By 1886 Jacob Dieduksman, an Eurasian policeman from the city of Yogyakarta in colonial Indonesia, had been awarded three different European royal decorations: one from the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire and two from German kingdoms – maybe his ancestor’s country of origin. Dieduksman was invested with these orders for his donations of Indonesian artifacts to various European museums. He was not the only one. George Lodewijk (‘Louis’) Weijnschenk, who lived near the same city in the Dutch colony, had donated to a museum in Vienna, where his grandfather was born nearby, an antique keris. This dagger was ascribed to the Javanese prince Diponegoro (1785–1855) who had rebelled against Dutch rule in the Indonesian archipelago between 1825 and 1830 and nearly had succeeded in driving the Dutch out.1 The museum, now called the Weltmuseum, considered the keris to be of ‘historical importance’.2

In this article, I trace the trajectories and sociocultural meanings attributed to colonial Indonesian objects collected in certain places and contexts. Although Weijnschenk and Dieduksman did not leave us large archives of correspondence, their collections of objects and the social meaning attributed to these artifacts can give us insight into the social relations, the social and cultural practices and identities in colonial Indonesia at the end of the nineteenth century.

The meanings and travels of objects illuminate how many people in colonial Indonesia used material culture to construct and negotiate their identities across intra-imperial and cross-imperial networks. I will demonstrate how these processes of identity formation were facilitated, among other aspects, by museums all over Europe – not just in the Netherlands – striving to obtain the most and best ethnographic objects.3 Demands and opportunities met each other harmoniously.

In the last decade, there has been an increasing interest in the way imperialism was a networked and interconnected European concern. Studies have shown with great clarity, just as this special issue, that even countries without overseas territories, such as Switzerland, the German states or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were affected by and involved in imperialism and empire building in multiple ways.4 European actors of different origins, operating from the Dutch imperial space, like Weijnschenk and Dieduksman, as well as institutions such as museums and social networks, were connected in affecting the historical trajectories of countries such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is therefore time to relinquish national perspectives on colonial history and adopt a more interconnected, trans-European perspective. The cross-cultural exchanges in terms of objects and knowledge between colonial Indonesia and the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires, the demands of the Dutch colonial society and those of national public institutions such as museums, and the opportunities these demands ultimately provided for juridically registered Europeans in negotiating specific identities, are brought to the fore in this article.

In this article, I argue that the practice of collecting and donating objects to European museums in for example Vienna was Dieduksman’s and Weijnschenk’s strategy to demonstrate their affinity with Europe and with European bourgeois culture, customs and scholarly knowledge. Being legally European in colonial Indonesia was important for someone’s social status, but it was not the only aspect. Social positions in the colony were, as various scholars have pointed out, not only related to race or ethnicity. It was determined by a spectrum of aspects like colour, race, social and legal status, language, religion, lifestyle and culture.5 In this complex colonial structure of social and power relations, being socially, culturally and economically ‘European’ was, according to historian Bart Luttikhuis, pivotal: ‘a claim at power and privilege.’6

Pierre Bourdieu’s well-known concept of cultural capital explains how people demonstrate their social status and mobility in society.7 The behaviour of people, their possession of cultural objects, their education and knowledge altogether resulted into a type of capital. By utilising these social, material and symbolic assets, people like Weijnschenk and Dieduksman, but also many others in colonial Indonesia8, negotiated and enacted a social identity (their ‘belonging’) in which a conscious connection to the colonial European elite and their concomitant social status in late nineteenth-century colonial Indonesia was demonstrated.

Many scholars like Walter Benjamin and Bourdieu and, related to the colonies, Maya Jasanoff and Claire Wintle, have shown how collecting and displaying objects were related to the construction of identities. These practices enabled people to construct and project an image of themselves by maintaining and creating social networks and by representation and self-fashioning.9 The products of these social interactions and positional identities are always adapted to people’s sense of belonging and social ambitions, inasmuch as they are empowered and constrained by the social, political and cultural conditions of that time and place.10 In Indonesia’s colonial hierarchy, where social difference was never stable and always contested, this meant that social positions had to be negotiated and defined. Therefore, we have to understand the practice of collecting, donating and displaying objects as political acts. These practices were a way to establish social interactions between collector, donator, receiver and visitor with an ulterior goal, namely the fashioning of certain identities in order to reinforce or undermine certain societal categories.11

