Indo people

Indo or Indo-European or Eurasian people is a term used to describe people of mixed European and Indonesian and/or Chinese Indonesian ancestry, in particular, people of Dutch and Indonesian ancestry, and as a result are primarily found in The Netherlands and Indonesia, but also in the United States.

In the United States of America the term Dutch Indonesians is used for this particular group of Eurasians, which is a rough translation of the Dutch term Indische Nederlander. However in the Netherlands the term Indische Nederlander also includes people that lived in the Dutch East Indies, but do not necessarily have a mixed ancestry. In contemporary Indonesia the term Indo is not confined to former inhabitants of the Dutch East Indies, but includes all people of a mixed European and Indonesian background.

Historical overview

Pre-colonial history (16th, 17th and 18th century)

Portuguese and Spanish presence in South East Asia (16th century)

The earliest significant presence of Europeans in South East Asia was made out of Portuguese and Spanish traders. Portuguese explorers discovered two trade routes to Asia, sailing around the south of Africa, as well as sailing around the south of America creating a commercial monopoly. In the early 16th century the Portuguese established important trade posts in South East Asia, which was a diverse collection of many rivalling kingdoms, sultanates and tribes spread over a huge territory of peninsulas and islands. One of the main Portuguese strongholds was located in the so called Spice Islands i.e. the Mollucas. Similarly the Spanish established a dominant presence further north in the Philippines. These historical developments helped build a foundation for large Eurasian communities in this region. Old Eurasian families in the Philippines mainly descend from the Spanish. While the oldest Indo families descend from Portuguese traders and explorers , some family names of old Indo families include Simao, De Fretes, Perera, Henriques, etc.

Dutch and English presence in South East Asia (17th and 18th century)

With the decline of the Portuguese and Spanish global empires after the beginning of the 17th century, the Dutch and English maritime merchants started establishing an equally comprehensive global network of trading posts. In 1602 the Dutch founded the first ever joint stock multinational firm, called the United East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC). The VOC’s main aim was to generate profit from international trade with South and South East Asia, also known then and later as the East Indies. The VOC established a dominant European presence on for example the island of Java, as well as on numerous islands north and east of Java. Their English counterparts did the same west of Java in Singapore and Malaya.

Originally, most Dutch VOC employees were traders, accountants, sailors and adventurers and may have thought of themselves as temporary sojourners. British and other Europeans also settled there, usually as traders or professionals. Most of the settlers in the 18th and early 19th centuries were men, without wives. Considerable mixing occurred with the local inhabitants. The VOC and later the colonial government to a certain extent encouraged this, partly to maintain their control over the colony. The existing Indo population of Portuguese descent was therefore welcome to integrate. A relatively large Indo-European society developed in Indonesia. Although most of its members were Dutch citizens, their culture was strongly Eurasian in nature, with equal focus on both the native Asian and foreign European heritage. This would change coming the formal colonization by the Dutch in the 19th century.

Colonial history (19th and 20th century)

Dutch East Indies

After the bankruptcy of the privately owned VOC at the end of the 18th century the Dutch state took over its debts, as well as its possessions. The small kingdom of the Netherlands commenced with replacing the strong VOC presence in the East Indies and established colonial dominance from the island Sumatra bordering the Malaysian peninsular in the west, the island Celebes (now called Sulawesi) bordering the Philippines in the north, to New Guinea (now called Irian Jaya) bordering the continent of Australia in the South-East. In around 150 years this evolved into the undisputed colony called the Dutch East Indies (Dutch: Nederlands-Indië). The creation of this governmental and administrative entity became the foundation of the independent state of Indonesia in the middle of the 20th century. In this period a large Indo community developed that was recognized by Dutch law as Europeans. The majority of legally acknowledged Europeans in the Dutch East Indies were in fact Indo Eurasian. During this time the already existing Indo population was mainly complimented by the offspring of Dutch, Belgian and German soldiers who served in the Netherland East Indies Army (KNIL). Family names include: Schwartzman and Meijs.

The make up of this community was comparable to the Creole and Mestizo communities of Latin America. In Latin America the independence movement was led by these communities when they became disgruntled with the European colonial powers. Also in the Philippines independence movements were led by Eurasian Mestizos. In the Dutch East Indies only a small Indo minority led by Ernest Douwes Dekker and P.F.Dahler was politically active to voice the idea of independence from the mother country. While the Latin American colonies led by Bolivar broke free from European rule in the 19th century, the Indonesian archipelago became independent only after WW2. Although Indo individuals in the Netherlands were active in the resistance movement fighting Nazi occupation, few Indos in the Dutch East Indies actively supported the struggle for Indonesian independence.

Japanese occupation

During WW2 the European colonies in South East Asia were annexed by the Japanese Empire. After the Japanese army defeated the British armed forces in the Malay peninsula, they invaded the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch colonial army (Dutch: Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger, KNIL) was unequipped to stop the modern Japanese war machine. Japan's early victories destroyed the myth of European superiority and initially the Asian peoples welcomed the new occupying power, until it became apparent that Dutch colonial rule was only to be replaced by Japanese colonial rule. The Japanese occupying powers soon started to eradicate anything reminiscent of European government. All Europeans were put in Japanese concentration camps. First the POW’s, then all male adults and finally all females and adolescents were interned. The Japanese failed in their attempts to win over the Indo community and Indos were made subject to the same forceful measures.

During the Japanese occupation leaders of the Indonesian independence movement cooperated with the Japanese to realise an independent nation. Only after Japan's defeat by the Allied forces were these leaders able to declare the Republic of Indonesia. The majority of the Indo community was either captive or in hiding and remained oblivious to these developments. The Indo community at large did not participate in the Indonesian independence movement. The main revolutionary leader Sukarno was declared the first president of the Republic in 1945. But to the Dutch government he was a collaborator and could not be accepted as an official counterpart. The legitimacy of the Republic and its president remained disputed until 1949 when the Netherlands finally recognised Indonesia’s independence.

Post colonial history (1945-1965)

Indonesian Independence

At the end of WW2 Europe’s colonial presence around the world quickly declined. The Dutch tried to hold on to their colonial possessions in Indonesia during the Indonesian National Revolution (1945-1948), but lost their political battle to the newly founded Republic of Indonesia. In the end the Dutch were completely ousted from the archipelago. Although native to the country the Indo community was intertwined with Dutch rule and their intermediary role between colonial government and the majority of local society became obsolete. After 400 years the Indo community in Indonesia dissolved. The founding of the Republic of Indonesia directly resulted in the Indo Diaspora. In contrast, the United Kingdom managed to hold on to their colonies in South East Asia until 1957 (Malaya) and 1963 (Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore) and were able to maintain a so called Commonwealth with the British sovereign at the head.

Indo Diaspora

During and after the Indonesian National Revolution, which followed the Second World War, (1945-1965) around 300.000 people, pre-dominantly Indos, left Indonesia to go to the Netherlands. This migration was called repatriation. The majority of this group had never set foot in the Netherlands before. The migration pattern of the so called Repatriation was progressed in 5 distinctive waves over a period of 20 years.

  • The first wave, 1945-1950: After Japan's capitulation and Indonesia’s declaration of independence around 100.000 people, many former captives that spent the war years in Japanese concentration camps and then faced the turmoil of the violent Bersiap period, left for the Netherlands.
  • The second wave, 1950-1957: After formal Dutch recognition of Indonesias independence many civil servants, law enforcement and defence personnel left for the Netherlands. The colonial army was disbanded and at least 4000 of the South Moluccan price soldiers and their families were also relocated to the Netherlands. The exact number of people that left Indonesia during the second wave is unknown.
  • The third wave, 1957-1958: During the political conflict around the so called ‘New-Guinea Issue’ Dutch citizens were declared undesired elements by the young Republic of Indonesia and around 20.000 more people left for the Netherlands.
  • The fourth wave, 1962: When finally the last Dutch ruled territory i.e. New Guinea, was released to the Republic of Indonesia. Also the last remaining Dutch citizens left for the Netherlands, including around 500 Papua civil servants and their families. The total number of people that migrated is estimated at 14.000.
  • The fifth wave, 1957-1964: During this overlapping period a distinctive group of people that originally opted for Indonesian citizenship found that they were unable to integrate into Indonesian society and also left for the Netherlands. In 1964 the Dutch government formally terminated this option. Exact numbers are unknown.

