Thursday, February 13, 2014


For some reason I reread 'People I have known' (Mensen Die Ik Gekend Heb) by Jan Fabricius (published by Van Gorcum) last night upon returning home, along with a chapter of 'Wood of Bara' (Het Hout Van Bara) by Beb Vuyk (published by Nijgh & Van Ditmar).

Jan Fabricius was a poet and playwright from Drenthe in the eastern part of the Netherlands who left for the Duch East Indies at twenty years of age. Much of his professional life was either in the great east, or formed by it. The book 'People I have known' is an autobiography, but it is really more about other things. He was born in Assen in 1871, passed away in England 1964. His son Johan Fabricius (Java 1899, Netherlands 1981) was also a writer, many of whose works I own and sometimes reread, particularly 'De Grote Geus' (The Great Beggar, about the later life of Lord Brederode, one of the three early leaders of the revolt against Philip of Spain), and 'De Heilige Paarden' (The Holy Horses, about the subjugation of Sumba in the southeast of the Indies).

Beb Vuyk (1905 - 1991) lived outside the European ambit in the Indies, was interned by the Japanese on Java, and returned to the Netherlands with her husband after the war. Many of her works, like that of other 'Indies-Dutch' authors, are in part autobiographical. But there is a great insight in them, and, similar to Jan Fabricius mentioned above, the texts are not about them (the writers) but describe people and events in a sensitive manner that, never-the-less, says much about themselves.

Something one of them said made me remember another famous Indies personage.


Johannes Van Der Steur (b. 1865) left for Magelang on Java as a missionary in 1892. Within a year after his arrival, he deviated from his original 'task' by taking in orphans, often the abandoned children of Dutchmen and native women. At that time, when a Dutch soldier or low-level colonial employee died, his native wife was often left penniless, and though the children might be sustained by relatives, as often as not circumstances spiraled out of control, and they lived a hand to mouth existence on the edges of all society. Not native, and often not fully conversant in the local language and culture; nor Dutch, or at least not acceptably so.

From 1883 till 1944 he took in over seven thousand such youngsters. He, his sister, and his wife became examples of the kindness that was usually lacking in colonial society. His wards affectionately referred to him as 'Pop' (Pa), both his sister and his wife were 'mom' (Moe). Because of their efforts, these orphans grew up with a good education, and ended up fully functional in a society that initially did not wish to even acknowledge their existence.

The Japanese interned him in early 1944. After liberation in August 1945, when his wards and the alumni of his orphanage and school found out that he had survived the camps, they brought him back to Magelang, where he died a month later in September from the effects of starvation and ill treatment as a prisoner of war.

He is fondly remembered in Dutch Indo circles, and in Indonesia.

His work continues. The orphanage he founded still exists, and you can read about it here: History - Yayasan Pa van der Steur.

Donations may be made to account number 31.84.522 of the Postbank, The Netherlands, addressed to the Penningmeester Vereniging Vrienden Yayasan Pa van der Steur (Treasurer of Society for Pa van der Steur Foundation).

Society for Pa van der Steur Foundation
Buerenlaan 33
2295 LS Kwintsheul
The Netherlands


Some good did indeed get done in the east.

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