The Indonesian rice table was declared intangible heritage by the Netherlands last week. It is intended as a recognition of the Indo-Dutch food culture. Many of them are happy about that. But many Indonesian Dutch people think this is a mistake.
“Indian food is actually Dutch food as a variation of Indonesian cuisine. It is a colonial product,” says Rochelle van Maanen, co-founder of the Decolonization Network.
“But when you call the dishes at the rice table ‘Indian,’ that’s cultural appropriation. You’re claiming elements of another culture that don’t belong to you. These dishes were invented by the original inhabitants of the Indonesian islands.”
Many people in the Netherlands who consider themselves Indian see the addition of the rice table to the cultural heritage as positive. Photographer Armando Ello, who among others has created the online magazine Why Indo? founded, it calls an “affirmation of their right to exist”. He believes it helps Indian people process their trauma. Although he understands that the Indonesian Dutch have difficulty with the cultural claim.
Jeffry Pondaag from the Indonesian fund Committee of Dutch Honorary Debts (KUKB), for example, is extremely critical, as is Van Maanen. He calls it mainly a colonial legacy. Because of the painful history, this issue of inheritance is extra sensitive.
After the Indonesian struggle for independence, many Indian and Indo-European people came to the Netherlands in the 1950s and 1960s. They fought for the Netherlands to keep the Dutch East Indies colony, where they had more rights than the original population. The Netherlands has about two million people with Indonesian roots.
The original population, which consisted of Indonesian people, was oppressed and massacred by the Netherlands for centuries. In 1945, they united the archipelago with Indonesia and declared independence. There are almost 350,000 people in the Netherlands with an Indonesian background.
De Indische rijsttafel
- Bij de Indische rijsttafel horen gerechten als rendang, ikan pedis en sambal goreng-boontjes. Verschillende gerechten worden tegelijk in kleine porties geserveerd met witte rijst als bijgerecht. Deze eettraditie begon tussen de zestiende en twintigste eeuw in de Zuidoost-Aziatische archipel die door Nederland werd gekoloniseerd. De koloniale overheersers noemden het destijds Nederlands-Indië.
‘The Dutch East Indies no longer exist’
In Indonesia, they make the same dishes that the Indo-Dutch call ‘Indian’. But then according to the original recipes of the original islanders. “Indonesians have adapted these dishes by, for example, making them less spicy so that they appeal to the Dutch,” says Van Maanen. “But also because the spices for authentic Indonesian dishes are not all available in the Netherlands.”
Van Maanen understands that Indonesian cooking and the Indonesian rice table are now claimed by the Netherlands as intangible heritage. Research shows that half of the Dutch are proud of their colonial past. So are some Indo-Dutch people.
“But the Dutch East Indies no longer exist. When you claim something like ‘Indisch’, you show that you relate to a colonial past. You also preserve a colonial identity,” she says. According to Van Maanen, this makes it more difficult to take a critical look at colonial history. “It hinders decolonization, the process needed to recognize indigenous identities that were suppressed by the Netherlands.”
Dutch settlers found Indonesians dirty and uncivilized
“The rice table was actually invented by the njais, indigenous women who were employed by Dutch men during the colonial period as domestic servants, attendants and concubines,” says Indonesian curator and history teacher Noor Fatia Lastika. She participated in an exhibition about the rice table, which was shown last month in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
Njais often had to live against their will with Dutch men with whom they had children. “Slowly, the eating tradition in the njai household grew into a social status symbol,” says Lastika. “It was meant only for the rich, including white Dutch and the children they had with the njais. The original population was not part of it. Dutch settlers found them dirty and uncivilized. Therefore, it was necessary to serve and eat the rice table. be primarily a be a chic affair. This is how the Dutch wanted to differentiate themselves from the native population.”
“That’s why the Indonesian rice table is mainly a colonial legacy from the Netherlands,” says Pondaag. His KUKB Foundation is filing lawsuits against the Netherlands for Indonesian victims and surviving relatives of Dutch colonial violence.
He believes that Indonesians are wrongly appropriating Indonesian culture “and pretending that the rice table is theirs”. “It’s very colonial. As if Indonesians are still ‘uncivilized’ compared to Indian people.”
In 2020, the government made €20.4 million available to the Indian community in the Netherlands. The purpose of this “extra impetus” is to “make visible the appreciation of Indian identity and Indian heritage”. “But where is the recognition from the Netherlands for Indonesian people? Then I’m not talking about apologies, but about compensations,” says Pondaag.
More recognition for the Indian community in the Netherlands
Nevertheless, the Indian community in the Netherlands also deserves recognition, says photographer Ello. He published the book in 2017 Doubt indo to make the Indo-European Dutch aware of their history. Since 2004 he has been photographing Indian people of all ages and generations. Like Van Maanen, he has both Indonesian and Indonesian relatives.
“Especially the first generation of Indonesians who came to the Netherlands want recognition from the Netherlands. They suffered during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies and the Indonesian struggle for independence when they served for the Netherlands,” he says. “When they came to the Netherlands, Indonesians were not welcomed by the Dutch either.”
With Holland’s recognition, the Indian people can process their trauma and grief from the past, he believes. “Without Holland’s recognition, Indian people keep going back to colonial times to indicate that it really happened. With that, they’re looking for confirmation of their right to exist. You can see that now with the Indian rice table,” he says.
“Indonesian food is linked to my identity. Every family has its own way of preparing the rice table. My Indonesian family also eats it sometimes.” Therefore, he understands why some Dutch Indonesians have difficulty with the cultural claim. Furthermore, more Indonesians suffered during the colonial period than Indians, he says.
But it is also understandable that the Indonesian rice table is now claimed by the Netherlands as intangible heritage, says Noor Fatia Lastika. “People want to understand and justify their place in history. This is very normal,” says the history teacher. “But if you want to understand history as a whole, you have to realize that the original cultures also play a role in it. Therefore, you cannot really say that the rice table belongs only to Indian society. It is a shared history. .”