Contemporary history (20th and 21st century)

Relocation and assimilation

Many Indos that had left for the Netherlands often continued the journey of their Diaspora to warmer places in the West like for instance California, parts of the Pacific Northwest and Desert Southwest in the United States of America. Exact numbers relating to Indo immigrants in other major immigration countries like Canada, New Zealand and Australia are less well documented. A 2005 study estimates the number of Indos that went to Australia around 10.000. Research has shown that most Indo immigrants are assimilating into their host societies. The Eurasian communities of Malaysia, in particular Singapore are flourishing. In Indonesia the presence of Indos outside the showbusiness appears to have become marginal.

An undetermined future

The Indos are a people of mixed Indonesian and European ancestry that developed over a period of more than 400 years. Although all family names are uniformally European, their ethnic composition varies from diverse European peoples such as the Portuguese, Dutch, Belgian, French and German and equally diverse Indonesian peoples such as Javanese, Ambonese, Manadonese and Sumatran. The variety in their ethnic composition and the fact that they are spread out all over the globe makes it difficult to define a uniform Indo culture let alone predict its future.

The older an Indo family is, the harder it becomes to pinpoint an actual percentage of either pure European or Indonesian blood. In most cases this is practically impossible to determine. As Indo culture evolves, steered by the path of the Indo Diaspora, each new generation of Indos keeps integrating more and more into their new homelands. Increasingly the issue of an Indo identity is becoming a matter of personal choice and not a given into which an individual is born.

The new generations will determine if their legacy will become more than a historical footnote.

Indo communities worldwide

Indos in the United States of America

During the 50’s and 60’s an estimated 60.000 Indos arrived in the USA were they have smoothly integrated into mainstream American society. American Indos are sometimes also referred to as Dutch-Indonesians, Indonesian-Dutch, Indo-Europeans and Amerindos. They are a relatively small Eurasian refugee-immigrant group in the United States of America.

Reasons for immigration to the U.S.A

The majority of the 60.000 U.S. Indos repatriated to the Netherlands before they immigrated to the U.S.A. in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These Indos felt Dutch society in the 50's was not prepared for the unexpected postwar influx of hundreds of thousands Eurasians from the former Dutch East Indies colony, competing for housing and employment. They did not experience a warm welcome to the Dutch mother country and felt their war and post-war trials and tribulations were not sufficiently acknowledged by the Dutch. Although familiar with the distinction between European and native Indonesian, the Dutch appeared not to be familiar with the existence of an in-between, Eurasian category of people. Even though Indos represent a kaleidoscope of color, ranging from those with blond hair and blue eyes to those with dark skin and black eyes and anything in between, their objection to being referred to by terms denoting skin color and the lack of recognition of the European status they held dearly in the former colony, led to their migration to the U.S.A.

Registration and location in the U.S.A.

The Indos entered the U.S.A. under legislative refugee measures and were mainly sponsored by Christian organizations such as the Church World Service and the Catholic Relief Services. An accurate count of Indo immigrants is not available, as the U.S. Census classified people according to their self-determined ethnic affiliation. The Indos could have therefore been included in overlapping categories of "country of origin”, “other Asians," "total foreign”, “mixed parentage”, "total foreign-born” and “foreign mother tongue". Indos can be found in all fifty states, with a majority in southern California. The formation of Indo enclaves was prevented because of various factors. Indos settled initially with their sponsors or in locations offered to them by the sponsor. Indos also had a wide variety of occupations and in this respect were not limited to certain geographic areas. There were no forces in the host society limiting the choice of location. Moreover there was a full choice as to where to settle, with the economic factor of family income as only limitation.

