maandag 5 oktober 2009


The production team of the book project 'Black skin, Orange heart' returned to Los Angeles for the two remaining photo sessions and interviews. After months of establishing contact, a meeting with the youngest American descendant of Prince Kwasi Boachi was finally scheduled. And what a suprise meeting it turned out to be. Dominic Boachi is the treasurer of the Boachi family archive who has a profound interest in the history of his Ashanti ancestor. After showing a wonderful collection of black and white photos of Kwasi jr. and his second wife Trees Paules (Dominic's grandparents), he unveiled a replica of Prince Kwasi Boachi's seal ring with his initials and coat of arms. Dominic proudly posed for photographer Armando Ello with this unique artefact. (A special chapter of the book is dedicated to the Ashanti princes Kwasi Boachi and Kwame Poku who served as a 'warranty' for the recruitment of African soldiers for the army in the Dutch Indies and were sent to The Netherlands to receive a 'European' education, and their descendants in The Netherlands and the United States).

The last photo session took place in Bloomington at the eastern frontier of the city where Hubertus 'Koko' van den Burg lives. Koko is a great-grandson of African soldier Govert Stap who was born in 'Goeroma/Donko' (the region north of Ghana) in 1837 and was recruited in 1862. After serving in the Dutch Indies army for twenty years, he chose Soerakarta (Solo) as his permanent residence. The circumstances were notably different for his descendants: granddaughter Nora decided to leave the Dutch Indies in 1945, right after the Japanse occupation and took her children to The Netherlands. In 1967, Koko emigrated to Los Angeles, leaving his wife and children temporarily to find a job and housing. After securing both, his family flew to the US where they settled in the city of La Puente. As a selfmade man, Koko van den Burg has lived the American Dream. He owns his own heating and electrical repair business and proudly posed for Armando, wearing his handmade Stetson.

donderdag 1 oktober 2009


The production team of the book project 'Black skin, Orange heart' drove through the sizzling hot Mojave Desert to Las Vegas to portray 'belanda hitam' descendant Richard Hulskamp. Richard is a great-grandson of African soldier Willem Nelk who was recruited in 1862, but left for Elmina after his tour of duty in the Dutch-Indies, leaving his young son Joseph in the care of an African colleague. Joseph's daughter Aïda (yes, named after the Ethiopian beauty of the homonymous opera) is Richard's mother. Together with his Amsterdam-based cousin Alexander Nelk, Richard discovered the military documents of their ancestors, reconstructing the lives and times of these illustrious men. Richard thoroughly enjoyed posing for photographer Armando Ello. At the 'Fabulous Nevada' sign, the photo shoot was shortly interrupted by the arrival of a couple who were wed on the spot by an Elvis impersonator. Only in Vegas!
The most spectacular photos were taken on a walkway right above the world famous Las Vegas Strip. Nowhere in the world can one see so many bright lights, neon structures, giant-sized billboards and humongous LCD screens with clips of current theatre shows. It's a trip, in every sense of the word. The short stay was rounded off by a visit to several spectacular casinos such as The Venetian (which features replicas of the Doge's Palace, the San Marco square and the Bridge of Sighs), Caesar's Palace (which is a strange hybrid of Greek and Roman styles and sculptures, even featuring a Trojan Horse) and the Bellagio. Every half hour, the 'singing fountain' in front of this Italianate hotel/casino comes alive on 'Luck be a Lady' or 'Time to say goodbye". The team had a hard time saying goodbye to Sin City, but made sure a penny was thrown in the Trevi Fountain inside Caesar's Palace.

zaterdag 26 september 2009

From the East to the West Coast

Reporter Griselda Molemans and photographer Armando Ello touched down in Los Angeles for the next stage of their US tour for the book publication 'Black skin, Orange heart'. As L.A. is Griselda's hometown, the transport in the city is by surf car, i.e. her Jeep Wagoneer 1984. Armando got his first taste of 'Hollywood' on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard at the premiere of the movie Zombieland. The spooky pic features big names such as Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin.

