Author Country Media Name Year Topic

Banda is not dead, Banda is alive – The Jakarta Post

Banda is not dead, Banda is alive, despite past genocide

As long as “decolonization” is only used as an empty slogan to sugarcoat the actual erasure of the heart of our community on Ambon, Kei and al over the Nusantara archipelago, we cannot speak of change.

The Jakarta Post, By: Ridhwan Ohorella, February 2, 2024


At a time when the world is crying out for justice we are still haunted by the shadow of a painful past: centuries of colonial violence and injustice. An illustrative example is the story of Banda and the genocide of 1621.

About this massacre, which was committed by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), the truth remains untold. Still, after 400 years, the colonial lies are being reproduced, ironically by those who loudly scream to be against colonialism and racism.

I was born and raised in the Netherlands. From a young age I learned about the history, traditions of my ancestors which started from the sixth century, the history of Banda also known as Wandan/Wakan.

I am a descendant of the original Banda people who lived on the islands before the VOC came and destroyed everything. Most history books write t

hat our community was almost entirely wiped out by the brutal actions of VOC governor-general Jan Pieterszoon Coen in 1621, and that only a few of us managed to escape. This is not true.

A large part of my ancestors left the islands on time and migrated to other places, among others to the Kei Islands where the heart of our community still lives until today.

Most people do not know that the actual name of Banda is Wandan/Wakan and that we exist as a diaspora. Our ancestors did not “flee” as most historians call it; they consciously left and migrated to safeguard the continuation of our blood line, religion, language and culture. In Islam this is called hijrah.

That we have been ignored and erased shows that colonialism is not only about physical violence. Colonialism is also about violating the truth in an attempt to control the narrative.

Yet, after four centuries of being erased from the books, the reality of our survival and existence was revealed by Dutch historian Marjolein van Pagee in 2021 in her book Banda. De genocide van Jan Pieterszoon Coen (Banda. The Genocide of Jan Pieterszoon Coen.)

The book is now available in the Indonesian language and published by Komunitas Bambu. [Genosida Banda. Kejahatan Kemanusiaan Jan Pieterszoon Coen.] Together with my cousins Lukas Eleuwarin, also known for his clothing brand Knowledge by Roots (KBR), and Marcel Matulessy, we contributed to Marjolein’s book.

When we met her in 2020, she had never heard of the Wandan/Wakan community. Through conversations with us, she decided to rewrite her entire manuscript, only one month before the deadline.

In my theater piece Hijrah (from Mecca to Maluku with a one way trip to the Netherlands) I  share the history of Wandan with the world. The message I am conveying is that our existence is based on the fact that our ancestors fought as Muslims against the colonizers for their right to live.

Unfortunately, in the Netherlands, even with our testimonies on the table, the urgency of revealing the truth is not felt. It seems that most Dutch historians are just busy with pursuing their careers. They are not motivated by an honest attempt to tell the history as it is.

But why is Banda so important?

The reason that the original Bandanese were subjected to such severe atrocities, and even genocide, has everything to do with nutmeg and the enormous wealth that could be gained with the commodity. The violent enforcement of a monopoly laid the foundation of the Dutch colonial empire.

In 1621, on empty islands, they built the first plantation colony where enslaved people from outside Banda were forced to work. It is because of Banda that the Netherlands is still one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Together with cloves and pepper, nutmeg made the VOC the largest company that ever existed in the history of modern capitalism.

Ridhwan Ohorella

What happened on Banda was not an exception or an isolated event in time, it happened in many other places and therefore symbolizes the systematic oppression and suffering that colonized people experienced throughout the world. It is on the backs of the colonized people that Europe enriched itself.

More importantly, the capitalist system that grew out of this, still exists. Apart from the economic advantages that the Netherlands still enjoys, the continuation of this system is also illustrated by the reproduction of colonial lies.

The true story about Banda is a challenge for both the Netherlands and Indonesia. It is a call for individuals, institutions and governments to stand up against historical distortions and confront the legacy of colonialism. In a world increasingly aware of the impact of its past, it is unacceptable to ignore the pain of the Wandan people.

Maluku, with Banda at its core, was known for its free trade network that existed for millennia before Western settlers arrived on our shore. Islam, a hallmark of free trade and hospitality toward Western guests, was not appreciated by these colonists.

The irony is that Dutch society today is involved in discussions on colonialism and racism. For outsiders this may seem as if the Dutch are finally ready to face what their ancestors have done in the past. Yet, the way the true history of Banda is still being denied, proves that nothing is what it seems.

To me, reconciliation is not only about uncovering a horrific past. True reconciliation is about taking responsibility by righting injustices, which includes the correction of lies. This is exactly what the Netherlands lacks. Nowadays, many of those who consider themselves “anticolonial” and “anti-racist”, fail to call our erasure for what it is: a deliberate falsification of history.

A good example of the irony is the recent visit of Dutch Ambassador to Indonesia Lambert Grijns to Banda Islands. He posted an English-language video to inform his followers about his trip and the history of the VOC on the islands. I was surprised to see that for a split-second he showed the book by Marjolein.

However, he made no reference to the contents of her book that highlight our historical erasure. If he was really willing to face the truth, he should have traveled to Kei instead of Banda to apologize to our leaders for what his country did to us. That he did not do so proves to me that the Dutch still find it necessary to manipulate the narrative to protect their interests in Indonesia.

In contrast, the recognition of our survival as a community could be an opportunity to understand the past and learn from the mistakes made. For us as a diaspora it is crucial that the pain that has been inflicted on our ancestors is acknowledged.

Yet, as long as “decolonization” is only used as an empty slogan to sugarcoat the actual erasure of the heart of our community on Ambon, Kei and all over the Nusantara archipelago, we cannot speak of change.

Our history was preserved in silence. Now it is time to share the story of Wandan.

The writer is a traditional storyteller, living in the Netherlands