National Geographic : 1948 May
Postwar Journey Through Java BY RONALD STUART KAIN FROM a plane four hours out of Singa pore I watched with eager anticipation as the dark-green mass of Java rose from the scintillating sea. Only five years earlier the Japanese had pounced upon Java as the key to the fabulous wealth of the Indies. Now the island was in the throes of political and social change. It was an exciting time to visit Batavia, the old Dutch capital, and the surrounding Dutch-held districts, as well as Jogjakarta, the capital of the new Indonesian Republic, and other points in the interior. I had come to gather material for a book on the momen tous changes taking place in the Indies.* Since my Java journey in 1947, the Nether lands and the Republic have agreed to a United Nations proposal that the political future of Java, Sumatra, and Madoera be determined by plebiscite (map, page 682). Nearly All Whites Are Ex-prisoners A network of canals, broad avenues, and waving palm trees beckoned our plane down to Batavia's airport. Despite five years of war and revolution, the old city is still a monument to the enterprise and industry of the generations of Dutchmen who built it. Virtually the entire white civilian popula tion of Batavia, male and female, spent nearly four years in horrible Japanese prison camps. These unfortunates were then interned in the camps for many months longer by the Indo nesian Republicans. Nevertheless, astonishingly few of these people looked any the worse for their experi ences. They represented, of course, the strong who survived, while their weaker companions perished or emerged from the camps in such ill health that they had to be sent to the Neth erlands or Australia to recuperate. One of the latter, a tall, friendly old Dutch man from Bandoeng, shared my hotel room one night before taking the plane home to the Netherlands. When he undressed I was shocked to see that he resembled a living skeleton, with only skin and wisps of flesh covering his protruding bones. Months of rest and feeding at Bandoeng had failed to fatten him up, and he was being sent home, probably to die in the arms of his family. In marked contrast to the relatively well fed white people remaining in Batavia were many badly emaciated natives. Rice, their staple food, was extremely scarce and costly because of the Republic's economic blockade against the Dutch-controlled cities. Swarms of naked boys and ragged, half clad coolies and women of the poorer classes testified to the acute textile and clothing short age, which is another heritage of the war and the revolution. There is no better place to see something of life among the poorer city dwellers of Java than in one of the big native markets in Batavia. We set out on a tour of one of these markets one hot Sunday by bicycle chair. To get anywhere in Batavia except on offi cial business is a headache. Private automo biles are almost nonexistent. Gasoline is strictly rationed by the Dutch authorities. The dilapidated buses and trams can scarcely be seen for the mass of natives clinging to the sides and sitting on the roofs. Taxis are scarce, and those operated by the Dutch must be ordered 24 hours in advance. Accordingly, one either thumbs a ride on a passing official car (a very uncertain method); takes shanks' mare, which is hard work in Batavia's heat; or succumbs to the temptation to ride in a bicycle chair or a rickety little carriage pulled by one of the tiny, half-starved Indonesian horses. Bicycle Chair-a Ricksha with Pedals The bicycle chair is the Indonesian version of the Chinese ricksha. It is a three-wheeled affair with the chair in front. A ragged coolie's bare legs provide the motive power. One minute after I entered one of these chairs I bitterly regretted my decision. Made to fit the shorter people of Java, it failed utterly to accommodate my lanky frame. I had to double up my long legs like a jack-in the-box and, even though I sat bowed as if in devout prayer, my bald head bumped against the rough wooden frame of the awning set to ward off the sun's hot rays. Unwilling to expose myself to the all-too ready jests of Harry Summers, the Australian news correspondent who accompanied me, I suffered in grim silence until we reached the market some 20 minutes later. As we approached the jumble of shacks and crude stalls, the crowd thickened and en gulfed us in a world strange to a Westerner's eyes, ears, and nose. The tiny stalls, huddled *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "The Face of the Netherlands Indies," 20 illustrations from photographs by Maynard Owen Williams and others, February, 1946; "Java Assignment," by Dec Bredin, January, 1942; "Through Java in Pursuit of Color," by W. Robert Moore, September, 1929, and "Traveler's Notes on Java," by Henry G. Bryant, February, 1910.