Objects both reveal and stimulate these processes. The objects’ trajectories and the meaning ascribed to them reflect people’s behavior, their geographical outlook and their sociopolitical frame of reference, because objects and their meanings are intimately related to prevailing social and political climates.12 Artifacts are not hindered by national historiographical traditions and divert our gaze away from national-colonial frameworks and networks that originated out of these historiographical traditions. In conjunction with the life of individuals (in this case, Weijnschenk and Dieduksman), tracing objects which were originally collected in colonial Indonesia and examining their changing meanings through different contexts and geographical places can reveal the demands and opportunities of individuals, societies and institutions. Lastly, the artifacts also demonstrate the character and meaning of the identities that are being created, and the cultural interconnectivity between people, colonies, empires and nations.13

Weijnschenk: reviving his family’s roots

When Louis Weijnschenk shipped some of his Javanese objects to the Natural History Museum in Vienna in 1885, he most likely had never set foot outside colonial Indonesia. As Philipp Krauer in this issue, and Roelof van Gelder in 199714 have shown, there had been a considerable influx of German and Swiss soldiers into colonial Indonesia. Weijnschenk’s grandfather was one of them. Leopold Weinschenk (1772–1818) had arrived in Java as a teenager, as a member of the Württemberg Regiment in service of the Dutch East India Company.

Leopold Weinschenk originated from Sankt Pölten, west of Vienna, and it is possible that he had been born in a shoemaker’s house, which would imply that he was from a lower class background. Just like a considerable number of migrants to the Dutch colony before the middle of the nineteenth century, Leopold Weinschenk was not Dutch.15 He married Maria Christina Franke (1786–1846), who was born and raised in Java. Her father was maybe a German soldier from Eisleben, near Leipzig.16 Leopold and Maria’s sons became leaseholders in the Yogyakarta area in Central Java.17

The majority of these leaseholders were juridically registered as ‘Europeans’. These men, often Eurasian and legally acknowledged or adopted by their European fathers and thus registered as ‘Europeans’, rented land from the sultan and sunan of Yogyakarta and Surakarta on which they cultivated crops for export.18 Many of them married Indonesian and Eurasian women as Maria Franke most probably was. Whatever the case may have been, by approximately 1870, the Weijnschenk family had become rich and had fashioned a social and cultural Javanese-European ‘hybrid’ identity. On their estate, the family organised big parties, lavishly arranged with gamelan and wayang performances, fireworks and European music19, to which prominent members of the colonial society like the crown prince of the sultanate of Yogyakarta and the Dutch resident were invited. Leopold’s son George Weijnschenk was one of the founders of the Freemasons’ Lodge ‘Mataram’ in Yogyakarta in which both the European and Javanese elite of Yogyakarta gathered.20

It is interesting to note how family heirlooms like wayang puppets inscribed with Weijnschenk’s initials and gifts reveal and affirm the family’s social status and their social relationships. As the Weijnschenk family was closely connected to the Javanese elite of Yogyakarta, the family functioned as an intermediary between the European business elite in Batavia and the Central Javanese courts. They made sure promotional presents such as watches, rings, walking sticks and perfume from both parties arrived at the right addresses in Batavia and in Central Java.21 George Weijnschenk, Louis’ father, also advised the senders of the gifts on Javanese formalities.22 The family’s social networks, their economic status and local expertise meant that they were a prominent, well-regarded family in Java around 1870. Their cultural capital and social relations displayed an identity that reflected contemporary notions of being socially and culturally European.

After 1870 the character of the social world of colonial Indonesia transformed. Before this period, the presence of Europeans in Asia was limited. The geographical distance was a major hindrance to travel and the immigration of Europeans had been regulated by the colonial government after the English Interregnum (1811–1815).23 This was one of the reasons why so many men from Europe had married locally born women. In the last quarter of the century this changed as territorial imperialism emerged as a crucial aspect in Western politics. In this process, Java was opened up economically to all people after the ending of the Cultuurstelsel, which had required the local population to grow a certain proportion of their crops for export. The migration of Europeans was encouraged by the newly constructed Suez Canal which considerably reduced the travelling time between Europe and Asia from 1869.

As a result, more Europeans than ever before set sail for Asia, and new nations entered the race to establish commercial and political relations with Asian territories. Asia became economically significant for Europe, even for countries without Asian colonies. For instance, around this time members of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial family sailed to Egypt and the Far East, attended the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal in 1869 and went on a trip around the world.24 Consequently, European culture began to have an increasingly significant influence on colonial Indonesia.25 This European orientation in the colony was reinforced by the fact that, from the start of the century, many of the juridical Europeans living in colonial Indonesia did not originate from the Netherlands. Besides immigrants from Austria-Hungary, there were many British, French, Germans, Swedish, Swiss, Danish, as well as some American and Australian nationals.26

In the late nineteenth century, it became increasingly important for juridical Europeans to distinguish themselves socially in the Dutch colony. By investigating newspaper advertisements, historian Jean Gelman Taylor has shown how a ‘European’ education to attain specific qualifications, like being able to speak several European languages and the ability to play the piano, became indications of one’s social status in the last part of the nineteenth century. The Javanese elite was no longer ‘the point of reference’ of colonial society.27 The colonial discourses underpinning these views created a new perception of Europe in colonial Indonesia as an ‘imagined geography’ (a concept of Edward Said redefined by, among other scholars, Derek Gregory).28 ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeanness’ were given a new, distinctive meaning which the colonial society predominantly associated with cultural competencies and a certain class. This notion of ‘Europeanness’ began to dominate the colonial society in Indonesia and became an ever more important factor in creating social hierarchy and defining people’s social standing.

