Kempo and the colonies

Shao­lin Kem­po is an event­ful pie­ce of colo­ni­al histo­ry! Who deals with the back­ground of our mar­ti­al art, quick­ly comes across terms such as KNIL, colo­nies and wars of inde­pen­dence. A clo­ser look at this histo­ry is worthwhile, becau­se the effects are still clear­ly noti­ce­ab­le today, espe­cial­ly for Kem­po­ka. Kem­po and the colo­nies — his­to­ri­cal roots of Shao­lin Kempo!

Von McKar­ri, CC BY-SA 3.0,

With the begin­ning of the modern age, the era of the dis­co­ve­rers began in Euro­pe. That is why we speak of modern times. Peop­le began to ques­ti­on the fai­ry tales of the sect with the cross and no lon­ger just adhe­re to the dark supers­ti­ti­ons of the Midd­le Ages. Well … they “star­ted” it at that time, but we are not finis­hed with it until today. But that is ano­t­her topic!
The earth was no lon­ger con­si­de­red a disk, but rather a for­mi­da­ble chal­len­ge for all adven­tu­rers and con­quer­ors. With their woo­den sai­ling ships, a race for resour­ces, riches and sphe­res of influ­ence began. Dri­ven by an alli­an­ce of ego­tis­ti­cal and abso­lu­tist rulers and rather unscru­pu­lous, others call it dar­ing, mer­chants, spur­red on and legi­ti­mi­zed by a mis­sio­na­ry Chris­ti­an church — sin­ce the 17th cen­tu­ry, ever­ything out­side Euro­pe was no lon­ger safe from the colo­nia­lists, their cros­ses and cannons.

Off to the East

As part of this self-image, Dut­ch ships also set out to sei­ze the riches of the (as yet) unco­lo­ni­zed world. Gold, of cour­se, was always avail­ab­le, but spi­ces were also a hot com­mo­di­ty that could be sold at enor­mous pro­fit. One had an idea of the direc­tion in which one had to sail in order to get the stuff, becau­se one or the other herb had alrea­dy reached Euro­pean lati­tu­des via the Ori­ent. As ear­ly as 1499, the Carib­be­an Les­ser Antil­les and Suri­nam in the Far East had been dis­co­ve­r­ed. About 100 years later, by now Spain and the Nether­lands were at war, fleets of Dut­ch mer­chants and their sol­dier­ly escor­ts set out to visit the “Spi­ce Islands”. From 1595 to 1601, more than 65 Dut­ch ships left the fami­li­ar waters of the North Sea and sai­led toward the sun­ri­se. At first, all on their own account. But it soon beca­me clear that, des­pi­te all the com­pe­ti­ti­on, it was bet­ter to act tog­e­ther. Thus the “Ver­enig­de Oost-Indi­sche Com­pa­gnie”, or VOC for short, was foun­ded. In 1619, the city of Bata­via on Java was founded.

For the first few cen­tu­ries, the tra­ding nati­ons in this regi­on of the world were gene­ral­ly con­tent to estab­lish and for­ti­fy tra­ding posts. As long as the ruble was rol­ling, the Euro­peans were not inte­res­ted in fur­ther annex­a­ti­on of the inte­rior and left the inha­bi­tants more or less alo­ne. Nut­meg and cloves brought wealth to Euro­pe. The Dut­ch gra­du­al­ly appro­pria­ted more and more tra­ding posts, inclu­ding tho­se of the Bri­tish or Por­tu­gue­se, and beca­me the domi­nant tra­ding power in Sou­the­ast Asia. Only the Moluc­cas, a group of islands in what is now Indo­ne­sia, was almost com­ple­te­ly occu­p­ied. They had revol­ted when they rea­li­zed that they were being explo­i­ted by their for­eign col­leagues with white skin. The con­se­quence was the bru­tal sup­pres­si­on of any resis­tance and the depor­ta­ti­on of the inha­bi­tants of the Ban­da Islands, which belong to the Moluc­cas. Coin­ci­dent­al­ly, some VOC col­leagues just had the desi­re and time to cul­ti­va­te the land themselves.

Going for the whole hog

Things only beca­me real­ly uncom­for­ta­ble for the regi­on when the colo­ni­al powers began to feel so moral­ly supe­ri­or that the “sava­ges” had to be taught some real man­ners. In addi­ti­on, Islam con­ti­nued to spread, and peop­le were also very hos­ti­le to it. Spur­red on by the church depart­ment, it was now first mis­sio­na­ry work and then sub­ju­ga­ti­on. Tho­se who did not com­ply were bum­ped off in the name of cha­ri­ty. Until the 19th cen­tu­ry, this acti­vi­ty remai­ned limi­ted to the coas­tal strips of the Dut­ch Indies. But then the Dut­ch crown ope­ned its over­seas ter­ri­to­ries to indi­vi­du­al entre­pre­neurs as well and began not only to explo­it its over­seas ter­ri­to­ries, but also to pro­vi­de them with admi­nis­tra­ti­on and orga­niz­a­ti­on based on the Euro­pean model.

For most locals, this was not a hap­py thought on the part of the Euro­pean for­eign rulers. But the­re were also posi­ti­ve aspects. At least for tho­se who made com­mon cau­se with the colo­ni­al powers. For examp­le, after one of the nume­rous upri­sin­gs and small wars (in this case the Java War of 1825–1830), the Nether­lands estab­lis­hed its own colo­ni­al army — the ‘Kon­in­kli­jk Neder­lands-Indisch Leger’ (Roy­al Dut­ch Indian Army/KNIL). This army was main­ly respon­si­ble for main­tai­ning “inter­nal order”. Most of the mem­bers of this army were nati­ves, only the offi­cers came from the small coun­try on the North Sea. Sin­ce the Moluc­cas had long been under direct Dut­ch influ­ence, Chris­tia­ni­ty had pre­vai­led here, while ever­y­whe­re else Islam was domi­nant. This ensu­red that espe­cial­ly Moluccans beca­me mem­bers of the KNIL. They were sim­ply trus­ted more. Espe­cial­ly from the main island of the Moluc­cas, Ambon, came qui­te a few of the nati­ve KNIL soldiers.

