“Our memories, they have to be passed down by those who knew us in life – in the stories they tell about us.”- Coco, Disney 2017.
Truth to be told, I tend to avoid topic related to my family because it reminds me of family drama and hypocrisy. I never fully enjoy family reunion because some family members take the opportunity to show-off their achievements, gossiping about others or exposing someone’s else embarrassment.
Not that I am being apathetic, in fact, I am keen to know more about my great-grand family. Who were they? What makes us ‘us’? How are we finally ended up here? I am curious about what kind of life that happened centuries ago. As the reunion supposed to be the great source for this curiosity, the surviving grand parents are unable to provide reliable memories and their successor sometimes altered the story into their own version and sometimes turned it into a gossip.
Months ago, my mother just gave me this book. It is an autobiography written by my second cousin-thrice-removed from my mother side: “Dari Banjarmasin hingga Surabaya”. I googled his name, but did not find anything interesting. Well, this book cannot be found in any bookstores, since it is intended only for family. So I take the honor to read this book.
Apparently, our family was mainly a horlogemaker (a watch artisan). The writer brings us to Banjarmasin in 1910s. The currency was Gulden and the government was mainly under Dutch enforcement. Our family is Chinese Indonesian which is a minority in Banjarmasin. There are 100 Chinese Indonesian families, while there are 10.000 Banjar populations. Our root is coming from marriages between Chinese, Banjar, specifically Dayak Tribe.
Boys are schooled to Dutch-based school which was called HBS while girls are being pingit. Pingit is a traditional Indonesian custom for girl to stay at home. They are not allowed to attend school, to work, or to meet other people and most of them are trained for domestic activities such as crafting, cooking, sewing and so forth as a preparation to be housewives. They don’t have the authority to choose who they want to marry. The parents choose the husband for them which usually to improve their social and economic status.
Reading this book, somehow makes me immediately got familiar to common phrases that I hear it often at home. Let me elaborate some words that can be only understood by Banjar family:
Ya-ya-o: An attitude driven by superiority, or in Indonesia can be expressed as ‘mentang-mentang‘. Example: “Jangan Ya-ya-o jadi orang“. This words is a Banjar slang.
Menyawak : Wailing while speaking to express sadness, disappointment, or regret.
Ikan: Although in Indonesia it means Fish, in Banjar it means meat, whether it is beef or fish or chicken.
Bungul: Stupid. My mother said this so often “Wih, Bebungulan!” the closer expression to this is “What an Idiot!”
I don’t have clear memory about my great-grand-mother. When she was alive, I was just a baby, my memory was not well-developed and she was too old and too weak to interact with me. Every time my mother talks about her, my mind immediately forms an image of old frail woman. My mother rarely shows her respect to people even to my grandmother, but when it comes to my great-grand-mother the tone in her voice changes and praises coming from her mouth. Sometimes when I was crocheting my mother said how it reminded her to my great-grand-mother. My mother also compares my sister’s book collection to hers. Despite of her countless praises, I still cannot imagine my great-grand-mother as a sophisticated woman she always tells.
From what I learn from the book, my great-grand-mother is coming from a wealthy family. They owned a large house and European car with private driver, which were signs of wealthy family back then. She is the only child from Ho Tjhiang Khing and uwak Lantih.
According to the writer, she is the most beautiful girl in entire universe:
“Sebagai seorang adik kecil saya sangat kagumi dia. Saya anggap ia wanita tercantik sejagad (jagad raya). Hingga, apabila orang tanya – siapa yang cantik. Dengan gigih saya mengatakan taci Belot”
Honestly, as her great-grand daughter, I am flattered by his exaggerated praise on her beauty.
Moreover, he describes Taci Belot as an avid reader. Her collections include Sam Kok (Three Kingdoms), Sie Jin Kui, Ceng Se, Sie Kin kui Ceng Tang, Song Kong (All Men are Brothers), Gak Hui, Hong Sin, Tan Hie Cin, and mostly Silat books. She subscribed to newspapers and magazines, also ship books from Jakarta. Although she is being Pingit, she is considered as naturally intellectual knowing she got her education through books she reads.
At age 17, her parents married her to a man from Go family and gave birth to 7 children, which one of her daughter is my grandmother. After her marriage, she moved with her husband to Surabaya, where my grandmother and my mother grow up.
One book that changes a thing
I tried to do justice on his writing through the lens of millennial generation of the family. I am truly impressed by the writer’s genuine and original writing. His honest and fair opinion is relatable especially on how we see our family. I have never been to Banjarmasin, and his detail on Banjarmasin in 1910s feels so nostalgic. To read and to learn our ancestors’ stories, it connects us to the past self. Their bodies may have gone years ago, but through stories, they live in us. It is clear how our Javanese, Banjar, Chinese cultures and a slight of Dutch education form us who we are today which is reflected through our daily speech and common senses.
As for my great-grand-mother, it does not only open my eyes to see what kind of person she was, it changes how I respect, admire, love and proud of her. Her innocence, her selfless attitude and her intelligence are rare qualities in our family especially for one who possess with natural beauty, intelligence and wealth. My sister and I regret her for being pingit. We really can see her as a brilliant woman. To which, I understand now why my mother never stop to encourage us on prioritizing education before anything else. It seems like a normal advice mother shares to her daughters, but after looking back at her, we see how privileged we are to have the opportunity on having formal education. (I am glad, both me and my sister follow this creed and redeem what our great-grand-mother never gets in her youth).
This book changes how I think about how we need to talk about the family members that passed away so coming generations know where they came from.
I am so thankful and honored to have this opportunity to know our great-grand parents. It is difficult to trace back the past memories as many records and photographs are lost or destroyed. While the remaining people’s memories are blurry and unreliable.
if you can
Try to learn where you came from
It could change how you view your family
it’s worth it.