The increasing necessity to maintain or increase one’s social status in the colony may have prompted Louis Weijnschenk to turn to a European museum to donate objects from his fairly large collection of mainly Javanese cultural artifacts in the late 1880s. His main motivation certainly could not have been wealth accumulation, for Weijnschenk was already one of the richest men in Java29, and in none of the few surviving letters did he ask for financial compensation. By collecting artifacts, however, Weijnschenk was able to distinguish himself. In both nineteenth-century Europe and colonial Indonesia, collecting was conceptualised as an eminently bourgeois masculine activity that was closely connected with knowledge production. Collections of artifacts represented people’s expertise and were seen as an expression of taste and evidence of Western knowledge.30 It was vital to make this visible to the outside world by displaying one’s collections or donating them.

Weijnschenk did not turn to the Netherlands, but chose to emphasise his Austro-Hungarian family roots.31 We do not know how he came in contact with the Imperial Natural History Museum in Vienna, the capital of the vast and politically influential Austro-Hungarian Empire in which his grandfather was born. The museum was founded in 1876 by Emperor Franz Joseph I and was constituted on the private collections of the Austrian royal family. It had a considerable anthropological-ethnological division that was directed by the ethnologist Franz Heger (1853–1931) from 1885 until 1919. In this period, all European museums with ethnological collections were compelled by an urge to collect as many objects as possible, before these were lost forever or collected by other museums.32 Objects illustrating life, traditions and religions of non-European people were collected during scientific expeditions, at international world fairs, through private collectors and dealers, and exchanged between European museums. The Viennese Imperial Natural History Museum was part of an extensive network of Western European museums that exchanged information and objects in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. For instance, Dutch institutions in cities like Leiden exchanged ethnographic objects from colonial Indonesia with the Viennese Imperial Natural History Museum. In this way, Dutch overseas imperialism permeated the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was also the case in, for instance, Germany and Switzerland.33

Caught up in this ‘collecting frenzy’34, museums throughout Europe generated a great demand for objects, and people like Weijnschenk took the opportunity to fulfill this demand. The networks of these alliances, the collections themselves and the scholarly conceptions they propagated were firmly rooted in colonialism, its forms of knowledge production and social orders in both the colony and Europe. Through these networks, non-Dutch European actors and nations became involved in Dutch empire building and were eventually absorbed in colonial thinking and practices, like collecting cultural artifacts.

The Eurocentric focus in much of the research on collecting and donating so far has resulted into the occlusion of the important role Javanese women, farmers, and dealers played in the establishment and the knowledge of these colonial collections.35 Without their (partly) Javanese wives, the male members of the Weijnschenk family would probably never have been able to obtain their cultural knowledge, nor could they have strengthened their relations with the Central Javanese courts, even though most of the wives (but certainly not all) were of humble origins.36 Louis Weijnschenk, for instance, was married to the Javanese Janikem, and, after he divorced her, to the noble and much younger Raden Ajeng (P)Atmosari who would also donate and sell objects to museums after her husband’s death – perhaps to make some money.37 The Central Javanese courts also probably bestowed gifts on the family, just as they did on the businessmen in Batavia and Semarang with whom they were in close contact through Weijnschenk and other Europeans in Surakarta.38

The Imperial Natural History Museum in Vienna in 2006.

(c) Wikimedia commons,

The objects Weijnschenk sent to the Viennese museum reflect his family history and their social networks. In the winter of 1885, Weijnschenk donated a keris ascribed to the famous Javanese prince Diponegoro (1785–1855), who almost succeeded in defeating the Dutch. Furthermore, Weijnschenk donated another very old keris and a collection of 25 wayang purwa puppets to this Austrian museum which still can be seen in the Weltmuseum today. The puppets were inscribed with Weijnschenk’s initials and dated, according to him, 1761 in the Javanese calendar, which is approximately 1833 in the Western calendar.39 Judging by the inscriptions on the puppets, they were once a family heirloom and had probably been used by a dalang, a puppeteer, in the many festivities organised by Weijnschenk’s father or uncle before the middle of the nineteenth century. Hence, the puppets formed a part of the Weijnschenk family’s identity as prominent leaseholders with a Javanese cultural and social background.

