Commemorating the Banda genocide in 1621:
For what and who?
“Dispereert niet, onziet uw vijanden niet, want god is met ons “, may be the motto of the most violent life in the history of humanity. The motto became Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s life principle when he conquered Banda, long before Der Fuhrer Hitler destroyed Europe, or Pol Pot danced over the killing fields of Cambodian civilians.
Dispereert niet … and so on, means “Don’t give up, don’t be afraid of your enemies, because God is with us” at first sounds like an ordinary motivational sentence. But anyone who reads Banda history and knows what Coen had done there will affirm that this sentence has been the most sadistic mantra of all ages.
But Coen was not a soldier. He started his career as a junior trader. Another version says he was a clerk of his superior, Pieter Willemszoon Verhoef (1573–1609), a disciplined admiral and risk decision maker. One of his controversial decisions was when he built a VOC fortress in Banda. Verhoven argued, the fort was built for the purpose of “protecting their property” from the Portuguese and British, and at the same time to protect Banda. But Banda’s figures from the start refused because they thought it was just a trick. However, the Banda people did not have the strength in the face of the Verhoeven army. Some of them even fled to the hills out of fear.
In the end, the Banda leaders agreed to send envoys for a peace negotiation. Verhoeven had suspected that this was the only option the Banda people should take rather than fought him. He also agreed to the negotiations by bringing along a board of captains, traders, and a troop of fully armed soldiers. But unexpectedly, he was killed in a trap. Vincenth Loth (1995) in his article entitled Pioneers & Perkeniers, mentions that the killing of Verhoeven and 46 soldiers by the Banda people at that time was a “disturbance” of the diplomatic mission for the first time in VOC history. Verhoeven’s death hit the morale of his troops. Reportedly spread in almost all the port capitals of the VOC colonies, from Tuban, Gresik, Palembang, the Bay of Bengal, Malacca, Calcutta, and Sri Lanka.
Jan Pieterszoon Coen was a living witness to Verhoeven’s death. He certainly kept the traumatic event deep, while nurturing his ambitions for the future. His expertise later attracted VOC directors, making him the Governor-General of the VOC at a young age, 31 years old!
When he was in power, Coen showed his true behavior. His decision to move the VOC trading office from Banten to the Jayakarta area was proof of his intense hatred towards the British and also the people of Banten. He then built up his military defenses, then launched sporadic attacks on British fortifications and the Javanese Palace (Mataram Kingdom). The victory was achieved perfectly. From the ruins of the city of Jayakarta, he built a new city called “Batavieren” (now Jakarta).
After the destruction of Java, Coen turned his attention back to Banda Naira. For Coen, the spice island had to be conquered only by military force, and its stubborn people had to be destroyed or banished. This principle is in accordance with the suggestion from L’Hermite de Jonge to Heeren XVII quoted by van de Wall (1934) in Bijdrage tot de geschiedenis der Perkeniers 1621-1671, that;
“The most effective way to get the nutmeg monopoly is to destroy the ‘disturbing’ population and replenish the islands with invaders to be served by slaves”.
J.P Coen firmly believed that the failure of the VOC predecessors in Banda Naira was actually because they did not have 3 principles; “Strong motivation, efficiency, and ruthlessness”. He always addressed these three principles in front of VOC officials in the Netherlands, and were actually manifested in Banda Naira.
Des Alwi (2007) in his book, Sejarah Banda Naira, records the first landing of the J.P.Coen war fleet on 27 February 1621 at Fort Nassau. Together with his military forces consisting of 13 large ships, 3 small ships, 6 sailboats, with an army of 1,665 Europeans, plus 250 soldiers who had settled in Banda, 100 mercenaries from the ronin-samurai troops, and 286 prisoners from Java as a ship worker.
On March 4 and 5, 1621, Coen instructed the Het Hert Ship to sail around Banda Besar and scouted the Lonthoir coast. During the reconnaissance mission, the Het Hert received repeated fire from various parts of the island. His troops suffered defeat, as many as 2 crew members were killed and 10 soldiers were injured. The VOC troops lost and withdrew slowly. But the reports that had entered Coen’s table were far more important than that momentary defeat. He was fortunate to obtain data that there were a dozen indigenous defenses scattered from the coast to the southern ridges of the island of Lonthoir. He also captured some of the activity of native troops who were trained by British soldiers in simple military camps.
