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Becoming Dutch, staying Indo

Review: Van Leeuwen’s book considers the struggles and ironies surrounding Indies heritage in Holland, as the outcome of an absurd colonial history

Ben Anderson

Our Indies Heritage: Sixty Years of Struggle for Culture and Identity

Some years ago, when I read Lizzy’s masterpiece, Lost in Mall: An Ethnography of Middle-Class Jakarta in the 1990s, I found myself laughing over and over again – a delicious pleasure that I had never experienced while reading any of the classic academic books about Indonesia. In them you could find moralising, anger, earnestness, melancholy, cynicism, pedantry, secular missionising, sometimes a dash here and there of irony, but practically never the laughter that best distinguishes us from our animal cousins. Lizzy had had the originality to undertake anthropological fieldwork among the new rich of Jakarta, and the fortitude to endure one year of moral, political and cultural nothingness in one of the quasi-gated communities in which such people lived during the final years of Suharto’s tyranny. The book reaches its climax in the first days of the rioting that led to Suharto’s fall. We are shown a youngish middle-aged wife and mother, facing an existential conundrum. Her dilettante husband has gone off to take photos, and has shut down his cell-phone. Her brutish teenage son is incommunicado in some favourite mall, and the maid has taken the day off. Left alone with the family’s three Mercedes Benz, she

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