The njais, the forgotten women of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army
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The “Barracks-njais” were concubines living with soldiers in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL). Despite some research on the concubines in the Netherlands Indies, there has not yet been an analysis of the gender and race dynamics in the barracks specifically. The fate of these forgotten women and their children was seen as secondary to that of the male colonizer. In order to acknowledge that using women was an integral part of colonial hierarchies, it is crucial to tell the story of how concubinage was essential to this royal army. This thesis argues that the KNIL barracks-concubinage between 1878 and 1933 was an institutionalized system flourishing on the idea that the native and the female status of a njai made her less than the male colonizer. This work is based on the male perspective found in articles published in the magazine of the army Indisch Militair Tijdschrift (IMT). The intersecting race and gender identities are analyzed by applying A.L. Stoler’s colonized/colonizer dynamic. This thesis starts with a critical reflection on why racial attitudes were more formative for hierarchies than class and reflects on what role the male perspective can play in analyzing gender dynamics. The second chapter shows how pro-concubinage arguments were filled with racist and sexist attitudes. The njai, a combination of a wife and a prostitute, was perfect to use for the benefits of the male colonizer. The third chapter analyzes how interference of authorities in the private life grew. The believe grew that christian marriage was the way to hold onto morals, whereas interracial relations made it harder to define what was European. Moreover, concubinage was linked to the creation of a pauper proletariat. Offspring of interracial relations was seen to disrupt white supremacy. The growing belief in racial boundaries between “us” and “them” became apparent in gender-specific conventions. The last chapter analyzes how the army tried to gradually root out the barracks-njais, when concubinage was no longer believed to be a sustainable system. The restrictions on marriage had to be lifted and there was a need for more private physical spaces in the barracks, to make a life with a real family a possibility for soldiers. How slow barracks-concubinage disappeared, shows how deeply rooted this system was. Analyzing the pro and contra njai arguments, show the intersecting racial and sexist dynamics between “the colonizer” and “the colonized”. The analysis of the barracks-njais is in line with Stoler’s notion that racial boundaries, in itself a flexible construct, intersect with gender dynamics.