Celebrating Slavery: Painting on the Dutch Queen’s Golden Carriage

Yesterday, the gouden koets or golden carriage of the Dutch Queen, Beatrix, went through the streets of The Hague. It is an annual procession. The carriage is used by the Queen from her royal house to the parliament building, to speak in front of legislators.

The carriage was made in 1898 and the side panel has never been changed. The painting, titled ‘Tribute of the Colonies,’ features dark skinned people bowing to the white people, paying tributes to the majestic colonisers. In case you haven’t noticed, for several centuries the tiny Netherlands colonised what was called Dutch East Indies — now Indonesia — and various parts of Africa and America. The Dutch were all white back then (no coloured person was considered Dutch, of course), and the colonised ones were dark-skinned. In the picture, the dark people don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that they’re enslaved. Perhaps because the painter was the master, not the slave? :/

Give me everything you have, and I’ll give you this book. Aren’t I nice?

I first heard about it last year, when I interviewed Jeffry Pondaag, the Chair of Yayasan Komite Utang Kehormatan Belanda (yayasan K.U.K.B. / Dutch Foundation Committee Debts of Honor), for the Rawagede massacre lawsuit. The newspeg had already over so I did not write anything about it. However yesterday morning, Pondaag sent me an e-mail. Attached with it were a press release, a letter to the Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Queen Beatrix, and pictures of the carriage.

I wrote a short report about it for Tempo.

Personally, I still think it’s one of the loose ends that thorn the relationship of most ex-coloniser countries with their ex-colonies. Some people choose to not fuss about the past, but I believe it would be better if (bad) incidences of the past are recognised and embraced as lessons learnt to build a better future. Indonesia itself is far from perfect and still have to deal with a lot of human rights abuses which cost priceless lives, such as the anticommunist purge in the late 1960s, repression against the Acehnese and Papua people, the US-approved invasion to Timor Leste, as well as 1998 kidnappings and killings.

The letter to Rutte and Beatrix, in my opinion, is interesting and deserves to be read by many more people. Particularly, the part which states that the Netherlands now is not the one back then, that slavery and colonialism is now crime against humanity, that they should learn from the Germany, and that the panel should be kept inside of museum. So I pasted some parts of it below. And in case you need their contacts, I include their numbers at the end. Enjoy.

“Excellencies, Prime Minister, Ministers of the respective Departments and Members of the respective Commissions of the Second Chamber Committees of the Dutch Parliament

We: The National Platform Dutch Slavery Past and the Foundation Committee Honor of Debts, ask your attention for the following.

Soon, on September 18th the Golden Carriage will ride through the streets of the city of The Hague again. Thousands of Dutch citizens and tourists will visit the Royal residence again to catch a glimpse of the Queen and her relatives. The Queen will in turn ride again in her Golden Carriage: the symbol of the Dutch Monarchy wherein, through the painting on the Side Panel of the Carriage, the criminal colonial history of oppression and exploitation is being glorified.

In 2011, the National Platform Dutch Slavery Past and the Foundation Committee Debts of Honor, supported by the Members of Parliament: Harry van Bommel (Socialist Party/SP) and Mariko Peters (Greenleft/GL) made critical remarks regarding the painting on the Side Panel “Hulde der Koloniën” (Tribute to the Colonies) of the Golden Carriage. This, with great amazement of many Dutch people, including: politicians, intellectuals and journalists. The responses were very outraged. Some people have indicated that they never have noticed the painting before. Prime Minister Rutte mentioned the critical remarks “bizar”.

Some critics and historians have indicated that the offending painting on the Golden Carriage should be seen as expressions of a part of the legitimate Dutch history, for which a nation, which apparently is meant, white people, does not have to be ashamed. Meanwhile the people in the Netherlands are no longer ‘white’ civilians only. But they also consist of descendants of the victims of the Dutch Slave Trade, slavery and colonial Past.

The critical remarks in 2011 were also seen in the perspective of the “UN International Year for People of African descent” that was declared for 2011. We consider it as an excellent opportunity, within the frame of the UN Year, to bring up this issue of the Golden Carriage, into discussion. But also from the believe that the Netherlands as a civilized country, have transcended the stage of the Colonial Past and from the awareness of the Netherlands as a Multi-ethnic society, where the morals, standards and values deemed to have been changed. And for that reason there should be no place for the glorification of expressions which have their basis in racist ideologies, oppression and exploitation.

