Uncovering the Legacy of Tjamboek Berdoeri: A Journey through Indonesia’s Past

In the bustling streets of Surabaya, amidst the vibrant energy of the 1960s, Benedict Anderson stumbled upon a treasure trove of forgotten history. It was a dusty old book titled “Indonesia dalem Api dan Bara,” its pages worn with time, and its author was a mysterious figure known as Tjamboek Berdoeri. Intrigued by this enigmatic name, Anderson embarked on a quest to unravel the identity of Tjamboek Berdoeri, a journey that would lead him deep into the heart of Indonesia’s past.

Born Kwee Thiam Tjing on February 9, 1900, in Pasuruan, Kwee’s early life was marked by the harsh realities of racial discrimination. As a young student, he faced taunts and insults from his Dutch peers, who saw him as nothing more than a “Chinese boy.” Despite these challenges, Kwee was determined to excel in his studies, eventually earning a place at the prestigious Europese Lagere School (ELS).

It was during his time at ELS that Kwee’s passion for journalism was ignited. He began his career as a writer at Perusahaan S.L. Nierop S. in Surabaya but soon found himself drawn to the world of newspapers. Under the guidance of Liem Koen Hian, a renowned journalist, Kwee joined the editorial board of Soeara Publiek, where he adopted the pseudonym Tjamboek Berdoeri.

As Tjamboek Berdoeri, Kwee fearlessly tackled issues of social injustice and colonial oppression. His incisive reporting on the friendship between the Dutch and Japanese during a tumultuous period in Surabaya’s history earned him a reputation as a bold and outspoken journalist. However, his outspokenness came at a price, and in 1925, he was imprisoned for his critical reporting.

Despite facing adversity, Kwee remained undeterred in his pursuit of truth and justice. During the Japanese Occupation, he continued his work as a journalist, albeit under strict censorship. His efforts to protect Dutch women and children from harm earned him respect and admiration, even from those he had once criticized.

After the war, Kwee’s life took a quieter turn. He disappeared from the public eye, living a modest life with his son in Kuala Lumpur. It was not until 1971, shortly before his death, that he resurfaced, writing a series of articles for Indonesia Raya that captured the essence of his lifelong struggle for equality and freedom.

Today, the legacy of Tjamboek Berdoeri lives on, a testament to the power of one man’s voice to inspire change. His story serves as a reminder of the importance of speaking out against injustice, no matter the cost. As we look back on his life and legacy, let us remember the words of Tjamboek Berdoeri himself: “In the end, I could pass through the prison gate as a free man.”