The Chris­ti­an Moluccans were proud of their clo­se ties to the Nether­lands and its roy­al house. A rela­ti­ons­hip with con­se­quen­ces, becau­se also due to their bet­ter school edu­ca­ti­on many could read and wri­te and were thus glad­ly employ­ed in the colo­ni­al admi­nis­tra­ti­on. They cal­led them­sel­ves “de zwar­te Neder­lan­ders,” the black Dut­ch (alt­hough the­re were inde­ed black colo­ni­al sol­di­ers in the ser­vice of the KNIL, name­ly the Belan­da Hitam). This clo­se bond las­ted and streng­t­he­ned through qui­te a few deca­des. During the Second World War, the KNIL fought tog­e­ther with the Dut­ch against the Japa­ne­se. And even after their depar­tu­re, the sol­di­ers of the KNIL stood faith­ful­ly by the side of the retur­ning Euro­peans, who wan­ted to con­ti­nue the old times.

Brutal fight for independence

The world had chan­ged. The peo­p­les of Sou­the­ast Asia were no lon­ger wil­ling to accept Euro­pean for­eign rule. And so a broad-based strugg­le for inde­pen­dence began in the Dut­ch Indies as well. At the same time, the colo­ni­al powers lost their sup­po­sed moral supe­rio­ri­ty. Peop­le in Euro­pe also began to ques­ti­on their actions over­seas. And what took place in the deca­des-long strugg­le was anything but moral. After a long strugg­le, the Indo­ne­si­an tro­ops pre­vai­led in a bru­tal war with enor­mous civi­li­an “casu­al­ties.” The inter­na­tio­nal repu­ta­ti­on of the Nether­lands was amply tar­nis­hed by nume­rous cri­mes against the Indo­ne­si­an peop­le. And the repu­ta­ti­on of the KNIL wit­hin Indo­ne­sia was com­ple­te­ly down anyway.

Moluk­se KNIL-mili­tairen, 1948 © MHM/coll. P. Matakena

On 27.12.1949 Indo­ne­sia decla­red its­elf inde­pen­dent. This ended a good 400 years of Dut­ch colo­ni­al influ­ence and the exis­tence of Dut­ch India.

But not ever­yo­ne was hap­py with this deve­lo­p­ment. The Moluccans in par­ti­cu­lar fea­red both the reven­ge of the sur­roun­ding neigh­bors and, in the long run, Isla­miz­a­ti­on and alie­na­ti­on by the Indo­ne­si­an government on Java. So the small island group decla­red its­elf inde­pen­dent in 1950. They belie­ved they had the sup­port of the Nether­lands, after all they had fought tog­e­ther for deca­des. This was a big mista­ke, becau­se the Indo­ne­si­an army atta­cked and occu­p­ied Ambon, the main island of the Moluc­cas, as ear­ly as Sep­tem­ber 1950. Both the inter­na­tio­nal com­mu­ni­ty and the Dut­ch initi­al­ly loo­ked the other way, aban­do­ning their loy­al allies. When it beca­me clear that the situa­ti­on was beco­m­ing more and more threa­tening, espe­cial­ly for the Moluccan mem­bers of the KNIL who did not want to join the Indo­ne­si­an mili­ta­ry, it was deci­ded in The Hague to bring the sol­di­ers and their next of kin to the Netherlands.



The new unloved homeland

On Febru­a­ry 20, 1951, the first ship with 850 pas­sen­gers left the port of Semarang for Rot­ter­dam. By the end of June 1951, ele­ven ships brought the 4,000 Moluccan mili­ta­ry per­son­nel and their fami­lies to the Nether­lands. Most of them were quar­te­red in old mili­ta­ry bar­racks or simi­lar cozy accom­mo­da­ti­ons. Initi­al­ly, the­re was talk of the Moluccans stay­ing only about 6 mon­ths in the clam­my new envi­ron­ment. As is well known, this tur­ned into deca­des, which still lea­ve their mark on ever­y­day life in Holland.

Not all KNIL sol­di­ers were Moluccans. Carel Faul­ha­ber, for examp­le, the father of Shao­lin Kem­po, came from Java. And also Gerald Mei­jers ali­as Dsche­ro Khan, the second foun­der of Shao­lin Kem­po, was a KNIL sol­dier, but not a Moluccan. Nevertheless, the term is used in Hol­land as a gene­ra­liz­a­ti­on for the descen­dants of the “Zwar­te Neder­lan­ders”, the once so proud loy­al allies of the Dut­ch colo­ni­al masters.

This colo­ni­al-mili­ta­ry back­ground is important to under­stand what cul­tu­ral and his­to­ri­cal influ­en­ces shaped ear­ly Shao­lin Kempo.


If you are curious about the Dut­ch colo­ni­al histo­ry, you can find out more about it here:
Uni Müns­ter — Nether­lands Net
Super clear, loo­se­ly writ­ten, excel­lent source

70 years of Moluccans in the Netherlands
Histo­ry and self-image today — in Dutch

Cul­tu­re of vio­lence — the cur­rent con­flict on the Moluccas
A mas­ter the­sis that takes a look at the cur­rent situa­ti­on in Indonesia

The infa­mous Cap­tain Westerling
An old Spie­gel maga­zi­ne arti­cle about the atro­ci­ties of the strugg­le for independence

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