Developments in the U.S.A

Unlike in the Netherlands U.S. Indos do not increase numerically. This is due to their relative small numbers and geographical dispersion. Also the disappearance of a proverbial "old country" able to supply a continual influx of new immigrants stimulates the rapid assimilation of U.S. Indos into the U.S.A. Although several Indo clubs have existed throughout the second half of the 20th century, the community's elders are passing away steadily. Some experts expect that within the lifespan of the 2nd and 3rd generation the community will be assimilated and disappear completely into American multi-cultural society.

Indos in Indonesia

Notwithstanding most research has focused on the Indos in Diaspora and it has been established that the majority of Indos that were legally recognized as Europeans in the Dutch East Indies, migrated from Indonesia, a significant Eurasian group can still be found there. Most Indo families in Diaspora have relatives in Indonesia. Even when taking into account the popular definition of the term Indo used in contemporary Indonesia, the background of the majority of Indos in Indonesia can be traced back to the colonial era.
"...the place that the Indos ...occupy in our colonial society has been altered. In spite of everything, the Indos are gradually becoming Indonesians, or one could say that the Indonesians are gradually coming to the level of the Indos. The evolution of the deeply ingrained process of transformation in our society first established the Indos in a privileged position, and now that same process is withdrawing those privileges. Even if they retain their 'European" status before the law, they will still be on a level with the Indonesians, because there are and will continue to be many more educated Indonesians than Indos. Their privileged position thus is losing its social foundation, and as a result that position itself will also disappear.” Sutan Sjahrir, 1937

Indo descendents from the colonial era

During colonial times Indos were not always formally recognized and registered as Europeans. A considerable number of Indos integrated into their respective local indigenous societies and have never been officially registered as either European or Eurasian sub-group. Exact numbers are unknown. But a group of around 12.000 has been identified by the Indo community in Diaspora and consequently receives support from their overseas Indo beneficiaries.

Another group of Indos, that did enjoy European status in colonial times, willingly opted for Indonesian citizenship. Although most of them did not endure the hardships of the early post colonial years and eventually repatriated to the Netherlands. Notable exceptions are Ibu Nos Fransz, Ferry Sonneville and Ernest Douwes Dekker. Most European family names have been changed to Indonesian sounding names.

As Indo women outnumbered the men a third considerable group consists of the Indo women married to mostly Christian Indonesians. By default this sizeable group became Indonesian citizens. Notable examples are Nelly van Amden married to the Indonesian war hero Alexander Evert Kawilarang and Rochmaria Jeane mother to former Indonesian Minister of Defense Leonardus Benjamin Moerdani.

Indos in Indonesian media

The presence of Indos in Indonesian media is abundant. More than 50% of the many Indonesian sitcom celebrities have European blood , which can be verified at their websites. Most popular Indonesian bands have at least a few Indo band members. Also the marketing and advertisement industry often uses Indo models and actors to promote products.

At times this dominant position of Indos in Indonesian media fuels national debate. For instance in 2005 when the show Joe Millionaire Indonesia was aired, where dozens of women fought over the Indo Marlon or when the FHM issue with Indo playmate Petra Verkaik was released in Jakarta and sold out in record time.

Indos in the Indonesian Film industry

Indo actors are popular with both audiences and movie producers and directors alike. While in the past Indo actors were usually chosen to play upper class roles, they now cover the whole array of acting roles. Established and respected directors such as Nia Dinata, Mira Lesmana and Riri Riza have mainly chosen Indo actors for lead roles in their movies.

Even for the 2005 biographical movie Gie, which tells the tale of the Chinese student Soe Hok Gie who challenged the power of Sukarno, the Indo actor Nicholas Saputra was selected. In 2004 the Indonesian Ministry for Culture and Tourism initiated a contest for the best film script. The award winning script was about an Indo girl named Anne.

Indos in modern Indonesian society

Outside of the media spotlight Indo communities in Indonesia are clustered around big cities such as Jakarta, Bogor, Bandung and Malang. In Malang the Indo upper class is clustered in particular neighbourhoods and Sunday ceremony in the Sion Church is still in Dutch. In Bandung over 2000 poor Indos are supported by overseas organisations such as Halin and the Alan Neys Memorial Fund. Another place with a relatively large Dutch speaking Indo community is Depok, on Java.

