With the Congo Commission, Belgium took a different path from the Netherlands, which had its colonial past in Indonesia investigated by three institutes. What does this mean for dealing with a fraught history?
Our Colonial Legacy
What is today's relationship between the Low Countries and their colonial past? The articles in this series have been written by personalities from the Netherlands, Indonesia, Suriname, Belgium and Congo.
For a long time, the study of the history of Dutch slavery has been dominated by the perspective of the coloniser. More and more researchers are now trying to give enslaved people a voice.
Irish historian Paul Doolan claims that for many decades, Dutch historians have inadequately investigated the decolonization of Indonesia.
A lifetime after the end of the colonial era, Dutch Indies literature still plays off colonial myths and realities against each other, and finds words for painful, half-forgotten things.
A large-scale investigation shows that Dutch soldiers used extreme violence during the Indonesian War of Independence and that high-ranking officials condoned it.
From Marcel Broodthaers to Otobong Nkanga, more and more Belgian artists want to cast a critical perspective upon the colonial past in order to influence ongoing debates.
In this interview, the Surinamese writer talks about her texts, her language, and her homeland.
Which objects are we talking about exactly? Who claims them? And what should be done with them in the country of origin?
In the late eighteenth century, various ships departed from hotspot Ostend to the coasts of Africa to exchange goods for people.
An estimated 600,000 enslaved Africans were traded by the Dutch from West Africa to the Atlantic. Almost half of them were shipped by the West India Company.
Dutch artist Magda Augusteijn created an innovative web documentary about the history of the former mining town Moengo in Suriname.
The prize is the most prestigious literary award in the Dutch language area and includes a sum of 40,000 euros.
We need to decolonise our language, states scriptwriter and opinion former Raf Njotea. Raising awareness is the first step.
Students from two British Universities translated an extract from the most recent novel of the Surinamese Dutch writer Tessa Leuwsha.
‘It is not difficult to find a basis for cooperation. After all, each country cares for its heritage and thus faces similar issues.’
There is something about the development of the Indonesian language that irritates journalist Joss Wibisono - it is being mixed with English.
Birney's throat-grabbing novel 'The Interpreter from Java' about the colonial past in the Dutch East Indies highlights the lasting consequences of a civil war in a penetrating way.
The first organised slave revolt on the American continent to a colonial governor took place in Berbice, now part of Guyana.
The cultural centre of the Netherlands in the Indonesian capital Jakarta reflects a dynamic relationship between the two countries.
How do we have to treat books that have fallen out of favour or have become taboo due to a changing Zeitgeist and more progressive perceptions?
A young, progressive generation is genuinely interested in Belgium’s colonial past, mainly because they realise that the origin of today’s racism can often be found in this period.
In his book 'Leopold's Legacy', photographer Oliver Leu is researching the various forms of representation of the colonial history of Congo in Belgium.
Realism, surrealism and the absurd compete for priority in the Emma De Swaef’s and Marc James Roels’ stop–motion film This Magnificent Cake!
After five years of renovation and decolonisation, the AfricaMuseum in Tervuren opened again. Dutch writer of Congolese descent, Kiza Magendane visited the museum with mixed feelings.
Where are the official apologies for the sufferings the Dutch and Belgians caused in their former colonies?
The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands searched its collection for traces of slavery and colonial history.
Finally, a documentary with the Maroons, rather than about them.
Was the Dutch writer really such an anti-colonial rebel? And what about his preference for young girls?
PhD Researcher Grace Leksana reflects on the speech by Gert Oostindie at the seminar 'Indonesia and the Netherlands: a joint future'.
Pinkster came across to the United States with the 17-th century Dutch settlers.
Gert Oostindie spoke of the contemporary significance of the colonial past at the seminar 'Indonesia and the Netherlands: a joint future'.
The speech of festival director Viktorien van Hulst at the seminar ‘Indonesia and the Netherlands: a joint future’.
For some, he was a servant, for others a vanquished devil. However, the Irish poet W.B. Yeats sheds a different light on the origins of the controversial Black Pete tradition.
The artist dismantles stereotypes about women and people of colour.
Dutch historians have long worked on the assumption that the significance of Atlantic slavery to the Dutch economy was marginal. This assumption is incorrect.
The Amsterdam Museum ditches ‘Golden Age’ in favour of inclusive ’17th century’.
The National Archives of the Netherlands created an online research guide on the subject of slavery in the former Dutch East Indies between 1820 and 1900.
The Western Australian Museum will make 3D scans to visualise the 17th century silverware that was found in the shipwreck of the ‘Batavia’.
