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Nearly Cried at Bronbeek Museum

This post is the English version of my old post. You can view the old post in Bahasa Indonesia here

Have you ever cried in a museum? I haven’t, but I was this close to crying in a museum. This is a memory of my visit to Bronbeek Museum, one of the most memorable museums I have ever visited here.

Bronbeek Museum is a military museum that housed memorabilia of Dutch military activities in Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Their collections specialise on KNIL, the Koninklijk Nederlands-Indie Leger, or Kingdom of Dutch East Indies Army.

Bronbeek Museum is located in Arnhem, a town on the eastern side of the Netherlands, easily accessible from Utrecht. As a museum, Bronbeek is situated in a special place, in the middle of a lush garden in the summer. You can find an Indonesian-themed restaurant at the back of the museum called Kumpulan, where Dutch veterans often spend time with their ex-colleagues and their family.

Entrance to Bronbeek Museum

Bronbeek Museum was divided into two floors. Each floors were divided into two wings. When I went to the museum, they were hosting a special collection in one of the wings on the first floor, but I didn’t understand it that well because at that time I couldn’t speak Dutch as good as now. There were pictures of the soldiers buying fruits at local markets, doing leisure activities such as swimming, and some pictures of their arrival to Dutch East Indies.

The permanent exhibition about Dutch occupation which was presented chronologically on the second floor, from VOC until the Dutch repatriation back to the Netherlands and/or other countries.

There were two parts of their story in the museum that broke my heart into pieces: their story during the Japanese occupation and their repatriation to the Netherlands. The museum showed that the Dutch people had to go to Japanese internment camps all over the Dutch East Indies. They separated the camp between the local Indonesians but their tasks were the same, doing odd and hard jobs here and there for the prosperity of the Japanese army.

Sewing stories on a piece of cloth was one of the ways the Dutch ladies and kids relieve their stress in the camp.
The Japanese discriminated the real Dutch with the Dutch East Indies-born Dutch through this ID. “Blanda Totok” means real Dutch from the Netherlands, “Blanda Indo” means Dutch people born in Dutch East Indies.

When the Japanese lost the war and Indonesia declared its’ independence, the Dutch had to choose: either stayed in Indonesia or went to the Netherlands. Most of them decided to leave Indonesia even though they had never seen the Netherlands before. This was caused mostly by the tumultuous anti-imperialist politics and racial tension that happened in the country. After their arrival to the Netherlands, they had to adapt with the harsh cold winter and how they were perceived as “not Dutch enough” by the society. Just imagine this picture: a white man sporting blonde hair but prefers fried rice to a sandwich for breakfast, cant eat without sambal, and bringing botolcebok to the toilet.

Visiting this museum gave me a new perspective of colonialism. It was a wonderful time and if you liked history, Bronbeek Museum could be an awesome place to visit. Prepare some tissues!

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