Van Bengalen (of Bengal) – by Maria Holtrop

Wednesday 6 October 2021

In the exhibition Slavery, The Rijksmuseum focuses for the first time on slavery in the Dutch colonial period. This era, spanning 250 years, is an integral part of the history of the Netherlands. It was a time when people were reduced to property, to objects, to items in the accounts. The exhibition takes the form of personal and real-life stories rather than abstract concepts.


There are stories from Brazil, Suriname, and the Caribbean, and from South African and Asia. One of the stories is about a group of people called Van Bengalen, or Of Bengal. They were taken from the area around the Bay of Bengal, enslaved and dispersed over the whole Dutch East India Company empire. Curator of History Maria Holtrop will tell the story of these people.

Maria Holtrop studied History, European Studies and Journalism at the universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht, and has been Curator of History at the Rijksmuseum since 2013. She was one of the compilers of the Good Hope exhibition at the Rijksmuseum on the history of the Netherlands and South Africa from 1600. Holtrop has been working on the Slavery exhibition for a number of years, focusing primarily on the slavery past around the Indian Ocean region, and is additionally responsible for the Slavery project. Previously published writings by Maria Holtrop include work on the Surinamese slave shackle, and the representation of Asian servants in the Netherlands.

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