Good Hope at the Rijksmuseum

There’s an exhibition on at the Rijksmuseum that documents the relationship between South Africa and the Netherlands, which goes back to 1600. The exhibition is titled; Good Hope. South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600. I went, I was very curious about how the Dutch national museum would present their history.

It starts with the “postal stones”, which were stones used by passing ships as a safe place to leave mail by passing ships in the pre-colonial times, and moves quickly into the colonial period. Here’s Deed of Purchase from 1672, by which the Dutch acquired the Cape Peninsula. To Europeans it makes sense, to the local Khoekhoe the contract meant nothing – in their minds no-one owned the land, water or sky.

Initially the colony started by Jan van Riebeeck was tiny, and confined to one bay on the Cape of Good Hope, but it soon grew. The colonialists traded tobacco and alcohol for the cows of the local Khoekhoe people, this eroded their financial independence. The colonialists also imported slaves from Indonesia, India and Madagascar, the locals being considered too likely to run away. On display is a slave bell – the bell by which slaves would begin and end working in the fields. Also on display are pieces of furniture and clothes that seem European but in fact owe much to Asian connections. This colony might have been small but it was right in the middle of trading routes and connected the world.


In the 1770s the colony was mapped and documented, largely by Robert Jacob Gordon, a Dutchman of Scottish descent.

His maps and scenes were incredibly accurate and his sketches of wildlife are charming. (His whole collection has been made available online by the Rijksmuseum)

The colony was constantly at war, acquiring or defending land from the local tribes, and with the British who wanted to control the trade routes and later fought to unify and control the country including the diamond mines. At the time European colonisers from Belgium, Germany, Portugal were also expanding their influence. The piece of trivia that struck me about these wars was that the brothers of Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan fought there. It was to escape these wars that Dutch settlers, who by then thought of themselves as Afrikaaners, embarked on a series of internal migrations to found new states to the east, away from the British, this has become known as “the Great Trek” and is a cultural watershed for the Afrikaaners, in one room two flags hang, the one in the background belongs to the Orange Free State, the one in the foreground is from the South African Republic, also know as the Transvaal.

The last section of the exhibition bring us up to the present time, and looks at the period of apartheid, sometime in the second half of the 20th century sentiment in the Netherlands changed, moving from colonial pride to “sympathy with the black and coloured South Africans”. There are protests, fundraising, hiding of ANC leaders and more, but the feelings aren’t universal and one video of an interview shows that some colonial pride remained. The exhibition points to “post-colonial feelings of guilt and shame” among Dutch people even as the Dutch government took a position of non-interference. The exhibition features some of the Dutch protest signs, some call for boycotts against Dutch companies that I am a customer – or have been employed by.

The final images of the exhibition are from the post-apartheid era, one series features images of young people born in this era and seems hopeful. Those born in the year apartheid ended turn 23 this year, they’re the students, and new employees entering the workforce of a new country. But the colonial legacy remains troubling, this image is of a protest sign “I stole your land, so what?” being hung around the neck of a statue in Cape Town. The statue is of that original colonial settler, Jan van Riebeeck.

It’s a good exhibition, and is clear about the disturbing and painful colonial relationship between the two countries.The point of view is still largely that of the coloniser, but there are images of and artifacts from the local tribes, and the language is clear about who was colonising, importing and owning slaves. There is more to be explored about the Dutch colonial history, but this exhibition offers a beginning, and events around the exhibition explore in more depth the changes in culture and diversity in South Africa.

The Good Hope exhibition is on in the Philips’ wing of the Rijksmuseum until 21 May.

Tourists in the Netherlands 1956

Came across this old video clip of tourism in the Netherlands filmed in 1956, I’ve translated the text below the video. In those days you booked hotels by visiting the Tourist Centres – no Expedia, TripAdvisor, or internet to help you.

It is market day in Delft, a place that is still in the Netherlands.

[lots of languages]

Yes, many foreign languages are spoken in our country, particularly in summer, when around a million tourists stream into the Netherlands.

They cross the border at many points, and head in many directions. Some places are really popular, the souvenirs all too often give a strange impression of the Netherlands, but they find willing buyers.

Also on the north sea coast, where they haven’t seen the sun so often this summer, even so the foreign visitors look for bathing places.

There is great interest in our famous buildings, such as the Freedom Palace in the Hague.

Also in the miniature is there Madurodam where visitors can get a good overview of our country.

Every tourist takes a boat trip around one of our big harbours – here in Rotterdam for example.

Also the beauties of Amsterdam can be admired from the water.