The signers of this current letter, on behalf of their constituencies, just like in 2011 deem, that in the time in which we are living now, the half-naked African and Indonesian men, women and children on the Side Panel, whereby they are offering goods to the ‘slaveholders’, which are produced through ‘slave labour’ is still inappropriate, insulting and disrespectful to the civilians of African and Indonesian origin in particular. It is offensive and disrespectful to all people of African and Indonesian descent anywhere in the world.

The Side Panel ‘Tribute to the Colonies’ is evoking strong counter-pressure for a large group of citizens in the Netherlands, both of African and Indonesian descent and other citizens of Good Will and solidarity. Every year that the Golden Carriage is riding with the relevant offending Side Panel, the painting evoked memories of a horrific period in Dutch history by maintaining the permanent indication, to the African and Indonesian community in the Netherlands, that they are and always have been inferior human beings.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the descendants of the Dutch despicable past still have not been offered apologies, while in 2001 (Final Resolution of the UN World Anti-Racism Conference in Durban / South Africa) The United Nations have declared all practices relating to the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, Slavery and Colonialism as a crime against humanity.

The benefactors, the “Association of the People of Amsterdam’ (Vereeniging van het Amsterdamsche Volk’), could not have suspect in 1898, that 103 years later Slave Trade, Slavery and Colonialism would have been declared as crimes against humanity. In the colonial period and the aftermath of the Slave Trade and Slavery a picture as challenged indeed seemed to be quite common. The general civilization in the Netherlands: norms and values, was not in that stage to realize that oppression and exploitation of entire peoples were crimes. On that time there was no awareness that once the Netherlands should be a Multi-ethnic country.

As the Netherlands could take an example by the British Royal House it should be every reason to the Dutch Royal Family from the point of view of human rights and the human dignity in mind, to replace the offending painting on the Side Panel of the Golden Carriage by a painting which refers to the Dutch Multi-ethnic society.

In Germany, all expressions that glorified the crime against humanity are banished from public life. This says a lot about the level of civilization of a nation.

The Netherlands is 150 years too late!

Excellencies, Prime Minister, ministers and members of the respective Second Chamber Committees.

We are ready to think positively with you. We are ready to discuss with you about alternative painting for the offending Side Panel of the Golden Carriage. What we have in mind is a painting that portrays and reflects on the Multi-ethnic character of the Dutch society.

We are convinced that the launching of a national competition towards Dutch visual artists to develop an alternative painting, will realizes many good responses. Right now visual artists in the Netherlands but also from abroad are eager to contribute.

We ask for:
According to the Dutch Constitutional Law set out in ministerial responsibility, to contrive that:

- The painting on the Side Panel of the Golden Coach “Tribute to the Colonies”, which are expressions of the crimes against the African and Indonesian humanity, be removed;
- The offending Side Panel will be placed for instance in a Dutch museum where similar paintings, which refer to the Dutch colonial history are exhibited. This, in the belief that a Dutch museum is the best place where from the perspective of the education of the past and human rights education information on the Dutch Slave Trade, Slavery and Colonial Past and its effects can be provided;
- To discuss the ideas with Her Majesty the Queen in respect of the launching of a national competition, in which Dutch visual artists are call on to realize alternative ideas to replace the offending painting on the Golden Carriage.

We realize that because of the Dutch parliamentary elections it could be that between the sending and delivery of this letter, a different composition of Cabinet, Parliament and Second Chamber committees has took place. We assume that this correspondence will hand over to possible successors. We are looking forward to your response and an invitation to discuss other alternative ideas with you.

Mrs. Drs. Barryl A. Biekman, National Platform Slavery:
+31 (0) 6 25 181 599
Mr. Jeffry M. Pondaag, Dutch Foundation Committee Debts of Honor
+31 (0) 6 38 613 795″

Bye Bye Bike

My bike is gone… :(

I parked it two days ago near the Central Station, when I had to take the train to Amsterdam to see my friends. This afternoon I went back to fetch it, but it was not there any more. I did lock the tire lock and chained it to a permanent, sturdy, lamp post as usual, but this time, it did not work. Unlike when once I parked it near Den Haag HS then left it two nights for Berlin, or another time at Central Station for Amsterdam.

After ten months using the flowery, girly, purple bike, I feel devastated to realise finally, I experience the typical Dutch experience: losing your bike. So I’m now the one of the “one of twenty bike owners in the Netherlands who lost at least one bike.”

It was not cheap for me. 80 euro from Marktplaats, the Dutch reliable second hand website. It was Dandy, an Indonesian from the old batch, who helped me to pick it up in some distant city.

It was perfect for a short person like me, with sturdy frame, completed with a very functional bag on the back side of the bike. Having a bike truly enhance my mobility. The Netherlands is perfect for biking as it has flat contour with plenty of designated bike lanes all over the country. My bike has brought me all around The Hague, to the city centre, to the parks, to the train stations, including when I had to dart from embassy to police office immigration office to embassy to take care of my lost passport.

I don’t know whether my bike has a frame number, so there is no way I can report it to the police.

I only have less than a month left in The Hague before going to Budapest. Bike-less. And gone is the prospect to re-sell it when I go. Pffff.

Mijn fiets terug!

Oh well. Bye bye, bike.

Laundry Story

100+ dorm residents with only four washing machines and four dryers are the perfect ingredients for a very long, time- and patience-consuming queue I have to endure during my stay in The Hague.

To avoid such thing, the rule of thumb is never doing laundry in weekend, the time of choice for most of us (but not mine), except when people (but me) are on holiday or fieldwork. It’s also better to do laundry late at night or early in the morning — as I’m not a morning person, midnight is always my choice.

Without queuing, it takes more than two hours to do each laundry cycle: 50 minutes to wash, 20 minutes to go back and forth to the machines, 60 minutes to dry, 15 minutes to fold fresh clothes. One annoying thing is that the machines are located in the dorm building across my rooms. It means that I have to go down two storeys, cross the street, unlock the door to the common room, put clothes in the washing machine, cross the street, unlock my dorm building door, go up two storeys, unlock my corridor door, unlock my room door, do something in my room for 30 minutes, go down again, cross the street, unlock the common room door, move clothes to dryer and take some shrink-prone clothes in my bag, cross the street, unlock my dorm building door, go up two storeys, unlock my corridor door, unlock my room door, do something in my room for 40 minutes, go down again, cross the street, unlock the common room door, get dry clothes, fold them, cross the street, unlock my dorm building door, go up two storeys, unlock my corridor door, unlock my room door, and finally put the fresh clothes inside my wardrobe. I appreciate the much-needed exercise, but it’s not fun in cold, windy time, and it’s even worse in winter.

Anyway, as now my two laundry bags are already full to the top, I really have to laundry the dirty clothes now… *sigh* Wish me a non-queuing night, fellas!

Picture is taken from this page.

Queen’s Night + Day

The Netherlands celebrates Koninginnedag, its Queen’s Day, on April 30th. It is the birthday of the previous queen, Juliana, since Beatrix’s birthday on January 31st — festivals in winter is apparently not fun enough for the Dutch people.

Towards the day, the small country without cabinet (hehe) is drenched with orange frenzy. The royal colour hits every shop window, stores, Dutch website, schools, and offices. ‘Every’ might be an exaggeration, but you know I mean, don’t you?

A super-orange shop window of The Hague.

I feel uncomfortable to wear orange and celebrate the day, since the Dutch Queen is definitely not my queen (not that I believe in monarchies anyway) and the colonial wound is haunting me (centuries of colonisation, uncountable casualties, slaughters, and loss, the fact that the country until now still formally believes it gave Indonesia the souvereignty in 1949 and not recognising Indonesia’s independence in 1945, plus that the Indonesian government in its early day had to take over 4.3 billion guilders of Dutch East Indies government debt, ring a bell?).

Maybe I’m just over-sensitive. But I refused to don my orange clothes in those two days, albeit still excited enough to roam the city with some friends to see the celebrations, hahaha. On April 29th, on the so-called Queen’s Night, there were several music stages set in The Hague. Went across some of them but since we didn’t understand Dutch and didn’t recognise the artists, we stayed just for a while before going to other part of the town: fairgrounds.

We were (at least I was, and I still am) somewhat broke so we didn’t buy anything that night… :D By the way we came across a screen which aired the picture of people passing in front of it. Kinda cheesy but it’s nice…

The next day, some friends went to Amsterdam where the ‘real thing’ is happening, eg. flea markets and loads of gigs, but since 1. I was on the edge of poverty so no matter how cheap things are, I wouldn’t buy anything; 2. I was not in the mood to see so many people in a day; 3. I didn’t want to travel by train and spend more money; I stayed in The Hague.

With Gina, Tina, Bang Doan and his wife, I took a boat ride through the city’s canals, which was interesting because we could see the city from a different perspective, ducked under really low bridges, and found out that the water didn’t stink at all (unlike the canals sewers back at home, hahaha). The boat operator was kind enough to let us stay aboard for almost an hour while we paid only 4 euro, which was the cost of the normal 25 minutes ride.

Some people just stood on the surfboards and paddled through the canal, still in orange, of course.

Duck or get your head hit by the concrete!

The view from the boat.

The boat operator, as we passed under the bridge near my dorm (never know that it’s as old as 1882).

The light at the end of the tunnel bridge.

When we got off the orange boat, we came across a historic tram, operated specially for that day. We didn’t hop aboard since we wanted to stroll around the city to see whether some things were still going on.. but apparently, we were too late for any attraction, hahaha. There were only lots and lots of people enjoying the sunshiny day. And so ended the Queen’s Day.

Around Holland With Yoga

During Yoga’s visit, we travelled to some cities in the Netherlands. Not much, they were just half-day excursions, since we usually woke up late and took a very leisurely pace everyday. The museumcard was a very good investment for both of us since museums are among the best things the Netherlands can offer!

It all started with going to Rotterdam for the IFFR. Unfortunately we didn’t really explore the city, only went to Schouwburg and Cinerama to see movies.

Days after, we went to Amsterdam to see a the Dutch National Ballet performance to satisfy my dream to actually watch ballet on stage. Am a (happy) victim of a childhood filled by ballet Japanese comics, hahaha. Too bad no pictures were allowed — but we didn’t bring cameras anyway since Yoga forgot to charge the battery. Here’s the trailer, though:

Before the fabulous performance, we went to see the Van Gogh museum. The paintings are amazing. I still think they’re more beautiful than the tiny Mona Lisa… :D

We also went to Delft. It’s such a nearby town we could just use tram, not even train, to reach the place. We managed to explore the Museum Nusantara, a small museum about, well, Indonesia, and Museum Het Prinsenhof, which tells the story of Willem of Orange’s assassination and the portrait painter Van Malievelt.

Museum Nusantara

Museum Nusantara

Wayang Willem

Wayang Willem

The next destinations for photo-ops, after a late lunch, were the townsquare and the (evil) VOC‘s former chamber office.

Delft Church

Delft Church

Say cheese!

Say cheese!

Say cheese, too!

Say cheese, too!

Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie

Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie

The last city we visited was Utrecht, for a dinner with Ly, Stan, Dinnia, and Sam. It was Monday so unfortunately all the museums were closed so I could not take him to my favourite museum, Museum Speelklok. So I gave him a short explanation of the Domkerk and Domtoren.



Then we walk along the Oudegracht canal to the Nijntje Pleintje, the Little Miffy Square. I’m not a big fan of Nijntje / Miffy but since there was not much to do, so, why not? :) The square was really small and the Nijntje statue was also small but it was so cute.

Little Miffy Square

Little Miffy Square

Nijntje & Bungtje

Nijntje & Bungtje

Miffy & Him

Miffy & Him

By bus, we went to Roberto Gelato to taste its delicious ice cream and then bag a litre of five flavours to bring to Ly’s place. The dinner was amazing and the night was so fun, thanks to perfect Utrecht quartet that I call friends!

In The Hague itself, we explored bits of it, most of the times cycling like the Dutch do. Memories are scattered in Vredespaleis, Scheveningen, Sumo, Scheveningse Bosjes, Cafe Dudok, Hofvijver, Mauritshuis, Van Kleef Distillery, Salero Minang,… well, too many places to mention.

All in all, the cold and windy Holland seemed to be much better when he was here.