The first photo shoot took place in Altadena where Rudolf Goutier, great-grandson of African soldier Najoersie lives. Soldier Najoersie was a Mossi warrior from present-day Burkina Faso. His son Willem requested permission to change the family name to 'Niks'. The Indo-African Juliana Niks is Rudolf's mother who took her five sons to The Netherlands after Indonesia's independence. Rudolf chose for a new life in the US and together with his Dutch-Indonesian wife, raised three children. He posed for Armando with his eye-catching Ford Thunderbird 1964 which still runs smoothly

The next photo shoot was in Gardena, home town of Elisabeth Schilling-Muller who is a great-granddaughter of soldier Willem Zwol. Elisabeth, who has vivid memories of her great-grandmother Sariem, emigrated to the US in 1961 with her Dutch-Indonesian husband and children. She's very proud of her African heritage and always wondered why she couldn't remember where in Java ancestor Willem Zwol was buried. The reason? At the age of 72, Willem Zwol decided to leave his wife Nakiem and children and returned to Elmina, the harbour city in Ghana where he had embarked.

dinsdag 22 september 2009

On tour in the US

Photographer Armando Ello and journalist Griselda Molemans are currently traveling in the US to interview several descendants of ' Black Dutchmen' as the African soldiers who served in the Netherlands Indies army were called. The first stop of the tour was in Upper Marlboro, MD, where Daisy Hodges-Herbig lives with her American husband. Daisy was born in Semarang and came to The Netherlands in 1955. After meeting Glennard Hodges at a jazz club in Amsterdam, the couple got married and moved to the US. Daisy's life story is truly unique and even amazed her American relatives who had only heard part of her story.

Next stop through Washington, D.C., was Birmingham, AL. At the airport, Armando couldn't resist posing with the presidential couple.

In Birmingham, Griselda's luggage was delayed, but host Thad Ulzen, descendant of soldier Manus Ulzen who returned to Elmina after a shortened tour of duty in the Dutch Indies, and his wife Ekua Mensah offered a gracious welcome at the Ulzen Mansion in Tuscaloosa, just outside of Birmingham. The photos that Armando took of Thad Ulzen show him in Ghanaian regal attire. The next batch of interviews takes place in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

woensdag 27 mei 2009


Just like American history, Dutch colonial history comprises a chapter on 'buffalo soldiers'. In the Netherlands Indies, these 'buffalo soldiers' were young African men who were bought on slave markets in Kumasi (in present-day Ghana) by the Dutch army between 1831 and 1872. Photographer Armando Ello and journalist Griselda Molemans tracked down descendants of these African warriors in The Netherlands, Ghana, the US, Brazil and Indonesia for the book publication 'Black skin, Orange heart'. The book will be published in May 2010. Next are the first pages of the book.

‘The African soldier is very proud to wear a European name and many a Dutchman can find his name amongst them’.

(quote from Life scenes. Character sketches and traditional attire of Java’s inhabitants. E. Hardouin, The Hague 1855)


African KNIL descendants in the diaspora

Between 1831 and 1872, the Dutch government utilized her old trading post Elmina on the West African ‘Gold Coast’ to recruit and train African soldiers for the army in the Dutch East Indies.These belanda hitam (‘black Dutchmen’) formed a welcome addition in the ranks of the KNIL, the ‘Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger’ (Royal Dutch Indies Army). Some recruits enlisted voluntarily, others were bought as prisoners of war or slaves at the Kumasi slave

market. From Kumasi, the capital city of the Ashanti kingdom, a military escort accompanied the freed slaves to St. George’s Castle in Elmina where they were examined and enlisted for a tour of duty in the Dutch East Indies. Many recruits received a new, ‘Dutchified’ name as a replacement for their original names which were hard to pronounce, varying from simple names (‘Hek’, ‘Boom’ ,‘Pet’, without a first name) to more creative names such as ‘Leonardus Mozart’ and ‘Artaxerxes’. Few recruits, such as Najoersie, Tangandé and Abotjie Kakarba, kept their original African names. While waiting for their shipment to the island of Java, the new recruits were trained in the fortification Koenraadsburg, close to St. George’s Castle.

