Ibu Maluku: The Story of Jeanne van Diejen
By Ron Heynneman
Paperback: 636 pages
Publisher: Sid Harta Publishers (May 1, 2002)
This is what is stated on the back cover of this book:
IBU MALUKU is the unique story of a resolute woman, Jeanne van Diejen-Roemen, who survives the hardships of remote jungles, the horrors of two world wars (including a 3 ½ year internment by the Japanese), and the life-threatening political upheavals that preceded the birth of the Republic of Indonesia.
Her story reminds one of the exploits of Florence Nightingale, for Jeanne is also driven by an overriding sense of duty: to relieve the suffering of her less fortunate fellow-men.
During her often extremely difficult life, she distinguished herself as a planter, army nurse, midwife, gardener, and social worker. During the Japanese invasion, the stout-heartedness saved Ternate from total annihilation. After the war, she spearheaded the fight against leprosy, and enabled hundreds of Moluccan lepers to again assume a useful role in the society that had once exiled them. She also implemented plans to bring isolated forest people into the 20th century, and founded a hospital, a school, an orphanage, and home for the elderly. In recognition of her efforts, Indonesia’s first president Sukarno started calling her Ibu Maluku – Mother of the Moluccas – and the name stuck.
Though she had a carte blanche with Sukarno, her outspokenness finally brought her into conflict with him. This forced her in 1957 to leave the Moluccas and the people who had given her their trust, and she settled in Sittard, in the Limburg Province of the Netherlands. In 1978 she returned to the Moluccas to celebrate her 82 birthday among her Moluccans. Were it not for other commitments, she would have stayed, for it was there that she truly felt at home.
Many books about the East are centred around the countries where either the British or French were colonial rulers – India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, to name a few. It is rare to read a story that is based in an Asian country where the Dutch were colonial rulers. So, I was intrigued by this book the moment I laid eyes on it. The cover image, The Bay of Ternate by Antoine Payen, gives that visual impression of what it must have been like when Jeanne first arrived in Ternate. However, it is through words and stories narrated that one learns of the true condition of the people and the place that Jeanne van Diejen-Roemen came to know, care for and love.
Despite the fact that Malaysia (where I live) is geographically close to Indonesia, I did not know where these islands, Maluku islands, are. I was, therefore, very grateful that the publishers had thought to include maps of the region.
The sub-title, on the cover of this book, states ‘An extraordinary life in the vanishing world of the Dutch East Indies’. Throughout reading this tale, it was hard to separate the fact that I was reading an account of someone’s life story; I often felt I was reading fiction. There was romance, tension, murder, betrayal and all set against the backdrop of political upheaval.
It is a long story and covers 636 pages – it must have taken sheer tenacity on Ron Heynneman to keep at this book and indeed, it is stated that the project took 25 years! Written in Jeanne Can Diejen-Roemen’s voice, the author managed to infuse Ibu Maluku’s emotions, ideas and thoughts, which all added to the originality of the tale.
There are many passages I enjoyed in the book but one which touched me – because it showed just how much courage she had, the genuine love of the people of the islands, her compassion and the acceptance of what was – was this:
… Sukarno kept pressing, and … I finally blurted out: “And what should I tell them in America, Mr. President? Should I tell them the truth – that we lack doctors, hospitals, road, and houses? Should I tell them that our people go hungry because rice is disappearing into the black market, and that your soldiers are throwing my people in jail for making salt from seawater, whereas before we were exporting salt?” … Sukarno’s eyes narrowed, and his face turned into a mask. … Shocked, I realised I had gone too far. I, a Belanda, had offended the President of Indoesia and made him lose face! … Then he brusquely turned around and left … I went over the disastrous conversation sentence by sentence – and then I realised, with a sinking feeling, which words had offended him. “Your soldiers are throwing my people in jail for making salt from seawater, whereas before we [the Dutch] were exporting salt.” … What had happened could not now be undone, but I was at peace with myself. I had remained true to myself, and true to the people of the Moluccas whose case had been entrusted to me.
It is a book I will certainly recommend that people read.
2 April 2008