In the second attack on March 11, 1621, Coen’s troops were more strategic by deploying troops at 6 points at once to trick the people of Banda. In a short time, VOC forces occupied important posts to the north near Ortatang and to the south near Lakoy. Despite the fierce resistance of the Banda people, in the end most of Banda Besar was conquered even before sunset. The local historian, Des Alwi, noted the treacherous act of the Lakoy and Ortatang residents who gave way to the pockets of the people’s army for only 30 rials.
This unfortunate situation made one of the Orang Kaya (OK) Lonthoirs named Kalabaka Maniasa try to diplomacy with Coen on his boat. Kalabaka was a Banda-Dutch crossbreed who was intelligent, brave and fluent in Dutch. Kalabaka had a nickname, Yongheer Dirk Callenbacker. Dealing with Coen, Kalabaka got into an argument because Coen accused him of being the mastermind of the trouble; broke trade promises, and even killed many Dutch merchants. Kalabaka denied. He instead blamed the Dutch for being cruel and greedy. The debate was deadlocked.
Coen continued to carry out attacks and raids on people’s defense centers. This made the OKs and the Banda religious leaders finally gave up. They came to Coen on his ship with tribute from the nutmeg harvest, some of them carrying copper kettles, chains of gold, and handing over weapons. They also promised to repatriate some of the residents who were still hiding in the forests and mountains, and also obeyed all trade agreements that were enacted. They only asked the VOC 4 conditions; to respect their property, family, and religion.
Coen accepted the surrender of the Banda people happily without the slightest concern for their requests. The surrender of the Banda leaders further smoothed Coen’s grand plan; conquest!
Coen’s desire to conquer Banda was actually a continuation of the attitude of his predecessors, especially Simon Janszoon Hoen, replacing Verhoef, who loudly declared war on Banda and his allies in order to avenge the murder of its leader. For Hoen, colonizing Banda was a must. This claim, according to van Ittersum (2016) in his writing entitled, Debating Natural Law in the Banda Islands, further sparked the idea of Jus Conquestus, or “legitimate occupation” in the colonial era law of war.
With this “Jus Conquestus” claim, Coen reluctantly built a solid fortress at the top of Lonthoir, established his headquarters in Selamon, issued controversial policies such as appointing the native Jareng as OK, and positioning General T’Sionck as the new governor. Even though these two persons were very disliked by the residents of Banda and the Netherlands themselves. Jareng was considered a traitor to the Banda people. Meanwhile, T’Sionck was known as a drunkard, clumsy, and ignorant.
One of T’Sionck’s ignorance was to make the old mosque in Selamon as a bedroom for soldiers, to turn people’s houses into warehouses for booty, and also to insult Banda women who were forcibly gathered to groom in front of VOC soldiers. The people of Banda Naira repeatedly begged not to do this, but the governor did not care.
The night of April 21, 1621, thick black clouds covered the Banda sky as black as the hearts and minds of the people of Banda. At one time, a pendant lamp suddenly fell from the ceiling of the mosque and hit the sleeping Dutch troops. The soldiers hurriedly got up, including T’Sionck who immediately ordered full alert. T’Sionck accused this was a conspiracy to kill him. He ran out of the mosque and became furious while spewing bullets in all directions, waking up the people of Selamon who were running in fear.
The Selamon mosque incident was heard as a rebellion movement by the Banda people against the VOC to Coen’s ears. He became furious and immediately ordered the forced arrest of all the residents who had fled to the forests. The version of T’Sionck’s story was completely swallowed up by Coen without checking the truth. J.A. van der Chijs (1886) in De vestiging van het Nederlandsch gezag over de Banda eilanden, 1599-1621 met een kaart, cites the allegations of the Banda rebellion against the VOC at the end of April 1621 as the alibi Coen needed to initiate a counterattack; as justification for his evil plans in the future.