The estimated number of enlisted African soldiers is 3,068. The military conscription documents of 2,336 of them are on file with 732 conscription documents missing from the archives. An estimated 459 soldiers chose to stay in Java after their tour of duty in the following garrison towns: Semarang (161), Batavia (91), Poerworedjo (65), Salatiga (62), Solo (29), Ambarawa (14), Magelang (9), Soerabaja (7), Buitenzorg (4), Djokja (4), Gombong (3) and Madioen (2). In the garrison town of Padang in the island of Sumatra, two African soldiers were demobilized; the

remaining six soldiers probably chose to reside in Medan in Sumatra and Ambon-City in the Moluccan island of Ambon. Of these 459 African residents in the Dutch East Indies, a large number has become the founding father of a so called Indo-African family.

“Being black in Semarang wasn’t a big thing”

The largest Indo-African community in Java was established in the lower city of Semarang; many families lived in the streets Jalan Melati Hardjo (the Rossknecht, Bibar, Van Bosstraeten and Wit families) and Nieuw-Holland (the Pen and Comijs families). The Jalan Melaten Trenggulun is best known as the ‘African Street’, due to the prominent presence of the Mos,

Klink, Uithoven, Ebienpesa, Herbig, Nicasie, Corstjens and Land families. In 1908, Georgine Gort is born in Semarang; she is the daughter of the Indo-African KNIL soldier Blanus Gort (whose African birth name is ‘Koedjo’, meaning ‘born on Monday’) and an unknown biological mother. Georgine, nicknamed ‘Sien’ against her will, is a misfit. When her father marries a Dutch-Indonesian woman and starts profiling himself

as Dutch instead of Indo-African, he forebids his daughter to live with his new family. Instead, she is raised by her indigenous grandmother, the Javanese Yem. Georgine speaks Malay with her neneh who is the widow of African soldier Jan Gort, born in 1835 in ‘Ejebe’ and recruited by the KNIL in 1860. After a tour of duty of twelve years, he is demobilized in Semarang. “My neneh never spoke about my grandfather Jan. That was how

the understanding between elder people and children was. ‘It’s none of your business’, I was told”.

Georgine grows up in the household of the Comijs family who earlier on has taken in her widowed grandmother. While all other Indo-African children visit the ‘Europese Lagere School’ (European Elementary School), Georgine attends the co-ed Public Elementary School. It sets her apart from her peer group as all other Indo-African girls attend classes with the Franciscan Sisters and the boys with the Franciscan Fathers. Georgine, who loves to play outside, draws her own plan: after graduating from the MULO secondary school, she finds a job at the office of a German car import business, handling the correspondence and administration. “I’ve always done well for myself, but I do know that girls were disadvantaged in those days”, she remembers. “I did what I wanted and often went dancing in the city garden.

Whenever you heard music, you could find me there. I had several nice dancing friends, mostly Dutch and Dutch-Indonesian. I didn’t know many Indo-African boys. Because I went out with Dutch boys, I was called totok kesasar, but I’m not familiar with the proverbial Dutch stinginess. My father Blanus was a stingy man, he lived a simple life. I didn’t inherit that trait. Spending money is fun, right?”

Rudolfina (Dolly) Uithoven

Rudolfina Uithoven, nicknamed ‘Dolly’, is also raised by an elder family member. She is born in 1916 in the Jalan Melaten Trenggulun number 130. Because her biological father, Rudolf Klink, never married her mother Leonie Uithoven, Dolly wears her mother’s maiden name. Through both parents, she’s inherited a large portion of African DNA: she is a granddaughter of African soldier Piet Klink and a great-granddaughter of KNIL soldier Uithoven. Dolly is raised by her Indo-African great-grandmother Masah with whom she speaks Malay. She attends the ‘Tweede School’ (Second School) for underprivileged children, subsidized by the government. From theage of thirteen, she lives in the orphanage amongst two hundred Dutch-Indonesian children. “I wanted to go there myself, because a friend of mine lived there and I always found it very cozy. The Franciscan Sisters taught me how to sew, cook and be polite. I was taught how to sit up straight, with my knees closed. We only wore shoes on Sunday when we went to church where I sang in the choir. The rest of the week we went barefoot. Our underwear was regularly repaired; I wore my undershirt for so long that nothing was left of the original garment. But I never regretted living in the orphanage; I’ve had a wonderful time with the sisters. Once every year we had to sing for our benefactors, the sponsors of the orphanage. While they sat upfront,we sang on stage: “Thank you ever so much. Our benefactors, thank you”. Every Sunday after church, we were served lemper as special treat; I’ve eaten enough lemper for the rest of my life”.

