I sometimes wonder about my identity as an Indonesia born Chinese. As Indonesia consists of myriad ethnics and culture, Chinese ethnicity has contributed much to Indonesia, made us a considerable part of the Indonesia society. I never thought about my family history, never crossed in my mind before how my ancestor got to Indonesia. And then it happened after I finished reading Kevin Kwan’s book entitled Crazy Rich Asians. The book was amusing, the author was a Singapore born Chinese residing in the States now. Kevin told the complexity of rich Chinese family hierarchy and tradition, which I found realistic in Indonesian Chinese. My family is not rich, but the tradition also descripted in the family. In the book, antagonist character considered Mainland Chinese as a poor Chinese, unlike the sophisticated and rich Singaporean Chinese. I was very curious about the mainland, knowing that my ancestor sailed from the Mainland to Indonesia in early 1930s. So I started browsing and asking my uncle and grandma who knows the most about our family history.
Are you Hakka, Hokkien, or Teochew?
Before, I only know that I am not a Hokkien Chinese simply because I don’t speak the language. Hokkien language is the one spoken in high speed and high intensity. Hokkien mostly heard in Chinese people dense region like North Sumatera and Riau. Their number is kind of big in Indonesia, maybe around half of Indonesia Chinese is Hokkien. Note that almost two-fifth of Singaporean Chinese is also Hokkien. If we step back ahead of these three, Han Chinese is the root. Han Chinese is everywhere, it has the largest numbers among other Chinese. Han Chinese accounts for 19% of world population by the way. In short, most all Chinese you see or know are Han. Language dialects are what differentiate them. Later I found out that I am a Hakka people.
My grandfather from mother side had a journey from his home in a small vilage near Meizhou, Guangdong Province. Guangdong is a province on south-east China, Guangzhou is its capital city. I do not have the opportunity to interview my grandpa because he already deceased 17 years ago. I wonder what motivate him to embark on the journey to Indonesia, some said mainland Chinese went to Indonesia in search of a job. It seems very plausible for me. His first job in Indonesia was a chef, he was known as a prominent chef in my family. He also did some labor job in logistic company before doing business in plastic industry. He made a fortune by making home appliance using injection molding machine with thermoplastic materials. How come an unskilled immigrant labor in Indonesia could grew a business? I clearly do not know the real motivation, maybe the job market was very harsh back there. Forcing Chinese either to sell something or make their own business to earn a living. In the long run, many Chinese rose as prominent business leader in several industry in Indonesia. Was it true opportunity lies beneath the hardship and adversity? Only Confucious may answer that..
My grandfather from my father also originated from Meizhou, but he was a city boy unlike my other grandpa who was a village boy. So could I say Meizhou is my far-home land? Both of my grandpa were born in it. Yet I have not visited Meizhou to know it.
Famous Hakka People in Indonesia
The most controversial governor Jakarta ever had! Basuki Tjahaja Purnawa or famously called as Ahok. He is a Hakka Chinese, born in Belitung island. Belitung and Bangka are dominated by Hakka people. Ahok is the first Chinese ever who sits as Indonesia’s capital city. Yeah, for us it is a accomplishment and pride. Haha. However, some Chinese businessman later regretting it because Ahok’s bureaucracy potentially troubled their ‘fruitfull’ business.
We like to stereotyping fellow Chinese. Who does not? Mostly the stereotype I heard were about Hokkien or Teochew girls. Because I am the Hakka one. Maybe Hokkien girl also given Hakka stereotype during the storytelling. However I do not really believe in stereotype but I do not really deny because sometimes it is legitimate. But the idea of stereotyping is basically bad, so I do not really buy the stereotype things.
The Marginal Chinese – Cina Benteng
There is also a type of Chinese, known as Cina Benteng (Benteng is fortress) who resides in Tangerang area. Tangerang is a neighbour city of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Cina Benteng fought alongside mainlander during the Dutch colonialism. They were forced from Jakarta into Tangerang area due to the fight. This is the evidence of Indonesia Chinese nationalism, that we fought together against the Dutch colonial as one team. The battle that lost made some of them become poor, forced them to live in the forest and sub urban area. They have darker skin than the other Chinese because of the acculturation and marriage with mainlander. Some of the famous results from the mix are Gambang Kromong music and kelenteng architecture.
I am a truly Indonesian. My ethnicity is Chinese and I love to maintain the tradition and culture. Even though, we are still a fellow Indonesia that should respect each other and fight together for a better Indonesia.