, don’t want to be a victim of generalisation, for sure. I read the dating thread, all the bad things some bules had experienced with Indo women, etc, etc. Generalisation. Generalisation. Generalisation. Some Indo girls replied those dissatisfied testimonials with their arrogancy of being the ‘normal’ ones. Haha. Go girls!

    Simple. You sense the ‘danger’ – you don’t want drama – maybe you try a lil bit (because she’s too pretty) – try some more (because she’s too sexy) – and then some more (because she’s a hard habit to break) – fed up – say goodbye – move on – new chapter.

    Well Soemiati was not so lucky in life…

    There are three things men can do with women:  love them, suffer for them, or turn them into literature. ~ Stephen Stills

  30. avatar ET says:

    There are three things men can do with women: love them, suffer for them, or turn them into literature. ~ Stephen Stills

    How about just love them and leave them? 🙂

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