The provenance of the very old keris with a diamond-studded golden sheath40 is even more obscure. According to Weijnschenk, the kerishad once belonged to sultan Hamengkubuwono IV of Yogyakarta, who was killed by poison in 1822.41 This may have been possible. After 1820 Sultan Hamengku Buwono IV was forced to pay the Dutch restitutions in money, which meant that the Yogya court was completely impoverished. Out of sheer necessity the sultan sold ‘surplus’42 jewels and gold objects, including a keris, which were not seen as pusaka – sacred heirlooms – to the highest Dutch civil authority in that region, resident Huibert Gerard Nahuys van Burgst (1782–1858). The keris, sold by the sultan to Nahuys for a price of 10.000 to 20.000 Indische guilders, could have originally belonged to Diponegoro, an older half-brother of the sultan. In 1826, several of the objects that were sold were returned to the Yogya court. The court, however, continued to suffer a chronic lack of money because of the Java War (1825–1830) and kept on selling its treasures to meet the court’s expenses.43 Until 1826 the court also lost objects to their European translator Johannes Gotlieb Dietree, who borrowed precious objects from the sultan and refused to return them.44 In 1827, Commissioner-General Leonard Du Bus de Gisignies wrote to tell the Dutch colonial ministry that European wives of colonial civil servants were buying Yogya court jewels at a bargain price.45 Either way, between 1820 and 1826 a great many treasures from the Yogya court were sold, including a non-pusakakeris, to the acting resident.

Louis Weijnschenk’s father George and resident Nahuys must have known each other in Yogyakarta at that time. George may have bought the keris from Nahuys. Be that as it may, the keris points to the entangled, but unequal social relations between the Europeans in Indonesia and the Yogya court. The keris is furthermore closely connected to colonial warfare and the Dutch destructive ‘divide and conquer’ policy in colonial Indonesia, making it a profound manifestation of the violence and hierarchies characteristic of such trans-imperial social relationships, as Bernhard Schär points out in the introduction to this special issue.

The keris and wayang puppets also indirectly reveal a little bit of Louis Weijnschenk’s knowledge of the Javanese culture and history, and of the ethnographical significance European museums ascribed to these objects. In the letter that accompanied the objects, Weijnschenk explained the different characters represented by the puppets. He emphasised their antiquity and the ethnographic, scholarly value of his donation, thereby implicitly highlighting his own unique knowledge and cultural roots and belonging46, most probably acquired through his Javanese connections and background. Along with the wayang puppets, Weijnschenk also sent an elaborate German translation of a Javanese wayang story. The museum stressed the scholarly importance of Weijnschenk’s translation47, which gave the curators more in-depth knowledge of these Javanese cultural items that they summarily described as ‘puppets for theater performances’.48

In Vienna, where museum curators were caught up in the desire of collecting and thirsty for information, Louis Weijnschenk could make his mark with his knowledge of Java and presented himself as a specialist in the field of Javanese culture. The donation of objects was Weijnschenk’s representational strategy to define his own, unique identity in the capital of his family’s country of origin, enabled by the necessities of a European academic culture.

The Natural History Museum in Vienna was one of the few Western-European museums in which anthropology and ethnography, combined with a prehistory section, were accommodated in one particular department.49 The aim of the museum was to give the public a general idea of a very heterogeneous range of cultures from the Americas and Greenland to Polynesia and Micronesia. In the museum the objects were treated as representatives of distinctive cultures and their expressions. Nevertheless, the museum showed more than just an ethnographical interest in Weijnschenk’s two keris.

Interestingly, when the curator and ethnologist Franz Heger registered the objects donated by Weijnschenk, he stressed not so much the ethnographical value of the two donated keris, as he emphasised their historical importance. ‘Beide Dolche haben durch ihre (...) Geschichte historischen Werth’, Heger wrote to the head of the museum.50 He even called them ‘wertvolle Reliquien’ and one of the keris‘ein Heiligtum’51, probably using these terms so that people could understand the Javanese meaning of pusaka from a Christian perspective. Heger based these conclusions on Weijnschenk’s documentation. According to Weijnschenk the keris,which had once belonged to the sultan, had been passed on to the sultan’s stepbrother (who was, in fact, his half-brother) Prince Diponegoro, and featured as an sacred object during the Java War, the conflict in which the Dutch were nearly driven from Java by Diponegoro. Weijnschenk claimed that the other keris, a rare and old keris buda, was also used in the Java War and had been owned by a ‘priest’.52 Just like the strategy he had used by explaining at length the meaning and age of the wayang puppets, Weijnschenk authenticated the meaning and importance of the objects, thereby influencing the curator Heger.

