The ballad of Sarina and Kromo

Musician Ernst Jansz was inspired by the story of Willem Bosch to compose a protest song against the injustices and hardship that people experienced during colonialism in the Dutch East Indies. The song ‘The ballad of Sarina and Kromo’ shifts the perspective to the colonialized people, allowing for a more fundamental criticism of the premise of colonialism. The song was performed twice as part of the process, and conveys the emotional impact of the colonial regime. Like Willem Bosch in his time, Ernst Jansz also tries to mobilize people by voicing a personalized story. As a Dutch musician with family roots in Indonesia, Ernst Jansz explained during the performances how his family history is characterized by a long tradition of dissent and resistance fights. Many of his songs are characterized by themes of belonging, truth seeking, and compassion.

Co-creation

Ernst Jansz, was inspired by the research of Maartje Janse about the life story of Willem Bosch and wrote ‘The ballad of Sarina and Kromo’, a song about a young couple experiencing injustice in the Dutch East Indies. He and his band performed at the Voice4Thought Festival – People in Motion at Scheltema, Leiden (24 September 2016) and the Bridging Humanities launch meeting on Decolonization of knowledge in the digital age (7 June 2018). Willem Bosch was one of the most outspoken critics of the culture system, the system that forced the population in the Dutch East Indies to cultivate crops for the government. Ernst Jansz has re-interpreted an old Malaysian ‘krontjong’ song and transformed it into a protest song that recalls the protest songs of the 1960s.1

Ernst Jansz about the collaboration:“Last year I was contacted by Maartje Janse, who works at Leiden University and was at the time working on a research project on people who wanted to make the world a better place in the 19th century. Amongst them were people protesting slavery and the culture system in the Dutch Indies. The main focus of her research was Willem Bosch (1798-1877), one of the most prominent critics of the culture system. She asked me if I wanted to think about ways to convey the message of Willem Bosch to a contemporary audience, by writing a song about it. Because the story of Willem Bosch showed strong similarities with the story of my great-grandfather, who also protested the oppression of people in the Dutch Indies, I immediately said yes. I also feel very strongly that people here in the West still do not realize that a large part of our wealth comes from the blood of slaves and the exploitation of the former colonies. Sooner or later, we will have to pay the price for that. And that is how a new song was born.”

Maartje Janse about the song: “The text is primarily a criticism of colonial injustice and exploitation. But by choosing Sarina and Kromo’s perspective, it can also be read as criticism of centering this story of colonial rule around a white man who was part of the colonization project, and not fundamentally critical of the premise of colonialism either. By giving Sarina and Kromo a voice, by adding their perspective, Ernst added an important layer to my history of Willem Bosch.”

From the section co-creation.

Performance 2016

The video captures the full performance at the Voice4Thought Festival in 2016. Ernst Jansz sang the following six songs, accompanied by his band members Guus Paat (Guitar), Richard Wallenburg (Bass), and Aili Deiwiks (Violin). The video starts with the interview with Maartje Janse in which she talks about Willem Bosch.

2:52 Performance of the song De Ballade van Sarina en Kromo [The Ballad of Sarina and Kromo], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: “The person you just saw, Maartje Janse, did research on 19th-century reform movements. She asked me if I wanted to write a song about one of those reformers, Willem Bosch.  She asked me if I wanted to write a song, with Willem Bosch in my mind. Willem Bosch was someone who stood up for the rights of the oppressed in Indonesia, the Dutch East Indies, at that time. The slaves, the farmers who were forced by the Netherlands to grow certain crops, which did well in the market and by which the Netherlands became rich. And Willem Bosch stood up for the oppressed. And I’ve tried to highlight a few small details from that oppression of the Dutch at that time. And one of them is .. Very often it happened that a Dutchman, for example a planter who had a rich plantation, put his male or female slaves to work, and did with the girls what he wanted to do. She often bore the planter’s children. And the planter adopted those children, because they were his. But that Indonesian mother, who was not allowed to be there, was chased away. There is a beautiful story from an Indonesian writer, Reggie Baay, who wrote about slavery in the 19th and 20th centuries in Indonesia. And his father remembers that an Indonesian woman was chased away from the gate. He did not know who it was. Later he realized that it was his mother who was chased away. The farmers were forced to grow crops that did well in the Dutch markets, making the Netherlands rich. And Willem Bosch could have said this. Here in the Netherlands with regard to the high-ranking men, The rich, high-ranking men.” (Song text: De ballade van Sarina en Kromo ENG)

11:23 Performance of the song Dit huis [This house], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: “The next song is about hospitality. I told my son, who is about eight years old, that we owe our wealth and prosperity to the blood of countless slaves. And the wealth that we have stolen from distant foreign countries. And then my son said: but Dad, did we ever say thank you? No, boy.” (Song text: Dit huis ENG).

16:13 Performance of the song Rumah Saya [My house], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: “And the strange thing is that even very good friends of mine, not really stupid people, still do not understand that you cannot steal things from everywhere with impunity. At some time the bill will be presented. And that can happen any time. All those people who come from distant foreign countries to the Netherlands to build a new life here. The next song is for all those people. Especially for the second generation, for the children of those people who came from distant foreign countries to the Netherlands to build an existence here. And those children who may not feel at home here and who might be thinking: ‘if only I was at home in the land of my father or my mother’. And I sing this song for all those people of the second generation who do not know exactly where they belong. Because we, as we are here on stage, actually come from distant foreign countries. We or our parents arrived at some time in the Netherlands. My father came from Indonesia.”(Song text: Rumah saya ENG).

