Every time I come to a new place I can’t help to wonder about its history, how the people lived, which purpose the buildings had, their customs, who the leader was etc. I live in a small town with a little chapel dated from the 8th century. And my town is not far from Nijmegen, one of the oldest Dutch cities. First mention of Nijmegen or Upia Noviomagus Batavorum dated from the late Roman period in 104! Why I got so excited about this? Let me tell you more about my love for history. Yes, I am a history nerd.
It all began with me reading stories of Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Ivanhoe and Richard the Lion Heart when I was about 7 years old. I wondered if they had really lived. At that time in 1979 there was no Internet so my father told me the real stories about it. I kept asking him for more books about it in bahasa Indonesia. I knew the information was available in my father’s Encyclopedia Britannica, but alas I couldn’t speak/read English then.
I loved to imagine how knights tournaments must have been like. It was kind of romanticing the era through a child’s point of view. Everything was nice, there were the good and the bad. The line was clear to understand.
My father’s role
Then my father commenced to work on a series of Indonesian legends and history. He shared this with us, his children. He was an excellent storyteller. My father told stories of Srivijaya, Majapahit and the Dutch colonial times so interestingly as if he was there himself. I got carried away. When I was on the junior high school, my father and I often discussed about what if’s and how’s of some historical events such as the complot to ruin Gajah Mada, the greatest prime minister of Majapahit (East-Java), why Japan annexed China, why Dutchies were so succesful in trade in the Golden Age, why the country borders in Africa are so straight as if someone used a ruler to mark them and any other historical events came to our mind.
So Indonesian readers can imagine my disappointment and boredom learning history at school. History lessons in Indonesia (at least in my time there) were about learning the years and periods by heart. They were boring! However at home I learnt it myself.
Triggered by a piece about ancient civilizations, you know the four big history cradles: China, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, I began to explore more and more. I craved for more. I read books about ancient kingdoms in Indonesia (Kutai, Majapahit, Srivijaya, Pajajaran, Mataram) Alexander The Great, Hannibal, Greek Legends, Chinese dynasties, Indians (Maya, Inca & Aztec) and Los Conquistadores, British empire, French history, Romans, The Alamo, slavery but modern history (WWI & WWII) didn’t attract me though.
WWI & WWII
Until I moved to Arnhem, The Netherlands. Arnhem is the city where the allies tried to defeat the German but failed during operation Market Garden in 1944. If they had succeeded, WWII would end in 1944 instead of 1945. For non history lovers: if you have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan or the series Band of Brothers, Arnhem is one of the cities they (the troops in both movie & serie) reached after they have been dropped in Normandy, France. This is called the Liberation route.
And then I heard stories from my father in law about how Indonesians hunted the Indo’s (Eurasian living in Indonesia) down in the Bersiap era. This information is not available in Indonesian history books. Why? Because during Bersiap, after the declaration of independence in August 1945 – the beginning of 1946, there was vacuum of power. Indonesian freedom fighters hunted Dutchies, English and Indo’s down like a dog. Many were murdered, women and girls were raped. My father in law was 13 years old boy at the time. He was lucky not being killed cause he looked like a full blood Indonesian.
History gets more interesting when I started to link it with my other hobby, cooking & baking. Did Marco Polo really import pasta from China to Italy? Did you know that The Portuguese brought their Pastel de Nata to Macao? The Chinese has adopted and adapted it as the egg tart today. Many more examples are present now. Like the well-known Bagels in the USA. Jewish immigrants from Europe brought it there. Pretzels is brezels originated from Germany. And this one is still on a debate: which one inspires which, in Créme Brûlée (French) vs Crema Catalana (Catalan).
L’histoire se répète
This means history repeats itself. This sounds cliché but it is very true. After the long monologue above this is what I have learnt from history.
Now you know where my endless fascination for history comes from. And why I love visiting museums when I travel. They tell me the history. History is not only about wars & conquers, history is about social economy, migration, integrated language, culinary & culture whether forced or organically grown. History helps me to understand things better without being judgemental, at least I try not to. And if you are not bored with history, I keep on sharing it here.