The distorted image that many Dutch people have of the overseas territories during the colonial occupation is often based on movies.
What did the Dutch know, through the ages, about what went on in their colonies, in the East and West Indies? Ewald Vanvught gives an outline of the current changing view of the colonial period in the Netherlands with reference to four monuments.
Herlinde Leyssens wrote a story of a strong, rebellious, adventure-seeking woman, determined not to be stopped.
Two artists of Surinamese descent are representing the Netherlands at the 58th edition of the international art festival.
Roland Gunst – half Flemish, half Congolese – uses installations, performances, film and video to explore the search for his own identity.
Reinier Salverda scrutinises the translation of what still is “the greatest novel ever in Dutch literature”.
Ana Torfs’s beautifully crafted, enchanting, experimental and postcolonial installations start out from established European conventions of art and reality, but then step outside and present us with a multimodal Gesamtkunstwerk, made with full use of anything that may serve to evoke what one cannot simply see – whether it is the meanings and insights produced by this echolalic art, the unresolved presence of the colonial past, the shackles of our language, or the legs of Rembrandt’s bird of paradise.
Review of Frances Gouda's 'Dutch Culture Overseas: Colonial Practice in the Netherlands Indies' 1900-1942' (Amsterdam, 1995)
We have known for a long time what happens when one colonises a country. But what happens when one wants to get rid of the ex-colony, but can't, and yet wishes to deal with it in a proper manner? Post-colonialism is a thing of the past, you are stuck with each other, a bit of Europe and a bit of the Caribbean. It is a unique process of decolonisation in the Dutch Antilles and Aruba, without violence, without loss of life, but with all the multicultural problems of the living. Since the Netherlands finally accepted in 1990 that the Antilles and Aruba are to remain with the Netherlands, Curaçao and Aruba are, thanks to Gorbachov, closer to Russia than ever before. The Caribbean connected to Europe, that is a fine global thought.
As the capital of the then Belgian Congo, Kinshasa occupies an important place in the history of Belgian architecture and urban planning. The development of the capital was an outstanding project of Belgian Modernity; but nowadays that modernist quality is only one of the many realities of Kinshasa. ‘Kinshasa. Tales of the Invisible City' deals with the complex reality of Kinshasa as a post-colonial Central African city. Anthropologist Filip de Boeck and photographer Marie-Françoise Plissart, together with architect/curator Koen van Synghel, put together an award-winning exhibition and book on this theme for the Belgian pavilion at the 2004 International Architecture Biennale in Venice. (Filip de Boeck & Marie-Françoise Plissart, Kinshasa. Tales of the Invisible City. Ghent, 2004)
Dutch-language literature in the former colonial territories of the Netherlands Antilles, a group of islands in the Caribbean, did not flourish fully until 300 years after the Dutch West India Company first established itself on the islands. In Surinam Dutch-language literature appears to be dying out more quickly than in the Netherlands Antilles. It seems likely that closer links will develop with the surrounding South American countries, though which language will then gain the upper hand is impossible to foresee at this time. All that can be said with certainty today is that the literature of both the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam has contributed a great deal to the enrichment of Dutch literature in general, and has come to form a permanent part of that literature.
December 1983. In a Spanish museum of natural history, nineteen-year-old Frank Westerman finds himself standing face to face with a stuffed African – El Negro. Who is this man? Who stuffed his body? Twenty years later, the author follows El Negro's journey from Paris (1831), via Barcelona (1888) to the Pyrenees, where he was on display until 1997. Along the way he brings El Negro in his book with the same title to life as a commentator on his time: an unknown black man who – nailed to a pedestal – casts a disturbing perspective on European views of slavery, colonialism and racism.
In the period between 1600 and 1945 parts of the Islamic world were subject to Dutch colonial power. From 1965 to the present day there has been for the first time an increasing Muslim presence in the Low Countries. Today when Netherlands and Flanders/Belgium seem to be secularised, suddenly, an Islamic identity is clamouring for attention. The national debate in both countries is paradoxically increasingly concerned with religion and culture.
