Written by Dyami Millarson
I went on a cultural trip to Taiwan in 2017 and desired to explore the local Dutch history there by way of visiting the settlement sites and architectural remnants which suggested there was once a thriving Dutch-speaking community there, it definitely gave me an indescribable intimate experience with history when visiting those places of historical interest, it made me feel connected to that historical area where the Dutch had gone extinct and this eerie feeling was amplified by the fact that the locals, who heard I am Dutch, took photos of me out of curiosity and thus treated me in a fashion that communicated that I was the last of the Dutch, I was a living museum piece there and this unusual, initially shocking and disorienting experience has left a deep and lasting psychological impact on me as profound sympathy for the Dutch victims there was aroused in my heart whilst I recognised their anonymous skeletal remains thrown in a tomb for mass burial to be those of my sisters and brothers in a far-away land, it made me feel they must have been so lonely and sad here being forgotten by the Dutch and consequently not being frequently visited as a historical pilgrimage site for the Dutch to pay their respects to the Dutch war victims of the past and it made me think paying respects was only proper as a way to remember these unfortunate overseas Dutch and give them a few minutes of silence as a way to focus our full attention on them and let it sink in how lonely and sad it must have been to die here and be forgotten by the majority of Dutch speakers who did not learn about the Dutch local history here and so didn’t come back as pilgrims in successive centuries for these ancestors to honour them with a respectful silence of a few minutes for the human lives that were lost here on the island, I felt an inexplicable spiritual connection to the souls of the disappeared Taiwanese Dutch, we were linked by culture and language across the centuries, I could almost hear their Dutch voices in my head talking casually as they went about their daily lives and laughing at Dutch jokes and experiencing the sunny weather on the island as I did centuries later, they were all gone and this struck me as a disaster while their disappearance made me so sad as if I had lost my dear family members in a sudden accident, it was as if everything had happened just yesterday, it didn’t seem long ago and while extinction suddenly felt so real when I had been put in the role of being the last of the Dutch, I became acutely aware that the speakers of Dutch are but a small and vulnerable linguistic and cultural minority on this planet and this reminded me that the existential crisis that the Dutch language is facing in the Netherlands is no mere figment of the imagination, but we can decide its fate as a small language on planet Earth and thus decide whether or not it will become a dwindling minority language. The same goes for the Frisian languages, and while I was there in Tainan, I mused that there might have been Frisians living among the Dutch there, I realised it could make for a good story to imagine the Frisian perspective on life in Dutch Taiwan. The shared contemporary perspective of the Dutch and Frisians living in Taiwan would have been that they were in Taiwan helping the locals, they recorded the local languages for religious purposes and they offered them modern education out of compassion for the people living there. They unquestionably saw themselves as performing good deeds alongside their trade activities and this is felt in the later Dutch reports on the loss of Dutch lives in Taiwan and everything that transpired there leading up to the disappearance of the Taiwanese Dutch, they lamented it as an unfortunate twist of events that shouldn’t be forgotten and so they did their best to record the Taiwanese Dutch side of the story in books that have been handed down to us, yet are rarely read by the modern Dutch and therefore there is no awareness of the Taiwanese Dutch community and what exactly happened to this community.
The Dutch, who inhabited the island of Formosa in the 1600s as Taiwan was known by Europeans back then and established Fort Zeelandia there which I visited in 2017 and where I paid my solemn respects to the Dutch children, women and men who had been killed, raped or enslaved there, were the first to document the Formosan or Taiwanese local languages. Their monumental efforts have been made available in bookform in bygone centuries and these same books are now available on Google Books, where they have been buried among millions of other books, but I managed to find them as I entered “formosa taal” into the search engine of Google Books. I managed to find an old Dutch catalogue on Eastern languages which suggested there were 3 Dutch books on the local languages around Tainan:
These are the three Dutch books on the languages around Tainan:
These monumental books are inaccessible to people who do not know Dutch, and so it may be an incentive to learn Dutch.
I say Taiwanese or Formosan languages because it was discovered that the Dutch recorded different local languages from around Tainan, they kmew these languages as “Favorlangsch”.
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