Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Previous estimates have put the Moluccan population in the Netherlands at between 42,000 and 50,000 Moluccans, mostly from central Molucca, though they are not enumerated as a separate ethnic category in census statistics. The main language of the Moluccan community is Malay, which was used as a lingua franca in Molucca, and has been used to create unity in the Netherlands. There is a Dutch derivative, Malaju Sini, spoken mainly by second and third generation Moluccans. There are also speakers of 25 of the 131 bahasa tanah indigenous languages of Molucca. Fourteen of the 25 indigenous languages have died out in Molucca itself. There are no speakers in the Netherlands or Molucca of some bahasa tanah, for example Saparua and Nusalaut, but the Saparua are one of the largest branches of the Dutch Moluccan community. Moluccans also speak Dutch. The main religion is Protestant Christian. There are also Muslims. The Moluccans are politicized and want Molucca to be independent of Indonesia. Some Moluccans have taken Dutch nationality.
After World War II Indonesia fought the Netherlands for its independence, which it gained in 1949. The peace treaty provided for a federation of Indonesian states, but the Indonesian government changed this to a unitary state and Moluccan nationalists declared the Republik Maluku Selatan (RMS) to be an independent state in 1950. Indonesian forces invaded the islands and a bloody civil war began. Moluccan soldiers, who had fought with the Royal Dutch East Indies Army (KNIL) and had been garrisoned in Java and Sumatra, were evacuated with their families on a temporary basis to the Netherlands in 1950. The Dutch government undertook to negotiate Molucca’s independence from Indonesia, and once this was achieved, the Moluccans would return there. The 12,500 Moluccan soldiers and their families were placed in former Nazi concentration camps at Westerbork, Vught and elsewhere in the Dutch countryside. The soldiers were discharged from the army but initially forbidden to work. Peaceful protests gained them little or no support from the Dutch.
In 1966 after the execution of the first Moluccan president by the Indonesians, a Dutch-based politician J.A. Manusama became the first president in exile of the RMS. Second-generation Moluccans became more radicalized. During the 1970 occupation of the Indonesian Ambassador’s residence by Moluccan extremists, a Dutch policeman was killed. In 1975, when a train was hijacked and three civilians were killed, the Moluccan community was as shocked as the Dutch public, who were mostly unaware of the Moluccans and their plight. President Manusama condemned the action and the hijackers turned themselves in. But there was no progress for the Moluccan community. Another train was hijacked and school children were taken hostage in 1977, resulting in the deaths of six extremists. A provincial government building in Assen was occupied briefly in 1978.
Meanwhile, attempts by the government to transfer Moluccans out of the camps were repeatedly met with resistance and unrest. As a result, the Dutch government finally decided to address the community’s problems. The government abandoned its commitment to negotiate Moluccan independence from Indonesia, and offered new housing, better education and job opportunities. These moves included the creation of the Molukse wijk, residential districts built specifically for Moluccans and their descendants. Originally 71 districts were built, each with a church and a community centre, and run by a local Moluccan council. Several were built on the site of the old camps that had housed the Moluccans upon their arrival in the Netherlands. Some separate regulations govern the districts; for instance, police will only enter after having contacted the local council. The government’s improved education and employment programmes were applied to other minorities, although the Moluccan community remains unique in having these distinct Molukse wijk.
In 1986 under the terms of a Mutual Statement by the Moluccan community leader Reverend Metiarij and Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, the Dutch government gave Moluccan army veterans an annual allowance, provided funds for a Moluccan historical museum, which would act as a cultural hub, and set up a job scheme for 1,000 young Moluccans. The Statement gave the Moluccan community recognition of its role as a permanent feature of Dutch society.
In more recent years, there has been a resurgent interest among the second and third generations of Moluccans in the indigenous languages. These were kept hidden by their elders for reasons of unity, and some of the languages have been lost as a result. However, members of the Saparua community compiled a dictionary for their language in 1998. Moluccans have organized language classes in several bahasa tanah and there is a trend for poets and performance artists to combine words from different languages with everyday speech in Malay. There is strong interest in universities around the world in the bahasa tanah, and academic research projects have underpinned the relaunching of these languages.
In the Netherlands, Moluccans have lived in separate districts known as Molukse wijk, scattered throughout the country in largely regional areas. These neighbourhoods continue to be important centres of the Moluccan experience. A 2009 paper from the Netherlands Institute for Social Research suggests that some 45 per cent of second generation and 40 per cent of third generation Moluccans continue to reside in these neighbourhoods.
In recent years there have also been concerns within the Moluccan community over the potential loss of the Molukse wijk. Fear surrounding the encroachment of non-Moluccans into these districts has also resulted in protests and some vandalism in support of Moluccan exclusivity. Such fear has also led to the establishment of community rights groups such Maluku Maju in the north-eastern town of Hoogeveen. These groups have looked to create a voice for the preservation of the distinct nature of the Molukse wijk and provide support for local residents.
Moluccans have been disadvantaged in employment and discrimination against them remains. Furthermore, research has suggested that Moluccans suffer from significantly lower educational outcomes than the broader Dutch population.
Updated April 2018.