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Dr. Herman


Dr. Hermann Neubronner Van der Tuuk (#4.1 on the Family Tree) is considered to be one of the founders of Indonesian linguistics. He was born in Malacca in 1824 and passed away in Surabaya in 1894. Between 1851-1857 Hermann lived and worked as a representative of the Dutch Bible Society among the Bataks in Sumatra. There he collected the data for the compilation of a dictionary and a grammar of the Batak language. He spent the period 1857-1868 in Holland collating his collected materials and so produced several books, including a dictionary of the Batak language (Bataksch-Nederduitsch woordenboek, 1861), four volumes of reading materials (Bataksch leesboek, 1860-1862), and his famous grammar of the Toba Batak language (Tobasche spraakkunst, 1864-1867) in two volumes. In 1868 the Bible Society sent him once more to the Dutch East Indies where he was based in BulŠlŠng in Bali. From 1870 he worked on his studies of the Balinese language. Between 1873 and 1894 Hermann worked for the Dutch East Indian government, employed by the Department of Education, Religion and Industry. During this period he concentrated on the compilation of an extensive dictionary. The result was his four-volume Kawi-Balineesch-Nederlandsch woordenboek (1894-1912) which, however, was only published after his death.

(Photo courtesy of University of Lieden - Netherlands)

Translated and summarised from: Van Radja Toek tot Goesti Dertik Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk als veldlinguïst in negentiende-eeuws Indonesië by Kees Groeneboer

Dr. Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk was born in the Dutch colony of Malacca on 23 February 1824. He was the eldest son of Frieslander, Sefridus van der Tuuk (1776-1853) and Louise (Louisa) Neubronner (1794-1845) from Malacca. Throughout his life, he retained both, his mother and father’s family names. As a result of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, the family moved to Surabaya where his three other siblings were born namely, Johanna Catharina Henriette (1827), Gerhard Jan (1830) and Louise Antoinette (1832). Sefridus, a lawyer by profession, was well known in his own right. He was President of the Orphan Chamber in Malacca from 1822 to 1825. In Surabaya, Sefridus became a member of the Court of Justice in 1826 and eventually its President in 1836 until he retired in 1848. Herman grew up amidst the influences of natives and European sailors and although he attended a European primary school, he was very much immersed in the local culture. 

Around 1836, for his middle-schooling, he was send to Holland, to his uncle G. Van der Tuuk (1772-1845), preacher to the Reformed congregation at Belikum in the province Friesland. From 1837-1840, he attended the college at Veendam. On 6 July 1840, he did his admission exam and was admitted to the University of Groningen. He initially took up residence with a friend of his father but later lived on his own. He graduated with a B.A. on 30 June 1843. Herman developed a keen interest in the study of languages, including Portuguese and English. He adored the works of Shakespeare as yet little known in the Netherlands and also occupied himself with Anglo-Saxon studies. Herman learnt the basic of Arabic from Doorenbos. In 1845, he moved to Leiden to continue his studies on Arabic, Persian, Malay and Sanskrit. It seems he was unable to gain entry into Leiden University and thus did his studies privately. Already in the Autumn of 1846, Herman had his articles on Malay grammar published by J.J. de Hollander. It is believed that Herman lived in Leiden until his departure back to the East Indies in June 1849 to work for the Dutch Bible Society.

The Dutch Bible Society’s interest in the East Indies was the spread of Christianity through the translation of the Bible into the native languages. The DBS contracted Herman to undertake this task with the Bataks in Sumatra and to formulate a Batak-Dutch dictionary. He accepted the contract for F 4,000 a year. He immediately set about gathering data on the Bataks. He was required to leave for Sumatra in May 1848. However he continued his preparation in London at the East India house, King's college and British Museum.  He eventually left for Sumatra in June 1849 on the “Princess Sophia”. Even at this early stage, he expresses reservations on the policy of converting the natives to Christianity.

He arrived at Batavia on 2 September 1849. He visits the library in Batavia and is dismayed at the condition of the books. Many were lost. A week later, he visited his family in Surabaya. There, he was pressured by his father to marry. However, Herman was not ready to do so as his future was yet uncertain. In October, he returned to Batavia and continued his research. He was unable to travel to Sumatra due to the monsoons and later, due to an illness (malaria) which drove him almost to madness and kept him in the military hospital for a long period. In August 1850, he wrote to the DBS again expressing his reservations about Christianity and requested that he be released from their service. The NBS refused his request and after an extended period of convalescence, he eventually left for Tapanoeli via Padang on 14 January 1851.

He initially stayed with the Resident of Tapanoeli at Sibolga. He however considered this place unsuitable for the study of the Bataks because of the overwhelming Malay influences. He then moved North to Barus where the Bataks and their language were predominant.  He planned to travel further inland but had to constantly postpone his trip due to recurring malaria. In April 1852, he travelled to Mandheling and made extensive excersions to Padang Sidempoean, Sipirok and Panjaboengan. He collected much material on the culture, writings, songs and anecdotes of the natives.

In February 1853 he undertook an excursion to Silindung Valley where no European had dared venture. This trip almost cost him his life as the natives viewed Europeans as ‘wolves in sheep clothing’ - such was the hatred towards the colonials. He retreated back to Barus in April where he corresponded his research regularly to the NBS. Translations prove difficult due to the incompatibility of both languages. Herman also informs them of the growing influence of Islam amoung the Bataks. He blamed this on the Government’s policy of placing Islamic teachers in Sumatra to handle the Malays while neglecting the Bataks and their language. The policy of prohibiting the raising of pigs for hygienic reasons also played into the hands of Islam. He believed that education could reduce the influence of Islam and pave the way for bible study. He expressed in addition his irritation concerning the cupidity of the Chinese traders and the heavy handedness of the Government. He always had the welfare of the Bataks at heart. He however maintained allegiance to the NBS while privately bemoaning the translation of the bible. From mid 1853, he pleaded that he collect material for a Batak-Dutch dictionary and to postpone the translation of the bible until his return to Holland. He argues that a dictionary is necessary before the bible can be translated. Even with the formulation of the dictionary, he had many problems with grammar and the incompatibility of language. Added to this was the scarcity of Batak writers and clerks, the climate, mosquitoes, financial problems, the lack of intellectual stimulation and the loneliness of bachelorhood. He writes of the strange custom of the Bataks in having many ‘wives’. They are puzzled as to why he himself has not taken any women. He lies that he already has a wife and that his custom frowns on infidelity. He gradually won the respect of the Bataks who referred to him as Raja Tuuk – one who integrated with them all day and worked on his notes in the evenings. The next morning, he would discuss them and make improvements. He gains their confidence and learns of all kinds of exploitation and oppression unknown to the Europeans.

Herman promotes the importance of the Bataks. The Government comes to rely on him to translate notices and messages to the Bataks. He argues that the translation of the bible would serve little purpose unless schools were set up to teach and that the Batak language was made an official one. Only then can the influence of Islam be reduced. An added problem was that the administrators and soldiers knew nothing of the language and were content with communicating in pidgin-Malay. Unless the language was kept alive, he feared that in time it would be lost or transformed resulting in the redundancy of the Batak bible. A prediction which was indeed to come true. He engaged the help of learned Bataks to collect and copy numerous literature and tales.

In September 1854, he had a violent attack of dysentery and was transported by boat to the military hospital in Sibolga. His recovery was slow and further compounded by constant liver problems. He also suffered from depression. Despite his constant reservations on translating the bible, he continues to do so and regularly sends portions to DBS together with portions of his dictionary. In 1856, he also sent his criticism on Malay translation by Leijdeker which was to lead to a complete revision of the Malay bible.

In April 1856, the DBS offered Herman some leave to return to Holland to review his work. He decided to accept the offer only in December 1856 and eventually left Barus in April 1857 having prepared duplicates of his work. He made the journey from Barus to Padang on foot then by boat to Batavia and hence to Amsterdam via the Suez Canal. He arrived on 1 October 1857. In Amsterdam, Herman produced several books, including a dictionary of the Batak language, four volumes of reading materials, and his famous grammar of the Toba Batak language in two volumes. For his work, Herman was awarded a doctorate on 17 June 1861.

On the issue of language, Herman was to come into conflict with several Dutch “experts”. In particular, Roorda who was a consultant for the DBS for more than thirty years. He attacks Roorda’s work as coming from one who has not even been to the East Indies but has the gall to write as an expert. He also attacks Koorders and G.J. Grashuis, students of Roorda. In this argument, Herman clearly outclasses Roorda. He also despised Roorda for slandering him (behind his back) during the years he spent with the Bataks and was unable to defend himself. He also expresses deep disappointment at the DBS decision not to use some of his works as an education tool about the Bataks. The DBS decided that they contained some ‘pagan’ references. Herman could not accept this and decided to break his present contract with DBS. They in turn, decided that Herman’s work on the Bataks was adequate enough for their purpose and turned their attention to the Balinese. The DBS was obsessed with converting to Christianity, all their possessions in the East Indies. On 12 March 1862, DBS made the decision to send Herman to Bali as soon as he had tidied up his Batak works. Herman opposed this decision feeling that he had much more to contribute on the Bataks. He deliberately delayed his departure to continue his work which he eventually concluded at the end of 1867. The frustrated but tolerant DBS would merely report at their annual meetings that Dr. Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk was still busy with his Batak works but hoped that it would be completed the following year. In this time, Herman produces his most famous grammar of the Toba Batak language in two volumes (1864-1867). He also published all kinds of work on the Malays.

