Coffee and tea, tobacco and oil, sugar and salt, gold and tin: we couldn’t imagine life without them. These were all goods that were imported from the Dutch colonies. Merchants brought these sought-after luxury goods and new and much desired flavours to Europe from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. But acquiring all these riches damaged the environment and exhausted the soil. Mountains were quarried in quest of minerals; marshes were drained and forests laid waste to make way for plantations. To this day, the earth is still being plundered to satisfy the desire for cheap goods.
But there were also other ways of working with nature. Enslaved Africans who escaped the forced labour on the plantations in Suriname fled into the dense tropical forests where they grew their food in harmony with nature. These Maroons created a safe haven in which African and indigenous knowledge came together.
Planting to survive: provision grounds
On plantations, the enslaved grew their own produce on so-called provision grounds. These grounds were not always fertile; the fertile grounds were for the plantation owner. Maroons – Africans and their descendants who escaped slavery to create their own communities away from the plantation– farmed small plots in the dense, fertile forest of Suriname. These plots were called kostgronden, the same term as used for the provision grounds on plantations.
In the forest, the maroons planted black rice, cassava, ochre and maize using seeds and cuttings, which they had smuggled, at times in their hair, out of the plantation. Sometimes they traded crops with indigenous communities and with people on plantations, creating a new trade system. These crops enabled the Maroons to survive away from the plantations, almost out of reach of the colonial government. Their vegetable gardens formed the basis for new communities that still exist to this day.
In 1696 spies working for the VOC succeeded in smuggling coffee plants out of Yemen, which at that time commanded a monopoly on the coffee trade, and introduced them into Indonesia. In the 17th century Europe had become addicted to coffee and the demand was overwhelming. Those few stolen plants multiplied into enormous plantations, and in the 19th century coffee effectively underpinned the entire national economy. Even now Indonesia ranks as one of the top five coffee producers worldwide.
Ruwatan Tanah Air Beta, Reciting Rites in its sites
For contemporary Indonesian artist Zico Albaiquni, the botanical garden at Bogor is a spiritual place where past and present come together. In this painting he draws inspiration from a ruwatan, a purification ritual that he asked to be conducted there.
Both garden and cemetery seen on the right date from colonial times. The sculptures seen on the left refer to the location’s Sundanese and Hindu history. President Soekarno, sitting in the pavilion, symbolises the Indonesian Republic. The artist invites viewers to witness the work’s many layers: implicating them in a purification ritual for this complex history
Tales of the Gold Mountain
This painting shows how Ertsberg in Papua, the biggest copper and gold resource in the world, was destroyed. Artist Maryanto portrays the landscape and the damage caused by the mining industry to raise the issue of the destructive exploitation of the area. He works in so-called gesso style, scratching out white lines on a black ground. It makes the devastated country even more desolate.