To the general public the museum presented and discussed its new acquisitions and Weijnschenk’s donation at length in the evening edition of the Wiener Zeitung, the Wiener Abendpost. ‘Eine äußerst werthvolle[sic] (...) Widmung’, one could read in the newspaper.53 The intricate woodcarving was praised: ‘Das Vorzüglichste bei diesen Figuren ist wohl das mühevolle Ausschneiden der Verzierungen derselben’54 and repeated Heger’s claim of the keris’ historical value, thereby underlining the importance of Weijnschenk’s gift for the museum.

In Vienna, the weapons went beyond being principally ethnographic objects and became pre-eminent testimonies of a specific history – the Java War – that the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had no direct connections with the Dutch colony, apparently felt part of. This sense of involvement is also perceptible in Austrian newspapers like the Wiener Zeitung and the Brünner Zeitung der kaiserl.-königl. privileg. Mährischen Lehenbank, that covered the Java War at the time.55‘Der Aufruhr auf Java ist sehr beunruhigend’, an Austrian journalist wrote when the war commenced.56 Such remarks give the impression that the war was considered an important international threat that also impinged on Austria-Hungary. By donating objects related to this war, Weijnschenk indirectly also stressed his participation in a common European historical endeavor – imperialism – and its trophies.

In short, Weijnschenk’s collections and rare knowledge, combined with the thirst for ethnographic objects and knowledge in Europe, were vehicles through which he could demonstrate and enlarge his cultural capital and social networks in both colonial Indonesia and Europe. By donating personal objects, since the puppets were after all personalised and hence forever linked to the Weijnschenk family, thereby stressing his own social position as a ‘wealthy landlord’, Weijnschenk musealised his own family history and role within the colonial society. By collecting and donating to a public museum in his family’s country of origin, he was able to influence the perception others had of him and to categorise himself in a particular way. In colonial Indonesia he emphasised his European ancestry and his cultural and social attachments to Europe. Simultaneously, he was able to present himself in Europe as a successful and learned colonial landlord, calling himself ‘Landherr’ and being referred to in the newspaper as ‘wealthy’.57

Weijnschenk’s self-fashioning efforts were rewarded. In recompense for this donation, Weijnschenk bluntly asked for and received acknowledgement from Emperor Franz Joseph, the ruler of one of the biggest European empires at that time and Weijnschenk’s ancestral homeland.58 Loftier acknowledgment of Weijnschenk’s strengthened social and cultural status and prestige could scarcely have been imagined.

Dieduksman: the need to be culturally European

Weijnschenk was not the only one who negotiated his identities in a trans-imperial space through his objects. He was one of the many people who utilised collecting and donating, and exploited the European demand for ‘exotic’ objects and knowledge, as tools to acquire and express desirable cultural capital and social networks in order to demonstrate his or her attachment to Europe. The subject of the second case study, Jacob Dieduksman (1832–1901), illustrates this thesis even more clearly.

Dieduksman was born in Yogyakarta in 1832. Both his parents had probably been born in colonial Indonesia. His father, Carel Gotlieb Dieduksman, a military man, was born in Semarang in an unknown year. Jacob’s mother was Johanna Christina Zimmerman about whom not much is known, though we can safely assume that she was the descendent of a man who perhaps originated from Germany or Switzerland, and who had joined the Dutch East India Company, and had commenced a relationship with a Javanese woman at the end of the eighteenth century.59

Falsified bronze Hindu-statuette donated by Dieduksman.

© National Museum for World Cultures, Leiden. TM-960-13.

Dieduksman was appointed head of an urban quarter in Yogyakarta in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Heads like Dieduksman carried out all kind of administrative tasks and were, as some sort of policemen, responsible for maintaining the public order. Later on, Dieduksman would even supervise the entire city. Before he married Djainem, a Javanese woman, in 1877 (she was Christianised as Johanna Christina, probably named after Jacob’s mother), he had already had children by her. Matrimony itself was an attempt to rise in the esteem of society, since marrying was expensive.60 On the whole, however, neither his marriage nor his professional career brought him the valuable colonial social networks that would have provided him upper-class social relationships. Even more than in the case of Weijnschenk, who was rich and possessed extensive social networks, for Dieduksman antiques and curiosities seemed to provide a means to this end. As an added bonus, the sale of objects gave him the opportunity to make some money.

