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The Indo Culture

The VOC and the Indo-European

Brief History (1)


Ships of the V.O.C.

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 of these 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 a cloves tree

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 methods.
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 cloves on Ambon, Molukken

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 nutmegs.




Women sorting out and shelling  nutmegs.






Propaganda of the PNI, the Partai Nasional Indonesia

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 Tropenmuseum

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