Containing bias, colonial historical sources need to be criticized
Colonial historical sources need to be criticized because they contain bias. This is also an opportunity to rewrite history.
Kompas, By Tatang Mulyana Sinaga, January 27, 2024
JAKARTA, KOMPAS – The history of Indonesia has often been written based on information sourced from the VOC (a trading company originating from the Netherlands) and the Dutch colonial government. These historical sources must be critically examined for bias as they were intended to serve the interests of the colonizers.
The sources from the colonial era need to be re-examined to obtain a more valid history. This simultaneously opens up opportunities for domestic historians to rewrite the history of Indonesia.
The history of the VOC attack on Banda, Maluku, by Jan Pieterszoon Coen in 1621, for example, has often been written incompletely. After the conquest of Banda which was accompanied by mass massacres, history books describe the Banda population as having been wiped out. The VOC then filled the islands with new residents to plant nutmeg using a ‘perken’ system or renting land to third parties carried out by workers from outside the Banda Islands. However, the book: Genosida Banda. Kejahatan Kemanusiaan Jan Pieterszoon Coen (The Banda Genocide. Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s Crimes against Humanity) written by Marjolein van Pagee reveals other facts about this dark history.
There are still Bandanese people who managed to save themselves by leaving Banda, such as to the Kei Islands and Seram. Dean of the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at the University of Indonesia, Bondan Kanumoyoso, stated that the book offers a new perspective based on the testimony of descendants of the indigenous people of Banda. The book, which was published by Komunitas Bambu provides sharp criticism of the Eurocentric view that dominates colonial historiography.
“The colonial perspective needs to be criticized. The narratives they present are biased with various interests, often neglecting the true history that occurred,” Bondan Kanumoyoso said during a book discussion at the Jakarta History Museum on Saturday (27/1/2024). The act of obscuring history serves various purposes. By claiming that virtually no indigenous people remained, the VOC or colonial rulers could easily monopolize the trade in Banda, which is renowned for producing high-quality nutmeg. The rights of local residents were also threatened by this. “We need to be careful in looking at historical sources and not just blindly accept them. This is because historical facts were conveyed with various colonial interests when they were written as sources,” he said.
Moreover, there was an attempt to legitimize colonialism in Dutch society by popularizing Coen’s statement, namely: ‘No Business Without Battle’. His statement normalizes violence because it is balanced by positive things related to the economy obtained from the exploitation of colonial land. Bondan mentioned that before the arrival of European nations, Banda was an open territory for anyone who wanted to trade. However, the arrival of European nations, especially the Dutch, turned Banda into a place of competition to monopolize the trade of nutmeg.
The fate of the Banda Islands is the same as that of other VOC territories, such as Batavia. Both areas were strictly controlled by the VOC, while their inhabitants were not given the freedom to determine their own destiny. Distortion of history The book ‘Genosida Banda. Kejahatan Kemanusiaan Jan Pieterszoon Coen’ not only tells the story of genocide, but also the distortion of history for hundreds of years. Until now, Coen’s statue still stands and is worshiped in the Netherlands. The fact that he had committed genocide was never acknowledged by the Dutch government.
The writing of the 201-page book was the result of Marjolein’s encounter with three descendants of Banda in the Netherlands. From there, she began to conduct further research. In January 2024, she had the opportunity to meet the Wandan family (the name for the original Banda family) in Jakarta. In the meeting, the Wandan family shared many stories that had been passed down by their ancestors about the 1621 genocide event. The erasure of the Wandan community from Banda’s history is the common thread running throughout this book. The structural elimination also leaves a mark on Indonesia.
“There needs to be an awareness that aside from committing brutal violence, colonizers also twist the truth. If historians are not critical of Dutch sources, they run the risk of reproducing colonial lies,” Marjolein said. Director of the Centre for Law, Human Rights, and Gender at the Institute of Research, Education, and Economic and Social Enlightenment (LP3ES), Hadi Purnama, stated that understanding the genocide in Banda is important not only for historical studies, but also for international law. This is because the book also discusses the role of VOC legal advisor, Hugo de Groot, who is known as the founder of international law. “Hugo de Groot was someone who took advantage of what had happened in Banda to elevate himself into a fairly important position. It is time to be critical of our history and laws,” Hadi said.