Remco Vermeulen
Advisor - Indonesia
r.vermeulen [at] dutchculture.nl

Mapping Indonesia: Heritage

Mapping Indonesia: Heritage

An introduction to the past that connect Indonesia and the Netherlands.

The historical ties between Indonesia and the Netherlands go back more than four centuries. This long relationship has influenced the current societies of the two countries. For a very long time the relationship between the two nations was an unequal one. The Dutch colonial activities started at the beginning of the seventeenth century with the presence of the VOC (East Indian Trading Company). Over the centuries, the Dutch ruled and exploited Indonesia for its valuable spices and materials.

On the 17th of August 1945, After Indonesia declared his independence, relations between the countries cooled down. During the last decade, heritage relations between Indonesia and the Netherlands has intensified. This also happened on governmental level.

A Shared History of Indonesia and the Netherlands

Dutch East India Company
For centuries, Indonesia had contacts and traded with areas outside the archipelago. The first contacts with Europeans were with the Portuguese, who were searching for trade routes in 1512. Indonesia’s first contacts with the Dutch date back to the end of the 16th century.

Like many other countries, the Netherlands was interested in obtaining spices. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was founded and became a monopolist in the spice trade. The VOC had its headquarters in Batavia, which is now known as Jakarta. To administer and organise their trade, the VOC built forts as a ‘safety measure’. Archives were kept and plantation systems were introduced, which means that there is a great deal of tangible Shared Cultural Heritage from this period.

Dutch East Indies
After the VOC went bankrupt, the Dutch Republic acquired its assets, at which point Indonesia became a colony of the Netherlands and was called the Dutch East Indies. The colonial period dated from 1800 to 1945, during which developments in urban planning, public facilities and administration skyrocketed. This dhared hertitage can still be seen today in Indonesian cities and landscapes.

As a result of oppression and exploitation, the people of Indonesia revolted at the beginning of the 20th century. Multatuli’s novel Max Havelaar accurately illustrates this portion of the history of the Dutch East Indies. The outbreak of WWII and occupation of Indonesia by Japan provided further impetus for independence. After Japan surrendered, Indonesia declared its independence in Jakarta. The Netherlands were not willing to accede to this development, but after a period of military violence, the Netherlands recognised Indonesia’s independence in 1949.

An important migration stream from Indonesia were contract labourers recruited after the abolition of the slave trade in 1863. The number of labourers on Surinamese plantations dropped, as a result of which the Dutch contracted Javanese labourers to sail to Suriname to work on the plantations. This took mostly place between 1890 and 1939. At the end of the contract period, some of the contract labourers returned to Indonesia, whilst others stayed.

Between 1831 and 1872, the Dutch also recruited Ghanaian men for the Dutch colonial army. Due to lack of armed forces in Indonesia, 3,000 men sailed to Java and served there. After their contracts expired, several men sailed back to Elmina, Ghana, whilst others stayed in Indonesia. After Indonesia declared its independence, 300,000 persons, including Indo-Africans, left the country to live in the Netherlands. The latest migration flow to the Netherlands was in was in 1962, from Netherlands New Guinea, nowadays Papua.