My Dad was a devoted Catholic, so when he died in July this year, it went without saying that he was going to have a Catholic funeral. However, it had been a long time since either my sister or I had been Catholic, which possibly explains the preparation bumps encountered along the way.

It started with Oom Frank emailing us from his home in Toronto to inform us that Dad’s chosen baptismal name was Damien, who’d been his favourite saint. We rummaged through Dad’s papers but couldn’t find any evidence. He hadn’t included ‘Damien’ in his Will, or his Last Wishes, or any other correspondence.

Meanwhile, Oom Frank became more insistent: “‘He himself chose to be named after St. Damien Veuster of Moloka’i. I remember vividly when I asked him back then why he chose this Saint for his baptism, since St. Damien was not as well known. He told me the story, and how he chose him because he admired the heroism and sacrifice of St. Damien. Would you consider adding this name if there is still time? Andy Hermana Damien Kasmara. The decision is, of course, yours.’”

He then sent a lengthy history of the saint to illustrate his significance. We kept to Andy Hermana Kasmara. Oom Frank hadn’t seen Dad since a family wedding in Bali nine years ago, and people change their minds about things, even one as wedded to routine as Dad. Besides, none of his eight siblings had ever called him Damien, usually opting for his Chinese name, Gie. He introduced himself to everyone else as Andy, while in recent years, he was most commonly called Opa because of his closeness to all his grandkids. I replied to Oom Frank to let him know that we’d stick to what we knew, adding that maybe Dad decided against using the name ‘Damien’ after seeing The Omen and its sequels, because those movies really made a strong impression on him. Oom Frank graciously said that this might be the case indeed, instead of telling me that it was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard.


The priest who led the service, Father Sebastian, had never met my dad. He was only there because the priest we were going to ask, one who had known Dad for many decades, had gone back to Ireland. Father Sebastian said a few things about Dad in his homily, in that vague way that travelling speakers who’ve forgotten which city they’re in try to flatter a crowd. He spoke with more authority on an entity named the Angel of Death, and also about that time he went to LynnMall and chanced upon a chaotic crowd in the car park. He thought a shooting had occurred. Instead, a man with his shopping bags had collapsed on the ground and died. He also mentioned a few other, equally random, people who had died, presumably to bolster his central argument, which was that everyone dies.

There was a mix up with the Prayers of the Faithful. The sheets given out to a few of our family friends and relatives to read out appeared to be leftovers from another funeral because instead of ‘Andy’, the mourners were asked instead to “Let us pray for Cory, she died with Christ.” Listening to them refer to him as a lady named Cory filled me with relief. I was anxious about my eulogy but knew now that any mishap I could potentially induce would be about as memorable as anything the Holy Ghost said or did in the Bible. I needn’t have worried. When it was my turn to speak, my words were eclipsed by an eardrum-bursting hailstorm.

The eulogy had been difficult to write, simply because I was sad, and it reminded me of the last time we’d had to go about similar preparations. When Mum passed away a decade ago, it was the first time my dad, my sister, and I had had to organise a funeral. However, the many micro-decisions we’d made for her funeral arrangements were buffered with the reassurance that Dad made the captain’s call. Now with both of them gone the balance was more delicate, the weight of each decision tipping the already laden scales.

His passing wasn’t unexpected. Dad had been declining for years from Parkinson’s Disease, while a traumatic brain injury he’d suffered from a fall a year ago had kept us watchful. The medical team hadn’t expected him to survive that one, so each extra day was an astonishment, but still. Every time he stumbled, or sent a confused text, or when his dreams blurred into his waking hours, I’d imagine the next steps and wind up feeling panicked. In the end none of it was as dramatic as my reptilian brain made it out to be. It all just came down to a bunch of things we had to steadily work through, from packing up his belongings to preparing the funeral notice to letting others help. Our uncles and aunties sent money to assist with costs, while friends and family turned up with flowers, kue and groceries.


Although we didn’t go along with Oom Frank’s request, the insight was welcome, and I could also see that passing on the story gave him some solace. For me it just added another layer to the kue lapis that was my parent’s relationship with the Catholic Church. The Church both saved them and created a problematic lifelong bond, one that Mum embraced wholly, which I understood — if it wasn’t for the Church, she would have never received an education — but I knew Dad was uneasy with many aspects of it. He didn’t say much about the three years he spent at boarding school, run by Dutch religious brothers in Bogor, but one of his siblings once told me that it was a source of deep hurt and unhappiness for him, even as he recounted their nasty punishments almost as a matter of pride. I never let on that I’d found out how he really felt about the school, sensing, perhaps, a need to reinvent his time there for us as a boy’s own tale of bravado. When Sinead O’Connor tore up the photo of the Pope, I detected an almost imperceptible nod. Pretty much.

For a long time, all we really knew about their move here was that the Catholic Church sponsored their passage. They had actually come to Aotearoa New Zealand under the new refugee policy, after the events of 1965-6 had left Indonesia in turmoil. An estimated up to 1.2 million people were murdered during the US-backed genocide, mostly members of the Communist Party but also everyone from Gerwani women to trade unionists, ethnic Chinese to leftists. I may have read about it first in a history book. Everyone has their coping mechanisms for surviving trauma, and my parents’ way of processing theirs was to say little about this period or other tragedies, such as when Mum’s dad was left for dead in a machete attack, or when Dad’s uncle was taken at the age of 25 by the Japanese during the occupation, never to return. They were happy to tell us endless ghost stories however, leaving me with a permanent fear of ghosts. Dad even claimed he and his friends met the kuntilanak one night, a ghost so famous that she has her own Wikipedia page.

