AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 152

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Session 152: Dutch Sources in South Asian historiography of the 17th and 18th centuries

Organizer: Ghulam A. Nadri, Georgia State University, USA

This panel forms part of the proposed multi-session panel series on the use of Dutch sources in Asian historiography. Looking at Dutch sources on South Asia, in particular the voluminous amounts of Dutch East India Company (VOC) materials relating to South India (the Malabar and Coromandel coasts) and Sri Lanka (Ceylon), this panel seeks to look at these sources as a discourse by asking the following questions: is there a typical VOC perspective and if so, how does it change over time? What can and does it say about the region it seeks to explain? And how should the historian use these sources as a lens through which certain aspects of South Asian history might be viewed? This panel proposes to convene both early-career and advanced scholars working with Dutch sources. In that context, it also draws attention to the large amount of translated source publications of recent years, and the possibilities this opens up for their use. Each of the individual papers in this panel will treat issues of South Asian historiography that might be explored through the use of VOC sources. These include, but are not limited to, information on local courts, trade, scholarship and cartography. In doing so, this panel both to reflect the social and geographical range of topics for which VOC sources might be of use. It also hopes to raise issues relating to this corpus of materials as a discourse and the questions the historian must keep in mind while using them.

Dutch Maps on South Asia
Jos J. J. L. Gommans, Leiden University, Netherlands

At the occasion of the publication of the massive, 7-volume Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch East Company (http://www.asiamaior.nl/asiaeng/producteneng.htm), this paper will investigate the development of early-modern Dutch globes and maps and its impact on South Asia. First of all, Dutch mapping will be described in the context of other European mapping traditions. Here we will also address the issue whether there has ever been a particular Dutch “mapping impulse” (Alpers). Within the Dutch tradition, mapping the “New World” will be compared to that of the “Old World” (of Asia), which, in the latter case, mainly sprang from the drawing-offices of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Zooming in a little further, we will focus on Dutch maps of South Asia and see to what extent these can be decoded in a Harleyian way as texts that redescribe the world in terms of relations of power and of cultural practices, preferences, and priorities. Since the position of the VOC in South Asia varied from that of a territorial power (e.g. on Ceylon) to that of a trader (e.g. in Mughal India), it is worthwhile to compare the maps of various South Asian regions on their practical and rhetorical content. Finally, it is discussed to what extent South Asians themselves contributed to the making of Dutch maps and to what extent Dutch maps influenced the lives and worldviews of South Asians.

Penumbral visions? Images and Ideologies of Dutch-South Asian Contact
Marcus Vink, Independent Scholar, USA

Recasting Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s concept of ‘penumbral visions’ (2001), this paper endeavors to explitize implicit ethnographies; that is, to describe the underlying images and ideologies (mentalités) that impacted the encounter between representatives of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the Nayaka state of Madurai in southeast India during the first half-century of contacts (1645-1690) in general, and the three court journeys of Captain Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede (1668) and the Assistants Adolff Bassingh (1677) and Nicolaes Welter (1689) in particular. Though the ‘Dutch’ lens of the ‘Indian’ was fractured, it consisted of a number of common images: a Christ-centric (most notably Dutch Reformed) worldview, climatic determinism and proto-Orientalism, a self-perception as champions of freedom (haec libertatis ergo) combined with a paranoid siege mentality, and a ‘racial-biblical’ white somatic norm image or physical ideal of human appearance. Despite these common themes, the VOC was an institution rife with factionalism, personal animosities, and people with different principles and private agendas. Thus, one can distinguish at least five different subgroups each with a corresponding worldview: the imperialist or ‘Ceylon-centric’ vision, the mercantile or ‘Batavia-centric’ view, the Calvinist predikant or theocratic vision, the ‘bottom up’ view of the common soldier, and the external vision of the ‘outsider’. Despite being a simplification, this ‘ideal type’ approach allows one to define the intellectual framework and cultural parameters, which influenced and in turn were influenced by the logistics of the actual encounter itself.