In preparation of his new assignment, Herman studied the Balinese, ancient Javanese and Sanskrit. Herman also researches into numerous other Asian language comparisons including the Nias, Ache, the Redjang, Mentawai and Minangkabau Malays on Sumatra, Philippino languages such as the Tagalog and Visaya, Hindustani and  other languages of Formosan Chinese, Vietnamese and  Siamese.   Through his colleagues Hardeland and Matthes  he acquired Dajak, Boeginees and Makassaars. With Engelmann be absorbed Soendanees. Armed with such knowledge, he was able to make in-depth criticisms on the inaccurate works of many “experts”. Herman also does much travelling. In 1863, to Paris, in 1864 to Marseille, in 1865, to London and Germany.

Hermans conflict with the DBS continues and is again concentrated on the study of languages and culture against the designs of religion. He seriously considers leaving the employment of the DBS. However, at the end of 1867, due to financial needs, he eventually agrees to go to Bali. Even then, his departure is not immediate as he accepts a request from the Indies Governor General, A.J.W. Sloet van de Beele for a study on the Malays of Batavia. He completes the study in April 1868. He then travels to Rome, Florence and eventually to Marseille where he catches the boat to Batavia where he eventually arrives on 23 July 1868. On arrival, he receives news that he could not go to Bali immediately due to an insurrection in the district Boellng.  He therefore travels to Bui-tenzorg, Bandoeng and Garoet.  At Bandoeng, he visits his old friend Engelman who is suffering from tuberculosis. In Garoet, he calls on the Government Advisor K.F. Hollow. Back in Batavia, he accepts a contract from the Indies Government for a five-month study of the Lampungs of South Sumatra. On 25 August 1868 he travelled to Telok Betung, where he stayed with the  Resident, D. W. Schiff. By the end of November, he travelled 100 km inland on foot and stayed at Lhan (Tarabanggi) along the Seputih River. His accommodation, which he shares with two clerks, comprises an open hut without doors. They have an old oil lamp and smoke pipes filled with banana leaves and melted resin to keep away the insects. Here, he receives news of the death of his friend Engelmann (died 1 December 1868). This news affects him badly. Hermans contract is extended for another six months as he is still unable to travel to Bali. In addition to the insurrection, a cholera epidemic has broken out. In April 1869, he moves westward from Tarabanggi to Muaradua and eventually back to Telok Betung in June 1869. He completes the Lampung dictionary comprising some six hundred pages. He also produces numerous studies on the Lampungs which are published in Batavia. Here, Herman reaches a crossroad again. To continue to work for the Indies Government for a better salary, or to await his move to Bali for the DBS, which gave him more freedom. In Telok Betung, Herman is ill from June to August with constant fever and dysentery. Exhausted, he returns to Batavia. Between September and December, he made a thorough study of Sundanese, with also more publications on the Lampungs.

On 1 December, he finally makes his decision to work for the DBS. He arrives at Singaraja at the beginning of April 1870 and soon moved a little further inland to Kampong Beratan to escape the European influence and to taste the true Balinese life. He brought with him a servant boy from Batavia, a cook and her husband from Surabaya. He is astounded at the promiscuity and nakedness of the natives but is also annoyed by the oppressive treatment handed out by the Europeans. However he is happier on Bali and finds the people more civilized, gentle and with higher literary skills.

Herman worked tirelessly on the Balinese-Dutch dictionary. He found the language to be an extension of Kawi (old Javanese) and therefore also decided to formulate a Kawi-Dutch dictionary. (Herman always maintained that a dictionary was first necessary before translation could be made for the bible).  He felt that the Balinese were not as yet ready to embrace Christianity and again due to language incompatibility, only a bad bible translation could be expected. He also felt that the magnitude of the work was far in excess of what the DBS was paying him. He decided that he would have no further association with the DBS and would for the Indies Government. This would relieve him of religious burdens and thus be able to concentrate solely on language. Thus, on 20 April 1873, Herman was appointed by the Government as a contractor for the study of Indian (Indies) languages. He was paid f 800 per month with a pension of f 3,000 after ten years of service. A considerable jump in salary. His work with the Indies Government however, kept him busy form 1873 to 1875 with the training of government administrators. From 1877 to 1884, he was extensively involved in producing the Malay and Kawi-Javanese dictionaries.

By this time, Herman had become increasingly Balinese in nature. He lived in a bamboo house with his housekeeper Astre and clerks and adopted many of their customs. He dressed in only a sarong and carried a walking stick. His house was pilled high with manuscripts and books. He however retained some of his European character through European cuisine and the best wine stock in the island. He lived out his remaining days in the tranquillity of Bali until he fell ill in 1894. He was transported to the military hospital at Surabaya where he died on 17 Aug 1894 of dysentery.

The Kawi-Balanese dictionary, comprising 3,600 pages, the crowning glory of his work, was published posthumously between 1897 to 1912.

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