It had seemed to her just such a wonderful idea: a container ship would enter the port of Rotterdam, surrounded by other ships. The harbor would even be shut down completely for a few minutes. And the moment the accompanying ships sound their horns, a large canvas would roll down from the container ship with an image of the Kota Inten, the ship on which the first Moluccans in March 1951 arrived in the Netherlands.
Where in 1951 there was absolutely no reception, this time a warm reception would take place. To top it all off, Prime Minister Rutte, with ‘a special message’ for the Moluccans. But the commemoration on October 7 is canceled for the time being, due to protests, petitions and even threats against the organization. Initiator Nathalie Toisuta (52) in particular has to suffer. The screenshots on her phone leave nothing to be desired for clarity. “I’m coming to your door and it won’t be fun for you.” “You took advantage of my grandfather and grandmother.” And: „Hand in your last name. You are a disgrace to the Moluccan people.”
Toisuta is shocked. And at the same time, she understands. Beneath that anger is something much deeper. “The commemoration has been officially cancelled. But in fact it has already started. As a result, many Moluccans are forced to reflect on who they are and what their significance is in Dutch society. Long ago they decided that they have one common enemy: the Netherlands. That’s what connects you, what makes you Moluccan. If there really were an apology from the Netherlands, it would require a completely new attitude.”
Also at the exhibition Living in two worlds – Moluccans in the Netherlands , which will pass through 35 cities over the next three years, was initially strongly criticized. Toisuta would have looked too much at the history of the Moluccans with a colonial eye. “But the reactions in the guestbook are actually very enthusiastic.”
At first she thought that the opponents were only a small group. But in recent weeks, the protest has grown more and more. “I sometimes feel that I myself have become the new common enemy.” She had deliberately chosen the symbolic image of a new arrival, complete with ships. “That is a penetrating image, which touches on a soul level. And therefore very important. Because you’re not going to make it on cognition. When you talk to the opponents, they immediately get caught up in their beliefs. Then the same arguments keep coming: ‘The Netherlands has cheated us. Rutte is a white man who really shouldn’t come and tell us how the world works. We don’t need his apology. It is too late. We will not forgive the Netherlands’. I messed with all those entrenched beliefs.”
Also read: Portraits of Moluccan Dutch, through Moluccan eyes
What message would Rutte bring?
“I do not know. But I think it would have been something special. If Rutte does not become prime minister, the opponents have shot themselves in the foot.”
One of the arguments was: you don’t commemorate the Holocaust with a train trip to Auschwitz, do you?
“That’s a really ridiculous comparison. I can get mad about that. The people who were transported to Auschwitz were murdered for who they were. Nobody, really nobody in the Netherlands has ever said: those Moluccans must die. How dare you accuse the Netherlands of that? There was never the intention to treat Moluccans badly. It happened out of total ignorance. Auschwitz was not ignorance, but a criminally preconceived plan. So any comparison is totally misplaced.”
In retrospect, was it wise not to involve the RMS, the independent Republik Maluku Selatan proclaimed in 1950 but never officially recognized?
“The RMS was not involved in the previous commemorations either. The RMS commemorates the proclamation of the RMS every year on April 25. This commemoration ’70 years’ is for all Moluccans. Also for non-RMS’ers. That’s why it was very normal for me to see John Wattilete [RMS-president in ballingschap] hadn’t been invited. Although I do blame myself afterwards for not having informed him personally.”
Another argument of opponents was that a so-called reenactment of the arrival would be traumatizing for those involved.
“That argument came mainly from the third and fourth generations. It may be too traumatizing for them to assume that this is what really happened to our parents and grandfathers and grandmothers. At the same time, I have received a lot of support from people of the first and second generation. They thought it was a wonderful idea and are just furious that it is not going ahead. They say: those young people have not even experienced it themselves. Are they now going to determine for us what is traumatic? Where do they get the brutality from? They need a spoonful of sambal in the mouth! That used to be a punishment in Moluccan families.”
Toisuta grew up in a Moluccan neighborhood near Elst in Gelderland, as the daughter of a Moluccan father and Dutch mother. She lived there until she was eighteen. “But because my mother is Dutch, we were spat out by some. I have a huge admiration for my parents. They’ve always stayed together, and my mother never let that rejection offend me.” Yet she certainly also feels Moluccan. “I feel connected to history, to the Moluccans’ love for ritual.”
“The source from which I do this is the history of my father who arrived here when he was 11 years old. I have always felt an enormous nostalgia for him, for his country of origin and for his mother. My own wound is my mother’s rejection, which I myself have always experienced; Moluccans regard me as not Moluccan enough, and the white community as not white enough.
“Then go to therapy without bothering us with it, some people say. But I think all Moluccans long for reconciliation, for a warm welcome. The people who arrived with those ships were not given that welcome. My father was 11 when he made the crossing with his brother. They were convinced that a brass band would be ready upon arrival in the Netherlands. Because when new people arrived in their village, you welcomed them. They felt that there was no reception at all as a huge rejection. In addition, the KNIL members were dismissed from the order to which they had belonged for generations. That was an unimaginable blow. Despite their war traumas, most were deeply loyal to the Netherlands. In old documents you can read how many Moluccans were thrown loose on their way to the Netherlands and shouted ‘Long live the Queen’. How painful that you are then rejected.”
Why is there such a fierce and personal response to you?
„Because I am the initiator, I am a woman and not Moluccan enough. All sorts of people now think that they should have been known in it too. But at the last commemoration – ten years ago – there were no consultations with all kinds of neighborhood councils and foundations. Then you don’t get anywhere. I have been in contact with a number of large national organizations and have asked them for advice. They loved it.’
Are you going to take a tour through the Moluccan community?
“Where possible, yes. But I especially hope that people will report to me. That invitation is here. If people have suggestions, I’m completely open to them. This has released so much of aggression and threats. Hopefully there are ideas below on how to do it. I want reconciliation, trust. I don’t want to be led by mistrust, and just say that the Netherlands is an unreliable country. I love the Netherlands and am grateful that I was born here. I trust Rutte, I am convinced that it is not a symbolic policy on his part.”
The commemoration will come anyway, Toisuta is convinced of that. Probably sometime in the spring. “Maybe in a different form. That could be. But this must be resolved. I really want a dialogue. I hate it when people don’t feel heard or seen. I know exactly how sad and painful that is.”
Also read: the mea culpa of Dries van Agt
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of October 6, 2021