As a young girl, Dolly is in regular contact with other African families. Among them is the rich Pen family, an Indonesian mother and her four Indo-African daughters who live in a villa in the Candi district in the upper part of the city. The widow Pen is also known as ‘the queen of the Africans’. When she’s unable to attend a funeral, she delegates someone else to represent her. She lives together with her unmarried daughters, tax controller Adèle, secretary of the Orphanage Sophie (who earns more than her average male colleagues), seamstress Emilia and Julia who is in charge of the household. Mother and daughters live frugally. Frequently, Julia visits auctions where she buys beautiful items for little. When one day she pays a higher price than usual for silverware, her sister Sophie explodes over such extravagance. The late ‘grandpa Pen’, the father of the four sisters, is remembered as a ‘small, very dark man’. He spoke Malay, his own African language and learned Dutch bit by bit from his daughters. He had a villa with five bed- and bathrooms, a large kitchen and annexes for his personnel built in the Candi district where the Pen’s are the only Indo-African family amongst affluent Chinese neigbours.

‘Auntie Pen’ and her daughters care about the upbringing of the African children in Semarang by teaching them etiquette. Their strict regime frightens many Indo-African children. “If you don’t obey, you’ll be sent to auntie Pen”, is a much used phrase in the African neighbourhood. The Pen ladies are altruistic at the same time, sometimes lending financial support. It’s a mystery to the other African families how they have gathered together their riches. “Rumour had it that the retired African soldiers in Semarang had received a small building plot from King Willem III where they could build a house without having to pay rent, just as in the garrison town of Poerworedjo’, Dolly Uithoven remarks. “It was said that the Pen family had sold their plot to the Board of the Railway and that the Semarang station was built on it”. Apart from friendly gossip, the African families share a love for parties. “On New Year’s Eve we went door tot door in a dokar. The young people danced in the street, singing the African song Ani Kokomoro. As always, we would end at the big house of the Pen family who had ample room to receive many guests. It was a very close company altogether. Each African I met, I called ‘uncle’ or ‘aunt’, ‘sister’ or brother’.

Dolly Uithoven has personally known several soldiers who were born in Africa. In the Old Men’s Home she has met the African soldiers Voorbrood, Klots, Klaasse and Van Delft. Back in the 19th century, the Old Men’s Home served as intake for men who were fired from the army because of physical or mental shortcomings. “Sometimes I went to visit with my great-grandmother Masah. Her younger brother Voorbrood lived there. I addressed all the elder men with tjang. I spoke Malay with soldier Klots, who had completely shrunk and often sung songs in Malay. He was pitch black with a white beard and lived together with a Javanese woman. Soldier Klots was demented; every evening he went to the building of the BPM (Dutch Oil Company ) to install himself as a night guard, but he didn’t work there at all. All the old Africans lived at the home with their indigenous wives and run their own household. They received bread for breakfast, but did all the cooking themselves”. Dolly frequents the Old Men’s Home, just like Georgine Gort. “I could tell they were negroes”, remarks Georgine. “Everyone who was black, was called ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’, but I didn’t know always exactly who they were. If you didn’t greet them, then your mother or grandmother would receive a complaint”. Dolly Uithoven adds: “We Africans always went to see each other, even if we were not directly related. We were all black and always asked “Whose child are you?”. Often we turned out to be distant relatives. Being black in Semarang wasn’t a big thing, but if you saw a black person, you immediately would say ‘Hello aunt’ or ‘Hello uncle’. Such was the situation in Semarang, but not in Soerabaja because there were hardly any black people living there”.

