The only Indonesian Burghers in Sri Lanka

By M.D (Tony) Saldin

They are truly the “Last of the Mohicans”.
The two Lumanaws are the only “Indonesian Burghers” in Sri Lanka.

Willem Ferdinand Lumanauw hailed from Tondano, a town in Northern Celebes, now known as the island of Sulaweisi, when present-day Indonesia was known to the outside world as the Dutch East Indies. The closest city to Tondano, is Manado.

Regionally headquartered in Batavia, present-day Jakarta, the Dutch East India Company or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) invaded the numerous Indonesian islands one by one to exploit the spice trade, especially pepper and cinnamon which was exported to Europe at enormous profits. At its peak the VOC was the richest private company in the world with over 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, and 50,000 employees and with an army of over 10,000 soldiers. Indonesia continued to be under the iron heel of the Dutch for over 350 years until independence on August 17, 1945.

Back in 1957: Indonesian President Sukarno shaking hands with Veronica at the Indonesian Ambassador’s residence in Colombo. Willem Lumanauw is seen extreme left at the back

Born on October 7, 1919, after World War 1, young Willem Lumanauw who was educated in Dutch joined the Royal Dutch merchant marine as a purser on a ship called the “Plancius. His father, one Johannes was a landed proprietor and owner of rice fields in Tondano. Willem had three brothers and a sister. Of the brothers Freddie was in the Indonesian Navy, Jan, an officer in the Army and Johannes, a rebel either on the side of the Japanese or allied forces in World War II.

Willem was on the “Plancius” during the siege of Singapore in 1941. His ship carrying war refugees to Colombo narrowly escaped Japanese torpedoes whilst sailing out of the Singapore harbour.

After the end of World War 2 he left the Royal Dutch merchant marine KPM and settled in Colombo where he was in the employ of the Consul for Holland in Ceylon, a Dutch Burgher by the name of De Wildt. In time De Wildt would team up with Bogstra to form the well known company “Bogstra & De Wildt” in the Fort who were the agents for Seiko watches in Sri Lanka. He also dabbled in the ship chandling business which was subsequently passed on to Halim Ishaak. Before Indonesia gained independence from Holland in 1945, Dutch was the lingua-franca for all communications and Willem was able to read, write and speak Dutch fluently.

Willem was introduced to Sybil Iris Walles, the beautiful daughter of Stanley and Veronica Walles, at a house party organized by a fellow ship chandler De Kauwe, held in the residence of one Van Gramberg. After a whirlwind romance, they were married on June 12, 1945. She was 17 and he 26. From the union, two children were born, a son Stanley and daughter Veronica.

Willem joined the Indonesian Legation in 1955 prior to it becoming a fully fledged Embassy. The Legation was located in Melbourne Avenue, Colombo 4 when Mr. De Fretes was Charge d’Affaires. In January 1957, President Soekarno made a state visit to Ceylon when H.E. Djoemena was the Indonesian Ambassador. During his tenure at the embassy, Willem functioned as the Colombo Plan Officer and attended the Non-Aligned Conference in Algiers in 1965 accompanied by his wife. The Indonesian Ambassador in Algeria at the time of the Conference was Asa Bafagieh, who was the former Indonesian Ambassador in Colombo.

Apart from his work at the Embassy, Willem took part in various activities in Colombo. He was an expert Ballroom and Latin American dancer and won the 1955 and 1956 Ceylon Champions of Ballroom dancing titles with his Dutch partner whose husband was attached to the Dutch Legation. A Fashion Designer, he organised the “Symphony in Batik” fashion show on March 4, 1966, at Hotel Taprobane where the Governor General and Madame Gopallawa graced the occasion as the Chief Guests.
Besides being a designer, he also created bridal dresses and crafted wedding cake structures for several close friends. A man of many talents, he was an excellent chef, entertainer, musician and tennis player.

Willem left the embassy in August 1966 and in1969 returned to Indonesia where he died in a motor accident in Jakarta in 1979. He was buried in the family burial grounds of the Lumanauw’s in Tondano, North Sulaweisi.

His wife Sybil Iris Lumanauw, passed away peacefully on June 11, 2011 at the age of 83 years at her ancestral home in Kirulapone, and was laid to rest at the Walles family burial plot RC section of the General Cemetery Borella on June 12, 2011, the day of her 66th wedding anniversary.

Their son Stanley now 65 years was earlier employed in a travel company prior to becoming a Gym instructor at St. Thomas and St. Peter’s College; daughter Veronica 62, was a former staff member of the IWMI, Battaramulla. Their only wish now is to visit Tondano to pay their respects at the grave of their father and to make contact with their relatives in Sulaweisi.

A Google search on the internet by the writer showed that there are many Lumanauws in Sulaweisi.

(The writer is President of the Sri Lanka Indonesia Friendship Association and Vice President, Social/Cultural of the Mabole Malay Association).

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