As early as 1651, a number of Flemish Capuchins were working as missionaries in the old Kingdom of Congo. In 1885, King Leopold II proclaimed the birth of the Congo Free State and was granted permission by the Belgian parliament to assume the Congolese crown. He was keen to ensure that, as far as possible, the missionaries in his territories should be exclusively Belgian. It was the beginning of massive involvement by the Belgian churches in Central Africa. The Church took care of education and medical care, and was also involved in other fields of social development and services. Today there are very few missionaries left in the Congo, but this means that the African Church now has the opportunity to stand on its own feet
The debate about Dutch colonialism and the history of the decolonisation of Indonesia has proved to be far from merely academic. The deserter Poncke Princen and the date of 17 August 1945 were important symbols of conflict. On the one side there was an East Indies generation demanding a positive share in Dutch history through its call for ‘official' recognition. On the other, there were those who were openly critical of colonialism and felt such shame and guilt that ideally they would have liked to delete the whole episode from the nation's history.
A review of the Flemish travel writer Lieve Joris' novel 'Back to the Congo' (London: Macmillan, 1992): a compelling, moving, and detailed portrait of a country struggling with both its colonial past and a present ruled in the same dictatorial manner.
An extract of Jef Geeraerts' highly personal chronicle of primal urges and unrestrained sex in the Belgian colony of the Congo.
2010 sees the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Congo's independence, but the question is whether there will be much to celebrate. Leopold II meets Kabila.
The central theme of Elsbeth Locher-Scholten's new book on Women and the Colonial State is how, especially and increasingly during the first half of the twentieth century, Dutch and Indonesian women, despite their shared aspirations, were kept apart by their diverging interests and by the colonial conditions of Dutch East Indies society. Her book offers a wealth of new data and archival materials, and many interesting illustrations and maps (Elsbeth Locher-Scholten, Women and the Colonial State. Essays on Gender and Modernity in the Netherlands Indies 1900-1942. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000).
In its 100 years of history this museum has developed from a typical colonial institute into a museum and study centre where people from all over the world carry out research.
The main problem with the film ‘Oeroeg', based on Hella S. Haase's autobiographical novel, is the rather simplistic approach to the so-called (post-)colonial Dutch-East Indian trauma
Hella Haasse, who died in 2011, was a writer with three countries of origin: the Netherlands, Indonesia and France. These origins are represented in her work: fictional returns to colonial and postcolonial Indonesia, French settings, characters and historical figures of several (double) nationalities. The result? 136 translations of circa 28 individual titles into more than 20 languages.
Review of E.M. Beekman's 'Troubled Pleasures. Dutch Colonial Literature from the East Indies 1600-1950' (Oxford, 1996).
The fact that Belgium embarked on an ambitious colonial adventure in the last quarter of the nineteenth century can be attributed to the initiative of King Leopold II. Congo literally became ‘his' colony. For the production of rubber, Leopold imposed a harsh regime of forced labour on the Congolese. This provoked international protest, and in 1908 Leopold transferred control of Congo to the Belgian state. During the half century that Congo remained a colony, Belgian politics showed practically no interest in it. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, after more than 40 years of independence in Congo, it is apparent that Belgium has become completely estranged from Congo.
A survey of Dutch colonial architecture. It is of immense significance that, although the buildings concerned are of colonial origin, the local people and governments are prepared to regard them as being part and parcel of their own history and culture. And there is every reason for doing so. After all, if one compares eighteenth-century houses in Jakarta, Cape Town, Paramaribo and Willemstad, what strikes one is not just the similarities, but particularly the great differences. There are, of course, similarities with the Netherlands. In town-planning terms this means the presence of canals wherever possible; and invariably there is the dominance of a single direction. The theories of Simon Stevin certainly had an influence. The churches are inspired by the clear forms developed by Jacob van Campen and his contemporaries in the mid-seventeenth century. In urban houses it is the comparitively narrow, tall properties topped with cornices or the so-called ‘Dutch gables' which remind us of the Netherlands. But, above all, every historic building is in the first place a reflection of the country in which it stands.
From Georg Everhard Rumphius to Beb Vuyk and A. Alberts, we see that Dutch colonial literature is not a poor relation of mainstream Dutch letters. It developed continguously with Western literature, acquiring its own specific themes, mandating its own preferred style, developing its own distinctive echoes. The actuality of the life that fed this writing may be gone but the oeuvre it wrought has not dated and provides an understanding of an ever-receding past .
Review of Kees Groeneboer's 'Gateway to the West. The Dutch Language in Colonial Indonesia 1600-1950'. This book is not only a history of the subject, but also vividly demonstrates why for the foreseeable future Dutch will remain an indispensable language of scholarship in the field of Indonesian studies.
Afrikaans gave the world the word “Apartheid”. After 1994 there were two silent voices in the debate on Afrikaans: first, the coloured voice; and second, the intellectual voice from the left. Only when Afrikaans has become fully diversified will it be able to play a forceful and possibly decisive role in forging a culture of tolerance in South Africa.