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|RECONNECTING THE DUTCH DESCENDANTS|
On July 17th and 18th 2004, an event entitled ‘Reconnecting through our roots - International gathering of Dutch descendants’ was held in ‘The Atlas Ice Building’ at Jonker Street (now known as Jalan Hang Jebat), Malacca.
The event was organised by the Malaysian Dutch Descendants Project under the auspices of H.E. John C.F. von Mühlen, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Malaysia. Other co-operating organisations involved in this event were the Melaka Museums Corporation (PERZIM), Malacca Heritage Trust and the Maritime Archaeology Museum at Malacca.
The focus of the two-day event was mainly on the three Dutch descent communities found in Malaysia, i.e. Dutch Eurasians originating from Malacca, Dutch Burghers originating from Sri Lanka and Dutch Indos originating from Indonesia.
Malacca Dutch Eurasians are descended from those who came to Malacca between its capture from the Portuguese in 1641 to 1824 when Malacca was ceded to the British for Bencoolen (Bengkulu) in Sumatra. Their forefathers were the Dutch administrators and traders who were based at Malacca.
Dutch Burghers refers to the people of Dutch ancestry from Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. The word 'Burgher' means “citizen” in Dutch but it also refers to as being from a member of a “mercantile class”. Burghers first arrived in Malaya in the late 19th century when they were brought in by the British to assist in the administration of the country.
Dutch Indos are Eurasians who were born and lived in Indonesia during the Dutch era there but were repatriated to the Netherlands in the 1950s, after Indonesia obtained independence. Although they are Dutch citizens, a number of them can now be found living in Malaysia.
The purpose of this event was to show the historical and ancestral ties between the three Dutch descent communities and to allow those of a common heritage to reconnect with each other. The event also attempted to display the history and heritage of the Dutch community and to demonstrate the existence of these communities in Malaysia, although they were thought to be extinct.
It was appropriate for this event to be held in Malacca, particularly within the town's backdrop of its rich historical remnants from its Dutch era, such as the Stadthuys (the former Dutch administration building) and the Christ Church (previously the Dutch Reformed Church).
The venue for the event was at a recently rediscovered Dutch building, popularly called the 'Atlas Ice Building'. Located on Jonker Street within the old ‘Kampung Belanda’ (Dutch Village) vicinity in Malacca, the building is also known as the '1673 Building' because the year that the building was built has been fixed on its facade. The building is believed to be originally the ‘boomkantoor’ (tax-office) for the VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie - Dutch East-Indies Company) where the ‘havengelden’ (harbour taxes) could be collected in Malacca during Dutch times. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Atlas Ice Company purchased the building from the Dutch Eurasian families Baumgarten and de Wind. Recently, the Malacca State government acquired the building and has restored it.
The first day of the event began with the official opening of the ‘Reconnecting through our roots’ exhibition by Dr. Badriyah Salleh, the General Manager of the Melaka Museums Corporation.
The exhibition featured the historical and ancestral background of some families from the three Dutch descent communities.
For the Malacca Dutch Eurasians, there were translations of seldom seen genealogies obtained from the Central Bureau of Genealogy at The Hague, genealogies from private research, old family pictures from private collections and reproduction of Dutch records obtained from the Malaysian National Archives.
The genealogies featured were of particular interest to many amateur researchers as they also demonstrated early migration patterns of Eurasian families to Malacca, as well as to other countries from Malacca.
For instance, these records provided evidence that the Westerhout family came from a town called Jeverland, currently located on the Dutch-German boarder. The van der Beek family, now found in Singapore and Australia, came to Malacca from the Dutch town of Delft. Whereas, the De Witt family arrived in Malacca from Cape Town, South Africa.
There was also evidence to show that the descendants of the Westerhout and Koek families held substantial amount of landed property in Malacca during the Dutch era. However, the De Wind family held by far the largest estate, which covered about 280 square miles within the territory of Malacca.
For the Ceylon Dutch Burghers, the exhibition included the genealogy from private research of families such as van Dort, Manen and Jansz. There were reproductions of genealogical data published in the extremely rare Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union in the early 1900s at Ceylon, some old Burgher family pictures from private collections and extracts from a diary of an adventurous Dutch Burgher in Malaya named Cyril Ephraums.
Cyril Ephraums and his younger brother Wilfred, both descendants of Coenraad Christiaan Ephraums who came to Ceylon from Amsterdam around 1800, arrived at Penang as young orphans in the 1870s after the death of their parents in Ceylon. They both attended the Jesuit College in Penang. Cyril became involved in tin mining at Perak and was a noted big game hunter in his time. His amazing jungle trek from Gopeng to Kota Bahru and back again to Gopeng in 1900 was documented, although never before seen by historians.
On the Dutch Indos, displayed were some old family pictures from private collections during their time in Indonesia, the genealogy of some families and some information regarding the ‘Pasar Malam Besar’ – the largest gathering of Eurasians in the world held annually in The Hague.
Also displayed were genealogies showing how the descendants of Abraham Couperus and Jan Samuel Timmerman-Thijssen, both Dutch governors of Malacca, made their way to Indonesia in the early 19th century, and eventually to the Netherlands.
The Maritime Archaeology Museum also lined-up the hallway into the building with a number of antiquated pictures of Malacca and included a display of rare Old Dutch coins, providing participants with a rare glimpse into Malacca's past.
The first day of the event saw talks and discussion given by the experts.
The first presentation was by Drs. Martijn Maarleveld on the topic of 'Genealogy Research Sources from The Netherlands'. Although Martijn studied Dutch colonial history in West Africa, he is familiar with Dutch research sources and he has a special interest in the genealogy of Malacca Dutch families. Therefore, this event also provided a special opportunity for Martijn to meet many of the descendants from the families he has researched.
The organiser’s special guest for this event was drs. Pim ten Hoorn from the Netherlands. Pim, a Dutch Indo born in Palembang, Indonesia now resides at The Hague, where he is involved in various Eurasian organisations there. Pim's background is anthropology and ethnic studies, and he delivered a talk on the Dutch Eurasian community in the Netherlands.
Mr. Prabakaran Nair presented a talk entitled 'Oral history – an understanding of what Oral History is all about', which focused on Oral History as a means of conserving heritage. Prabakaran, who is attached to the National Archives at Kuala Lumpur, is also the director of the National Hero's Gallery.
Those who attended the talks were also treated to a coffee break where a traditional cake from the Ceylon Burgher community called Breudher was served. In comparison, another traditional Dutch cake called Tulban was also served. It is believed that both the Breudher and the Tulban have a common origin and for the first time, participants were provided the opportunity to taste and compare the two.
The second day provided a less academic atmosphere, where participants were encouraged to socialise and to reconnect with each other.
The day began bright and early with a heritage walkabout of Kampung Belanda conducted by members of Malacca Heritage Trust. Participants were brought on a tour to discover the history and heritage of Malacca's treasured Jonker Street and Heeren Street and informed of conservation efforts currently taking place.
The highlight of the event was the first-ever-international gathering of Dutch descendants. Dutch descendants attended this historic gathering from not only Malaysia and Singapore, but also from Australia and the Netherlands. With the collaboration of the Westerhout family, there were also Dutch descendants from New Zealand, the UK and the USA.
As part of a coinciding event, the Westerhout world-wide family reunion also took place in Malacca and members of the family participated in this gathering. Descended from Sjauwke Jansz Westerhout who came to Malacca in 1757, this illustrious family has a rich historical connection to Malacca.
Gathered in a setting of a newly restored 17th century Dutch building, there were almost 150 people from various backgrounds who attended the gathering. The crowd were made up of Dutch descendants who not only have their Dutch roots from Malacca, Ceylon and Indonesia but were also joined by an Afrikaner named Mark De Witt, who is currently based in Australia. Therefore, it could be said that for the very first time, all the communities of Dutch descendants of the world were represented there that day.
The gathering was truly the right opportunity for all who came to reconnect with each other, more so because of their common heritage. There were many friends who met again after so many years of being apart and relations from afar who met each other for the very first time.
The gathering was officiated by H.E. John C.F. von Mühlen, ambassador of the Netherlands to Malaysia and Datuk Chua Peng Song, Deputy Chairman of the Melaka Tourism, Culture and Heritage Committee who acted on behalf of Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Mohd Rustam, the Chief Minister of Malacca.
However, the "icing on the cake" was during the ambassador's speech. He informed all gathered there that Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Kingdom of the Netherlands herself has taken due note of the gathering and he was instructed to deliver her very best wishes to the Dutch descendants there.
With the coming together of so many Dutch descendants and the Royal recognition it received, the event is destined to be recorded in history as the first-ever congregation of Dutch descendants since Malacca was given up by the Dutch to British hands 180 years ago. And probably the only of its kind gathering in the world. More importantly, although the event came to an end that day, many Dutch descendants left feeling a little more proud of their Dutch roots.
Dennis De Witt
Malaysian Dutch Descendants Project