The Newsletter 96 Autumn 2023

Fruitful Interlude

OOI Keat Gin

There is a saying that the Dutch "think with their pockets," and that “parsimony is not an embarrassment, but a virtue.” On the contrary, the Dutch were generous, to my person at least, with indulgence in my scholarly endeavours.

Appointed as an Affiliate Fellow of IIAS (2002-2004), I sojourned a month or two each year, undertaking research in the Netherlands. Thereafter, I held a Visiting Research Fellowship (2005-2006) with the Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (NIOD, Netherlands Institute for War Documentation). Even when I was with IIAS, I spent most of my research time at NIOD working on materials related to wartime Dutch Borneo (present-day Indonesia Kalimantan). In both capacities, I was based in Amsterdam with trips to the General Archives at The Hague.

Accommodation ranged from a studio in the Red Light District to a spacious apartment on the outskirts (a daily train ride to Centraal Station), all agreeable and intriguing. My wife Swee Im and I had fond memories of our times in bohemian Amsterdam: strolling hand-in-hand by the canals, observing elementary schoolchildren walking two-by-two through the traditional window prostitution neighbourhoods, breathing in the strong ‘strange’ smells emitting from ‘coffee shops’ (though not indulging in their ‘specialties’), enjoying beer and frites, hosting home-cooked dinner get-togethers, grocery shopping using a ‘huge-sized’ trolley, wowing at the ‘Night Watch’ in the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh’s ‘Irises,’ walking through Albert Cuyp Market, Waterlooplein, Bloemenmarkt, and Nieuwmarkt.

An affiliate IIAS fellowship was indeed fruitful and transformative, as it allowed space and time which enabled the pursuit of my main research interest that subsequently produced The Japanese Occupation of Borneo, 1941-1945(Routledge, 2011), Post-war Borneo, 1945-1950: Nationalism, Empire, and State-building (Routledge, 2013), and Borneo in the Cold War, 1950-1990 (Routledge, 2020). This was a pioneering breakthrough, as the trilogy focused on Borneo as a single entity.

The Japanese Occupation of Borneo considers the nature of wartime Japanese military rule in Borneo, contrasting the different administrations of the Imperial Japanese Army, which ruled the northern portion of the island, and the Imperial Japanese Navy, which ruled the southern half. The immediate post-war years (1945-1950) were a crossroads: Post-war Borneo discusses the various factions and powers, both local and international, all contending for control of the island. In midst of post-war reconstruction and economic resuscitation, the upheavals which affected Southeast and East Asia during the Cold War deeply impacted Borneo. The attempted communist takeover of Sarawak from the 1950s, a failed uprising in Brunei in 1962, Sukarno’s Konfrontasi (confrontation), and the horrific purge of Leftists elements in the mid-1960s are detailed in Borneo in the Cold War.

Although this is not to discount the contributions played by numerous other fellowships, the IIAS fellowship came at an opportune time when I was planning to focus my research on Dutch Borneo, and subsequently to the said trilogy on the historical development of Borneo in the second half of the 20th century. Furthermore, IIAS afforded the strengthening of bonds with other scholars: Remco Raben (NIOD, Utrecht University); Elly Touwen-Bousma (NIOD); Peter Post (NIOD); Leo Douw (University of Amsterdam).

Heleen van der Minne, who managed IIAS Amsterdam branch then, was always attentive and helpful, and I am most grateful that she organized the launching of my three-volume award-winning Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, From Angkor Wat to East Timor (ABC-CLIO, 2004). For the IIAS-sponsored event, she secured the former meeting hall of the Seventeen Gentlemen (The Heeren XVII), Board of Directors of the Vereenigde Nederlandsche Geoctroyeerde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC, United East India Company).

In closing, I take this opportunity to register my gratitude to, and congratulate IIAS on its 30th Anniversary, and may its promotion of Asian Studies be a bountiful enterprise.


OOI Keat Gin, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei