VOC Heritage in Asia: 
The Ceylon Dutch Burghers

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

> 2021

Further Exhibitions
Colombo, Sri Lanka
>   2022
Amsterdam , Netherlands
>   2023 

Project Overview

The Exhibition project drew its research from world renowned historical institutions who are custodians of VOC archives. 

Apart from drawing on information from the archives and other unknown documentary sources, the exhibition presents a critical analysis of the social structure of the 17th-18th century in the Dutch settlements of Ceylon.
The VOC administration issued laws which were applicable not only to the VOC personnel, but also to the indigenous population and those socially placed in between, the 'mixed bloods'.  

The Dutch administration, as a colonial power was engaged in political and legal domination and not interested in building up a system to promote social development; nor was it interested in the creation of equal opportunities for all its settlement inhabitants. The development of the colonial societies was not based on a culture that drew on diverse traditions from various communities but rather it was focused on a fixed codex of laws and decrees which benefited the Company and its mercantile trade. 

As a result, the Dutch VOC, rather than creating a majority culture in their Asian territories, used racial segregation as a means to regulate and subordinate the populations in their settlements.
The Dutch Company's reliance on slave labour is documented in the exhibition book and features in all the exhibitions. Furthermore, in the domestic sector, the Dutch settlements profited from this exploitation.

Even under imposed rules, regulations and social stratification, the Dutch, (European) and mestizo communities could not resist assimilating influences from the diverse cultures and practices to which they soon became accustomed.

The Ceylon Dutch Burghers are an ethnic group of mixed race descendants whose ancestors were from the former Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC).

With the Dutch capitulation of 1796, and in the years that followed, the Dutch community and the Portuguese mestizos accepted British sovereignty and were referred to by the new regime as a mixed-race community who were to be known as the ‘Ceylon Burghers’. 
The Burghers generally are amused to be known as a hybrid. They are a product of all the ethnical influences and various blood- lines which for centuries have embedded into their habits, traditions, cuisine and intermarriages.

To understand the making of the Ceylon Burghers, we have made, a comprehensive study of the mainstream families living in the Company period. The exhibition features selected Dutch VOC personnel and the accompanying book includes the mainstream family names in Ceylon. General genealogical summaries of family names introduce each family name, followed by records of the name until around 1825.