A Brill Calendar: May 5
Taco Roorda and Java
Few individuals in the young Kingdom of The Netherlands asked questions over the legality or suitability of its status as a colonial power during the 19th century.
Nothing could be more natural than taking the colonial empires of Great-Britain and France as shining examples in bringing benefits of advanced civilizations to underdeveloped, ignorant, largely illiterate peoples. This way of thinking also formed the cultural back-ground of the linguist Taco Roorda (Britsum, Fryslân July 19 1801 – Leyden, Holland May 5 1874).
The foundation and emergence of scholarly study of the Javanese language is largely due to Roorda. The Dictionary he compiled and published in 1847 is still valuable for study of Javanese texts; while the Grammar he published in 1855 is still compared with other true ‘eye-opening’ titles in the history of linguistics.
Roorda’s affiliations match the adolescence of The Netherlands as a colonizing European Power. After teaching at Amsterdam’s ‘Athenaeum Illustre’, he started lecturing at Delft – traditionally associated with sciences as applied by military engineers – in a School founded in 1842, training civil servants for assignments in Asia. The school was eventually incorporated into Leyden University.
It is seldom that a superb work of literary art may put a lifetime’s exquisite scholarly work in perspective. In order to fathom the significance of Taco Roorda, it is also fit to commemorate Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820 – 1887). Dekker was a Dutch civil servant who, after a promising career as a Government Representative that ended in embittered conflict with his Superior. In 1860 he published a controversial novel under the pseudonym ‘Multatuli’ (Latin: ‘I have suffered a lot’), ‘Max Havelaar’, the greatest 19th century Dutch literary masterpiece; and a philippic against exploitation and usurpation by the White (Dutch) Man.