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Images of a War

by Gert Oostindie

Archives and libraries have formed the traditional habitat of the historian, but modern historical research also encompasses sources in other kinds of collections and environments. Moreover, new sources are being created with oral history. The Special Collections department of Leiden University Library has an extensive collection of unique sources dealing with Dutch colonialism, collected in part by the KITLV. This exhibition shows a selection of that material covering the war years in Indonesia, 1945-1949. The material not only gives an impression of the war but also shows how divergent people’s perspectives were at the time. This modest exhibition is therefore also an invitation to everyone to reflect on the limitations of their own frame.



This image is a representation of a jinn (genie) from the story in A Thousand and One Nights in which Aladdin obtains a lamp containing a genie who fulfils all the wishes of the Arab prince. In the poster, the genie is represented as a means to achieve Dutch imperial domination, as indicated by the Dutch flag. The person in green clothes who rides the genie represents the Dutch capitalists who benefited from Indonesian plantations. At first sight, the hat the Dutch planter is wearing seems like a military helmet, but a closer look shows that it can be identified as a topi mandor, an overseer’s hat. This headgear was usually worn by native foremen who supervised native workers on European plantations, and who could punish them at will. The green colour of the hat is intended to signal the desire of the Dutch capitalists and the Dutch army to jointly regain control of Indonesia, if necessary by the use of violence and terror.

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