Undercurrent Murmurings in Indonesia’s Colonial Past
Chapter 5 Nyais of Plantation Managers 99
Chapter 5 Nyais of Plantation Managers Soon after European men set foot on the Indonesian islands and started to build trading posts and settle on these shores around 1600, they acquired the habit of inviting local Asian women to share their households and their beds. Over the centuries concubinage or nyaihood became institutionalized and these Asian women gave birth to generations of hybrid “bastard” children born out of wedlock. Historical studies that have scrutinized concubinage and interracial marriages (Taylor 1983; Stoler 1990, 1991, 1992) reveal unequivocally that the nyai personified inequalities of power at multiple levels, i.e. in terms of gender, race, class and age. Nyais were formally without rights and could not legally claim anything, not even their own children (Baay 2008, 83). Toward the end of the nineteenth century, when travel time between the Netherlands and the colony shortened because of faster modes of transportation and the opening of the Suez Canal, the number of European residents in the Indies increased. Many of the newcomers, particularly the women, were surprised to find European men cohabiting and having children with Asian women, and they publicly denounced the practice. This general disapproval led to two reactions (Baay 2008, 33–34). In a number of cases the nyai’s position moved socially upward, as she was expected to adjust herself to European culture, to take on European manners, and to accompany her master at public events as if she were his wife. Sometimes her master would indeed marry her. More frequently, however,...
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