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Coen’s attempt to commit genocide on the Bandanese has failed – Omniboek

Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s attempt to commit genocide on the Bandanese has failed

The original Bandanese live on as the Wandanese on the Kei Islands

Omniboek, Marjolein van Pagee, March 14, 2024
[This article was first offered as opinion piece to Dutch newspaper Trouw, but they were not interested in publishing it.]

Last January the Indonesian translation of my book Banda. The genocide of Jan Pieterszoon Coen was released in Jakarta under the title: Genosida Banda. Kejahatan Kemanusiaan Jan Pieterszoon Coen. When my book first came out in 2021 it was exactly 400 years ago that Coen went to the Banda Islands to commit a genocide there.

While I was in Indonesia for the book launch, Banda made the national news in the Netherlands again. The reason was a council meeting in the city of Hoorn that focussed on the question whether Coen’s statue should be demolished or not.

With the comment that Coen was “a bit of a rascal”, Dutch TV-comedian Arjen Lubach tried to make people laugh. A “bit of a rascal” because, according to Arjen, Coen had exterminated the original population of Banda. Nationwide, the message was repeated for the umpteenth time that 14,000 of the 15,000 Bandanese were murdered by Coen. Dutch news platform WNL: “The few inhabitants that survived ended up in slavery.”

Dutch people who argue for the removal of the statue because Coen is guilty of genocide, equally emphasize that there were virtually no survivors left. Harry Westerink, for example, member of the Werkgroep Slavernijverleden Hoorn (Slavery History Working Group Hoorn) and activist for Doorbraak, was one of the speakers during the council meeting who stated that Coen murdered an estimated 15,000 Bandanese.

Meeting with Rat War

This is not right. In east Indonesia, on the Kei Islands, there is a Bandanese community, direct descendants of those who left 400 years ago to escape the genocide. When my book came out, I already highlighted that the existence of descendants is being erased in the Netherlands. My hope was that my book, and the publications that came along with it, would change this.

Unfortunately, four years later, most Dutch people still refuse to recognize that there is something like a Bandanese diaspora on Kei, whose people identify as “Wandan”, after Banda’s original name.

After a book tour on Java, I also visited the Kei Islands myself to hand over the book to Rat War, the current leader of the Wandan community. “Coen gagal,” they reminded me several times, “Coen has failed, we have not been exterminated.”

Throughout the Moluccas there are quite a number of people who, in one way or another, are related to the original Bandanese and who can prove this by their family tree. For that reason alone, the statement that almost all Bandanese in 1621 were killed and that only a few managed to escape, is incorrect. A significant part was not present on the islands when Coen arrived with his fleet.

Long before the arrival of the VOC, the Banda Islands were an international trading hub. Not only did foreign traders come from far and wide to the islands, the Wandanese themselves also traveled and settled in other places where they mixed with the local population. This explains why there are still many Wandan descendants to this day.

Hj. Sribunga Uar, Banda Ely

However, specifically on the Kei Islands are the descendants whose ancestors left because of the genocidal attempt in 1621. Since then, they live there in the villages of Banda Ely and Banda Elat. In addition, seven Wandan-kampongs (city neighborhoods) have been built in the capital city of Tual. In general, the Wandanese marry within their own community and are therefore less mixed as the other Wandan diaspora groups in the archipelago. They emphasize that the departure from Banda to Kei was not a hasty flight but a deliberate choice to safeguard the survival of Islam, their family tree, their culture and history. They use the Islamic term “hijrah”.

Unlike the mixed Wandanese descendants who spread throughout the archipelago because of trade or other reasons, the descendants on Kei still speak the original language. The history is passed on from generation to generation through songs, sang by the women. In Banda Ely I met Ms. Hj Sribunga Uar who sang: “Jan Pieterszoon Coen came to rob our nutmeg, but we children of Wandan did not want to be colonized.”

Because one has to go to Kei to meet the descendants of those whom Coen expelled in 1621, I did not set foot on Banda itself during this trip. Yet, the ferry to Kei did pass the islands very close. So I saw the islands with my own eyes. The Wandanese told me that, despite centuries of separation, they still feel strongly connected to their country. When they are visiting the islands as children for the first time, they have to walk around barefoot to make contact with the earth and as a ritual a bit of soil is being put on their foreheads. Many are moved to tears when they talk about the genocide.

Passing the Banda islands

I find it disappointing that apparently for people in the Netherlands, it is so extremely difficult to recognize the existence of Wandan. It can no longer be that people don’t know about it. Dutch historians, journalists and activists concerned with Banda must have heard about my book in which the erasure of Wandan is the central theme. My book was sold relatively well and received quite some media attention, as reviews were published in several leading newspapers.

My suspicion that the historical erasure of Wandan in the Netherlands is a deliberate act, was confirmed by the Indonesian reaction to my book, which was very different. Here in Indonesia, journalists publish one article after another to correct the historical erasure of Wandan. I wonder: why is it that Dutch people continue to repeat the persistent lie that Coen massacred almost all Bandanese and that almost no one survived? Is it that we find it uncomfortable to admit that we Dutch people have been falsifying history and erasing them for 400 years?

See also:

Containing bias, colonial historical sources need to be criticized