Toddlers, Widows, and Bastards on the Throne Dynastic Succession in Four Early-Modern South Indian Kingdoms
Lennart L. Bes, Raboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands

This paper concerns successions in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century South India, viewed through the lens of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and focusing on four specific dynasties: the Nayakas of Ikkeri and Madurai, the Marathas of Tanjavur, and the Setupatis of Ramnad. Primogeniture and similar customs appear to have played only a limited role whenever a new monarch was needed, as thrones were often occupied by such unlikely contenders as infants, widows, and illegitimate children. Research questions dealt with in this paper include: which factors determined the outcome of the struggle usually accompanying successions, which patterns can be recognised for the individual dynasties, and how do they compare? While these kingdoms may all be considered Vijayanagara successor states and therefore shared - to some extent - a common political culture, the dynasties also differed from one another, having attained their positions through incorporation, military career, conquest, and secession respectively, and each originating from a different region. The events surrounding the successions under study are often extensively described in the records of the Dutch East India Company, which have much to contribute to our hitherto limited knowledge of these occasions. Consequently, this paper also serves as an effort to improve the sometimes rather sketchy dynastic chronologies of the four kingdoms.

Missionary zeal or Company interests? The curious gestation of the Daśavatara manuscript by Philip Angel (1658)
Carolina M. Stolte, Leiden University, Netherlands

This paper explores the nexus between Portuguese Jesuit writings on Hinduism in 16th and 17th century South India, and Dutch texts on the same topic originating from VOC ministers (predikanten). In particular, it traces the textual journey of a manuscript on the Daśavatara by painter and Company servant Philip Angel from its West-Indian origins, through Portuguese, to Dutch; and finally its detour to Batavia on the way to its last port of call: the blossoming book market of the 17th century Netherlands, where it arrived in the shape of two voluminous and exotically illustrated works on the region (Baldaeus, 1672 and Dapper, 1672). In doing so, this paper seeks to shed light on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of information-gathering by the Dutch, by asking whether there is any such thing as a VOC discourse on Hinduism and, if so, whether it was different from the Company’s contemporary European competitors. The two-pronged approach of placing this manuscript in its various local Asian-European contexts as well as analyzing its adaptation to the tastes of the 17th century north-European book market yields interesting results. It will be seen that while the VOC borrowed heavily from its Portuguese predecessors on the Malabar coast for its information on Indian religion, the highly popular editions as they were commercially published were very different, and indeed something akin to a ‘Dutch’ textual tradition of writing on Hinduism.

Blaming and framing. The negative perspective on the indigenous inhabitants of Dutch Ceylon as expressed in eighteenth-century reports by VOC officials.
Lodewijk L. Wagenaar, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Invited by the king of Kandy in 1636 to help expel the Portuguese from the island of Ceylon, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) proved successful in taking over the colonial settlements of its European foe and competitor. After the conquest of Jaffna in 1658, the Company could concentrate on the commercial exploitation of occupied territory, especially in the southwest. The aim of the colonial administration was to create favourable conditions for the ‘harvest’ of cinnamon in the hinterland, including from Kandyan territory. The Company received income from various other activities too, such as the sale of elephants or from local taxes. These revenues, however, should be seen as ‘side catches’. What really mattered for the Company’s auctions in the Netherlands, was the steady import of cinnamon. In organizing this permanent flow of cinnamon to the Dutch Republic, the Company depended fully on the cooperation of the coastal population, of which the vast majority consisted in Buddhist Sinhalese. However, minority groups such as coastal Muslims and Chetties were likewise made subject of the colonial enterprise. The Company owed much to the Ceylonese inhabitants living in the occupied territories. How is this reflected in the reports sent to the Asian headquarters in Batavia and to the directors in the Netherlands? This paper argues that, overall, Company officials were strongly biased towards the population who made it all possible. Ceylonese were commented on as ‘mutinous’, ‘lazy’, ‘irresponsible’ and ‘idolatrous’ – an unfavourable view of partners in a lopsided enterprise.