The hunting of the natives was sporadic and cruel. Residents who resisted were immediately killed. Vincent Loth (1995) mentions a large group of desperate men, women and children who jumped off the cliffs of Selamon and Lonthoir. Others chose to survive despite hunger rather than surrender. And only a few managed to make boats to escape at night to the Kai Islands, Seramlaut, Kisar, and other small islands in the Gorom Archipelago.
Those who were arrested were then tortured on a torture chair that crushed the bones of the legs and arms in one turn. Others were tortured by tying their legs with ropes to four horses, which when the horses were whipped could sever the bodies of the prisoners with a single whip.
Of all the atrocities committed by Coen throughout 1621, there was one incident that has caught the world’s attention, and at the same time drained the heart and feelings of anyone who reads the history of VOC colonialism in East India. The report was written by J.A Chijs 50 years later after the VOC dissolved.
It occurred on May 8, 1621, after almost a month of hunting for Banda residents, Coen managed to gather as many as 44 Orang Kaya (some versions mention 48 people) who were considered the most dangerous and were accused of being the mastermind of treason against the colonialists. The OKs were then herded like sheep into a circular bamboo fence outside the fort of Nassau. Under the pouring rain a soldier read out mistakes they had never done. Then the ronin butchers who were ready to swing the samurai immediately executed it without mercy. First, the eight most important figures were chopped up in half, then cut off their heads. After that, the ronin split their bodies into four parts. The part of the head that has been severed is then plugged into the ends of the bamboo. The fate of the other 36 OK experienced the same thing. The OKs were killed without a word spoken, except for one of them asked softly; “Don’t you feel sinned?”
After the genocide, Banda was hit by torrential rains for up to 3 months. Nature seemed to be crying over the death of the warriors of the land of Banda. But Coen was numb. He didn’t seem the slightest bit sorry. He even celebrated the event with a banquet with his troops on May 15, 1621. The banquet was also a moment of his farewell with the VOC soldiers in Nassau fortress. For Banda people, genocide was the deepest wound. But for Coen, he was just doing duty of the State.
Banda after Coen: A Memmoria In Passionis
Banda was like a dead city. “There is nothing left”, wrote Eduard Douwes Dekker, whose pseudonym Multatuli, when he wrote about the Banda genocide in 1621. However, several other historical sources mention that of the 15,000 inhabitants of Banda before the genocide, now only 1000 people live on the islands of Naira and Banda Besar, excluding Ai and Rhun, which have a population of about several hundred people who were not disturbed by British rule on the two islands. Meanwhile, the small inhabitants who inhabit Rosingain Island were deported to the main islands and then spread to nutmeg plantations into forced labor. And as many as 789 people consisting of male and female parents, as well as children who were banished to Batavia as slaves, and some others ended up in Sri Lanka.
After Coen, Banda was only inhabited by the majority of mothers and daughters. Leaving several settlements empty. Some of them; 1800 huts in the hills of Selamon (Banda Besar), more than 700 graves around it, and 9 bodies that have not been buried. Mount Wayer also found 1000 huts and several graves.
Banda increasingly drowned in silence and lamentation. Coen’s cruelty made an impression on the wounded memory. Become a “memmoria in passionis” or experience suffering for the brutality they experienced. The black memory left on the names of the villages in the city of Neira to this day such as; “Coen village”, and “village Parhopen”. A traumatic memory.
Some of the memories are immortalized in poems longing for the land of Banda and the ancestors who were killed. The poem is known as Onottan Syarawandan, which has been spoken from generation to generation. Believed to be the truth by those who chose to migrate to leave Banda Naira who later called themselves “orang Wandan “.
For the rest of the population living in Banda, these memories are immortalized in meaningful dances. Known as “Cakalele Banda”. A unique dance movement that combines aesthetic and political values. Aesthetic because it is packaged in the art of dance, political because it contains the meaning of resistance as well as respect for the ancestors who were killed without justice. In Cakalele, there is an important message that the ancestors did not die in vain, but died as knights.
Commemorating the Genocide for What and Who?
