The curious history of Kisar

One of the most interesting pages in the rich history of Indonesia describes the encounter of different peoples on a small island in the south Moluccas.

The story starts with the Dutch East India Company VOC that was established in 1602, when the States-General of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out commercial activities in Asia. It was the first multinational corporation in the world and it was the first company to issue stock.

Until the East Indies were formally colonized by the Dutch in the 19th century this VOC was in reality ‘a state within a state’. During the 200 years of the VOC era, the company established trading posts throughout the archipelago and over this period sent out around 1 million employees of which eventually only one third returned to Europe. VOC personnel consisted mostly of single men traveling without families and it is understandable that in the absence of European women the lives of many of these men followed a natural course. As a result both in Indonesia and the Netherlands there are many people of mixed Indonesian and European descent, usually referred to as ‘Indo’.

To support its activities in the South Moluccas the VOC established a fortified base with a small contingent of soldiers on the island of Kisar in 1665. Shortly afterwards, as a result of the third Anglo-Dutch War from 1672 to 1674 VOC expansion temporarily stalled and for several decades the southern Moluccas became an unimportant ‘backwater’ of very little importance. Someone at the VOC Headquarters may have misplaced the file and for many years the soldiers on Kisar were simply forgotten. So they did the smart thing and married local girls. Eventually this is how on an outpost far away from the main spice route a relatively large Eurasian community developed that is nowadays referred to as the Mestees of Kisar.

They were made famous in 1928 by the German Professor E.Rodenwaldt who published his study “Die Mestizen auf Kisar”. It contains a family tree showing the very complicated inter-marriages between the descendants of these original families. The study shows a unique natural experiment spanning over two centuries and is considered an essential academic work in the area of human heredity.

The word Mestee for a person of mixed race may nowadays sound inappropriate, it is still used with pride on Kisar Island.

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