This publication emerges from a process of co-creation in which historian Maartje Janse and research journalist Anne-Lot Hoek challenge the dominant national narrative about the colonial experience in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). In combining journalistic and academic writing with musical performance by musician Ernst Jansz they amplify the critical voices that have spoken out against colonial injustice and that have long been ignored in public and academic debate. Even though it is often suggested that the mindset of people in the past prevented them from seeing what was wrong with things we now find highly problematic, they argue that there was indeed a tradition of colonial criticism in the Netherlands, one that included the voices of many ‘forgotten critics’ whose lives and criticism are the subject of this publication. The voices however were for a long time overlooked by Dutch historians. The publication is organized around the biographies of several critics (whose lives Janse and Hoek have published on before), the historical debate afterwards and includes reflective videos and texts on the process of co-creation.
Maartje Janse started the process by tracing the life history of an outspoken nineteenth-century critic of the colonial system in the Dutch East Indies, Willem Bosch. The authors argue that it was not self-evident how criticism of colonial injustices should be voiced and that Bosch experimented with different methods, including organizing one of the first Dutch pressure groups.
The story of Willem Bosch inspired Ernst Jansz, a Dutch musician with Indo roots, to compose a song (‘De ballade van Sarina en Kromo’). It is an interpretation of an old Malaysian ‘krontjong’ song, that Jansz transformed into a protest song that reminds its listeners of protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s. Jansz, in his lyrics, adds an indigenous perspective to this project. He performed the song during the Voice4Thought festival in 2016, a gathering that aimed to reflect upon migration and mobility in current times. Filmmaker Sjoerd Sijsma made a video ‘pamplet’ in which the performance of Ernst Jansz, an interview with Maartje Janse, and historical images from the colonial period have been combined.
Anne-Lot Hoek connected Willem Bosch to a series of twentieth-century anti-colonial critics such as Dutch Indies civil servant Siebe Lijftogt, Indonesian nationalists Sutan Sjahrir, Rachmad Koesoemobroto, Dutch writer Rudy Kousbroek and Indonesian activist Jeffry Pondaag. She argues that dissenting voices have been underrepresented in the post-war debates on colonialism and its legacy for decades, and that one of the main reasons is that the notion of the objective historian was not effectively problematized for a long time.