Mardijker people

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A Mardijker and his wife, detail, Churchill 1704.

The Mardijker were a community in amongst others Batavia (modern Jakarta), made up of descendants of freed slaves. They could be found at all major trading posts in the East Indies.[1] They were mostly Christian, of various natives from conquered Portuguese territories, and some Portuguese ancestry. They spoke a Portuguese patois, which has influenced the modern Indonesian language. The Dutch also referred to them as inlandse Christenen ("indigenous Christians").

General History Origins[edit]

The ancestors of the Mardijkers had been slaves of the Portuguese in India, Africa and Malay Peninsula, and were brought to Indonesia by the Dutch East India Company, especially after the 1641 Dutch conquest of Malacca, whereby Portuguese speakers in the city were taken as captive. There were also Mardijkers taken to Pampanga, Luzon via Indonesia which called by the Dutch as Papangers.[2]

The term Mardijker is a Dutch corruption of the Malay word Merdeka, which originates from the Sanskrit Maharddhika meaning "rich, prosperous and powerful". In the Malay archipelago, this term had acquired the meaning of a freed slave, and now means "independent". The Dutch colonists also used it more generally to describe any freed slaves which were full-blood Asian [or maybe African?], i.e. zwarten ("blacks").

The Census of 1699 in Batavia shows the breakdown of the population as:

3,679 Chinese; 2,407 Mardijkers; 1,783 Europeans; 670 Mixed blood; 867 others.

The Mardijkers mostly clung to their Catholic faith and continued to attend Batavia's Portuguese church, although many were eventually baptised by the Dutch Reformed Church. They were legally recognized by the Dutch East India Company as a separate ethnic group, and kept themselves apart from the native Javanese (Taylor 1983: 47; Bosma and Raben 2008: 46-47). During the VOC era there was already considerable inter-marriage with the Indos in pre-colonial history, who were often also of Portuguese descent. During the colonial era the Mardijkers eventually assimilated completely into the Indo Eurasian community and were no longer registered as a separate ethnic group.


Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the Mardijkers exchanged their Portuguese-based creole for a Malay-based one, Betawi Malay (Bahasa Betawi). Nowadays they speak Indonesian, the Indonesian national language, and use Betawi Malay only in informal contexts. The old creole still survives in old song lyrics, in the genre Keroncong Moresco or Keroncong Tugu. A part of Jakarta is called "Kampung Tugu" an area where Mardijker people had been allowed to settle for after their freedom, the neighborhood retains its Portuguese distinctiveness. Historically these people also settled in Old Batavia's Roa Malacca district near Kali besar, however little historic buildings remain of what had been the historic quarter.

Common Mardijker family names are De Fretes, Ferrera, De Mello, Gomes, Gonsalvo, Cordero, De Dias, De Costa, Soares, Rodrigo, De Pinto, Perreira and De Silva. Some Mardijker families also took Dutch names such as Willems, Michiels, Bastiaans, Pieters, Jansz, Fransz, Davidts.

When the Indonesians fought for independence from the Dutch they used the slogan Merdeka ("freedom"), which has the same root with Mardijker. This word had considerable political significance also in Malaysia and Singapore (see the Merdeka page).

The name 'Mardijkers' is also used for the so-called belanda hitam (Zwarte Hollanders "black Hollanders"), soldiers recruited in Ghana, Africa who served in the colonial army (KNIL) and gained their freedom afterward.


  1. ^ Leirissa, R. Article ‘Ambon and Ternate through the 19th century’, in ‘Authority and enterprise among the people of South Sulawesi’ (Bijdragen in taal land en volkenkunde by University of Leiden, 156, 2000 no.3, 619-633, KITLV, Leiden.) p.249 [1]
  2. ^ East of Bali: from Lombok to Timor - Colonial Kupang
  • Ulbe Bosma and Remco Raben. 2008. Being "Dutch" in the Indies: A History of Creolisation and Empire, 1500–1920, trans. by Wendie Shaffer. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press. ISBN 978-9971-69-373-2
  • Jean Gelman Taylor. 1983. The Social World of Batavia: European and Asian in Dutch Asia. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

See also[edit]