Untung Surapati: From Forbidden Romance to Rebellion in Colonial Indonesia

A forbidden love affair between an enslaved man in colonial Indonesia and a young Dutch woman marked the beginning of a life of anti-imperial rebellion, propelling him into Indonesian history as a powerful national hero known as Untung Surapati.

Untung Surapati, born in 1660, most likely in Bali, was sold during his childhood as a slave to the Dutch military officer Deler Mur, who happened to have a daughter, Suzanne. Stories claim Surapati and Suzanne grew close through association and, eventually, fell into some kind of romantic attachment. But they happened to live in Batavia of the Dutch East Indies, which would enact one of the first anti-miscegenation laws (prohibiting marriage between Europeans and enslaved locals). Whether or not Surapati and Suzanne actually married depends on your source (and many draw upon the rich folklore and legends swirling about Surapati and his legacy). Still, any such relationship, official or not, would have violated Dutch authority.

According to Identity in Asian Literature, which summarizes the historical facts of Surapati’s life, “Gathering a band of loyal followers, Surapati subsequently fled to the mountainous tract of West Java.” Some versions of Surapati’s past give a more dramatic take on the consequences of the illegal tryst — that Surapati landed in jail where, like another Spartacus, he would come to ignite a slave revolt, leading his fellow men out of prison in noble opposition to the Dutch colonists.

Regardless, Surapati would go on to continue his rebellion against the Dutch East Indies, with notable success, as described in Identity in Asian Literature:

With his band he proceeded first to Cirebon and then to Kartasura where he was welcomed by the Sushunan of Mataram and granted a village near the raton. In 1686 Dutch troops under Commander Tack, were dispatched to Kartasura in order to intimidate Sushunan and to arrest Surapati. They were, however, defeated and Tack was killed, after which Surapati moved on to East Java where he founded a kingdom at Pasuruhan. Repeated Dutch attempts to oust him were to no avail. He ruled more or less undisturbed until 1705. … A gauge to the threat posed by Surapati comes from the fact that when the Dutch forces were finally victorious [against Surapati and his sons] they desecrated his grave, burned his remains, and scattered the ashes.

It’s no wonder that Indonesia has extolled Untung Surapati as a shining example in history.

You can learn more about Untung Surapati (including his brief ties with Suzanne) through the books Identity in Asian Literature and Surapati: Man and Legend, or explore additional narratives of Untung Surapati in this paper and through this short story.

P.S.: If you’re interested in posts like this, peruse the AMWF History archives for more, including stories of Australian women who pushed for Indonesian independence alongside their Indonesian husbands.

Guest Post: Raising Mixed Culture Kids in a Multicultural Environment

Leslie, the white Canadian woman who is also the author of the delicious blog Korea in my Kitchen, is married to a Korean man and raising her beautiful multicultural family in one of my favorite cities in the world — Vancouver, Canada. In this lovely guest post, she comments on the benefits and challenges of raising kids in a multicultural environment (and also shares some of her fantastic recipes, including one for my favorite Korean dish, bibimbap!). 

Would you like to see your words featured on Speaking of China? We’re always looking for awesome guest posts — check out the submit a post page to learn how you can have yours published here!

—–

“Mom, why are they looking at us?”

The biggest culture shock for my four kids this past year when we went to Korea to visit my husband’s family was that people noticed them. Old people would rub their heads at the stop light, or touch their cheeks as they passed by. People constantly commented and touched them. We think all our mixed kids look very Korean; apparently, not to Koreans. 🙂

koreainmykitchen1

In Korea with their grandmother, Halmoni

We are fortunate to live in Vancouver, Canada, a very multicultural city with people from all over the world. When we are out and about, people don’t notice us as a mixed family. It was one of the things that struck my husband and me the most when we originally came back from Korea where we were used to being noticed all the time. We loved how we were just normal.

If people comment on the kids it is usually just out of curiosity or kindness. We don’t get any negative comments. Some comments are awkward, but not rude.

koreainmykitchen2

When people do ask, I get the usual questions:

“What is your husband’s nationality?”

“Where is your husband from?”

I have even had people ask me,

“Where did you adopt your kids from?”

Honestly, the most common thing people say is,

“Oh, your kids are cute!”

To which I smile and say thank you.

One of the challenges raising mixed kids in such a culturally diverse place is that they lose touch with their own culture. My husband immigrated to Canada from Korea when he was thirty. He is very Korean; he is Korean-Korean. But because we are so normal here in Vancouver, it would be easy to let go of his culture and raise our family simply as Canadian. As the mother, I have had the opportunity to spend lots of time with the children in their early formative years. Unfortunately, my Korean is not very strong and we need to make a consorted effort to teach them Korean; it is called a mother tongue for a reason. Likewise, I love to cook and culture is very much tied to food. Luckily, I really enjoy cooking Korean food and we eat it often. So the difficulty we face, actually is to retain culture and for our children to know and appreciate their ‘Korean-ness’.

koreainmykitchen3

Nyles’ first birthday – Dol

As a result, in our family, we celebrate our collage of cultures. We embrace Korean culture and nationality. We eat Korean food, celebrate the holidays and stumble through learning the language. The kids save up money to go back to Korea to see their grandmother and beg to watch Korean dramas. For dinner, bibimbap and kimbap are the most requested menu items!

koreainmykitchen4

My parents are immigrants from Holland and I grew up in a Dutch Canadian community. Likewise, we have our little Dutch cultural things that we hold on to, certain foods and expressions and I try to pass those on to the kids too. They proudly wear their Holland shirts and gobble down ‘double zout droppies’, those really salty Dutch black licorice.

And of course, our children are Canadian. They proudly sing the national anthem and wave the maple leaf on July 1st. Here, in this country where they celebrate being a cultural mosaic, we get to pick and choose the best parts of all three cultures.

Ultimately, we just try to be ourselves.

koreainmykitchen5

Leslie writes about easy Korean cooking, kids and culture and shares comics about her life with her Korean husband and four crazy kids at www.koreainmykitchen.com.
—–
Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.