Dutch Culture Overseas: Colonial Practice in the Netherlands Indies, 1900-1942

Dutch Culture Overseas: Colonial Practice in the Netherlands Indies, 1900-1942

Dutch Culture Overseas: Colonial Practice in the Netherlands Indies, 1900-1942

Dutch Culture Overseas: Colonial Practice in the Netherlands Indies, 1900-1942

Synopsis

Frances Gouda explores issues related to both Dutch and Indonesian women and their interactions with European men, in an effort to understand the "gendering" practices of colonial governance in the Dutch East Indies. She investigates the ways in which The Netherlands articulated and portrayed its unique colonial style to the outside world and specifically examines its governance of the Dutch East Indies represented at the "Exposition coloniale internationale" in Paris in 1931. Finally, she explores the controversial history of Dutch colonial culture in Indonesia as both "imagined" and "reimagined, " or glorified and vilified, in The Netherlands today.

Excerpt

One of the inspirations for this book was a description of a free-floating conversation between Christopher Hitchens and Simon Schama, published in the magazine Interview in May of 1989. In the middle of what was clearly a pleasant afternoon of adventurous food and intellectual sparring in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Hitchens posed a question to Schama he supposedly had "always wanted to ask." Dutch culture, he said, is forever represented "as a model of highly evolved religious tolerance and political pluralism. How is it that the Dutch diaspora -- Indonesia, Surinam, South Africa -- is so disfigured by violence and bigotry?"

Schama's response was interesting, although not entirely surprising. Because the small, water-logged Dutch Republic did not possess any natural resources, he said, the nation during the early modern era depended almost entirely on commerce and shipping. Alienating Catholics, Jews, or Mennonites through the establishment of a Calvinist theocracy within the national borders of the wheeling and dealing United Provinces would not produce the kind of unimpeded social interaction that was conducive to profitable trade. When Dutch Calvinists departed for exotic places elsewhere in the world, however, "they went by the book." Of course the intransigent Boers in South Africa followed their own convoluted path: "you could say it was an aspect of a general Dutch tendency, which is one of self-invention."

Schama predictably pointed to the "Golden Age" of the Dutch Republic as the source of Hitchens' observation that Holland has often functioned as a paragon of political virtue and lack of religious prejudice in European history. Relative to other nations in the early modern period, the seventeenth-century Republic, indeed, represented a haven of "tolerant secularism." But it comprised a safe harbor in which ships and oceans, barges and rivers, merchants and sea captains, ledgers and trade -- and what Oliver Rink has called "greed and guilders" -- played the starring roles. The Dutch Republic's religious and political pluralism, in other words, issued forth from practical exigencies and mundane realities rather than being the result of high-minded commitments. "Ordinary people," even if they lived in an "extraordinary age," faced an array of mostly pedestrian problems in daily life, which they tried to resolve to their best advantage. If these "common" citizens collectively produced "uncommon" cultural results, however, this does not automatically constitute evidence of a heroic spirit of magnanimity.

Nonetheless, Schama's idea that Dutch men and women have a tendency to reinvent themselves in different habitats in other parts of the world is very intriguing. He had argued in the Embarrassment of Riches. An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, after all, that the luminous civilization of the seventeenth-century Dutch . . .

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