Dutch legacy lives on in Fort Kochi. Cultural anthropologist Dr. Bauke Van Der Pol points this out

Kochi, says cultural anthropologist, Dr. Bauke Van Der Pol, is one of the highlights of the Dutch in India. He has been researching on Dutch legacy for several years and is now bringing out a book, “VOC in India”, to be published in October. Dr. Pol has collaborated with ‘cghearth' group and charted out a Heritage Walk in Fort Kochi that takes you through buildings, streets and homes that were formercentres of Dutch activity. He says that the Dutch intentions in India were purely commercial, unlike Portuguese, which were religious and hegemonic.

Names of streets

Kochi's importance is evident from a work penned by a ship doctor Wouter Schouten in 1663 where he wrote, “ the only bride we danced for, was Cochyn,” ‘we' referring to the Portuguese, Dutch and the British vying for possession of this sea side town.

According to Pol the Dutch legacy lives on in the names of streets, houses and the characteristic rain trees. As the Dutch were interested in the flora and fauna of the region, led by their governor, Hendrik Van Rheede, they named the streets thus- Rose (Roose Straadt)), Lily(Lelij straadt) etc.

The Fort which the Dutch took over from the Portuguese was huge. They reduced the acreage for commercial viability. They fortified the seven bastions, of which three are clearly visible and the rest reduced to the ground. Dr Pol opines that any elevated land in Fort Koch is a remnant of the bastions. Currently the Bristow Hotel (Holland Bastion), Thakur House( Gelderland Bastion), Bastion Bungalow (Stroomburgh) and Bishop's house (Bastion Zeeland), being clearly on raised land, are the vestiges of the bastions. A slightly elevated gradient of the new bus depot (Groningen Bastion) is a pointer of a previously existing bastion.

The Napier Street was Heere Straadt, where the upper class gentry lived.

Dr Pol has collated the material for his book from the National Archives, The Hague, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, universities in The Netherlands, British Library in London, Library of Paris, and Asian Society library in Kolkata and from the ASI in Chennai.

He has sourced maps and paintings and the prints of these are on the walls of the Brunton Boatyard hotel for visitors to see. Especially fascinating are drawings by Vingboons, 1665 of “The City of Cochyn.”. “He was an artist of the times who made paintings on the Dutch presence in the East,” says Pol.

The churches

The key to understanding the difference between the Portuguese and Dutch colonisation, says Pol, is to understand the history of Catholicism and Protestantism. “There were no images in Dutch churches,” he explains. When St. Francis Church changed hands and came to the Dutch, as the Reformed Church, the images were all moved to the Church of Our Lady in Vypeen. In his findings Pol came across a gravestone of one “Hendricks”, 1777, a “Dutch Catholic” in Vypeen Church.

The seats on the outer verandas of the Fort Kochi homes are purely a Dutch architectural legacy. The cemetery is sober in comparison to other cemeteries in Chinsura, Surat, Pulicat, Nagapattinam (Other Dutch settlements in India) which have elaborate, beautiful tombs. “There are no crosses over the tombs as the Dutch were Protestants,” he points out. With the death of Mrs Van Spall in 1970, the Dutch legacy in Fort Kochi ended.

Narrating an interesting tale on Indo-Dutch ties Pols says, the Zamorin is supposed to have assured Admiral Steven Van Der Hagen, who on November 11, 1604, handed him a letter on friendly peaceful trade that, “till the sun and moon are in the sky, trade between the two nations will go on.” And so it does.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012