One business that does really work in the summer months, are the photo shops. Tourists that don’t take photographs can buy images from the places they’ve visited on their holiday.

The Rijksmuseum has a Rembrandt exhibition (note car driving through the museum arches!) and has had 300,000 visitors, of which 200,000 were foreigners.

Finding somewhere to stay is not always easy for tourists, workers at the travel agencies must work a lot of overtime. Tourists who try to find their own room are often disappointed.

Recently there has been an increase in a new sort of accommodation; the Motel. A place where tourists can stay along with their car, under the same roof.

There are also tourists who don’t suffer from the accommodation problem – they bring their house with them. And they stay together in caravan parks such as this one in Zaandvort.

Every day Dutch businesses bring in large amounts of money, last year tourism brought in about 200 million guilders. That is 50 times more than before the war.

Tourism is therefore an important source of income for our country and so the border stays open for more tourists.

Old Stones

The city council has been working on the the Singel, an old Amsterdam canal, for ages. I walk past the worksite frequently and wondered what was taking so long.

Turns out there has been an archeological project, as part of Amsterdam’s medieval city wall was discovered when the 19th-century stone layer was removed revealing 27 large stones. It’s the first time that any of the city wall has been discovered in its original state.

There’s a short article on the City Council website, only available in Dutch .

The wall appears on the oldest map of Amsterdam by Cornelis Anthonisz which dates from 1538.

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Here’s an extract from the city council’s article (translation mine);

The site involves 27 large stone from the medieval city wall from the year 1480. These stones were below the water and were only visible after a layer of 19th century stone was removed during the restoration. This wall is also mentioned in the oldest city map of Amsterdam by Cornelis Anthonisz… It is the first time that a portion of the city wall has been found in original condition. Although there are a few loose stones known to have come from the old city wall built into the wall of the Geldersekade.

The medieval stones remain in place. Experts will examine how the area can be preserved. The demolition of the rest of the 19th century quay continues. City Archaeologist Jerzy Gawronski is in consultation with central district and Engineering Amsterdam on how to preserve these special stones. ”

The Dockworker

2016-05-18-12-29-28Amsterdam isn’t big on statues, most commemorate not the great and the good but the people. In this case the statue represents a dockworker. Amsterdam is harbour city and has a long maritime history, the building housing the Maritime Museum dates back to 1656 and was built for the Admiralty. But the dockworker’s history is more troubled and more recent.

He commemorates a general strike held in Amsterdam from the 25 – 27 February 1941, known as “The February Strike” and that date should give you a clue to what they were striking about. The location is another clue, he stands in the middle of the old “Jodenbuurt” or Jewish Quarter, the building in the background is the Portuguese Synagogue – still in use today. The general strike was to protest the Nazi actions against the city’s Jewish community. Two weeks earlier the Nazis, helped by Dutch police, had encircled this neighbourhood with walls of barbed wire and declared it off limits to non-Jews. The city rose up and fought this, culminating in the strike on 25 February which became more widespread throughout the day. It was the first direct action undertaken against the anti-Jewish measures of the Nazis in occupied Europe.

The Netherlands surrendered to the Germans in May 1940 and remained occupied until 1945. Just seven years later the statue of the Dockworker was unveiled by Queen Juliana to acknowledge the bravery of the city’s citizens. There is a commemoration on the anniversary of the strike every year.

Raepenhofje

raepenhofjeThe Raepenhofje is on Palmgracht in the northern part of the Jordaan, and it’s old, built in 1648. At the time it was built Palmgracht would have been a canal, but the canal was filled in in 1895. At around the same time many of the old houses in this area were cleared so the street has little historic character. The Raepenhofje is an exception, it’s one of the oldest of Amsterdam’s hofjes that’s still in use.

It was built by Pieter Adriaanszoon Raep using money he inherited from his father. The family name is commemorated on the front of the building. The family’s coat of arms sits above the construction date, and the vegetable is a turnip playing on the family’s name; raep (or raap in modern spelling) means turnip in Dutch. Above the turnip are the founder’s initials.

The hofje was founded as a home for widows and orphans, all of whom were expected to be protestant. There were originally 12 rooms, with some communal areas for cooking and dining. Now there are 9 apartments and they’re still occupied by protestant women, the women are students when they move in but can stay after graduation – but they may not “samenwonen” (bring in their boyfriends permanently). It has always been managed by the family, although the management has descended through daughters so it’s no longer the Raep family.

It’s not open to the public but there are a few pictures in the city council archive.

raepenhofje