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01 December 2008

Shared Cultural Heritage





The Netherlands and Indonesia: the historical context


The first Dutchmen landed in Indonesia over three hundred and fifty years ago, in 1596. The land suited them, and it offered innumerable opportunities for acquiring wealth through the trade in foodstuffs. Thus the Dutch remained in the region. Gradually the whole island empire came under Dutch colonial government. This was brought to an abrupt end by the Japanese invasion in 1942. After Japan had capitulated, The Netherlands expected to be able to pick up the old colonial threads again, but two days later – on 17 August 1945 - Sukano and Hatta proclaimed the country’s independence. The Netherlands only acknowledged Indonesian  Independence in 1949, after four years of colonial warfare and under heavy American pressure. It was only in 2005 that relations between The Netherlands and Indonesia were normalised. The Dutch government then recognized that the colonial war of 1945-1949 had been an historical error.


Bataviaasch Genootschap


In the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the Dutch developed a keen interest in the culture of the vast country that they had arrived in.
In the year 1778 the Dutchman J.M.C. Rademacher founded the Batavian Society for the Arts and Sciences (Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen). Everyone was entitled to become a member of the society, even Dutch people in The Netherlands or in other colonies; there was no need to reside in Batavia. From 1860 onwards, membership was thrown open to the Javanese aristocracy. When Professor Hoesein Djajadiningrat was appointed President in 1936, some ten per cent of the three hundred members of the institute (which had in the meanwhile acquired the title of ‘royal’ society) were Indonesian in origin.

          Prof.dr. Hoesein Djajadiningat


The Museum Nasional, Jakarta


In 1779, only a year after its foundation, the Society opened its own museum in a private residence donated by its founder Rademacher. On Wednesdays from eight to ten o’clock in the morning  there in Kali Besar Street, people could view the collections donated by members of the Society: musical instruments, books, archaeological and ethnographic items.

In 1868 the museum was moved to the Merdeka Barat, where it remains to the present day, even though its name was changed to the ‘Museum Nasional Indonesia’ very soon after Independence.

<< Read more about the Museum Nasional Indonesia >>


The National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden  (Museum Volkenkunde)


The collections assembled in Indonesia were split up in Batavia according to the Governor General’s instructions. Here the Batavian Society was given first choice of the ethnographic objects. The remaining items were sent to The Netherlands, most of them arriving in Leiden in what today is the  National Museum of Ethnology.

This museum was instituted in the 1830s in Von Siebold’s private dwelling on the Rapenburg, acquiring the official name of the National Ethnographic Museum (the Rijks Ethnografisch Museum) in 1863. In 1937 the museum moved to the former university hospital building. It’s name was changed to the National Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde).

<< Read more about the Museum Volkenkunde >>


The division of the collections

The 1970s brought a final answer to the question of whether the collections sent to The Netherlands during the colonial period ought to have remained in that country after Indonesia’s independence.  In 1978 the Dutch and Indonesian governments drew up the Wassenaar Agreement (Akkoord van Wassenaar), agreeing that the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, should return part of its collection to Jakarta: the famous Prajnaparamita and part of the ‘Lombok Treasure’,  a war booty of golden objects taken from the Sultan of Lombok in 1897. This Wassenaar Agreement  finally brought to an end the discussion on the legal ownership of the collections. It was only twenty-five years later, in 2003, that both museums were able to establish new links within the context of the ASEMUS cooperation,  and to begin the research project on their common history.



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