Pramoedya Ananta toer’s Child of all nations describes the sorrow of Javanese people under the Dutch colonialism. This book is the second in the series known as the epic Buru quartet all written by Pramoedya. This book picks up from the previous in the series and brings an insight into the anti-coloniaism in the Dutch colonized Indonesia during the 1980s. The book is anti colonial and highlights the plight of women together with profound suspense love and fury. The story line is developed through the protagonist Minke, who tries to overcome all the social injustices around him. Minke and his mother in law Nyai live in the dutch controlled highlands of Indonesia. The child of all nations describes the social stratification that was developed y the colonialists who made life difficult for the colonized Javanese people .Even the elite and wealthy Javanese were discriminated by the Dutch administration. Social stratification was in the story was through the color of the skin and nativity. For instance Minke and Nyar were educated and wealthy Javanese residents who were considered inferior due to their nativity.The natives did not have an venue to express their concerns. “Yes, others call this word of view ‘extreme liberal.’ Not just disliking being oppressed, but also disliking oppressing. And, indeed, more than that: disliking oppression anywhere.” (Toer, p267).
The title of the book captures in a great deal the theme of the story. Through the main character Minke, the world is gradually becoming more and more integrated. Minke is able to speak a variety of languages ranging from Javanese to French Dutch and Malay. This story brings out the concept of a changing world where individuals must be left to live according to their will and not through colonialism. This concept is developed throughout the book alongside the theme. Through the exposure of social injustices propagated by the Dutch we can be able to see the negative aspects of colonialism and the plight of the natives. Minke is a child of two worlds. This is because he is educated and wealthy which brings him closer to the Dutch than the rest of the Javanese. However, he is still a native and regardless of his status he is considered as an inferior. He comes to terms with the reality when he publishes a newspaper written in Dutch. It is then that Minke realizes the social stratification and the injustices being committed by the Dutch against his people. Throughout the novel minke tries to rediscover who he really is. He tries to identify his role to the Dutch and his obligations to colonized Javanese people.
Several major events help Minke change his perspective regarding the role of the Dutch in the Javanese colony. At one particular instance Minke had a conversation And a brief stay with a sugar cane farmer known as Trunodongso. Through this interview Minke is able to see that the Dutch are taking advantage of the native people. This changes Minkes perception of the Dutch people as well as his perspective on the native Javanese people. He realizes that he has the assets that can be able to change the life of his people. He vows to use his wealth, education as well as his writing to help his people. “Good-bye to you all. I will never return to see any of you again. I am on my way to become my own person, to become what I was meant to be. Good bye. (Toer, p249)”
Throughout chapter 7 we are shown the plight of women in the Dutch colonised indonesia. The story of Surati the kassier’s daughter elaborates the level of male chauvinism and women oppression in the country. This captures the situation not only with respect to Javanese women but also the general native people. In this story Tuan Besar Kuasa orders Sastro Kassier to offer him surati. Surati the daughter of kassier is described as a beautiful virgin. Kuasa wanted Surati for a mistress.To achieve his goal Kuasa steals money from sastro kassier’s cash box and threatens to sue him if he does not produce the money. However, he proposes to settle the debt but only in exchange of Surati. Due to respect for her father Surati agrees to the deal. However, Surati contracts small pox with the aim of infecting Kuasa so that they both Die. Interestingly, it is Kuasa who dies while Surati survives. The plight of women is further on demonstrated when kassier responds to his wife’s protests angrily. The judicial system is also flawed. “In a case like this where two people are accused, one a Pure-blood manager…and the other is a Native, the Native is in the wrong place and the Pure is in the right (Toer, p143)
Minke finally comes to a point of realisation when he speaks to Kommer and Jean Marais. Kommer claimed that minke did not know his own people. Minke had the necessary education, wealth and potential to be the native’s voice. Minke realized that he truly did not know his people. He gradually came to understand the life under the colonial rule was oppressive. The native people had no particular way of opposing this colonial rule. it is then that minke realized that he had to play the role of the educated native and offer the voice of the oppressed through his writings. The aspect of poverty among the natives is shown in several instances in the novel. People were judged by the shoes they wore. Shoes signified a person’s social status and were associated with the rich. “They were more afraid of shoes than daggers or machetes, swords or spears.”(Toer, p237). The natives were barefooted but Minke acknowledges the level of intelligence exhibited by these barefooted people such as his friend Khouw Ah Soe.
Events from other parts of other Asian countries such as china influenced Minke developments and transformation. Minke observed the difficulties experienced by the “Chinese young generation” (Toer, p55). Within the development of the story Minke remembers an article explaining how Japan had exploited China. This article had the similar sentiments to those expressed in a letter written by Herbert dela croix. This triggers Minke to compare the Japan-China relationship with that of the Dutch and his fellow native Javanese people. “They are furious because they are aware but powerless” (Toer , p56). This shows the difficulties that the Chinese encountered were similar to those that the natives experienced under the Dutch colonial rule. Both the Chinese and the Javanese people were powerless.
Early in the novel Minke admires japan. In fact in his view Japan was the only country that had achieved the same level of autonomy as other European nations. Minke refers to Japan as “Amazing japan” (Toer, p48). He further on refers to Japan as “a single grain of sand of the great sand-mountains of Asian people.” (Toer, p48). It amazes Minke that his fellow Asians could be treated as equals to the Europeans. The Japanese were an independent nation that sent expatriates outside who aimed at improving the situation of their country through modernization. However, Minke realizes that the fame and modernization that the Japanese had acquired was through colonizing the china almost in a similar way as the Dutch colonized the natives. “How strange it was if every glory was obtained only at the cost of suffering from others” (Toer, p 48) . This puts him in a dilemma as to whether he should admire or condemn the achievements of Japan which were mainly via colonising China.
Another international influence on Minke came about during his discussion with Khouw Ah soe where he learnt about the American and Spanish influences in the Philippines. Khouw takes his time to explain to Minke about the developments taking place regarding to colonialism in the phillipines. Khouw explained to Minke that the the Filipinos who were better placed than the Indians were unable to progress due to colonialism. Khouw emphasized on the need to learn from these neighbours. Ter Haar also explained the path that the Filipinos took. Ter Haar compared Minke to Jose Rizal a well learned doctor who had failed to fight for the rights of his country. “Somebody educated, a doctor, a poet…rebelling…” (Toer, p267).
In this book the child of all nations; minkes life is tansformed from being one of a rich and naive educated native. Minke was closer to the dutch than the rest of the natives. He gradually realized the problems an oppressions experienced by the native people. Minke is greatly influenced by the proceedings of the countries around him such as China and Philippines that is why he truly is the child of all nations. Minke discovers that he is the best placed person to air the grievances of the natives. The transformation of Minke begins when he interacts with the natives and foreigners who explain to him the position of his people. He later finds out that other nations such as china and Philippines are in the same position as his native people. Throughout the story Toer is able to bring out the struggles and oppression of the Javanese people under the Dutch colonial rule.