Prof. Albert Trouwborst

- Summary by Marije Kapinga \ Revised by Albert Trouwborst


The period after the Second World War, the Indonesian study program of the University of Leiden, gave a whole new generation of students who were trained as future civil servants in Indonesia. In the program next to Indonesian languages, Netherlands Indies law and economics, ethnology or "volkenkunde" was one of the courses. Materially, it was a rather difficult time to study, right after the war.


A core group of friends became members of WDO, a debating club founded in 1928 under the patronage of prof. J.P.B. de Josselin de Jong (honorary chairman of WDO, he was also called JPB or "de Oude Jos") was their only teacher in anthropology, most students of that time were trained by him. JPB was also curator in the ethnological museum and many lectures were given there. His lectures addressed theoretical problems and the ethnology of Indonesia. But he also gave an innovative course on fieldwork, which is never published but probably still exists in archives in a stenciled form. It was the time of Malinowski and the importance of doing fieldwork was very much stressed within anthropological research. For JPB language studies were fundamental and within his own fieldwork he worked intensively with texts for ethnography purposes. Many of his students succeeded in doing fieldwork, but not many followed his idea of language and the analysis of texts.


Doing fieldwork was difficult because we (first generation of WDO and anthropologists in Leiden) were trained for the region Indonesia, but for many students the only possibility were places like Sri Lanka, New Guinea or Africa or South America. Another difficulty was isolation; it was difficult to communicate and to keep in touch with the family that you had to leave behind.


It was a period of transition: the study changed from ethnology to cultural-social anthropology. It is nice to see that WDO still stands as an ethnological dispute. Ethnology and anthropology are different, in studying people and problems. In that time ethnology was used to fill the gaps between the known and unknown cultures. It was also the time of Murdock's maps; Murdock for instance made an encyclopedia of cultures for Africa, with maps that clearly but artificially marked the boundaries of different cultures and societies. Ethnology was about defining people, tribes. In these days in Dutch we could call it "stammetjes kunde": to study cultures as wholes.


A definition that JPB gave for a culture was addressed towards self-conscious communities "zelfbewuste mensengemeenschappen". And doing anthropology was all about research in non-literate societies, to collect data from which the culture can be reconstructed. Anthropologists and ethnologists were not taught to use old data, archival material or literature, because anthropologists had to make their own documents. The valid use of history and written documents had to be learnt on by themselves.


A political aspect of doing fieldwork was that you had to take sides in order to do the research. In the 1960 the discipline was attacked because of the fact most anthropologists were financed by and worked together with the colonial authority. This applies for instance to the anthropologists for whom the only chance to conduct fieldwork was to be sent off as colonial officers to New Guinea to perform "government anthropology": research used by the colonial government.


Questions and answers

Q: Van Santen: On hearing your stories I realize how anthropology has changed, look at fieldwork. But I wonder whether you had political discussions about the role of the Netherlands in Indonesia? About the work of anthropologists and sociologists in the colonies? How did you deal with this and how does it relate to your work?


Reply Trouwborst: Surprisingly little political discussions about the independence of Indonesia, with the exception of Jan Avé, who was talking about the political situation in Indonesia but he had an Indonesian background. Schoorl gave a lecture about human rights at WDO.


Zuidema: wants to add: According to me there was a lot of discussion, between the students of Leiden (progressive) and Utrecht (colonialists)! JPB gave serious lectures about the political problems in Indonesia; they were advanced and critical about the colonial regimes.


Trouwborst replies: Not in my memory. JPB did not talk about these matters in his lectures at the university.


Q: Tjon Sie Fat: I was also a member of a past WDO-board, and as you as ancestors are here, I really want to ask you the following question: I always wondered where the WDO-spirit, which is a mask, comes from and why WDO had it?


Reply Trouwborst: That is yet another myth in the history of WDO, it is indeed a sacred object. Two masks have been in circulation, we are students with Indonesia roots and why we were using African masks, I can only guess now.


The study of Africa started in the fifties. In 1947 the Belgian anthropologists Olbrechts and Vandenhoute held an exposition about African art in "Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde". Gerbrands was curator of the African department and students conducted organized tours - because they were very familiar with the museum at that time and it was one of the best ways to earn some money in their sector.


Schoorl: objects: What professor Trouwborst tells us is a nice myth, but the masks were simply bought in the museum. I bought them together with Herman Frese. I was chairman and a spirit was nice to have, I painted them myself, because there was no paint on it, to let it look more real.