The first people to be repatriated from Indonesia arrived in Rotterdam’s St Jobshaven harbour in December 1945. In the spring of 1951, the first of 12,500 people from the Maluku Islands (also known as the Moluccas) arrived at Lyodekade. In the years and decades that followed, many people arrived from the Dutch Caribbean islandsand Suriname. A large number of migrants hailed from former Dutch colonies. There were also many labourers brought in from Turkey and Morocco.
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While one group was told to stay together in certain specially designated neighbourhoods, which were soon to be called ‘Moluccan neighbourhoods’, other groups were actually spread across the city. The dispersal policy stipulated that up to 5 per cent of a group of migrants were allowed to stay in one Rotterdam neighbourhood. People from the former Dutch Indies (as Indonesia was called when it was a Dutch colony) were expected to try and fit in completely. “They were pressured very hard into assimilating,” says Charl Landvreugd, a Rotterdam-based artist, in the third episode of the Nooit Bewust Opgeslagen podcast. “There were social workers, if that’s what you want to call them, who would visit people from Indonesia to check whether they were doing the laundry every Wednesday, the way ‘Dutch’ people did. They were banned from eating rice. Instead they had to learn how to peel potatoes. And if you refused to do so, you ran the risk of your children being taken away from you.”
Things were quite different for the parents of photographer Ed Leatemia. His parents arrived in Rotterdam in 1951, and like many other people who had come from the Malaku Islands, they believed the Dutch government when it promised that they would one day be able to return to an independent Moluccan state. “Like many others, I grew up in a situation without proper role models. The focus was always on returning. As a child and teenager, I saw my parents sigh and look outside during the winter months, saying ‘My god, when are we leaving this place?’” Leatemia says that he, too, shared their frustration. In his case, it resulted in drug addiction. However, he kicked the habit years ago, and now he wishes to do something for people of Moluccan descent, so he is creating a photo book about Moluccan role models. He is photographing seventy of them, because next year it will be seventy years since his parents arrived in Rotterdam.
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Not everyone came to the Netherlands thinking they would settle here. For certain groups in the colonised areas, the idea was merely to get a degree in the Netherlands. “My father studied agriculture, while his sister and younger brother studied medicine,” says Landvreugd.
Historian Esther Captain is conducting research on Rotterdam’s colonial past. For her chapter of the research, she explored the life of her father, who attended the maritime academy in Rotterdam.
Father Captain lived at Honingerdijk 70 for a while, very close to the current Excelsior stadium. Old photos in his photo album show him having a good time with his fellow students. Migration is more than just assimilating and integrating, says Captain. “There was vigour and lust for life, too. For instance, there was Indorock (rock ’n roll played mostly by musicians from the former Dutch Indies – ed.). There was a fair bit of that in Rotterdam at the time, and it caused a bit of a stir.”
Captain wishes to show that there was more to migration than the negative stories often told. There were good things, too. “For instance, take the Chinese-Indonesian restaurants that were being opened here at the time. People were introduced to a new cuisine, to flavours with which they were unfamiliar. People were dining out and getting takeaway meals for the first time. Prior to that, they’d only been familiar with vegetables, potatoes and meat. So you can imagine that migration results in all sorts of meetings that can be somewhat awkward, but they are inspirational, as well. And I wish to show both sides.”