Dieduksman became a great collector of antiquities and curiosities. In the middle of the nineteenth century many Hindu-Javanese objects from the great kingdoms of the ninth and tenth century could still be found fairly easily around Yogyakarta. Not only did Javanese farmers and road constructors find objects in the ground in the course of their work61, some people deliberately set out to look for them. Dieduksman and others, like Godert H.M. Harloff (1834-?) and his father, visited the famous temples of Borobudur, Prambanan and Candi Sewu, dug deep holes and took away with them what they could carry.62 This occasionally resulted in strange situations. For instance, Harloff owned the bronze left hand of the same statue of which Dieduksman possessed the right.63

Dieduksman’s collection was not restricted to Hindu-Javanese lamps and statuettes of bronze and stone. It also included weapons, rings, curious products of nature such as strangely shaped coconuts, ‘Javanese paintings’, photographs and ‘Javanese plates’.64 Dieduksman was also a businessman. He sold objects, for instance, to Ferdinand H.W. Count von Ranzow (1828–1890), who was assistant-resident of Yogyakarta from 1868 to 1873.65 Von Ranzow in his turn provided the German army officer Wolf Curt von Schierbrand (1807–1888) with Javanese weapons.66 Around this time, his collection became famous amongst those who were interested in the colony’s history and culture. Leonard W.G. de Roo (1834–1907), one of the members of the renowned learned society in Batavia, the Bataviaasch Genootschap, had seen the collection and praised its quality.67 One could say Diedukman’s collecting activities opened a door to an international social network within the colonial European upper class. Also, Dieduksman must have realised that displaying his collection publically would set him apart from his peers.

Armed with his collection and knowledge – his cultural capital – he was even able to reach out to Europe, where museums were vying in demand for ethnographic objects originating from the colonies. This was an opportunity for Dieduksman to display his attachment to the European continent, to demonstrate his ‘Europeanness’ and to become not only judicially, but also culturally speaking ‘European’. In the 1870s, Dieduksman offered objects from his large collection to several German monarchs, most notably the Prussian and Saxon kings. In these days Germany was an important scholarly and scientific center, heavily involved in promoting its ethnological museum collections in this relatively new field of learning.68 Although the country was already a united empire, there were still a number of kingdoms and prominent principalities that acted as sovereign states and had competing museums to satisfy the need for objects. These institutions were constantly looking for new and exciting ‘exotic’ objects, and comparing their own cultural and scientific successes and objects with those in similar institutions throughout the whole of Western Europe.69 Relating themselves to their institutions and scholars was relatively easy for collectors and offered a guarantee of scholarly quality and prestige.

In 1873 Dieduksman sold at least a six-armed Bodhisattva and a Hindu-Javanese dish to the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin which had been founded that same year. In 1881, he sold seven more objects (Hindu-Javanese statuettes, dishes, a temple bell and a plate) to the museum in Berlin.70 He also donated four wayang kulit puppets.71 In return for his contributions to the Museum für Völkerkunde, Dieduksman was invested with the Königliche Kronen-Orden in 1875.72 Henceforth, every letter he wrote was headed with his decorations. Through these letterheads he was able to convey his sociocultural belonging to Europe and the royal recognition he had received for his scholarly contribution to the continent of his ancestors.

Dieduksman apparently decided to make himself known in other representative German areas of learning and art as well. In January 1877 he donated 32 objects to the Antikenkabinett in the Dresden palace of the king of Saxony, including Hindu-Javanese stone statuettes, antique coins and medallions, rings, spoons and dishes. Also included were some contemporary objects like a chunk of slaked lime, which was commonly used in betel-chewing, even though these were somewhat out of place in the gallery of antiquities.73 As proof of his appreciation, Dieduksman was invested with the order of Albrecht by Albrecht, the king of Saxony (r. 1873–1902).

The German museum appeared to be unfamiliar with many of the cultural and religious contexts of the objects donated by Dieduksman. Even though at that time Hindu-Javanese statuettes were already being identified by scholars in the Netherlands as the deities Avalokiteçwara or Nandi, in Dresden the objects were simply catalogued as ‘sitting Buddha-statue with four arms, made of tin’ or ‘image of a bull’.74 This seems conclusive evidence that Dieduksman introduced rarely seen and hitherto unknown objects to the German institutions. He even donated some fake objects. Around 1900, a Dutch archeological commission discovered that Dieduksman had intentionally forged antique Hindu-Javanese statuettes.75 In Dresden this was not discovered until 1916, after the Dutch report had been published.76 This is clear proof of Dieduksman’s authority in Dresden, where he had mediated knowledge of Javanese culture and history. In this role, he expanded the existing German culture of knowledge of the European colonies in Southeast Asia and made museums dependent on him as an interlocutor. He himself had acquired his knowledge from, as he described them, ‘very learned Javanese’77 – thereby explicitly referring to the Javanese origin of the colonial knowledge he transferred to Europe and which became, just like Weijnschenk’s wayangpuppets, part of trans-imperial connections and networks.

Forgery of a bronze Hindu-Javanese statuette of a standing woman.

© National Museum for World Cultures, Leiden. TM-1201-4.

In 1878, another opportunity to strengthen social and cultural bonds with Europe, and to earn some money, presented itself. In that year, Alois Kraus (1840–1926), a former Austrian navy officer who had been appointed Unter-Inspector of the Imperial Menagerie at Schönbrunn, just outside Vienna, visited Java and Sumatra to collect two tigers that had been presented to Emperor Franz Joseph, probably by a local royal person. On the way home, Kraus collected more animals, both stuffed and mounted, and alive, for the zoo in Vienna.78 It is likely that Kraus met Dieduksman in Central Java. Perhaps inspired by his recent European activities, Dieduksman decided to present Kraus parts of his collection of sabers, pikes, shields, bows and spears from Bali and Borneo. He also donated three shadow puppet (wayang) characters made of wood (so-called wayang kelitik) and two made of leather (wayangkulit) to Kraus.79 Dieduksman’s role for these institutions grew in importance as he strove to gain acknowledgement for his efforts in Europe.

Dieduksman himself was convinced that his efforts could be best acknowledged by receiving decorations or money. After having received several German decorations, Dieduksman hoped for a decoration from the Austro-Hungarian emperor. In his letters to the museum in Vienna, he pointed out to the curator his other decorations80 and stated that he would be ‘inclined to hand over several objects to the K.K. Hofmuseum in Vienna without requiring payment if it were to transpire that my earlier gift has been appreciated in a different way’.81 This ‘different way’ was the award of a medal. Unfortunately for Dieduksman, his donation did not yield a decoration, for neither Kraus nor any other person took steps to arrange for it. Dieduksman felt betrayed, probably because he interpreted this ommitment as a denial of a sign of prestige.82

The 1883 Colonial Exhibition in Amsterdam provided Dieduksman with a European platform on which he could showcase his colonial collections and his knowledge. For many European museums, these exhibitions were a great opportunity to collect objects. Demand and opportunities matched each other perfectly. Dieduksman decided to submit to the exhibition two old Javanese manuscripts83 from his own large collection, as well as several items from his collection of antique Javanese weapons. With his display of over a hundred keris, sabers, daggers and pikes, Dieduksman, a resident of colonial Indonesia, won the Gold Medal at the exhibition. A journalist in colonial Indonesia and the exhibition catalogue judged the collection to be very ‘noteworthy’.84

By donating his objects, Dieduksman was participating in the Western efforts to classify the colonial world and stress the culturally predominant position of Europe. After all, the exhibition had been arranged into classes indicating the degree of civilisation of the colonised cultures and hence the colonial order.85 By donating his collection to exhibitions with these principles, Dieduksman sided with the European ruling elite, thereby stressing his European ancestry, his bourgeois customs and scholarly knowledge. These expressions of western superiority and its civilising role were seen and understood by many visitors, since the exhibition was visited not only by the Dutch, but drew people from all over Europe. It had an international outreach, even beyond the colonising countries – a sure sign of a trans-imperial culture in Europe. The Gold Medal definitely brought Dieduksman a certain fame in the Netherlands, Java and even other European countries, as newspapers all over colonial Indonesia, the Netherlands, and Europe extolled the medal winners.

As has been shown, the Imperial Natural History Museum in Vienna was among the European museums searching for ethnographic objects, and apparently kept an eye on those international exhibitions. By the autumn of 1883, the Imperial Natural History Museum had written to Dieduksman asking him whether he might be willing to donate his impressive collection of weapons to the museum. Dieduksman responded irritably; after all, the museum had failed to procure a decoration for him some years earlier. Before he would even consider donating his weapons to Vienna without charge, he wrote, he demanded a token of appreciation.86 The implicit message was that he would not budge before he had received his long-promised decoration. If this was not forthcoming, the museum could buy the collection for 10.000 guilders, he suggested.87 He underlined that such old and artistically valuable weapons were unique in Java, thereby underscoring his unique position as a ‘cultural broker’, an authority on the matter, Europe’s link to the cultural world of colonial Indonesia.88

Correspondence demonstrates that the museum was not quite so keen on arranging the decoration or buying the collection. Dieduksman wrote that he regretted the museum’s doubts about his honesty, which was an interesting remark for a man who replicated antique Hindu-Javanese statuettes.89 Eventually, Dieduksman was awarded the Order of Franz Joseph for his donation of antique weapons from Java, Bali, Sumatra and Borneo in July 1886.90 He also maintained a correspondence with the museum about further donations, questions about the objects and the desires of the museum.91 These letters show that Dieduksman consolidated his trans-imperial social relations and how his social prestige increased when he not only received his long-desired decoration, but also when he became the museum’s informant on Indonesian cultural and even religious matters.

