Black face, white heart: African recruits in the Dutch East Indies army

Kees Pop, wounded African recruit in the Dutch East Indies Army, painted by pre-eminent Dutch impressionist Isaac Israels, 1882 (Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam)

This documentary tells the untold story of the Black Dutchmen Belanda Hitam. In the 19th century, between 1831 to 1872, 3,000 West Africans were recruited to serve in the Dutch East Indies colonial army. Most of them were slaves. The oldest male descendent of the soldiers, now almost 90 years old, is one of the main speakers in the documentary. In a colonial society based on a racial pyramid, the African soldiers were given Dutch nationality, with many of the privileges of the colonial masters. Many of these black Dutchmen settled in central Java and took native wives. Their sons continued to serve in the colonial army until Indonesia’s independence. The Black Dutchmen then sailed off to the Netherlands, the homeland they had never seen.

Producer: Hélène Michaud

Broadcast: September 6, 2002