223rd Meeting – Tuesday, June 11th 2002
Travellers’ The Dutch in 17th
A talk by Carool Kersten
The full text of Carool's talk:
intention of this talk is to provide an
impression of the ventures of the Dutch East India Company in
Events in the Kingdoms of
I am still in the process of making
the text ready for publication, I have chosen to make a presentation at
point in time because it was 400 years ago that the Dutch East India
was founded. In the
For briefness sake I will refer to the East India Company under its Dutch acronym ‘VOC’ (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie)
Before saying a bit more about the earlier mentioned book I would like to point out that the developments described in there took place during a crucial episode in the Dutch expansion overseas. For a correct appreciation I think it is important to keep the following points in mind:
1. At the same time as they were taking control over world trade, the Dutch at home were fighting a protracted war against their former overlords, the Spanish. It was a period in which the world would become engulfed in what could be described as the first wave of globalization.
Dutch Cambodia adventure coincided with Antonie van Diemen’s
years in office as
Governor General of the VOC in
'window of opportunity' offered to the Dutch at this time was the
the Japanese Shogun to introduce a policy of sakoku or
‘national seclusion’. This meant that all Japanese
citizens abroad were ordered to return home, while at the same time
But before going into that, let me say a few things about the book Strange Events.
Because of the paucity of
surviving indigenous source material, historians studying early-modern
But as a contemporary and edited account based on the material contained in these archives, it has a significance of its own. Because publications such as Strange Events give rise to interesting questions, such as:
1. Compared to primary sources, what is in it and what has been left out?
2. Which events are highlighted?
3. How are they described and contextualized?
4. Are there any conjectures to be made with regards to the author’s ‘hidden agenda’? And so on.
Let me add that
historians do appreciate the importance of contemporary publications.
respect I bring to mind the book written by Baas Terwiel on the image
Apart from the historical
perspective there is also the cultural angle. The book, published by
printer Pieter Casteleyn of
In an article that appeared in the Journal of the Siam Society of 1997, Sven Trakulhun pointed out that all these early travel accounts are to be considered a literary genre, written in response to the intellectual challenge posed by the encounter with non-Western cultures.
Strange Events was not published until 25 years after
incidents it describes. This delay may be explained by the fact that
information it contains was derived from VOC records, bearing direct
to VOC activities. In order to safeguard its position in the face of,
especially, English and Portuguese competition, such data were closely
secrets. As a matter of fact, in 1596 the Dutch had been able to break
century-old Iberian monopoly on the spice trade, thanks, in no small
to the wealth of details derived from the Itinerario
of Jan Huygen van Linschoten, a Dutchman who had been in Portuguese
Having become increasingly
rare since its first, and apparently only, print in 1669,
Casteleyn’s text was
reprinted in 1917, when it was added to a body of documents on Dutch
The authorship of Strange Events cannot be determined with any degree of certainty. In his ‘preface to the reader’, publisher Casteleyn stated that the writer had ‘cruised and experienced these wild districts himself, and had been commissioned with the administration of the voyage to the Lao Kingdom by [Governor] General van Diemen’. One would be tempted to conclude from this that Geraerd Wusthof was the author.
However, from a comparison between the texts of Strange Events and Wusthof's journal, Muller had already observed that the differences were too great to draw such a conclusion. Perusing the journal, he considered Wusthof not a very accomplished writer. Even for the expert on 17th-century Dutch his writing style was often succinct to the extreme, and his syntax and punctuation so erratic that one has often to guess for the exact meaning. Muller added to this that ‘sometimes one has to take recourse to German to be able to understand him’.
The French linguist Jean-Claude Lejosne, who has made a French translation of the Wusthof diary, is of the opinion that Wusthof was most probably of German origin, or, if Dutch, that he hailed from one of the eastern border provinces.
To this I may add that even the spelling of the supposed author’s name is not consistent. In Strange Events he is ‘Geraerd Wusthof’, while in the journal it is rendered as ‘Gerrit van Wuysthoff’.
Muller was therefore of
the opinion that Casteleyn had composed the text of Strange
Events, relying for the
In addition to these
linguistic observations, it should also not be forgotten that Wusthof
even present at the establishment of the VOC trading post in
Until the publication of
the texts collected and edited by Muller, hardly any Dutch material
to the VOC’s activities in
It was not until 1986 that
Lejosne’s translation of three other texts from the 1917
A revised and extended translation of these documents: namely the
by the expedition leader and his assistants respectively, as well as of
Wusthof’s letter addressed to the Governor General in
I would now like to return
to the historical setting of the VOC episode in
their first ships set sail for the East Indies in April 1595, the Dutch
already made a name for themselves as the bulk carriers of
resources were geared up to support this effort. The Dutch introduced a
trading vessel, named fluyt or
‘flute-ship’, which proved superior to the outdated
Developed in the 1590s in the North-Holland town of
seems somewhat paradoxical that in the space of a few decades the Dutch
able to dominate world trade, when at the end of the 16th century the
appeared to be overwhelmingly stacked against them. Barely a decade
war situation, with its ensuing embargoes, had made access to the
internal competition got out of hand, a number of merchants were able
convince state authorities that the trade would soon be ruined, and
the Portuguese would benefit from it, unless the government intervened.
was in 1602 that the ‘Staten-Generaal’ (a sort of
parliament which effectively
ruled the Republic) granted approval to the charter of the
Oostindische Compagnie’ (United East
By 1602, a system was taking shape that would enable the Dutch to take primacy in world trade for the next century and a half. It was as the expert on VOC history, Jonathan Israel, has it: “a unique and characteristically Dutch blend of political intervention and business efficiency” in which the VOC established an ever closer relationship with the Dutch ruling oligarchy.
Under its charter, the VOC was accorded vast commercial, military and political powers. The VOC was entitled to mint its own currency and manage the building and outfitting of ships. In the political field it would be allowed to build fortresses and found plantations and colonies in its own name. It could mobilize and maintain armies and – very important – sign treaties with foreign potentates in the name of the ‘Stadtholder’ (Chief of the Republic’s executive branch, a position held by the Prince of Orange).
seems strangely at odds with the
carefully designed balance of power in the Republic itself. But in the
Indies the Dutch were up against the Portuguese, still a formidable
who, after more than a century in Asia, were firmly entrenched in most
entrepots throughout the Indian Ocean region and
Ever since the conquest of Malacca in 1511, Portuguese colonial administrators like d’Albuquerque and his successors had encouraged the Portuguese colonists to marry into the local population. Not serving under contracts for a fixed period of time like VOC officials, many of the Portuguese expatriates had come east to stay. I quote in this context the observation of VOC Governor General Antonie van Diemen:
of the Portuguese in
Moreover, since 1580,
As a matter of fact, the struggle was of truly global proportions with confrontations taking place on four continents and seven seas. For this reason, C.R. Boxer, one of the greatest authorities on the Luso-Dutch conflict, is of the opinion that “this seventeenth-century contest deserves to be called the First World War rather than the holocaust of 1914-18”
The battle-line was drawn
along a religious divide as well, pitting staunchly Protestant Dutch
fervently Roman-Catholic Iberians. The growth of Protestant
the 16th century had led to a Roman Catholic revival called
Counter Reformation, culminating in the establishment of the
Inquisition at the
Council of Trent (1536), an institution wholehearted supported by the
Portuguese. In the course of the long struggle for independence, the
the Protestants in the
In short, the
international political climate during the first half of the 17th
century was extremely explosive. On their own soil the Dutch were
the Eighty-Year War against
nearly two decades in the
occupation of the settlement of Cakarta, soon renamed ‘
After 1632 however, having defeated the powerful Javanese Sultanate of Mataram the Dutch ‘entered upon a period of spectacular success and expansion. The great advance began under Antonie van Diemen 1636-1645’.
Diemen pursued his policy of pushing the
Portuguese out of the Asian trade network, with singular determination.
extended the span of VOC control not only further into the Indonesian
Archipelago and mainland Southeast Asia, but also over the lucrative
a string of factories along the
van Vliet, a Dutch merchant in
With decisive figures like van Diemen in Batavia and the newly appointed chief merchant of Ayutthaya, Jeremias van Vliet, in charge - and an additional foothold in Indochina to the boot - 1636 may be considered a watershed year for the Dutch influence in mainland Southeast Asia.
then commerce between
important commodities the Dutch
hoped to obtain via
Gum-lac or lakka, is the sticky, resinous secretion of the tiny lac insect (laccifer lacca) which is a species of scale insect. This insect deposits lac on the twigs and young branches of several varieties of soapberry and acacia trees and particularly on the sacred fig (Ficus Religiosa). It is mainly used in the production of dyes.
three were luxury goods highly valued in
be able to appreciate the political situation as the Dutch found it on
very important development had been the relocation of the
from its ancient site at Angkor to the
Cambodian territory itself the shift
of the geographical center of gravity from Angkor to the
Moving the country's
geographical center to Phnom Penh
made good sense to the Cambodians because, in addition to being a safer
distance from the encroaching Siamese, its location allowed the
become more actively involved in commerce with Chinese merchants
the Mekong from ports on the South China Sea, and also to establish
over the Laos trade coming down-river. Also,
crucial event in setting the stage for the
state of affairs confronting the VOC merchants in the 1630s had
1594 when the Siamese had finally succeeded in capturing the Cambodian
then located at Lovek. Sources present the fall of Lovek as the turning
but, according to David Chandler, Cambodia’s presumed decline at
the hands of
the Siamese was much more of a gradual affair and should not be
attributed to a
single, cataclysmic event. In the following decades foreign traders
continue to deal with both
Anyway, after losing his capital, King Sattha fled to seek refuge in the Lao capital, Vientiane The king’s brother, Srei Suriyopor, who carried the title Ubhayorâj or ‘Second King’, was taken captive and, together with his relatives, transferred to Ayutthaya as hostages.
What stands out in the period following the fall of Lovek are the bungled attempts by two Iberian soldiers of fortune, the Spaniard Blas Ruiz de Hernan Gonzales and the Portuguese Diego Belloso (Veloso), to restore Sattha as the ‘legitimate’ king of Cambodia.
incident contained two elements which
were to have a lasting effect on the political situation in
The two mercenaries soon became entangled in a power play of Byzantine complexity, which ended with their death during a Malay-led revolt in the summer of 1599. The confusion lasted until 1603; kings were murdered while rival factions of noble families fought each other over suitable successors. The resident Malays, led by the so-called Laksamana, continued to play an important role in this web of conspiracies and intrigue.
one group of mandarins, with the
Although there appears to be little recorded evidence of indiscretions committed by Outei with the spouse of his brother Chei Chettha, it is possible that these were the root cause for the future rivalry between the Chei Chettha line and Outei line.
years of rule, the 67-year old king abdicated in favor of his oldest
ruled for the next eight years as Chei Chettha II. The kings’
death in 1627
heralded a new period of uncertainty, which was the situation that the
encountered when establishing a permanent trading post in
Chei Chettha was succeeded by his son Chau Ponhea To, who was still a minor and an ordained Buddhist monk at the time of his father’s passing. Consequently, Chei Chettha’s younger brother Outei took on the title Ubhayoraj and started to act as ‘regent’ on behalf of his nephew.
One of the first acts of the new king was to build himself a new residence on Koh Khlok – an island in Tonlé Thom. While the exact motivations for this act remain unclear, it did effectively prevented the king from having any direct involvement in state affairs because Outei and most of the courtiers remained at the old location of Udong. This way the regent had a free hand in Cambodian politics.
Around 1632, the smouldering tensions between the king and the regent erupted. According to historian Mak Phoeun, by then there was a real power struggle going on between Chau Ponhea To and Outei. However, in the royal chronicles the king’s re-establishment of a liaison with Princess Ang Vati, by then consort of the Ubhayoraj, was presented as the pretext for the regent to taking decisive action against the king.
Five thousand troops, a proportion of whom were Portuguese mercenaries, besieged the king at Koh Khlok. The exact fate of the king following the initial clash is not entirely clear. One of the extant chronicles states that Chau Ponhea To died in 1634, but Geraerd Wusthof mentioned in his journal that the king was murdered in Koh Khlok in 1632.
disappearance of Chau Ponhea To from the scene, important courtiers
Outei to become king. But the regent again refused – as he had
done in 1627 –
and arrangements were made for Chau Ponhea Nu, a younger brother of the
king, to take the throne. It was during this reign that the Dutch
background in mind, we now can turn to the first section of Strange
Events, dedicated to the VOC in
The Dutch in 17th-century
We can discern two important strands along which the narrative is developed:
One gives a
The other strand
provides a few instances of
how the global Portuguese-Dutch struggle unfolded in
the story starts by pointing out that in 1635
With this information we can identify the ‘Older King’ as the regent Outei, and the ‘Younger King’ as Chau Ponhea Nu. The ‘present king’, another surviving son of Chei Chettha II, named Chau Ponhea Chan, does not return until later in the story.
The third ‘king’ of the triumvirate in power was in fact a queen, whose name is given as Nappra Thiemeda. She was a sister of Outei. When, in 1640, both the 'Younger King' and Nappra Thiemeda died, Outei appointed his own son as king and heir apparent. That son’s name is given as Nac Tomeretiat (a corruption of Dhammatiraj).
relationships with this first trio were of varying quality. Because of
apparently mercurial character, the initially cordial relation between
the first Dutch factor, Jan Dirckz. Gaalen, became strained over a
involving the sale of cannon. It was only thanks to the intervention of
'Younger King', that Outei was pacified. However, in the end the VOC
option but to recall Gaalen. The 'Younger King’s' sudden death
very much deplored in Strange Events,
because, due to the loss of this benefactor, the Dutch were unable to
justice in what I have dubbed ‘the
early 1639, the Dutch factor in Tonkin had chartered a Chinese junk to
transport a cargo of silk and eighteen Dutchmen from
Strange Events makes frequent
mention of this great
‘affection’ towards the VOC. This needs some explanation.
consideration Oliver Wolters’ concept of the ‘
The Dutch would have been severely mistaken if they assumed that this friendly attitude was exclusively reserved for them. There are indications in Strange Events that the Dutch indeed took a pragmatic view of this royal benevolence, since donations made to members of the royal family and the court are repeatedly mentioned as a means to curry favor and obtain preferential treatment.
First of all, the intensity of the rivalry is underscored by an explicit reference to the difference in morality. The author contrasts the alleged rectitude of the Dutch with examples of Portuguese perfidy.
violent encounters are employed to prepare the contention – to be
made in a
later stage – that the Portuguese instigated the massacre or
Dutch citizens present in
The first confrontation appears to have been a common brawl getting out of hand. It involved a number of sailors from the VOC vessel de Sayer, and left two Dutchmen dead. This incident led to a protracted court case, in which the Portuguese are accused of bribing the court into ruling financial compensation for the Dutch, instead of the execution of two Portuguese ‘of equal standing’ as demanded by the Dutch. Dutch chief merchants refused to accept the blood money, and the author ends the account with the self-righteous remark that 'until to date the Dutch have refused to collect the awarded sum.'
complex and of greater political
consequence was the second case, involving a Portuguese vessel outbound
the Portuguese demanded a two-week
head start, but van Regemortes remonstrated that he could not comply
either because the southern monsoon, which the Oost-Cappel
needed to reach Japan, was nearing its end.
Consequently he instructed the ship’s commander, Abel Tasman
– who later became
a famous explorer, to leave port three days prior to the departure of
Cambodian vessels. Portuguese fears were subsequently justified
when Oost-Cappel, lying in wait a few
miles offshore, captured one of the Cambodian vessels. Consequently the
Portuguese sued the Dutch, but internal political developments in
point the author is about to tie
together the two strands along which he developed his narrative: one
with the relations between Cambodian royalty and the VOC, the other
to the Dutch-Portuguese encounter in
I interpret the great detail in which all of the atrocities are depicted as being motivated not so much by the author’s horror of cruelty, as by his intention to underscore his indignation with the unfair way this oriental despot came to power.
fascinating aspect of this whole affair is
the surprising decision of the new king to convert to Islam. Let me
here with the remark that the author of Strange
Events did not fail to notice that this conversion earned the king
unwavering support of the Muslim Malay and Javanese in
After explaining the importance of this alliance the author makes the connection between the two strands when he states that, and I quote:
“With the help of the Javanese and Malays, who were very influential with the king, the Portuguese were able to take their advantage of this new monarch. Intent on frustrating Dutch trade in these regions in every possible way [..] It is believed that the Portuguese have sought to avenge themselves when in the year 1643 the chief merchant Pieter de Regemortes, together with many Dutch and servants, was scandalously murdered at the lodge in Cambodia [..]”
So at the very least the Portuguese were guilty by association. By his earlier elaborate descriptions of the various acts of barbarism committed on Chau Ponhea Chan’s instruction and their subsequent association with this ‘usurper’, the author pronounces a moral verdict over the Portuguese: they belong in the same category as Asian despots.
now turn to the
VOC expedition that was sent to
presence in most of Southeast
coastal centres of
commerce, the Dutch now turned their attention to the interior, from
hoped to obtain the forest products that were so
They had identified a mysterious kingdom known as Lansiangh (‘Lân Xâng’), but as it was inhabited by a people called ‘Lao’, the Dutch started to refer to it as Louwen-lant or Lauwen Landt (‘Land of the Lao’).
Lao history, we face the same shortage of indigenous sources as for
It seems that
Xâng wanted to
become a more outward
looking country, because the king was very eager to get access to the
trade network of
van Diemen had received a number of Lao merchants who had traveled from
invitation for an exploratory visit, van Diemen instructed the factory
will limit myself to the usefulness of the ‘
Reading the passages on the religion of Buddhism as the prime exponent of the author’s encounter with an unfamiliar culture, one is struck by Wusthof’s obvious powers of observation. For example, he appears to have been perceptive enough to distinguish differences between the practices of the Lao, Siamese and Cambodian monastic orders, and the relative status they enjoyed in their respective societies. Yet, at the same time, he lacked even the most basic knowledge of the teachings of the Buddha. The problem to adequately represent a non-Western culture and religion was further compounded by an apparent lack of suitable categories to describe what was observed. Consequently, Wusthof took his recourse to the only device available: contrasting it with his own religious background. To do this he cast Buddhism in the mould of the only other religion he was sufficiently familiar with: Roman Catholicism.
But it is not impossible that there may have been other forces at work. I think that certain underlying political motivations should not be discarded out of hand. If that is the case Wusthof may have been manipulating his descriptions by the intentional employment of the chosen terminology.
An indication for this is that members of the sangha or monastic order and temples are consistently referred to by – often derogatory – words, usually reserved for describing Roman Catholic clerics and institutions. In this context, the fact should not be ignored that a major objection of Protestants towards Roman Catholicism was the exalted position of clerics and the sway they held over the laity.
In Strange Events the Protestant Wusthof perceived Buddhism as having accorded a similar high status to a religious class which he perceived to be as morally corrupt as the Catholic priests. I will give a few examples to illustrate this:
In the chapter dedicated to a description of Laos, Wusthof claims that the largest part of the annual gold production of Laos was donated to the ‘Papists to decorate their idol churches and pyramids’, which are numerous and many.
The number of monks (idolaters as he calls them) is comparable to the ‘number of soldiers of the German Emperor’
Not only do
they ‘fool the people in believing that
God-in-Heaven has appeared in this land and that therefore all statues
fashioned in his image’, but that for the same reason the
monks claim that
‘they have been raised over those from
Siam and Cambodia’. Further proof of this is the fact that
many Siamese and
Cambodian monks come to
Wusthof now becomes really cynical, because in his opinion these monks come because the Lao treat them ‘like Gods. As anything they desire, with regard to food etc. is prepared in great abundance for them’, and ‘clothes they have more than they need’. Wusthof even ventures that they ‘use women whenever they desire so’.
I find Wusthof’s observation that "at home, Cambodian monks do not get away with such behavior" very interesting. He claims that in the case of such transgressions they are handed over to the judiciary. Wusthof adds also that Cambodian monks have to look after their own livelihood. These differences are cause for a lot of animosity between the two. Cambodians accuse Lao monks of indecency, while Lao consider the Cambodian monks as beggars.
In conclusion Wusthof states’ they promise that the one who offers them most will be most fortunate. Thus they are able to hold the people in subjection. In short, they are very apt at the art of retaining these people under their devotion and at the same time make them part with their money’
The assumption of such intentional manipulation would also allow the interpretation that the Catholic Portuguese were implicitly categorized as being on an equal footing with the pagan ‘natives’, because this dovetails nicely with the earlier mentioned observation of van Diemen, one of the few zealously Calvinist Governors-General, concerning the Portuguese.
has pointed out that - much to the chagrin of the Dutch - the relative
of Catholic missionaries in
A more subtle parallel between Catholicism and Asian custom was drawn by Wusthof in his description of the audience with the king, where the barefoot approach -candles between folded hands - to the monarch is likened to participation in the ‘procession of Antwerp’.
My suspicion that the author is deliberately manipulating things may be speculative, but in his study of Jeremias van Vliet’s writings, the Australian economic historian Alfons van der Kraan has made similar conjectures concerning the behavior of Asian royalty. Van der Kraan was struck by the fact that in travel accounts, and I quote:
‘Apart from emphasizing the strange and exotic, there was a clear preference for material that stressed what these observers saw as the tyranny and despotism of Asian Kings.’
explanation for this particular focus is
based on the fact that, at the time, the Dutch were at the forefront of
capitalist development and change in