The VOC and the
Brief History (1)
VOC fleet approaching the East Indies, now
known as Indonesia.
|The founding of
the VOC and the Indo-European
Following the Portuguese and the Spanish,
Cornelis Houtman dropped anchor in 1596 with a trade fleet in front of
the Javan coast. The trade in spices such as cloves, pepper, cinnamon,
nutmeg (including the
peel which is mace) appeared to be very
lucrative, as a consequence the United East Indies Company (VOC)
was founded in 1602. It would exist until 1795.
The VOC didn't
want to make a colony as such, so women were rarely allowed to come
from Holland. Because of this and also to enhance their careers, the men
started co-habiting or marrying with native Asian women, who got
Dutch nationality by marriage just like the children which were born out
relationships. As soon as the father acknowledged his unlawful
children, baptized them and raised them in European style, they
achieved this status too with prospects for a position or marriage in the
European community (which was highly desirable in those days). The
children would eventually call themselves the Indo-European* and
'Indisch' when they wanted to distinguish themselves from the
indigenous population and the totoks, who were the 100% Dutch people.
The legal term 'European' was extended because of
political and economic contact with a few non-European countries. This
led to the strange situation that some Siamese and Japanese people
were legally 'European' as well.
Detail of the clove tree.
Cloves are white while they're growing,
red during the ripening and black after drying.
By the end of the 18th century the East Indies was
isolated, this happened because back in Europe, The Netherlands was
conquered by the French and the contact between the VOC and the
Dutch in Europe was severed.
It was during this period that France sent a Governor-General but he
was called back after many protests over his harsh rule and ruthless
The English meanwhile had conquered the small islands Rťunion
and Ile de France and in the confusion
about who administered the East Indies,
they easily conquered Java. They would
remain in charge until 1816 when Java
was transferred to the new Kingdom of
The Netherlands. From then the area was
ruled by Dutch government officials and
not by the merchants of the VOC.
Drying of the cloves on the
Isle of Ambon, Molukken, Molukken.
Financial position of the Indo-Europeans
Most Indo-Europeans would work as officials for
the Government until 1870, but more and more they were disadvantaged
in relation to the white Europeans from Holland ('totoks') who arrived
in great numbers and attained all the best positions. The May-movement
in 1848 saw the first open protest.
In 1864, administration training with a small
official exam was introduced. Although all the Indo-Europeans born in
the Dutch East Indies now had equal chances in positions in the
government as low ranking officials, there were big differences in
their prospects and that of the 'totok' for the higher, more important
positions. However more and more natives were employed in the colonial
community, albeit on low pay.
Women sorting out and shelling
Propaganda of the PNI, the Partai Nasional
So many Indo-Europeans started to feel
downtrodden by the white Dutchmen and their jobs were replaced by natives.
At the end of the 19th Century unemployment,
poverty and pauperization formed big problem. The Indo's insisted on being
'European' and so the term Indo-European became fashionable, with the
accent on Indo.
Both from the native and non-native side several
movements arose and most of them aimed for a better life for the
native community. These movements initially assumed an advisory
capacity but soon
there were national and revolutionary groups too, fighting for an
independent Indies, independent from the Dutch. Together with a few
influential leaders, Sukarno founded the revolutionary group
Partai Nasional Indonesia in 1927.
Note: Although the Indo-European community is often
presented as a people stuck between the indigenous and the 'totoks', in reality there were so many differences amongst
themselves as well (ie. in status), that it would be difficult to talk about them as
one specific group of people.
Sources: 'Ik wilde
eigenlijk niet gaan', an edition based on the exhibition Sailing home
Weerzien met IndiŽ, an edition of Waanders in co-operation with