By 1886, Dieduksman had obtained three different royal or imperial decorations from both the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. His 1875 knighthood was even mentioned in the London-based London and China Telegraph Newspaper92, and his collection at this time had become so famous that the Bataviaasch Genootschap commissioned the renowned Javanese photographer Kassian Céphas (1845–1912) to take photographs of the collection in 1892.93 Seven years after Dieduksman’s death, he was remembered amongst the cultural colonial elite as ‘the well-known collector’.94

Dieduksman, whose colonial social position was fairly low when he began to collect, traversed the barriers of class in nineteenth-century colonial Java by means of his collections, knowledge and the resultant social, transnational and trans-imperial networks. He had even become a German and an Austrian knight. His improved cultural capital and social networks put him in a position to display and negotiate his belonging to ‘Europe’ and his Europeanness. Dieduksman eventually fashioned an internationally acclaimed reputation as an important collector in colonial Indonesia and became not only legally, but also culturally European in the colony. Apart from his economic motives, sociocultural status could have been one of the reasons Dieduksman ordered Javanese craftsmen to copy antique statuettes and add false objects to his collection to make it look more complete and thus special.95

Picture taken by the famous Javanese photographer Kassian Céphas of the Dieduksman collection, ca. 1892. © Special Collections, University Library of Leiden. Inv. Nr. P-044603.

Although Dieduksman improved his sociocultural standing and even though his son built on this acquired social and cultural capital (the latter lent, for instance, objects to a Dutch exhibition on Asian art in 1936), it was a very fragile construction that had to be maintained and negotiated all the time. In a Dutch-Indies newspaper Dieduksman was mockingly described as ‘our Knight Jacob’, while another newspaper scathingly mentioned how his diligence as ‘a policeman on the beat’ had begun to fade, despite his decorations.96


The travels and meanings of objects – and the social networks in which they were embedded – have demonstrated how two juridically registered ‘Europeans’ in colonial Indonesia were able to negotiate and define their identities as ‘being European’ in sociocultural terms. Weijnschenk and Dieduksman accomplished this in dialogue with extra-imperial European states, stimulated by their own necessity to attain and maintain a certain social status in the colony that was largely associated with ‘Europeanness’, by the demand of European museums for overseas ethnographic objects and by the bourgeois enthusiasm for collecting.

The social practices of donating objects and disseminating knowledge provided Eurasians like Weijnschenk and Dieduksman with a certain social agency to negotiate and define their social and cultural identities to themselves and to others both in Europe and the colony. These case studies show how the practices of collecting, donating and displaying could result in the acquisition and the strengthening of social networks, economic capital and cultural competencies. The European museums’ thirst for ‘exotic’ objects and knowledge about distant people provided Dieduksman and Weijnschenk opportunities to perform, emulate and appropriate a sociocultural ‘Europeanness’ that was already theirs legally in the colony. In Europe then, they could position themselves as experts in those unknown territories and as successful entrepreneurs.

These ‘made-up’ identities went beyond being mere expressions of loyalties, shaped by origin, social class, culture, law and place of residence.97 As Stephen Constantine has demonstrated, such a construction of identities was a strategic response to enhance social status.98 These representational strategies improved one’s social status in the colony, the Netherlands and even on a wider scale in Europe, and this enabled people like Dieduksman to surmount the barriers of class in nineteenth-century colonial Indonesia. Feelings of affinities and thus identities were negotiated through trans-imperial and transnational relations, which enables us to draw the conclusion that the collection, the display and the donation of ethnographic objects were, in truth, political acts. Demand and opportunities matched perfectly. These negotiated identities and the resultant social status for Eurasians like Dieduksman and Weijnschenk were, however, unstable, as ‘Europeanness’ in the colony had to be constantly maintained and was extremely fragile.

The travels, networks and meanings of the objects discussed in this article and the way they facilitated social practices add significant new insights into how deeply connected the Dutch empire was with other European empires. These objects also shed light on how colonial knowledge, violence, hierarchies and local agents in the colony were an integral part of European history and of European museum collections. The appropriation and inclusion of Indonesian cultures and violent colonial histories like the Java War in the public sphere of the German states and the Austro-Hungarian Empire reveal an imperial European culture, encompassing and influencing different interacting colonies and European states, which sometimes did not even have overseas colonies.99 Colonial networks, images and perspectives influenced national identities, knowledge and attitudes.100 This European perspective has been occluded for a long time by a focus on histories coloured by methodological nationalism. Weijnschenk and Dieduksman were firmly embedded in these entangled, trans-imperial connections that imposed demands on them, but also provided them opportunities, as their collections and collecting practices have shown us.