- 2007/08/07 Surnames clue to Dutch roots

Hazel Westerhout, 57, is a rare Malaysian. Of Dutch origin, she can trace her family's roots back 220 years when Johan Bartolomew Westerhout first stepped on Malacca soil. Hazel, the eighth generation of local Westerhouts, has also created a family tree that is being used by relatives to understand their origins. Johan, she believes, came to Malacca in 1789, with the VOC (Dutch East India Company). He stayed on and began the local chapter of the Westerhout clan, still a popular surname in the Netherlands. She started charting her family tree with the help of foreign relatives in the 1970s, piecing together family history through old letters.

Hazel's grandfather, James Edwin Cropley Westerhout (probably with some British blood in him) was an architect in Malacca while her grandmother, Evelyn Melinta Lazaroo, was of American, Thai and Portuguese descent. Through her search, she was able to reunite with many long-lost relatives worldwide, meeting them in two family reunions since 2000. "I am a Malaysian at heart but I was curious about my roots and wanted my children and grandchildren to also know their family history." Hazel is one of the hundreds of Eurasians of Dutch origin, many of whom have risen to prominence in Malaysian society.

Few will know that the Dutch colonised Malacca for the longest period of time ó from 1641 to 1824. (The British ruled between 1775 and 1818 until Malacca reverted to Dutch rule.) But they have been eclipsed on many occasions by the more prominent Eurasians of Portuguese descent who not only outnumber them but have more edifices that reflect their contribution to Malaccan society.

The Dutch descendants are recognised through their surnames, which include De Witt, Van Huizen, Westerhout, Goonting, Hendriks, Hendroff, Jansen, Jansz, Marbeck, Minjoot and Spykerman. There were 152 Dutch families recorded between 1818 and 1825 in the year book of the Central Bureau for Genealogy 1986 Vol 40 (In Dutch, it is called JaorBoek Centraal Bureau Vour Genealogie). Some of the more unfamiliar surnames there include Estrop, Overee, Scharenguivel, Speldewinde, Tessensohn, Valberg, van der Wall, van Buerle and Wambeck. Some of the Dutch who arrived in Malacca intermarried with people of Portuguese and British descents.

Another prominent family of Dutch origin are the De Witts. Dennis de Witt, 40, the fifth generation in Malaysia, is a descendant of Patrusjohannes de Witt who came from Cape Town, South Africa. He has been organising reunions for Eurasians of Dutch origin since 2000 after developing an interest in his Dutch roots.

Dennis started the Malaysian Dutch Descendants Project (MDDP) which aims to identify and foster relations between people of Dutch origin. He has located 70 families of Dutch descent in Malaysia who have joined MDDP. De Witt said the MDDP had also established ties with the Royal Netherlands embassy in Kuala Lumpur with members invited to functions like the Queen's Day.

In 2004, the MDDP organised the first-ever international gathering of Dutch descendants in Malacca. Nearly 150 people of Dutch descent from around the world, including Malacca, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and South Africa attended the event. Besides their surnames, which announce their Dutch descent, there is little in their appearance to suggest this. "I think it is good for those of Dutch descent to learn about their roots instead of just being a part of the Eurasian community in Malaysia."

Corinne Natalie Jansz, 35, only knew she had Dutch blood at 11 while preparing lunch with her grandmother during the school holidays. Always curious about her surname, Jansz remembered her grandmother Alice Fredericks telling her that the Jansz family came from Holland. "She told me that my grandfather, Lionel Jansz, did not like being referred to as a Eurasian and that he was always proud to be called a Dutch Burgher (of Dutch-Sinhalese origin)."

Corinne tapped online genealogy forums and the MDDP to track down her family's roots. She found out that her ancestors were from Onderdam, Holland, with an ancestor migrating to Galle, Sri Lanka, in 1773. The Janszs then came to Kuala Selangor with Oliver Eustace Jansz arriving in the late 1880s. Corinne, the fourth generation of Janszs in Malaysia, does not speak Dutch or Singhalese. "Now that I know my family history, I would like to put faces behind names and plan to pursue the genealogy project further."

According to Dr Nordin Hussin, author of Trade and Society in the Straits of Melaka: Dutch Melaka and English Penang 1780-1830, the Dutch left the Stadhuys behind as part of their rich heritage. The Stadthuys, the administrative centre and home of the governor of Malacca, is a unique attraction with its distinctive Dutch architecture. The Atlas building in Jonker Street, bearing the date 1673, is another one that dates back to the Dutch era. The Christ Church in Malacca, still in use today, is another reminder of Dutch rule.

Nordin said the Dutch were careful about cleanliness ó the city was spotless at that time. The Dutch also built shophouses, many of which remain standing and are in reasonably good condition.

When the British eventually conquered Malacca, many of these shophouses along Heeren Street, also known as Gentlemen Street, and Jonker Street, were sold to Chinese businessmen.

Image: The closeness of the Dutch community was apparent at the wedding of John Aloysius Minjoot and Theresa Iis Ismayati in April. They are regarded as the smallest community among the minority Eurasian community in Malaysia.
The closeness of the Dutch community was apparent at the wedding of John Aloysius Minjoot and Theresa Iis Ismayati in April. They are regarded as the smallest community among the minority Eurasian community in Malaysia.

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