The Black Dutchmen: African soldiers in the Dutch East Indies

book cover "Zwarte Hollanders"This project has documented the history of 3,000 Africans who during the 19th century were recruited in West Africa, mainly present-day Ghana, to serve in the Netherlands East Indies army (KNIL). The vast majority of recruits were ex-slaves who purchased their freedom with an advance on their army pay. In the East Indies, they counted as part of the European formation of the army and were entitled to equal treatment with European soldiers. After their contracts expired, a number returned to Elmina in Ghana, but many settled with their families on Java. In the following generations, most men continued to serve in the army. After Indonesian independence, most Indo-Africans were repatriated to the Netherlands. The Africans and their descendants went through a sequence of vastly different identities: slaves in Africa, 'Europeans' in the East Indies, and black immigrants in the 1950s in the Netherlands.

Research project
2002 to 2005

Senior researchers



diasporas ; Ghana ; identity ; Netherlands ; slave trade

Additional information

Research output: 

In 2005 Ineke van Kessel's book Zwarte Hollanders: Afrikaanse soldaten in Nederlands-Indië, with a preface by Arthur Japin, was published by KIT publishers.
Read the book.