After the Banda genosda, Jan Pieterszoon Coen headed for Jakarta and arrived on 12 July. He was greeted with great fanfare like a successful hero with a procession of cannon fire from land and sea. Coen was even rewarded with 3000 guilders with a slight administrative penalty. The price of the Conquest of Banda by Coen was fantastic; The VOC was able to build the city of Amsterdam, Hoorn, and a number of strong fortresses in Batavia.
In my opinion, this historical fact should be opened to the public as widely as possible, and must not be covered up. Let everyone know that colonial policy was so vulgar that it paid a small price for the lives of its colonists with money, feasts, and honor. The cruelty that became “Banal”. An injustice that is celebrated.
Answering the question, why commemorate the Banda 1621 genocide? Of course, in my mind, is for a more objective historical writing for a better common future. We need to start a historiography that is fair, honest and open. Completely write down who Verhoeff really was, and describe who Jan Pieterszoon Coen really was.
I certainly appreciate the iconoclasm that has emerged in recent years in the Netherlands, where there have been mass protests against symbols of colonialism in the public sphere. Like the statue of Coen in the city of Hoorn, which was once revered as a hero but has now turned into a target of mob fury.
According to the article by Joella van Dongkersgoed (2019), the public debate about J.P. Coen has been getting higher since early 2018, triggered by the removal of a replica statue of Maurits van Nassau from Mauritshuis in The Hague and the initiative to change the name of an elementary school named Jan Pieterszoon Coen-school in an “Indonesian” neighborhood in Amsterdam.
I understand the phenomenon that the Dutch newspapers call the “Nieuwe Beelden Storm” as a new historical awareness that is growing in the lives of Dutch citizens. Within that new awareness there was a desire to rewrite the history of their lives for a better future.
Of course I personally prefer to advise Dutch citizens to be wiser towards colonial symbols, by treating them fairly, honestly and openly, rather than making them a target of vandalism, or even destroying them.
One of the wise ways is to start a historiography that is fair and honest so that we can put the thoughts and feelings of the colonial icons in the right place. Thus, although the statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen still stands firmly in the city of Hoorn to this day, through this “historical honesty” anyone will still smell the stench of the blood of the Banda people all over Coen’s body
Then, for whom is the Banda genocide commemorated? Of course for all of us who claim to be a civilized nation. For the Dutch, this genocide is impossible to deny. No matter how much legitimacy the justification of past brutality is sought, it will be futile. Meanwhile, for the Bandanese, this genocide cannot possibly be erased from our memory. No matter how strong the memories are erased, they will remain attached. So the best attitude is “forgive but never forget” (forgiven but not forgotten). This means that commemorating the genocide for the Dutch is solely for the purpose of building a harmonious mutual relations in the future. Meanwhile, for the people of Banda, this commemoration will become a reflection of their life to love and protect Banda more for a better future.
“Guarding Banda” is the key word. This island of spices was once ravaged by arrogance, greed and tyranny. The land was seized, the palms were burned, the women were harassed, the people were evicted and even slaughtered without mercy. Today, this brutality can be repeated, by anyone, by any nation, even by the people of Banda themselves!
So the Banda Genocide must be the momentum for mutual awakening. The commemoration of genocide needs to be carried out continuously in order to foster a spirit of togetherness to protect the homeland of Banda Naira. Didn’t historical facts prove that the VOC’s cruelty towards the Banda people was also caused by the internal division of the Banda people? Didn’t the conquest come about as a result of betrayal by the Banda people themselves?
The plurality of Banda is a priceless wealth. Ethnic and cultural diversity is a gift from God to be grateful for. So the VOC’s past project of ethnic cleansing of Banda with the aim of re-transforming the Banda population according to colonialist interests was actually a historical error. Banda today has become so diverse and rich. Ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity not make them live separately in claims of group superiority, but instead still recognize themselves as one common community.
The profile of the Banda people is a good example for a pluralistic Indonesia. If Indonesia today is still in the process of becoming a nation, Banda today has finished with it all. Banda has become the ideal type for a plural society living together in a unified ethnicity, which we call, “Banda people”!
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