East-Indies

A Walk in Hoorn

01. Hoorn

Recently, namely the 19th of September I took a walk in the old city Hoorn. Hoorn is a Dutch city which was once very important for the northern west-coast of the Netherlands. This region is and was called “West-Friesland”, in English “West-Frisia”. After the former Spanish rulers had left and the Netherlands became the Seven Provinces, Hoorn as a city became a powerful naval city.

The first picture is a picture of the old town square called “de Rode Steen”, in English “the Red Stone”. “De Rode Steen” had this particular name as this was the place for public executions. Apart from that the town square was the place for traditional markets and celebrations. Just like Alkmaar, Hoorn had a traditional “kaasmarkt”, in English “cheese market”. The red stone in the pictures is the red stone in question.

In the middle of this town square is the statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen. This man came from Hoorn and once was a “Gouverneur-Generaal” of the V.O.C. and thus very influential for the trade in the East-Indies, now known as Indonesia. Apparently he did not shy away from using violence and weapons to enforce V.O.C. interests thus there are people who say “his statue should be removed because he would now be considered a war criminal”.

On the matter of Jan Pieterszoon Coen I can be brief and very clear. He lived in different times where people had a different perspective on certain matters and there is the V.O.C. aspect. The V.O.C. was not just a trading company. The V.O.C. was also given a political mandate to represent the Dutch interests at sea in trade and war. The “Gouverneur-Generaal”, in English “governor-general” was not just some high ranked V.O.C. executive. He was also allowed to use force and to wage war in the interest of the V.O.C. and the Seven Provinces when interests were at stake.

Trade by sea in Asia in the 16th and 17th century was dangerous. Even the biggest wooden ships could get lost, under manned, get stuck or simply sink along the known and perilous routes. Illnesses, food shortages, water shortages and limited medical care occurred often. The V.O.C. was a big source of income for the Seven Provinces and sending ships over to the East-Indies was expensive. A return of investment was expected and sometimes that meant taking trade goods by sword and gun when dealing with unreliable trading partners.

Jan Pieterszoon Coen did what he thought was necessary, even if he had to apply violence for the wealth of his employers. Different times and different perspectives applied then. Now people see this statue as a reminder of bloodshed. Yet this bloodshed among the past European countries involved in overseas trading, especially in the Americas, Africa and Eastern-Asia was quite normal for centuries. Since he Middle-Ages the use of force and war was still part of life. This aspect, especially in past overseas trade is a big black and red page in West-European history and a statue is an effective reminder.

Apart from that I can say that Hoorn as a city is still mostly an open air museum. In some parts time stood still, traces of previous times are everywhere and there is plenty of space to walk around. For further information check this link for more information.