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Monday, January 29, 2007
  Well bred and well read

We expatriates striving to make a life and a living here have it much better than those who came before us because they came to fight battles.

As a Brit abroad, I generally take an interest in the connections I can make with those who came before, and not necessarily with the movers and shakers such as Stamford Raffles.

I have given a plug or two to Foreign Fields Forever, a slim, self-published volume written by a fellow Brit, Dave Jardine, a long-term expat friend with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Indonesian and Carlisle United. This was about an episode of modern military history few are aware of, the use of British troops and Indian Ghurkhas, to support the Dutch attempt to recolonise Indonesia following the defeat of the Japanese in 1945. 715 British soldiers died in that episode, most wishing that they had already been demobbed. After all, World War II was over, wasn't it?

Now another familiar fellow expat is engaged in a piece of research into a hitherto little-known episode of expatriate influence here.

Bartele Santema is a Dutchman with a number of bars in town, such as Bugils, One Tree, Cazbar and Eastern Promise, none of which I currently frequent, alas a lack (of cash).

A few days ago, he discovered the existence of a 'Java Hill' in a dark corner of Africa. I became intrigued by the origin of the name, and the awoken awareness that traditional Indonesian batik is very popular on the west coast of Africa.

Between 1831 and 1872 some 3,000 African recruits sailed from Elmina (now part of Ghana) to Batavia. They had been recruited to serve in the Dutch colonial army, which throughout most of the 19th century experienced a chronic shortage of European manpower. After their contracts expired, some returned to the Gold Coast where these veterans settled in Elmina on allocated plots behind St. George's Castle, on a hill still known today as Java Hill.

Others, having established families during their long years of army service, opted to settle in the East Indies. They became the founding fathers of the Indo-African communities in the Javanese towns of Purworedjo, Semarang, Salatiga and Solo. On Java, the African soldiers and their descendents became known as 'Belanda Hitam' - Black Dutchmen. An army career became a family tradition, for many sons and grandsons of the African soldiers also served in the Dutch army. After Indonesia's independence, most Indo-Africans opted for repatriation to the Netherlands (around 1950 some 60 families left Indonesia and went to Holland).

Bart is now on his way to Purworedjo for further research. There is a book to be written which I will find much more interesting than his other one.
 

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