Frequently asked questions Our Colonial Inheritance

What is Our Colonial Inheritance?

Our Colonial Inheritance is the Tropenmuseum’s new permanent exhibition. The exhibition shows how colonialism shaped the world we live in and how people who were colonised endured colonialism. Through this exhibition, the Tropenmuseum wants to contribute to the discussion about how we deal with the colonial past. The exhibition is also intended to contribute to a more equal and just world.  

Why would I want to go?

But that is still out there and lives on in people. In the way we look at each other and how we treat each other. The exhibition illustrates how in many ways, colonialism was an exploitative system. And the exhibition looks at how enslaved or colonised people resisted, showed resilience, and used their creativity.

Wat zijn de thema’s van de tentoonstelling?  

Our Colonial Inheritance is displayed across ten rooms, each with a different theme. These themes are: Prologue| Profitable trade| Wealth from overseas| Slavery, resistance, and resilience| Racism exists. Race does not | On the road to freedom | The power of language | This is my home | Epilogue. Each theme addresses the larger story of colonialism and the resistance, resilience, and creativity of the people who endured it. More details on the themes ‘Profitable trade, but for whom?’, ‘Wealth from overseas’, and ‘Racism exists. Race does not’ can be found on the Tropenmuseum’s website.

What is there to see?

Our Colonial Inheritance is set up on the first floor of the Tropenmuseum, covering 1,200 square meters. In ten rooms with ten themes, the exhibition tells the story of colonialism. Some 500 objects are on display, including artefacts, film and video, interactive installations, photographs, modern and contemporary paintings, and works of art made especially for this exhibition. Items that are sometimes centuries old are alternated with work by modern artists.


Several artists were commissioned to create work for this exhibition. Avantia Damberg’s meter-high installation, for instance, Gladys Paulus’ felt art, Bibi Fadlalla’s film installation, and a music installation by Vernon Chatlein. In the room on language, artist Farida Sedoc has installed work that is many metres high and wide and covers all the walls.  

Is there an audio tour?

A multimedia tour has been developed to accompany the exhibition. In each room, you will hear different people who go into the theme of that particular room. The tour was recorded by thirty people, including Marion Bloem, Gijs Stork, Julia Jouwe, Natasja Gibbs, and Humberto Tan. The audio tour is not intended to explain the exhibition but to add a perspective and narrative layer to Our Colonial Inheritance. Part of the multimedia tour consists of videos in Dutch sign language, and there are audio tracks for the blind and partially sighted.

Who is the exhibition for?

Our Colonial Inheritance is intended for visitors aged 12 and over. We created a special programme for secondary schools that ties in with lesson series on citizenship or history. In addition, the Tropenmuseum organises various activities accompanying the exhibition, such as talks and workshops. Please see the website for the programme.  

Why this exhibition?

The Tropenmuseum is a former colonial organisation set up to show off Dutch colonial objects. The museum played a role in the common perception that people from formerly colonised countries were inferior. Read more.

Where do the items in the collection come from?

See our collections

Who collaborated on this exhibition? 

The National Museum of World Cultures, of which the Tropenmuseum is a part, attaches great importance to multi-vocality. Our Colonial Inheritance was therefore created in consultation and collaboration with more than one hundred people, and we involved many different focus groups, artists, researchers, and makers. For a complete list, please click here for the credits.

Why are you making an exhibition about the colonial past of the Netherlands at this point?

There is a growing need for information about, and perspectives on the colonial past other than the familiar success story told from the European perspective. NMVW/Tropenmuseum wants to contribute to an equal society. We also want to share our knowledge to provide a baseline for discussion. Click here for more.

How large was the area under Dutch control?

During the colonial period, the Netherlands had interests on every continent. Indonesia, Suriname, and the former Netherlands Antilles are the best-known, long-lived colonies. But the Netherlands also had forts, trading posts, and possessions in other parts of the world, such as Brazil, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan, Iran, India, and Sri Lanka. The exhibition features a map with the areas where the Netherlands had a presence.

In which period did the Netherlands conquer other territories?

The colonial past of the Netherlands spans 400 years. The Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company were founded in 1602. This was the start of a long colonial period. It only ended twelve years ago, when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved in 2010. Want to learn more? The exhibition Our Colonial Inheritance has an interactive map. It depicts the Dutch colonial activities in great detail and also features stories of resistance.

What is racism?

One of the most persistent legacies of colonialism is racism: discrimination against an individual or group based on their ‘race’. Racism is based on the unfounded idea that there is a natural hierarchy between groups of people, with one group being superior to another, primarily on account of their appearance and origin. The presumed characteristics of these groups of people are supposedly passed on from one generation to the next. Racism is a form of power that is structurally embedded in our administrative and educational systems, as well as in the labour market. Read more.

What is the digital names monument in the exhibition?

The digital names monument contains the names of nearly 200,000 people who were enslaved during the colonial period. It is a tribute to the enslaved people in Suriname, Curaçao, and Indonesia. This monument forms the heart of Our Colonial Inheritance, the new permanent exhibition at the Tropenmuseum. By making the records of these people visible, the monument counters the way colonialism made them invisible.

In addition to sharing the first names of hundreds of thousands of enslaved people, the monument visualises their social connections. For instance, whether they were related, held in slavery by the same person, or worked in the same city. The monument also tells some of the personal stories behind the names.

How exactly does the monument work? 

The monument to enslaved people is searchable in multiple ways and consists of two parts: a projection on a large screen and individual touch screens. The projection shows a web of names. These names can be searched with the touch screens. By clicking on any name, more information about that person pops up. A new projection shows the names of the people in the monument with whom this person was connected. A parent or a child, for instance, or people who worked in the same city or on the same plantation.

How many names have been included in the monument?  

At the exhibition's opening, the monument contained close to 200,000 names. This is only a fraction of the total number of people who were enslaved. New research will be added later, so the monument of names will continue to grow. It is a growing monument.