Sat, 13 May 2000

A tale of an amateur's work on Tugu history

JAKARTA (JP): Writing the history of ethnic groups is not only the domain of academicians.

Amateurs can also do the work, just as housewife Frieda Manusama-Moniaga has proven with her work on the old Tugu "Black Portuguese" community here.

Frieda is not a university or even a high school graduate but the way she collected data and wrote the history of the unique ethnic group of Tugu in North Jakarta is similar to the way the experts go about it.

Frieda never got further than junior high school of the Meer Uitgebreide Lagere Onderwijs (MULO) in 1951.

"But I graduated without having to sit for the examination because I always got high grades of seven to eight.

"Students automatically graduated if they had good grades," said the woman, who speaks Dutch and English, in a recent interview.

Being an amateur, the result of her toil has not been documented in book form or in papers for a seminar, but in a manuscript that it was typed on a manual typewriter.

"I don't have a computer. I also don't know how to use one," said the 70-year-old woman, who started the work seriously in 1976.

With her simple equipment she produced eight works on the Tugu community, like the history of their ancestors, their way of life, their clothes and the famous Keroncong music.

People of Tugu were called Mardijker, or the liberated ones, during the Dutch colonial era. They were initially prisoners of the Dutch who conquered the Portuguese in the East, like in India and Malaya, and made slaves in Batavia (old Jakarta).

They were freed from slavery after converting to Protestantism from Catholicism.

In the past, their customs were apparent in their way of life, like wearing western clothes, but the only remnant of their traditions is their Keroncong music.

Born in 1930 in the Tugu area, Frieda learned the special characteristics of her ancestors at her mother's side.

"That's why, although I have a Manadonese family name and have lost the Portuguese name of Abrahams from my mother's side, I chose to write about the Tugu community due to its uniqueness," she said.

She is concerned that younger generations of Tugu community members will no longer care about their history, while at the same time their identity is disappearing through intermarriage.

For that reason, Frieda also pioneered the establishment of the Society of the Tugu Extended Family (IKBT) on May 2, 1976 with two other people.

The society met once a month to consolidate.

"I did not do the writing for wide publication. It is just for Tugu community members and IKBT so that they will have complete data on their history.

"I had no training in research so I just learned to find my way when writing the history," said the mother of eight.

Although her work was done for a small number of people, Frieda was very serious about the work, which she did at her family's ancestral home in Pejambon subdistrict, Central Jakarta.

The widow, who has 25 grandchildren and three great grandchildren, regularly visits places like the National Archives and the National Library in Central Jakarta to search for new data. She has also contacted Tugu community members in the Netherlands to collect more data from the country.

Her research was more intensive after her children grew up, "I did not need to think about cooking or other things like the periods when my children still needed special attention," said Frieda, who was also active within her local community and subdistrict office.

Frieda first became interested in writing in the early years of her childhood.

"I prepared paper and pencils every time I chatted with senior Tugu community members. I didn't care what the people thought about it."

Senior Tugu community members often questioned her affinity for writing, "What do you do all this for?" she recalled them criticizing.

She always made use of any gathering to ask about the history and the ancestors of the community and then she took notes, which she still has to this day.

In this way she managed to gather a relatively complete history of the Tugu community.

"But I can't trace back to when the first family arrived at Tugu. I have a collection of data for the periods after the 18th century," she said.

Through the years she also recorded several interviews by journalists and researchers from the Netherlands, Portugal and Japan regarding the Tugu people. (ind)