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Hair Cutting Holland

By Fridus Steijlen

There are things in daily life that seem to always continue without notice. For me, one of them is going to the hairdresser, more or less every six weeks. I only changed a hairdresser when he retired or when I moved. Visits abroad could always fit in between visits to my hairdresser and I would occasionally accept slightly wild and a bit longer hair coming home when the field trip exceeded my regular hair-cut-period. But this time is different. I landed in Ambon, the Moluccas, Indonesia, at the end of February to become visiting professor at Universitas Pattimura (Unpatti); as result of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the cooperation between VU and Unpatti. When I came to Ambon last May (2022) to revive the MoU after covid, the rector, knowing I was going to retire soon, invited me to become visiting professor at Unpatti. So here I am, working at Unpatti for a longer period.

When the time for a haircut came, I asked around at Unpatti. Where should I go? In most of the barbershops I had seen, men were cut short and shaved in the neck, in, what I would call, a military style. I was looking for a barber that will be able to handle older people, I told my colleagues. It was just a shot in the dark. Then one of my colleagues told me that close to her house, in the area called Benteng (fortress), there was a barbershop named ‘Gunting Rambut Holland’, or ‘Hardresser Holland’ or very literally translated ‘Hair cutting Holland’.

The name fits in the relationship between the Netherlands and the Moluccas. It was Nutmeg and Clove, the spices that only grew on the Moluccas, that brought more or less the whole world to this archipelago in the Eastern part of present-day Indonesia. Among them Europeans, who harassed the region by fighting their battles here to gain a monopoly in the spice trade. The Dutch ‘won’, among others, by massacring the population of the Banda islands and reorganizing the islands in plantations with enslaved labour, the first act of enslavement by the Dutch. The spices were a goldmine but after the world market for spices collapsed, the Moluccans were forgotten. Until they were ‘discovered’ as ethnic soldiers, fitting in a system of colonial divide and rule, bringing a part of the Moluccans at the side of the colonial power during the Indonesian revolution after WWII. Political implications after the transfer of sovereignty in their home islands brought 3.500 Moluccan colonial soldiers with their families in 1951 to the Netherlands. From then on, the relation between the Moluccas and the Netherlands developed among others through family and social relations between Moluccans in the Netherlands and in the Moluccas. Moluccans in the Moluccas became fanatic supporters of the Dutch soccer teams, extra stimulated by the appearance of some Dutch Moluccan role models in soccer such as, Simon Tahamata and Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Whenever the Dutch National soccer team wins Ambon, the capital of the Moluccas turns Orange and fans occupy the streets. They will stay up all night to see important games.

On a Saturday I decided to look for the ‘Gunting Rambut Holland’ to have a haircut. I went to Benteng and called my colleague, who did not answer the phone. What to do? Come back later or ask around? I chose the latter and asked some motor taxis (ojek) at the road side. Gunting Rambut Holland?: just take the next road to the left until the large building, then go to the right. Following the instructions, I passed several graveyards and went up a mountain. I must have missed him, I thought, before asking again. And, indeed, I had to go down and look at the left side.

There it was, a small wooden orange kiosk at the corner of a sideroad, with open window. Under the roof was written ‘Gunting Rambut Holland’ on the door ‘Netherlands’ and spread over the whole kiosk the Dutch lion was alternated with the red, white and blue of the Dutch flag. When I stepped down from my motorcycle the hairdresser was shocked to see a ‘Bule’ (white person) coming to his kiosk. I signalled through the open window if he could cut my hair. Is looked as if he hesitated, but then knocked his head. He had to finish his customer first shaving his neck in military style. That is not what I want, I thought. So when the costumer left, I pointed at the shaved neck and said, ‘not that short’ and I showed a picture of mine from the internet on my phone. ‘oh tidak terlalu tipis’ he said, first I thought he meant ‘not too typical’ but just meant ‘not too short’.

I sat in the chair looking at the mirror with stickers referring to Dutch things. A sticker after the Heineken Beer label but with Sageru (local alcoholic drink) instead of Heineken, a sticker of the (in the Netherlands banned) motor gang SatuDarah and in the left upper corner a sticker of Ajax and the Jewish star referring to Ajax, the Amsterdam soccer team. I am not interested in soccer at all, but as a citizen of Amsterdam, that felt good. He painted his kiosk himself and had made a mall for the Dutch lions. The sidewall left was an open window and at the right was a large photo of the Dutch 2014 soccer team pinned to the wall. Proudly Pak (mister) Odik Sahanaja, the barber, told me he had a picture with Ruud Gullit at home, from when he visited Ambon in 2015. At home he had more orange paraphernalia; like a hat, orange hair and many other things. ‘We love Dutch soccer teams, and there is also Giovanni (Van Bronckhorst) who is Moluccan and now coaches in England’, he said with much pride. ‘If the Dutch team plays, we all watch and support Orange’ and he will decorate his kiosk with a garland of small orange flags.

He started to cut my hair. The first thing he did was pick up the clippers. ’Shit’, I thought ‘he did not understand and is going to give me a military outlook’. But he put on the largest setup piece making sure it would not be too ‘tipis’. Soon, I saw pieces of white hair (thanks to my age) swirling down; it reminded me of wool flakes dropping when a sheep being shaved. Soon the clippers battery went down and Odik plugged into the adapter. It did not work as he hoped so he left the clippers charging and took a pair of scissors and a comb. Not the fancy specialist pair of scissors, but those you buy at the department store.

I tried to catch up with what he was doing with my hair and tried to follow him in the mirror. Which was impossible. The mirror fitted the regular customers and hung on the wall allowing Indonesians to watch the hairdresser cutting their hair- but, not a tall ‘Bule’. For me the mirror was too low. And besides that, the upper part of the mirror where I could have caught a glimpse of what Odik was doing was occupied with a small orange shawl ‘Holland – Holland’. I could not control this hair-cutting process, I realized I had to let it go and accept the outcome.

It was good, it was not too ‘tipis’ at the neck, maybe a bit too long at the top. But that would mean I would come back to Odik sooner compared to the intervals with my Dutch hairdresser. ‘How much do I owe you?’ I asked Odik. ‘25.000 RP’, he said (1.75 Euro). He even did not hesitate to think if he would ask a Bule more than an Indonesian customer, because 25K is what his regular price is, my colleague told me. When I left Odik, he asked me to bring him a Dutch flag for his kiosk. ‘I will’, I promised, ‘but before I go back to the Netherlands, I will be visiting you again and will not have the flag yet’.

I am writing this three weeks later, half way my hair dresser interval in the Netherlands. I am going to Odik again making some pictures, talk with him and dwell in orange and other nationalistic Dutch colours and symbols. It might connect me with my friends, colleagues and family who have been surrounded by the same symbols on 27 April (Kingsday), and 4 and 5 May (commemorating the death and celebrating freedom). Pak Odik’s 3 square meter kind of resembles what the Netherlands looks like on these days.

Fridus Steijlen is emeritus professor Moluccan migration and culture in comparative perspective at the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the VU, honorary fellow at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and visiting professor at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences of Pattimura University in Ambon.

One Comment

  1. Freek Colombijn Freek Colombijn

    Thank you, Fridus, for this wonderful story with a nice touch of self-mockery. You stimulate me to write about hairdressers too (more than about football players) or the bodily experience of doing fieldwork.

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