Malakka Dutch Festival to spotlight Melaka's heritage links with Netherlands

The upcoming Malakka Dutch Festival will hold its on-site programming at The Stadthuys building in historical Melaka. Photo: Filepic/The Star

Family histories are central to the upcoming Malakka Dutch Festival, a hybrid event which will take place online and on-site in Melaka from Nov 28 to Dec 4.

The Dutch Eurasian Families Of Today photo exhibition at the festival is a community effort featuring interviews, images and oral histories recorded with six participating families - Westerhout, Klass, Skelchy, Fredericks, Minjoot and De Witt clans - who will revisit and share their Dutch lineage in this project.

This unique photographic exhibition is about today's Malaysian and Singaporean families who can trace their Eurasian heritage back to a time known as "Dutch Malakka".

Dutch Malacca (1641-1825) was the longest period that the historical Melaka was under foreign control.

“The exhibition was born from the question ‘what did the Dutch leave behind?’ to which Melaka-raised author/researcher Dennis De Witt (who has Dutch ancestry) said ‘they left people like him behind’. It will hopefully be something interesting, engaging and relatable, an exhibition for Malaysian families to learn about the history and heritage of the Dutch who were in Melaka, told through the stories of modern day Dutch Eurasian families who have roots from Melaka,” says Melissa Chan, The Bendahari director and one of the key coordinators of the Malakka Dutch Festival.

Organised by cultural and creative arts hub The Bendahari together with Nottingham University Malaysia’s Faculty of Computer Science, the Dutch Eurasian Families Of Today photo exhibition is one of the festival's highlights.

Chan adds that the pandemic lockdowns have helped expand the reach of the families who are part of this project. The Malakka Dutch Festival was initially planned in March this year, but it had to be postponed due to the pandemic situation.

“The lockdowns gave more time to cover more ground and present the information well. Because of this, we could interview families based in Britain and Singapore,” says Chan.

The Malakka Dutch Festival, which starts on Nov 28, is organised by Tourism Melaka and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands here.

“Despite the pandemic affecting our travels, we are thankful in this digital age to be able to still share our beautiful city with the world through the online exhibition component, and to see local visitors at our physical event at Stadthuys (situated in Melaka's Dutch Red Square)," says Saari Basiron, general manager of Tourism Melaka.

“We are happy to research and showcase the Dutch cultural heritage in Melaka and how this heritage manifests today. You can find out more by taking a virtual tour around amongst others St Paul’s Church and ‘The Stadthuys’ to learn more about the Dutch presence in Melaka,” outlines a statement from the Dutch embassy.

Besides the photo exhibition, other events include music events (The Music Of Dutch Malakka: Echoes Of The Past and An Evening In Dutch Malakka), tours and walks (A Stroll Through Heeren and ‘The Streets Of Dutch Malakka': Virtual Tour), a forum (Bridging The Past To The Present), a food bazaar with Dutch and Dutch Eurasian cuisine, and traditional craft and activities.

All the on-site activities will take place in the vicinity of the historic Dutch Red Square in Melaka.

More info here.

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