22:12 Performance of the song Huiswaarts [Back home]2, introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: “And now you may wonder, where does a person belong? I believe that you belong somewhere, where people love you.” (Song text: Huiswaarts ENG).

26:48 Performance of the song Tijd Genoeg [Plenty of Time], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: “Ladies and gentlemen, love is the most beautiful thing there is.” (Song text: Tijd genoeg ENG).

32:93 Performance of the song Luna Luna Mijn [Luna Luna Mine], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: “And the last song – because everything comes to an end – is for a very important woman in my life. She was born with a full moon and we called her Luna. And I want to give her something. Not all those nasty, awful things happening in the world, but also the incredibly beautiful, what this beautiful sweet earth has to give us.” (Song text: Luna Luna Mijn ENG).

Performance 2018

Performance of the song De Ballade van Sarina en Kromo [The Ballad of Sarina and Kromo], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows: “Maartje asked me to write a song. She was working on a topic called ‘wereldverbeteraars’ I don’t know the word in English, but people who were fighting for justice in the 19th century. And especially Willem Bosch. And I had to think about, what I told you already, that my great-great-grandfather, my grandfather’s grandfather, who was a missionary in the Netherlands Indies, and who saw what was happening there, and who wrote open letters and publications. It is not good what we do here, we Dutch, it’s not good, the people are starving, from the taxes. And he wasn’t heard my great-great-grandfather. But his son, my great-grandfather, published a newspaper, and he wrote about slavery. There was officially no slavery in Netherlands Indies, but actually it was still there. My father came in the 1930s to Holland, to study and then came the war, and he joined the Resistance against the Germans. And he got caught. They put him in jail. And afterwards in a concentration camp. but he survived. But after the war, he kept on fighting for the freedom of Indonesia, his motherland. You have to know, that a lot of Indonesian students, before the (second world) war, were working for the independence of Indonesia, already, here in Holland. And when the war came, and the Germans took over, all those Indonesian students joined the resistance. They rescued Jewish people, and they fought for the freedom of Holland. If you realize that all these Indonesian students were Muslim, and they saved Jewish people…this is a story that should be told all over the world, actually. And the headquarters of the Indonesian resistance was here, in this building. And from here, they organised all kinds of activities. And after the war, some people died, and those who survived, kept on fighting for the freedom of Indonesia. And this was a political fight ofcourse. And the Dutch government didn’t like it, and kicked them out, and put some of them in jail. So if you realize that these people, who would have given their lives for the freedom of Holland, were kicked out after the war..It is a story not many people know, but now you know. And I, for being a son of my father, and a grand grand grandson of my grand grand grandfather etc., I thought what can I do, I am just a musician, I am just writing songs. So I said yes to Maartje when she asked me. And this is the song I wrote, It is called the ballad of Sarina and Kromo.” (Song text: De ballade van Sarina en Kromo ENG).

Performance of the song De Naakte Waarheid [The Naked Truth], introduced by Ernst Jansz as follows:  “The next song is about what it is all about here. The idea is about being trustful, being respectful. It is about the truth actually. In Holland we have a saying De naakte waarheid. It is the naked truth. The naked truth is just the truth, nothing around it, to make it more beautiful, more suitable, more convenient for us. And nowadays, the naked truth is not wanted anymore. She is chased away. People say we don’t like you anymore, go away. And everywhere she comes, people close the doors, people close the windows. And she is just desperate. And actually, she is lying down, and she is dying. And people come from all over the world to look at her, the naked truth, lying there dead and naked. Why not a cloth or a blanket or something, why naked? Naked is not good. And especially not for the truth. And people say: it is a pity, because actually she is very beautiful. And in the last verse, I tell about a garbage dump, where they say a naked truth has been seen. And then I ask my audience, I ask you, if you see her, if you meet her…please say goodbye from me, and tell her that I miss her.” (Song text: De naakte waarheid ENG).

Remembering

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The performance of Ernst Jansz in 2018 took place at the Tropenmuseum. As he explained in his introduction (see above), this was the former headquarters of the Indonesian resistance against the Germans during World War Two, in which his father Rudi Jansz was involved. These photos show  Ernst Jansz at a meeting about Indonesian resistance fighters furing the second world war at the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam, Remembrance Day 5 May 2017. The meeting was part of Huizen van Verzet [Houses of Resistance] of the 4-5 May committee. During the meeting he spoke about his father, whose portrait was included in the series Real Heroes by Herman Morssink, that were exhibited during this meeting. The last photo shows Anne-Lot Hoek in conversation with Joty Ter Kulve – van Os (1926) during that same meeting, about the Indonesian revolutionary Sutan Sjahrir. (Photos by Kevin Kwee).

 

References

  1. The song was published on the the cd (and the eponymous autobiographical novel) De Neerkant by Ernst Jansz (2017).
  2. A translation of the song Tomorrow’s A Long Time by Bob Dylan.