MDDP: On the trail of Dutch Eurasians

•  When the Dutch descent
•  On the trail of Dutch Eurasians

When the Dutch descentOmhoog

Onderstaand artikel verscheen twee weken na de bijeenkomst van Nederlandse afstammelingen in Malacca georganiseerd door het Malaysian Dutch Descendants Project. De tekst is het oorspronkelijke artikel uit de New Sunday Times en is (voorlopig) enkel in het Engels beschikbaar.

Afbeelding: Voorpagina van de New Sunday Times op 01/08/2004
Sunday People voorpagina, deel van de New Sunday Times op 01/08/2004

On the trail of Dutch EurasiansOmhoog

The Dutch eurasians may be the smallest group of Eurasians in Malaysia but they are the descendants of the VOC or Dutch East India Compagny pioneers, who ruled Malacca in 1641 for 16 decades.

It has been an exhausting two days for dennis De Witt, but behind that tired smile is a happy man. "They said it couldn't be done, but I've proved them wrong," he says with satisfaction.

It's hardly a surprise that de Witt is jubilant. Just moments before, some 150 people from all over the world had gathered in the small yard of the Atlas Ice building in Malacca's Jonker Street to celebrate their Dutch heritage.

Called Reconnecting Through Our Roots, the event was De Witt's attempt to bring together a community with a rich, albeit neglected, heritage and history.

Now as the last of the visitors file through the front door - many of them members of the Westerhout family who had come to Malacca to revisit their ancestral haunts - De Witt takes it easy for a while before it's time to get busy again.

The recently restored Atlas Ice building was once the Malacca port tax-office of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), the Dutch United East India Company. By noon, De Witt plans to clear away the exhibits - geneologies, maps and deed titles, which had helped him and many others trace their distant Dutch origins.

Mention Eurasian and the average Malaysian will immediately think of Malacca's Portugese community.

"People say that we don't exist, that we have no culture left, but today we've proved our critics wrong," he says.

De Witt, the brains behind the Malaysian Dutch Descendants Project and the prime mover behind the gathering, feels he owes it to himself to unearth his Dutch Eurasian roots.

"I think I did it for selfish reasons. I want my children to have something to be proud of, to have their own history, their own family."

Going back in history, the Dutch Eurasians can be considered the children of the VOC, which dominated the spice trade in the East Indies - what is today part of Southeast Asia. In 1641, the soldiers from the VOC wrested Malacca from the Portugese after a prolonged siege and ushered in 160 years of Dutch rule. During this period, many VOC employees settled in Malacca and married Asian women, passing their surnames to the rpesent day Malaysian descendants.

Currently, the Dutch descendants are perhaps the smallest group of Eurasians here, making them "a minority within a minority". Besides Dutch Eurasians of Malacca, the community also embrases the Dutch Burghers, people of Dutch ancestry who came to Malaya from Sri Lanka during British rule. De Witt estimates that there are probably between 600 and 1600 Malaysians who can trace their ancestry to Dutch forebears today.

Besides his own family, De Witt's research also unearthed other Dutch Eurasians who used to live in Malacca, among them Baumgartens, the de Winds, the Westerhouts and the Minjoots.

De Witt's interest in his family tree only began 11 years ago, after the death of his father.

"It dawned upon me that the thing he told me would be lost if they were not recorded. Even before I started, I could see that if nothing was done, there'd be nothing left but our names."

"I did some research and it snowballed. genealogy research is a pastime for some people around the world, and I received information about the family from people as far away as Australia and the US," he says.

De Witt found his holy grail three years ago when he was given a yearbook issued by the Central Bureau of Genealogy (CBG) in the Netherlands. Inside were details of the Dutch resident who once lived in Malacca, including that of his ancestor, Petrus JOhannes De Witt, who arrived in Malacca in 1816 from Cape Town.

"We know he was a merchant and that he married Jacobina Elizabert, the daughter of Adriaan Koek, the former governor of Malacca. He had four children and later died in Batavia. So I am one of the descendants.

"one of the ladies who was here, Gerde Van Zuilen, is a distant relative of the De Witt family in Malacca."

Only a handfull of the Dutch descendants are still in Malacca. The rest have migrated to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Baru.

"Many of the old families, whose names are on the gravestones in St. Paul's church, are gone. That was too long ago. Even the Koeks... their family is not around anymore."

Though physically they might not resemble their forebears from the Netherlands, as far as culture is concerned, De Witt says the latter day Dutch Eurasians still innately retain some of their character.

"The Dutch did not force their culture upon other people; instead they adopted. Whether you are Dutch or a Dutch descendant, it is the same thing. We don't like to stand out so much, because among the population of malaysia, we don't proclaim that we are Dutch. We are a very adaptive bunch of people."

"The Dutch had a bad reputation, they were said to be stingy, but they were also known to be shrewd business people. We were said to be the surpressors of the Catholic faith during our time in Malacca but you should not judge the actions of those before by current standards. We are not like that," he explains.

He also feels there is a misconception about the way people generally perceive culture. "many people associate it with singing and dancing. Yes these are the colourful aspects of culture. People should understand that culture is something that is perpetuated from one generation to another. In that perspective, the most important thing is knowing and believing in your heritage, which constitutes the base of culture for your community."

Already, he is planning to set up the Dutch Malaysian Friendship Organisation with the help of Netherlands-based researcher Drs Pim Ten Hoorn. The group is open to Malaysians interested in establishing ties with the Netherlands. He is also planning some programmes for the Malaysian Dutch Descendants Project, with the intention of bringing the community together.

Afbeelding: Linkerpagina van het artikel Afbeelding: Rechterpagina van het artikel
Linkerpagina van het artikel
[ uitvergroten / enlarge ]
Rechterpagina van het artikel
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- Dit artikel, door Fazli Ibrahim (fazli@nstp.com.my) met foto's door Nashairi MD Nawi, werd rechtstreeks overgenomen uit de Sunday People, deel van de New Sunday Times de zondag editie van de New Straits Times in MaleisiŽ.
- Meer over het Malaysian Dutch Descendants Project:

•  MDDP Geschiedenis, doelstelling
•  MDDP Bijeenkomst 2004, verslag
•  MDDP Bijeenkomst 2004, foto's
•  MDDP Artikel 26/07/2004 - Going Dutch (Engels)
•  MDDP Artikel 26/07/2004 - Melaka's children of the VOC (Engels)

Externe sites:

•  Dutchmalaysia.net - MDDP OfficiŽle web site (Nederlands/Engels)
•  Dutchmalaysia.net - Het MDDP op Facebook (Nederlands/Engels)
•  De vereniging Nederland-MaleisiŽ (Nederlands/Engels)