Like the Chinese minority in Indonesia also most Indos have changed their family names to blend into mainstream society and prevent discrimination. The latest trend among Indo-Chinese and Indo-Europeans is to change them back.

List of Indonesian Indos

Indos in the Netherlands

In 1990 the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) registered the number of first generation Indos living in the Netherlands at around 180.000 people. However the second and third generation were estimated around half a million. In both instances they make up the largest minority community in the Netherlands.

Integration of Indos in the Netherlands

In the 1990s and early 21st century the Netherlands were confronted with much ethnic tension in their now multi-cultural society. (In 2006 statistics show that in Rotterdam, Holland’s second largest city, close to 50% of the inhabitants were of foreign descent.) These tensions rose with the murders of politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and film director Theo van Gogh in 2004. Still according to public opinion the Indo community is considered the best integrated ethnic and cultural minority in the Netherlands. Statistical data compiled by the CBS shows that Indos belong to the group with the lowest crime rates in the Netherlands.

A CBS study of 1999 shows that of all foreign born citizens and their children living in the Netherlands, only the Indos have an average income similar to that of native born citizens. Also their job participation in government, education and health care is equal to that of native born Dutch citizens. Another recent CBS study among foreign citizens and their children living in the Netherlands in 2005, shows that in average, Indos have the highest number of independent entrepreneurs. Although Indos, being born overseas, are officially registered as Dutch citizens of foreign decent, their Eurasian background puts them in the Western sub-class instead of the Non-Western (Asian) sub-class.

Indo culture in the Netherlands

Next to their culinary culture, Indo influence in Dutch society is mostly reflected in the arts, i.e. music and literature. The biggest manifestation of Indo culture in the world is the Pasar Malam Besar event, (literally ‘Great Night Market/Emporium’) which is organized in the Netherlands every year. The main musical formats Indos introduced to Europe are Kroncong and Indorock. Indo culture by definition is a mix of various European and Indonesian elements. The dominant language spoken by the majority remains Dutch. Indos were never formally educated in the Indonesian language. But many were fluent in the lingua franca 'Malay'. The mix language known as Petjok (a Dutch/Malay creole, comparable to French/African Patois, or the Portuguese/Macanese Patua) is slowly dying out completely.

Indo culture in the Netherlands has undergone another revival as 3rd and 4th generation Indos are reaching out to each other and their Indonesian heritage.

See also

Other Eurasian Peoples




  • Palmer and Colton 'A History of the Modern World'. (McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1992) ISBN 0-07-557417-9
  • Ricklefs, M. C. ‘A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200’ (Stanford University Press, 2001)
  • Taylor, Jean Gelman ‘The Social World of Batavia: European and Eurasian in Dutch Asia’ (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1983). ISBN 9780300097092
  • Taylor, Jean Gelman, ‘Indonesia: Peoples and Histories’ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). ISBN 0300097093
  • Krancher, Jan A. ‘The Defining Years of the Dutch East Indies, 1942-1949’ (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers) ISBN 800-253-2187
  • Cote, Joost and Westerbeek, Loes, ‘Recalling the Indies: Kebudayaan Kolonial dan Identitas Poskolonial’, (Syarikat, Yogyakarta, 2004)
  • Soekiman, Djoko, ‘Kebudayaan Indis dan gaya hidup masyarakat pendukungnya di Jawa’ (Unconfirmed Publisher, 2000). ISBN 9798793862
  • Memoires of an Indo Woman - M Schenkhuizen. Edited and translated by Lizelot Stout van Balgooy - Ohio University Press (number 92) Athens, Ohio 1993
  • American Visions of the Netherlands East Indies/Indonesia - Frances Gouda - Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2002
  • Bersiap. Opstand in het Paradijs - Dr. H. Th. Bussemaker - Walburg Pers, Zutphen, The Netherlands 2005.


External links

Search another word or see Indo_peopleon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature