The scene is utterly confusing, even for those most at ease in multicultural settings: tall, black, curly haired older men in African attire; short, fragile, dark skinned, flat nosed women draped in Asian prints; the lighter skinned, more Mediterranean looking youths, and then the lighter haired Caucasians. What they have in common are their Indo-African roots.
With African music, Indonesian food, and an Indo-African fashion show, about 150 of them gathered again recently to share stories about their common ancestors.
The African roots were long kept hidden. Was it shame, or the desire to blend into Dutch society that prevented the Indo-African elders from revealing their secret?
“It’s our story”, says Joyce Cordus, and it’s still largely unknown in the Netherlands”, despite several books having been written about the Black Dutchmen. Her father is Daan Cordus, 89, one of the oldest remaining descendents of the group in the Netherlands who has devoted the past decades to gathering information about their shared background. Today, Joyce is taking over his responsibility as chairman of their association.
Like her, young members of the 5th generation want to understand why they feel different in Dutch society. “They have lots of questions and we have to look for other ways to reach them.” Joyce plans to do that by using social media platforms such as Facebook, its Dutch equivalent Hyves, and Twitter.
Few historical documents
There are very few written historical documents about their history. Joyce says she’d like to know how the Africans who settled in Indonesia experienced being “not entirely Indonesian, not completely Dutch, not completely African, just being a mix, and what that meant to them as individuals and as parents.”
Joyce Cordus is proud that her father dug into their history and helped found their association.
In Africa, this story of three continents has yet to be told. Yaw Ohene-Dankwa, from Ghana, is at the gathering in the Netherlands to work on a documentary film on the subject. While Ghanaians know about their brothers and sisters in the West Indies, the story of the East Indian Diaspora is unknown to them.
He says he felt emotional when he entered the hall and saw this mix of people with Asian and African features. “It feels as if I’m one of them although I’m a full-blooded Ghanaian. How on earth can we lose out on all these brothers and sisters who are so attached to Africa?”
He listens intensely as Angeline Baron Hill, probably with the darkest skin amongst the 150 people here, tells her story. She said years ago she was proud of the fact that she has no European blood at all. She still is. Angeline has never lived in Africa, but she remembers how she immediately felt at home during a visit to Ghana. She said people she met at the market looked like her aunts and uncles and thought she was “one of theirs”. Angeline decided to buy a plot of land there.
When asked what’s African about her, Maureen, Angeline’s daughter, says: “we’re all outgoing, we like people and family around us, we’re always outdoors, we love our food, and we make a lot of noise!” Maureen has noticed that her lighter skinned teenaged children have started asking questions about their roots, and tend to mix with people from different cultures.
With their mixed backgrounds, one might expect Maureen and Angeline to show concern over the new Dutch government’s plans to reduce the number of new immigrants in the country by half. They aren’t.
“They treated us like foreigners but we never felt like foreigners. This is not affecting me personally,” Angeline insists.
Joyce Cordus, however, reacts visibly emotionally when asked how she views the anti-immigrant wave in Dutch politics. “It’s terrible. I feel as if as they’re attacking me. I’m worried about my 2 grandchildren. In what kind of country will they grow up, what did the Dutch learn from their own history? These people they are attacking now, most of them came here because they had no choice, like most of the Indonesians who came here. It really makes me very angry. Maybe people like us should gather around this theme and think about how to turn things around, because this is not the right way to go.”
Pictures of descendents of Indo-Africans by Armando Ello: