Public Art: Multatuli Statue
Sculptor: © Hans Bayens (12th November 1924 -19th July 2003)
Description: A bronze sculpture of famed Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker who was better known as Multatuli, perched on a red marble plinth.
Date Unveiled: In 1987 Queen Beatrix unveiled the statue to mark the 100th anniversary of Multatuli.
Funded By: Publisher GA van Oorschot in collaboration with the board of the Multatuli Society
Location: The Multatuli statue can be found at the Torensluis over the Singel, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
So who was Multatuli? : Eduard Douwes Dekker (2 March 1820 – 19 February 1887) was a popular Dutch satirist who enjoyed nothing more than criticizing Dutch imperialism.
Dekker was born in Amsterdam, the son of a ship’s captain. The mere thought of following in his daddy’s footsteps lead him to flee to Java at 18 to take a job as a civil servant. Six years of living in the Dutch East Indies was enough for him to see the scandals and abuses of colonialism first hand and he began openly protesting it. After being told to hold his tongue or be dismissed, Dekker resigned and returned to the Netherlands a very angry ant.
To the papers he went, writing numerous articles about the abuse. It all pretty much fell on deaf ears until in 1860 he decided to put pen to paper and write the novel Max Havelaar under his pen name Multatuli (Latin for ‘I have suffered much’). Now that got everyone’s attention. The book became a hit amongst European readers who suddenly became conscious that the wealth everyone was enjoying in Europe at the time was the result of suffering in other parts of the world.
With his success came more novels all with an underlying satirical tone.
What Upset Dekker?: When the Dutch East India Company (VOC) went bankrupt in 1800 it passed colonial control of the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia) over to the Dutch government, who in turn implemented a series of policies to increase venue. They gave it the flash name Cultivation System and then set about forcing Indonesia farmers to grow commercially tradable crops like tea and coffee instead of their staple food crops like rice. They then also introduced a tax collection system whereby the collecting agents were paid by commission. A recipe for disaster. The end result was abject poverty and widespread starvation among farmers in Java and Sumatra. For the years Dekker spent as a civil servant in Asia he became more and more angry at what his government was doing to the people of Indonesia. He was also frustrated that most Europeans, half a world away, were oblivious to the extent of the ‘free labour’ inflicted on the Indonesia citizens by the Dutch government.
Trivia: Dekker was one of Sigmund Freud’s favourite writers.
Ernest Douwes Dekker, a famous Indonesian freedom fighter and politician, was related to Eduard Douwes Dekker. Yes, Eduard’s brother was Ernest’s grandfather.