Johny A. Khusyairi - Making ‘the past’ Meaningful: The Representation of Coen’s, Daendels’ and van Heutsz’s Monuments in the Netherlands and the Netherlands Indies (Indonesia)

Monuments commemorating the experience of colonialism are known to have been built in the lands of both, the colonizer and the colonized. In these lands, monuments represented the power of the colonizer over the colonized. Since the erection of monuments was intended to build pride and inspiration for contemporary and future generations, the presence of monuments need to be contextualized. A study of the changes in names and the appearance of monuments, as well as their removal is one of the ways of contextualizing them.

In the colonial history of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), there are three important governor generals who contributed to the institution or extension of colonial rule. They are J.P. Coen, H.W. Daendels and J.B. van Heutsz. Coen is remembered for the role he played during the VOC period, Daendels in the transitional period, and van Heutsz in the colonial period. Their greatness and the acknowledgment of their contribution is reflected in the erection of their statues at the former head office of the Nedelansche Handelmaatschappij (NHM) building on Vijzelstraat, Amsterdam.

In the case of Coen, there are numerous monuments, statues, and busts set up in his honor in the Netherlands as well as the Netherlands Indies. In the Netherlands Indies, a statue of Coen stood at Waterlooplein, in Batavia while in the Netherlands, Coen’s hometown Hoorn sports one such statue. A third commemoration of Coen is seen in his portrait at the entrance of the Koninkelijk Instituut voor de Tropen (KIT).

In the case of Daendels, there seems to have been no justice done to his fame in terms of representation because there is not more than one statue of his in the Netherlands. This statue can be seen at the NHM building. The only other commemoration of Daendels is a plaque on the wall of his former house in his hometown, Hattem which contains the words “de Tinne”. In Indonesia, there still exists a statue of his shown to be in interaction with a Sundanese prince. The statue shows them shaking hands. Daendels is depicted as extending his right hand to the prince while his left hand firmly holds on to the hilt of his sword. The prince in turn carries a traditional dagger called the keris, while his right hand is in the firm grasp of Daendels’ handshake.

In contrast to Daendels, van Heutsz’s representation in the form of monuments, busts or reliefs is more conspicuous. Monuments named after him were built both in the Netherlands Indies (Batavia) and the Netherlands (Amsterdam).There are also busts of him in Aceh, his hometown, Coevorden and at the KNIL museum at Bronbeek.

The representation of individuals by means of monuments both in the Netherlands and Indonesia reflects the appreciation of both nations of their past and how they seek to represent it to the present or perhaps to the future as well. Viewing history through monuments is interesting. However, monuments despite being custodians of the past are often neglected, as opposed to texts or even oral history. The representation of monuments is useful way of studying Dutch and Indonesian comprehension of their colonial past.

The primary questions of this research then is to examine how the Dutch and the Indonesians deal with the past as reflected in the monuments in commemoration of the contributions of the three colonial greats; how important are the monuments to both the Netherlands and Indonesia with regard to their colonial past?

Archives in the municipal archival institutions, newspaper and interviews have been utilized to answer these questions. The preliminary findings show that both the Indonesian and the Dutch governments actually agreed not to retain monuments as a means of demonstrating their power during the colonial period. It does not mean that both governments sought to forget or downplay colonial tragedies. Neutrality in representation became significant if monuments were allowed to exist into the contemporary period. 

Johny has graduated for his MA degree in 2009.

Last Modified: 05-08-2014