In the year that Indonesia celebrates 75 years of independence, the documentary shows They call me baboe back to a shared past of Holland and Indonesia. For this acclaimed documentary, director Sandra Beerends has investigated film archives about the Dutch East Indies for years.
The documentary talks about the changes of power in the period 1939-1949, through the eyes of a baboa: an Indian nanny in the service of a Dutch family. Beerends shows the Indian perspective through a fictional story, entirely constructed from archival material.
“They call me baboe. I don’t know the word. It’s a word from the Belanders (Dutch).” In a narration, the Indian Alima tells his life story. She has fled a forced marriage and joins a Dutch family, where she immediately embraces baby Jantje in her heart.
Beerends heard the word of his Indonesian mother for the first time, who affectionately told him how her baboon was busy with her all day, washing her, spraying her and feeding her. “It was only when I started researching in Indonesia that I understood that, for some, it evokes associations with a colonial era in which baboe is a kind of bad word, or slave, but for me it is precisely an ode to a woman who gave unconditional love to children . “The fictional story is made up of many interviews that Beerends did with those involved.
Flora Davidson (87), on whose story the film is partially based, shines when she talks about ‘her’ baboa. “Yes, Sukkina! She was a beautiful woman, very civilized and sweet.” Davidson’s Jewish family fled to the Dutch Indies in 1940, where he founded a jewelry store. “Of course it was crazy for us, when children were suddenly planted in a completely different country. Thanks to Soekina everything was peaceful. She taught us Indian culture. I thought she was so sweet that my mother was sometimes jealous.” said, “Who do you love the most?” So I replied: both at the same time “.
Baboe Alima, from the documentary, casually tells his experiences with the Dutch family, without really judging. She realizes how everything happens at the appropriate times and an alarm is triggered. She always let herself wake up in the sun.
Although she often needs to take care of herself, she realizes that her family behaves the same everywhere, “as if the world belongs to them.” When a member of the Dutch family writes a book about Indian culture, she notes that he is really the first Belanda interested in his culture.
There is also a scene in which the “Dutch gentleman” enthusiastically excites that the Netherlands is busy. Behind the scenes, the gardener replies with the words “Indonesia has been occupied for 300 years”.
However, Beerends deliberately did not want to make a political film. “Baboe was between two cultures and that meant a huge conflict of loyalty. I couldn’t find anything about that Indian perspective in the history books. During the Japanese occupation, baboe belonged to the Asian empire and yet it looked like his family had tried to use all this change of power as an arena and, mainly, to focus on human contact underneath “.
As in the documentary, as a child, Flora experienced that Sukina came to visit them in the Japanese camp, where they were interned in 1942. “One day she was on the other side of the barbed wire to bring us bananas. I was so happy to see her! that Sukina did was very brave and very dangerous, she could have been shot. “
Beerends: “I think babies are in the genes of these Dutch children at that time. This is the definitive connection between our cultures for me, which is why I think it is so important that the part of the story is added to our story.”
‘They call me a baboe’, Monday 29 June at 20.05 at NTR at NPO 2