To Remain Myself: The History of Onghokham

$42.00 SGD

David Reeve

This is a particularly vivid biography of a remarkable individual, an Indonesian historian and public intellectual who was both a public figure and a multi-minority member, being Dutch educated, Indonesian Chinese, gay, alcoholic, irreligious and hedonist, in a conservative society. This is the first Indonesian biography where the interior life is closely recorded: the fears, doubts, confusions; the issues of sexuality, the mental breakdown, the jailing, the later success, joys and celebrity, as a historian, public intellectual and famous cook.

This biography breaks out of the Indonesian Chinese category. It is primarily an Indonesian story. In its early chapters this biography reveals much about the ‘sugar king’ Chinese aristocracy of Indonesia, from the inside. In its later chapters this book shows much about the development of Indonesians writing their own post-colonial history, and the intellectual influences on this writing.

Onghokham was a senior public intellectual with over 300 writings over 50 years, containing original insights into many varied Indonesian topics, including colonial history and its effects on modern politics and society; the Indonesian Chinese; ‘outsiders’ -- marginal people; the jago or brigand as people’s champion; sexuality in Indonesia past and present; food; the Oedipus complex; painting; traditional Javanese beliefs from the palace to the peasant.

"He was witty, a bit mad, at times hilarious, sometimes very analytical and dispassionate, and at other times vague and ‘off with the fairies'. If you read a biography this year, this is the one to read. This book tells you much about a delightful, eccentric public intellectual, and also a great deal about modern Indonesia." - Blanche D'Alpuget, author

“You will meet a delicious & complex character in these pages. Brave, cheeky, a scholar, politically fierce & a marvellous cook, Ong made life into a feast. His passionate commitment to justice led him to jail; his students loved him. Both an insider and an outsider, he is irreplaceable. Learning about his life will enrich yours.“  - Miriam Margolyes, actor

"Packed full of fascinating detail of Ong's personal and public life — and what a life it was — this study of Ong and his ideas makes a giant contribution to the intellectual history of modern Indonesia.” - Tony Day, author of Fluid Iron

“a thoroughly enjoyable book and invaluable reading for those who want to understand modern Indonesian history, through the lens of an individual who embodied remarkable contradictions, not least as a Dutch-educated Chinese from a Peranakan family with very deep roots in Java, who embraced Javanese culture and Indonesian nationalism.” - Charles Coppel, University of Melbourne


David Reeve is a retired teacher of Indonesian language and studies.

Listen to an interview with David on the book here, at the New Books Network.

Publication Year: 2022
352pp || 229 x 152 mm
45 b/w images, 2 figures, 1 table
ISBN: 978-981-325-159-5
Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) Southeast Asian Publications Series