Piet Klink and his njai Nakiem

Dolly’s grandfather, retired KNIL sergeant Piet Klink, lives nearby in the Jalan Pringgading(´white bamboo´) in a big house with mango trees. Hij was born in 1842 in Soko, near Kumasi in Ghana, and recruited by the KNIL in 1860. The 5 feet 3 tall moslim with ‘scarifications in the face’ (as stated in his conscription document) is demobilized in Semarang in 1881 with a yearly pension of three hundred guilders. He has given his seven children islamic names at birth, but has them baptized Roman Catholic at a later age. Dolly’s father’s moslim name is Salihoe, but his baptized name is ‘Rudolf’. Son Moham-med is baptized ‘Hendrik’ while Dolly’s aunts are initially named Walatoe, Dieje, Sabiah, Ramatoe and Alimah. Despite his African heritage, Piet Klink demands that his descendants are raised as Catholics and speak Dutch fluently. “One time, grandpa was asked if he could teach his children an African language”, Dolly says. “He left the room and returned with a dictionary Dutch. “This is the language you have to learn here”, he said in Malay. The only African words I can remember are tjitjibie, which means ‘girl’ and tjang, the term to address a grandfather or grandmother”.

Piet Klink is much beloved for his generosity. When his grandchildren come to visit him, he summons Javanese street musicians to play for the children. Afterwards he orders his wife Nakiem to pay the musicians and to give all children a ‘kwartje’ (25 cents) which is a small fortune in those days. Only at New Year’s Eve, the memory of his native country overwhelms Piet Klink. Completely clad in white, he sits on a chair on the porch, bursting into tears at the stroke of midnight, saying “The Dutch have banned me from Africa”. He never told his children and grandchildren about his youth in Africa. Despite the emotional impact of New Year’s Eve, the turn of the year is celebrated thee times at the Klink residence: Dutch, Islamic and Chinese. (The Chinese New Year is celebrated because veteran Piet Klink used to work as a night guard for a Chinese entrepreneur).

Hilda Land

Hilda Land, granddaughter of both Piet Klink and African soldier Govert Land and born in 1923 in Jalan Melaten Trenggulun [nr*], remembers sergeant Klink as a “tall, aristocratic man who walked slowly and gave money to the poor”. “I don’t know if he spoke Malay, because I never spoke with my grandfather”, Hilda remarks. “I only shook his hand. I could speak some Malay with grandma Nakiem”. Hilda attends the elementary school with the Franciscan Sisters and as one of just a few girls, chooses to go to the HBS (lyceum). “There was a certain pattern of expectation for girls in those days, but I refused to go to the MULO because I wanted to be a pharmacist assistant”.

Elisabeth Wit

Elisabeth Wit
, nicknamed Elie, is also a frequent visitor of the Klink residence. She addresses sergeant Klink with ‘kakek Klink’ and speaks Malay with him, interspersed with Dutch words. Elie is born in 1928 as the eldest daughter of the Indo-African Otto Wit, who served shortly in the KNIL and next found a job as a technical assistant with the Telephone Company, and the French-Javanese Madeleine Pichouron. Because her father is transferred every three months, Elie lives with her grandmother Louise Abotjie Kakarba. Through her paternal lineage, she has two African ancestors: KNIL soldiers Abotjie Kakarba and Jan Wit. Soldier Jan Wit was born in Accra in 1848 and recruited in 1868 for a tour of duty of twelve years. As an exceptional feat, the names of his parents are mentioned in his conscription document: his father’s name is Kwakoe Tetti, his mother is Ekoewa Esson. The real African name of ‘Jan Wit’ is unknown. His great-granddaughter Elie is very interested in her lineage and asks many questions to the older Africans in Semarang. To no avail. “Africa was never mentioned in our home, but that was the rule: children were never involved in this type of affairs”.


neneh - grandmother

totok kesasar - fig. ‘lost Dutch person’
- sticky rice filled with meat
- two-wheeled carriage
- grandfather