There’s much cultural overlap throughout South-East Asia when it comes to ghostlore, and variations of the kuntilanak are also found in Malaysia and the Philippines. Within Indonesia itself, the spirit world is seen as separated from the physical through the thinnest of membranes (also familiar to te ao Māori and many other cultures), even as the diversity of its hundreds of ethnic groups means there are just as many permutations as to what this means in practice. For someone like my mum’s dad, my Opa, it manifested in a personal ritual he conducted with his keris every Friday, a tradition based on indigenous Javanese practices with Hindu-Buddhist influences. The otherworldly spilled onto the national level in ways such as when a major newspaper ran an extensive piece complaining that politicians who could afford the most highly ranked dukuns (loosely translated as ‘shaman’) had the distinct edge in upcoming elections. 


Being ethnically Chinese during that time made my parents instant potential targets, as well as their association with leftist student politics. It was worse for Oom Frank because he was also roommates with an artist who was part of Lekra, a cultural and social movement associated with the Indonesian Communist Party. Mum and Dad did take us to see The Year of Living Dangerously when we were kids. It’s very much a 1980’s Hollywood relic — out of Indonesia’s then 148 million inhabitants, they couldn’t find one to be more than a bit player to Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, while Linda Hunt appears in yellowface, a role for which she won an Oscar. Dad didn’t say anything about that, but he did say, “The reality was worse. They didn’t show the rivers running red with blood.”

The perpetrators of the 1965-6 genocide were never charged and some even were celebrated as national heroes. Possibly the attention my parents gave to the spiritual realm was from feeling let down by its material mirror.

I knew it would’ve been too much to ask for any indication that Dad might want to be farewelled with the name he was given at birth: Tiong Gie Kang. Dad used to deny his Chinese heritage. Hardline assimilation policies will do that to you. Suharto’s many anti-Chinese legislations in the 1960’s (most were revoked during Abdurrahman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid’s presidency in the early 2000s) included the Cabinet Presidium Decision 127 of 1966, which pressured citizens with a Chinese name to change to an Indonesian-sounding one. Names serve as an anchor point of our identity, and when altered or changed altogether, tell us much about the conventions or disruptions of the world around us, or else calibrate what’s happening on the inside with the outer.

From that whisper of Dad’s Hokkien name prefixed in ‘Kasmara’ to his anglicised ‘Andy’, his names were a signifier of the personal, cultural and historical connections and seismic shifts he’d gone through during his lifetime. Dad went from Tiong Gie Kang to Andy Hermana Kasmara, and Mum went through something similar, from Sien Nio Gouw to Liddy Hiltrudis Danusaputra. According to the rest of his family, Dad was the one who suggested using ‘Kasmara’, a shortened version of ‘Kasmaranjaya’, which loosely translates as ‘falling madly in love’. They reckoned he’d taken it from a football player’s name, spotted in a newspaper. Dad disagreed and said the others had forgotten it was a priest who suggested it, adding that they were all fishing together with said priest on a boat at the time, as if this detail was irrefutable proof that his was the correct version.


After the funeral we found a scrap of paper attached to our parents’ wedding album with evidence of his chosen baptism name: Damianus Sebastianus, above his Chinese name. A nudge that we all contain multitudes within us, and how we can never know all the different aspects which make up one person, even those closest to us. A few other things were unearthed about him that I hadn’t known about (though sadly not the memoir he’d apparently written). Anecdotes from friends, former workmates and other family members came through that painted a more vivid picture of him than I ever could, especially as for the last few years I’d managed to narrow down all descriptive words of Dad to just one: stubborn.

Soon after he recovered from brain surgery, ill-pleased to be still alive (‘next time, don’t bother reviving me’), it felt like he was doing everything he could think of to return to the dead. Always independent in the most curmudgeonly of ways, he’d abandon his walking frame to potter around the hospital ward, ignoring my reminders that I was there to help. He scared me even when he did deign to use it, speeding along the corridors far too fast, the staff calling out as he whipped past, “Slow down, Andy!” I’d get exasperated and scold him. He always ignored me. Stubborn.

Caring. Selfless. Cultured. Brilliant at chess. Keen volunteer with St Vincent de Paul. Recollections from others continued, and I was finally able to scrub off the memories of someone I was always grumbling at about how reckless he was being with his walking frame, replacing them with a fuller version.

More often than not it’s friends, not family, who know you best, and so the last word on Dad’s name should defer to one of his oldest friends, Jos, who he’d known since they were both students in Bandung in the 1960’s. In a touching eulogy to him, read out by Jos’s son Felix, he brought up why he’d always called Dad ‘Boss’ and vice versa. After graduation, Jos helped Dad get a job as a clerk at a company he worked for, so Dad took to calling him ‘Boss’. Eventually Dad rose in the ranks and Jos started calling him ‘Boss’ back. They moved on from the company, and from the country, but the affectionate moniker stuck, more than any of Dad’s other names, right up to the end. Here’s to you, Boss.

Angelique Kasmara was commissioned by Joanna Cho, guest editor at ReadingRoom this week. She has commissioned work from other Asian New Zealand writers. Tomorrow: Szening Ooi on growing up in a “harmless cult”.

Angelique Kasmara's novel Isobar Precinct, winner of the 2016 Sir James Wallace Prize for Creative Writing, will be published next year by The Cuba Press. Her work appears in newly launched anthology Ko...

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