The Indonesian government has formally requested the return of multiple large collections of natural history and art objects from the Netherlands, including the world-famous remains known as “Java Man.”
The Indonesian government sent the Netherlands a list of items in July that it has classified as looted during colonization and due for repatriation. That list, which was sent to the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science, was shared publicly by the chairman of the Indonesian repatriation mission last week, according to the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw.
The most notable art treasures Indonesia wants back are items known as the “Lombok Treasure,” a large cache of precious stones, gold, and silver jewelry taken by Dutch troops when they captured a royal palace in 1894. Half of the 230 kilograms of gold, 7,000 kilograms of silver, and gemstones were returned to Indonesia in 1977.
Indonesia has also requested the return of the complete natural history collection from Dutch researcher Eugène Dubois exhibited in the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. In addition to approximately 40,000 objects that Dubois excavated in Indonesia between 1887 and 1900, the collection includes the “Java man,” a skull and femur considered to be the first-ever example discovered of a Homo erectus, a forerunner of anatomically modern humans. Dubois discovered the items in 1891, giving the scientific community new evidence of the ‘missing link’ between apes and Homo sapiens.
The request from the Indonesian government follows a Dutch advisory report issued in 2020 which strongly recommended the Netherlands “unconditionally” offer to return cultural pieces taken from former Dutch colonies back following requests from their place of origin.
In September, the Netherlands’ State Secretary for Culture and Media Gunay Uslu traveled to Indonesia with lawyer and chair of the Netherlands’ Advisory Committee on the Return of Cultural Goods Colonial Context Lilian Gonçalves to discuss the return of colonial items.
Gonçalves will lead an independent commission that will review the provenance and acquisition methods of items like the ones requested by the Indonesian government. The commission’s work is expected to begin in December.